Several years ago my wife and I, together with our friend Heidi, completed a circuit of the famous Bowron Lakes Canoe route (though we used kayaks). While we ate excellently overall, one supper was unforgettable not just for its taste but for its after effects. I commemorated the occasion with this pastiche of Robert W. Service’s famous “The Cremation of Sam McGee“.Continue reading
July 6th, 2010
Paddling the southern end of Mathieson Channel was like kayaking across some huge northern lake. The water was mirror smooth. So much so, it was sometimes vertigo-inducing. As I looked at the rock walls on my right, the border between real and reflection was seamless. Continue reading
Wednesday May 23, 2018
With a “long weekend” running from Wednesday to Friday, I wanted a trip that maximized paddling and camping time and minimized driving time. And it had been several years since I’d paddled nearby Pitt Lake. So less than an hour after leaving home, I was unloading the kayak and gear at Grant Narrows Regional Park. As I packed the ‘yak, I was surrounded by vast flocks of bird watchers. I recognized at least two common species: the Full-Breasted Matron and the Pale-Legged Lesser Warbler, identifiable by its Tilley head plumage and its distinctive call: “Shirley, where’s the sunscreen? Where’s the sunscreen?” Continue reading
July 2, 2010
Back in the day, Butedale was a thriving, company-owned fish canning community of several hundred people. “The day” ended in the 1950s. Since then, the rain forest has been relentlessly reclaiming the town. Today, only a few buildings remain habitable. Lou, the 65-year old caretaker, lives in one, and he rents out rooms in a couple of other cabins to recreational fishermen and the occasional kayaker.
Prelude, June 19, 2010
I wheeled my kayak aboard the Queen Of Chilliwack at Port Hardy at about 20:00 hours. After a late supper of burger and fries in the cafeteria, I found a quiet corner of the solarium on the upper deck, and made camp with my mat and sleeping bag. As we steamed north through the night, the weather changed from clear skies to the cloud and light rain more typical of the central coast.
A good day to have taken off. The wind and rain had risen steadily through the night, til by this morning, it was blowing from the southeast at 15 to 20 knots. (Appropriately enough, the book I had been reading in the tent was Gale Force 10: The Life and Legacy of Admiral Beaufort)
I rigged my tarp as a wind-breaking lean-to, then enjoyed a cozy pancake brunch in its lee. Later, in the company of four older yachties who had landed in their dinghies, I explored the ruins of the WWII complex. Lots of buildings. It must have had quite a garrison in its day.
August 15 My Dinner With Bruno
Up at 6AM. I paddled through calm waters and under low cloud up Sunderland Channel. Headwinds developed by the time I got to Althrop Point, which made me call off a planned visit to the head of Forward Harbour for grizzly watching (I’d also seen a sight-seeing boat deke rapidly in and out of the Harbour, which made me believe there were no grizzlies about).
I got through Whirlpool Rapids (the second of the major “tidal gates” on this trip) just after 16:30 hours, then had to fight a headwind. I could duck out of most of it by hugging the shore down Wellbore Channel, but not while crossing Chancellor Channel. As a result, it was after 20:00 hours and dusk was falling when I reached the campsite just north of Solitary Mountain. I was delighted: there was a large, level area of soft duff for my tent, in upland safe above the highest tides, and even a kitchen counter— a driftwood plank set across two log stumps.
I got my tent up, my mat inflated, and my sleeping bag laid out. I’d just poured boiling water into a pouch of freeze-dried Sweet and Sour Chicken, and was back in the tent stuffing my pillow bag, when I heard the crack of a breaking branch and a series of roars from beyond the kitchen. Investigating by headlamp, I spied a shadowy black figure a few feet up a tree. Only his gold eyes were clear, reflecting the light’s beam. He was huffing and howling aggressively, so I fired two bear bangers, making sure they landed and went off between me and him (folks have been known to land them on the far side of a bear, stampeding the frightened animal towards them).
The results were not what I’d hoped: instead of running away, the bear shimmied further up the tree, from where he alternated threatening growls with whimpering and hyper-ventilating. On closer inspection, I could see he was no cub, but also not a full-grown adult. A yearling, perhaps. I hoped his mother wasn’t within range of the cries, ready to go Momma Bear on anyone she thought was picking on her special snowflake.
So I did the only sensible thing: I sat down and ate my dinner. Now why would opening a package that smelled like Chinese take-out be a good idea in the circumstances? Because I saw a lot more paddling in my future, and I hadn’t eaten since lunch. Energy-wise, I was tapped out.
As I ate, I talked to the bear in the same reassuring tone you would use with a scared dog you thought might strike out in fear. I continued our “conversation” as I struck camp and reloaded my boat — making sure to retrieve the two spent bear banger cartridges (just ‘cos you’re doing a midnight bug-out is no reason to be a litter bug). Bruno’s contribution to the dialogue was limited to huffing and whining, but that was OK: it let me know he was still up his tree, and that was where I now wanted him to stay until after I’d sailed.
By the time I launched about 23:20 hours, it was raining. I normally love night paddling, but I prefer it to be across familiar waters to a familiar destination. In this case, I was crossing unknown waters under a dark sky, utterly committed to an unknown campsite that I was guided to only by GPS.
As if in compensation, the bioluminescence ran brilliantly. Each stroke of my paddle spawned glowing galaxies that whirled off behind me. My bow wave was a bright green-yellow arrowhead. Periodically, fireworks went off in the depths as schools of minnows darted under my boat, with the occasional bigger rocket as a predator pursued them. Whole dramas that were concealed beneath the reflecting surface by day were highlighted on this night.
At first, I was guided mainly by the vague loom of the hills on the east side of Loughborough Inlet (to preserve my night vision, I didn’t keep the screen of my GPS lit constantly, firing it up only every several minutes.) But as I cleared Tucker Point, the slow, reassuring blink of the Lyall Island light hove into view, and gave me a constant reference angle.
I spotted the stacked lights that identified a tug with a tow coming westward toward me down Chancellor Channel. In my haste, I hadn’t packed my usual night running light in an accessible place, and I wasn’t sure my headlamp would be visible in time to do any good. But a few minutes assessment with the angle on the bow technique assured me I would pass well ahead of him. I doubt he was ever aware of my presence.
I had a few scary moments when the wind blew up. Doing the paddling equivalent of a stumble and fall against oncoming waves held no attractions miles from shore and in the path of an oncoming tug. Fortunately it blew through quickly.
I landed at ten to one in the morning, to find a beach that was obviously going to be submerged by the high spring tides. The only above-water option was a lumpy rock ledge I dubbed Camp Barnacle. I anchored my tent internally with bags of gear and jammed every soft item I wasn’t wearing into the crevices under my sleeping pad to get it more or less level. For all its faults, I slept better here than I would have if I’d stayed at the other camp. I bet Bruno did too.
Not having got to sleep ’til after 2 in the morning, there was no way I was going to try to make the rapids at Greene Point today. I had a leisurely breakfast, washed and watered up from the creek. I inadvertently scooped a salmon parr in my water filter bag, and released him as way undersized.
My tiny strip of beach was sloped, windy and wet, but bear-free. I thought I’d seen the last of bears on this trip. Little did I know.
We’d spent four lovely days at the Paddler’s Inn on Gilford Island in the Broughton Archipelago. It was our second time there, and we can’t recommend it enough – Bruce and Josée go out of their way to make you feel at home. But today my wife got on Bruce’s boat for the ride back to Telegraph Cove and the car; I slipped my kayak in the water to paddle southward.
The sun was shining when you launched your kayak this morning. But shortly after noon, it clouded over and the rain set in. You aren’t surprised: you are paddling the British Columbia coast not far south of Alaska, just off the most verdant rainforest on Earth.
The fjord-like channel you’re travelling offers few landing spots, so it’s six in the evening before you ground the bow of your kayak as gently as possible on a cobble beach. Hours of rain have given you bathtub hands.
Designing a reliable wilderness tent isn’t easy. It must stand up to heavy weather, yet be light and fold quickly to stow into a hiker’s pack or paddler’s boat. The brute force solution to the need for strength ̶ substantial materials like logs or stone ̶ isn’t an option.