(Shearwater to Prince Rupert: One Solo Paddler's Route)
Editor's Note: Although paddlers regularly explore the remote Central and North Coast Regions of BC and sites are known, we are displaying few of them on the
BCMTN map, so If you're interested in paddling these regions, check out Denis Dwyer's article below!Keep in mind that Denis is an experienced and capable solo paddler who travels a significant number of miles each day without too much lollygagging around, so some of us may need a little more time than 11 days to do this trip...
Length of Route: Approximately 11 days paddling – 212 miles (339 km)
Sea Kayakers looking to experience the wild, uninhabited, northern coast of British Columbia have an almost unlimited number of possible routes to consider. The coastal waters from Shearwater to Prince Rupert provide a couple of different route variations which offer a variety of scenery and paddling challenges. The route described here is mostly sheltered from Pacific sea-swells but there are a couple of places where swells may be encountered.
The route from Shearwater to Campania Island takes about 5 days
The remote town of Shearwater can be reached by taking the BC Ferry from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to the native settlement of Bella Bella. From here it is a short paddle across Lama Passage to Shearwater. Shearwater can be skipped altogether and the trip started from the ferry dock at Bella Bella if time were limited. It would be a shame to pass up an opportunity to check out Shearwater as it is a very unique community along the BC coast. There are no services in Bella Bella but Shearwater has lodging, camping, a restaurant, post office, and grocery.
If you have more time and would like to do a longer trip, it would be possible to paddle from Port Hardy to Shearwater in about a week and the ferry trip eliminated entirely. If this option were taken, a food cache could be mailed to Shearwater for pick up upon arrival. It would take about three weeks to paddle from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. When your trip is finished, the BC Ferry can be taken from Prince Rupert back to the starting point in Port Hardy.
The route heads northwest from Shearwater through Seaforth Channel, Reid Passage, Mathieson Channel, Moss Passage, Milbanke Sound, Higgins Passage, Laredo Sound, Laredo Channel, Caamano Sound, Estevan Sound, Nepean Sound, Principe Channel, Ala Passage, Petrel Channel, Ogden Channel, Malacca Passage, Chatham Sound, and Prince Rupert Harbour.
Day 1- Shearwater to Roar Islet - 17 miles (27.2km) (Shearwater Coordinates 52°8.85N x 128°5.34W)
Much of the route on this first day is partially shielded from southerly winds coming off Milbanke Sound by Denny, Campbell, Horsfall, and Dufferin Islands. Not until I set out across Seaforth Channel from Idol Point on Dufferin Island did the wind start to have a significant effect on the sea surface. Added to the mix were sea swells entering Seaforth Channel from Milbanke Sound. The photos here were taken before I hit rough water and my camera had to stay stowed away.
Roar Islet has only a very small area where a tent can be set up above high tide.
Roar Islet in Blair Inlet provides some shelter from the wind. The surrounding islands here create a natural harbor known as Powell Anchorage. The beach on Roar Islet is composed of crushed shells and small angular rocks that provide a good surface for launching and landing at all tide levels. There is no water source on the island, and no cell phone service anywhere in this area. On tides over 16 feet (4.9 meters), most of the beach will be underwater.
Roar Islet Campsite Coordinates: 52°17.18N x 128°23.07W
Day 2 - Roar Islet to Price Island at Higgins Passage - 25 miles (40km)
Reid Passage is calm as I head toward Mathieson Channel
This day’s route heads north into Reid Passage toward Port Blackney. It then emerges into Mathieson Channel and crosses over to Cockle Bay on Lady Douglas Island. From here it enters Moss Passage through Sloop Narrows.
As I exited Moss Passage and entered Milbanke Sound, I encountered the first rough water of the day. Big sea swells were traveling up Milbanke Sound off the Pacific and crashing onto the shoreline of Dowager Island. After reaching Keith Point it was time to make the 2.5 mile (4.0km) crossing of Finlayson Channel to Swindle Island. There were swells crossing from left to right, but in the deep water, they just passed underneath my kayak and created no problem. It took less than an hour to make the crossing to Jorkins Point. I followed the shoreline of Swindle Island and headed northwest through Milbanke Sound toward Higgins Passage.
Large areas of Higgins Passage dry up at low tide so the only time that a transit of the channel is possible is at high tide. By the time I reached the narrowest part of the passage south of Lohbrunner Island, there were only inches to spare before the channel dried up. In another half hour, the channel would have been impassable.
Landing and launching is easy on a shallow gravel beach that is sheltered from wave action. The campsite on Price Island is in a very pretty location and apparently gets few visitors. There is a large area of relatively flat ground covered with soft vegetation and fir needles where multiple tents could be set up. It can be located on charts on the northwest corner of Price Island to the west of Higgins Passage, and to the southeast of Grant Anchorage. I did not look for a water source at the campsite but there are streams nearby.
Price Island Campsite Coordinates 52°28.52N x 128°45.33W
Day 3 - Price Island at Higgins Passage to Milne Island - 12 miles (19.2 km)
Milne Island is only 12 miles (19.2 km) from the Price Island campsite, and a shorter distance than I normally paddle in one day, but the next possible campsite along the route is on Sager Island, which is another 28 miles (44.8 km) further. Since 40 miles (64 km) is more than I prefer to paddle in one day, I headed for Milne Island.
The west end of Higgens Passage is protected by dozens of small islands that keep the waters in Grant Anchorage calm.
The rocky, broken shoreline of Swindle Island south of Wilby Point is beautiful but is also exposed to the open Pacific. It is easy to imagine how big swells rolling in from a distant storm could present as much of an obstacle to a kayaker here as Cape Caution or Dixon Entrance.
The campsite on Milne Island is located at the northeast tip of the island in a tiny cove and is difficult to spot from the water. Thanks go out to the kayaker who used this site before me and hung a white net float from a tree branch to mark the site making it easier to find. A campsite has been cleared out of the trees by previous visitors. It looks well used which seems unusual considering the remote location. A small creek near the site provides a water supply. The beach here is composed of small crushed rocks and is suitable for launching and landing a kayak at all tide levels. There is no cell phone service at this site.
Milne Island Campsite Coordinates: 52°36.76N x 128°46.25W
Day 4 - Milne Island to Sager Island - 28 miles (44.8 km)
The route on this day starts off in Laredo Sound then heads northwest into Laredo Channel finally ending up in Caamano Sound. Princess Royal Island is to the east and Aristazabal Island is to the west.
The mountains of Princess Royal Island rise in the distance
Laredo Channel floods north on a rising tide which on the day of my paddle, helped to push me along my route to Sager Island 28 miles (44.8 km) away. After emerging from the relative shelter of Laredo Channel I entered the exposed waters of Caamano Sound as I approached Sager Island. Caamano Sound is open to the Pacific so swells can be encountered in this area. Sager Island is well positioned for paddlers heading north that plan to cross Caamano Sound to Campania Island. The close proximity of Sager Island to the 5 mile (8.0 km) wide pass, assures that the prevailing conditions can be evaluated before making an early morning crossing while the winds are usually still light.
My tent is barely visible up in the trees in this view of the beach on Sager Island.
Sager Island has an established campsite up in the trees that is above high tides and has space for one tent. The gravel beach is suitable for landing and launching kayaks at all tide levels. There is no water source or cell phone service at this site.1 7My tent is barely visible up in the trees in this view of the beach on Sager Island. Sager Island Campsite Coordinates 52°54.0N x 129°9.10W
Day 5 - Sager Island to Campania Island - 18 miles (3.2km)
The route on this day involves the 5 mile (8.0 km) open water crossing of Caamano Sound to Campania Island first thing in the morning. Current flowing in and out of Campania Sound must be taken into consideration along with sea swells coming in off the Pacific through Caamano Sound. Theroute heads northwest through scattered small islands at the entrance to Chapple Inlet and reaches Duckers Island where the crossing of Caamano Sound begins.
An early morning mist hangs in the air over Surf Inlet on Princess Royal Island.
There is a well-established kayaking campsite on Campania Island near the mouth of McMicking Inlet. The site faces Estevan Sound and looks west toward the Estevan Island group.The campsite here is up in the trees which may have contributed to my bug problem.
This is a very nice place to camp except for one thing, the bugs. There were more gnats, midges, mosquitoes, and no-see-ums aggressively attacking me here than I had encountered at any other campsite so far on the trip. A nice tent site here has been cleared out of the forest by previous paddlers. This campsite is above a beautiful white sand beach and the highest of tides. A clear flowing stream near the site provides a very good source for drinking water. There is no cell phone service at this site. Campania Island Campsite Coordinates 53°3.03N x 129°26.86W
The route from Campania Island to Prince Rupert takes about six days.
Day 6 - Campania Island to Monckton Inlet - 22 miles (35.2 km)
This day's route heads north through Estevan Sound while following the broken western shoreline of Campania Island. At the northern tip of Campania Island comes the crossing of 3 mile (4.8 km) wide Otter Channel to reach the southern tip of Pitt Island. For the rest of the day, the route travels north in Principe Channel with Pitt Island on the right and Banks Island on the left. Currents in Principe Channel can be strong and flood in a northerly direction.
My pre-trip research indicated that there was a campsite just south of the entrance to Monckton Inlet. When I reached the location, no obvious campsite was visible but the coordinates confirmed that this was the correct spot. There is no place to camp in the trees at this site, and a small sliver of beach that would not be underwater at high tide is barely big enough to set up a tent. Since the next possible campsite that I knew of was another 17 miles (27.2 km) away on Ralston Island this spot would have to do.This campsite would be underwater at the highest tides of the month.Other than a small creek, and a complete lack of other places to camp nearby, there are no amenities at this site that would make it a desirable destination.
This area of the coast is very remote, so I did not expect to have cell phone service, but this was the first campsite on the trip where I could not pick up a station on my VHF weather radio. My recommendation here would be for paddlers passing through this area to have the Monckton Inlet site marked on their charts as a possible campsite but to keep their eyes open for other spots that may make a better place to camp. Monckton Inlet Campsite Coordinates 53°18.23N x 129°40.85W
Day 7 - Monckton Inlet to Mink Trap Bay - 14 miles (22.4 km)
This day's route continues northwest up Principe Channel keeping Pitt Island on the right and Banks Island on the left. My destination this day was a known kayak campsite on Anger Island, 25 miles (40.0 km) farther up Principe Channel but bad weather forced me to cut the day short.
Just as I reached Mink Trap Bay I began to be hit from behind by strong winds so I started looking for a place to pull off the water. I spotted a solid rock outcrop with a relatively flat top that would remain above the overnight high tide so I headed for it.
This was the same view from the site at high tide
The rock was too small and conditions too windy to set up my tent so I opted to use my small blue tarp as a bivy shelter. This worked out well and I was able to spend a comfortable evening high and dry while watching the wind whip up waves out on Principe Channel. There is no fresh water source, no cell phone signal, and no VHF weather radio reception at this location.
My campsite sits on top of solid rock at Mink Trap Bay.I don’t normally choose to camp on solid rock like this but under the circumstances it was not too bad. Paddlers may want to mark the location on their charts as an emergency bivouac spot in case they encounter bad weather as I did. Mink Trap Bay Campsite Coordinates 53°27.00N x 129°51.77W
Day 8 - Mink Trap Bay to Petrel Channel Elbow - 28 miles (44.8 km)
The route on this day leaves Principe Channel and enters the much narrower and more sheltered Ala Passage. Once through Ala Passage I emerged into the wider and more exposed Petrel Channel.
Narrow Ala Passage gave me some protection from the wind on this cold, rainy morning.Throughout this day's paddle I could see no obvious places to camp and very few spots where landing would be possible. The forest seemed to fill every bit of dry land all the way to the high tide line.
The gravel beach at the campsite across from Elbow Point in Petrel Channel is well suited for landing and launching kayaks.A campsite above the highest tides has been cleared out of the trees at a spot in Petrel Channel across from Elbow Point. The bugs at this site were very bad even though it was cold and rainy when I was here. Because of the bad weather that I encountered while at this site, I did not go searching for a fresh water source, but the chart shows a stream entering Petrel Channel at this location.
The dark skies and thick forest cover combined to make my campsite at the Petrel Channel elbow cold and dreary.
There was no cell phone service at this site but weather forecasts were available via VHF radio. Petrel Channel Elbow Campsite Coordinates 53°42.48N x 130°11.71W
Day 9 - Petrel Channel Elbow to Oona River - 19 miles (30.4 km)
The route on this day continues north through Petrel Channel and emerges into Ogden Channel before reaching the settlement of Oona River.
It’s another gloomy day on Petrel Channel. Pitt Island is on the right and McCauley Island is on the left.
Note that currents in Ogden Channel are stronger on a falling tide as water exiting the Skeena River adds to the volume of water flow. If you are heading in this northerly direction try to time your paddle for a rising tide.
It would be a shame to paddle through this area and not stop for at least one night at the wonderful little settlement of Oona River. It’s like stepping back in time to a place unspoiled by the modern world whose residents welcome strangers like old friends.
The marina in Oona River is kayaker friendly with low edges for easy docking.
My kayak sits on the edge of the dock in the Oona River marina on Porcher Island.
Oona River is not actually a place to camp although I have heard that other paddlers passing through have found a spot to set up a tent near the harbor. There are at least two nice bed and breakfasts in the town and after paddling for a week without a bath it is a perfect spot to stop and get cleaned up.
There is a telephone located in a small building at the top of the dock, which can be used to place free calls to any phone number in Oona River. A list of all residents and B&B's in the village is conveniently located next to the phone. Use the phone or ask around the dock to find a ride to one of the B&B’s. You can safely leave your boat with camping gear stowed away on the dock overnight. Cell phones and VHF radios both receive signals in Oona River. Water bottles can be filled at the dock. Oona Rive Marina Coordinates 53°57.1N x 130°15.8W
Day 10 - Oona River to Kitson Island - 17 miles (27.2 km)
This day’s route follows the shoreline of Porcher Island northeast into sheltered Kelp Passage. From Kelp passage it is necessary to make a long exposed crossing of Malacca and Marcus Passages which open up into Chatham Sound. These add up to a distance of around 8 miles (12.8 km) of open water with only a small group of islands about halfway across that could provide limited shelter. Once across to Smith Island, the route continues northwest to Kitson Island. Although this section of the route is mostly protected from sea swells by some large islands, Chatham Sound itself is very open and large waves can form in strong winds.
As I paddle across Marcus Passage, Kitson Island comes into view off the left of my bow while Smith Island is visible on the right.
The beach on Kitson Island is shallow and composed of sand making a perfect spot to land and launch kayaks.
This is a view of the beach on Kitson Island looking southward across Chatham Sound.The campsites on Kitson Island are scattered among the trees in thick grass
Kitson Island is a British Columbia Marine Provincial Park. This is a beautiful little island for camping and a perfect place to stop on an Inside Passage trip. The forest is open and the ground is covered with May Lilies. There are plenty of spots to set up a tent in the trees and above high tides. Its isolation, far from the mainland, makes having a visit by a bear highly unlikely. There is no water on Kitson Island but if you have just left Oona River, your water supply is probably full. Kitson Island Campsite Coordinates 54°10.72N x 130°18.82W
Day 11 - Kitson Island to Prince Rupert - 12 miles (19.2 km)
This day’s route heads straight north from Kitson Island and follows a mostly industrialized shoreline south of the Prince Rupert Harbour entrance. The water to the east of Kitson Island is very shallow and dries at low tide. Do not paddle to the east of Kitson Island on a falling tide or you could become stranded on tidal flats.
Dock cranes in Prince Rupert Harbour can be seen from miles away
You will pass the BC Ferry terminal miles before reaching the marina near downtown.
If your trip is going to end in Prince Rupert, and you plan to take the ferry back to Port Hardy, you should plan your arrival to coincide with the ferry schedule. Contact BC Ferries for information about landing a kayak at their Prince Rupert facility. If you pass up the ferry terminal, and continue to paddle into Prince Rupert Harbour, you will have to get back to the terminal either by paddling or arranging ground transportation.
If you plan to paddle into Prince Rupert Harbour, head for the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club where they have facilities for docking and storing kayaks. Look for the big sign with PRRYC on it.
PRRYC Coordinates 54°19.15N x 130°19.08W
These commercial fishing boats are tied up to the dock in Prince Rupert Harbor.
If you plan on staying one or more nights in Prince Rupert you should try the Pioneer Inn which is just a short walk from the marina.
The Pioneer Inn
by Denis Dwyer
To read more about my Inside Passage kayaking trips, and view hundreds of photos and a few videos, check out my website at: http://denisdwyer.blogspot.com/