The inspiration of the Haida Gwaii and the decision to paddle from Vancouver Island to the Alaskan Panhandle.
Paddling underneath the grey skies of an oncoming storm near the entrance to Louise Narrows.
2 double kayaks
In May of 2015, myself and a few others found ourselves packed into a Subaru Outback heading north out of Vancouver with the Haida Gwaii as our destination. Nearing the end of the second day on the road, as we drove due east along the Skeena River, the far side of the river bank began to disappear in the low light. The greenish hue of the Pacific Ocean began to creep upriver, mixing with the fresh water, as we took a final turn north towards Prince Rupert. In the late hours of that spring evening, we boarded the ‘Northern Adventure’ for an overnight ferry sailing to the Haida Gwaii.
Between the mainland and the abalone-dotted shorelines of Haida Gwaii lies the Hecate Strait -- one of the most violent bodies of water in the world.
The rise and fall of the tides significantly dictates the speed and direction of currents in the area. At flood tide, the waters from the warm Alaskan Current are funnelled in from the Northern and Southern entrances to the Strait, the Dixon Entrance and Queen Charlotte Sound respectively. On the ebb, the waters retreat out of the strait through these same gateways.
The immense volume of water being shepherded through these comparatively narrow passages causes dramatically turbulent waters. Originating from the expansive Pacific Ocean with seafloor depths of thousands of metres, the water is squeezed between land masses as close as 50 kilometres apart and pushed rapidly over shoals as shallow as 50 metres. In the South Hecate Strait, waves have been recorded as high as 26 metres with wind speeds climbing up to 200km/h. (link)
Thousands of years ago, only the people of the Haida Gwaii were able to navigate this body of water. The members of the Haida nation would paddle across this nearly unnavigable passage in magnificently carved war canoes to trade with other coastal tribes. At other not-so-agreeable times, they would use the dangerous waters as protection to carry out raids on these same coastal settlements.
As the Northern Adventure pushed across the Strait, we witnessed numerous horizon-consuming swells and our stomachs felt queasy throughout the night. As the boat surfed across the Hecate waves, we attempted sleep and found little of it. Not soon enough, the tires of our low-riding Subaru rolled off the ferry deck as we touched back on solid ground near Skidegate in the early hours of the grey spring morning. The comfort of terra firma lasted only a day however, as we quickly launched two double kayaks and headed towards the Gwaii Haana’s National Park. Relative to the turbulence of the Hecate Strait, the glasslike surface of the inlet at Moresby Camp provided a calming entrance for our return to the water.
Over five days, we circumnavigated Louise Island and its surrounding islets-- located just above the northern tip of the park boundaries. Being well ahead of tourist season, the waters around the islands were empty, save for a few of the locals who seemed to have conflicting opinions of our presence. While curious sea lions slipped in and out of the waters around our kayaks, paying close attention to our lonely fishing lure dancing under the waves, the eyes of hauntingly poised bald eagles poured down on us from their sentry positions high above in the trees.
We spent our time navigating the waters of the islets and perusing the forests above the beaches in search of the great Haida civilizations in the region. Disembarking, we climbed through the creaking forests at Cumshewa, where an opening unveiled the remains of cedar structures that had been wrestled to the ground by thick mosses.
Our paddle past Skedans gave rise to a forest of totems that had once stood tall, piercing the grey skies, but had long since been laid to rest by the pounding winds and storms.
The final passage through the Louise Narrows required a high slack tide and precise maneuvers to escape the puzzle of jagged rocks, barnacles, mussels and starfish that lay only centimetres below.
More than anything, the adventure we spent in sun, salt and rain struck a deep chord within each of us. That chord still hums loudly, and sings a tune of further nautical exploration of the magical ecosystems of the British Columbia coast. (check out our video of the adventure here)
Fast forwarding one year to the summer of 2016, we found ourselves looking for more ways to experience the feelings we had in Haida Gwaii. At that time, the topic of BC’s coastline was illuminated in the eyes of the public with the newly elected Federal government about to decide on a number of pipeline proposals that would potentially increase energy production and marine transportation in the region. Although this was by no means the driving force behind the decision to launch a new marine adventure, it provided us with further incentive to witness the true beauty of the entire coastline. Sometime shortly after we committed to the full paddle, the flame of the Northern Gateway pipeline was snuffed out. Economic benefit hadn’t tipped the scales in favour of resource development over environmental preservation, at least in the Central Coast.
There is more than enough turmoil that exists in our world today from an ecological and environmental perspective. The effects of climate change are leading to the erosion of stable ecosystems. Coral reefs are experiencing extraordinary bleaching events that threaten their existence in the coming decades. (link) The planet as a whole is experiencing rapid levels of species loss and population regression. Paul Ehrilich, a Stanford Professor of Population Studies, estimates that about half of all of the life forms that people are aware of have already disappeared. (link) That said, there's one species that isn’t following this trend, and that species has now converted approximately 37% of the earth’s surface to agricultural land and continues to dump plastic directly into the oceans at a tremendous rate. Probably worst of all is the influence of utterly unscientifically backed positions that lead to the denial of our current unbalanced environmental situation.
We could soon lose the opportunity to explore, in isolation, the true beauty of what our world has to offer. A vast expanse of more than 400km of coastline and 21 million hectares of temperate rainforest might be one of the best opportunities remaining for exploration in an unapologetically natural world. (link) The Great Bear Rainforest is home to towering cedar trees that have grown unabated for thousands of years. It is guarded by mountains that plunge straight into the inlets that create a miraculous symphony of islands and passageways. The harmonious connection between land and sea extends far beyond the simple visual appeal of the region. The ocean is fed the freshest of waters by the stoic rivers of the Sacred Headwaters: the Skeena, Nass and Stikine. Salmon species that run upriver to spawn provide a staple diet for Coastal Wolves and Spirit, Black, Brown and Grizzly bears. In turn, these mammals return the favour to the forests in the form of decomposing, nutrient-rich fish carcasses. This one example of the symbiotic relationship between the plants and animals is a testament to the true power and longevity of the region. It is something that deserves to remain unaffected by excessive human consumption and development.
A final fast forward to January 2017, 6 months until departure.
2 double kayaks
As we researched and planned for our trip, it became very clear to us that: (i) we are very fortunate to be planning this trip of a lifetime; and (ii) it certainly is not going to be a walk in the park (…a paddle in the pool, if you will?)
As we dug into research and scoured for materials, we found our gold standard in a book buried in the seventh floor of the Vancouver Public Library: Wild Coast 2 (author - John Kimantas, section HIS 917.11104 K49w). The book was written and published in 2006, after John spent 95 days exploring the coastal waterways. Along with the BC Marine Trails Network Association, he has continued to work towards conservation, awareness and accessibility for kayakers.
The marine trail as it stands today consists of the Sea-to-Sky marine trail that was opened in Howe Sound in 2015. In addition, a proposed Salish Sea Marine Trail is planned to be officially opened this July (in conjunction with the kick-off of the Trans-Canada Trail). The route covers about 250km of BC’s southern waters and extends from Victoria up to Horseshoe Bay.
There is a great deal of work being done to clean up the local shores, to open up the waters to paddlers, and to promote exploration along the BC coast. Conversely, there is so much more information, education and recognition about routes, campsites and conservation that can be shared. An inventory of these sites is being amassed by the BCMTNA and we are happy to provide any support to the initiative throughout our trip.
At this point there is still much to be determined about our trip including acquiring topographical maps, planning routes and food, and selecting equipment.
We have tentatively set out 3 main waypoints: Bella Bella, Klemtu and Hartley Bay. The launch point of the journey is yet to be determined.
Stay tuned for more posts to come that will cover the finer details of the trip as they come.
The self-titled, pristine 'Rockfish Creek.' Or known as 'It's really good we tied the kayaks up well Creek'