July 29 / Day 1 Clear, Overcast with light showers changing to overcast then broken clouds, Winds calm changing to W @ 15 knots / Swell .5-meter, wind waves to 2 feet, Seas rippled
I had chosen Klemtu over Bella Bella as my starting point for a couple of reasons. It would save me about a day and a half getting out to Aristazabal and unlike Bella Bella once you clear the end of the ferry dock you are gone. You seldom see any other boats and other than the Boat Bluff Light Station, no buildings. You simply slip into the water and are gone.
The Klemtu launch isn’t without its challenges, however, as the rip rap beneath the ramp islarge, sharp and covered with fiberglass-eating barnacles. The path (generous description) from the concrete pad to the water is treacherous and uneven. The trick is to keep your boat in one piece while moving it under the ramp then setting it on chunks of driftwood that you have gathered and positioned strategically so that your hull is protected and above the waterline. Timing is key as you want to have the rising tide float your boat when you are packed, suited up and ready to paddle. Yeah, that means that you have to select a date when you will have at least 2-3 hours of flood remaining after the ferry docks.
While the Northern Expedition runs every other day it only stops in Klemtu one day each week so your 9 choices for the months of July and August are cut to just 4 days. Meyers Passage ebbs west from Split Head and the game is to ride the last of the flood north from Klemtu to Split Head arriving just as the tide turns to ebb in Meyers Passage. My experience has been that the current changes to ebb in Meyers Passage / Split Head at some time after high slack at Klemtu. I don’t know what time that is though as I’ve never gotten it quite right. Suffice to say that your 4 choices are reduced to 3 and I wish you luck. I chose July 29th as high slack in Klemtu was at ~6:00 PM.
Negotiating launch was a nightmare as I was the only paddler to disembark and I had been hoping that other paddlers were aboard who would help. I found that the usual supply of driftwood had been burned up in a community bonfire that had been held under the ramp. A large tree had drifted onto the rocks and all of the appropriately sized limbs had been cut off and burned. I broke out my saw and cut what I could but it wasn’t much.
Getting my Tempest down from the concrete apron onto the creek and rocks without damage was a difficult affair. I was aware of passengers standing on the back deck of the ferry watching my struggles and wondered if my German friends were among them. This went on for some time and finally one of the ferry hands came off the boat and helped me. He was a God send.
Expecting calm and sheltered conditions at launch I was dismayed that as departure time drew near the rip rap was being washed with windwaves up to 2 feet that were wrapping around Wedge Point from Finlayson Channel and jostling the boat on the barnacled rocks. At last I got into the boat, backed it out through the waves away from the rocks and was finally on my way north at 3.5 kt, then 4.5 kt, then 5 kt, then 5.5 kt and finally 6 kt without working.
I arrived at Split Head early and it was still flooding from Meyers Passage into Tolmie Channel. I pushed against a 1 knot current all the way to Tombolo Camp where I found two cleared and leveled spaces for tents and a track leading to an adjacent stream that was strong and looked like a dependable water source. 7.8 NM
Tombolo Camp to Milne Island; July 30 / Day 2
Clear, Overcast with light showers changing to overcast then broken clouds, Winds calm changing to W @ 15 knots / Swell .7-meter, wind waves to 2 feet, Seas rippled
It rained off and on overnight and into the morning. I waited until there was a break in the rain that felt like it might hold. I hate packing up wet gear and a real break in the weather would at least mean that I could shake it off good before stuffing it into the hatches. I still hate that. Low energy and uninspired so I didn’t get on the water until about 10:00 AM which was nearly 4 hours into the ebb in Meyers Passage. That was fine because once into Laredo Sound I was hoping to ride the flood up to Monk Bay or beyond. It looked like it might eventually clear.
Any current that may have been ebbing in Meyers Passage wasn’t reflected in my average speed and I had a relaxing but slow paddle to the western entrance to the passage. I stopped to take a close look at the pictographs along the Princess Royal Island side and get some better photos than what I had recorded in 2007. A mild success.
It had changed to flood when I rounded Hartnell Point for Monk Bay and I gained about ½ kt to Milne Island where I stopped to fix lunch. Pushing onfrom Milne to Monk Bay I encountered a 15 kt south wind on Laredo Channel with .7 m swell and 2-foot windwaves dead on my port beam. A dark squall had blotted out Aristazabal and was pushing some air. Not big water but exceedingly disorganized and awkward. It kept me busy staying upright and I was surprised that something so ordinary in size could be so uncomfortable and troublesome. It’s about 4.5 nm to Monk Bay and I decided to return to Milne see if conditions would change.
Back on Milne I listened to the weather and heard that a ridge was strengthening off Haida Gwaii that would bring winds building to N @ 35 – 40 kt and continuing through the week. With the standard “Canadian Discount” of 5 kt it was still way too strong. Even if the winds were ½ the forecasted strength they would be too strong for what I had in mind. I would get to my first camp site on the western side of Aristazabal just in time to get pinned down by the wind and seas so I decided to spend the night on Milne and check the weather again in the morning.
Milne Island to Higgins Passage
July 31/ Day 3
Clear, Winds calm changing to S @ 12-15 knots, Low swell with wind waves to 1 foot, Seas rippled
At 4:30 AM the weather forecast called for winds N @ 15-25 kt increasing to 35-40 kt Wednesday and Thursday then “moderating’ to 15-25kt through the rest of the week. Not what I wanted to hear. I decided to cut the loop around Aristazabal out of the plan and run for protection in the lee of the Bardswell Group. If I could get there before it started to blow on Wednesday I could pick my way around in the lee and continue on south to Port Hardy. I would have to hustle, though, and I couldn’t be lazy.
The day dawned brilliantly clear, calm and warm so the waters of Kitasoo Bayfelt sticky and slow. I had only paddled this stretch of coastline once before in a complete white-out so it was nice to have a visual. The western-most point of Swindle Island is behind the Ahrams Island light and it looked pretty interesting to me so I paddled in for a look-see. I found an area of shallows that dry and create camp-able space but could be problematic at some tide levels and higher winds. A buoy hung from a tree marking a weak but useable water source. A wolf disturbed by my presence jogged along the beach until he came to his familiar break between the rocks and disappeared from sight. A good high tide spot for lunch and a dry spot for camping during low or neap tides but also a spot to get grounded by the retreating tides so I didn’t hang around.
Entering Higgins Passage from the north on a clear day is an exercise in patience and confusion. At least it is for me. The western shoreline of the outer BC coastal islands trail off into the Pacific as a complex and confusing mass of broken islets and exposed rock. Navigation, by chart is difficult and GPS improves the process by only a small margin. In 2007 Greg Polkinghorn unerringly led Dave Resler and I down this stretch and into the passage with zero visibility by compass, chart and wristwatch alone. At the time, I didn’t realize what a feat of intellect and discipline that was as he put us exactly in front of our desired campsite. Thirteen years later I had 15-mile visibility, a good chart, a wristwatch and a GPS and I wasn’t where I thought I was by over a mile. That realization was a harsh toke and while I struggled to orient myself I couldn’t help but be distracted by remembrance and questions of self-doubt. Do I lack Greg’s intellect, discipline or both? I try to navigate by chart, compass and wristwatch using GPS to record position and provide speed calculations. Maybe Greg has a better wristwatch or maybe he is just smarter than I am. The smart money is on the latter.
By cheating with GPS and still getting the maze wrong I eventually stumbled my way to the island where Kayak Bill Davidson built one of his primary and strategic camps.
This was an important camp for Bill. It not only allowed him to sit and watch conditions on Laredo Sound before committing to a crossing to one of his camps on Aristazabal and beyond but also provided a comfortable base of operations midway between Aristazabal and Dallas Island. Armed with Bill’s charts I looked for this camp in 2007 but didn't find it. Within the last year my friend, Glenn Lewis, confirmed that he had encountered a paddler at Higgins Passage who had met Bill and visited that camp. I was certain that I could paddle right to it. Wrong again.
The island wraps around a protected lagoon that can only be accessed at mid to higher tides. I entered with a 2.1-meter tide and barely got in. The tide was ebbing so I didn’t have long to explore. The shoreline is rocky and fairly steep. The area that I had marked had a so-so looking landing that would be available at higher tides but low tides not so much. I was running out of water quickly and had to leave but I did find a clam garden tucked into the farthest reaches of the lagoon which Bill, no doubt, benefited from. The village site and IR of Goo ewe is just a mile to the west and I believe that this “lo’hewae” was part of that aboriginal village infrastructure.
Short on fresh water, I escaped the drying lagoon to visit the strong stream at Goo-ewe. The IR straddles the stream that drains a complex of lakes and ponds including the largest body of fresh water on Price Island. It runs strong with just a hint of tannin. High quality water for the coast.
Goo-ewe was the site of a seasonal food harvesting village that housed between 5 – 10 families. Folks lived there from early Spring to late September. The site was chosen primarily for its proximity to seaweed bearing rocks, a nearby salmon stream and numerous clam gardens. Seaweed would be harvested, dried, chopped and ground for mixing with other foods. Since it grows fast they could usually manage two harvests each year. The people of Klemtu still harvest seaweed, dry it, chop and grind it, however, dehydrators are often used today instead of drying racks. I filtered 16 liters and paddled west back to the campsite.
The beach fronting the Higgins campsite isn’t “clean” as it is shallow and has lots of barnacle-covered rocks but it definitely has the finest tent sites on the coast. The sites are up into a second growth forest with an open understory of low green ground cover. It has always had a Hobbit-Forest feel to me. The slight rise into the forest and the existing beachfront trees block the wind off of Laredo Sound making it a comfortable place to sleep while the tempest rages. You feel removed from the weather and the second growth trees are resilient and pose little risk of falling limbs. While there are stumps that testify to the logging that occurred here one misshaped giant remains, probably due to loggers realizing that it wasn’t suitable harvest for dimensional lumber. Surrounding it “Widow-Makers” littered the forest floor warning me to set up my tent elsewhere.