Coastal Journeys

Days 4 to 6: Higgins Passage to Islet 48

Klemtu to Port Hardy

Days 4 to 6 Dawkins' Klemtu to Port Hardy 14-day journey
August 1 / Day 4
Clear, Winds calm changing to S @ 15 knots, Swell to 1 meter with wind waves to 2 feet, Seas rippled

 List of Articles/Days for Dawkins Klemtu to Port Hardy trip: Beginning,: Days 1 to 3, See Days 4 to 6, Days 7 to 9, Days 10 to 12, Days 13, 14 and Epilogue

The study of charts and sea floor depths in preparation for a trip reinforces the shoreline changes that this coast has experienced. With post Ice Age sea level change, it is hard not to view routes through a historical lens.  Clearly Swindle and Price Islands were once part of one mass and dodging rocks while slipping through the narrow passage between the south end of Lohbrunner Island and Price Island brings that home. 

beachatpidwellBeach at PidwellOnce past the Lohbrunner Island complex the passage was clear with manageable current and glassy smooth sea conditions.  Just a scenic slog squinting into the rising morning sun.  I was looking forward to landing at Pidwell for a change of scene and maybe some textured water.  That wasn’t the case, however, as Pidwell is well protected by Pidwell Reef and was flat and unexciting.  Paddlers had camped there recently and high tides hadn’t yet removed their footprints.  I ate lunch and walked the beach looking for clearings in the uplands.  I saw none.  There is a good water source at the west end of the beach. 

The crossing of Milbanke Sound to Dallas Island via Keith Point exposed me to the 15 kt southerly and associated textured seas as the building winds leaked around the south end of Price Island from Hecate Strait.  Things got pretty chunky before I slipped into cover near Dallas Island. 

At low tides the approach to the Dallas Island beach is blocked by exposed rocks and not at all obvious when coming in from Milbanke Sound.  I poked around going left and right and eventually found the approach wide open from the east.  A total no-brainer that I struggled with for no particular reason.  The landing was about 50 yards from the edge of the forest and looked like a long carry.  The beach was hot so I stripped off everything I was wearing and started carrying gear to the uplands.

This was my third visit to Dallas Island.  Bill Davidson had established one of his primary camps here and when I first saw it in 2007 it had been just 3.5 years since his passing.  At that time I had been stunned by the boardwalk that extended across the island and impressed by the overall comfort of the camp.  When I returned in 2009 I was incredibly disappointed in how the site had been destroyed by power boaters and thoughtless campers.  Photos posted by Freya Hoffmeister last May on her trip around North America (Freya's Photos) indicated that the camp was still trashed and that was what I expecting.

dallasislandDallas IslandI was surprised to find that the camp had been cleaned up.  Much of the windscreen remained upright and large loose components had been neatly stacked against a tree.  Looking through the lumber I identified two boards that had once been the surface of Bill’s bed and some sectioned logs that had been bed and bench supports.  The fire stand had been destroyed in 2009 and replaced with a fire ring which remained while some of the flat granite slabs that had lined the firestand’s box had been tossed out of the area that had once been his shelter and was now marked by the shelter’s frame.  About 15 meters away behind a fallen tree I found the junk that had collected at the camp over the years.  Digging through it I found some bits and pieces that I recognized as Bill’s. 

Somebody put a tremendous amount of work into this effort and returned what had become a junk yard into a really nice camp site that still honored Bill's occupation.  While I personally mourn the removal of some of the original artifacts I realize that there was no way to leave parts and pieces without inviting more garbage.  My hat is off to whoever cleaned this up.  It was definitely time for it to be returned to something that can be enjoyed by all so that we can see what drew Bill Davidson to this spot in the first place. 

The south wind blew through most of the night.

14.9 NM

Dallas Island to Cape Mark

August 2 / Day 5

Clear, Winds calm changing to W @ 18 knots, Seas calm changing to 1.5 meter swell with 2 foot windwaves, Seas moderate

At 4:30 AM the weather radio was still calling for winds N @ 35 - 40 knots in Hecate Strait.  Being behind Aristazabal, Price and Swindle Islands I wasn’t expecting to see anything that high but I did expect for rising winds to make conditions challenging if caught out in the open.  Paddling outside of Athlone Island was one of the objectives of this trip and I wanted to get that done before the winds and seas built.  Before reaching Athlone I would cross the mouths of Mathieson and Seaforth Channels and I wanted to have them behind me before the flood turned to ebb around 11:00 AM.  Totally do-able.

I left Dallas around 8:30 AM.  I knew I that I was cutting things pretty tight and I really should have gotten out of camp an hour earlier but I wanted a second cup of coffee.  My bad.  Conditions were smooth until I reached Blair Inlet near Ivory Island where things started to change.  The wind had increased to W @ 10 kt countering the building ebb at Blair.  Friendly swell became more evident as I started across Seaforth Channel.  Textured patches began to show the effects of mixing currents and from mid-channel to Cape Swaine the ebb was on with swell being bent and gaining height while windwaves were tickled to attention by interaction with the opposing current.  I ducked into the gap behind the island that terminates Cape Swaine for a brief rest.  Looking at conditions to the south it was clear that there would be no place to take another break until I made the cover of Wurtele Island so I took the opportunity to fuel on a ProBar, check my chart and try to interpret the sea bottom profile that my GPS displayed on its magnificent 1.5” x 2.25” big-screen.  Maybe I could have seen it better if I had covered one eye and taken out my contacts.

During the next 1.5 hours that it took me to reach the cover of Wurtele Island the west wind gradually built.  Swell was pretty consistently 1.5 meters but the windwaves increased to 2 feet.  Since much of the shoreline is rocky and abrupt reflected waves (clapotis) were added to the mix.  Sea state was “moderate”, required active paddling and was a lot of fun.  The entrance to St. Johns Harbour got a bit snotty so I was pleased to pull in behind the rocks that extend north of Wurtele. 

While eating lunch in a rocky cove I studied my chart and GPS to determine the character of the shoreline and sea bottom profile outside of Wurtele.  I had planned to paddle that shoreline but it turns out that the near-shore profile is different than what I had just managed along Athlone so whatever I had just experienced would be amplified and I felt that the wind would continue to build.  I figured that it would take a minimum of 45 minutes to run from my current position to the end of the island.  Run?  I’m on vacation!  It was an easy decision. 

The narrow channel that separates Wurtele from Athlone turned out to be a scenic and enjoyable paddle.  I hugged the eastern edge of the island to escape the west wind that leaked through saddles and cascaded over the trees to create rotors that slammed the water and created dancing cat paws.  The end of the island trickled off in a series of islets that culminated at Cape Mark.  I was surprised at how windy it was between those islets as I made my way to the Cape Mark campsite.

What a pleasant surprise to find three notable Puget Sound paddlers in residence.  Rob Freelove, Chris Smith and Bill Porter had arrived the day prior and made great camp companions.  Chris had worked with me at a WKC pool session years before and it was good to see him again.  Bill and Chris went out for a paddle but soon returned after finding conditions not to their liking.  I was glad that I had gotten behind Wurtele when I did. 

16.6 NM

Cape Mark to Islet 48

August 3 / Day 6

Clear, Winds W @ 15-20 knots, Swell 1 meter with 2 foot windwaves, Seas moderate at times

islet48indistanceIslet 48 in DistanceThe wind blew through the night confirming that I had made it to the lee of the Bardswell Group in the nick of time.  I planned to work my way across the north end of Queens Sound by staying up tight against the Bardswells and scurrying like a rat from cover to cover.  I knew I could safely use this strategy to get to Cree Point and beyond even if it meant turning north and using the Backdoor to Quinoot Point then reversing direction to travel south in the cover of Potts and Stryker Islands.  That would be a long detour but I didn’t have to be anywhere anytime soon and that is a very pretty route. 

Chris helped me slog my Tempest down to the water’s edge then he, Bill and Rob donned their helmets, wished me luck and went out to play.  I loaded up and headed east between islets.  It was pretty windy but the fetch was short so waves didn’t have much of a chance to build, however, directional control was challenged from time to time.  To the southeast I spotted Fingal Island which is omnipresent when paddling in Queens Sound.  You can paddle the Sound for days and never be out of sight of that damned island. 

About two years ago a friend gave me a couple of old charts that he had picked up at a garage sale.  They were from an 1866 British Survey and corrected in 1916.  One was of Seaforth Channel and the Bardswell Group.  I noticed the “Indian Village“ of Tingees shown in a bay on the northeast corner of Princess Alice Island.  I had asked some locals about it but nobody I asked knew that a village had every been located there.  I did a best guess of where that would be on my current chart and marked it as a waypoint.  I had hoped to take the time to look for it but thought that I would be short of time and have to pass.  With the Aristazabal loop off the table I had time to spare and Tingees, if it existed, was nearby. 

Clearing the east end of Waskesui Passage I handrailed along the shore of Princess Alice Island hoping to find the village site.  After 15 minutes I entered a NE facing cove with a protected beach.  An obvious site to live shielded from all typical west coast conditions.  The beach where the canoe run would have been was choked with large drift logs and at that tide level I didn’t see any opportunity to land without risking damage to boat or body.  I sat in the calm water just off the beach, thanked Chad for the chart and listened for the voices and sounds of daily village life while gathering strength from their spirits.

islet48islet 48From Tingees the only thing standing between me and my next waypoint, Islet 48, was 3NM of open water on Thompson Bay.  Fingal Island lurks like the Dark Lord of Mordor over the northern range of Queens Sound.  Travel within the realm is at Fingal’s pleasure and constant glowering observation.  Thompson Bay opens to the south and the only thing standing between the head of the bay and Antarctica is The Dark Lord.  Fingal endorses whatever one encounters between Princess Alice Island and the broken trickle of islets that extend south from Potts and Stryker Islands.  Islet 48 is one of those islets and Thompson Bay has always had my number.  I've learned to never take it for granted as it provides a little somethin’ on every visit.

The general conditions were winds 15 - 20 kt with combined seas to 5 feet.  I was able to hide from Fingal’s wrath in the lee of Princess Alice and the Houghton Islands for a while but eventually had to cross Thompson Bay for my planned campsite at Islet 48.  Fingal saw me break cover and run, acknowledging my presence with a directional shift of a few degrees that was just enough to count coup and cause the sort of discomfort that I have come to expect.  The last half-hour to cover near Islet 48 was wet and busy.

Islet 48 showed unfortunate signs of recent use through beach architecture.  A well-supported vertical pole held a line for hanging a tarp above an area where the drift wood had been moved to create a place for cooking, hanging out, whatever.  I know that it is just me but I so wish that people would practice “leave-no-trace” ethics and remove the signs of their passage. 

Fingal snarled and growled through the night.

8.9 NM  (Go to next article Days 7 to 9 on the Central Coast with Jon Dawkins)

Login / Join