Kayaking Canada’s Inside Passage

Sea Kayaking – From Vancouver to Prince Rupert – 1100 kilometres

July/August 2019 – 33 days

I had already paddled 22,000kms in North America’s wilderness areas, but for years paddling Canada’s Inside Passage has been on my ‘to do list,’ so this year was the year to make it happen. The expedition was going to be shorter than my other expeditions a distance of 1100kms but it was still going to be as demanding, if not more demanding because of the big tides, the weather and rugged coastline.

I was exposed to the Inside Passage in 2004, the year 20 year old Ed Van-Eer and I paddled the entire length of the Yukon River through Canada and Alaska. To get to the Yukon we took a ferry from Bellingham in the USA which motored up the Inside Passage and dropped us off at Skagway. On this ferry ride I was able to see the beauty of the area.

The Inside Passage is a spectacular network of islands and coastal passages running up the west coast of America from Washington State, along the Canadian Coast and extending to southeast Alaska to Skagway. It is a passage favoured by ships, tow boats, barges, ferries and boats of all kinds because most of the ocean passage is protected by islands and the extreme bad weather. Due to there being so many islands and different routes along the coast our path would avoid the main track taken by cruise ships, ferries and big boats, although it would include part of the shipping route because of the spectacular scenery.

Very few paddlers do an extended journey along the coast but there are certain areas that are popular with day trippers and short trip sea kayakers, especially in National Parks, and other special areas.

I asked John Breed, another member of the Ascot Kayak Club to join me. We had paddled together on a 2800km expedition Across Canada two years earlier and got on very well. John is a good marathon paddler who had the endurance and the psychological and emotional capacity to cope with the rigours of such an expedition. He also appreciated the wilderness.

I also invited 19 year old Luke Dooley, who I thought might like the experience of being on an expedition. Luke, from the country town of Kalbarri, an Australian Junior Marathon Champion and with a lot of outdoor experience has the potential to make a good leader. He has always taken an interest in my other expeditions, so when I asked him, he was eager to come along.

Luke, John and I at the start of our expedition.

Apart from encountering rough seas, one of the main obstacles on our journey was going to be the 5-6 metre tides which create currents of 10kms or more an hour in some sections and go out and leave mud flats several hundred metres long. It also meant landing and launching on a low tide would be more strenuous and take longer as we would have to walk over barnacles, oysters, rocks, and mud to get to shore. Another concern, apart from having an altercation with a bear, would be finding a camping spot as most of the coast is very vertical with thick layers of impenetrable trees right down to the water. However on the BC Marine Trials website they have indicated where the best camp spots might be which was going to be a great help.

The 1100 kilometre route that I selected was going to start in the city of Vancouver and finish at Prince Rupert the last settlement in Canada on the west coast.  Going south to north was probably not the best way to head due to the prevailing winds coming from the north-west but all the resources, such as kayaks and gear, were in Vancouver and getting kayaks in Prince Rupert or to Prince Rupert to start the expedition would be difficult and expensive. Once we reached Prince Rupert we intended to sell our kayaks or if there was no interest we would give them away, therefore making it easier to return to Vancouver.

The route along the coast.

My search for kayaks in Vancouver led me to Skyview Camping in the suburb of Surrey. They sold Boreal Designs Epsilon P200 plastic kayaks, the same kayak John used on our 2017 expedition across Canada which he had been happy with. It wasn’t as fast as my Epic 18x that I usually use but it was certainly a lot cheaper and a real work horse.

Although it was impractical to take kayaks from Australia to Canada we could take most of our kayaking gear. There were a few things such as bear bangers, bear spray, maps, that we had to buy in Canada. I carried about 40kgs of gear onto the plane for the expedition, but I still had food and water to add to that weight. (See equipment list at the end of article)

Such an expedition doesn’t just happen there is a lot of planning beforehand, but that can nearly be as exciting as doing the trip. With the help of Google Maps it becomes much easier to view the route and find photographs of sections along the way.

On our arrival at Vancouver we had 2 full days to get ready and be on the water as our Airbnb was booked up the following day. It meant we had to visit Skyview Camping, do our shopping and get our kayaks to the B&B which was next to False Creek, not far from the city centre and only 600 metres from our launching spot. Luckily staff at Skyview Camping were very helpful, not only in the shop, but they also transported our kayaks to the B&B.

The view from our B&B.

Thanks to Jessie, Larry at Skyview Camping, Surrey, Vancouver for having our kayaks and gear ready to go.

Once our kayaks were at the B&B we had to buy our food. It was a 2km walk to the nearest supermarket and we needed to do 2-3 trips to get everything we needed. To save space we packed the foods into manageable bags for easy packing into the kayak. Any wrappers that we could leave behind we did. I bought cereal for breakfast, nuts, dried fruit and muesli bars for snacks, flat breads, jam and cheese for lunch and cheap pasta meals for dinner and the fruit cup for every third night for a treat. It was basic food but it was enough to live off. I was lucky as I wasn’t fussy what I ate and as I had eaten similar food on other trips I knew I could survive. John and Luke, however, bought a lot of cans to make their meals more interesting.

Because I carried the most gear I loaded and unloaded my kayak several times to ensure that everything I was going to take fitted into the kayak and not only that, everything had to have its own spot in the three bulkheads. To make sure I didn’t forget where things had to go I wrote the sequence down. There is nothing worse than getting to your start spot and your gear won’t fit into the kayak.

I started off with 25 days of food, which related to about 28-30kgs. We also carried 10-15kgs of water so all in all I was carrying about 85kgs in the 33kg kayak. (As we were paddling in salt water we had to get water from streams and creeks which we then boiled or filtered.)

My meals packed in clip seal bags. The bags can be used for the next time we shopped. Cereal and oats for breakfast, nuts & raisins & muesli bars for snacks, pitta bread, cheese & jam for lunch
and pasta meals for dinner.

Luke sorting his food out.

Nowadays communication and safety is of major concern and because of new technologies available, expeditions have become a lot safer than the ones I did in the 1980s when my main safety device was a flare. I had a satellite phone for emergencies and I bought a local sim card for my mobile phone to make local calls, to text, facetime chats and update my trip on facebook.  All for only $50 per month. Other electronics and safety devices included a Spot Locator, which I used at the end of each day to show our position to family and friends, a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) for real emergencies, 2 x GPSs, 2 cameras, an Ipad, a solar panel for charging, a compass, flares, and all the charging cables that go with the electronics. I would have loved to have taken a camera with a good telephoto lens to get some close up shots but they are heavy and I have enough gear to take so I managed with a Olympus pocket size camera which all the shots in this report are taken by.

Two days flew by quickly and despite the short time available we were ready to go. Our first day’s paddle was going to be a tough one with 33kms to paddle to get to a campsite out of the city limits. It was going to be even tougher for John who had been touring in Europe for 2 months, had just climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa, but had done no paddling.

The morning arrived for our departure. First though we had to wheel the kayaks and carry our gear 600 metres to the pontoon beside Granville Island. Luckily I brought my trolley as, without it, it would have been a struggle to carry the heavy kayaks that far. I was thinking of leaving the trolley in Vancouver but after wheeling the kayaks with ease, rather than carry, I decided to take it on our journey just in case it could be used in other places. I carried a lot of equipment ‘just in case’ and more often than not I never used it.

Luke, John and I at Prince Rupert, the end of our expedition.

Towing the kayak 600 metres from the B&B to the pontoon.

It was calm in the False Creek Inlet as we paddled away from the pontoon but when we moved out into the open sea the conditions went crazy, partly due to boats, the incoming tide and the swell but mainly because of the wind creating such steep waves. The bay was full of white caps, anchored ships, yachts and power boats zipping to and fro.

Leaving Vancouver via False Creek.

We bounced up and down quite forcefully for 14kms but our kayaks performed very well despite the extremely rough conditions and the fact that the boats were new to us. Our first day out and the seas were really testing, in fact the conditions couldn’t have got much worse,  but after 14kms we got a reprieve as we changed direction and the seas became more manageable. We just hoped that the prevailing wind we were experiencing wasn’t going to blow like this every day as it was energy sapping and our pace was slow.

Rough seas after leaving Vancouver.

After 33kms we reached our first camp spot on a tiny island, but our challenging day didn’t get any better when we were faced with slimy, barnacle rock ledges to climb to get our gear and kayaks well above the high tide mark. Although there were three of us it was still a difficult task, one slip and we could have easily injured ourselves. We certainly got a taste of the gruelling days that were ahead of us.

Better conditions on our first day.

Lunch for me was pitta bread, cheese and jam.

Snacks before and after lunch were nuts, raisins and muesli bars on the water.

Our first campsite was difficult to get to.

The next few days the wind was against us but not as bad as when we left Vancouver. We were following the jagged mainland coast but we weren’t quite yet in the wilderness as houses were a common sight but locals here were still quite isolated as the only way they could get to Vancouver was by ferry.

As we checked out our third campsite, a limb from a tree nearly dropped on us. Then when I began clearing a spot for my tent I disturbed a wasps nest and was stung 3 times as they chased me off the beach and into the ocean to get away from them. Although there wasn’t another camp spot close by we couldn’t stay there. I felt more threatened by the wasps than by bears so we moved on with my swollen ear and arm, and eventually found a stunning place on an island, still with wasps, but not so aggressive.

A great camping spot on an island.

After watching a video at home of paddlers surfing and playing on the famous Skookumchuck Tidal Rapids where huge waves develop at a great height on every tide, we knew we had to divert to the rapids to check them out ourselves. Due to our kayaks being full of gear and the fact we didn’t know what to expect from the current we chose to walk for an hour to the rapids from the locality of Egmont to be on the safe side. The tide had just started to come in when we arrived so to paddle there might have been easy but to paddle back may have been a challenge. Unfortunately, the rapid wasn’t quite at its best when we arrived at the viewing point but we still got a good idea of how ferocious it could become. I had done a lot of tidal paddling in the Kimberley region, where tides are over 10 metres high, and have experienced the power of the rapids that the incoming and outgoing tides produce, so I was in my element.

Skookumchuck Tidal Rapids as the tide starts to flow into the channel.

Seals and Sea lions were a great source of entertainment along the way. They would pop up all around us and make a big splash or be sunning themselves in tight packs on islands often being angry and noisy with each other. Eagles soared but many just perched on trees and didn’t bother to move when we passed. Critters in the night tore apart Luke’s dry bag full of food after he had left it out. It was a nice snack for the critter but after losing some food Luke made sure it was put safely away from then on. It was a learning experience for Luke who was on his first self-contained expedition.

A few days into the expedition my GPS suddenly stopped working, which was a blow because I liked the style and workings of it. The joy stick made it better to control. The spare one I brought with me was just a tap and much less easy to manage, but at least I had one. Although I use a compass on occasions, especially in fog, it is easier and more accurate using a GPS.

The further north we travelled the more isolated we became but in certain areas such as Desolation Sound, a marine park, we unexpectedly came across people and boats. We felt a little annoyed to see so many people but it was very understandable as the scenery in the area was pretty spectacular. When we turned into the sound two killer whales appeared; one sliding extremely close to Luke’s kayak and leisurely swimming a few metres from us before disappearing behind. It was the first killer whale I had seen from a kayak so it was a special moment. Not only were we excited seeing such stunning scenery we now were overjoyed seeing our first killer whale.

Over the next few kilometres Mount Denman (1920 m), the highest peak in the area, looking a bit like the Matterhorn was the centre piece of the stunning mountain range we were headed towards. It was a privilege to be able to paddle here, especially after seeing so many beautiful photographs of the mountain on the internet.

Near the locality of Lund.

Mount Denman in Desolation Sound.

Lunch time at a low tide beach with huge oysters.

Short stay paddlers, who had rented kayaks from a nearby rental company, crowded two small islands, which had designated areas of raised wooden platforms for tents to prevent erosion or destruction of the undergrowth. Further along, nestled between islands, we came across several million dollar boats and yachts that were anchored. The area looked as if it was a playground for the rich or at least people richer than we were. There were also float planes arriving and taking off bringing people who must have been renting a berth on a boat. With the water in this area said to be the warmest water along the coast people were taking advantage by swimming, paddling on small sit-on-kayaks, or paddling stand-up-boards.

A camping platform on an island in the Desolation Sound Marine Park.

Paddling around the islands is Desolation Sound.

Expensive boats in the Desolation Sound Marine Park.

Expensive boats in the Desolation Sound Marine Park.

Within five minutes of threading our way through the islands leaving the flotilla of boats in the shelter of the islands and with Mt Denman staring down at us we were alone once more. It was an amazing contrast.

The camp spot we were headed to looked brilliant from a distance but it was a real disappointment when we arrived as the entire beach was like a mine field at low tide with thousands of huge oysters sticking up like cut-throat razors making it impossible to penetrate without our feet being cut to ribbons. I hadn’t seen oysters so big and so many in one place. We moved on and found a small beach but when the tide came up, the highest tide of the month, the beach was underwater so we had to move again finding an abandoned pontoon with some old drums on it. It was an eyesore in such beautiful surrounds but we appreciated it being there as there was nowhere else to camp.

This beautiful beach turned out being huge oysters.

A small river flows into the ocean in Desolation Sound.

We camped on an abandoned pontoon due to the high tides totally covering the beach.

Compared to the vast expanse and height of the mountains we were like pinheads. Around us there was always something to grab our attention; waterfalls, whales and small dolphins and as we threaded our way through a multitude of islands the highest monthly rise and fall of the tide, created tide races, boils, whirlpools and strong currents.

At one point I was spun 360 degrees in one whirlpool when I stopped paddling to take a photo. There is a lot of warning information written about the tidal rapids in brochures and books but for us the fast currents were just good fun. We wanted more.

Some of the shoreline had ochre coloured rock that reminded me of the Kimberley region, which I adore having spent a year paddling around the Kimberley coastline.

Hovering bands of clouds above Vancouver Island’s high mountains greeted us when we moved out of the islands and into the Johnson Strait. Now we had Vancouver Island close by for the first time. I was surprised and happy to see such spectacular mountains at this point which now became another stunning sight for us to take in and lock in our memories. Sea kayaking trips can often be quite boring but not along this coast. In the strait we also met a few large logging rafts being towed and a couple of cruise ships, but it wasn’t at all busy with boats.

Leaving Desolation Sound and threading our way through several islands.

An island camp.

Johnson Strait. Vancouver Island on the left.

A towboat pulling a large raft of logs.

Vancouver Island.

Not only does the scenery continually change but the weather does as well. When we later crossed a big bay we found ourselves fighting against the tide and the wind in heavy rough seas taking ages to cross. A large power boat thought we were in trouble so came over and asked us if we needed help. I suppose they didn’t know how sea worthy a sea kayak could be in the hands of experienced paddlers.

Being thrown about by waves can be less dangerous than being on shore. Reaching our camp spot that day was a relief and we soon settled in, pitched our tents in the trees and started relaxing on the beach which was narrow and laden with washed up logs. I was at my tent when shouts came from John and Luke saying that bears were coming. As I reached the beach 3 cubs were waddling along the beach and Luke was shouting for me to find my bear bangers and bear spray. With all my gear spread on the beach, in my kayak and in my tent I wasn’t sure where they were. By the time I started searching the 3 cubs moved into the forest and headed towards our tents. Then we spotted mother bear striding slowly along the beach towards us.

Luke was videoing its approach and I found my camera and began taking a few shots. The bear by now was only 15-20 metres away and probably getting too close for comfort but we stood our ground taking in the special moments and not really thinking it would attack. I’m not sure what John and Luke were thinking though. Were they nervous! A few more strides and then the bear, which was a grizzly and more dangerous than the black bear, moved into the forest and around our tents. Moments later the bear appeared on the beach but the other side of us. It looked at us and then entered the water and started walking and swimming in a semi-circle around us. It was quite creepy but I didn’t feel as if we were in danger. Every few metres it would stretch its neck well out of the water and look towards us. Was this a sign to say you are in my territory, a sign it was going to attack or just a sign of checking us out because it hadn’t seen people before.

A grizzly bear gets a little too close.

It circles our camp.

It swims around us.

I wonder what it’s thinking!

Luke takes some video of the grizzly bear circling us.

When it reached the shore it walked a few metres towards us and then walked away before slipping into the forest and around our tents again and back to the other side of us. It looked at us and then just walked off heading away from our camp. A few minutes later it had caught up with the three cubs and the family, apart from the second parent, was walking along the narrow beach and skirting and climbing over the logs away from us.

We really didn’t know if the bears would return but none of us wanted to take our tents down, load our kayaks and go on to try to find another camp so we stayed. However we did put all our food in a bag and hoist it over a tree branch well out of reach.

Our experience with nature didn’t stop there. Throughout the night the trees were making weird, evil noises as the strong wind swayed them into each other. It was like being on the set of a horror movie. Despite the weird noises we must have slept through hearing nothing, but appreciative that when we woke we were still alive and our food bags still high in the trees. If the bears had returned in the night we didn’t know anything about it.

Fog had us hugging the shoreline but when it started to clear bands of clouds milled below the high peaks. We were two days away from our first major stop at Port Hardy where we would replenish our supplies. We pushed on and then out of the blue we were suddenly surrounded by killer whales. They weren’t close, but close enough to see their tall dorsal fins and black and white bodies break the surface of the water. They were behind us, to our sides and in front and so it was hard to know which way to look but we hoped that they would come closer.

Although we weren’t that close, being surrounded, even if it was from a distance was pretty special and exciting. Getting a good photograph was difficult as knowing when they would surface was a hit and miss affair but Luke was the luckiest as he had the speed to paddle hard and get closer to them. Not to be out done pods of dolphins were also crossing our path.

Low cloud.

A killer whale. They were all around us.

A beach on Malcolm Island. Many beaches are like this.

 

Lots of eagles were along the way.

Port Hardy water front from our hotel.

What a meal we had.

A full day and two nights in Port Hardy gave us time to top up our supplies, eat some decent food, top up our batteries, catch up with different things and gather more information for our journey ahead,  however I had little time to relax.

We left the town of Port Hardy quite refreshed and camped in a cove in ‘Gods Pocket Marine Park’ where John and Luke heard wolf cries in the night. Although our camp in the cove was pretty good, it hadn’t been easy to find camping spots along the way due to the nature of the coast being rock, cliffs, tight vegetation and rock/shale beaches heavily littered with huge logs and high tides. Luckily I had gathered information from books and a website pointing out the possible camp spots which we used, but we soon found out that many couldn’t really be called good camp spots, although when there is nothing but a thin slither of rocky beach it’s surprising what you can make do with.

Rock shoreline near Port Hardy.

Our camp at God’s Pocket Marine Park. We had to camp in the trees because the beach is covered with water when the tide is full.

A beach in God’s Pocket Marine Park.

The fog had set in when we made our way across the Queen Charlotte Strait where big patches of kelp, like giant onions, were creating barriers around the islands each side of the strait. These islands were also the home for seals and the kelp was an interest to small waterbirds that fed off insects that gathered. We slipped over the kelp when there wasn’t a gap to get through them.  There was a whale blowing in the distance and two eagles perched on a navigation marker before the strait taking to flight when we got close.

Our vision was reduced to about 500 metres due to the fog but we could see a whale blowing and were lucky enough to avoid a cruise ship that was heading our way at a good speed as we started to cross the deep part of the strait. The fog not only made our crossing eerie we also had to keep a sharp eye out for any ships or boats crossing our path. When fog horns were heard in the distance it only created more uncertainty so when we hit land on the other side of the strait, where the coastline was riddled with islands and impressive coloured rock, we felt a lot safer.

A cruise ship appears out of the fog.

An island in Queen Charlotte Sound.

We were getting closer to the most exposed part of the coast where the warnings of big waves and rough weather were advertised in every print matter that was written about this part of the coast. Also along this section there were proper sand beaches and surf waves which we hadn’t been getting at the camps between the islands so far. To a Canadian it appears that a beach is a landing spot that can be made up of pretty big rock, large potato sized rocks, pebble rocks, rocks with barnacles, mud or shale. When we read of a beach landing we always thought of sand, so we were disappointed when we had to camp on large potato size rocks. However when we camped on pebble rocks it was great as they were clean and comfy and we didn’t get sand, especially wet sand clinging onto all our gear and in our tents and tent zips.

The eastern shore of Queen Charlotte Sound was riddled with islands.

The rain had stopped by morning but the fog reduced visibility so I navigated with a compass across the bays instead of the GPS to save batteries. We could hear the water lapping up the shoreline but we couldn’t see the shore until we were about 50 metres away. Paddling in the fog can have you doubting the way the compass needle is pointing. Although you can’t see what is ahead sometimes it just felt that we were going in the wrong direction. However from experience I knew the compass didn’t lie and I had to have the confidence to follow it. It was easy to get bleary eyed when staring  into the white fog and it was easy to doubt the direction we were headed when shadows, looking like land appeared in the fog, later to disappear.

We crossed several small bays staring into a white nothing and then we came to the notorious Cape Caution where it has been said that giant waves usually hit the coastline. Today you would not believe the stories as the ocean was lifeless. However we will never forget rounding Cape Caution due to about 8 sea lions being curious and very playful around us as we passed the cape.

Fog near Cape Caution

Cape Caution is renowned for being rough.

Playful sea lions off Cape Caution.

There is something beautiful about paddling in fog but when it cleared it was good to see the spectacular surrounds again. Within a few kilometres of our sandy camp on Penrose Island, where it was good camping, good swimming, good views and good weather, we were nearly run down by a yacht. I think the skipper of the yacht couldn’t see us because of the position he was sitting at the rear or he was just not paying attention as it wasn’t hard to see 3 yellow kayaks.

A yacht came a little too close for comfort.

Although the ocean was pretty cold I made it a routine to dive into the water have a short swim and have a good wash every night when possible. On expeditions it is easy to skip a wash especially when it is cold but keeping good hygiene and preventing cuts and grazes from the barnacles and oysters is essential.

One of the better beaches we camp on at Penrose Island.

Clearer skies greeted us in the morning although there were clouds hovering around the higher peaks. It hadn’t rained in the night but our tents were wet and all gear damp from the heavy dew. We started paddling north along the Fitz Hugh Sound and were about to cross the channel to Calvert Island when we noticed a ferry several kilometres away coming from behind. The island didn’t look that far away so we were confident that we would be able to cross the channel before it reached us so we gathered pace and started the crossing. The ferry was going faster than we anticipated and after seeing a dingy motor near the shoreline looking tiny we realised that the shore was still a long way off and we had no chance to get across the channel before the ferry came through so we stopped paddling and instead let the ferry pass and watched a whale surfacing and blowing instead.

The Port Hardy to Prince Rupert Ferry.

Nearing the shoreline a little later we heard water tumbling which turned out to be a waterfall hidden in a small canyon. It was a welcome sight not just because of its beauty but the fact that we could top up our water supplies. It was cool in the small canyon and a great place to be on a hot day.

A waterfall near the Kwakshua Channel in Fitz Hugh Sound.

It was 42kms from our last camp to the next one called Wolf Beach which was near a fairly popular fishing area with a couple of lodges nearby that catered for tourists. Although the tide was against us along the Kwakshua Channel between Calvert and Hecate Islands we still made good progress to the beautiful Wolf Beach which was virtually exposed to the open sea of the Queen Charlotte Sound. It was a wide beach with plenty of space. There were several stunning beaches in the area and sets of islands where yachts and boats could anchor for the night. Most of the beaches though, including this one, were littered with huge logs and when the tide went right out and the mud flats were exposed it lost a part of its beauty.

Wolf Beach another beautiful beach.

A creek next to the beach.

A creek next to the beach.

As I carried my gear to the water’s edge to launch the next morning I noticed bear tracks heavily imprinted in the damp sand. We had a visitor in the night and we hadn’t known. I have slept well every night so if we do have intruders I wouldn’t know.

It was weird paddling across the Hakai Passage towards a group of islands that were named after a war time aircraft such as Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito and Kittyhawk. Although the sea was calm the outgoing tide created an up and down, rock and roll type movement which was quite off putting. Once in the shelter of the islands we had a reprieve from the rock and roll movement but we had the tide against us and once out in open water again, where the wind blew strongly, we had to deal with the tide and rough water until we moved into the shelter of McNaughton Island where we came across 12 boats going in circles with fishing lines being towed behind.

Although most of the coast we have seen has had very few people, once in a while we come across locations like this one where there are a dozen or more boats fishing in the same area. They must get to know where the fish are biting.

It was another big 44 kilometre day much of that against the tide but when we reached our camp spot it was worth the hard work as it was set in a tiny cove with a picturesque view.

Near Swordfish Bay, Hunter Island.

Camp at the south end of Hunter Channel.

We were now in the Hunter Channel only 20 kilometres away from the First Nation community of Bella Bella our last village before reaching Prince Rupert. We arrived in Bella Bella on one of the hottest days we have had. The young locals were having fun by jumping off the high jetty into the ocean and keeping cool. We replenished our water supplies to save having to purify it from a stream and topped up with food supplies as it was the last time we would be able to. We still had 385kms to paddle before reaching Prince Rupert.  The local band store didn’t have everything that a city store had but it still had a pretty good selection for being so isolated.

Arriving at a community also gave us the opportunity to bin our small amount of rubbish we collected and carried. This proved to be a little more difficult at Bella Bella because all the bins were bear proofed and with Bella Bella bins we had to poke a finger through a hole and lift a trigger. The first one we tried to open though we failed so I’m glad we didn’t have a crowd looking on. The second one we were able to open but all rubbish had to go in a black plastic bag so we were told by the locals. The bear bins at Port Hardy were much easier to open.

Bella Bella wharf.

As we returned to our kayaks which were perched on a floating dock a couple were looking at our boats. I got talking to them and told them they would be for sale or we would give them away at Prince Rupert. A little later they came back and asked how much we wanted for them. I will make you a deal Dan said. If you can get them back to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island by the ferry after finishing the trip I will drive 6 hours (500kms) from Victoria and pick you and the kayaks up and drive you down to Victoria on the southern end of Vancouver Island. At Victoria you can take a ferry back to Vancouver he said. After agreeing on a price for all three kayaks we were stunned that we had sold our kayaks before finishing the trip and had the chance to see Vancouver Island which I hadn’t been to before.

Leaving Bella Bella where there were no camping places we moved across the bay to Rainbow Island. Luke who left his phone charger lead at Port Hardy decided to make a quick trip across the bay to the community of Shearwater to see if he could buy one but I think he was more interested in finding a place that had wifi so he could call his girlfriend. With an unloaded kayak he flew across to the community and later came back with 6 beers for John and I (Luke doesn’t drink) and an exciting account of his exploits there. He said, Shearwater was more of a tourist community with a marina full of expensive boats and a lot of newer buildings than what we had seen in Bella Bella.

Another couple were camped on the same island and this was only the 3rd time we had camped at the same location with other kayakers. As they were headed home they let us use their Anker, a USB charging hub, to charge up all our electronics. With 4 or 5 ports we were able to charge 4 or 5 items at one time. It was heavy but they said it was a lot more efficient than a small solar panel which is useless on a cloudy day. I will have to look into one of these for my next trip.

Rainbow Island was going to be the last location I could get phone reception in the next 385 kilometres so I was busily updating my facebook page and gathering information on the trip ahead. After leaving the island I would have to use my satellite phone if I wanted to communicate with the outside world.

It was hard to believe after having several hot days that rain and clouds were forecast for the next two weeks. It didn’t sound good.

It was a misty morning when we left the Bella Bella area being helped along by the outgoing tide. Clouds were hovering around the summits of the high mountains in the distance as two fishing boats and a few power boats went by. The mist soon turned into rain but it stopped just before lunch and because we had made such good progress with the help of the current we only had a few kilometres to go to the last known campsite that we could reach that afternoon. John however suggested going on and finding our own camp spot but that was fraught with problems as we have seen very few camping spots other than the ones that are advertised. We decided to go on anyway and take the risk hoping to make a few more kilometres. Unfortunately after the 36km mark the terrain ahead looked too vertical and too vegetated to find a place to camp so we retreated and it took 3 more kilometres of looking back to where we had come to find a spot.

When the tide went out we could see we would be challenged in the morning when we wanted to leave as the water ended up being several hundred metres from our camp. The dropping tide however uncovered a beautiful rock field that was just waiting to be photographed. The wind increased and a storm developed but our tents were erected in the trees so we were sheltered from wind and heavy rain.

Rocks on a small island opposite Lake Island at the south end of Mathieson Channel.

John had heard bear noises in the early morning but he was too tired to check so he went back to sleep. Parts of the island appeared to have walking trails which of course couldn’t have been made by people because no-one came out here so they must have been bear trails.

It stopped raining just in time to have breakfast but then it started again so we retreated back to our tents. It was low tide and the water was at least 300 metres away so we weren’t keen to move whilst it was raining. When it fined up 30 minutes later it was time to carry our gear closer to the water, walking up and back about four times. Because there was a clear path around the rocks and barnacles we were able to put the kayaks on my trolley and drag/wheel our kayaks through the mud to the water’s edge. Bringing a trolley meant it was more weight I had to carry and on most occasions we couldn’t use it but so far we had used it three other times and about 6 times throughout the trip so it was worth bringing because it saved us a lot of pain.

Pitching a tent in the undulating forest had it’s difficulties.

The channel between Lake Island (on the right) and our campsite on the left in the far distance at low tide.

Once on the water the rain and squally weather returned and although the wind was in our favour the waves had us wallowing most of the day and it didn’t feel as if we were getting anywhere. Being sideways as a big wave set came through was not only cold but the chance of capsizing was increased. The day didn’t get any better and reaching our camp spot on a rocky beach seemed impractical and risky because there was little beach to camp on and the tide was going to be quite high that night. We had no option but to make do. Rain made erecting our tents a chore and it was impossible not to get the inner and outer soaked.

Luke who camped on the other side of a mountain stream about 300 metres away was up and alive when it was time to leave, a bear hadn’t got him in the night. Luke a country kid from Kalbarri was pretty resourceful. Not only did he camp a lot, he was a good paddler, a boat skipper who took boats through the Kalbarri heads into the wild ocean and a good cook as well. For a 19 year old he was competent and proficient and could put his hand to anything. And he didn’t have any issues with camping alone even in bear country.

When the tide is high it’s impossible to camp on some beaches.

The rain had stopped, clouds filtered through the mountains and the day looked promising which I was most excited about as we had made a detour to see a majestic waterfall that dropped straight into the ocean. Tall thin waterfalls were falling right along the near vertical channel and what a spectacle it was but the best was yet to come, the Lessum Creek waterfall in the mountainous Kynoch Inlet.

One of the many waterfalls in Mathieson Channel.

As the clouds dispersed leaving a blue sky I awaited the time we would turn the corner of the vertical coastline and peer at the waterfall for the first time. When the magic moment came the impressive waterfall looked smaller than I imagined but it was at a distance of 2.5kms. As we paddled towards it I was turning my head in a near 360 degrees to check out the whole scene around me which was truly stunning. A vertical mountain over to our right was more rock than trees and although a crisp view of the mountain was slightly spoiled by the heat haze its beauty was still drawing me in. A deep isolated valley on the other side of the waterfall was also intriguing and I wished I had time to explore. It was such a bonus to have clear skies on the day we paddled into such a beautiful area.  Not only that, it helped to lift our spirits and confirm the reason why we have paddled so hard to get there.  We were in true wilderness and not a soul, a man-made structure or a boat could be seen – it was magical.

Heading towards Lessum Creek Falls in Kynoch Inlet.

The falls look small from 2kms away.

Lessum Falls.

We were all smiles.

Luke was shirtless in the heat of the sun but beneath the base of the falls amongst the water spray and a slight breeze the area was much cooler. After several photos and a good look around I really felt content with the day so we moved on and had lunch with a stunning view a kilometre from the falls. It’s such a great feeling to be content.

The day hadn’t finished and with thin waterfalls flowing down the mountains all around us, a narrow channel with such mountain beauty beyond it and the colour and patterns of the rock shoreline to follow, I didn’t really want it to finish even though we were paddling against a fast tidal current.

Kynoch Inlet.

John and Luke have the last look at the falls before moving out of Kynoch Inlet.

Along the way I had been looking at mountain top ridges and trying to make a face from the undulating ridges, a peak for a nose, an indent or valley as a mouth, a bulge for the eye brows and a dip or depression as the chin. It was quite interesting trying to find a face but today John had one better. He was looking at a large hill/ridge ahead and he was seeing a large dinosaur with its head down. We instantly recognised what he was looking at and it did look like a dinosaur.

John saw the shape of the hill as a dinosaur.

Moving into Sheep Passage at Mathieson Narrows.

After struggling against the tide and moving through the narrow channel and into another passage called Sheep Passage the current after 200 metres turned in our favour and gave us a good ride to our campsite making it 43kms paddled for the day. Entering the shallow bay we couldn’t believe our eyes as fish were leaping out of the water and they were pretty big fish. It was yet another special moment we were witnessing as large schools of salmon just swam under our kayaks and leapt into the air. The reason why were they leaping out of the water, the reason why they didn’t move off when we arrived, we didn’t know but we got a kick from watching them.

Unfortunately it started to rain when we landed so I quickly erected a nylon tarp to take shelter under as it was too early to hide in the tent. Meanwhile Luke, who was a keen fisherman, decided to take to his kayak and try to get a fish by spearing one with a crooked stick  (we didn’t have any fishing gear with us). As the rain poured down I watched Luke the hunter from under my tarp having no success. He was persistent though and stayed out on the water for some time.

It was perhaps a good thing he didn’t catch a big fish as we didn’t have a pan to fry it up and with the wood being so wet and virtually impossible to light a fire it would be hard to cook one in the coals. Nevertheless Luke’s persistence was creditable but he eventually gave up so it was pasta night again!

Luke trying to spear a salmon with a crooked stick.

It rained solidly in the night, the tide was several hundred metres out and with every few minutes that passed more of the reef, which was beyond the receding water was uncovered. We had to make haste and get going before the reef cut us off completely although most mornings it took us two to two and a half hours to get going.

I used timbers to drag my kayak over the barnacles and closer to the water. John and I were ready to go but Luke was well behind and didn’t have his tent down. With explosive actions and a little help from me Luke was soon on the water and paddling out the shallow cove as a black bear walked along the shoreline.

Once out of Sheep Passage and into Heikish Narrows we hugged the vertical shoreline where there was an abundant of starfish and other marine life. Peering down in the water it was so clear we could see underwater for metres and see hundreds of starfish clinging to the vertical walls above and below the waterline. It was a sheer delight.

Pink starfish cling to the rock.

A number of sea urchins under water.

Following the shoreline proved to be very interesting.

We reached Princess Royal Channel which is only a kilometre wide in places. It is so deep that the ferries and cruise ships use it on their way to Prince Rupert or up to Alaska. I was surprised to see how scenic the channel was and how many whales we sighted.

After another wet night the wind was howling down the channel creating a confused sea. We were lucky that it was blowing in the direction we were headed but the following wallowing waves didn’t make paddling that easy as we were tossed up and down, side to side with breaking waves landing in our laps. A following sea can be as tiring as heading into the waves but usually more kilometres can be achieved.

Meanwhile whilst John and I had enough on our plate paddling in one direction Luke was having a great time surfing the waves, turning around to paddle back and then surf the waves again. He had the power to chase them down and it was a way for him to keep warm as he was a lot faster than we were.

With the heavy rain, waterfalls were cascading off mountains all over the place and giving us something else quite beautiful to concentrate on. The rain was a pain but the wind was even worse nevertheless it was still beautiful so we couldn’t complain.

We had several days of rough seas.

The weather changed constantly and the views were always special to look at.

A rapid/waterfall at one of our camp spots.

At our camp we could see and hear a whale on the other side of the channel and it stayed at the same location for hours. The wind suddenly stopped, misty clouds hovered in the hills and it was silent except for the streams heading out of the forest.

The ferry goes by as it is misty and raining. We used logs a lot to drag our kayaks along to prevent them getting sliced by the barnacles.  

We had rain on and off for 8 days.

A whale slapping its tail and blowing woke me up about 5am but it was a welcome alarm clock. With all the cloud cover in the last few days I haven’t been able to charge my camera batteries so they were really low. The thought of not being able to take photos in such a beautiful area was concerning.

It wasn’t long before we were passing Butedale a former fishing, mining and logging camp which once had a population of 400 people. In the 1950s the salmon cannery closed and now Butedale is deserted apart from a caretaker living there. It wasn’t what you call a beautiful sight but the big waterfall nearby certainly was, it was impressive and pumping. So we had a big waterfall to our left and a humpback whale to our right. How good is that!

Butedale abandoned fish factory and waterfall.

Mist was willowing around the mountains and the many waterfalls, some small, some high were cascading from the top of the mountains or from the saddles.  We were travelling well until all of a sudden our speed dropped as we met a current coming from the other direction. The tide had changed incredibly quickly so we headed for the shoreline to use eddies and slightly slower water to make headway. I was quite fond of paddling near the shore as it not only gave us the opportunity to check out the starfish but we could also check out the cliffs, look into the forest, and study the many gnarly trees that seem to grow in the most  amazing places. It was a daily occurrence to have the tide against us at some time in the day. We passed a brilliant waterfall, the water cascading over the rock created patterns only an artist would be able to duplicate.

John is dwarfed by a waterfall in Princess Royal Channel.

Another waterfall in the Princess Royal Channel. How good would it be to explore above the waterfalls. A lot of the forest is impenetrable so it would be tough to hike through.

A strange looking boat and the Prince Rupert to Port Hardy ferry motored down the channel at a pretty fast pace. We waved as it went by knowing that we would be sitting inside it in several days’ time after we finish the trip.  On the other side of the channel a whale, which had been swimming behind us since leaving our camp, was going the same speed as us. We crossed the channel and were about 50 metres away when we intersected it. It was great to hear it blow and break the surface and although it did a few lunges it was so hard to get a good photo. We followed for at least an hour, at times watching it rise to the surface with open mouth to grab a feed.  Even though it was only 50 to 100 metres ahead it didn’t allow us to catch it up and unfortunately we lost sight of it when we decided to have lunch.

We wave to the ferry we will be taking on the way back.

A whale chases a meal.

On the west side of the channel was a range with six peaks and a waterfall which cascaded from the top of the mountain. As the water fell the cascade changed direction and I just couldn’t take my eyes off it as I wanted it to remain in my memory for life. When I see so much spectacular country it is so easy to forget so I study any special scenery longer. Having photos to look at when I get home helps to retain those magnificent moments as well.

Six peaks in the Grenville Channel.

Lunch time. Pitta bread, cheese and jam. Nuts, raisins and muesli bars for snacks on the water.

A waterfall in Grenville Channel.

The mist of the morning had mostly gone however there was cloud above the mountain range. After so much rain we rejoiced earlier when a little sun filtered through the clouds but our enthusiasm was dampened when it came to nothing and ended up being a cloudy day and threatening to rain.

We were being lifted to our camp with the tide but suddenly and all at once a swift current started to come towards us and slowed our progress enormously. We headed for the shoreline yet again. I had paddled in big tides in the Kimberley but I must admit the tides along this coast with a myriad of channels and islands made it difficult to work out exactly what the tide was doing.

Arriving at our camp, as with most nights more recently, we spread all our wet gear on washed up trees and lines hoping to get a few things dried. Our tents soon dried so we managed to erect them before the rain set in but our clothes had no chance. I washed a couple of my thermals which needed to freshen up but I knew they would be damp in the morning but so were all my other paddling clothes. The rain stopped and the view down the channel was exceptional and with a loon singing away it was a beautiful evening.

Trying to dry our gear was virtually impossible with the cloudy weather.

A loon calls in Klewnuggit Inlet.

There wasn’t enough heat in the evening to help to dry our clothes so John and Luke tried to light a fire without a lot of success as the wood was so saturated. By the time I could hear the fire crackle we were all in bed.

Luke and John trying to light a fire with the saturated wood.

The mountains looked magnificent as we headed away from our camp at Klennuggit Inlet even with some low lying clouds hovering. I took a couple of photos just before Luke shouted, ‘Killer Whales!’ They were in the channel heading south so we paddled hard to get closer. There were about six of them. They weren’t in a hurry but unfortunately they were going in a different direction to where we were going so it wasn’t long before we had to say our goodbyes.

Leaving Klennuggit Inlet.

Six killer whales pass by.

The great thing about this trip was that every day brought on new surprises or something scenically special like the morning we launched and a saw a bear walking away from our camp and along the shoreline leaving us to wonder how long it had been near our camp. And later we had whales casually swimming and blowing beside us. Then we got other surprises like the day after. I saw a black log on the shoreline and I said to Luke that every black shape on shore I see I think it is a bear.  I said I’m always disappointed though when the shapes never move but to our surprise this black log that I was pointing at did move and it turned out to be a black bear and her cub. They were walking along the shoreline lifting rocks with their paws and flicking them over like they were small stones. They were foraging for crabs or shell fish I expect.

They had their back to us so we were able to creep up getting closer and closer until we were 2-3 metres away. When they realised we were there they turned and stood there wondering what to make of us. They stared, walked on a few paces and stared at us again. It was like they were looking at some aliens and I was wondering if they had seen people before. They didn’t look at all threatening, just surprised. Both Luke and I were taking photographs and capturing such a great moment.  We were so close we could have touched them with our paddles. They walked a few more paces and stopped, looked again and then the cub stood up. Minutes had passed and they still didn’t run instead they turned and walked slowly towards the trees leaving us quite thrilled.

Black bears searching for food under the rocks.

We paddled on crossing another wide channel still quite jubilant and stopped in the middle of the open water and ate nuts and raisins. It was calm and peaceful and we just floated taking in the scenic backdrop and thinking of all the beauty we had seen and the things we had experienced since leaving Vancouver. Tomorrow we will be in Prince Rupert and the finish of our trip but sitting there it just felt too early to stop as there were more adventures to be had.

We floated and took in the amazing scenery and contemplated what we had been through and the ending of our trip.

Just hanging around.

Our last morning on the high seas greeted us with a great sunrise. Prince Rupert, our destination was only 35 kilometres away and it looked as if it was going to be a fairly calm morning. The tide was coming in but as we found out it didn’t seem to be against us. We paddled in pretty exposed water but with the calm conditions we had nothing to worry about apart from getting in the way of a big ship crossing the shipping channels and in the harbour. The current closer to Port Edward, a location near Prince Rupert, did turn against us but not for too long, an incoming tide helped us pass the container port and arrive at our final destination at Cow Bay Mariner in 5 hours.

Sun rise on our last paddling day. McMicking Island.

Low tide and a lot of walking. McMicking Island.

Kelp next to an island between the Malacca and Marcus Passages.

An island between the Malacca and Marcus Passages.

The container port at Prince Rupert.

The fishing boat harbour and ferry terminal at Prince Rupert.

It was strange after 34 days of paddling a heavy sea kayak 6 to 9 hours, 30 to 45 kms a day in some of the worlds more spectacular scenery to find ourselves at a standstill perched on a pontoon at a marina. Our expedition had finished. Now what!

We have finished. We were excited and sad.

Well we had to walk our gear and kayaks, mostly up-hill, about 700 metres to the local hostel. I placed my kayak on the trolley, threw some light gear in it, put my backpack full of heavy gear on my back, my food bag in my left hand and started pulling the kayak along the road towards the hostel with odd looks from the locals. It was extremely hot and hard work so I was relieved when I found the hostel. The trolley was taken back to the pontoon and the same procedure was done for Luke and John.

It was great to have a shower and to sit on a toilet seat and have a day without paddling, although all our gear needed washing or cleaning which was a slow process.

Walking the kayak 700 metres to the hostel.

Joe from Skeena Kayaking and his friend Mike have lunch with us. Joe showed us around and took our kayaks to the ferry terminal.

After two days in Prince Rupert we travelled back to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island by ferry. The ferry travelled over some of the route we had taken by kayak so we were excited to see the country from a different perspective, however looking out of the window and seeing all the scenery go by was pleasant, but it wasn’t the real deal. I didn’t get that feeling of being close to nature, fighting or just experiencing the weather elements, should it be the sun, the wind or the rain or feeling the coolness and spray from a waterfall.

That 16 hours on the ferry, which I must say was very comfortable, just confirmed that looking from a boat didn’t give me the real experience, the feeling of being in the clouds, or seeing them hover, or staring blindly into the fog, or hearing the blow of a whale or seeing a jumping fish but most importantly sitting on a boat didn’t give me that sense of achievement. When I’m kayaking I forget that I’m nearly 70 years old but sitting on a boat looking into the reflection of a window and seeing myself inactive and old looking is a reminder that life should not be wasted and every opportunity, be it for a few hours, a few days or a few weeks should be taken to get out into a wilderness.

If you are fit or you have the capacity to get fit, no matter how old you are why sit on a boat when you can paddle and really feel the true nature of the outdoors.

Landing in Port Hardy we met up with Dan who bought our kayaks. We loaded them onto his van and he drove us 500kms down to Victoria, the Vancouver Island and BC capital. We stayed three days with Dan and Sue and then took the ferry back to Vancouver to catch up with Dan and Cheryl two other friends that have helped us on previous trips to Canada.

Then we caught our flight home. It was all over.

********************************************

 

A big thanks to Jessie and Larry from Skyview Outdoors in Surrey, Vancouver, BC (skyviewcamping.com) for having our kayaks and some gear waiting for us when we arrived in Vancouver. We had great service which is a relief when arriving from another country. The Boreal Design Epsilon P200 kayaks worked extremely well for our expedition.

Many thanks to Joe from Skeena Kayaking (skeenakayaking.ca) who drove us to the ferry terminal twice, and who drove us around town and out to his kayak rental site in a bay 14 kilometres out of town. It was great to see some of the country and have lunch with him and his friend Mike at a restaurant over-looking the marina. We talked lots and learnt a lot about things local.

Thanks to Dan and Sue for buying our kayaks, for giving us a ride 500 kilometres down Vancouver Island and for putting us up for 3 nights.

 

Equipment

  • We left Vancouver and Port Hardy with 25 days of food and were topped up in two other communities.
  • We were paddling in salt water so we had to get fresh water from streams, which was either boiled or purified. When at a community we used tap water. Most of the time we carried 10 to 18 litres of water.
  • Apart from camping at one official campsite and stayed in a hotel for two nights, we camped 32 night in the wilderness.

Boreal Designs Epsilon P200 plastic kayaks
Epic Paddle
Spare Paddle – Epic (Never Used)
PFD – Hydraulics Ocean Pro
Spraydeck
Trolley – Sea to Summit
Deck Bag – Baja Seal Line
Stern Bag – Baja Stern Bag
Bilge Pump – Sea to Summit
Maps – We carried maps as well as a GPS.
Paddle Leash – Sea to Summit
Paddle Float – Sea to Summit)
15m Throwline/Tow line
First Aid Kits
Dry Bags – Sea to Summit Lightweight & Big River
Dry Box – Pelican
Booties – Sea to Summit Blitz Booties
Thermals – Wilderness Wear
Gloves – MRS
Cag – Kokatat  Lightweight Cag & Kokatat Anorak Gortex Tec Tour
Sleeping Bag – Sea to Summit Trek TK 111
Sleeping sheet – Sea to Summit
Sleeping Mat – Therm-a-rest Ultralite
Pillow – Thermarest
Water Purifier – MSR
Tent – Wilderness Equipment Space 1
Stove – WhisperLite International (Note John and Luke had a canister stove)
Pots – MSR Titanium
Fuel Bottle – MSR
Satellite Phone – Iridium
Mobile Phone – Iphone
Ipad
Personal Locator Beacon – ACR Rescue Link
Locator – Spot – We were able to send our position home or to Dan every night.
GPS – Garmin etrex Legend & Garmin Oregon 550
Solar Charger – Biolite 220 mAh
Camera- Olympus Stylus.
Compass – Sylva
Torch – Black Diamond
Knife – Victorinox Rescue Tool
Water Bags – Sea to Summit Pack Tap
Water Bottles – Nalgene
Trowel – Coglans
Clothes/ Variety/Rainjacket +
Sand shoes
Papers & Passport in dry box
Tape/Bitumen tape/spare parts
Bear bangers, bear spray