Thursday, September 11, 2014

Five days' kayaking in the Sechelt Inlets. Day 5: Kunechin to Halfway and back to square one

Read the introduction here
Read about Day 1 here
Read about Day 2 here
Read about Day 3 here 
Read about Day 4 here

September 8:


Up to this point, we were still thinking about heading up Salmon Inlet to check out Thornhill Beach. We finally decided against it, as it would be 3 hours' paddle there, another 3 back, and two more to Pedals & Paddles, leaving little time to enjoy the beach or any scenery along the way. Our revised itinerary was a leisurely morning exploring the rocks and shoreline east of Kunechin Point, then crossing to the west side of Sechelt Inlet after lunch and picking our way back south. Despite our best intentions, we didn't get on the water until 9:45.

The east side of Kunechin Point is really nice to explore by kayak. It receives a fair bit of wrack and flotsam from Salmon Inlet, which makes for some interesting debris on shore. We did discover the elusive third campsite we had missed on Day 1: it's at Kunechin Bay, about 10 minutes' paddle from the Point. Kunechin Bay is very sheltered, and it would make a nice alternate campsite if the Point was battered by winds. In nice weather, though, it's inferior to the Point, and by this time of year the bottom was covered in algae, giving the bay a grotty aspect.

We also made our way to what we later found out is a fish farm - a big green building floating just offshore with large netted corrals in the water. These farms are a source of controversy - locals claim they've been responsible for an increase in water turbidity, and because they farm Atlantic salmon, there are concerns about escapees wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem. From there we headed back to the Islets for some low-water exploring. The wind had kicked up and there was a bit of chop, but we weren't concerned; it was nothing we hadn't experienced already. Plus, we were invincible.

After lunch, at about noon, we set off to cross Sechelt Inlet. It was windy and hard paddling. By the time we were about 1/3 of the way across, the handful of whitecaps we had seen in the centre of the inlet had bloomed into a herd - whitecaps everywhere and 18-inch chop. We were halfway across when we realized we'd bitten off a bigger chunk than we had anticipated; 2-foot waves were common, and we had to nose into them to keep from being bowled over. The constant turning into the south wind was adding distance to our east-west crossing. Paddling was physically tiring and took all our mental attention. There was no chance at all to rest. About 3/4 of the way across I just about lost my nerve and turned my back to the wind to let the surf carry me north-west to shore. Jonathon was gamely powering on through the waves in our original direction, and I thought it was too dangerous to get separated, so I followed him.

About 40 minutes' hard paddle had brought us to the lee of Halfway Islet where we could take a breather. We thought we could pick our way along the shoreline and stay mainly out of harm's way, but as we exited the lee into the little bay to the west, we found the wind and waves just as daunting as before. I signalled to Jon to surf into shore, and we pulled up near a charming little cabin where a couple was kind of shaking their heads at our foolishness in making a crossing in such winds.

We discussed our options and decided to wait awhile and see if the wind would die down. I had a plane to catch the next morning, but if we caught the first ferry back to the mainland I could make it, so if we missed the last ferry tonight, we could camp at Piper Point across from the rental place and hightail it back just before dawn. We had enough food and just enough fuel for another meal and some snacks. The owner of the cabin told us about a creek to get some fresh water from, and there wasn't a lot else to do, so we clambered up the creek bed into the forest. It was really beautiful in there and it took our minds off our predicament for a while.

By 4:00 the wind hadn't abated. Halfway Beach was just around the point from where we were, and we figured we could shelter there if paddling was going to be impossible. Rounding the point was 5 minutes of hard paddling but once in the lee of the next point it was merely tough. We pressed on, resting in the lees before powering through the wind and waves at each point. There was a bit of quite hairy paddling where a vertical rock wall bounced the oncoming waves right back into themselves, creating very confused and choppy conditions (the "Wall of Death" on the map linked above). Other than that, it was a doable trek, if not pleasant. In keeping with our experience at Narrows Inlet, the western shore of Sechelt Inlet is much more scenic and interesting than the eastern one; I would have liked to have had a chance to enjoy it.

The further we paddled, the calmer the conditions became, and by the time we hit Piper Point it was quite pleasant paddling weather again. We made a landing on the south side of the point for a quick snack before crossing back to P&P. We hoped to see the ancient midden that's near there, but we didn't know exactly where it was and didn't have time to search.

Last one to Pedals & Paddles was a rotten egg (that's me). We loaded up in record time, gave Laurie a quick thank-you, and hightailed it toward the ferry.

Next: Homeward bound and lessons learned

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