Sunday, December 03, 2017

Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago: August 13-14 2017: Close Encounters and Homeward Bound

Woke wet. The night's heavy rain had stopped, but left sticky cedar bits & pieces all over everything. We were getting toward the end of the trip, very aware that this was the last leg and a little sad about it. Things were going so ideally (aside from my chewed-up hand) that we felt like we could go on out here forever. A beautiful paddle with intermittent sprinkles to the Fox Group where we stopped for a quick stretch and to check out the group site. A great spot with lots of driftwood and plywood amenities cobbled together (cooking platforms, etc) and lots of room for groups, although the tent sites themselves were all pretty lumpy. It's obviously heavily used and would be a good candidate for a pit or composting toilet.
Misty mountain hop
As we set off south, we saw a weird little dory-type boat with a mast trundling down the channel.
Health Bay
Near Health Bay we caught up with it. Max and Addie in Oiselle, the smallest sailboat I've ever seen. They had launched from Skagway and were on their way back to their hometown of Bellingham, a 3-month journey. They'd done all but 50 miles of this trip by rowing - the sail hadn't helped much. We chatted for about 1/2 hour then parted ways.
Addie and Max and Oiselle and I
You can see photos at their Instagram page.

Exiting Retreat Passage into the Broughtons
And this is where the hobbits would live
All was smooth sailing until we discovered the passage between Cedar Island and Midsummer Island dries at low tide! An annoying 200m carry of the loaded boats to get back to water, and lunch at Owl Island where a large tour group of novices had set up camp. The two guides were great - the Aussie guy told us not to miss White Cliff Islets, and Sarah, the Canadian gal, gave us directions to a good camping spot on Hanson Island which she said beat our original destination of Leg Cove hands down. They were both absolutely right. Many thanks to them!

White Cliff Islets are insanely scenic and pictureque - if you're in the area do not miss a chance to visit them! Camping on them would be fairly exposed, but with some shelter from topography, trees, and bushes - not the bare rock we had imagined when we decided against them as a campsite.
White Cliff Islets
It was a rock shelf landing, and we could hear a humpback blowing nearby. There was a couple camped there already, and they said the big guy had been feeding right next to the islets all morning. We got a real show, with lots of diving and tail slapping, and a textbook display of bubble feeding, which I was fortunate enough to catch on video. Sorry for the crappy quality; I'll try to find a better converter and re-upload.

He then passed right next to the islet - mere feet away - and we could see just how huge he was.

When the show died down, we began to pick our way down the chain of islets toward Swanson Island. There were fishing and whale watching boats everywhere, and humpbacks blowing, slapping and diving in all directions - you didn't know which way to look! There was a huge sound like a 40-foot sea can being dragged over concrete: a humpback making its weird, wonderful groan. The whale watching boats were very noisy, hollering announcements over loudspeakers. One of them played recordings of orca noises to attract the whales closer, which I think is a dirty trick. I'm of two minds about the whole business. On one hand, I'm glad the industry is set up to preserve and not to hunt them; on the other, I couldn't help feeling like there was an element of harassment going on - it was so noisy and busy, the marine equivalent of Grand Central Station.

Trying to stay away from the motorized vessels, we ended up in the middle of a family of orcas just off the western tip of Swanson Island: mother, calf, and Big Daddy leading the way with the occasional bellow. We got a real show, with mama and baby very active, jumping, playing and squeaking. They came within a hundred yards or so of us as we floated there in amazament. As we paddled on, Big Daddy surfaced very close - I just missed a photo op where Jon and his kayak were perfectly silhouetted against Big Daddy's back and dorsal fin. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and we feel privileged to have been allowed to see them so close and so active.
Jon and Big Daddy
Eventually the orca family moved on, we crossed Blackfish Sound to Hanson Island before the afternoon wind arose. Another pod of orcas in the distance, including one with the largest dorsal fin I have ever seen.

Sarah's campsite was excellent, deluxe accommodations with an easy landing from either east or west, sheltered tent sites (7), a great beach to spread out and dry our wet gear, and a trail to a headland with a stellar view of Blackfish Sound and Queen Charlotte Strait beyond.
On the headland, overlooking Queen Charlotte Strait and Blackfish Sound
Lat: N 50°35'16.2816" Lon: W 126°46'04.8000" The only thing it lacks is a source of water.

It was the last night of our trip, and we enjoyed every minute of it, finishing the rest of our food and drink perched on the headland, watching sea lions and boats go by. A gigantic cruise ship blasted past, looking for all the world like a skyscraper on its side and dashing massive waves against the shore.

The next morning, we launched around the west side of Hanson Island just after slack. Big currents were already building, and we rode them downhill into Johnstone Strait. You could see how the various waters converged and clashed, making weird eddylines with calm water on one side and vicious chop on the other. Luckily we harnessed relatively calm conditions, but the potential for this area to be fearsome was clear. I'd consider an early-morning crossing essential for a transit of Johnstone.

A pretty boring paddle back to Alder Bay, that last homeward push that's always a slog. Showers were much appreciated, as were clean dry civilian clothes. By the time we packed up and drove away, you wouldn't have known we'd just spent the past 10 days in the woods and the brine.
But first: Looking greasy at Alder Bay
We hadn't reserved spots on the ferry, as we didn't know exactly when we'd be returning. So we had an excruciating three-ferry wait from Nanaimo back to Vancouver.

We couldn't have imagined a trip that would top last year's Desolation adventure, but this one was all-time. Where to go next? Maybe Hakai.

Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago: August 12 2017: Poking Around

We'd decided to camp at Insect Island a second night and take today to just paddle around in the islands. Woke at 7:00 to mist rolling in and the sound of harbour porpoises huffing and blowing in the bay in front of the campsite. After watching them do their slow-motion back-and forth for a while, we set off for a ramble around the archipelago. As we were packing up, we could hear the racket of a bunch of young yahoos kayaking toward us, yelling and singing and making the worst din. Frightened they were going to camp at Insect Island, we arranged with our neighbours to come stay on their side of the campsite tonight if necessary.

We left the shrieking throng behind, paddling with more porpoises down Misty Passage, and topped up our water with some cedar tea from a little lake-fed stream in the unnamed cove west of Joe Cove, then went out to the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound where a panorama awaited: views up Vancouver Island, down to Malcolm Island and all the way to the Polkinghornes.
Exiting Misty Passage
Digital artifacts not present in the original view
It was calm and sunny, just an ideal day. The humpbacks thought so too: they began to blow, to slap tails, and to dive in every direction around us as we skirted the very edge of Queen Charlotte Strait.

After a couple hours watching the show, we noticed a weather front coming in from the north, so we decided to wander back to camp after lunch.

Hauling our boats up onto the rocks at Start Island for lunch, I slipped on some seaweed and took a nice big chunk out of my hand on an ancient barnacle. Which is why you take the first-aid kit even on day trips.

After lunch we picked our way back through the maze of islands and up Arrow Passage, where we got a stunning view of the mountains beyond. Near Mars Island a yacht from Vancouver, WA whipped by us, creating a nice wake to surf, then spun around and crept over to us, donating a nice salmon filet to our meal tonight! The rain caught up with us just as we landed, and we hastily erected tarps to keep our kitchen dry. The yahoos from this morning hadn't decided to camp here, thank god, and we had a fantastic if slightly soggy meal, topped off with slightly too much scotch. After the wonderful whale show and our porpoise companions, wildlife highlights of the evening included a fantastic big warty frog on the trail, and a big dark-brown mink on the beach.
On the Insect Island beach at sundown

Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago: August 11 2017: Into the White

Lack of sun and a generally chilly mien made this site a no-go for a two-day stay, and we had decided on a compass-led crossing to Broughton Island first thing in the morning. We took a bearing for Card Point, the shortest crossing possible from our position. We were confident of our bearing and technique; nonetheless, it was with some nervousness that we launched into the blank white mist. All was still, no sound of engines or even of birds. There was nothing to tell you you were heading one way or another, and only the reflection on the water even showed up from down. It was unnerving, disorienting, and a great success.
Into the white
We hit Card Point dead-on; we couldn't have been more accurate if we had been staring at it the whole time! Rather than disturb a mama black bear and cub at the first lake-fed stream, we pushed on to Cockatrice Bay. It was a bit of a hike up the stream to get past the brackish water, loudly singing bad songs all the way to deter bears.

Just before Dobbin Bay we began to hear whales blowing fairly regularly, and soon we began to see them. We got a great show with the big humpbacks surfacing, blowing, and diving all around us. They stayed with us all the way to Fife Sound, and one fellow gave a fantastic display of tail-slapping.

Near the enticing maze of islands that guard the entrance to Booker Lagoon, a big humpback surfaced too near for comfort - maybe 50 feet. All this time there was weird wild groaning and gargling sounds from farther ahead: sea lions? A bearing off Gordon Point to Duff Islet got us there. Near Screen Islet we saw them - a sea lion haulout. They made their arguments and counterarguments, their complaints and exclamations. A big one slid off the rock and stood sentry, keeping us in his beady eye with his snout raised vertically from the water. There was a horrendous stench upon the air, which we soon put down to a sea lion carcass guarded by a couple of eagles, one of them very ratty-looking.
Dinner and dinner's guardian
After a snack hunkered down in the chilly wind at Gander Bay, we set off eastward into the Benjamin Group. On the north side of Eden Island the currents were significant - we could even hear them like a river rapid in the middle of Fife Sound. We rode some fun fast currents in toward John Island to check out the south campsite.

I wouldn't call it a campsite. Lots of potential in this sheltered little bay, but it would need considerable work to make it anything like a destination. With some development, two separate one-tent sites would afford relative privacy and the potential for a group evening campfire on the beach, although at spring tides there'd be no beach at all.
The most comfortable spot at John Island South
Through Old Passage, a pretty, kelpy channel, to the Insect Island site, where a top-notch midden beach indicates a long history of use. The Insect Island site is roomy and well-used - tons of room for at least a couple of large groups - level open forest and views over Misty and Blunden Passages. We had narrowly missed the window of opportunity to bag the prime site (to the south) but the second-best site was pretty great too. The previous tenants hadn't extinguished their illegal campfire. With wildfires raging across all of Western Canada, how could you not at least do your bit and put your damn fire out before you left a campground? Seriously, people.

The beach at Insect Island
We had a great chat with our neighbours, who gratifyingly grooved on the Mariners. Thanks to Sullivan Bay we had a little bit of extra booze, so we indulged ourselves and decided not to set an alarm for the next morning. Lat: N 50°45'17.3" Lon: W 126°37'32.4"


Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago: August 10 2017: Dead Reckoning

The heavy fog made a circuit of Watson Island pointless; we wouldn't be able to see any of the scenery. As well, we'd likely have to fight current in Wells Passage if we took the "scenic" route this morning. So we reluctantly cut off the northernmost leg of the trip and started straight for the Polkinghornes.

Glad we'd checked out Hopetown Passage last night; we knew where the deepest channel was, and we took it, now running swiftly westward. (If you visit the area, hug the north shore and you'll be alright at any tide.) The whole area was full of weird currents, sometimes unexpectedly against us. Above the waterline, the world was dead still as we crossed the mouth of Dunsany Passage, and the dense fog gave it an eerie science-fiction quality. It was so thick you couldn't see the other shore except at the narrowest points, and you could predict which way the current would be running at any point by looking "uphill" or "downhill" - the water was visibly higher upstream.
We rode the current, hugging the eastern shoreline where we could. Visibility improved and we were afforded a really cool view of Stuart Narrows into Drury Inlet - a tempting distraction, but we wanted to make the Polkinghornes today and hopefully beat the worst of the current in Wells Passage when the tide turned.

At Lambert Island we stopped for a stretch and a snack. Continuing down Wells Passage, we got a glimpse of the Wren Hills in the fog. Passing Bourmaster Point, it became increasingly foggy and the water became more and more glassy, and we began picking out each new landmark and confirming it before proceeding - it was all dead reckoning. It was like paddling on glass with occasional currents popping up; we were expecting a lot more currents to reckon with in the area and were glad it was such easy going, actually.
Mouth of Carter Passage, looking east
The fog was so heavy that we had to pick our way from islet to islet.
Between Dickson and Percy Islands
Percy Island was completely invisible until we were at the final islet; same with Vincent Island (which has crazy rock formations - a real geological bizarro-world).
Vincent Island
Yet suddenly, there they were: the Polkinghorne Group, seeming too near to be really them.

The clam beach on the main island that marks the campsite is really obvious, an easy landing (though a long carry at low tide). We checked out the rock ledge campsite mentioned in Kimintas and on the BCMTNA site and found it scenic but way too exposed, not to mention cut off from the main island by mid tide - was this hunk of bare rock really the only suitable spot on the island?
Ancient barnacle civilization at Polkinghorne Island

The canoe run on the NE approach to the Polkinghorne site
A bit of walking revealed 3 upland campsites with plenty of evidence of prior use, one of which is absolutely perfect. Lat: N 50°47'53.3" Lon: W 126°56'02.4"
Main tent site at Polkinghorne Island
The beach has tons of featurettes, including a log seat with a backrest. The only drawbacks to this site are a lack of sun and a lack of water.
An ex-jellyfish at Polkinghorne Island
After setting up camp and having a bit of lunch we made a recreational circumnavigation of the island cluster. Light wind in Queen Charlotte Sound made significant waves on the west side of the islands, which are very windswept - dramatic west coast bansai gardens.
Playing on the west coast of Polkhinghorne Island
At Fantome Point
The Mariners handled the wind waves, 3 feet and more in places, handily. I guess we were hitting our stride as paddlers too. Once in the lee of the islands conditions were as calm as you would wish; a crossing to Broughton Island would be as flat as a board. We did a bit more amateur orienteering while floating there, disagreeing on what features on the opposite shore corresponded to which features on the map.
Looking north from the southern tip of Polkinghorne

Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago: August 9 2017: Into the North

Very damp and chilly this morning. So foggy that for all you could tell, the land could be prairie or Everest - ceiling about 25 feet.
Leaving Cypress Harbour
We hugged the shore until Greenway Sound, where the prospect of a crossing in zero visibility stopped us in our tracks. We picked our way down along the shore, past the fish farm, until we could see Cecil Island, where we landed to take a compass bearing and put our theory to the test. We figured that even if we were wrong, we had about 90 degrees of error to play with - a good test ground. We took a bearing for Maud Island and launched again.

As we set out into the white, it wasn't more than a minute or two before we could see Maud Island straight ahead of us, both confirming our theory of how this worked and providing us a visual target to shoot for. The fog was lifting, and placid conditions prevailed all the way up to Sullivan Bay.
View into Patrick Passage (L) and Dunsany Passage (R)
Toward Sullivan Bay
We were halfway into our trip, and Sullivan Bay Marina provided a nice taste of civilization at that point. It was a bit awkward tying our kayaks up to the dock which was built for larger vessels, and in our ragtag paddling gear we looked more than a bit out of place. I wouldn't trade kayaking for a more convenient method of travel, but sometimes the "yotters" in their dry civvies inspire a little pang of jealousy. As advertised, though, they're friendly to kayakers. We ran some of our more foetid gear through the laundry and took showers, bought potato chips, tinned soup, apples, and some wine (just in case). As we waited for the laundry cycle to finish, the local chef came by and gave us a couple take-out containers of fried rice. Brilliant!
Sullivan Bay Marina
We'd lingered a bit, and after a choppy crossing of Dunsany Passage we calculated it was too late to attempt a clockwise circuit of Watson Island to get to our destination of Blair Islet - we'd be trapped by the currents on the ebb - so we decided to head through Hopetown Passage instead. We sailed through like billy-o, carried by a nice strong current to the mouth of Mackenzie Sound. Lat: N 50°55'11.2" Lon: W 126°47'30.7"
Hopetown Passage, looking east
Magnificent views! High, craggy mountains. The campsite at Blair Islet was a bit hidden - it's a bit west of the southernmost point of the islet. A very appealing spot, athough there'd be no beach at all at the highest tides.
Blair Islet, with the mainland beyond
We had a nice tramp around Blair Islet - no bears, which meant we could keep our food in the boats. Some big cedars here, spared during the logging of last century probably because they weren't perfect trees. Lots of big old stumps with notches cut out of them for loggers to stand on, some with burned-out hearts. We had fun riffing on the idea of running an eco-tourism/parkour outfit here, playing athletic follow-the-leader through the 100-year-old logging debris.

After supper we paddled out into Mackenzie Sound for a bit more look-see at the scenery. It's a stunning spot, well worth a visit.
Mackenzie Sound, looking east
We checked out Hopetown Passage again, expecting the current to be running west at this point, and were surprised to find it was still running eastward, only one channel open now around low tide. So we clawed through against the current into placid fields of kelp then -just for kicks - shot the rapids one more time back to camp.
Hopetown Passage at sundown, looking west

Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago: August 8 2017: Azure Splashes

Despite our best efforts, striking camp still took 2 hours and it was 7:30 before we were on the water. It was a rough launch! We loaded the kayaks as close to the water as possible, but the tide was still falling, which meant lifting the loaded boats into the water over large boulders - a comedy of errors culminating in "Just chuck it in there, Jonny!" and some lost gelcoat. Conditions were foggy and mild, with just a bit of headwind all the way to the Burdwoods, which came on quicker than we expected. Porpoises (dolphins?) were plentiful as we exited Tribune Channel into some interesting currents, which we had fun riding.

We stopped for lunch around 11:00 on a little clamshell tombolo near Watson Islet and met our first fellow kayakers, a group of Europeans in tandems.
Lunch on the remains of lunches past
Looking north from Watson Islet
Rode the currents through the Burdwoods, a pretty island group flanked by higher mountians, very scenic and charming. We checked out both the main site - great swimming beach, and a very developed site with a little cabin and everything! - and the "islet hideaway" site, before proceeding up Penphrase passage, hoping for good conditions as the sun began to peek out through the cloud. The water was not rough, but the wind did keep us constantly correcting course as we transited Raleigh Passage.
Looking west across Raleigh Passage
Once across, reasonably calm conditions miraculously persisted and we kept our fingers crossed that the passage behind Trivett Island was open; we didn't have a lot of faith in the charts since being stymied at Care Island the other day.
Looking south back towards the Burdwoods from a stretch stop south of Trivett Island
Lots of yachts in the anchorage behind Trivett, and - wonder of wonders - the passage between Trivett and Broughton Islands was just navigable by kayak at high tide. I wouldn't put money on it at any other time.
The "channel" between Trivett and Broughton Islands
As we trudged up Penphrase Passage the fog and cloud cleared at last to reveal stunning vistas and give us a bit of vitamin D.
Protest boat. We encountered this guy a few times.
Turning the corner into Sutlej Channel, with Kingcome Inlet on our right, the water changed to the magical aquamarine so characteristic of glacier-fed waters (such as Toba Inlet or Lake Louise). We had put on a lot of miles today and were eager to eat and rest if we could find a suitable spot. We had Cypress Harbour in our back pockets, but the description of it being buggy, gloomy and damp didn't make it the #1 destination on our list.

We decided to check out a likely islet cluster just past Woods Point. No dice! The forested bit was really forested, and the exposed bit was really exposed. The back side of the islets was choked with logs - where's Bruno Gerussi when you need him? Too bad, as aside from the fact there's no place to put a tent it'd be perfect: beautiful views in all directions.

We backtracked into Cypress Harbour, past the fish farm and the log dump, and found a nice rock ledge site facing the Provincial Recreation Site. Lat: N 50°49'48" Lon: W 126°40'05.9" Reasonably level and covered in greenery, with some nice ripe salal berries to spice up tomorrow's porridge. We did have to make a few trips with the trowel to eject a massive pile of bear scat into the water so we could put the tent up - azure splashes making trails on the way to the bottom like a lava lamp.
I'll set up the tent when I'm good and ready. And when that bear scat is dealt with.
Tent site on rock ledge
Old Man's Beard will soak up bear-scat salal juice if you need it to.
A big day, well over 40km travelled. We could hardly put enough food in us. We even ate dessert, a backpacker mudpie pudding thing. Under any other conditions it would have been inedible but tonight we were grateful for every calorie.