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.

No comments: