Archive for the ‘Inside Passage’ Category
Posted on July 13, 2012 - by Nadia
Tuesday July 10, 2012
Few places are as social as a safe harbor in a storm. I cut short my planned exploration of the gorgeous, glacier-sided Endicott Arm and beat a hasty retreat through eyelash-bending fog. The forecast indicated that wherever I spent Monday night would be home for at least Tuesday as well, maybe longer. I was anxious that that place should be within striking distance of Juneau.
I’ve extended my daily paddling range, doing more 30-plus mile days in Alaska than was possible further south. Here, tidal currents have less impact because the water is deep and wide, so my schedule is not driven as much by the turning of the tides. Campsites are more abundant so I can push on, confident I will find a place to stop. And the landscape is huge, I can take it in as I paddle hard, so long as the fog allows. But those long days depend on relatively calm waters and winds, and that, I knew, was about to end. (more…)
Posted on July 11, 2012 - by Nadia
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Entrance Island, Hobart Bay
The water ahead of me began to bubble and spin and I threw it in reverse. This was getting crazy. I was hemmed in between a kelp-draped rock pile and a couple of energetically feeding humpbacks. My right paddle blade was literally on the rocks and my bow, well, it was retreating as fast as I could make it. The whale surfaced on its side, leading with its long, white and grey striped pectoral fin held high, then it let the fin flop onto the water, rolled to expose its blow hole, took a gulp of water and slid under the surface. It was about 10 yards away. I could see into its blow hole. That’s more intimate than I need in my life with whales.
“Come on, you two, take it to deeper water, will ya?” I asked. They had been in deeper water when I started around the point and I figured they would pass on by. I had gotten a late start. I had lain in the tent, wishing it would stop pouring rain. When I got up I saw the tide had left and all I had to show for it was a long drag over sharp, slippery rocks. I had camped on a mossy shelf near a spring and the rain and spring rose up into a sop of tea-colored water around and under the tent. It was an awkward and soggy morning and now I had whales to contend with.
It had been shaping up as a whale weekend.
Posted on July 11, 2012 - by Nadia
July 4, 2012
Wrangell to Le Conte Bay
I could see the parade from a half-dozen miles away. In bright contrast to the silty, grey-green shallows of the Stikine Delta they appeared in a line, bobbing to their own rhythm. At first, I thought they were white power boats, sleek and low to the water. That was strange. I hadn’t seen a boat since leaving Wrangell; virtually everyone was in town for the festivities. Then it struck me. Icebergs! The white shapes were icebergs marching out of Le Conte Bay. It was true! The southernmost tidal glacier was a prodigious calfer of bergs! There was no stopping me now, I thought, and I started the sweeping seven-mile crossing to the bay.
Posted on July 4, 2012 - by Nadia
If the ferry comes in at 7, the garnet stand is open. If another’s right behind the first, the garnet gang delays breakfast. Competition for ferry business is tough at the crossroads at the ferry ramp. Since most people walk off, sales opportunities are plenty, predictable but brief. In Wrangle this morning, there are two things for sale: Coffee, and coffee only. And garnets.
Garnet gathering is a family hobby for some Wrangle families. There are rocky fields near the mouth of the Stikine River rich in the angled marbles, which come, I am told, in all colors but blue.
This morning, it was boys versus girls at the corner. There’s are a little nicer, one girl admitted. But, she countered, mine all have price tags.
Warriors used to wear garnets for strength, so I got a little one for myself, and one to replace the holstein rock that traveled with me from Port Townsend to Alaska, where it mysteriously jumped ship. Sorry, Mark. I got you a nice garnet from the sweet, smart alec salesman.
Posted on July 2, 2012 - by Nadia
Saturday, July 1
Zimovia Islets to Wrangell, Alaska
I mentioned earlier that self-perception takes two forms out here. One has to do with scale and where I am on the landscape. The other, which I pondered earlier, has to do with internal references and where the landscape settles in my brain.
The former has to do with maps. Choosing what scale map to use on this trip is an interesting exercise for life. It asks a pretty deep question: How much detail do you need to know about what your future holds?
Most people in boats use charts, which show buoys, lights and water depth. They tend to use the 1:40,000-foot scale, which fold up to the size of a checkers board and cover one or two days’ progress. At that scale, carrying the 40-plus large maps required for this trip becomes a logistical challenge. They don’t all fit at once, so people send them ahead in resupply boxes. That obligates the paddler to stopping in a given town during post office hours. It also means you change maps in the map case more often and have more clunky maps to lug around when you’re done with that part of the trip. Clearly, knowing my future in greater detail is not my style.
After talking to people who have done this trip, I chose to use maps, not charts. These have less detail about the sea, but more about places I might camp – such as topography, which shows flat spots for tents, and streams for water. I use the quarter million scale, or 1:250,000. They fold up to the size of an Uno game and it takes 16 of them to cover my trip. I chose not to send resupply boxes. I have all my maps with me, and am free to stop as I want. But I sacrifice a fair amount of detail in the maps. Which is to say, I may be more surprised by what my future holds than a chart user, but I’m more nimble getting there. Or, as I joke to myself during moments of hyper vigilance brought on by steep anxiety of what’s to come: Ignorance is the backbone of adventure.
This compromise of detail has not been much of a problem. By and large I can see what lies before me. If I can’t, it’s too foggy and I stay put. But there have been a couple of days when I’ve been just baffled, threading my way through divergent passages, each decorated with their own archipelago of islands. In short, there are days I am totally surrounded by islands that don’t show up on my maps.
The lead in to Wrangell Island was that way. I leapt across a series of big crossings – two, three, then four mile wide bays and passages. By happy accident, I was on the water at 5:15 (I forgot to change my second watch back an hour for Alaskan time.) This gave me a full, very calm morning with a rising tide to carry me to my destination. When the wind did come up, it was at my back and gently helped me along. So I took the bays close to their wide mouths rather than paddling in deep for protection, and I took a running tangent skimming the broad southeastern edge of the X formed where Ernest Sound and Zimovia Straight intersect. And it was that flying leap that left me in the middle of I knew not where. The wind came up and I beelined it with some intensity to the nearest sheltering island.
I thought I was headed for Deer Island, and I got there in time for a totally unprecedented burst of sunshine, complete with the lowest rainbow I’ve ever seen. It kept raining, don’t worry. I ate lunch and pondered the map. The north western half of Deer Island filled the lower right corner of my map. Its south east edge, what came before that, or what led up to that flank, was not on that map but on a map I did not own. I really couldn’t tell where I was on Deer Island, or even if I was on Deer Island. Assuming I was, my next step was to find an island called Found Island, which my map showed was a couple of miles across the afore mentioned intersection of straight and sound. But where, exactly, had that intersection gone?
I compared the map with what I saw. I looked down and up. Map, reality, map, reality. Things did not jibe. I saw only one big body of water. Which was it? Ernest or Zimovia? It seemed clear during my crossing, but now I was not so sure. I checked the compass and contemplated the always fascination question of magnetic declination. (If magnetic declination, the difference between where a compass points north and where a map points north, was 29 degrees in 1960, what is it now, and does that mean true north, 360T, map north, is more east or less east than the 360M that the compass reads? I have this conversation when I run out of other things to talk to myself about.)
Finally, I dug out the GPS and turned it on. Plugging waypoints into the GPS prior to my departure almost cost me my sanity, and I owe it to the guys at Montana Hunting GPS out on Russell for nudging me ahead. Go see them if you want the pros to program your next hunt into a GPS. Anyhow, I’ve only used the GPS a few times, usually to confirm my precise location at the end of the day. But a few times it has confirmed that I was off base. Once before, in the Gulf Islands, it helped me weave through a similar labyrinth of tiny islands. When I need the GPS, I’m sure glad to have it.
Searching for Found Island was the first time I’ve had to use the Go To function and just follow the purple line. I was not on Deer Island but was two tiny islands removed from my target. Ignorance: Gateway to ah-ha moments. I put my faith in the purple line although it seemed a bit counterintuitive until I could see the two parting waters and my destination. I crossed to Found Island and in doing so, more completely onto my map.
At Found Island I ran into Bill Sr., Bill Jr. and Caroline out fishing with the kids and Dogzilla, who, like all dogs, found the half-woman, half-boat figure of a kayaker very disturbing. Bill Sr. worked on fishing boats in these waters for years and harbors an unfulfilled dream of paddling the Inside Passage himself. These days, he scratches that itch by inviting kayakers in for dinner and so he gave me directions for weaving into the secret tidewater sanctuary that shelters cabins off Zimovia Straight.
I wound around tiny islands, up shallow notches where the end of the ebb tide created a rushing current, and found Bill’s getaway cabin. The tidewater pockets dry almost completely at low tide, leaving a basin of mud colorfully ringed with uniformly yellow pop weed, a sliver of sharp, slate grey rock, then bright grass, then trees. It was pouring rain and the mud underscored everything in a way it hasn’t elsewhere.
Maria was cooking inside and dashing outside to enjoy her new deck whenever the rain cleared. We talked kayaking and rightly so – with these backwaters and the broader Zimovia, this place makes for terrific exploration by kayak or canoe. Maria is a retired teacher from Monterey. That she married Bill and moved to Wrangell shows the depths of Bill’s charm. The cabin in the popweed was a long way from Monterey.
Bill and the fishing boat had punched their way through the narrows and returned. My presence in the little cabin meant it was packed full, making it lively and warm. We feasted on roast chicken and quinoa and – the greatest luxury of all to me – a crisp salad. Then I was off to bunk down on the couch at a neighboring vacant cabin. Maria and Bill slept on the bigger boat, which made room for Bill, Caroline, the girls and Dogzilla in the cabin.
Wrangle Island is bear central and Bill helped me attach my kayak to the dragline and pulley it, like the laundry, out to the middle of the lagoon. I had been wrestling with the bear question since entering these lagoons. It was too rainy, too muddy, too far, too late for me to willingly unload the food from the boat, too obviously a bear haven not to. I mean, the cabin next to me belongs to one of the Craigheads, bear researchers known throughout beardom, including Montana and Wyoming.
No sooner had a snuggled into my sleeping bag and turned to look out the cabin window then a roly-poly black bear sow appeared, slowly grazing the far bank of the lagoon as her three cubs of the year followed behind. They ran and tripped over each other and every wrinkle in the ground as they scrambled to keep up with her and still explore the wide banks. My kayak floated, secure, 20 yards from every bank.
Dawn was at about 3, low tide at about 5. I woke up and things were as I had secretly known they would be: My kayak, alone on an expanse of mud. Further now from water than it had been from shore. Luckily, these bears had better things to eat than Pateel’s curried lentils, or they just don’t like the feeling of mud between their toes.
I got up, slid into slick and smell neoprene and slid the boat to water to make a silent exit. I didn’t need a marine chart to find water deeper than this to paddle.
Posted on July 2, 2012 - by Nadia
Friday, June 29
Niblock Hollow to Vixen Harbor, off Earnest Passage
The logs and twisted stumps become ancient, contorted skeletons lunging from the bank. They become Sasquatch and innumerable seals and whales tails that never move. A kelp ribbon is an otter. A new fangled high rise boat is coming at me fast (Oh, no, that’s the current, picking up and carrying me fast straight at that … buoy).
Today, a log bobbed up ahead of me and I thought: log. Then it rolled on its back, gave a hissing bark and bared its teeth. I braced and turned abruptly. Geez! Stellar sea lion. Then it did it again, alongside me: rose up, rolled over to show its long snout, its little dog ears and all of its teeth. And it snorted. Yikes! That’s a drowning bear! I took off and didn’t look back for a while. Probably, it was a sea lion. But it had such a long, dog-like snout and seemed to be struggling so. But no, a drowning bear would be a very strange thing. Still, clearly, I’ve got bear on the mind. This landscape, huge, long drawn and cluttered, puts the psyche on stage.
There are two sorts of dizzying self-perception that go on out here. One has to do with scale and where I am on the landscape. The other has to do with internal references and where the landscape settles in my brain. I’ll tackle the issue of scale later. Today, the question is what things are and what they seem and what maybe a question of the energy they emit.
On the water, floating logs assume all sorts of disguises. Most often they seem to be benign sea mammals: seals, otters, whale parts, or, just once, a real sea lion seems to be a drowning bear. Then they go back to being logs, or the sea lion and seals slip beneath the surface. On shore, however, the dark, moss draped woods are so clearly inhabited by spirits that it is impossible that they should not manifest themselves visibly.
The shoreline has opened up north of Ketchikan. Although there are still miles of the impenetrable shoal-cliff-tree combination, now there are landable beachs every couple of miles. The forest rims the beach, and appears to offer refuge. Step behind the drift logs and up, into the spongy muskeg, and it takes the mind time to adjust. Refuge is not always the first thing that comes to mind.
My eyes refocus, from the long reaches of water to the looming, present woods. What seems solid, is not. A mossy log gives way to a spongy gap, a branch twists silently into moist crumbs. Shapes loom. As I evaluate a campsite I look for bears. They leap out of the trees: mossy bears, dancing bears, corpulent bears. I haven’t seen an actual bear at a campsite since I left the Vancouver Island end of BC, but I see bear shapes everywhere.
Yesterday, winds and surf booming on offshore shoals in Clarence Straight eventually encouraged me to stop at noon, after a blissfully calm, early crossing of Behm Canal. At this spot, the woods were dense and unforgiving, filled not only with ghost bears but with evidence that the real thing call this home: Piles of shell-fragment filled poo.
A well-worn trail connected two coves of slurring surf and low tide pools that are fast food stops for hungry bears. That trail went steeply up and over a cedar-filled hump connecting the coves and the only clear spot for a tent was just along the poop path, next to, I swear, a bear den. I spent the better part of and hour heaving my bear line high above the trail, getting it tangled in the mess of branches overhead, and pulling it back down on my head.
Done with that, I went to check on the boat and realized the winds had dropped and the sea was calm. I reloaded the boat in a flurry and squeezed around another point and cove before the winds came back up.
My second site of the day had absolutely no sign of bear. But it was full of spirits. A fire-scarred, soaring ancient cedar protected a clearing big enough for my tent. The fire scar was deep enough to give shelter from the never ending rain while I ate, and was a locker for my padding gear. But clearly, this cedar was at the center of a sacred space as well. Around it, the forest seemed especially still and free of specific specters – no skeletons, mossy bear or Sasquatch. Instead, the specific spirit of this tree and two others beyond the reach of each other’s branches, created a still space in the usual chaos of the woods. At the foot of the tree was an abalone shell. I have only seen abalone shells in the forest in one other place on this trip – the midden camp just before Port Hardy. It, too, was clearly a special place.
Here, behind the grand cedar, was a pile of fish ivories. I’ve asked around and it seems maybe the Yellow Rockfish has ivories like these – butterfly shaped, the size of joined twonies, the big Canadian two dollar coin. These ivories are not bone but harder and stronger ivory. They have to be carefully located, removed and kept while cleaning fish. Their proper name is otelisk, though I don’t know how to spell that and neither do any of the fishermen sitting around me as I write. Halibut and other deep diving fish have them in their ears, I understand. Many people collect them.
These were not a casual offering, like the inland crab shells left by eagles or the urchin shells bears drag ashore. These were left for this cedar.
The cedar’s broad reach protected the only space large enough for a tent. For some reason, although I was only a few miles north of the earlier camp, the bears left this area alone. I asked the cedar to keep it that way for one more night. It had rained all day, I had made two camps, I was cold and tired and I slept soundly through a night of hard rain, protected by a tremendous tree, and the spirits inside it.
Posted on June 25, 2012 - by Nadia
Saturday, June 24, 2012
Butedale, Princess Royal Island.
I gasped aloud and stopped pushing against the sloppy, choppy slap of a headwind against current. At long last, never knowing what to expect or when, I had turned a corner. The magnificent waterfall was giving off as much light as spray and the looming, decrepit cannery buildings next to it seemed to dance with a life that has been gone for decades. It was the end of a long day and the start of a delay that was full of surprises.
In testimony to the defining power of persistent presence, Butedale remains a dot on almost all maps of the region, while up and coming places with more people – such as Shearwater – often fail to make the grid. The cove that protects Butedale was first home to a First Nations village. Then, from about 1909 until it operations ended in the early 1970s, it hosted a fish oil processing plant, a cannery and an ice plant. It was home to hundreds of workers. Now, Butedale is slowly sliding off the hill and being reclaimed by its abundant greenery. The herring oil tanks that define one end of the protective cove are mostly rust. The dormitory building is mostly moss. The largest residential building is half collapsed, with a toilet hanging at a jaunty 90 degrees. Butedale offers no cell service and no WiFi, but it boasts a rush of fresh potable water and an abundance of sweet hospitality in the form of Lou, the industrious caretaker who calls it home.
It should not reflect poorly on Lou’s caretaking if a building occasionally collapses and a boat sometimes sinks. It seems a miracle that any of these buildings or docks are still standing. Lou’s caretaking is evident everywhere there are people. I arrived Butedale exhausted after three or four nights of hard rain and rising tides (often, it is not the paddling that wears on me, but the making and breaking camp.)
Lou took one look at me and said, in the swarthy French accent of his Alberta youth: I heard you were coming, I’ve warmed water for a shower. And he boosted a three gallon sun shower into a five gallon bucket, put that on a shelf on the roof of what used to be the cold storage facility, and left me to rinse and warm.
Butedale is both a haven and a hiding place for many types of people in transit. There are few facilities and several challenges on either side of it. Virtually every kayaker stops here, many sailors and motor cruisers and a surprising number of fishing boats stop to moor briefly and continue their march north toward the fishing ground.
The kayakers and sailors especially are likely to ask Lou, “May I charge my …” laptop, cell phone, portable razor? And he says, of course, and then rearranges a couple of extension cords for your convenience.
The cell phone charges though it has no use there, the razor gets its buzz back, all as though a recharge at Butedale is the same as a recharge at a plug at the airport. It’s not. In Butedale, Lou’s simple yes does not begin to reflect the physical labor it took him to build 200 feet of flume out of scrap wood. To drop the flume into the gushing stream off a slick rock bank in order to steer today’s water into yesteryear’s power plant. It fails to underscore the ingenuity it took to rig the old hydro wheel up to a truck alternator. Or the frustrating three months of trial and error it took to figure out the right gear ratio to get the speed and power required to keep the inverter running consistently. In Butedale, there is nothing simple about the answer to the question, “May I charge my laptop?” And yet Lou answers simply. Maybe later he’ll offer a tour, if you’d like, of the power plant.
Because it remains a dot on the map, people stop by. And because they meet Lou, they return and pay his kindness forward. I arrived after a few long hours of windy chop to meet Ramona and DC and Debbie and Neal, motor cruisers I first met weeks ago in Shoal Bay in Desolation Sound. Debbie had miraculously spotted me on the broad Princess Royal Sound and altered course to chat. I last saw them in Port McNeill when I was getting my drytop fixed.
Debbie shouted, “We’ll have dinner on for you!” as they left me in Princess Royal Sound and thank heavens they fixed extra of everything. Even I could not find the bottom of Neal’s barbecued chicken and steak offering as we ate aboard Debbie and Neal’s boat tied to the low and wandering dock at Butedale.
I had arrived at 6 p.m. and the ebb tide best for leaving was at 3 a.m. I was exhausted and decided it would be best if I didn’t push the early departure but stayed to tour this ghost of a place. Like all decisions on this trip, that proved a mixed blessing. Probably a very good thing. Ahead lay two crux crossings: Wright Passage and the infamous Dixon Entrance. The weather forecast called for treacherous outflow winds in Wright on Saturday as a low pressure system built over Haida Gwaii, and persistent winds 15-30 knots in Dixon. Mike and Donna, sailing home to Alaska with two dogs, turned back, choosing to be windbound in Butedale rather than an anchorage short of Wright Passage. Albert and Lynah stopped their headlong rush to the commercial fishing opener to see Lou, but chose to stay rather than take the thrashing they took last year in Dixon. If the forecast was enough to slow Albert and Lynah, I knew it wasn’t something to mess with. I girded for a long wait and started devising alternate plans.
In the back of my mind, I knew Herman was gaining on me. We had never met, but people told us about each other. I had leapfrogged him when I took the ferry around Cape Caution, which he paddled. On Saturday, he appeared around the corner, a lone kayaker drawn in for a closer look at the falls. He had paddled a tough 15 miles already on the day and had planned eight more, but the chop left him worn out and looking for options. I rigged him a shower and a cup of tea as Lou was out wrestling with a breakaway breakwater. Paying it forward.
Herman is headed to Glacier Bay, just past Skagway. He is doing his paddle to raise money for Mexican school kids in need (he lives in Baja.) Like me, the challenges of this middle portion are more fraught with risk and delay than reward. We agreed we are both willing to figure out a way to get a ride around Dixon Entrance. Herman needs to go to Prince Rupert for a resupply and to fix his blown drytop gasket. I do not need to go to Prince Rupert, but would gladly skip Dixon Entrance. For now, we’re working together.
Saturday evening and Lou is now in full host mode just as everyone is figuring out a way to move on. The ever-present specter of looming loneliness is the everyday hardship of the host. He stayed up late talking crafts with Lynah, who is trying to get him to take the winter off. Lou reluctantly admits he’s edging toward 69 and thinking it might be time to retire. He spent last Christmas corking a boat that was half underwater.
“The cold, oh, all day in that damn boat,” he says. “My knees were so sore I could barely walk up that hill.” He needs a tutorial in warm fun. He actually needs a nice widow with a boat. If you’re interested, send him a photo of the boat.
Lou has been taking care of Butedale for 11 years. Its owner, who lives in California, seldom visits. He’d just as soon sell. The environmental regulators, a fisherman told me, would just as soon scrape the whole industrial site away. “Someday they will,” he said. “I never know when I’ll come by here and it will all be gone.”
As I typed this post, sitting in the former mess hall, at an old, 40-foot-long table cluttered with Lou’s life, a breathless Donna burst in the door. “The bear,” she gasped. “The beach. The white bear.”
I grabbed a scope off Lou’s table and took off down the rickety ramp, past the stream that shoots out of a flume. Past the ricketier ramp to the boats. I raced across the roof of the massive concrete dock of rough concrete and rusty bare fittings where my tent was set up. I scanned the beach across the bay, and there, eating berries among the ferns, was a white spirit bear – a kermode bear.
Then, with a glance over its shoulder, the rare white bear, like Butedale itself, faded into the foliage.
Posted on June 25, 2012 - by Nadia
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Tired, I started the day by ignoring compass points and going where I thought was right. That resulted in a 5 mile detour. Never again. I raced to catch the flood tide north through the narrows that would lead me to Graham Reach. The race was exhausting, but the ride through the narrows was easy. I made Greene Inlet, my first camping possibility, and knew I needed to call it a day.
The challenges of last night remained. By stopping early, I could see the height of the low high tide of the day. The high high would only exceed it by two feet. I checked two islands and a low grassy point. The low point was nice because it promised an easy launch in the morning. But as I walked around I stumbled on a trail. Quickly, the long curved claw marks revealed whose trail it was – as did some of the biggest, grassiest bear poop I have ever seen. I beat it back to the boat and set up shop on one of the grassy islands. It too has bear sign all over it. This bear clearly loved to come here and harvest sea urchins at low tide.
Distracted by the bear sign, a hardly noticed the true predators of Greene Inlet. The place is thick with biting black flies. I don’t even bother to take off my wetsuit and drytop in places like that, I just put on my mosquito net. At Greene Inlet I made dinner on a rock and ate, flies biting at my bare finger tips, until it mercifully poured rain, driving the flies away. I sat on the rock in wet neoprene, rain pouring off my hat, spooning rice and glop into my mouth under the net. It was pretty early still and I was all set for the night. Things were going pretty well.
Posted on June 25, 2012 - by Nadia
Wednesday, June 19, 2012
Work Bay, first cove, off Finlayson Passage
The new moon and summer solstice are conjuring big tidal swings just as camping has gotten scarce and information about specific sites all but dried up in my guide book. So it was that I circumnavigated four sprawling coves of Work Bay long after I should have made camp.
There were plenty of spots for a five-foot tide, but few to even contemplate for a 15-foot tide. I looked behind creeks and waterfalls, scampered into the cedar thicket and measured the elevation of every sloped beach with my GPS. I contemplated hoisting the boat up steep cliffs. I wished I had a hammock. At about 7:30 I went back to the first cove and measured the beach and did the math over and over again. A conservative estimate warned the highest tent site was about 6 inches too low. An optimistic one said it would be dry by about the same. I had no choice. I needed to stop. I pitched the tent, putting a minimum of gear into it.
The boat was a different story. If I was with someone else, we would carry the boats and secure them above the high tide line and near camp. I always store the boat at or above the tide line, but I hadn’t carried my kayak yet this trip. Usually, I slide it across logs. Sometimes I slide it for great distances, sometime fetching logs from far away. The reason I had initially passed this beach by was its long, slopping shallows. Even at the low-high tide of the day, the closest I could get the kayak to the tent was about 150 yards. The low-low tide promised to triple that distance. In between the kayak and camp lay a field packed with ankle busting, slime- and barnacle-covered cobblestones the size of bowling balls.
I pondered. It was already clear I wasn’t eating dinner. I was willing to risk the bears and leave all the food in the boat. In fact, I would leave everything in the boat except the tent and sleeping bag and sleeping clothes. That way, when the tent flooded, not much would get wet, I figured. Moreover, I would tie 5-foot-lomg logs under the boat so that when the tide went out it had a platform to land on and protect it from the barnacle balls. I did all that and tied the kayak to the only thing on the beach that wasn’t a barnacle ball – a five-foot wide, 40-foot long chunk of tree that looked like it had been there forever.
It was 9 o’clock when all that was done. I choked down a peanut butter tortilla roll and surveyed my work. I was not happy. I ran through a list of things that could go wrong. I had thought of everything, except the things that would spell disaster, I figured. Actually, I hadn’t thought of much but the tent and tide. Now I was overcome with ill-defined anxiety. What if the log moved? What if it floated away? What if it lifted up and came down on my boat? Leaving the boat so far away, alone, was the worst idea I’d ever had. By the time the tide lifted my boat, I would be cut off from it by 150 yards of rising water. In the dark. I needed my boat up with me. If this beach flooded, at least I’d be able to keep an eye on the kayak, my only way out of this wilderness, never mind my every worldly possession.
I raced for the boat. The rising tide was already lifting the back end. I untied all my knots and let the log go. I did the same for the front log. I hauled the boat forward to buy time and grabbed my two carry bags. I threw every small item I could lay my hands on into them – TastyBites packets, VHF radio, sandals, sponge, baggies of gorp, baggies of gorp, baggies of gorp. I filled the bags, grabbed as many other dry bags as I could carry and raced for the tent site. I threw everything on top of a truly giant and ancient log next to the tent and raced back again. The water was rising. Lapping now at the log that had been my moorage, now at the stern of my boat.
Once I’d emptied the boat of absolutely everything, I reviewed the rules for moving her: Stop as often as you want, but never fall and never drop it. I hoisted the 70-pound boat to my shoulder and walked the barnacle boulders like it was a hallway at home, never stopping or falling or dropping. I looked back from the tent site. Water had filled the space I left behind. The cove’s long shallow was filling quickly, but high tide – the time that would tell – was not until 1:40 a.m.
I was mad at myself for being lazy and compromising everything a good camp should have just because this location was challenging. I slowed down and started doing things right. It was 9:45. I sorted the food into the two carry bags and hoisted them on a double pulley high into a tree down the beach. Scouting the forest behind another cove I’d seen the skunk cabbage-looking muskeg plants ripped up, their roots eaten. Bears were afoot.
Focused on the hoisting, I jumped in my skin when I heard a burst of air come from the ever broadening reach of the cove. My heart leapt. I spun around in time to see the tiny fin of a humpback whale break the water—grey on grey — just beyond where I had shouldered with the kayak. It surfaced and blew again. My heart leapt. I was not so alone. The whale seemed to be a prize for setting camp straight. Things were turning around.
Back at the log, I made sure everything that couldn’t got wet went into a dry bag. I lined everything I owned up inside a long notch at the highest point on the ancient log. Paddles, computer, clothes, dop kit. The notch was about 8 feet off the ground. I covered it with a tarp, anchored with two sticks and six rocks, three on either side. I had a plan. When the water approached the tent, I would grab my sleeping bag and scamper onto the log myself. I would throw the tent itself, taut, poles and all, onto the log’s sprawling roots. I would stay there until the tide receded. It was 10:45 when true dark fell. I crawled out of my wetsuit, threw it under the tarp, and crawled into my damp sleeping bag.
Unbelievably, I slept. But as the sounds of the approaching water changed from distant slaps to what sounded like waves, lapping at my feet, I woke up and listened and wondered what time it was. The watch was on the boat, where it usually is. I got up to get it so I’d know the time of the tide. I had set the kayak parallel to a long tree that was itself parallel to a busy creek, rushing out of the snow-covered mountain behind the cove. I had tied it at the bow; it was nestled in grass. When I reached for the watch, I stepped into 8 inches of grassy water. The tide had exceeded the stream bed. It was starting. I grabbed the watch and used my throw rope to secure the stern of the boat, giving it room to play, but holding it from rushing headlong down the stream, which was growing wider and higher.
With about 45 minutes to go, it was unclear whether the tent was more at risk from the streamside or the bay side. The water was creeping up the side of the ancient log, about a foot from the roots, my safety ladder. I threw my sleeping pad and bag into another long split in the trunk, and heaved the entire tent onto the roots. Then I scrambled up the back side of the roots, wriggled into my bag as it slumped into the nook, just the width of my hips. I looked down. By the light of my headlamp, I saw water was everywhere. Under the giant log and rising. Rising up the beach. Spilling from the stream. The kayak, which has reflectors on the bow, bucked, but was secure.
For the first time this trip, I lay back and looked at the night sky. It was blurry with clouds, and I gave thanks that it was not raining. And then I heard it: The great exhalation of the humpback. It was in the ever-filling cove, now, much closer than my kayak had been on the rocks. It was too dark to see, so I snuggled into my notch and just listened as the whale glided back and forth over the stumblesome rocks I had raced across just hours ago. Reminding myself I had no room to wiggle, I leaned back into the log, listened to the whale and watched the blurry stars until I was supremely happy and my eyes closed and I slept.
Posted on June 19, 2012 - by Nadia
Sunday June 17, 2012
Hose Harbour, 8 miles around the bend from Bella Bella
Posed from Klemtu, 40 miles from Hose Harbour
At 4:30 in the morning the bow of the ferry lowered into the water, in the middle of the ocean and revealed a predawn sea. Two tandem kayaks were lowered onto a platform, their heaviest gear stowed, and the paddlers pushed away from the ferry. They call it a wet exit and the BC Ferries – maybe this BC ferry – is one of the few ferries anywhere to do it. The paddlers in this case were four recent grads of Olin School of Engineering who somewhat whimsically decided to paddle the coast about 40 miles south of Bella Bella after attending a competition in Seattle. I’m not sure they were prepared for their adventure, but I sure give them credit. It takes guts to push away from a huge boat and head toward distant island in the near dark dawn.
The wet exit sure seemed attractive as I hustled to get my gear reloaded as the icky, oily tide rose around the boat at the Shearwater ferry terminal. I had never heard of a wet exit or I might have requested one. Or not. The huge tandem boats the kids were paddling loaded in a snap. Mine, with its small volume pretty well maxed out, loads with a shove here, and a tug there. I pushed off at high tide and headed for a cove that would set me up for a fairly significant crossing the next morning. The crossing should set me into the Inside Passage proper. I look forward to beginning that part of the journey. As usual, it was raining when I packed the boat, raining when I set up tents and is raining as I type.
There is no cell service here and little service expected as I wind my way toward Prince Rupert. I’ll post a this series of shorter entries and photos when I get service. I expect this section could take 10 days to two weeks and should give me the opportunities to get used to camping with bears all around. Be nice, bears.
Klemtu postscript: Dramatic breakers yesterday as ocean swells crashed on shoals that guard the Inside Passage. Rain has let up, made for nice camp to let things dry out. Highlight today was a humpback whale showing its flukes as it dove.