Posted on June 7, 2012 - by Nadia
Thursday June 7
Shoal Bay, North of Desolation Sound
If part of the definition of adventure is the intensity of experience, then navigating Yuculta and Dent Rapids, and gliding into the fairyland of Denham Bay afterward, was all one big adventure.
If I was a bit laconic entering the rapids at the end of the extremely low ebb tide, exiting the whirlpools at the end of the next tide – an extremely high flood – put me on full alert.
Between the tides, I had watched the huge whirls build and circulate 66-foot boom logs like matchsticks in the toilet. I knew there was incredible power in this strange place of converging arms and eddies. The plan for navigating these waters is to wait for the quietest time between the tides and go for it. But with the huge difference between high and low these days, there is not quite enough time for the water of the massive flood to leave and substantial current continues into slack. So it was that I sat in the last quiet, kelp-filled eddy, watching Andy gun his engine and buck slowly up the current. I knew I was in for a fight. I worked up as much power as I could hugging the north shore, but I quickly came to a point that kicked a strong stream of water – think Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula – off the shore.
I bore down, crossed the stream where it converged with the main flow – think Clark Fork River in springtime — which was headed to join the diminished, but still visible, main whirl above Big Bay. As soon as I hit the stream it shot me sideways. I set an aggressive ferry angle and paddled as hard as I could. I had to reach the calm surrounding an island in the middle of the bay without losing so much ground that I got pulled into the whirl. Few things in life inspire such focus as that single imperative.
A chain of mini-whirlpools formed where the main current hit the eddy at the island. They were about a third to half as big as my boat is long and I had mixed feelings about them. They appeared and disappeared ahead of me and beneath me and there was nothing I could do but brace and let them push me around a little bit. It felt destabilizing, but they pushed me up the chain and toward the island so I felt a cautious affection for the little whirls.
Then I was in the eddy of the island. I gasped for air and grabbed for a drink of water. Now, I knew, I had to use the rest of the slack tide to get from the island to the mainland and a tiny channel that allows kayaks and skiffs to skip the bigger, separate whirlpools known as Dent Rapids. That crossing was a simple push against straight current. Once through the channel, the ebb tide picked me up and carried me along as though it was never anything but helpful. I had had no time to be scared crossing the current but realized as I coasted north that negotiating so many fast transitions had used everything I have learned about paddling all types of boat in these last 25 years.
When I eased around Horn Point, the cheery red cabins of Denham Bay called me in. Cobbled rocks and waving kelp glistened in crystal clear water. Snow filled steep chutes from towering peaks behind the cedar forest. I sat and took it in. The soothing tones of Ray LaFontaine spilled out of speakers on a dock. I almost cried, the contrast to those 15 minutes outside of Big Bay was so great.
Sarah, the woman who had offered a place to stay, came down to meet me. She and her husband Peter had carved and sculpted this place out of the forest but they are ambivalent about the next step: Taking care of guests who come to stay. Every curve in the paths, every detail of the buildings shows the love they have put into building a paradise on this bay. It is a simple place tucked into a landscape of resorts only the very wealth can afford to visit (Dennis Washington owns “half the land up that way,” someone else told me later. His name comes up a lot here, when people hear I’m from Montana.) Sarah and Peter hope to make their place a refuge for regular folk. They just aren’t sure when to open the doors. Except to people who straggle by, including the occasional kayaker.
Sarah fed me and Peter shared some of his great experiences both building the lodge from all reclaimed materials, and working as a fishing guide in the area for the last several decades. Then they headed to their floating house closer to Big Bay and told me to close the door behind me when I left in the morning.
I nestled into my sleeping bag on one of the beds in the single, cozy room of the main house. In the indoor/outdoor room below me, a bull frog croaked out his mating calls until even he figured she might not be out there that night. I took one last look at the placid bay that filled the cabin view, and I slept with the same intensity with which I had paddled. Even paradise is part of adventure.