Vancouver Island, June 27th – July 9th

17 07 2008

The title of this post is probably a little misleading.  We actually took our time, both on the way and the way back.  This was vacation and I didn’t want to feel rushed!  If you don’t want to read this treatise, click here to go directly to more photos than you ever wanted to see!

Friday, 6/27.  We were only going to Port Townsend, WA, which is a 4 hour drive, for the first night so the morning was spent getting the last of the gear together & loading the car.  Fergus gets nervous whenever the duffel bags of kayak gear migrates from the spare bedroom to the garage!  The drive up was uneventful, though slower than anticipated as there was alot of construcion happening on HWY 101.  We made it up in time to hit the Port Townsend Brew Pub for a pint of Hop Diggity while listening to a live jazz band in celebration of their 20th Anniversery.  After our pints, we took a walk along the picturesque Port Townsend Marina then made for one of our favorite restaraunts, The Fountain Cafe for a delicious meal.  It’s kind of funny.  We live four hours away but the waitress remembers us.  We’re regulars!  We checked in to the hostel at Fort Worden for the evening.

Saturday 6/28.  We didn’t have to be at the ferry terminal in Port Angeles for a few hours so we had time to hit the Salal Cafe for Breakfast.  The drive to Port Angeles was uneventful, though the car got nervous driving past the spot where I hit a deer 1-1/2 years ago! ($7,000 damage to the Subaru)  We had time to wander up to the bookstore in Port Angeles & each picked up a book for the trip.  Karen also brought a couple from home so we were well stocked for reading.  We met Ken & Heather in the line for the ferry.  They drove up from Portland that morning.  They were on a different plan to get to Gold River.  Our plan was to blast up all the way on Saturday so we’d have all day Sunday to visit Strathcona Park.  They weren’t going to arrive in Gold River until Sunday, so after sharing the ferry ride we parted ways.  Victoria always amazes me.  For the seat of the Province and one of the larger towns in BC, there is no easy way to leave the city!  Highway 1 is stop and go at traffic signals for probably 30 minutes before you even begin to leave the city, then there are random signals all the way to Nanaimo!  Once we got north of Nanaimo, the flavor of the island changed considerably to a more rural feel.  We made a quick stop in Campbell River for loonies and toonies and fuel, ($5.48 / Gallon), turned off Highway 1 onto the road to Gold River and left the bulk of civilization behind.  The road to Gold River takes you along Campbell Lake and Strathcona Lake, which we’d explore tomorrow.  We arrived about 7:00PM, checked in to the Gold River Chalet, changed rooms due to a backed up shower, had a nice dinner and turned in, anticpating the days to come!

Sunday, 6/29.  The morning was spent getting all the gear sorted and into dry bags.  I was still a little nervous that we hadn’t done a test packing of the boats, though it seemed we were taking less than last year.  Today was the day to visit the Park.  For some reason I used to think of Vancouver Island as relatively flat and pastoral.  That must have been because those were the parts I visited as a kid.  I’ve since learned that it’s a pretty dramatic landscape with steep mountains rising out the ocean & inlets, mountain lakes and glaciers.  Strathcona lake is surrounded by just such mountains.  We were amazed that on a holiday weekend, (7/1 is Canada Day), there were very few boats on the water.  In the states it would be a madhouse of drunken powerboaters and jet-skiers and would be surrounded by ticky-tacky stores full of rotund people buying ice cream, cotton candy and “souvineers”.  We saw none of that.  The highlight of the lake was Myra Falls.  As one approaches the south end of the lake you can look across the lake, probably one mile away, and see the falls through the trees, emptying into the lake.  The hike to the falls is a very easy 15 or 20 minutes to a spectacular viewpoint looking both up toward the upper falls and down to the lake.  Amazingly, there was only one other couple at the falls with us and they soon left.  We had it to ourselves!  On the way back to Gold River we spotted a resident of the park, our first, but not last, bear sighting!  Karen made me back up to get a good picture!  The other paddlers had all arrived while we were in the park, so our group of eight went out to dinner and to plan for tomorrow’s drive and departure from Tahsis, then back to the motel for one last gear check before bed.

Monday, 6/30.  We eight paddlers met for breakfast at 6:00 at the motel and then left for Tahsis one car at a time since the road is a 40 mile gravel road frequented by logging trucks, (though we saw none).  Tahsis is a community of 400 that sits at the head of Tahsis inlet. We found a public boat ramp, off-loaded the boats, and spent about an hour packing the boats up, (most everything fit!) and left “the city” behind for a week.  The first 3-1/2 miles is down the inlet before taking a sharp right hand turn through a 100 yard gap aptly named Tahsis Narrows.  The wind was non-existant and the current was in our favor.  We stopped for lunch in a small village of perhaps 10 buildings, called Esperanza.  Esparanza is primarily a Christain youth camp and the hosts were very accomodating, allowing us to stop at their beach for lunch and even use their bathrooms!  Beaches are a pretty rare commodity in this area.  Many of our stops over the next week would be tight gravel or rock beaches and if they were sand they were often “dumping” beaches where the waves were not friendly for landing or launching, (as Karen can attest!). We made another stop a couple miles from Esperanza at a lovely waterfall at Lutes Creek that would be a nice place for a group of one or two tents to stop if they weren’t pushing for Garden Point the first night.  Many of us went for a post-lunch swim under the falls!  The wind had been slowly building from the west, (into our faces), since lunch.   White caps were now clearly visible across Esperanza inlet and continued to build to 16 – 20 knots.  We crossed to the south and the beat our way into the wind for the rest of the day, hugging the shore, sometimes in wind waves into our faces or quartering.  It was a long slog!  People were beat when we pulled up to Garden Point.  Fred went in to check the beach while Ken & I went about 1/4 mile further to a point we had both marked on our charts as a possible camp spot.  The group came to Ken & me.  Our spot wasn’t as asthetically pleasing as the point but we learned that another group had tried to camp at the point but a bear wouldn’t leave so they did.  We also under-estimated the height of the evening tide and several of us ended up having to move tents further from the incoming tide before bed!  All in all, a challenging but rewarding first day.  Total for the day – 18.1 miles.

Tuesday 7/1.  Happy Canada Day!  This day’s goal was Catala Island.  Catala is one of the western most and largest islands in Nuchatlitz Inlet.  Karen and I were up at 6:00AM but apparently 30 minutes too late to see the bear ambling along the shore towards our camp.  Many rocks and harsh words were directed toward the bear without it seeming to mind.  Time to move on!  This was to be an easy day, playing among the rocks & caves.  We left Garden Point, traveled west along the north shore of Center Island and crossed north the the mainland.  We were finally experiencing the swell!  As we got closer to Catala and were preparing for the crossing we noticed a cave on the mainland about 1/4 mile away.  A couple of our group decided to wait while the rest of us headed in for play.  There were actually a couple interesting slots and caves.  I had backed out of one when I heard “wave” followed by the grinding sound a kayak makes when scraped along rocks.  Bob got caught on the rocks!  We didn’t think much of it as we finished playing, made our way back to the rest of the group, then across to Catala, where we landed for a break on the east shore.  We contemplated camping at this spot, but a friend had told us one of her favorite campsites was the SE Tip of Catala, and we respect her opinion as she’s circumnavigated Iceland, Haida Gwaii & many other incredible places!  I was helping Bob get his boat in the water and he yelled at me to stop – His boat was holed.  Sure enough, we pulled it back up the beach and discovered a hole the size of a pencil eraser and a steady stream of water draining from his back hatch!  Thank god for repair kits, (of which we had several).  A little 2 part epoxy & an extra 1/2 hour break and we were on the water and back under way.   We rounded the island along the SE side and recognized the camping spot as soon as we saw it.  Looking west was nothing but the Pacific Ocean, looking south and east was all the islands of Nuchatlitz Inlet.  This would be a good camp!  After dinner, we watched sea otters watching us, took a walk to to west side of the island where there was loads of wolf prints and finished off a great day with a campfire on the beach.  Total for the day – 10.5 miles

Wednesday, 7/2.  Today we head down the coast.  The day began a little foggy and we started out with a couple mile crossing so we made sure to take compass bearings before setting out.  We made for Rosa island and worked our way around the north, then east side.  We came to a scenic little cove and happened upon another group of kayakers – the ones who were run off Garden Point by the stubborn bear!  We chatted a little while, then shoved off through the myriad of islands and islets that make up Nuchatlitz.  The wind had picked up a little so we decided to stop at the last island before the crossing to Ferrer Point for a little lunch,  Karen and I tried our big experiment.  Corn Tortillas with re-hydrated beans and taco seasoning, (that we dried before the trip), cabbage and cheese.  It was delicious!  The crossing from our lunch island to Ferrer was a pretty exposed 2 miles.  The wind and swell was SW but very managable.  Ferrer Point is known to require a wide berth but on this day was no problem, though I wouldn’t have wanted to be too close to the massive sea lion hanging out there!  A little past the point Fred’s bladder was yelling his name so he, Don and Dave headed in to a tiny pocket beach while the rest of us bobbed in the swell for 10 minutes or so waiting for their return.  We continued South along the beautiful & exposed coast to the first real landing & camping opportunity, 3rd beach.  This would be our camp for the night.  We found a path through some rocks that eliminated the need for a surf landing which was welcomed by some in our group.  Surf landings in loaded boats can be a challenge!  After a few days of trying to fit six tents in an area appropriate for four, we had a huge beach to ourselves.  Let me be clear, we’ve always had the beach, (and/or island) to ourselves, but it’s not always easy finding space for six tents.  There was space nice space for plenty at 3rd beach!  The only downside was the carry.  One of the tricks of kayak camping is planning for tides.  The tidal exchange in this area during our trip was as much as 13 vertical feet.  In real life, unless you plan to land and leave at high tide, it means you’re in for some long carries of either gear or kayaks.  In this case it was gear!  It was still worth it.  We had the beach to ourselves, wolf footprints, a creek from which to filter water, a dining room table and another campfire with friends…

Total for the day:  15 miles

Thursday, July 3rd.  We were actually ahead of schedule as we had planned to spend last night in Nuchatlitz Inlet and tonight at Calvin Falls.  Calvin is purported to be one of the highlights of this portion of the west coast, so we set our sites there and figured we’d have a relaxing day and evening.  The wind had built some since the previous day, but nothing to crazy.  Probably 10 – 12 kts.  The launch was basically surf free and we headed way out to avoid the boomers & reefs.  As we snuck up to Skuna bay we noticed the reef outside was going off so we decided to land at Skuna bay where conditions were calm.  Dave, Don & Fred hiked around the point to get a look at what was going by Calvin Falls.  Their report was that we’d have a surf landing but very doable!  We all got back in our boats and headed out approximately 1/2 to 1 mile off shore to avoid the boomers & breaking waves on the reef, then made our way south then in toward the falls.  We could see it from off shore, cascading about 30′ down to the beach!

This was Karen’s first big surf landing and she did fine.  I went in first then gave paddle signals to Heather & Karen, directing them in.  Bob followed, got knocked over, but executed a great roll and glided on in!  As we landed we met two ladies with packs on their backs who were hiking the Nootka Trail.  They were just heading out but threw another log on their fire for us!  We set up camp and spent the rest of the day hanging out, surfing, (Dave, Don & Fred), filtering water, walking on the beach, etc.  This is definately somewhere I could hang out for a few days.  The only downside is that the weather was changing.  We could sense something was happening but couldn’t get a report on our VHF radios.  Hopefully tomorrow AM would bring a better signal!

Total for the day – 8.9 miles

Friday, July 4th.  I have no pictures from the most exciting portion of the trip!  We woke up Friday morning and things were definately different.  The tide was way out.  WAY out.  The wind had picked up from the south and though the surf was very managable, the seas looked a little more ominous.  We tried getting a VHF weather signal during breakfast to no avail.  Because the tide was so far out, the carry was brutal.  Empty boats probably weigh 50 – 65 lbs.  Gear can add another 60 – 80 lbs.  The trick is to put four people on each boat – one on each end and one on either side of the cockpit for the carry.  I was not feeling comfortable launching south into unknown weather conditions for a pretty committing section of coast.  There was really only one bail out spot between Calvin and Friendly Cove, which was Beano Creek.  Beano was about 5 miles away and very exposed to southerly weather.  As people were making final preperations to get on the water I made one more attempt at a forecast while standing at the surf line and managed to receive a weak weather signal.  S winds building to gale force, 1 – 2 meter swell building to 3 – 5 meters!  Our decision was made for us.  The bulk of our crew was strong, but those are big conditions.  Most of our crew also had not built any flexibility into their schedule & couldn’t afford to be pinned in at Beano Creek for a couple days, so the decision was made to turn around and let the weather chase us back to Nuchatlitz Inlet.  We headed out close to a mile off shore to keep us away from most of the boomers and the reef.  I took the lead, Don was sweep, Fred and Dave kept an eye on Karen & Heather & we let the wind & swell take us back.  The swell was quartering a little from the rear and would steepen and occasionally break.  Occasionally we’d also see an eight footer come through which definately increased the “pucker factor!”.  Once we’d round Ferrer Point we’d be in relatively protected water.  We were probably 2/3 the way back when I heard the hiss of a breaking wave.  I looked back over my shoulder to see the Karen’s boat flipped and heard Fred yell “Karen’s over”.  Just as quickly I heard him yell “She’s up!”  Karen executed a beautiful combat roll, her first, in some pretty big conditions!  Fred asked if she wanted to raft up, but she was fine to keep going, so on we went!  A t-rescue in those conditions in fully loaded boat was doable but would certainly be challenging.  Karen did a fabulous job, and as a result, made it easier for the group as well!  Sure enough, after close to three hours, we rounded Ferrer Point and got some protection from the wind and the swell.  There was a little pocket cove about 6 or 7 meters wide and 30 meters deep on the back side of Ferrer Point.  The group was ready for a pee break and some lunch so we started to head in.  Fred Landed.  I landed.  Ken & Don(?) came in followed by Heather and a wall of water!  In our rush to get people landed and bladders emptied we didn’t spend more than 30 seconds on the outside to see what was happening when the swell entered the cove.  About every minute or two the swell would build to walls of white water & dumping waves, then everything would turn peaceful again.  Heather was surfing toward Ken’s head, Ken got flipped and his boat filled with water & turned into a 500 lb steamroller.  It was all rather exciting and dangerous.  Lesson learned!  Let’s just say we were careful leaving the beach! We launched the paddlers one at a time, (and well timed).  At lunch we talked about where to camp and what the plan was.  We decided to head back to Rosa Island, which is pretty centrally located, and spend the last two nights there.  Our gear was pretty wet from last night’s rain at Calvin Falls.  Rosa is about 3 miles from Garden Point.  It would be a long slog back to Tahsis the last day but by staying two days at Rosa we wouldn’t have to break & reset camp to move only three miles.  We made the 2 mile crossing in calmer conditions, (saw whales!), navigated around islands 37, 40, 44 to Rosa, where we landed at the camp where we had visited with the kayakers two days previous.  This camp was different.  We were in the trees – Old growth Cedars – rather than on the beach.  But there was a privy at this camp.  The ladies were happy!  Total for the day – 17 miles.

Saturday, July 5th.   We all slept in since we wouldn’t be moving camp.  We had been getting up between 5:30 and 6:00 to eat, break camp and load boats to be on the water by 8:30 or so to avoid the afternoon winds.  Not today.  Karen and I awoke about 8:00 and figured everyone had left for day paddles. No one was stirring & Ken & Heather’s boats were gone.  Wait – Wasn’t there a log under the stern of our boats?  There’s Ken & Heather’s boats up in the trees…. Everyone’s boat was present and accounted for but not in the same spot!  The tide came in higher than expected and completely changed the beach.  Luckily everyone had tied their boats up and Dave heard boats moving at 3:00AM and got up and moved them up the beach if needed.  Thanks Dave!  It turned out everyone was either still in bed or had gone back to bed.  It truly was a lazy morning!  Soon everyone gathered in the kitchen and plans formulated.  Fred, Don, Dave & Bob would head toward some supposed caves and sea stacks, Ken &  Heather would fish in the kelp beds & Karen and I would head out toward islands 37 & 40 and rock hop.  The day was obviously windy from the south so we didn’t really go out the west sides of the outermost islands, but did have fun playing in the rocks and swell none the less.   We did decide to come up the outside of Rosa figuring we should circumnavigate the island since we were staying on it two nights!  We stopped for a snack and pee break in a neat little cove, then rounded the NE side of the island to find everyone else hanging out in the flat water working on strokes.  Apparently the group that was going to play in caves and sea stacks decided to paddle around Rosa instead and Ken and Heather didn’t have any luck fishing.  We truly did have a lazy day!  We all headed back to camp for dinner and a campfire on the beach for our last night on the water.  I waited until everyone went to their tents and stood on the beach, trying to burn this image into my memory.  Twighlight, the silhouettes of the mountains, water lapping against the rocks…just then I saw a mink swim across the little bay and scurry up on the rocks 20′ from me.  It truly was a beautiful night!  Total for the day – probably 5 miles. Sunday, July 6th.  The last day on the water.  We knew this would be our highest milage day for the trip so we all got up at 5:30 AM.  We had strung a tarp over our tent and camp so most of our gear was dry, (except for the tarp).  Loading the kayaks was easier as most of the food was gone.  We were on the water around 8:00 AM with the wind at our backs.  The south winds had receded and were now from the west.  It would be at our back for the day.  The three miles to Garden Point went quickly.  We decided to stop for a pee break but this fellow didn’t want to give up his beach so we rounded to the other side of the point where we were able to get our of our boats.  I caught a glimpse of another bear about an hour later as he ambled across a rocky beach and disappeared into the trees along a creekbed.  We stopped for lunch at Lutes Falls, where we had stopped on day one.  The tortillas held up the whole trip!  Though this was the highest milage day, it really was an easy paddle.  The current was also in our favor the bulk of the day and sooner than I wished we passed through Tahsis narrows and headed North to Tahsis, which was clearly visable, though 3-1/2 miles away.  The wind picked up but not enough to be a problem and a little before 3:00 PM we pulled ashore in Tahsis.  The paddling was over.  Total for the day – 20.5 miles.  After unloading boats and packing up the cars we took turns departing back to Gold River so we weren’t breathing each other’s dust on the logging road.  About 5 miles outside of Tahsis we scared this fellow up the side of the road.  Apparently he made an appearance for two of the other cars as well.  Back in Gold River, we showered for the first time in a week, changed into clean cotton clothes and met the group for one last bittersweet dinner together for this trip.

Monday, July 7.  At this point in the story I’ll spare you many of the details.  The exciting part of the trip was over.  After breakfast we made our way south to Cowichan Bay on Fred’s recommendation.  What a pleasant little town on the SE portion of the island!  We splurged and got a suite on the bay facing the marina.  We spent the afternoon exploring the town including an interesting wooden boat museum.  Our sleep schedules were still on kayak time so we managed a beautiful sunset and sunrise shot of the marina from our room!


Tuesday, July 8th.  Today’s big adventure, other than returning to the states, was the long anticipated first trip to MEC.  Canada’s version of REI!  We managed to come out only about $200 lighter, had lunch & made our way back to the ferry for a windy ride back to the states.  Another stop at Port Townsend Brewing for a Hop Diggety, (best IPA hands down), dinner at the Fountain Cafe, and sleep at the hostel.

Wednesday July 9th.  I had to make a trip by the Northwest Wooden Boatbuilding School on our way home.  It’s always fun to see what they’re working on!  Our trip home was uneventful.  Of course this was the highlight of the return!

And if you’ve stuck with the story for this long you truly do have a high pain threshold!  Feel free to ask any questions, and by all means, get out there on an adventure!




One response

30 07 2008
Kiliii Yu

Hey David,

Thanks for the comment on my blog post. Your writing is great and it’s always exciting to read up on other people’s trip reports and see how people handle situations etc….

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