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Go Haida Gwaii


Rose Spit - where the Hecate Strait meets Dixon Entrance - Photo: Owen Perry

The rainforest experience - moss carpeted paths, a lingering scent of fresh cedar and the sounds of silence - Photo: Owen Perry

Step into another world as you tour ancient Haida village sites in Gwaii Haanas - Photo: Owen Perry


An Accidental Pilgrimage

By Marcella Andrews

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

Rose Spit was on our list of adventures, and we were running out of time. A few days before, we were blessed to have been two, of a dozen hearty souls who shared a zodiac expedition through Gwaii Hanaas to the site of Sgang Gwaay.  But that is a story for another day.

My traveling companion, and sister, and I had been asking around Massett for a couple of days, hoping to find a ride out to the spit. There were a few possibilities, but nothing actually firmed up. We were told that Rose Spit was a 15 km return walk. We could see it in the distance.  How hard could it be?  We would be challenged, but there were lots of tire tracks along the beach. Surely, someone would come along.  Let's just see what wants to happen.

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

So we set out around 10 that morning, on a beautiful, sunny Haida Gwaii day.  We were invited to a potluck and film viewing that evening, and thought we could easily get back in time to make our potluck and arrive to dinner on time.  Low tide was at noon, we were as prepared as we thought we needed to be. The shoes were comfortable, and a long, lovely beach stretched before us. We set out.

Almost immediately a couple on their way out crabbing, gave us a ride about 2 km. We were encouraged. Little did we know, this would be the last vehicle we would see for many hours.

We were really enjoying our walk.  We could see the end of the forest, which became our first goal. It was fun collecting special rocks, taking photos and looking forward as the end of the trees became larger, and back as Tow Hill grew smaller.

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

Around this time, it was discovered that the water bottle was mistakenly left in the car. Oh oh. Well. Hmmm. No problem, it was decided. I had a bag of trail mix for snacks.  It really isn't that far. Let's just soldier on. 

Time marched on, as did we. The end of the trees seemed to grow more slowly than we had anticipated. And the wayfarers grew tired with aching feet and, in my case, lower back.

We met a few bicycle trekkers who soon disappeared in the distance. The tire tracks still gave us hope that someone may drive by.  Onward we strode, toward our quest, still gathering stones and taking photos. We dared not think that we were less than half way, as we would later have to retrace our steps.  Turning back was not an option. Nor was throwing away our treasured heart rocks, agates and wishing stones.

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

In about 4 hours, we arrived at the end of the trees.  It looked like a couple of km till we came to the piles of driftwood, our next goal. We could see across the spit now.  The sandbars to the east were full of Seagulls flying up and around like confetti on the wind.  Alaska rises faintly in the distance. With different views, sea life and our goal in sight, we temporarily forgot how much we hurt.

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

Finally we arrived at the end of the drift wood with just sand now, gently curving to the west, perhaps another km away.  We met a biker returning. He said the end of the spit was covered with Sealions.  We were intrigued, but we did not know the tides,and, well, we were exhausted.  There was still 4-5 hours of walking to get back, if no vehicle came along.  We still held out for that possibility and could not really comprehend that we may, in fact, have to walk it.

Photo Credit: Gail Porter

I had also decided that Rose Spit would be a perfect place to cast the small vial of ashes I had brought.  My friend, who loved to travel, had passed away a few years ago.  I now take a bit of her on my travels. This day, some of my dear friend Cherry, now remains on the northern end of Haida Gwaii.  She will love it there too.

Once the ashes were scattered, and we had each contacted our daughters from Rose Spit, it was time to face up to the fact that it was time to turn back. With the words of my daughter, we hoped to feel her advice in a lightness of step and spirit.

Looking back towards Tow Hill which now became our goal, we realized just how tiny it had become. This adventure had moved beyond a walk, beyond an expedition, a trek or a mission.  We were now in the realm of a quest, a sojourn, a pilgrimage. We did nourish ourselves with a few handfuls of nuts, fruits and chocolate. And thankfully the bike rider shared some of his orange juice. 

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

Soon after setting off, reality reared its head. We were still hours away from the end of our sojourn, and both of us were in extreme pain in legs, feet and back. I had developed a loonie sized blister on the ball of one foot, and my lower back kept me hunched over as if I would fold in half. My sister endured her own set of pains in knees and feet.

It was suggested again that we could jettison our rocks.  We each had collected at least 10 lbs, but we were unwilling to let them go.  On we trudged. Sitting for just a minute, and I do mean 1 minute, helped temporarily. We knew that sitting was not going to move us forward, so on we shuffled again. My slightly younger sister and one in slightly less pain, offered to go ahead and bring the rental car we were forbidden to bring on the beach.  This did not feel right, so onward we went, one small step at a time.

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

There was no more searching for interesting rocks or photographs. It was head down, moving one foot and then the other. Watching Tow Hill get larger, happened so slowly, that I could not look. Sometimes I closed my eyes and just focused on the moving forward, trying to separate myself from my body. The "carrot" became the big, comfy bed at the Copper Beech Guesthouse.

We tried walking in the sea in hopes the cold, salty water could relieve our aching feet. On this section of the journey we traveled several km on rocks, so the water helped. Eventually we made our way back to a sandy beach. We continued to look for vehicles and prayed one would come in sight. Tow Hill was still a painfully long way away.

By then I knew.  This was the hardest physical thing I had ever done (next to childbirth, of course). Being strong, and moving on was the only option. What is one to do?  Give up?  Lie down? They say you never know how strong you are until you have to be, but it was not without a certain amount of self blaming. I felt weak and that I should have known better than to head off on such a trek with a foot that is screwed together, an 11 year old artificial hip and a back problem. I really did not think that 15 km was such a big deal at the time.  My older body seems to have disagreed. 

Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews

When we could, we empathized with others who had to journey far distances every day, carrying water, or firewood, or all their possessions. I spoke about Cheryl Strayed and how she walked many miles a day with a heavy pack on her "Wild" sojurn through mountains.  She travelled months this way, with bleeding blisters, and even lost her boots. 

I guess we have a certain amount of gumption, mixed in with stubbornness. After 5 hours we were able to see that, indeed, Tow Hill was getting larger. My pain was excruciating, requiring focused breathing, yet still we moved forward. Finally, a km or so from Hiellen, we saw a truck coming our way. He laughed, but was happy to take us back to our car, and he had water.

Well, we made it, 10 hours later and with our bags of rocks intact. It was way too late for the potluck, even if I could have moved another step. A long hot shower and a bowl of yogurt was all I could manage before climbing into that dreamy, comfy bed.

The next day, we were, in fact, able to get out of bed and we flew off to our homes.  Content in the thought that in 8 days we had traveled from the south end of Gwaii Hanaas to the northern point of Rose Spit.  We will always remember this adventure with deep gratitude.

A few days later, when we were home, it was brought to my attention that it is 22 km each way to Rose Spit.  We walked about 40 km that day.  I guess I don't feel so weak after all. We were proud of that accomplishment and agreed that someday (not today) we would laugh about our accidental pilgrimage to Rose Spit.

NOTE: If you plan to embark on such an adventure, do your homework and be prepared. Though, had we known it was 40 km, we may have missed out on this amazing quest... 


Photo Credit: Marcella Andrews


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Haida Gwaii Tourism

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