By Patrick Robinson
Having driven every stretch of paved road on the islands, I can say that the drive from Queen Charlotte to Tlell is my favorite. Winding along the eastern coast, with rocky beaches exposed at low tide, and big waves and sea foam encroaching during high tide.
Waves crashing alongside the highway between Skidegate and Tlell
Hiking to the Pesuta is the best way I have found yet to give new visitors the best view of what Haida Gwaii is; several kilometers on a soft, mossy path through the forest, followed by a slippery walk on the side of the Tlell River, finishing with an even more blustery walk a few hundred metres north on East Beach.
On our very first weekend here, without doing any research, we drove to Tlell, parking on the south side of the river in the campground. Ready to run the beach, with running shoes and wind jackets, we quickly came out of the forest, over the sand dunes, and straight into the wind. At what felt like gale-force, the wind pushed us north, and in the distance we could see a dark shape, the Pesuta! After hiking a few kilometers and passing all sorts of driftwood structures, we realized that the wreck still seemed quite a ways off, so we decided to let it wait. Good thing too, because we were very close to the river, and would have been unable to cross it and stay dry! On the way home, the wind was so strong we couldn’t keep our hoods on. Getting back into the forest was a relief!
Our next trip out to the Pesuta was much more successful. With (nearly) sunny skies and light winds, we thought it was the perfect day. Crossing the Tlell river bridge, we set off through the forest along the soft and often squishy trail. We marveled at the amount of young foliage. We read somewhere that the deer introduced to the islands in the early 1900’s had a negative effect on the underbrush and young trees. You would find it hard to believe on this trail! Young cedar and spruce grow in abundance, as well as lush ferns and spongey moss.
Just before coming out of the forest and to the river, we spotted two eagles just overhead as we crossed the bridge over Geike Creek. When we stopped to take some photos, another hiker came through. He was carrying a large pack, and stopped to chat. Arne had just walked off the ferry, hitchhiked to the trailhead, and was hiking the whole 80km of East Beach. A young documentary filmmaker from Belgium, he had spent a few months in Canada already, but was starting his trip to Haida Gwaii here.
We walked along the river, noticing more and more shells as we approached the ocean.
Walking towards the Pesuta, we noticed some other pieces of the large barge buried in the sand. It is difficult to describe the wreck, other than that the beach here feels wild, and the barge strong, to have survived 80 years on this beach.
Some of the giant nails in the ship are wrapped with kelp, and spaces between boards are filled with pebbles and shells.
On a later visit, we didn’t time the tides quite as well, and we arrived at the wreck near high tide. With mounds of sea foam blowing in the wind, we watched waves crashing at the base of the ship.
An out and back hike, on the way back from the wild beach and wreck site we stopped by an old summer beach cabin beside the trail to take a closer look at the beautiful exterior cedar work and the endless collection of beach trinkets. Based on my experience the trip to the Pesuta is an amazing must do experience on Haida Gwaii and it always seems to be more of an adventure than the last time out to it.