The Allure of the BC Coast - Part 1 - Louise Island May 2015
By Phil Climie / West Coast Collective
In May of 2015, myself and a few others found ourselves packed into a Subaru Impreza heading north out of Vancouver with the Haida Gwaii as our destination. Nearing the end of the second day on the road, as we drove due east along the Skeena River, the far side of the river bank began to disappear in the low light. The greenish hue of the Pacific Ocean began to creep upriver, mixing with the fresh water, as we took a final turn north towards Prince Rupert. In the late hours of that spring evening, we boarded the ‘Northern Adventure’ for an overnight ferry sailing to the Haida Gwaii.
Between the mainland and the abalone-dotted shorelines of Haida Gwaii lies the Hecate Strait -- one of the most violent bodies of water in the world.
Map of British Columbia North Coast - Phil Climie
The rise and fall of the tides significantly dictates the speed and direction of currents in the area. At flood tide, the waters from the warm Alaskan Current are funnelled in from the Northern and Southern entrances to the Strait, the Dixon Entrance and Queen Charlotte Sound respectively. On the ebb, the waters retreat out of the strait through these same gateways.
The immense volume of water being shepherded through these comparatively narrow passages causes dramatically turbulent waters. Originating from the expansive Pacific Ocean with seafloor depths of thousands of metres, the water is squeezed between land masses as close as 50 kilometres apart and pushed rapidly over shoals as shallow as 50 metres. In the South Hecate Strait, waves have been recorded as high as 26 metres with wind speeds climbing up to 200km/h. Here is a link to information about the Hecate Strait.
Thousands of years ago, only the people of the Haida Gwaii were able to navigate this body of water. The members of the Haida nation would paddle across this nearly unnavigable passage in magnificently carved war canoes to trade with other coastal tribes. At other not-so-agreeable times, they would use the dangerous waters as protection to carry out raids on these same coastal settlements. Here is more nformation about the Hecate Strait.
As the Northern Adventure pushed across the Strait, we witnessed numerous horizon-consuming swells and our stomachs felt queasy throughout the night. As the boat surfed across the Hecate waves, we attempted sleep and found little of it. Not soon enough, the tires of our low-riding Subaru rolled off the ferry deck as we touched back on solid ground near Skidegate in the early hours of the grey spring morning. The comfort of terra firma lasted only a day however, as we quickly launched two double kayaks and headed towards the Gwaii Haana’s National Park. Relative to the turbulence of the Hecate Strait, the glasslike surface of the inlet at Moresby Camp provided a calming entrance for our return to the water.
Kayaking through some calm water and pouring rain - Phil Climie
Over five days, we circumnavigated Louise Island and its surrounding islets-- located just above the northern tip of the park boundaries. Being well ahead of tourist season, the waters around the islands were empty, save for a few of the locals who seemed to have conflicting opinions of our presence. While curious sea lions slipped in and out of the waters around our kayaks, paying close attention to our lonely fishing lure dancing under the waves, the eyes of hauntingly poised bald eagles poured down on us from their sentry positions high above in the trees.
Sea lion checking out the kayak - Phil Climie
We spent our time navigating the waters of the islets and perusing the forests above the beaches in search of the great Haida civilizations in the region. Disembarking, we climbed through the creaking forests at Cumshewa, where an opening unveiled the remains of cedar structures that had been wrestled to the ground by thick mosses.
Our paddle past Skedans gave rise to a forest of totems that had once stood tall, piercing the grey skies, but had long since been laid to rest by the pounding winds and storms.
The eye of an old totem pole resting against a tree - Phil Climie
The final passage through the Louise Narrows required a high slack tide and precise maneuvers to escape the puzzle of jagged rocks, barnacles, mussels and starfish that lay only centimetres below.
More than anything, the adventure we spent in sun, salt and rain struck a deep chord within each of us. That chord still hums loudly, and sings a tune of further nautical exploration of the magical ecosystems of the British Columbia coast.
(check out our video of the adventure here)
Next week, Part 2 of this blog entry will go over the preparation for a trip along the whole BC coast.