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Sea Kayaking Gwaii Haanas National Park
Queen Charlotte Islands

We're lucky to have great kayaking friends with indomitable spirit and humor, because it rained, stormed, and blew so long at the start of this trip that I worried it would never stop. We had a lot of laughs in spite of the weather. At least collecting drinking water was a piece of cake. Eventually the storms were replaced by very calm weather characterized by clear mornings and evenings with rain squalls at midday. Our plan of twelve paddling days to cover 100 miles was reduced to eight. We did it in seven in order to make sure we did not get weather bound and late for departure. Some of the areas we wanted to explore had to be passed up. We were blessed with very calm conditions and three rainless days once the weather settled down.

So how are the Queen Charlotte Islands? If you want solitude, this is a good place. Besides two other kayakers who rode the taxi with us, we saw only one other kayaker in 100 miles. Maybe the weather thinned out the crowd. A float plane at Skedans and a couple fishing boats rounded out the rest of humanity, not including the watchmen. Campsites appeared unused and there was scant sign of humans. Other than the well dispersed and numerous eagles and overpopulated deer (an introduced species), animal life was rather skimpy. I see more life in some areas of Puget Sound, so perhaps it's a matter of timing and location. I found that the shorelines became much more interesting near the outside of the islands. Sea life was similarly more abundant on the outside (away from the inner passageways). There are areas that I would love to go back and explore more thoroughly because of their spectacular beauty. Being there in May when the whales are passing through sounds promising and visiting the areas around the streams would be terrific during the salmon runs later in the year.

6/10 Ferry to Nanaimo and drive to Port Hardy
Had dinner at Telegraph Cove. Asked waitress why there is a large group of eagles just outside of town, just like last year. I was totally mystified by the answer. That is, the huge pile of sawdust is actually bark dust, fish guts, and some another ingredient I forget. It was being mixed for a product for Canada Tire. What could a tire manufacturer want with this nasty stuff I asked. Turns out Canada Tire is not a dedicated tire place, but some kind of hardware store that also sells fertilizer. Ha, ha. Just out of Port Mcneil we see two glossy black bears by the side of the road grazing on the green grass. Stayed at the Airport Inn with all the noisy pipes and loud tourists. Saw an add on the TV for BYOB (Bring Your Own Bed), a self inflating bed, available at Canadian Tire no less.

6/11 Ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert (Queen of the North)
The day started misty and gray and got wetter, grayer, and colder. I hope this is not what our trip will be like. Eyeing the crusty and rusty lifeboats gets me to thinking about putting quick releases on the kayak tie down straps.

The scenery is rather monotonous without much wildlife. The shoreline is mostly steep and consistently straight. It would be tough camping along this steep shoreline and it looks like it's a long ways between suitable take-outs. Small thin waterfalls are everywhere. About all we see are eagles.

The ferry has a large group of Brits and Germans, both from busses. Overheard from one British lady "I've never seen so many trees in my life. I wonder how long it took to plant them all."

We get flagged down leaving the ferry by our paddling buddies by the side of the road at 22:00. What a bunch. It's still a little light and everyone is excited. We head off to a motel for the night. The ferry to Skidegate leaves early in the morning, but with a gale in the forecast we don't know if it will go.

6/12 Ferry from Prince Rupert to Skidegate
The day Reg tipped over!

Woke up to rain, but it must be a warm rain. The mail deliverers in Prince Rupert are wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts in the rain. I can see my breath and Holly still has on all of her fleece.

The gale warning has been upgraded to "storm" and the Captain announces that the ferry might not make the crossing. Eventually we depart and run a detour to avoid some of the crossing or perhaps to wait out the worst of it.

T-shirt of the day: "Born to Clearcut" showing one standing tree and a bunch of stumps. Owner of said shirt looked like he meant it.

On one series of waves Reg tips over in his chair and lands on Holly. Otherwise he would have been kissing the deck. Food flew off the table. There is much crashing coming from the vicinity of the cafeteria. The weather is mean spirited and I wonder how I can take four more hours without throwing up. I downed my crystallized ginger and soda, and kept my eyes on the horizon.

We make it to the visitors center in Queen Charlotte City very late (about 21:00) but Dorothy has waited for us so we can get our orientation before our trip. Kudos to Dorothy.

We end up at a so called B&B. Ian likened it to more like bed and a loaf of bread.

6/13 No Paddling Today - a day of missteps
The forecast is still at storm, 5 meter seas, 40 mph winds with gusts to 58. And another front is expected tomorrow with 55 mph winds overnight.

It's a day of driving around in rain showers to see the sights. There is only one traffic light on the whole island, right in front of the ferry. The museum in Skidegate is nice and Andy adds a lot of detail about the canoes. Stores have little to offer. Locked myself out of the car but got it opened for $20 CA. The group futzed around and missed the ferry back to our B&B, had to wait for the last run at 21:30. At least the eagles put on a show at the marina fighting over fish heads. We are eager the get this trip started after all of the travel and sitting around.

6/14 Forecast is bad but it's a go
Vision of sitting back and watching the scenery from the water taxi is shattered by face stinging rain and a bone jarring ride. We take a beating and get completely soaked even though we are wearing two sets of rain gear. Should have worn my dry suit. It's like being dragged through wave tops in a cargo net. Can it get worse. Oh yeah, the motor dies mid trip. After an hour it's fixed sort of, but every time it hesitates I get nervous. The crashing waves on the rocks don't look too inviting. Just short of our destination the waves are coming over the bow and we have to turn around. This is not anything I ever want to see while paddling. We backtrack to Burnaby Island and get dropped off at the south end with our mound of gear sitting in the rain.

Happy anniversary, Holly!

6/15 Father's Day
The weather forecast for more gales keeps us in camp. It's a day of sitting around in the rain and talking. There are tame deer around barely bigger than dogs. They have nibbled the small spruce trees into bonsai. I guess that means there are no bears around. The tide flats here are very cool with numerous starfish, crabs, abalone shells, turban shells, large red sea anemones, and kelp species I have never seen before. I run out between squalls to get a few photos. There are a couple pair of oyster catchers out front that make an amazing amount of racket in an otherwise very quiet place. The trees are spruce and hemlock with a few cedars. The afternoon clears a bit so we all go for a paddle. We see a minke whale in the distance going the other direction. There are numerous deer, one mink, nice creeks, and amazing orange jellyfish. We halfheartedly gather some wood but no one attempts to light a fire. We know it's too wet. The ocean water is amazingly clear despite all of the rain.

It rains all night and the forecast tomorrow is still for more gales.

6/16 Still Raining
It's still raining. Tried to check out Burnaby Narrows at low tide but the wind and generally nasty weather turned us back. Instead we went into the lee of the island to take a walk. The moss here is 6 to 8 inches deep. Saw three cranes along the shore hiding from the weather under some low alder bushes. A small bear was foraging along the shore about a half mile away. Went back to the small islands to fish where we became surrounded by curious harbor seals. One wrapped his whiskers around my bow toggle to give it a good sniff. I was paddling backward at the time to better watch their antics. So much for fishing. A small island innaccessible to the deer is covered with wild flowers and lush plant life.

Reg, Ken, and Ian return from paddling looking like drowned rats. Everything I have except what I'm wearing is wet. The clothes soaked from our boat ride will not dry. The humidity is so high everything is damp. The prism in my camera is fogged. Drinking hot fluids or paddling is the only way to warm up. It pours the rest of the afternoon. The forecast is for more gales. Sigh. At least we are in a nice secluded cove with good paddling nearby to wait out the weather.

6/17 More Rain
Rain pounded heavily on the tent all night and it is still at it. The water in the trail is ankle deep. However the forecast for the 18th sounds hopeful. The camera lenses fog instantly. It's tough to get a shot of the deer hanging around camp. Standing and running water is everywhere. Next time I will bring better rain gear, an umbrella, and more tang. I'm amazed that water is not finding a way into the tent other than the normal condensation drips from the fly. The rain stops at 4 pm after we get back from a paddle. Saw guillemots and their burrows near Bolkus Is., very nice. Caught rockfish and Cabezon. A bit of blue sky moves by. Hurray. Looks like we will be loading up to start out tomorrow for the first leg of the trip.

6/18 Fat Hands - Are we finally on our way?
Oh no!, it started pouring rain during the night. Will it ever let up? But we are going and we get to find out if the mound of gear dropped off on the beach will actually fit in our kayaks. It would be a tough place to hold a garage sale. The rain tapers to showers by 7:30. All the gear fits and the oyster catchers give us a raucous send off.

By the time we get to Burnaby Narrows the sun is coming out regularly. Everyone is in good spirits. The narrows are great with clear water and lots of life. Best for me is a cloud of Aurelia (jellyfish). It's amazing how clear the water has remained after all that rain. Large areas of sea urchins are visible on the bottom. At midday it clouds up and rain showers start. We stop briefly on the water to talk to a lone Japanese paddler camped along the shoreline, the only paddler we see on the trip. We stop at Wanderer Is. for a paddling break. We pull into Newberry cove, a super place with a nice beach as the clouds burn away to a nice clear evening. We put up the bear pinata. Holly has oddly swollen hands, especially her left hand. It looks like an allergic reaction but she is otherwise fine. No one has anything like benadryl, so we will have to watch for further problems. There are mounds of cast up turban shells and kelp fronds. For the first time it's warm (by Queen Charlottes standards). Holly finds a fossil so Chris goes off in search and finds one also.

6/19 Another Hot/cold, wet/dry day
There was no rain overnight and the morning starts off clear. Clouds soon build and rain showers develop. Most do not want to go to Hotspring Island considering the weather we had experienced and the large crossing only to have to cross back. There are interesting cliffs at Werner Point. A pod of dolphins cruises by at a distance. Ancient Murrelets are everywhere in pairs. They have a curious ability to surface dive with the merest hint of a wing flip. We stop at a camp site on Moresby Island between Marco and Hutton Islands near the mouth of a stream for a break, in the rain of course. The shoreline is very interesting and this would make a good camp. We decide to head for the Skittagetan Lagoon campsite. The weather clears and it gets hot, but it's late (19:00). The lagoon is stunning, but the only sign of a campsite is a chiseled out area maybe 20 feet square and it's only about 12 inches above the current water level. We end up backtracking 3 nm to a rough and very buggy camp on slanted ground on the peninsula at the mouth of Haswell bay. The view of the backbone of Moresby Island is nice. There are a couple sailboats anchored out of sight in the nearby inlets.

6/20 Same weather, on with the coat, off with the coat
No overnight rain again, clear in the morning with clouds building midday. A humpback swims by camp at 12:30. The crew is really slow this morning and we launch at 1:00. Each rain squall leaves the water looking like metallic glass. Eagles are everywhere. In a seaweed filled eddy off Bigsby Inlet I spy what looks to be a glass float or light bulb. Holly checks it out and it is indeed a float. Wow! Reg gets into it and finds one as well. Two floats in 5 minutes. Amazing. We stop for lunch on Eagle Island at 3:00 in a downpour. The sun breaks out a 5:30. With glassy calm we have a nice paddle to Lyell Point. The narrow entrance is very pretty and looks like good fishing. There are lots of smolts around in the clear water. It's a very nice campground. Reg and Ken go off for a paddle to get in a few more miles. There is a very noisy raven here, which turns out to be a juvenile in training. My clothes finally get a chance to dry. This is starting to feel good.

6/21 NO RAIN!
After breakfast I head to the entrance where there are so many eager rockfish I cannot get my lure to the bottom to catch something more interesting. So it's rockfish for lunch. There is a doe and fawn on the very small island at the entrance. I should have brought my large camera, but I was focused on fishing when I left. Later I hoped to entice an eagle down from its perch using the fish heads, but the ravens were so quick and thorough it's impossible to tell I even cleaned fish at that spot. The clouds build as usual, but for the first time we have a day without rain. It's another day of placid water. We stop at Taanu but the watchmen are not there today. I should have known something was up when the ravens got quiet. They ate my lunch while I was off wandering around. I took a lot of guff for the remainder of the trip for that event. After loading up with water and checking out the ruins, we backtracked to Kunga Island for the night. Since there are few bugs here and also little seaweed on the beach, maybe piles of seaweed forecast the attack of those pesky black flies and no-see-ums. There are rocks here shaped like oreo cookies.

6/22 Vertical Point
It was a long paddle in open ocean going from point to point. There is very little wind. Reg and I stopped at Hemming Head in a strong surge to pee. We stopped at Nelson Point in a hidden cove for a break, in the rain of course. There were schools of fish in the shallows. Reg played with floats and Ian found a plastic alligator. This is a gorgeous place. In fact, all of the coastline on this side of Louise Island is very nice, Vertical Point especially. That spot has protected bays, lots of rocks, complex geology, great tide pools, and more. While washing dishes in the ocean I see an odd disturbance in the water. I sweep it up with my cup to find a completely transparent flounder about an inch long.

6/23 Mathers Creek
We left Vertical Point in sunshine. There was lots of swell and chop at the point. We stopped at Skedans at the watchmans site to see the poles. Two bears were nearby but were scared off by the watchmen. Reg pointed out the unique photo op of a live woodpecker on top of a totem pole. The pebbles on the beach were very interesting. A floatplane pulled in with four sightseeing tourists. The beautiful scenery stopped at Girard Point where, if there was a campsite, it would be impossible to get ashore through all of the boulders. Since we are out of the park, I noticed that the harbor seals were noticeably less curious, evasive even. Obviously something untoward has been going on. We pushed on through a huge area of shoals and kelp to Mathers creek where the water was very shallow and hazardous at the mouth. The campsite was very dark and too near the river mouth. It looked very "beary". We backtracked to some sand dunes for our last night camping. Even though most of the day was overcast, it was another rainless day.

6/24 Takeout
We take off under dark threatening clouds and a strong tail wind. We stopped at Barge Point for a timely lunch and then it was on to the takeout. The paddle was unremarkable but I was sure glad to have both the current and the wind at my tail. Being about 12 miles, it was our shortest paddle. We saw two kayakers just starting out and all full of enthusiasm. For the third time it did not rain. Shower, here we come. Had dinner at the "hotel" restaurant at the airport. They were trying hard but the service and food were almost funny. Met up with the rest of the crew a couple hours later and went to the Wok Inn for their dinner and usual good company. Ian expounded on the finer points of squirrel hunting.

6/25 Drive to Masset
We crossed paths with the crew and made a visit to Port Clemments and Masset. Tourist shops were overpriced. Looks like all the good stuff goes to Vancouver. Stayed the night at the Alaska View B&B. Stinkiest water in the shower I have ever seen outside of Yellowstone.

6/26 Back to Q C City
At breakfast I said "hey, I can see Alaska". An 8 year old boy standing nearby says "well Duh". Went to Tow Hill, the blow hole, and balance rock, all pretty good tourist fare. Met the crew back at Queen Charlotte City for dinner at the Sea Raven. Boarded the ferry at 23:00 and we were off for an overnight run to Prince Rupert.

6/27 To Prince George
Spectacular mountains leaving Prince Rupert. It's overcast so photos would not do them justice. It's 80 some degrees and sunny here. Like another planet. Pine trees and no moss.

6/28 Home
Four hours out of Prince George we detour off road to Painted Chasm Provincial Park for lunch. We're sitting there all by ourselves when I hear a car coming. It has kayaks on it. One is yellow and the other is gray. Hey, just like the two ladies from the water taxi. What do you know, it's them. What are the odds? We have a nice visit and then split for home. The mountains coming into Vancouver through Hell's Gate are spectacular. We stop at Bellingham for cheap gas and mexican food and it's on to home. Whew!

Last Words
Would I go back to the Queen Charlottes? You bet! But I hear British Columbia has 14,000 miles of shoreline. So 100 miles down and 13,900 to go. If you plan to go, email me. I can offer suggestions about lodging, water taxis and paddling routes.
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