A second 2 week Inside Passage morsel: Nanaimo to Port Hardy

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by rheag, Aug 16, 2011.

  1. rheag

    rheag Paddler

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2009
    Messages:
    24
    From July 23 to August 4, 2011 Toffer and I paddled our second leg of the Inside Passage (to read about the first leg go to http://www.westcoastpaddler.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=4167&p=55781#p55781): about 250 miles from Nanaimo to Port Hardy. The trip challenged, inspired, and steeped us in contentment. Even in moments of worry, of potential disaster, there was satisfaction in surviving these struggles so unique to a life outdoors, to a life focused on a destination.
    Approximate daily mileage:
    11, 26, 21, 28, 20, 20, 12, 25, 6, 24, 25, 14, 22. Average 19.5 miles/day.

    This year's leg had the usual smattering of good and bad conditions, exciting wildlife viewings, and many hours of a metronome existence with the paddle. But, a bit more wilderness, striking new scenery, a touch of gore, and intriguing games played with winds, currents, and ferries characterized this year's journey. The strong potential for weather to foil our plans kept us anxiously moving forward, turning the trip into a logistical adventure more than a relaxing vacation. I barely touched the books I brought for anticipated periods of lull. Rather, I spent most non-paddling time planning the next day, futzing with gear ad-nauseum, climbing trees, tracking down or filtering water, etc. There was something extremely wonderful and refreshing about living this way, about constantly moving all day occupied with some fairly important but simple tasks. I'm not discounting the value of a sleep on the beach all day type of vacation, or a paddle for an hour or two then sleep on the beach type. But, this trip showed me more than any other adventure I've done that a vacation filled with scheming and moving provides a greatly satisfying reprieve from city life.

    We launched the trip July 23rd just before 10 am near Pimbury Point in Departure Bay, after Toffer had dropped the car off in storage and walked/bussed back to our giant pile of gear. The sun baked us in our sweat suits, I mean ‘dry suits,’ but the water tossed us around a bit, so we were glad to have the layer of safety this year. We reached Southey Island, a cute, quiet wilderness camping provincial park, at 12:45 and noticed the water flowing in our direction of travel. An essential question that would pop up several times this trip took over the conversation: ‘should we take advantage of these good conditions and push on, or stay in this wonderful place and risk getting stuck here?” Our next potential destination was 9 miles away at Rathtrevor Provincial Park, but we decided that its campground probably didn’t have an unoccupied site on this beautiful Saturday and that we really liked Southey with its peaceful beach and knobby trees. So we stayed and I wandered the many overgrown trails to pick a campsite and scramble up some boulders for a view. Although I didn’t know it yet, this would be one of the only relaxing afternoons of the trip, where we got to sit and read on the beach and turn into lobsters.

    The next four days carved us into paddling shape and the many communities, neat houses, and friendly boaters we passed entertained us. Toffer’s shoulders and my back complained during the last few miles of each day, but we knew we would get stronger. Day 2 of the trip we left Southey around 7 am, and with a lunchstop at the crowded Rathtrevor and some opposing current, reached the Qualicum First Nation Campsite at 5 PM. This definitely felt like a paddling intensive trip. At Qualicum we had a long gear haul to our site (more strength training), but some German RV-ers provided entertainment. They had shipped their Mercedes RV (woah) to Baltimore, and were spending 9 months driving it all over North America, including a recent trip through Alaska. Their infectious enthusiasm made this RV thing seem somewhat appealing. Somewhat.

    From Qualicum to Sandy Island the next day we had a mostly pleasant time, though didn’t get out of our boats for the 7 hour, 20 mile segment. I learned that how long I’ve been in the boat has a strong impact on how crazy and uncomfortable I feel when the day’s miles are almost over. Most of the day the water remained calm, except for a 1 hour sudden wind spasm that chewed up the water for us. We paddled against current for part of the trip again, and a fisherman passed us noting “That looks like too much work”, to which we responded “it is.”


    Sandy Island lived up to its name and we camped by a lonesome tree on the grassy northern end. Boaters and boaters’ children sprawled over the white sands. As the sun set and the last day-trippers zoomed away a dark cloud flew in via strong winds and made us wish we had forced our exhausted selves onward another few hours to Kin Beach. We worried about crossing back to Vancouver Island the next day, especially as we fell asleep to the sound of violently crashing waves.
    By the time we launched near 7am again, the water seemed calmer, but not convinced this would remain true during the 4 miles north to Vancouver Island, we took the long way around by paddling the 2 mile crossing due west. Had we gone the shorter route we would not have encountered trouble, but we both felt content with our leanings towards caution. By the time we reached Kin Beach opposing current made it look like an ideal lunch spot. It was a much better lunch spot than it would have been camping spot, given the steep hill between the beach and the campsites and the ice cream cones for sale that provided a nice finish to our typical summer sausage and cheese mini-bagel lunch. Refreshed, we chugged onward, through easy waters, through rough waters, past houses and isolated bays. We checked out Miracle Beach, but the campsites seemed excessively far away, and we soon learned that on this midsummer Tuesday, the gigantic campground was completely full. After picking up some supplies from the store at Pacific Playgrounds Marina, we random camped at Kuhushan Point. Although our guidebook suggested this spot, I didn’t know for sure whether it was legal. Luckily, nobody told us to scram. By the time we set up camp around 8 PM I was so wiped out the idea of cooking dinner seemed overwhelming to me, so we opted to eat energy bars and Cheetos.

    While we had paddled roughly 28 miles that day, the next day, ‘only’ 20 miles, challenged us more. We caught a turbulent ebb at 6am towards Campbell River and began a 3 mile crossing towards Cape Mudge about an hour before slack to avoid any possibility of encountering the fabled Cape Mudge rips during the flood. The north wind created choppy scary waves against the ebb, however, so this crossing required determination and focus. We had experienced slightly worse water crossing Rosario Strait last year, but only slightly. This justified the dry suits. Glassy calm protected waters on the southern end of Quadra Island rewarded our efforts. We spent the rest of the day chugging slowly a couple of feet offshore of Quadra Island in giant waves and strong winds, dodging rocks and staying upright. Although physically difficult, this situation didn’t cause much concern, as the comfort of the shore, of the possibility of a break or escape at any time put us at relative ease.
    We landed at We Wai Kai near Rebecca Spit and some extremely friendly RV-ers, on a 2 week We Wai Kai camping trip, greeted us, and treated us like the royalty of interesting people. They gave us a direct pathway through their campsite to our campsite for gear hauling, offered to drive us to the grocery store, invited us to their evening fire hangout, and in general seemed to really like to talk. How nice! At the other RV campgrounds I felt like a stinky weirdo, but here they told us where to find the showers and seemed fascinated by our weirdness. Somehow I managed a peaceful jog/run, and then Toffer and I feasted at the Raving Raven’s burger shack on site. Although we didn’t have a lot of time at We Wai Kai, it recharged and refreshed me after the last 4 tiring days.

    Passing through Surge Narrows (which has a max of 12 knot currents) at its 4 PM slack was the primary goal of the next day, Day 6. We took our time travelling up the southern end of Okisollo Channel, finding countercurrents where possible, and plowing through the current where not. By 2 PM we arrived on the southern end of Goepel Island, where we felt the first raindrops of the day. Some incredible standing waves blocked a direct path to a picnic spot across the channel marked on the map. Turning downstream we attempted to cross over away from the mess, but soon found ourselves unable to avoid rapids. Whirpools popped up unexpectedly and the water teemed with indecision about the best way to spin us in circles. We paddled as hard as we could, but soon realized the currents had denied us forward progress. Abandoning the picnic spot idea we rushed towards the other side, anywhere on the other side. Almost there, I lost control over my direction and soon saw a giant cliff face hurling straight at me! I planted my paddled in the water and turned sharply at pretty much the last possible second, phew! We made it into a cove, and waited for slack in some heavy rainfall.
    Slack of course made the narrows easy and we paddled toward the Octopus Islands singing in the rain. Near the Octopus Marine Park the reality of rock ledge camping, of heaving gear around on slippery rocks, with the possibility of low tide making leaving extremely difficult the next morning, we continued on to Francisco Island, a tiny speck of land with a protected beach. By dinnertime the sun and wind had shooed away the rainclouds and gave us a rainbow. Fantastic! Launching from Francisco at low tide the next morning was a bit upsetting, as the nice protected beach lead to a nice protected tidal zone covered in easily squished tidal life. The image of tiny crabs scurrying away from our King Kong footsteps with every load of gear made me feel a bit disgustingly evil.

    Upper Rapids, hit properly, posed no problem, and we paddled slowly against increasing current after passing through them during the morning slack. We took a break from the wind and the current at the shipwreck at the intersection of Okisollo Channel with Discovery Passage. Listening to the weather radio, our goal of reaching Rock Bay or Little Bear Bay rapidly dissipated. The wind would only get stronger through the afternoon in Johnstone Strait, making Chatham point and the rips of Rock Bay more dangerous than fun. Although we wanted to at least get across the busy Discovery Channel, we didn’t know if any camping possibilities existed on the other side without going around Chatham Point. So we camped in some grass growing out of rocks at a picnic site by a river and watched giant cruise ships fly through the passage. With Chatham Point only a couple of miles away, there wouldn’t be much time to react to approaching ships. We felt like slugs about to cross an interurban trail, and just hoped we wouldn’t see any early morning joggers. We got up at the usual 5 am to discover that the ‘grass’ we had camped on was actually seaweed, as the tide had licked the foot of our tent. Oops.
    Typically, the obstacles you plan for often don’t end up causing nearly as much trouble as the surprises. We crossed Discovery Passage without a problem, and continued with a nice strong ebb around Chatham Point and through mild rips near Rock Bay and Little Bear Bay. While a few days earlier the sun had overheated us, this day the air felt frosty and the dry suits and fleece seemed worthwhile. We swung wide around Ripple Point, especially after we saw some boat wake interact with the rips and create bizarre crashing waves. Already around most of what we considered the difficult sections of the day, we paddled in the peaceful water, far enough offshore to avoid the countercurrents. Few landing spots exist in this section and I felt grateful we didn’t get stuck in horrible conditions here. Several Orca breathed near the shore, traveling the opposite direction with the countercurrent. What an amazing day.

    Around Bear Point we noted the expected SW wind had picked up and enjoyed having wind at our backs for a change! But, the water traveling NW with a SW wind created conflict and soon this nice situation got ugly. More wind waves and frustrating water threatened to dump us. We kept battling, but it kept getting worse, and wore us down, so when we spotted a beach just past Palmer Bay we stopped to reassess. A wilderness camp spot a little over a mile away seemed doable. So we chopped the water for a bit longer. By the time we arrived and I searched up and down the beach for evidence of previous tentsites, the SW wind had weakened and would switch to NW that afternoon. According to my current information, slack at Camp Point, now only a couple of miles away, was in an hour. I hadn’t yet found a tentspot, and the idea of getting through Camp Point with its ‘heavy rips’ at slack appealed so much we decided to aim for the campsite on the other side of Camp Point. As we approached Camp Point, the water near shore was excessively calm (though looked like a boiling cauldron offshore) and it definitely ‘seemed’ like slack. Perfect. We passed the navigational light and had less than a mile to the campsite when we suddenly realized we were moving backwards! What?! Were we caught in a rip? We aimed offshore to try and break free of it, but couldn’t escape it. We tried paddling against it straight on with a ‘just get around the corner!’ passion, but it didn’t work. Finally we aimed for shore, and although lost a lot of ground discovered weaker current there. At the next corner water whipped around the rocks at us like a river, so I got out of my boat and dragged it, climbing along the rocks. The water next to rocks typically was deeper than I am tall, so I had to be very careful not to slip off the rocks and go flying into the current out of my boat. Of course this wasn’t the smartest move, but just around the corner we found a countercurrent that we rode for a bit. So, ever hopeful of reaching the next campsite, we progressed forward, inches from shore, dragging the boat when necessary. This worked well until the very last corner, which stuck out the most dramatically into the current and had the strongest opposing water to deal with yet.
    This water had more power than I could handle; I couldn’t drag my boat through it. I heaved and yanked with most of the energy I had left and somehow didn't let go of the boat nor the slimy rock, depositing it into a temporarily safe niche. Toffer didn't imitate my mistake and pulled his boat out wisely earlier. We just wanted to get to the camp, and all we had to do was portage the boats over a small section of rocks past the river-like water. At the time it seemed like a fine idea to simply carry the boats the small distance. Let’s finish this. Toffer took the front and I lifted the back of my boat with all my spindly shredded might and hobbled forward one, maybe two, steps before my foot slipped and CRACK! I fell with the fully loaded boat onto my left hand. I don't remember what noise I made, likely some strange combination of a whimper, a gasp, and a snarl. "Are you OK?!!" Toffer asked. I didn't know, so I took off my glove and discovered a bloody middle finger. What a relief, this was probably not a big deal, just another painful nick to add to my collection. I rinsed it, but it kept bleeding, so I headed back towards the boat for a band-aid, chiding myself for thinking I could carry such weight over slippery rocks. It was a rushed, rash, let's just jump this one last hurdle without shoes on kind of decision. Stupid Rhea! In the middle of this reflection I heard Toffer state, "Rhea, that's a lot of blood!" I looked down and the red mess flooding out of my finger took me by surprise. This image belonged in a cheesy horror movie, not on my finger, not here in reality. I had never seen so much blood rushing away from me so quickly and I couldn't understand how this was happening from such a tiny hole. Dizziness clouded my brain and I floated down to a seated position, squeezing the base of the gruesome finger fountain. I felt annoyed, not quite claustrophobic yet, about being trapped in this ridiculous situation. "RHEA, where's your first aid kit?!" Toffer took action. "In..." speaking seemed like an extraordinarily difficult task and my words came out slurred, "the blue.. blue bag... in the ..back" I pushed out, through the obstacle of all those frustrating 'b' words . "How do you feel?" he asked. "Dizzy." Passing out seemed close and likely, but an image of me unconscious, Toffer alone to deal with my helpless self plus two boats on a temporarily exposed rock in rising tide and increasing current motivated me to focus all my wobbly attention on staying awake. In hindsight, if I had actually lost enough blood to lose consciousness I don't think it would have been possible to 'will' myself not to pass out. But, at the time it seemed like a good goal. Toffer found the first aid kit and wrapped the drama of the moment in tape. To our great relief the tourniquet worked.

    We dealt with the boats the way we should have initially -- unpacking the heavy items before moving the beasts. We paddled like mad through the last bit of opposing river-like water and landed at a huge grassy meadow a few hundred feet away. I started to contribute to the usual gear-haul, but Toffer insisted I rest and clean the wound while he did everything else. This included setting up a tarp for me and the mosquitos to huddle under, moving all of the gear, pitching the tent in pouring rain and wild wind, converting his sleeping pad into a cushy seat for me, and making us mint tea to combat the shivers. Although the possibility that the trip was over weighed heavily on our minds, I felt pretty spoiled, and lucky to be safely off the water. This feeling grew when I started reading Outside Magazine, filled with stories of sharks tearing off limbs and other disastrous scenarios we didn't have to face.

    Heavy rain blasted the tent all night, letting up just in time to pack up our soggy gear at 5 am. We paddled through some minor rips in Race Passage in a very short ride to Sayward (Kelsey Bay) for supplies and paramedic advice. I didn't think my finger was broken, but was only about 30% confident in that intuition, so I progressed with my duct-tape splinted middle finger off the paddle. This clearly served a double purpose. A giant cruise ship passed us on the way, and feeling somewhat spooked, we played it safe by heading to shore until the large wake had finished interacting with the rips.

    It was only 8:30 am or so when we steered toward the RV's in Kelsey Bay, yet the wonderful owner came down to greet us, ask us our story, and offer friendly advice. Due to a softball tournament, his beautiful 6 site establishment had no vacancy. The unrippled water travelling the direction we wanted for the next few hours beckoned us to get more miles in while we could. Kayakers easily get stuck in Kelsey Bay for days due to the frequently strong Johnstone Strait winds, and we knew we could be kicking ourselves if we let this window close. We also knew that we were running out of bandages and if I did have a broken bone, or infection set in, we would be kicking ourselves harder in a much more remote, possibly dangerous situation. Luckily we discovered that one camper was leaving in 15 minutes and that tipped the scales towards staying.

    Kelsey Bay and the Village of Sayward were inhabited and visited by genuinely good, friendly people. Strangers seemed like family and everyone we crossed paths with would greet us warmly. We walked a mile into the village, covered in campers and softball players. At the fire department a wonderful paramedic squashed our worst fears by confirming an unbroken bone and doling out infection prevention and detection advice, and sent us on our way with some knuckle bandages. Phew! We wandered over to the grocery store, surrounded by a bunch of abandoned offices of dead businesses. The softball people had stressed the small store's supply, but we managed to find the important stuff.

    Since we had basically the entire day, I of course went for a run. The substantial road shoulders pleased me, as did the careful and courteous drivers. I fell into a groove and had just drifted into my head when a startling image of a gigantic burly deer (actually an elk) with impressive complicated antlers trying to cross the road entered my view. Cars approached from both directions, but immediately slowed down and gave him the room and respect he was obviously entitled to. He slowly sauntered across, followed by 1, 2 , 3 more slightly smaller versions of himself. The car going my direction edged forward and I jogged to stay alongside it, neither of us convinced the parade was over. The rest of the run passed enjoyably, though I wished I had brought along my camera and my bear spray...

    Doing laundry involved knocking on a random trailer, and asking for a key to the back of an abandoned cafe. For dinner we walked 2 miles to the closest restaurant, the Salmon Bay Inn, which it turns out served food for the last time that night, as the next day it would close for good. It saddened us that such a pleasant community was drying up. Back at camp an RV couple invited us over to their fire (after Toffer had chopped them some firewood) and they kept us later than we intended to stay up, telling fascinating stories of their many travels by RV, motorcycle, and cruise ship.
    At 4:30 am we heard horrible crashing noises of waves in the protected bay and worried we were indeed stuck, but by 5 am the water had calmed and looked as innocently peaceful as we could hope for. The ebb aided us again, though with a smaller magnitude. By slack we were only a couple of miles from Naka creek, and passed it by for Pine Point. The last mile between these sites took about 40 minutes due to the increasing flood! Any thoughts of pushing onward through Robson Bight (whale sanctuary) against this current were nixed as the wind picked up. I loved Pine Point, the best wilderness site yet, with its makeshift benches and tables from previous campers and plenty of space to spread out gear. The afternoon sun helped enhance the great mood I was already in. For dinner, we changed things up by cooking chocolate chip pancakes and spam. I ended up climbing some soggy weak trees more times than intended due to a broken bear line, and the night ended with us organized and happy.

    Catching another lovely ebb the next morning, we made great time through Robson Bight (> 1 km offshore). Although we didn’t see any Orca here, we also didn’t encounter any cruise ships! Kayaks and kayakers coated the beaches on the other side of Robson Bight, and even more came out to play near Telegraph Cove! Our guidebook left us with a negative impression of Telegraph Cove (which we regretted believing), and wanting to get more miles in, we passed it up for Alder Bay to camp. Nothing much there excited us, so we day paddled over to Alert Bay. The next morning fog flooded the region, so we hugged the shore until it lifted. Along the way to Cluxewe we saw 4 bears, 3 of them cubs, foraging around in low tide. As it was a fairly short, easy day to Cluxewe, we spent some time flapping around with campsites before finding an amazing one. I went for my run, which ended up being intervals on a 1 mile stretch of road, and we ate the tastiest burgers of the trip at the campground café.



    Gale force wind warnings prompted us to paddle directly to Port Hardy the next day without stopping in the Beaver Harbour Islands as planned. As we launched we saw dark thick clouds encroaching on the blue sky and within a few miles we paddled in full cloud cover, but decent water. Initially wisps of fogs got heavier and by the time we reached Beaver Harbour visibility had reduced drastically. This was extremely good fortune. As we went around the long exposed point toward Port Hardy we couldn’t see more than the rocks next to us, but no scary winds or waves blocked our progress. By the time we reached the ferry terminal the fog had fortunately lifted and the predicted winds picked up. But the bay protected us and all we had to worry about were the many boats zooming around, bumping us with their wake. We paddled past Port Hardy and up a river. Low tide made this interesting, and although we could have waited a few hours for higher tide, our eagerness to be done prompted us to walk our boats in to Sunny Sanctuary in 2 inches of river water. We made it! We did it! Toffer’s parents once again made this trip possibly by picking us up here and dropping us off back in Nanaimo. This was incredible and way beyond any expectations, so we have much gratitude for their help.

    Thanks for reading! For more photos, go to http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150345614310763.400307.685810762&l=f51ae555e9&type=1.
     

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  2. nootka

    nootka Paddler

    Joined:
    May 26, 2007
    Messages:
    1,533
    Location:
    Campbell River
    Re: A second 2 week Inside Passage morsel: Nanaimo to Port H

    Great Report! Thanks for posting.

    There is an interesting set of diagrams in Sailing Directions BC Vol 1 17th edition, British Columbia Coast (South Portion), pages 6-15 to 6-20 showing current in a cross section of Johnstone Strait, at a location 1.5 miles west of Port Neville. There is one diagram every hour for 24 hours. There is an accompaning description in para 185 page 6-21. See also para 186.

    Here's an excerpt:
    On the surface the flood current starts along the Vancouver Island shore at about the same time as it starts at depth, but takes over 2 hours to cover the strait completely from one side to the other.
     
  3. AM

    AM Paddler

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2006
    Messages:
    777
    Location:
    Vancouver
    Re: A second 2 week Inside Passage morsel: Nanaimo to Port H

    Great trip report. Small world -- I'm sure it was you guys I saw heading for Rathtrevor Beach when I was paddling around Mistaken Island. That would have been July 24, so the timing seems right.

    Glad the finger wasn't broken. More confirmation that the shore is the most dangerous place on a kayaking trip!

    Regards,
    Andrew
     
  4. rheag

    rheag Paddler

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2009
    Messages:
    24
    Re: A second 2 week Inside Passage morsel: Nanaimo to Port H

    Nootka: that sounds like a useful resource and it makes sense that the timing of the currents is fairly complex in this region. Did you suggest this as a reason for our Camp Point current mistake? I would think that the Camp Point current slack times we used would have been for the Vancouver Island shore where we were, but perhaps they were actually meant for further offshore and thus the flood had already started where we were while it was slacking out in the middle? Strange. I'll have to look into that Sailing Directions series. Thanks for the info!

    Andrew, yeah! We remember you! I wondered where the heck you were going because it seemed you were heading out to the middle of the Strait. Then I noticed Mistaken Island in your path, hope you had a good time: that was a pretty gorgeous day. Did you have a Greenland style paddle? We should have stopped and picked your brain about the area!
    I agree the shore is pretty dangerous, but so is the shipping channel. We should stay somewhere in between with the seals.
     
  5. nootka

    nootka Paddler

    Joined:
    May 26, 2007
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    1,533
    Location:
    Campbell River
    Re: A second 2 week Inside Passage morsel: Nanaimo to Port H

    Rhea, I tried to choose the appropriate diagram. If I counted right, your day approaching Camp Pt was July 30.
    If we assume the max ebb at 8 am corresponds to diagram 11-HR of the series; and we use 11 am as the time of the opposite current (1 hr before slack), we get diagram 14-HR; which shows an ebb in the center 3/5ths of the channel and a flood on the edges.
    Since the diagrams were calculated for just west of Pt Neville, and Camp Pt is about 15 miles east of that, I don't know how well they apply; but if you encountered a flood near shore and an ebb away from shore, then it might be the explanation.
     

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