Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island BC 23–30 Dec 2016

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, Jan 12, 2016.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Seattle WA
    As a folding kayak paddler, I have to be very mindful of weather and water conditions. In rough seas, the boat can take on water quickly, and when a big, open boat like a folder fills up, we are talking about an enormous quantity of water. Pumping out a swamped folder with a hand pump is a task roughly on par with building pharaoh’s pyramid: it can be done, but it's incredibly strenuous, and it takes forever, and you would basically have to flog me to get me to do it.

    I avoid the nightmare scenario by confining myself only to easy paddling conditions. Luckily, we here in the northeastern Pacific have the longest stretch of sheltered waters anywhere in the world, so I have never lacked for delightful kayaking opportunities. Sometimes, though, when I gaze at a map, my eye is drawn to our outer coasts, and I wonder what adventures I'm missing.

    Last December, I heard the call of the open ocean swells more stridently than usual, and this time I obeyed. I spent a week alone in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island's west coast, visiting an area that is usually too rough for this folding kayaker.



    From Seattle, it takes ten or twelve hours to reach Tofino via Tsawassen–Nanaimo, depending on how accurately you hit your ferry sailing. This time of year, the day is only eight hours long, so at least some portion of the drive will be in darkness. On the way out to Tofino, I scheduled the dark portion to occur just outside Nanaimo, and that was a mistake. The narrow, winding Highway 4 was a nightmare with all the ice and rain in the darkness. The Ministry of Transportation did a good job gravelling the pavement, but it was still a hellish drive.

    Arriving long after dark, I discovered all the official campsites were closed for the season. I car camped at Incinerator Rock, about 20 minutes south of Tofino. I was the only one there, but it’s not an official camping site, so I didn’t want to set up a tent, even though I paid the fee. Car camping is slightly miserable, but as a consolation, the sky cleared, and I saw some beautiful moonlight.




    I launched from Tofino bright and early the next morning. My ultimate destination was to be Hot Springs Cove in the northwest of Clayoquot Sound, but I started the trip with a two-night circumnavigation of Meares Island east of Tofino.




    To my surprise, there were very few alcids in the sound. Instead, there were tons of cormorants and grebes. I saw all three cormorant species, including huge numbers of Brant’s, and Western, Horned, and Red-necked Grebes. I even saw a Pie-billed Grebe, the first time I’d ever seen that species on salt water. There were also tons of ducks, especially Bufflehead and Surf Scoters.




    The area behind Meares Island was heavenly, with snow-capped mountains towering over still, blue waters. I was the only boat out there, once I was away from town, and I drifted along, enjoying the birds and clouds.

    I was surprised and dismayed to see the logging scars on the hillsides. What a lot of forest has been cut down! I hope the money they got was worth what they gave up.



    The flood tide carried me through to Cis’a’quis, a cedar shingle cabin built by environmental activists. I slept in the cabin, secure in the knowledge that no one else would be coming by in December. It wasn’t so much that it was cold—although it was—or that winter storms were so dangerous. It was more that there simply wasn’t enough daylight to get anywhere. I was the only kayaker out there the entire week.





    In the morning, I had to wait a few hours of an ebb tide to carry me to my next Meares Island campsite, Ritchie Beach. The wait for the tide delayed me enough that it was getting dark by the time I arrived at Ritchie Beach. The weather forecast was for strong winds the next day, so I took the time to set up a tarp over my campsite.




    By the time dinner was ready, it was full dark. I was sitting on the beach, eating my spaghetti and chicken, when a darting, dark shape of indeterminate size came racing over the gravel at me! I did what I always do in such threatening situations: I yelled “Aaaaaaah!” and kicked over my coffee cup.

    The intruding animal was just as frightened as I was, and it ran up a tree. Shining my flashlight on it, I saw that it was actually a small mustelid, no threat to me at all, and really kind of a cool visitor. Usually, when you see a small mustelid on the beaches in BC, it’s a mink, so I assumed that’s what this one was, too. But when I shined my light on it up in the tree, I noticed some distinctly un-mink-like features: the creature in the tree had triangle-shaped, stick-up ears, which mink don’t, and it had a buffy breast, which mink don’t, and most strikingly of all, its eyes reflected a bright, electric blue light! I’d never seen anything like that before! Minks’ eyes reflect yellow light. The only mustelid whose eyes reflect blue light is the American Marten, and that’s what this was. I’d never seen one in the wild until now.




    CONTINUED IN NEXT POST
     
  2. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Seattle WA
    The weather report in the morning called for winds of up to 50 knots, so I stayed on shore at Ritchie Beach. Despite the dire forecast, the local winds were no more than 15 knots, but by the time I determined that conditions would be manageable, it was too late in the day to launch, thanks to the shortness of the days.

    The day after, I departed for Whitesand Cove. The wind was up, and it was a little choppy, but small offshore island broke up the swells and reduced the fetch. Unfortunately, I guessed wrong about the direction of the tidal current, so I had to crawl my way across the sound at about one mile per hour. The rolling swells announced that I was now meeting the open ocean.





    At Whitesand Cove, I dumped my kayak in two-foot surf. Luckily, no one was around to see my shame. Even more luckily, I was wearing a drysuit, and all my gear was in drybags. Nothing got wet, but it was still a pain to haul my waterlogged folding kayak up the beach. I dragged it above the waterline and flipped it over to empty out the water.

    Despite this misadventure, Whitesand Cove was a paradise. All I wanted to do was sit on the beach and watch the sun slowly arc its way across the sky.





    It was a good thing Whitesand Cove was such a great spot, because I decided I wouldn’t be able to reach Hot Springs Cove. The outside route was out of the question due to rough waters, but the inside route around Flores Island required me to take advantage of a tide change: ride the flood up, ride the ebb out. In summer, this would have been no problem, but this time of year, the turn of the tide would leave me only an hour of daylight to make the last six miles of paddling. That’s not enough time for me, at least not in unfamiliar waters.




    I could have broken the journey up into a two-day affair, thereby obviating the need to wait for the tide turn, but then I would require an additional two days afterwards to get myself back to Whitesand Cove, plus probably one full day at the hot springs. I had enough food and fuel to undertake this kind of operation, but I just didn’t have the will. Five days to visit Hot Springs Cove was not worth it, not when Whitesand Cove was so sublime.

    Instead, I stayed at Whitesand for three days. There is a network of trails to explore the forest and the other beaches, so that’s what I did instead.




    There were culturally modified trees all over Flores Island, both ancient and modern. There were wolf tracks on every beach (though I never saw a wolf). And there were magnificent sunrises and sunsets, shining through the clouds.





    After three days on the beach, I paddled back to Tofino in a one-day push. Remembering my error with the tides on the way from Meares to Flores, this time I caught the flood back and barely had to work. A couple miles outside town, I found a flock of Black Scoters, the first time I’d seen this species in over four years. There were also Long-tailed Ducks whistling delightfully at one another and at me. Best of all, a Sea Otter was sleeping on the surface as I went by. He rolled himself upright and watched me, seemingly surprised to see a kayaker at this unusual time of year.

    Even though I didn’t make it to Hot Springs Cove, it was still a wonderful trip. I had every campsite to myself, so I was free to wander around the islands and the sound, visiting the trees and birds and animals. Altogether, I saw 56 bird species, and mammals included: Harbor Porpoise, Dahl’s Porpoise, House Mouse, American Marten, Harbor Seal, and Sea Otter.

    I'm very glad I finally made it out to this part of the coast. The short winter days imposed severe restrictions on my itinerary, but that ended up giving me three days on a beautiful island by myself. Trips don't get better than that.

    Alex
     
  3. Rachel_M

    Rachel_M Paddler

    Joined:
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    Great trip report and fabulous photos Alex!

    We're now living 6000kms away from the Island and currently without a boat, so paddling vicariously through others trip reports! This one really tweaked the heart strings this morning!

    Happy paddles

    Rachel
     
  4. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Astoria, Oregon, USA
    Superb report, Alex. You really captured the flavor of Clayoquot.
     
  5. The GCW

    The GCW Paddler

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    alexsidles,

    I enjoyed Your post and photos. Thanks.

    4 dimensional.
     
  6. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Rachel, that is what airplanes are for. Come back. The BC coast misses you!
     
  7. WGalbraith

    WGalbraith Paddler

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2009
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    Location:
    Victoria
    Thanks for posting the pics and story of your trip to Tofino. As a frequent year round solo paddler I appreciate many of your statements about short days, frequent storms and COLD. The bonuses include seeing much more wildlife that is not disturbed by frequent human visitors. The ocean is crystal clear and fresh water is in abundance. You get to pick your campsite and do what you want. You do need to be more flexible about your schedule to accomodate the whims of the weather and those short days.

    I have access to a cabin in Barkley Sound that provides a great alternative to a tent in the winter. I can dry out by the stove, enjoy the sunrises, and extend the days by turning on the propane lamps. After assessing the days forecast, I can enjoy day trips or short overnight stays.

    Winter can be a fantastic time to enjoy the West Coast , but it requires a bit more planning and can have a higher element of risk attached.
     
  8. Rachel_M

    Rachel_M Paddler

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    Dave, I am sure we will be back one day! In the mean time, I'm looking forward to getting a new boat and exploring here - we're still close to the ocean :D I am also working on my TR for Haida Gwaii.....
     
  9. chodups

    chodups Paddler

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    Well done, Alex!

    Thanks for taking us along.
     
  10. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Rachel, we await eagerly for your TR. Where are you guys, now?
     
  11. Rachel_M

    Rachel_M Paddler

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    Dave, we're in the UK, not far from Bristol/Bath. Hoping to get to the Isles of Scilly (off of Cornwall) and Hebrides (Scotland) once we get a boat sorted :) Sorry Alex, I shouldn't be hijacking your post!

    R
     
  12. benson

    benson Paddler

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    Location:
    Sequim, Wa
    Great report and photos Alex. Magical place any time of the year. Can't say I blame you for passing on Hot Springs Cove having to paddle the inside of Flores, but it was probably one of those rare times to have it to yourself!
     
  13. kayakwriter

    kayakwriter Paddler

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    Fantastic report and great photos! I've paddled in that area, but never in winter; I mostly confine my off-season paddling to the Gulf Islands and other sheltered areas. Glad you were wearing a drysuit and that you were prudent about calling off getting to Hot Springs.