God's Pocket, Queen Charlotte Strait, BC 9–13 June 2017

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, Jun 15, 2017.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    Someday, I'd like to do a non-stop circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. I love the remote beaches where you can camp for days on end without meeting anyone. I love the abundant wildlife that swims or flies right up to your kayak. And I love the roar of the swells as they rise up and break over the rocks.

    But I don't know when I'll find the time to do a proper circumnav. I'm also worried that my barge-like, open-cockpit folding kayaks won't be up to the challenge of surf landings and squall exposure. So for the past several years, I've been cheating. Instead of circumnavigating, I've been making special trips to only the best spots of the island, timing each trip to achieve the easiest conditions and the most wildlife. Kyuquot, Clayoquot, the Brokens and the Broughtons—I've been sneaking all the good parts of a circumnav and avoiding all the bad parts.

    This year's circumnav substitute was a five-day visit to God's Pocket and the surrounding islands out of Port Hardy on the north coast. This area has been in my sights for a couple years now, so it was a real treat to finally get out there. Best of all, my dad was able to join me for this one. We've been doing short trips together the last two months in preparation for an August on Haida Gwaii.







    God's Pocket delivered a first-class wilderness experience. At none of the four islands where we camped did we ever share a site with anyone else. The only other person we met on land was a lone logger trudging up the beach on Nigei Island, and the only other kayakers we saw were two guys getting off the water the day we got on. Dad and I both prefer quiet solitude for our camping over crowds—even friendly ones—so we were grateful for the isolation.






    God's Pocket park was only a small part of this island chain, and we were only in the park proper for one night. We wended our way through the Gordon Islands to the east of the park, stopped off in the park on Bell Island for one night, and departed via Balaklava Island west of the park the next day. The only visible difference between the park and crown lands were the presence of fish farms on crown lands. Dad had never before encountered the noisy eyesores that are fish farms, and he quickly adopted my longstanding position that fish farms are the worst thing to happen to the coast since clearcut logging.




    At Bell Island, we encountered our first evidence of a culture that didn't need clearcuts and fish farms to prosper in this region: A 16-foot midden of shells marked the campsite on Bell. I can only guess how old this midden might be, but it's certainly ancient. Seattle-based archaeologists who have studied middens from similar cultures in Washington estimate that middens in Washington accumulate at various rates between 2 centimeters per century and 200 centimeters per century, depending I suppose on the richness of the site and the density of the human habitation. The average accumulation rate seems to be around 25 centimeters per century, so if it's fair to extrapolate an average rate from Washington sites to the site at Bell Island, I would guess that the Bell Island midden took around 1,900 years to form. We'll see if our own culture can sustain coastal fisheries for as many centuries as the first cultures did—our record so far from our first century and a half will need improvement.





    The islands arounds God's Pocket offer two classes of experience. On the east side, there are the placid water mazes that I think make for the most relaxing kind of paddling that exists. On the west side, swells from the open ocean roll through Queen Charlotte Strait, and everything gets bumpier, wilder, and more challenging. In the rougher western portion are most of the cool animals. Dad and I saw 49 species of bird on this trip and 11 species of mammal, most of them in the exposed western half.

    The mammals were: eastern gray squirrel (Seattle), mule deer (I-5), red squirrel (VI), river otter, mink, sea otter, wolf, Dall's porpoise, humpback whale, Stellar's sea lion, and harbor seal.

    The birds were too numerous to list, but the highlight species were Cassin's auklet and fork-tailed storm-petrel. Both species nest on remote Triangle Island and only rarely come ashore anywhere else. They demand ocean swells and stiff winds—if conditions aren't rough, they aren't interested. It was wonderful to be in a place wild enough and exposed enough to see these two species, both of which came within a few feet of our kayaks as we battled the swells.

    CONTINUED IN NEXT POST
     
  2. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    We woke up early each morning to catch the ebbing tide, important to do as near as we were to the full moon. Currents were fairly straightforward in this region: ebb west toward the open sea, flood east toward the mainland. The only place we encountered any kind of disturbance was in the northern end of Browning Passage, between Nigei and Balaklava Islands. Here, the ebb flowed north, and where it interacted with the main west-flowing ebb, there were steep, choppy waves.






    I was especially pleased to be able to introduce dad to some of our marine mammals on this trip. Living in Seattle most of his life, he had seen things like sea otters and humpbacks from shore on several occasion, but it’s another thing altogether to encounter them in a kayak. Starting on the northeast side of Nigei and continuing most of the way down Goletas Channel, we met otter after otter after otter. At Lemon Point on Nigei, we watched one adult groom himself for half and hour, then drape a piece of kelp over his tummy and go to sleep for the night.





    We intended to camp at Loquilla Cove on Nigei, but it wasn’t marked on my map. We ended up cruising along the coast until I spotted a suitable beach just west of Lemon Point. When we later passed Loquilla Cove, I concluded that we’d actually benefitted by the error: Our site had a flowing stream, an easy pebble landing, and open views of the channel. Loquilla Cove looked muddy and confined by comparison.






    The western half of the trip was definitely my favorite. We lost the water maze, with its playful wonders and fun, but we gained freedom from civilization and proximity to animals. Anywhere you meet more sea otters than people is a good place in my book.

    On the way home, we rode the flood rather than the ebb, which allowed us to sleep in in the mornings. The wind stayed steady out of the northwest, but as the ridge aloft collapsed, it became evident from the approaching cirrus clouds that a warm front was on its way. Soon, rain would come, and with it, the possibility of a low-pressure system with attendant adverse winds from the southeast. Indeed, the weather radio confirmed a deep low approaching across the ocean from the southwest, a typical storm pattern for this time of year. Dad and I scuttled back to Scotia Bay in one day instead of two—partly to avoid the low, partly to test our abilities to do long days, and partly to hurry back to our families.





    We spent one last night with our gracious camp host Bud, swatting gnats and sharing stories around the wood stove. In the morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed before dawn to begin the 11-hour trip back to Seattle.

    My expectations for a trip like this are high, and yet the coast always exceeds them. We saw more wildlife and enjoyed more remote wilderness than I would have dared hope. Conditions were just rough enough to provide a challenge without being so rough that we felt overmatched. And there was so much wildlife it was like being on a Serengeti safari! Even the logging scars and fish farms couldn’t detract from such a wonderful place. The north coast is a treasure chest, and we were lucky to have enjoyed its richness for five perfect days.

    Alex
     
  3. Yeti

    Yeti Paddler

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    Great post as always Alex, really enjoy your trip reports.
    Thanks.
     
  4. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    What a wonderful trip! And gorgeous photography, as always. :) Very cool!
     
  5. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Another great trip report; thanks!

    There are definitely wolves on Nigei Is - last year I was solo camped near your Camp 4 and my breakfast and packing got a bit of a speed-up when a wolf howled 'nearby' (probably 100m away, but it sounded 'next door' in the morning quiet). :D
     
  6. RobR

    RobR Paddler

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    Hey Alex thanks for the report sounds like a great trip one of my favorite places to explore. Here is a few fun facts on a couple of the places you camped. The shell middin on Bell island is called Ik’ix’yulis and is in the Tlatlasikwala (those of the ocean side) territory. My mother-in-law used to spend time out there when she was young (the 1930’s) to collect food with her family, it is a old village and resource site. Also Vansittart Island is an old Tlatasikwala defense site called Xuse’la (fort) probably use for defending against raids from northern tribes.
     
  7. vitaly

    vitaly Paddler

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    Beautiful photos, thanks for sharing! This must've been a fun trip.

    May I ask what kayak models you used? One seems to be a Folbot, another a Feathercraft?

    Thanks,
    Vitaly
     
  8. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Vitaly, Alex checks here infrequently. Send him a PM for a quicker response.
     
  9. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. This was a great area.

    Rob R, I appreciate your historical information. You made me want to learn more about the Bell Island site, so I've reached out to BC Parks, the four closest First Nations band councils, and the two archaeologists at the University of Victoria who study this kind of thing.

    So far, I've only heard back from the Gwa'Sala-Nakwaxda'xw and Tlatlasikwala Nations. The Gwa'Sala-Nakwaxda'xw representative provided me excellent background on the area, including that First Nations lived in the Bell Island area for at least 10,000 years, with a population in the tens of thousands, but his information was not more specific regarding the age of this exact site or the history of the people who made it. The Tlatlasikwala representative did not have any information about the Bell Island site and was unaware of the midden there. The other two Nations have not got back to me.

    One of the UVic archaeologists did a search of the provincial database of cultural sites, and determined that Bell Island was not in the database. He said it is surprising how little archaeological research has been done in this area in recent years. The other archaeologist is in the field and will get back to me in a week or so. BC Parks has not got back to me.

    Vitaly, those kayaks are a Folbot Kodiak and a Feathercraft Klondike. I leave them assembled far too long, so the frames have frozen in place, and they are no longer "folding" kayaks in the literal sense of the word!

    Alex
     
  10. RobR

    RobR Paddler

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    hey alex I rely heavily on a hard to find book called "Kwakwaka'wakw Settlements, 1775 - 1920 a geographical Analysis and Gazetteer" it has information on all villages, winter villages, forts, resource sites and burial site from the northern tip of Vancouver island to Campbell river including the mainland. There are hundreds of sites out there that we paddle by or use as campsites and have no idea about there historical value. This stuff fascinates me and is always a big part of my kayak trips.
     
  11. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    Rob, that is a great book. On your recommendation, I pulled it out at the university library and had a look. Robert Galois draws his site information from a wide array of sources, primarily old ships' logs and the works of earlier anthropologists.

    For the Bell Island site, Galois only has a single source, the unpublished notes of anthropologist William Duff. Duff, in turn, obtained his information on Bell Island from a single Native informant in the 1950s. That informant, the ultimate source of Galois's information, said only that Bell Island was "an old village site" named Ik’ix’yulis, as you mentioned. There was apparently no further information on Bell Island in Duff's notes.

    Presumably, if Duff's informant had known more, he would have said more. Other sites have much more detailed information sourced from this same informant, so the informant was generally knowledgeable. Similarly, if other anthropologists had known anything about the site, Galois presumably would have included their information, as well. Judging from the incredible sourcing of other sites, Galois's research is nothing if not thorough, and he often lists more than one source for a given site.

    Adding up Galois's apparent inability to find any other sources for Bell Island; Duff's Native informant apparently knowing only that Bell Island was an "old village" (a fact which would be apparent to anyone looking at the site); the statement I got from the UVic anthropologist that Bell Island is not in any of the archaeological databases; and the inability of the nearby First Nations including the Tlatlasikwala to provide any more specific detail about the Bell Island site, I conclude that the history of the Bell Island site is unknown both to anthropology and to surviving Native folklore.

    Somewhere out there must be a graduate student in need of a thesis, and Bell Island is in need of a graduate student. That midden could be the beginning of a beautiful career.

    Side note to Dan: still no pictures!

    Alex
     
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  12. RobR

    RobR Paddler

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    Glad your enjoying the book Alex, Mungo Martin is used as an informant throughout this book he was a renowned carver who is credited for reviving First Nations art, he carved behind the Royal BC museum in Victoria. He also trained a few of my wifes uncles from the hunt family who also became very well known for their art. Yes Bell Island was a village at one time but from what I had gathered from my Mother in law and my wife's Grandfather it was used as a seasonal resource site as well.
     
  13. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    Thanks for mentioning Mungo Martin's name, Rob. The university wouldn't let me take the book out of the library, and I had forgotten to write down the name of William Duff's informant. Martin was an amazing person. If he didn't know more about Bell Island, I'm not sure who would.

    Alex