Kayak Bill Camps

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by chodups, Oct 21, 2017.

  1. chodups

    chodups Paddler

    Nov 2, 2005

    Sometime in the early ‘90’s Bill had established a camp in the Goose Group. He built it to get away from “tourists”. It was both a natural and unfortunate choice. Natural in that Goose is very remote and requires a committed crossing that limited traffic and unfortunate in that he built it on a reserve near the north end of Duck Island. The reserve marked the site that had once been a seasonal harvesting village. After finding it destroyed twice he moved from Duck Island to Gosling Island and it was there that he would spend the last days of his life.

    The access to the Goose Group filtered out most casual visitors by requiring a significant crossing of Queens Sound or a northern approach with a crossing of Golby Channel. A typical crossing of Queens Sound is between 7 – 8 NM. Crossing Golby from the McMullin Group sounds pedestrian at 2 NM but the water through Golby can move surprising fast during medium to large exchanges and the addition of a typical wind component can make for a challenging transit that some may look at and choose to forego. Most of the traffic into Goose Anchorage consists of pleasure boaters passing through or locals from Bella Bella / Shearwater who motor out to camp and fish. During the ‘90’s there just weren’t that many kayakers out there.

    Bill had his camp at Swordfish Bay which required a 7.5 NM crossing and a camp somewhere on Horsfall Island that he described as a “Good complete camp (wet spot in rainy season)”. It doesn’t show up on the materials that I have gathered so I don’t know how distant it was from Goose but it would have reduced the exposure to ~5 NM. When he was on the move he favored his own camps but wasn’t tied to them and would use common camps when they made sense.

    On October 12, 2003 after four months away Bill Davidson paddled in from Cockle Bay to Denny Island and immediately started preparing for his final trip. He painted ~1/2 of the 29 days before departure and in the end had a $500 grubstake. He spent about half of it on debts, tobacco, supplies and $50 for a meat grinder. He had $260 left over and on his final evening “in town” he dined with his friends Brian and Andrea Clerx.

    Early on November 7th Bill departed Denny Island and paddled south down Hunter Channel against a rising tide. Passing through the Prince Group to Queens Sound he encountered moderate to strong northwesterly winds that made for a very rough crossing. He arrived at Gosling Island Camp near sunset and found the camp “used” and in need of repairs. The water seep was also “unusable” so he spent the next two days putting things back into order.

    Over the next two weeks he encountered two separate groups of hunters and saw a number of deer near camp. He built a trail to the SE beach, hunted deer and engaged in standard camp improvements. The weather was typical and borderline nasty for the next four weeks with strong winds, showers, freezing rain and hail.

    On December 6th he reported overcast skies with moderate to strong east to southeast winds and light rain. Also of note were “Lower back & stomach pains”.

    Bill Davidson kept track of everything that affected him on any particular day. He religiously recorded the wind, rain and changes of both. He recorded any meaningful activity that he undertook, every out of the ordinary encounter, if he read, if he painted, how much money he received and what he spent it on, the number of candles he had left and what color they were, what the level of the water was in his wells, how many mice he saw raiding his camp, how many he eradicated, how many and what type of bugs were bothering him, what he ate, if he burnt garbage, what animals he saw and in many cases what time the moon rose or set.

    On Sunday December 7th Bill made his last entry when he journaled that the conditions were “overcast with light rain showers and light & variable winds. Fog & drizzle with light north to northwest winds by noon.” After that there was nothing more. There was nothing about winds in the evening, whether the moon was visible, what he did or what he ate. Lighthouse weather reported 6.1 C with winds N-NW @ 11kt gusting to 24kt. That afternoon, evening or perhaps the next morning the things that had mattered to Bill no longer did and he opted out.

    I have visited the Gosling Camp on two occasions, once in 2007 and again in 2012.

    Gosling Beach

    Both times I was struck by how remote the Goose Group seemed and yet what a toll traffic had taken on the group. There were regrettable signs of heavy and careless usage everywhere. Four years after his death the windscreen was standing and was clearly visible from our Snipe Island beach.

    230c GP.jpg
    Windscreen 2007

    His shelter stood with both tarps in place along with most major elements, including the firestand, in a mossy, shaded Hobbit Forest just above the beach.

    230a GP.jpg
    Shelter 2007

    Bits and pieces of his life were scattered about by people who had indiscriminately picked through Bill’s estate and discarded what they had no use for. The order that was displayed on Dallas was absent on Goose.

    230b GP.jpg
    Shelter 2007

    In 2012 I returned for a couple of days with the intent of camping nearby in the Hobbit Forest.

    095.JPG Shelter 2012

    I found that the windscreen was gone. It had been removed and used for firewood in the many large bon fires that had scarred the forest with charred wood and fire rings. The camp was trashed to the point that if you didn’t know what you were looking at you would never guess that it had once been someone’s home. Empty beer cans, whisky bottles, jackets, socks and general garbage littered the woods.

    Shelter 2012

    I combed the area looking for some personal item that might have been his and finally found a whisk hanging from a string that had most likely been used to whip up chapatis using flour, sea water and seal oil.


    I hope it is still hanging there.

    Last edited: Feb 20, 2018
  2. JKA

    JKA Paddler

    Jul 25, 2016
    Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
    Hi Jon,

    This is a fascinating tale of the archaeology of an amazing guy, about which I know nothing than what I have learned here. Someone who truly did step away from the "rat wheel" to live his own life.

    I may have missed it, but where did you gain your information on his camps, and his life as recorded? Is this a diary of his that you have?

    Thanks for exploring, and sharing your findings.


  3. chodups

    chodups Paddler

    Nov 2, 2005

    Thanks John,

    If you haven’t read Neil Frazer’s, Keith Webb’s and Colin Lakes articles on their experiences with Bill take a look on my blog where I have gathered them all in one place. (http://3meterswell.blogspot.com). These are folks who shared their personal experiences with me. I tracked down some of his Calgary climbing friends and a fellow who grew up with Bill in the orphanage and got some great information from them. Bits and pieces come together and sometimes people have sought me out to share something that they want me to know. Some of the folks I have been in contact with have shared amazing resources like some of his journals and charts or conversations that they had with Bill’s family and friends.

    His camps happen to be in an area that I paddle so I incorporate visits into trip planning and sometimes I find what I’m looking for, sometimes I find something else and sometimes I completely miss the mark.

    If you do a Google search for “Billy Davidson Canadian Climbing” or some such you come up with lots of information and photos of his life as an aid climber in Alberta and some exploits in Yosemite.