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Clayoquot Sound: Vargas and South Flores Islands - Trip Description
Charts:
- No. 3603 Ucluelet Inlet to Nootka Sound (1:150,000)
- No. 3673 Clayoquot Sound (1:40,000)
- No. 3674 Clayoquot Sound (1:40,000)

Camp Sites:

Vargas Island:
- Rassier Point: N49 11.136 W125 56.230
- North of Rassier Pt: N49 11.643 W125 56.594
- McIntosh Beach: N49 12 528 W125 57.849
- Miltie's Beach: N49 12.513 W125 58.467
- Dick and Jane's Beach: N49 12.831 W126 01.162
- Mel's Beach: N49 12.550 W126 01.552
- North Ahous Bay: N49 11.264 W126 01.585
- South Ahous Bay: N49 09.936 W126 00.787
- Medallion Beach: N49 09.033 W125 58.810

South Flores Island:
- Gibson's Park (Whitesand Cove): N49 15.543 W126 04.122
- Cow Bay: N49 15.534 W126 08.085

Launches/Access:
The only realistic access point is from the town of Tofino, located at the north end of the Esowista Peninsula. From Port Alberni, continue west along Highway 4 (the Alberni Highway) for 97 km until you reach an intersection which will allow you to turn right to continue to Tofino, or turn left and head to Ucluelet. The town of Tofino is approximately 33km further north along the highway, which offers occasional glimpses towards the surf-swept beaches that the area is famous for.

Long-term parking is at a premium anywhere along the peninsula, and the only truly suitable launch point is near the main government wharf right 'downtown'. Continue to the end of the road in Tofino, and turn right down the steep hill toward the water. There is a small, rocky beach that is often crowded with kayaks coming and going, and although it's not a perfect launch spot it's about the best there is. Parking is available in a gravel parking lot a few blocks away, behind the RCMP station which is located on the main road you drove in on. The town is small; you won't have trouble finding these spots. Last minute supplies can be purchased at the Co-Op just up the hill from the launch beach.

Comments:
Clayoquot Sound is a small group of islands located just north of Tofino, almost 1/2 way up the west side of Vancouver Island's 450 km length. The area consists primarily of 3 large islands - Meares, Vargas and Flores - but smaller islands are scattered throughout the area creating a rugged, pristine area that gives a feeling of remoteness despite it's popularity during tourist season.

Much of the area's coastline is rocky and not suitable for landing, but there are many fine, sandy beaches on both the sheltered southern and eastern shores as well as the exposed, surf-pounded outer shores of each island. Most paddlers with some experience in swells and surf will feel comfortable paddling along the more sheltered routes, and those with experience in the more rugged areas will enjoy exploring the more exposed sides of each island. From Tofino, paddling distances to sheltered beaches with great camp sites range anywhere from about 5.6 km to 18 km and beyond.

Paddling this area is probably best enjoyed by those who have some experience in paddling the outer islands of the more sheltered Broken Group and other, similar areas with some surf experience and a degree of comfort while paddling in swells and around boomer fields / rock gardens. Note that swell heights are dictated by what's going on hundreds of miles off-shore, and are not predicable by recent, local weather. Take a marine-band radio with you to check swell heights and predicted conditions.

Final trip notes:
Wolves, bears and other predatory animals are common to this area. For this reason, storing food and preparing meals away from your tent area is highly recommended, and hanging food from trees is a requirement. Storing food in kayak hatches may result in a thrashed boat, as I can't imagine a bear having much trouble ripping a kayak apart to enjoy a large meal. Be sure to clean dishes immediately after preparing your meals, and ensure cooking and food smells are kept concealed whenever possible. Bear spray is an effective and highly recommended deterrent to be carried at all times in this area. Other critters, including ravens, mice, and raccoons, can be kept away from food simply by following the same storage procedures as outlined above for the larger animals.

On the water, you're likely to see whales and porpoises, and viewing seals and sea-lions is almost guaranteed. Keep in mind that these mammals live in the water and if they see you either as prey or a threat, they're likely to take action. Keep your distance, respect their habitat and home, and enjoy them with the degree of fear and awe that they deserve. And, be sure to take lots of photos to enjoy after you return home!

Drinking water is more common on some islands than others; some bays feature good-sized streams that provide adequate fresh water year-round. As with any area, filtering or treating water before drinking is required. For the southern area of Clayoquot Sound, the most reliable natural source of water is at the southern end of Cow Bay on Flores Island. Cow Bay is exposed to incoming swells, so paddlers who are uncomfortable in exposed seas may be better off paddling or hiking to Marktosis or any of the other small native villages to collect fresh water.

The secret to enjoying this amazing area is to explore both land and sea. Look for markers indicating trailheads and hike some of the old-growth forest. Paddle as far as you feel comfortable, as you never know what lies around the next corner, but keep a few days open for just relaxing on the stellar beaches and enjoying the sound, smell, and sights of the huge soft expanses of sandy shores.

Resources:

Collecting information can greatly enhance the enjoyment you'll get out of a trip in Clayoquot Sound. I highly recommend the following titles:

Sea Kayak Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds by Mary Ann Snowden is a great resource, detailing much of this area.
Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Peter McGee is well worth picking up to gather additional information on some great trips and places worth exploring.

BC Parks - be sure to check out Vargas Island, Flores Island, and Gibson Marine Provincial Parks
Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Tides
Environment Canada Weather Forecast
Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce
Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce

Trip Date: September 29 - October 5, 2006
Weather: Mainly sunny, some overcast and light showers, light winds, occasional fog. Cool to cold nights.
Water condition: Flat to 1' wind waves; swells from 2 - 4 metres on exposed coasts; minimal currents

Submitted by: Mark Schilling
Images Copyright: Mark Schilling

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