God's Pocket Exploration

adm

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Mar 24, 2021
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Pacific Northwest Coast
A three day trip exploring God's Pocket Marine Park with a launch from the beautiful Storey's Beach at Fort Rupert.

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God's Pocket route from Fort Rupert (yellow line and campsites).

God's Pocket from Storey's Beach. 68 km. 3 days.

L and I have explored God's Pocket on a trip we did to the Central Coast in 2017, but were keen to spend some more time there enjoying the intertidal life. We decided to launch our trip from Storey's Beach by Fort Rupert - this would allow us to paddle past the beautiful islets in Beaver Harbour and the nice shoreline by Dillon Point. We hiked the challenging Tex Lyon Trail on our first weekend in the area and thought it would be fun to paddle the shoreline as well.

Storey's Beach is a great spot for those visiting the North Coast. Fort Rupert was closed during our time there due to COVID, but we were able to safely explore the beach and some of the cultural sites. This is a great area to spend the day kayaking or hiking - there are many great trails in the area: aside from the Tex Lyon Trail, you are close to the Dakota 576 Trail which leads to an old plane wreckage, and the Fort Rupert (or Commuter Trail) which weaves through some mature forest and some small lakes to connect Beaver Harbour with Hardy Bay.

Needless to say this is a fun area to explore and a great place to start a trip!

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Bald eagle in the snow at Storey's Beach (February, 2021).

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The Dakota 576 crash site between Fort Rupert and Port Hardy on a wintery day in February 2021.

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Petroglyphs near Fort Rupert in April 2021.

Day 1: April 02, 2021 - Storey's Beach to Songhees Creek

Early on Friday we left our house in Hyde Creek and drove the short distance to Fort Rupert and Storey's Beach. This is one of the great beaches of the North Island. We had to negotiate a fairly low tide, and there was a big haul to get all our stuff down to the beach - it's a shallow beach, and we ended up having to move the kayaks multiple times, but it was nice to be back on sand. It was a blustery day.

We set off, jazzed to be exploring God's Pocket, which, spoiler alert, did not disappoint.

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L paddling near the Masterman Islands, God's Pocket in the distance.

We left Beaver Harbour following the western shoreline. We were somewhat familiar with this area, having passed by (without stopping) in 2017, and from on-foot explorations via the Tex Lyon Trail earlier in the spring. We were still battling the wind as we paddled around Dillon Point, but it calmed as we pulled into Queen Charlotte Strait. Tip for North Island visitors on foot or by kayak on a calm day at low tide, the tidal pools at Dillon Point are excellent. Anemones, chitons and other marine life abounds!

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Pink tipped anemone at Dillon Point, Tex Lyon Trail.

We cruised down the coast, paddling past the Masterman Islands, which we've previously visited as a good quick pull out at low tide. Waving to a couple of people out fishing as we crossed Hardy Bay, we stopped to float as we observed a humpback whale swimming in the opposite direction.

We tucked behind Duval Island, navigable at low tide, though it was full of debris - a dock piled high with garbage and a few other anchored pieces of junk. It was nice and calm, but we'll venture a go at the outside next time, as we did in 2017.

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The beautiful gravel, pebble, and stone beach at Songhees Creek.

We pulled up, pleased to find that the beach at Songhees Creek was equally as wonderful as it was in my memory. Interestingly though, it seemed the creek had moved somewhat significantly, which I confirmed reviewing old photos. This is a great spot - a high back beach consisting of mid sized and small pebbles with a freshwater creek and gorgeous views.

We've previously encountered a mama bear and cub and observed, for the first time, a sea lion with it's fin held above the water. At the time, we were concerned and considered calling a wildlife rescue, but limited cell service caused us not to act. We added this strange behaviour to the list of questions we were keeping for encounters with locals or our next opportunity to access the internet. We later found that this is fairly common as sea lions have limited fat on their fins and in cold temperatures will hold their fins above water in an attempt to warm them... makes me grateful for the comforts we enjoy as human beings!

We got our selves set up at this awesome spot and wandered the beach finding many rock and shell treasures.

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Super easy camping with plenty of options higher up the beach as well. A great campsite that we have spent many nights at.

Day 2: April 03, 2021 - to Bell Island Midden via Browning Passage

The wind was calm in Goletas Channel in the morning and we enjoyed an easy crossing towards the Noble Islets. The current was moving swiftly here, but in our favour and we travelled quickly towards Balaklava Island. Crossing Christie Channel towards Nolan Point we were once again in waters that we had previously paddled. We stopped for a quick break at the Nolan Point campsite, where we had spent a windy night in 2017, and then continued into Browning Passage.

The shoreline here sported many bays with pleasant sand and shell beaches. The water clarity was impressive, the tide was extremely low, and the intertidal life was extraordinary. We continued to be aided by a strong current and spent significant time drifting in the current marveling at the marine life - we saw eight sea star species, chitons, nudibranches, cucumbers, and countless other creatures. It was some of the best life we have experienced while kayaking.











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A very beautiful beach just north of the Nolan Point campsite. I believe it is a culturally sensitive site.

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Giant Pacific (Gumboot) Chiton. We ate many Black Katy Chitons this year, but I still have yet to try a Gumboot...something about the name!

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Bat star in Browning Passage - one of numerous sea star species we saw during the trip.

We made our way down Browning towards Queen Charlotte Strait. The rain increased from showers and a dive boat passed us. As we passed the small islets halfway down Browning, the first signs of swell snuck in and greeted us. Sea otters became frequent companions and we weaved our way through kelp gardens and rocky islets.

Rounding Raglan Point we were blasted with wind. We encountered our first large sea otter raft here, about fifty individuals including many pups. The swell was minimal, and despite the wind, the water remained fairly calm. We surfed and cruised our way towards Scarlett Point Lighthouse, enjoying the playful nature of our new paddling friends. Sea otters were everywhere, enjoying the fresh wind and waves.

We crossed Christie Passage and continued along the outside of Hurst Island. Our destination for the day was a campsite we had not yet explored at Harlequin Bay. Sea otters continued to keep us company and the cloud cover over Queen Charlotte Strait provided some gorgeous lighting. The tiny islets between Hurst Island and Bell Island offer gorgeous paddling and were surrounded by kelp beds full of sea otters. The tide was low and we struggled to paddle through the kelp and into Harlequin Bay.

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We saw many otters on this trip, including some large rafts of close to 50 individuals. All the otters were seen on the northern shore of Balaklava Island and Hurst Island.

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Lindsay paddling towards Scarlett Point Lighthouse. The wind started gusting at this point and it was raining steadily.

Disappointment awaited at the campsite as we were greeted with a rock wall barring entrance to the midden beach. This feature seemed artificial and is likely the result of the First Nation clearing the beach, although I cannot say for sure at this site. We knew that the site at Bell Island is easy to access at a low tide and decided to continue on a few kilometers. It was raining and still a little windy, but we decided to continue along the outside of Bell Island as we had yet to paddle this shoreline.

There are some little bays and rocky islets to paddle around and we enjoyed a fun cruise down in the wind and waves. Rounding the corner and entering the protected waters between Bell and Heard Islands is always a disappointment - a large fish farm currently sits in this bay. Fortunately though, this site cannot be seen or heard from the Bell Island campsite - just don't swim at the beach!

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This is the low tide access that greeted us at our intended campsite on Hurst Island at the Harlequin Bay campsite. We elected to go to Bell Island.

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L paddling along the outer shore of Bell Island.

The afternoon was breezy and the clouds began to clear. We hung our gear and it was quickly dry. We pitched the tent in a familiar spot and spread out our picnic blanket at the base of the massive midden, lounging away the rest of the day with some stretching, reading, and eating. There is plenty of evidence that wolves frequent this area.

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L enjoying a brief break in the clouds. The Bell Island midden is extraordinarily large and represents thousands of years of occupation.

Day 3: April 04, 2021 - to Storey's Beach via Gordon Islands

In the morning the sun was shining and the forecast was calling for strong NW winds building all day. It looked like it would be an easy day of paddling!

We packed up our dry gear and loaded the boats. We crossed the small channel and headed directly between the two small islets south of the campsite. From here we headed east, towards the Gordon Islands. While there is another large fish farm in this area, we headed to the north side of the islets and were largely able to ignore it.

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L packed and ready to go - excited to have some sun in our faces and wind at our backs!

We enjoyed the following wind and sun as we wound our way through the islands and made our way towards the large Doyle Island. We considered climbing the named summit on the island - Miles Cone - but were not feeling up to a steep bushwhack. Following the northeast shore of Doyle Island, we neared the end of the Gordon Group, where a small cluster of islands creates a lovely and sheltered bay. A large colony of sea lions was hauled our here - we were able to sneak along the shoreline and paddle through the area without disturbing them. One of the small islets in this area has a very cool cleft that can be seen from Songhees - with some swell and a high tide maybe you could paddle through!

The Gordon Islands offer superb paddling and great wildlife, but camping options are limited. These islands are very picturesque and exploring them would be a great day trip from the campsite at Bell Island - especially if combined with a lunch stop and a hike up Miles Cone.

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Exploring the Gordon Islands - great paddling!

Our time in the God's Pocket area was nearing its end, and we decided to take full advantage of the wind and do a longer crossing from Doyle Island directly to the Masterman Islands. L enjoyed surfing down the waves and we were across very quickly. By the time we reached the Vancouver Island shore, the current was ebbing stronger and the waves were building to full force in the centre of the Strait. Great timing.

The wind was again surprisingly calm as we paddled the shoreline past Dillon Point, but as soon as we turned into Beaver Harbour it picked right up. We had planned to explore the islets in the bay more thoroughly on our return, as they are covered in midden beaches, but the wind was doing its best to dissuade us. We paddled for the shelter of Peel Island and then crossed to the Cattle Islands where we managed to stop at one of the smaller midden beaches. The wind was very strong though, so we decided to head back to Storey's Beach.

We battled a headwind directly into the beach and unfortunately landed at a very low tide. L ran to get the truck and I began to ferry things slowly up the beach as we were blasted by sand. Another great trip in the north island area!

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Paddling past the midden beaches of the Cattle Islands in Beaver Harbour. It got windy in the bay again.
 

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
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Seattle WA
Great report as always, Anthony. Can you, in your official capacity as our rock art expert in residence, tell us anything more about the archaeology of the Bell Island midden? After my own visit to Bell Island in 2017, I emailed two UVic archaeologists, BC Parks, and four different First Nations band councils, and no one was able (or willing?) to tell me anything more about it. Nor could I find anything in the literature.

Lacking any real data, I made some estimates of my own based on midden accumulation rates in Washington State, which generally 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 a specific site at Bell Island, I would guess that the Bell Island midden took around 1,900 years to form.

But obviously, this 1,900-year number rests atop a very shaky tower of assumptions. The error bars on that number span about two orders of magnitude. Can you shed any more light?

Alex
 
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adm

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Mar 24, 2021
Messages
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Location
Pacific Northwest Coast
Great report as always, Anthony. Can you, in your official capacity as our rock art expert in residence, tell us anything more about the archaeology of the Bell Island midden? After my own visit to Bell Island in 2017, I emailed two UVic archaeologists, BC Parks, and four different First Nations band councils, and no one was able (or willing?) to tell me anything more about it. Nor could I find anything in the literature.

Lacking any real data, I made some estimates of my own based on midden accumulation rates in Washington State, which generally 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 a specific site at Bell Island, I would guess that the Bell Island midden took around 1,900 years to form.

But obviously, this 1,900-year number rests atop a very shaky tower of assumptions. The error bars on that number span about two orders of magnitude. Can you shed any more light?

Alex
Hi Alex, thanks for your comment and for your nice words!

I won't claim to be an expert by any means at all, just fascinated by lost cultures and trying to document rock art on the coast!

Since our visit in 2017, I have also been interested by the Bell Island Midden - it is massive! I recall clearly reading your post and was impressed with your estimation. I have not reached out to any groups about this particular midden, but have not had success in the past when reaching out to certain groups regarding cultural sites or archeological information.

I wish I could shed more light! I must say though, my knowledge of First Nations in the north island is lacking as I have not spent much time in the area. I am away from most of my books (gasp) at the moment, but cannot recall reading anything at all about this site. Perhaps Billy Proctor would know more or at least who to ask. I will send a message to some friends we have in Hyde Creek that know the area well and will try to get some more info.

It is extraordinary that a site used for (likely) thousands of years could fade from memory in such a short time span. I hope that there are keepers of that knowledge somewhere.
 

kayakwriter

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Feb 27, 2006
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You guys are hardcore! I've paddled pretty much all those areas over the years, including 'round Cape Scott. But my trips were always in summer. In February? I reckon the upside is you're not competing for campsites with many other kayakers...
 

jefffski

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Jan 2, 2014
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121
In February?
I read April.

Good report. I paddled there last summer, and though we did not see as many marine mammals or other creatures, we did see lots, especially in Browning Channel at low(ish) tide. What amazed me was the size of things--giant sea stars and mussels for example. I would not underestimate that wind in Goletas Channel or Hardy Bay.
 
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adm

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Mar 24, 2021
Messages
36
Location
Pacific Northwest Coast
You guys are hardcore! I've paddled pretty much all those areas over the years, including 'round Cape Scott. But my trips were always in summer. In February? I reckon the upside is you're not competing for campsites with many other kayakers...
Haha, thanks for the comment Phil! I don't know about hardcore, maybe just enthusiastic.

It was hard not to paddle when we lived on right on the beach though! COVID has prevented some longer trips, so we were taking every advantage to be out. This one was in April, but I think its all the same regardless of the month: proper immersion gear & camping gear, and your all set...well, for the most part :)

From February to mid-May we only saw one other paddler on the water! Quite the quiet spot.

I read April.

Good report. I paddled there last summer, and though we did not see as many marine mammals or other creatures, we did see lots, especially in Browning Channel at low(ish) tide. What amazed me was the size of things--giant sea stars and mussels for example. I would not underestimate that wind in Goletas Channel or Hardy Bay.
Thanks jeff! It is a great place to paddle - the first time we were there in 2017 we didn't see much marine life, but this trip in 2021 did not disappoint! It is so cool to see examples of the maximum size of some of these species...truly amazing! Amongst other things we found a Giant White Dorid that was nearly 15cm!

It can get windy in Goletas for sure... It remains one of the few days we have packed camp, launched, had a serious rethink, and returned to camp!
 
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