Maurelle Island Weekend Circumnavigation

adm

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Mar 24, 2021
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Read Island

GPS track of Maurelle Island Circumnavigation.

Note: This trip traverses through Homalco, Klahoose, and Tla'amin ancestral territory. Be respectful of cultural sites and practice leave-no-trace camping anywhere you camp!

This trip is a relaxing two day Maurelle Island circumnavigation, starting and ending at Surge Narrows Community Dock on Read Island.

This is a world-class weekend kayaking itinerary! It encompasses Surge Narrows Marine Park, Octopus Islands Marine Park, Hole-in-the-Wall tidal rapids, the tremendous mountains of the Bute area and amazing wildlife; as well as fascinating First Nations sites; and a visit to the largest known tree in the Discovery Islands region. To complete the same loop from Quadra, one could easily leave from Surge Community Dock on Quadra or from Herriot Bay. As with all trips in the Discovery Area, this one can be easily extended to include Read Island, Rendezvous and Penn Islands groups, the fabulous pictographs of Raza, or so much more.

Day One: Surge Dock to Francisco Island via Octopus Islands

The first day was designed to be a relaxing one, giving us time to explore Surge Narrows at a low-tide slack and then cruise around the Octopus Islands. Lindsay also needed a few hours in the afternoon to dedicate to reading for school. We left the Surge Community dock around 8AM to be nice and early for a 9AM low slack.

The ebb sucked us into to Goepel Passage on the northern end of Surge Narrows, where the current is diminished. That’s where the fun began! It is always hard taking people through Surge that have never been, as the intertidal only gets better, but there is a definite time limit. Today though, we manage to spend nearly an hour exploring in the park.

Red sea urchin in Surge Narrows – the largest urchin species in world, living to nearly 250 years!

Everything in Surge is supersized and it is often like paddling through an aquarium. Before leaving the park, we crossed over to the Maurelle shoreline, scattering some harbour seals off their rock perch and gliding through flocks of pigeon guillemont and Bonaparte gulls before we reached a First Nations pictograph tucked under a gnarled douglas-fir tree.

Surge Narrows First Nation pictograph. The young douglas-fir likely grew up and has led to water runoff causing the image to fade over time.

The Tla'amin people have been living on these waters for more than 10000 years, and pictographs, middens, and clam gardens lay evidence of a long history of occupation.

Lindsay and I crossed over to the Quadra shoreline and continued in a building wind and threatening clouds. A small squall blew through and we had cold, stinging rain and a slight headwind. We pulled into Yeatman Bay and Lindsay threw on a jacket to keep warm. I decided to brave out the rain in the hopes that it would stop soon. Yeatman Bay is the site of much current archeological work on the island and was a seasonal village site.
Throwing some rain gear on in Yeatman Bay as a slightttt squall passes through.

We left Yeatman and continued NW towards Octopus Islands. Elephant Mountain on the opposite shore of Maurelle Island is aptly named, as we can see the elephant standing in profile as we paddle. We stopped for a quick bite and to take a look around on “Mink Island”. Mink Islands are the two islands connected at low tide outside of the park and anchorage on the eastern entrance to Wyatt Bay.

The view across Okisollo from Mink Island.

After visiting Mink, we crossed to the cabin – a must on any Octopus Islands trip. The cabin is an old summer home that has been transformed into the Driftwood Museum, where boaters can leave sign of their passing with wooden signs and artwork. As I am sure most have heard, as of 2021 this island has been incorporated into the Octopus Islands Marine Park!


The cabin at Octopus Island.

We ate lunch on the balcony of the cabin, and then left to cruise through the marine park, catching the rising tide through the intertidal gap between the largest of the two islands. Thousands of sand dollars crawled under our boats as we drifted through the small gap.

Calm passage between the two main Octopus Islands – can only be navigated at high-tide by kayaks and small craft. Many sand dollars can be found standing vertically in the channel.

From here we made a quick crossing to Francisco Island where we spent the night. It was early and I suggested to Lindsay a ten-minute loop of the island. I have only ever approached Hole-in-the-Wall on an ebb and I was curious to see how a flood affected the waters off the island. Little did Lindsay know she was in for quite the ride!

We enjoyed some intertidal on the east side of Francisco before a fast moving back eddy brought us to a large 2ft overfall feature on the NW tip of the island. About 45 min before slack! It funnelled us into a whirlpool, which shot us out on the SW side. It was quite the ride and much more violent than how the ebb forms in this area. After this excitement, we crept into the eastern most of the two bays and sat in the kayaks watching a raccoon scavenge on the shoreline.

After setting up camp, I went for a wander. Looking back at Lindsay from the end of the bay on Francisco Island.

Camp was made on the soft soil of a Douglas-fir and pine forest floor and the boats had their own luxurious home of flat grass. At a high tide, Francisco really is the place to be – it has a pleasant beach, easy camping, a decent kitchen area, and great bluffs to sit and watch the rapids.


Sitting on the bluffs facing Maurelle Island, watching dolphins and the rapids.

We lounged around watching Pacific white-sided dolphins play in the moving water and then cooked up some yummy Italian pasta in a bag and spent the rest of the night reading in our camp chairs until the mosquitoes forced us into the tent.

Day Two: Francisco Island to Surge Dock via Hole-in-the-Wall and Whiterock
Waking up on the second day, there was no need to rush, as our slack tide through Hole-in-the-Wall was not until near 1030. While HinW is a lot more aggressive than Surge and Oki, it can still be approached quite early on even the strongest of ebbs. I have also managed to fight my way through nearly an hour before slack on a flood as there are some great little pockets to hide in when approaching Etta Pt.

I spent the morning sitting silently on the beach as Lindsay slept, waiting for the foraging raccoons to pass in front of me. It was a perfect morning in Okisollo.

A raccoon scavenging at low tide on Francisco Island.

As is usual on one of our trips, I forgot to pack food for one of our meals, so we had an insufficient, cold breakfast of granola and fruit bars before hitting the water. We exited the bay to the west and crossed to the shoreline of Maurelle Island. The wall on the shoreline here is steep and the intertidal life is great at a low tide. We found an abalone, black katy chitons and plethora more intertidal life.


Northern abalone along the walls at Hole-in-the-Wall tidal rapids.

Our ride through the rapids was short-lived and soon we found ourselves in the narrow passage of Hole-in-the-Wall channel. I had never paddled the eastern side of the channel along the Sonora shore, so we crossed over after passing Florence Cove.

Interesting rock formations along the Sonora shoreline in Hole-in-the-Wall channel.

The cliffs and scenery on the east side of the channel are gorgeous, however, the feeling of the channel is the same. We did get to paddle under a very large cliff near the northern end of the channel, which was quite beautiful.

Around 1115 we reached the end of the channel and turned north, towards the Yuculta Rapids. We were searching for the namesake of Hole-in-the-Wall channel; a 2m high by 2m wide by 2m deep round hole in a vertical piece of shoreline not far from the entrance. I had visited it once before on an expedition trip up Bute Inlet, and hoped to find it with Lindsay. We battled a surprisingly strong current coming out of Yuculta, and after about 1.5 km of travelling found the distinct hole. To the local First Nations this is a sacred site, known as The Raven’s Chamberpot and sits beside a long abandoned summer seasonal site of the Homalco people. Note: Kimantas incorrectly locates this near Church House in WC3.
Lindsay in the turquoise waters below the Hole in the Wall.

After admiring the hole, we ripped back down the shore of Sonora in the fast current, crossing the north end of Hole-in-the-Wall. We saw some humpback blows near the abandoned site of Church House, across Calm Channel, but were to far away to see much more than that.

While the shoreline of Maurelle is beautiful, it is rather plain when compared to the rest of the attractions, and the best beach along the shore has been converted to a log dump. After not paddling for months, the monotonous paddling caught up with us and we were searching for a place to take a break.


At this tide, the beach here is decent, but be warned: at a very low tide, the beach is mucky and can almost reach the islet before dropping sharply.

Near the north of Whiterock Passage, there is the perfect place to stop for a snack and to stretch the legs. A gorgeous little rocky island sits in a bay with a pleasant beach (at high tide) and a nice rock outcrop to sit out on. [Tip: This site is a great place to camp (on the beach at the right tide, on the bluff, or in the forest); however, if you do, note that at low tide, the beach becomes a very long, mud-flat.] Lindsay and I hopped out at a relatively low tide onto a mud covered oyster beach before wandering out to the bluffs to take a break and enjoy the view of Mount Doogie Dowler.


Sitting on the bluffs in Whiterock Passage looking north to Bute country and Doogie Dowler.

In addition to its nice views, this spot is also home to one of the largest remaining trees in the entire Discovery Islands area! Earlier this year, while guiding a trip I "discovered" a massive western red cedar, growing only 20 m from the shore. Despite stopping at this site numerous times before, neither of us had ever seen it from the water. The tree is more then 35 feet around and has a classic candelabra appearance of many old, battered cedars. It is likely more than 600 years old and has seen nearly every single tree surrounding it cut down and hauled off. The Read Island Cedar.


The Read Island Cedar.

Stepping out of a coastal rainforest is always a shock to the senses, and after spending time with the Cedar, being back in the full-sun was nearly unbearable. We hopped back in our boats to finish our loop of Maurelle Island. Leaving our rest stop, we hopped back across Whiterock Passage and stopped to appreciate a First Nations pictograph on the Maurelle shoreline.


The Whiterock Passage pictographs.

From here it was a easy paddle back into the Surge Narrows area. The current was in our favour [Don’t try to figure out the which way the tide ebbs and floods in Whiterock – it has a mind of its own!] and we scooted through the beautiful kelp forests at the south end of the passage. The tide was still quite low and there was great bird life in the shallow, nutrient rich waters – great blue herons, many types of gulls, pigeon guillemot, and bald eagles all were feasting.


Even minutes from the community dock at Surge Narrows, the paddling is still sublime.

We reached the dock at Surge Narrows around 230pm with enough time to unload and clean the boats up for our 330 pickup. Although one of the shorter trips that Lindsay and I have done in sea kayaks, it was a great trip to kick off the season in a truly beautiful part of the world!

Please support the Surge Narrows Community Association to help protect this amazing area by making a donation or purchasing a shirt. Check out the website here.

cross posted from another site - forgive formatting pls
 
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nootka

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May 26, 2007
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Campbell River
A nice trip, but IMHO these are better:
1) around Quadra Island, in as many days as you want
2) Campbell River to Browns Bay and return as a day trip, using the currents to full advantage both ways
 

adm

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Mar 24, 2021
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Read Island
A nice trip, but IMHO these are better:
1) around Quadra Island, in as many days as you want
2) Campbell River to Browns Bay and return as a day trip, using the currents to full advantage both ways
Both great trips! I don't get a chance to launch to often from Campbell Rvr and have yet to explore Browns Bay. But I find the sedimentary deposit running south of Heriot Bay through Marina, Cortes, etc, to be a bit populated and dull shoreline, but the views from south Quadra are still great, and its not like Octopus Islands is 'wilderness' :)

I think if someone only had a weekend in the area and wanted to cover some ground, my rec would be around Read - getting to hit penn/rendezvous etc., the area around hill seems to be humpback central!

PS. great surf videos at surge!
 

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
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409
Location
Seattle WA
I'm impressed at all the pictographs you found on this trip and your other recent trip to East Redonda. I've paddled these same waters myself and never seen one. How did you know where to look?

Alex
 

adm

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Mar 24, 2021
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Read Island
I'm impressed at all the pictographs you found on this trip and your other recent trip to East Redonda. I've paddled these same waters myself and never seen one. How did you know where to look?

Alex
Hi Alex,

As I am sure you know this information is culturally sensitive and not easily found online. I think this is unfortunate, but it allows us to explore a bit more I guess. IMO people destroying or disrespecting these sites happen upon them and are not googling sacred sites to desecrate. But regardless I will stick with the accepted norm and not disclose locations publicly - if you are curious send me a PM and I am happy to share exact locations (although I do not use GPS in my travels).

I guide in this area, so am intimately familiar with many of these waterways. I have also found many pictos in the desolation area (prideaux haven has many, but they are significantly faded)

In this area there are great sites in Homfray Channel, but my favorite sites are the panel on Raza Island (I think one of the images there depicts a beehive!), and the amazing site at Walsh Cove - you can easily get out of the boat here and hike up the cliffs, there are also black pictographs here which are less commonly found. Attached some photos for fun!

All that to say, it has been noted that I am a little obsessed with documenting rock art on the coast. Been on many a cold swim trying to get out on inaccessible shorelines in the mainland inlets. Recently visited the amazing site near Karlukwees - wow!

Three great resources available for free online are:

"Rock Art of the Pacific Northwest Coast"
* A massive pdf available online for free thru SFU. It does not give exact locations, but is a great starting point.

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063112576112.
* This group is awesome - again no exact locations given, but from looking at photos and comments, one can usually easily pinpoint pictographs - interesting to note that they are still missing many (including in this area the Raza pictos)

* A super great resource

Port John is truly an amazing site to visit near Bella Bella. Many sites pale in comparison!
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Close - up of the pictograph panel on Raza
 

benson

Paddler
Joined
Aug 28, 2011
Messages
117
Location
Sequim, Wa
Great report and photos. We have launched from Rebecca Spit for a week long trip circumnavigating Maurelle and Read Is several times over the last 17+ years. Really enjoy the combination of great paddling, hiking, campsites and freshwater swimming...not to mention the more frequent whale sightings. Thanks for posting.
 
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