This was the longest stretch we will do between towns. It ended up being 219 miles and 17 days, with just a few hints at civilization along the way. 17 days is a long time to go between showers (the few people we did meet along the way, and anyone in the vicinity of the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht club this afternoon, would agree I am sure). We did bathe when we had a chance, in ice cold creeks and waterfalls, but it’s not the same as a hot shower. We are going to stay in Prince Rupert for a couple days to catch up on email, do our laundry, and eat everything in sight.
When we left Shearwater we weren’t in a hurry. It was sunny and almost hot, which was a nice change. We packed up our boats slowly, and didn’t get on the water until after 12:00. It was a little hard to leave, but it was a beautiful day to paddle, at least for the first mile or two. As we made our way past the islands protecting Shearwater and Bella Bella, we got out into Seaforth Channel and the wind was blasting in our face at 20 knots, and our day of paddling turned into a slog. We past the Dryad Lighthouse and thought briefly about calling them up to see if they would welcome us like the Addenbroke lighthouse, but we were only 3 miles from Shearwater, so we pushed on knowing this was going to be a short day.
We paddled into the protection of Thorburne Island, and decided we would try to make it up to Odin Cove, just a couple miles away. It took at least two hours to paddle through the wind, and by the time we pulled into the cove in the heavy chop we were exhausted. We found a small islet at the bottom of the cove that was surrounded by water at high tide. We setup the tent, made dinner, then went to bed so we could get up early to try and make it down the channel before the wind picked up again the next day (a theme that would be repeated over and over on the way to Prince Rupert).
The next day the water was flat and the current was with us as we paddled down the channel to get into Reid Passage.
It is amazing how much easier and more enjoyable paddling is when you are not pushing the boats against the wind. We made it through Reid Passage and stopped for lunch and a nap. When we got back in the boats the wind was blowing again, but this time from behind us. We thought about sailing on but we were beat and decided to go over to Cockle Bay to see if the cabin our book mentioned was actually there. As we paddled across the entrance to the bay we saw a perfect little cabin in the woods at the back of the bay, and we started to get excited. We paddled harder, with visions of spending the night out of the rain that was certain to come, but as we got closer we noticed something red next to the cabin, and then something tall with two legs standing on the porch. It was occupied! We were bummed for a minute, then paddled to a beautiful sand beach a couple hundred yards from the cabin and setup camp. It was a peaceful setting, until the guy in the cabin started up a generator, and left it running until late into the night. Who brings a generator? And what was he doing that required electricity all night? We thought it might have been a fisherman living in the cabin. The generator probably wasn’t that loud, but we missed the complete silence we had gotten used to—and of course we really, really, wanted the cabin.
We woke up to wet skies and a breeze out in the channel. It wasn’t the nicest day, but we figured we would end up with a tailwind, and hoped we could get some miles sailing. And we did.
We sailed most of the day. The view of the mountains as we came into Mathieson Channel were stunning. The channel leads into Fjordland if you go far enough up, but we were just going up to Jackson Passage so we could get over to Finlayson Channel. We sailed almost all the way up to Jackson Passage, then paddled into Rescue Bay for the night.
We found a nice campsite in the trees at the back of the bay.
There was a trawler anchored out, and right before we went to sleep a small sailboat pulled in and anchored as well. When we got up in the morning we picked a mug of huckleberries to add to our oatmeal, then loaded the boats.
The sailboat was long gone, pulling out before we even had our coffee made. As we paddled out of the bay we went over the trawler to say good morning. The couple onboard was super nice, and we sat in the sun on the water chatting until they handed over an amazing salmon filet and a bag of fresh-baked cookies.
We paddled through Jackson Passage to Finlayson in the bright sunshine, but were too tired to paddle up the channel to the only campsite on our map, so we decided to head to Klemtu.
Our book said that Klemtu had a thriving tourist industry, a bed and breakfast, hotel, and campground, so we thought it might be cool to see the village and camp there. We stopped outside Klemtu and made our salmon filet for lunch, then paddled into the government dock. We tied up our boats and started to wander around looking for information on someplace to stay and what there was to see in the town.
Everyone smiled and said hi as we walked around, but nobody could help us find a place to stay. It turned out the Band office was closed, and the woman who could help us wasn’t answering her phone. We found a woman from Vancouver who spends 20 days a month in Klemtu at the clinic, and she went way out of her way to try and help us find a place, but she struck out as well. At 7:00 PM we decided to paddle on out of town to see if we could find a beach we could land on. We can camp anywhere, but the problem is getting the boats off the water on the rocky and steep shores, and finding a flat spot for the tent. The next campsite in our books was 7 miles away. We paddled hopefully, checking out each potential beach, then remembered there was a lighthouse 3 miles up, so I called them on the vhf to see if they had a place to pitch our tent. Unfortunately, the keepers who were at the lighthouse for the last 10 years had recently moved on, and there were two temporary keepers. They didn’t know the area very well, so our only option was to keep on paddling to Split Head. We had been tired about 5 hours earlier, so paddling 7 miles before dark was going to be tough. But we made it, and found a sweet tent site back in the trees.
By having to go on to Split Head, we were stuck going up Tolmie Channel rather than Finlayson. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but the currents in Tolmie were supposed to be a little stronger. We left on the flood, assuming we would have a small amount of current in our favor, but we didn’t. The current was against us, and it stayed against us for days. It didn’t matter if the tide was going up or down, the current was against us. I couldn’t figure out why. How could 18 feet of water move into the channel in six hours and not give us a push? It was frustrating. We ended up having to hug the shore to try and avoid the current, which worked part of the time.
The rest of the time we suffered and average less than 2 miles per hour. We didn’t make it out of Tolmie Channel, but we got close. We ended up having to carve out a tent site in a small bay, then try again the next day.
The next day was more of the same. The current should have been with us, but wasn’t. We paddled hard all day, and made it about 12 miles to Flat Point. Not only did we struggle with the current, but it was our first hot day on the water. There wasn’t much wind, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It should have been nice, but I’m not made for sunny hot weather, and started to overheat. I thought it was brutal, but Katey (surprisingly) didn’t seem to mind it.
When we landed at Flat Point, we unloaded the boats and sat in the shade waiting for the sun to drop behind the mountains. We were enjoying the view when a bear came out on the beach just down from where we were sitting. We stood up to scare it off, but for the first time the bear didn’t seem to care that we were there, and actually thought it looked like an opportunity. He started toward us as if to say “what’s for dinner?” We eventually scared it off, but we didn’t like it’s attitude, so we put everything back in the boats and headed a couple more miles up to Swanson Bay.
We had enough daylight to make it to the bay and setup camp, but we were exhausted. We crawled into the tent for a fitfull sleep. First we were woken up when Lil’ Bit barked at a heron that was hunting for fish right in front of our tent. The heron shattered the dark with a long screech as it flew off. Then we were woken up by something walking past the tent. I wasn’t sure what it was until it started to howl. We left the fly open, but the wolf was on the other side of the tent so we couldn’t see it. It sounded like it was&nb
sp;standing on top of the tent. I’ve heard wolves in the distance, but this was like nothing I have ever heard before. It was amazing. And a little freaky. When I got up I found two sets of tracks just a few feet in front of the tent. When the sun came up, it was a beautiful day and Wild Kingdom was over. We enjoyed coffee and paddled out of the bay in hope of better luck with the currents.
We spent the day paddling past waterfall after waterfall.
And the sun beat down. We stopped for lunch to get out of the sun and found a wild and cold creek running through the woods behind the bay. We took the opportunity to cool down and soak off a few days of grime in the fast water.
We also took the opportunity to graze on blueberries. When we got back in the boats the current was still against us, but we chipped away at it knowing that we could make Butedale, another abandoned town. Eventually we pulled into the Butedale dock.
We met a couple at the dock who where sailing with their son. They had done a lot of trekking and kayaking, and started handing food to us—fresh vegetables, homemade jambalaya, soda, crackers…it was awesome. We also met the caretaker, who offered us showers from his solar shower bag that had been sitting out in his garden. It was still hot and felt great, even though we were limited to a couple gallons of water each out of a bucket. We set up our tent on the cement pad above the pilings, looking around at the town that was frozen in a partially collapsed state. We went to bed before dark, but Katey was woken up by Lil’ Bit woofing at some noise behind the dock. She woke me up to say the bear we saw earlier in the yard was back. We could see it through the screen in our tent in the partial darkness. I crawled out of the tent to scare it away (we were 20 feet above it while it walked on a collapsed building looking for berries). Even in the near dark I could tell it was the biggest black bear I had ever seen. It was huge and round. But like a good bear, it left as soon as I started talking to it and chucked a piece of scrap wood in its direction. Just to be safe, however, I went down to the boat to get our air horns and shotgun.
Because we snacked on our neighbors offerings the night before we didn’t make a full dinner, and we woke up starved. The bugs were bad at the dock so we loaded the boats and paddled in front of the waterfall from the creek that powered the old town (at one time there were 400 people who lived in Butedale and worked at the cannery). It was going to be a long day, and we were already tired. Fortunately, the sun stayed behind the low clouds, and we were able to paddle the 15 miles to the last bend in the Princess Royal Channel and setup camp on a beach below 3000 foot high cliffs that melted into the clouds. We were beat, relatively clean from our solar shower the day before, and decided to take a day off. It was a luxurious 24 hours, perched above the beach on a small shelf, looking out at the mountains and ocean. We could see the entrance to a small bay 3 miles away that was supposed to have a hot spring, but we didn’t have the energy to put the boats in the water and find it. Instead we made and ate an entire cheesecake and laid in the tent reading to each other while holding our stomaches.
We got up early the next day to try and beat the winds blowing down the channel and all around Wright Sound, which we had to cross to get to the Grenville Channel. We paddled the 8 miles to Nelly Point without too much effort, and when we got to Wright Sound the wind was blowing in our favor so we put up the sails. We sailed across to Gribell Island (where there is supposed to be a big population of white bears called Kermode bears—we have seen enough bears recently, however, and didn’t feel like looking for more, even if they were white), then made a beeline for the entrance to Grenville Channel, we were doing great, sailng at 5 and 6 knots, until we got about halfway across and the current from Douglas Channel and Grenville Channel joined forces to push us back. We were still slicing through the water, but the gps showed us moving steadily back the other way (yes, the GPS is useful despite what Katey says), so we turned left and headed to a bay on Gil Island a couple miles away. It turned out to be a beautiful beach, with a great tent site, so we setup camp and called it a day.
We got up early the next morning to try and catch the current that should have been flowing up and into Grenville, but as we paddled we were pushed every direction, slowing our progress. Eventually we made it across Wright Sound and started our 50 some mile journey up Grenville, a narrow and straight channel that some people warned had few campsites.
We ended the first day just north of Hawkins Narrows, on a beach that looked good at high tide. When we woke up the next morning however, it was low tide, and the water was gone.
We had to carry the boats and all our gear over a hundred yards of barnacle rocks and slippery seaweed. It took us an extra half hour to get everything in the water and strapped down. But the crabs and slugs around the boats kept Lil’ Bit entertained while we packed.
This time, we finally got the current that we predicted, and we had a good day of riding flood currents and easy paddling. We spent over an hour at 7 knots, making us smile even in the facewind.
We ended the second day in the channel at the base of a beautiful waterfall at Saunders Creek.
There was supposed to be a campsite around in the trees, but we could find it so had to clear a space at the top of the beach. The bugs were eating heartily on us until we finally dug out our head nets (so far I have refused to put bug dope on over the layers of suntan lotion and salt water, preferring to cover up). We should have brought a weiner-dog shapped bug suit for Lil’ Bit. He wanted to be outside with us, but started to lose his walnut-sized mind nipping at and trying to get away from the biting flies. Eventually we had to cover him in our dry gear.
When we got in the tent his poor belly was covered with bites. He became neurotic, trying to spin around in circles and get away from the itchy bites that he thought were flies still biting him. We laid in the tent looking out at the water. So far on this trip we have not shared a campsite outside of towns with a single other kayaker or camper. It’s hard to believe we can camp for over 60 days and see so few people. I like it. We see a few boats or a ferry or a cruise ship every day, so we know we aren’t alone, but when the boats are gone it is the most serene and wild place I can imagine.
The next day we were going to reach the split in the channel, where the northern flood meets the southern flood, so we planned a short day getting to the split, then either waiting for the turn or camping out until the next day. We made over 6 miles in an hour and 15 minutes, then pulled into a bay near Rogers Point in the rain.
We decided to setup camp to wait out the rain rather than sit around and wait for the tide. The next morning we started early with what should have been the ebb tide heading north, but quickly found out we would not be paddling as planned. We had the current against us again at 1.5 to 2 knots, and our progress was painfully slow.
I couldn’t believe the tide was going out the south end of the channel so many miles away, so we tried every part of the channel looking for the ebb, thinking there was a strange counter current. We paddled against the current throughout the ebb and then into the flood. It was a challenge to keep my wits about me. We eventually made it to a bay south of Stuart Anchorage, and pulled out the books and maps again to try and figure out what was going on. What should have been a relatively easy paddle was a battle. Paddling in flat water, without wind or current, we can move the boats along with relative ease, probably putting 5 lbs of force into each stroke, but when we are trying to make way against the current or wind each stroke takes 15 or more lbs of force, and our core and back and shoulders and arms quickly rebel. We simply can’t paddle in those conditions for more than a couple of hours without crossing the line into real pain.
We couldn’t find an explanation for the current in our references, so just had to go to bed and hope for better results the next day. Again we got up early, hoping to catch the current and avoid the wind. It was better at first. We made it out of Grenville Channel and started across Ogden Channel, hoping to make it to McMicking Island. Prince Rupert was just a couple days away, and we were starting to feel the pull of real food. Unfortunately, the current and winds picked up and we again slowed to a stop. We ended up moving into Oona River for refuge. Oona River is a small Scandinavian Fishing village with about 30 residents, and no services. We hung out on the dock then walked down the lone road in town to stretch our legs. In about an hour we met most of the residents. As we walked past one amazing rainbow
-painted house a woman came outside and told us to go around the corner of the house to find Lutz. We weren’t sure why, but we went around the corner to find out.
Lutz was the local kayaker. They had identified us by our bright yellow dry gear as kayakers, and Lutz took us to his open air shop to show us his boats. He had two Baidarkas (traditional Aleutian Kayaks) without their skins hanging from the ceiling, and four or five other boats hanging about the shop. Lutz explained that he would kayak around the point to a friends for coffee, and had done numerous solo kayak trips around the Inside Passage. I asked him about the currents we were experiencing, and he said he had only been there for 15 years, and he probably couldn’t explain it. He related similar stories to ours, which made me feel better, and told us the Skeena River changes everything. The Skeena dumps into the ocean above Grenville, and flows south and east through the various passages. One of our books says the Skeena is the third largest undammed river in the world. Even the fisherman at the dock in Oona River couldn’t give us a definite plan for favorable currents across the various passages to Prince Rupert. Lutz took us to the old school (which is now a community building) and told us we could spend the night there if we wanted. We went back down to the dock to check the wind, waited about 20 minutes to see if anything was going to change, then paddled to the school to spend the night.
The next morning we got up and thought we might be able to paddle to the north end of McMicking, then sail over to Kitson Island, 12 miles from Prince Rupert. Again, it started out ok, making the first 4 miles easily, but by 11 AM the wind picked up to 15 to 20 knots blowing straight down the channel we were trying to paddle up. We paddled hard for a while, to get within 3 miles of the end of the island, but decided it would take too long and the wind and water would get too big to be able to sail across to Kitson, so we turned into a bay at the south end of McMicking, and setup for the night on a beautiful beach. We decided we would have to try again the next day.
The next morning we woke up at 5 AM for the umpteenth time (anyone who knows Katey can imagine how hard it is to get her moving at 5 AM—she has to be coaxed out of bed with coffee and constant badgering). I think someone knew that if we didn’t get a good day of paddling in we may never have the motivation to leave Prince Rupert, so everything went right. We crossed over to Gent Island with favorable current, then to Kitson with the first part of the ebb from the Skeena, and on up the channel into Prince Rupert with the beginning of the flood. We were even able to sail the last 5 miles into town in bright sunshine. We sailed into the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club and dragged our boats onto the skiff dock in search of food and a soft bed for a couple of days.