The incredible vast and rugged beauty of western Vancouver Island, B.C. can be compared to few places in the world. So in July 2010 Seawolf took a group out for an 8-day SOF kayak expedition.
I stood on a beach overlooking a set of shallow reefs, fringed with the bright green of Giant Sea Anemones and purples and golds of Ochre Starfishes.
At that moment neither Alaska nor Hawaii could compare with the incredible beauty before me.
Rugged Point and Mission Group Islands, July 2010
Seawolf Guided Expedition Day 1- To Fair Harbour
A spectacular view framed our final rough and tumble 40km to Fair Harbour, our kayak launch to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. We stopped along the way to shoot some photographs of the iridescent pink fireweed and the green fjords that fell straight into long saltwater inlets.
Here the saltwater mixes with the fresh and creates amazing brackish estuaries, that perfect wetland habitat for an amazing number of species. We noted a plethora of ochre stars and clams and oysters, but in the right season salmon spawn in these waters.
Our first day ended with us having our first fancy dinner of many to come, Sesame Pesto over Udon Noodles. We relaxed in the shade of the inland forest and got a chance to test all our camping setups in anticipation of the paddling to come.
Day 2- Fair Harbour to Rugged Point
Our first paddling day began with safety instruction and then packing the boats for cruising. At 16miles, this was the longest paddle we had to make! We launched into the inlets at midday to catch an ebbing current to pull us along (which was quite weak) and we slowly made our way. We paddled lazily, enjoying the amazing sunshine and blue skies and the vast landscape which we had to ourselves upon departing Fair Harbour.
By lunchtime, Jim had stopped for a short break and already landed a decent sized rock cod from his handline (We all fish with handlines, which is standard Seawolf gear). We pulled ashore on a rocky shelf and devoured some smoked salmon on bagels with soy cream cheese. Soy substitutions can be a great way to bring delicious foods into the wilderness and have it last without refrigeration. Of course, kayaks act as refrigerators as well, with the food resting against the chilly 55 degree water all day long.
Many miles and a decent headwind later, we reached Rugged Point late in the day. This time of year this far north, one can paddle on late and still have plenty of sun. We felt weary from battling the headwind but the sheer and vast beauty of Rugged Point Provincial Park settled our spirits quickly.
Day 3- Rest Day
After such a long paddle our first day, everyone welcomed a day off and Scott, Ben and Jerry promptly took the opportunity to hike the trail to the Southern exposed beach. They went on the lookout for the famous wolves that inhabit Rugged Point. The wolves, secretive and shy, let no trace of themselves for us to find, but black bear sign was everywhere.
After several hours of wandering many miles down beach after beach, the crew gathered back on the sunny north end and stopped to catch up on some reading.
Jim spent some time finishing up a harpoon point for his primitive harpoon designed for retrieving large fish like halibut from the kayak. The harpoon head toggles when speared through a fish and the line runs off to a large buoyant float so that the fish fights against the buoyancy of the float rather than towing the kayak around dangerously.
Upon completion of the harpoon, Jim and I ventured out fishing and were joined by Ben out in the extensive and beautiful kelp beds lying around the Point. We managed to convince a few rock cod and lingcods to join us for supper! That night we feasted on amazing breaded and fried super-fresh fish (say that fast), mixed into our fajitas with avocados and pepperjack cheese. A complete and fulfilling day, and we all felt rested for more paddling!
Day 4- Rugged Point to British Creek
The weather report forecast some strong gale force winds, but they were not blowing in the real world where we stood, so I plotted a course for us to tentatively try crossing the exposed water across to the Mission Group Islands. As we reached the exposed section, the ocean swells rose somewhat and looking out over the water I could see that the water could potentially become too challenging for the group. My rule of thumb as a safe guide is to never take paddlers (including myself) into conditions that we cannot be safe in if the conditions become twice as terrible. So I myself will not begin a paddle if the wind is blowing over 20 knots, and with group expeditions we don’t venture into any open water if the wind is over 10 knots (dependent on group experience, of course).
We headed back around the inside for an alternate route, but did get a taste of the gorgeous rock gardens along some exposed portions of Union Island.
For lunch and a rest stop, we located a tiny shallow cove. The clear shallows were gorgeous in the sunlight, and when we finished lunch I was surprised on my way out by running into a pair of sea otters!
The otters lazily swam about but dove every once in a while and we could tell that they were young. The rest of the group slowly paddled closeup and were able to observe the otters chowing on urchins on their stomachs, despite the small wind waves. We would see many more otters as we paddled out farther into the more exposed and beautiful portions of the coastline later in the week.
The beach we landed on was probably the least spectacular of all the ones we camped on during our trip, but partially because we were running low on space on the beach– the incoming tidal change was 13 feet and we put our camp above the highest visible tide lines! I woke in the middle of the night to lapping waves about a foot from our tent but we calculated correctly and the tide began receding shortly thereafter.
I did have to rescue some of our food in our drybags but the only casualty turned out to be some of Jim’s sandals, left to dry by the fire the previous evening. Perhaps the red rockfish curry for dinner addled Jim’s brain…
Day 5- British Creek to Spring Island
Paddling to the Mission Group we faced some headwinds but the crew paddled like champions and I felt proud of them all. Two of our paddlers are rocking sixty years and did great! The reward manifested itself in the form of Spring Island, a rugged but protected island with great camping options.
The southern beach actually turned out to be crowded to my surprise (this area of Vancouver Island is quite remote) but we easily located our own most gorgeous private beach and promptly did some exploring. Jim and I, of course, went out to commandeer some dinner from the local kelp beds and had a great time pulling up lingcod, kelp greenling, and rock cod. No halibut showed itself yet, but everyone seemed thankful for the gift of more tasty fish than we could want!
Spring Island really possesses some dramatic views, especially at sunset.
Day 6- Resting on Spring Island
Morning rose without fuss and Ben, Jerry and Scott went off exploring along the rocks along shore. Winds that were forecast for gale force had not yet appeared, but being so close to the open coast I decided to keep us down for the day and then took advantage of the morning lull and went out fishing outside of the protective reefs.
After some exceptionally fine fishing, Scott and Ben and Jim joined me and Scott quickly caught a very nice quillback rockfish. Jim was chosen by a large and fine example of a lingcod as well! Later, I went poking about the tidepools, looking at the giant green anemones and searching for maybe a temporarily stranded Pacific Giant Octopus.
The beach itself, with its small grey and white cobbles, was just so pristine that after all the requisite duties of a kayak-guide-chef were done for the afternoon I dragged out one of the Stellar Sea Kayaks and did some photography.
Meanwhile Ben and Jim and Scott busied themselves with a rousing game of Smashball on the cobblestone court.
Day 7- Spring Island to British Creek
Our expedition crew headed back to British Creek after the previous day’s winds. On the way we paddled slowly through an amazing section of exposed rocks and reefs with shallow waters that just took everyone’s breath away. These reefs are what make the Mission Group famous for kayakers, though few will ever get a chance to see them! We stopped for lunch on a tiny little islet.
I don’t think anyone wanted to leave but we eventually departed and discovered at our destination a lush little estuary at the mouth of a creek and we decided to camp there for the night to break up the distance back to Fair Harbour.
The profusion of bright green algaes made our campsite actually quite colorful and we caught most of the late afternoon sun to relax.
Thus far blessed with perfect weather (albeit some high wind) I think everybody felt thankful for the sun and slept quite well once more.
Day 8- Return to Fair Harbour and then Victoria
Nobody felt enthused about heading home, so we paddled leisurely. Jerry led the gang navigating (as each paddler took turns learning to navigate on the water properly) and we rolled through the inlets without much ado. We chattered a lot, having learned a lot about each other over the past few days and the paddle went gently by.
Here’s a look at our intrepid crew back at Rugged Point, feeling no pain but happy to be on land.
Later that day we returned to Victoria and there I got a chance to explore the Royal British Museum with its amazing totem poles, rounding out yet another great trip on wild and wooly West Coast of Vancouver Island.
I will leave you all with the image our expeditioners woke up to for eight days. Sunshine, blue skies, and kayaks. And squeaking sea otter pups, but you may have to see them in your mind’s eye…