We’re going on a bear hunt

Our last group of guests had abundant energy and allowed us to indulge our end of season frivolities, whether it was sneaking a box of wine onto the “sundowner” whale watch, or passing up lunchtime in favour of watching Orca’s play with their food. It was a sudden and silent absence when the final water taxi came to collect them and the five of us were left there in the forest.  Our routines were all of a sudden null and void.  We had a big project of take down ahead of us.  The five of us could now fit around the fire together, or on the boat, and with no guests to dilute us we were more clearly than ever, a little family.  

There was scrubbing and packing, moving and lifting, an awful lot of puttering, but there was also lie ins and campfires, gin and tonics and visitors.  The sun was out and the pack down happened.  Within four days we were taking the fleet towards Telegraph Cove and waving white beach goodbye.  The Tenzing was loaded with mattresses and the floating sleep platform was towing the Whaler.  Kelly drove the spritely Osprey, while JD and I crewed the Sailboat, Knot again, and towed the dinghy which was loaded with rubbish, namely a huge hunk of styrofoam we had rescued from the sea.  The sailboat hadn’t moved all summer and the reels of green gunk had to be cleaned from her anchor, so the first job was the two person feat of of scrubbing and spraying to release her bow line.  A mid afternoon fog had closed in so we get our way across Blackfish Sound, through the blowhole and into the colourful cove.  

 

On Monday afternoon we set sail for an evenings dock in Dusky Cove.  Retracing our steps towards Compton Island, it was almost as if after a weekend off we were heading back to camp.  Instead, at the White Cliffs, we left the humpback viewing grounds and began to get used to a new set of surroundings.  Nestled in amongst the protective group of islands we made home for the night, one of many sailboat evenings enjoying warm comfort food around the boats little heater and binging on the luxury of being able to watch tv shows.

Tuesday morning we awoke to rolling waves entering the bay, so we drew up anchor and headed into the Broughton Archipelago towards Guilford Island for a stop at Echo Bay.  The cold morning thawed into colour as we approached the home of Billy Proctor.  At nearly 84 Billy has spent his entire life in the islands which make up the fringe between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, the people affectionately known as ‘mainlanders.’  Whilst his parents chose this area, he was born into a life of living on floathouses, boats and homesteads.  His trades have included fishing, canning, logging and subsequently working with the hatcheries to secure the future of salmon.  He has written several books, one being ‘The Heart of the Raincoast” which I had finished only days before.  As we pulled up to his colourful dock his dog bounded to meet us as he went to open the doors to his one room museum, and take position on the bench outside.  Whilst his collection was fascinating, endless shelves of bottles through the ages, beads and relics he has found along the coastline and even an extensive collection of local media, hearing him rattle off conversation is much like diving into one of his books.  One he realised who JD was, and subsequently the camp at Compton, it isn’t long before he is delving into tales of buried gold on the west beaches of the island, left in detailed instructions by two guys who had stolen it in the Yukon.  He reals of statistics about the fish, deeply concerned by the decisions being made locally and all in tune with the people involved.  As we sailed on, everyone we met knew Billy, a local hero.  

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IMG_0310IMG_0312We stop at the beautiful cliffside docks of the Paddlers Inn to meet another friend of JD and Kelly who spend their summers running a retreat for kayakers.  Steep granite rock rises steeply out of the calm waters.  Once stilled from the wind, the day is hot, a rare fall treat. Mid afternoon we press on for Kwatsi Bay, heading towards Bond Sound.  As we get further back towards the inlets of the mainland, the mountains get steeper and their heavy coverage of trees sometimes lets up in scars of a landslide off the slick rock.  It looks like the south Island of New Zealand, its fjord counterpart.  Huge amounts of water run down the rock walls in beautiful waterfalls and from our cosy position under a sleeping bag on the bow, we spot occasional seals and a wide array of birds. In Kwatsi Bay we receive a friendly welcome by Max.  He has been in this spot for 22 years, and JD remarks that not much has changed since he last stopped here about 10 years ago, infact Max may be wearing similar overalls.  He warns us that overnight we will likely hear seals on the dock who will be peeved with our mooring, infact he says, they are just constantly peeved.  Sure enough, within an hour, two seals haul themselves ungracefully onto the wooden boardwalk, it seems to just lay there as their movements on land are about as natural as a very full hot water bottle.   In the darkness of the night sky, millions of stars and a full band of milky way are visible, illuminating the boat. 

Come Wednesday we poke our nose out of the bay and make for Bond Sound.  The dense tree cover meets the water leaving only a fringe of rock making up the tideline.  After several attempts to anchor the boat, JD uses a makeshift way of measuring the depth next to shore, a pair of pliers on a piece of rope and satisfied with his findings, Kelly lets the anchor out, we tie down the stern line and call this spot home for the night.  The sky is clear and the air is crisp.  The heater in the boat is our closest friend despite it being the middle of the day.  Mid afternoon however, we haul the kayaks into the water, layer up and brave a paddle.  

Bond Sound was chosen as we wanted to see Grizzly Bears, although I am not sure any of us had thought about what that entailed.  We paddled over to the river inlet which quickly forced us out of our boats with the low tide.  This river was where chum and spring salmon had returned to to spawn and with it, a feast for the bears.  Very quickly our excitement turned to dread when we saw two sets of footprints, the paw of a wolf and the huge print of a bear.  Its size was comparable to a human head, a hefty imprint of a big creature with size and speed on its side.  We were told by another group who were just departing to follow the sandy river bed, duck into the forest, follow the undulating path under and over some logs, following the direction of the river, eventually returning to the river bank.  As he left he made some hasty charades which included a bear claw and the direction it was headed.  I wasn’t really sure I wanted to follow anymore.  Anyway, being four seemed preferable to being alone so together we followed the route through THE BEAR INFESTED FOREST.  Kelly kept pointing out how fresh the bear scats were.  Eventually we clambered down the rope back onto the river bed where the grizzly had been seen earlier the day.  There certainly was Salmon in the river.  They were hanging in the current facing up stream, changing formation as they responded to the noises and our movements.  In the shallow waters you could see the two types, Chum and Spring.  A heron squaked overhead.  I love the great blue Heron, but its jarring squark didn’t exactly appease the nerves.  I have seen planet earth, birds give warning sounds to potential prey.  Kelly and I ventured up the river bed only to see a mammoth amount of brown fur running in our direction.  I turned and walked fast (aka ran) back to JD and Monique all the while saying “Don’t run, a grizzly bear is coming our way.”  A flash of fur was enough for me.  Anyway, JD encouraged us to return to the bear spot, and there it was, just having a quick dip, before clambering out of the water, shaking its big brown butt and heading into the forest.  THATS WHERE WE NEED TO GO!  Every moment on the riverbed felt like we were the bread in a salmon sandwich, it was scary.  IMG_0375Wolf footprint

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Grizzly Bear paw print – about the size of my head!

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fullsizeoutput_50c.jpegEventually, we made our way back through the forest to the kayaks. The bear mission had a big red tick through it.  Kelly stopped to pick some Chantarel mushrooms and commented on a bear den we passed.  (Again, I’m sorry for my responses when I was scared.)  We piled back in the kayaks and suddenly, whilst in less than a foot of water in a yellow plastic boat, felt much safer.  Infact we were sitting just upstream laughing at ourselves and our fears when Monique heard a rustling and in her best mouse impression said “Bear.” “Where?” “Left.”  The bear was in the bushes, not 10 metres from us, its full face in peeved expression looking straight at us, wondering why we were disturbing his nap.  Our reaction was something like in cartoons when they start running frantically on the spot yet don’t move.  Kayak paddles were being wielded in all directions, boats colliding as we tried to make way for the bear.  We began out from his bush, into the river where we had managed to back up, caught a fish, incidentally the one I had just spotted below our kayak moments ago, then uninterestedly crossed the water, up the bank and along the riverbed where we had just been.  This encounter was rather closer than we had hoped and giggles were our way of overcoming the shaky paddling which was now happening, back to the sailboat to debrief and pour a big serve of wine.  

IMG_0399IMG_0401IMG_0408fullsizeoutput_513fullsizeoutput_514IMG_0465IMG_0468fullsizeoutput_519IMG_0489fullsizeoutput_51cfullsizeoutput_522Thursday morning the sky was blue, not a cloud in the sky.  As the sun singed the icy grass, steam rose into the morning air.  With paddles in hand and now at high tide, we made for the same river as yesterday, fingers aching in the October cold.  With and extra few feet of water we could get further up the river, great news as Monique and I were not going to be easily persuaded to leave the ‘safety’ of our kayaks.  With four sets of eyes searching every bank, we were going on a bear hunt, again.  With little in the way of action we turned and went up the next estuary.  The shallow waters kept revealing a channel which took us further and further back into dwarfing mountains.  There were many eagles overhead, heron once again and a group of Canada geese which we scared into flight in perfect formation sparking their noisy calls.  There wasn’t so much as a ripple on the water, as if the morning wasn’t quite awoken.  As we turned and made for home, we dared for one more peek up the riverbed and soon Monique and I spotted a grizzly silently crossing a suspended log, fish in its mouth.  We tried to attract the attention of Kelly and JD who were observing a fresh mound of bear poo, unsure of how to communicate to them without alerting the bear. With his prize in his mouth, he was back in the forest, only occasionally knocking a nearby tree but once it was devoured, he crossed back across his log to continue his feast.  It is amazing how this huge clumsy looking bear can so stealthily move, balance and accelerate.  In our minds, we had cheated death enough and returned to the sailboat.  

IMG_0514fullsizeoutput_556IMG_0538The afternoon we sailed out of Bond Sound and made for Lagoon Cove, via Minstrel Island.  The weather was brisk but beautiful in the sun, a perfect cloudless sky.  Late afternoon we moored just in time for the last hour of warmth, and no longer moving, felt the sun warm our skin.  It felt like a true Canadian day, starting with Grizzly Bears, ending with Caeser’s (tomato juice, vodka, worchestershire sauce, tabasco and whetever local variation you choose – a very Canadian acquired taste!) on deck in the fall sun.

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By Friday the sailboat felt like it had become our home, at least we had adopted it as one for a little while.  Every inch of space had a purpose, an incredibly comfortable design.  While the morning was wet and took a little persuasion to brave the elements, by the afternoon we took up he resident spot on the bow, under a pile of blankets to watch the world go by.  Our world, comprising of seals, birds and the four of us.  At one point two fighter jets went over us.  Kelly thought they gave us a little wave, tipping their wings as they roared on by reminding us we weren’t alone.  That night we pulled into Forward Harbour, a little inlet on our way south.  Monique asked JD what the adjacent island to us was.  He thought for a split second and then replied “Canada, she’s a big one!”  Having been used to being surrounded by islands, each individually named, we were now nestled against the mainland. 

IMG_0613IMG_0618Little did we know but Saturday was our last day of boating.  The engine rumbled into gear early as we made for Quadra island, a days travel south.  We turned off from Johnston strait opting to go through Sutherland Sound instead.  Around 11am we encountered some rapids, advisable to pass through on a slack tide.  We were at max flood.  We spun in circles deciding what our best move was, then JD cautiously took us through the swirling waters safely.  The meeting of the flooding waters and various upwellings in the narrow pass was causing whirlpools and the boat danced as it was pushed forward at great speed.  In the afternoon we encountered a second lot of rapids.  Some swirling almost looked like a vortex of quarrelling waters and the sea lions were in amongst it catching some dinner along the way.  As we were heading south the outlying islands became more inhabited with fancy lodges, resorts and golf courses.  Civilisation was awaiting.  By 6pm Saturday we were in Heriot Bay Harbour, Quadra Island, a rather more sizeable island adjacent to Campbell River on Vancouver Island.  Our final port, our Broughton adventure coming to an end.  From the prime spot of Heriot Bay we enjoyed the delights of the local pub and celebrated our first Canadian Thanksgiving.  Although we didn’t have the traditional turkey, it was spent with our Canadian family AND we did manage to scoff down some pumpkin pie.  I think we can mark it off as a success.

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The route through the Broughton Archipelago

One comment

  1. Phew, what a trip. It seems like a smorgasbord of experiences served up in the most stunningly decorated back drop of the Canadian archipelago.

    I’m amazed by the size of the bears paw print. It clearly is also a stealthy mover. You were so close, the photos are as always truly wonderful and convey so well the moment they capture.

    I can imagine as you sailed from obscurity and simplicity towards the sophistication(?) and the (civilisation?) you must have felt a sadness at what you were leaving behind. Funny to think that you were almost propelled by the vortex of nature in that direction. xxx

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