Ian McAllister is publishing a new book, Great Bear Wild – Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest with foreword by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. It’s sure to be a delight with astounding photography and insight.
My most sincere thanks to Nova Scotia artist, painter and friend Wendy Crocker for our commission. Her chosen title “Elements” is reflected well in the synonyms of the word – aspect, detail, matter and principal all of which I pondered during this very moment in July of 2013 on Vargas Island in Clayoquot Sound. After being wind and ocean swept while kayaking I was stranded for the night on this remote island with less than adequate food, water or shelter but I had all that I needed with abundance of spirit.
An exceptional documentary showcasing the importance of the annual migration of Salmon along the Pacific Coast. This has long been considered one of the most profound migrations of any living creature on Earth and it’s been happening by the tens of millions and for thousands of years. Without the Salmon, there would be nothing.
I stumbled across this in British Columbia Magazine, definitely a place to see, visit and if you can help support the effort to protect.
The Evening Before the Launch
I spent the evening before my launch at the Dolphin Motel just outside Tofino. As always it was a pleasant stay and I enjoyed the interaction with one of the owners, “The Dolphin lady.” I’ve stayed at the Dolphin Motel several times now and I still don’t know her name. I’ve just always called her “Dolphin” and so we’ll go with that. Anyone that has stayed here, knows her. If you’re looking for a comfortable and economical stay in the Tofino area, I highly recommend the place.http://www.dolphinmotel.ca/
Day 1 – July 14th – Fog Launch, Miscalculations and Turbulent Waters
I successfully launched with all my gear stowed from the Tofino kayak ramp around 7:30 am. There was fog but not to the point that I thought it would jeopardize navigation. I was proven wrong when I became confused between the entrances to Maurus Channel and Lemmens Inlet. Maurus Channel is for the most part protected from the winds and the open ocean on the east side of Vargas Island. It was my intended route but after becoming disoriented I decided to follow the exposed west side of Vargas Island through the turbulent LaCroix Group of islands. (Yes, it’s time for a handheld GPS.)
As I paddled alongside Ahous Bay I was relieved to see Blunden Island on the horizon, a previous camping place, though it was not my intention to do so this time. With the miscalculation in routing earlier, I had decided to try to make it to Dick and Jane’s beach on the northern end of Vargas Island, but I was prevented from doing so when I encountered very turbulent water and dangerous breakers just north of Ahous Bay. I decided to turn west and head the 2 km’s to Blunden Island and call it a day. The area between Vargas Island and Flores Island is a dangerous crossing even in optimal conditions, leaving a paddler exposed to the unpredictability of the open ocean.
Day 2 – July 15th – Fog and the Dangerous Crossing
After a comfortable night on Blunden Island I woke up to heavy fog, unable to see Vargas Island only 2 km’s away. I suspected treacherous conditions on the open water between Vargas Island and Flores Island. I pondered the notion of making the crossing but decided against it. (The recent training I received from Paddle Canada and Comox Valley Kayaks along with just my own experience and intuition certainly came in handy.) I was able to call Tofino Water Taxi and arrange for them to pick me up at 2:00 pm and take me to Ahousaht on the south end of Flores Island. I was disappointed that I couldn’t continue on without assistance but once I got on the taxi and made the crossing I was reassured that I made the right choice as the conditions were harsh. Even the guide from Tofino Water Taxi, Brandon, a lifelong resident of Tofino, commented that he couldn’t imagine trying to make the crossing that day in a kayak.
Once arriving and being dropped off at Ahousaht the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, only a thick line of fog to the south where I had come from. I paddled the 15 km’s to Obstruction Island at the north end of Millar Channel with the wind at my back and the tide pushing me along. The campsite was rather difficult to find or perhaps I wasn’t expecting what it was, a jagged rocky outcrop but in a very tranquil and protected cove. I made camp, relaxed and rested easy until I heard what I believe was a cougar scream in one of the adjacent mountains.
Day 3 – July 16th – Morning Fog, the Black Bear, a Broken Paddle and Shark Creek Falls
After enjoying a warm and sunny afternoon the day before I was yet again plagued by morning fog and dampness. It wouldn’t be until noon that the fog lifted. I started paddling south down Millar Channel at around 6:30 am; the waters were calm but I hugged the shoreline due to the fog. A few hours later I approached Shark Creek Falls. (maybe state the exact hours it took to reach the falls).
Unbeknownst to me, one can only access Shark Creek Falls by kayak at high tide. There’s little information available about these waterfalls. I got stuck on the creek bed and had to carry my boat back out to the entrance. I was glad I did because a Black Bear was foraging for food on a beach nearby.
Finally, the tide was up high enough at about 1:00 pm and I could access the waterfalls.
After spending what time I did have on the high tide at the waterfalls I headed back in choppy water to my Obstruction Island campsite for dinner and a fire.
Day 4 – July 17th – The Paddle back to Ahousaht
I woke at about 5:30 am, burnt a little bit of the leftover firewood that I had and packed up pretty quickly and was able to launch from Obstruction Island at 6:30 am. The water was as smooth as silk and it only took me about 3 hours to paddle the 15 km on the outgoing tide down Millar Channel.
Hot Springs Cove still eludes me but I will get to the springs one day. Allowing myself only 3.5 days to make a 60 km journey just wasn’t enough due to conditions and tides. Next time I will allow for 7 days. All in all, I did get the better part of 50 km of paddling in and thoroughly enjoyed the serenity and magic that Clayoquot Sound offers.
Go where you need to go, do what you need to do. Whatever it might be to get “that one shot.” Often times you will be surprised with what you had planned and what you end up with. My “plan” was to photograph “Shark Creek Falls” deep within Northern Clayoquot Sound. After paddling my kayak some 40 km’s from Tofino to do so, I got myself and my kayak stuck on the creek bed during low tide and in pursuit of the falls. After painstakingly dragging my boat out I discovered a Black Bear on the beach adjacent to the creek entrance overturning some rocks in search of food. Sometimes when you plan and work towards one thing, you end up with something else that proves to be much better. That one shot!
Much thanks to the staff at Comox Valley Kayaks – Lauren LaBossiere and Gabriela Brunschwiler for helping me achieve my Paddle Canada Basic Sea Kayak Skills certification and for sharing their expert knowledge and experience. I look forward to more training next year but for now I’ll take what I’ve learned to the misty and windswept coastline of Vancouver Island.
An awesome documentary showcasing what makes our island so fragile and majestic. Definitely a “must watch!”
Virgin Falls, located north of Tofino on Vancouver Island has always eluded me mostly because of time and because anyone that knows of it’s existence has warned me about the logging roads to get to it. I’m certainly not one to be swayed by road conditions and this past weekend I decided to make time. The logging roads were shall we say far from optimal and it took me nearly two hours to get to the trail head that lead to the falls. I’m sure the axles and ball joints of my vehicle enjoyed the journey and so did the paint job but I made it just fine. Along the way a large Black Bear ran along the road in front of me and yes they can run faster than you! (I’ve never seen an animal run so fast from a stationary position.) There was bear scat all along the 51 km’s of road which reminded me without a doubt that I was in prime Black Bear and Cougar country. I was able to find a suitable location just south of the trail head and I set up camp, making sure my air horn, machete and Bear spray was always close by.
One thing that does need to be mentioned is the importance of keeping a clean camp, not only for environmental purposes but of course to keep any potential predators away. I’m certainly glad that I continue to stay true to this practice. Upon waking I noticed fresh Bear scat not far from my camp. The Bear likely did his or her business before continuing on and deciding my camp wasn’t anything of interest without any food sources.
Virgin Falls are not only challenging to get to but are difficult to compose when creating images. The setting is tight and you don’t have a lot of room to work with and due to the surrounding mountains the lighting creates a lot of shadows. I was pleasantly surprised by these 2 images. If not for the sake of photography, the setting itself and adventure in getting there certainly was thrilling and a true testament to the rugged and beautiful landscapes that Vancouver Island and Clayoquot Sound offer. Do go, but be prepared to be completely self sufficient and have an extra tire to two as well.