Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Broughton Archipelago - September 5-7, 2009

Heather and I kayaked along the northeast side of Vancouver Island on the Johnstone Strait in early July with hopes of seeing the beautiful landscapes, incredible wildlife and maybe spot one of the resident Orca. On that trip we were lucky enough to see a lone Orca off of the beach we camped at. This sparked our interest in returning to the area. This time we wanted to cross the Johnstone Strait and head into the Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park.

The Broughton Archipelago is a myriad of islands and islets off the north coast of Vancouver Island extending all the way to the BC mainland. The area was of great significance to many groups of First Nations and integral to their traditional food system. It is still very important to the First Nations in the area, however, it's use as a food source has diminished. Recently, the area has gained significance for whale watching, sightseeing, sea kayaking and other tourism related ventures.

We had been planning a trip over the September long weekend for over two months and as the days neared we grew wary due to the bleak weather forecasts. We were delighted to see an opening in the weather as the forecasts improved on Friday morning. We decided to head up towards Telegraph Cove and had a multitude of options if the weather was not in our favour.

*Map of the area we paddled (click to enlarge)*

Our trip would start in Telegraph Cove, which has become a popular staging ground for multi-day kayak trips. Heather and I like to “buck the trend” and brought our 18.5 foot canoe, a very capable ocean going vessel.

As it was mostly windy and rainy while we paddled we were unable to take many pictures while on the water so my hope is to capture the story with the written text.

DAY ONE – 18kms of paddling

*Route on day 1 - blue line (click to enlarge)*

We left work on Friday evening and drove 5 hours to Telegraph Cove. It was rainy and cool and we listened to the sound of rain pounding off of our tent all evening. We were happy to wake to a light mist at 6:30am. We turned on our VHF radio and got the marine forecast. Things were looking up as the forecast indicated 10-15 knot winds becoming light in the afternoon.

We were loaded up and on the water by 9am. Turning out of Telegraph Cove we were greeted by some angry water with 2-3 foot chop along Ella Point, the canoe handled this water with ease. As we headed to Blinkhorn Peninsula the rain started to poor, but we noticed the waters in Johnstone Strait were relatively calm.

*Leaving Telegraph Cove*

*Bald Eagle on Bauza Islets*

We decided to take advantage of the calm waters and start our 2.5 km crossing of Johnstone Strait, towards Weytnon Passage. Weynton Passage can create some nasty water during an ebbing or flooding tide, resulting in tidal rips and whirlpools, so we timed our cross for slack tide. Weynton Passage is home to the beautiful Plumper Islands group and Cormorant Channel Marine Park. This passage boasts abundant marine life due to the fast moving waters. The area was beautiful and we enjoyed watching the rain bounce off the still sea as we cut through the water. Weynton Passage was nice to paddle at slack tide, but, we did not want to linger as getting caught in the coming flood tide would be dangerous. As we rounded the north side of Hanson Island the skies cleared and the sun shone upon us, lifting our spirits. We were now looking into the body of water known as Blackfish Sound (Blackfish is another name for Orca). We explored the islands and islets off the north shore of Hanson and listened to the Vessel Traffic Service see if any large craft would be coming through Blackfish. There was no traffic heading our way so we decided to take advantage of the calm weather and ride the flooding tide. We paddled hard across the 3km crossing to our final destination – Flower Island.

*Parsons Bay with Vancouver Island mountains in the backdrop*

We spent the rest of the day setting up camp with tarps in anticipation of the wet weather in the forecast. The afternoon and evening was sunny and warm as we layed out on grassy bluff overlooking Blackfish Sound and Blackney Passage watching marine birds float in the wind. Quiggs enjoyed jumping off the rocks and even enticed us to join him for a quick dip in the invigorating water.

*Quiggs diving into Blackfish Sound*

*Quiggs enjoying a game of stick*

*Cruise ship heading through Blackney Passage*

*Heather with Fresh Rock and Slate Point*

DAY TWO – 21km of paddling

*Loop route on day 2 - red line (click to enlarge)*

The wind howled and it poured rain on our tent all night however, we stayed dry. We slept in to catch up from last night rising around 9am and the rain stopped shortly after. We had a relaxing breakfast and listened to the marine forecast over coffee and hot chocolate. The weather sounded decent with light winds in the morning building to 10-20 knots in the afternoon. As the sun was coming up we decided to paddle up Indian Channel to Village Island.

*Looking towards West Passage (leads to Village Channel)*

Our second day would take us into the most southern portion of the Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park. We would love to take a month and explore the entire area, but we would enjoy the three days we had. The paddle through the Star Islets and Sarah Islets was enjoyable, however, as we entered Indian Channel we found ourselves paddling into a stiff wind.

*Great Blue Heron on Star Islets*

We found some refuge as we entered the Carey Group of Islands. We paddled hard between the islands, resting on the lee side of each island. The final push from Ralph Island to Cecil Islets proved to be the biggest test with strong winds opposing the flooding tide providing for 3-4 foot chop. As we paddled into Village Island we were greeted by a couple of porpoise – a welcome site. We explored Village Island and the abandoned village of Meem Quam Leese (Mamalilaculla).

*Village Island*

The village was inhabited until 1960. The village had multiple houses in differing states of disrepair, a fallen totem, fish cleaning tables, a long house and other structures. There used to be tours run on the island but are no longer being offered. Due to this the trails were grown over with blackberry brambles. We fought our way through what was left of the trails gaining multiple scratches and battle scars along the way. The historical significance and remaining cultural sites were well worth the small abrasions.

*Fallen Totem*

*Portion of fallen totem*

*Portion of fallen totem*

*Vegetation engulfing this home*

The white shell beach was absolutely beautiful and we decided to soak up the sun while we looked upon the picturesque shoreline.

It was 3:30pm and the tide was turning to ebb and we paddled with both wind and tide at our back to our camp at Flower Island. We returned to camp via Village Channel and the Indian Group of Islands. This was a series of island and islets that offered neat shores and bird life. We returned to camp by 5:00pm and enjoyed a good meal and watched a beautiful sunset with the sound of porpoise fishing in Blackfish Sound.

*Birds floating over Blackfish Sound*

DAY THREE – 19 km of paddling

*Day 3 route - green line on right side of Hanson Island*

The marine forecast had indicated that poor weather was coming on Monday afternoon. We needed to cross through Blackney Passage at slack tide as during the flooding and ebbing tides fast currents create tidal rips and whirlpools making for water. Due to the inclement weather and timing of the tides we woke up a 4pm to break camp with plans of being on the water at 5am. Our hope was to make it to Parson Island so we could wait for the slack tide at around 6am (I have read that the turn can come early in this area). As we broke camp we listened to the Vehicle Traffic Service and started to hear a parade of cruise ships were going to be rounding Cracroft Point from 4:45am to 5:15am. These massive ships kick up huge wakes and it is not recommended being close to these ships in small craft. We waited at camp with a packed canoe for the last of the wakes to hit the shore. We were off at 5:30 and paddled hard before sunrise to Parson Island. As we paddled we heard the sound of porpoise blowing 25-50 meters off the starboard side, an eerie sound in the dark while on the water. We arrived at Blackney Passage at 6:15 and were startled by three porpoise jumping right off the bow of the canoe. This seemed to give us the spark we needed and we quickly paddled across Blackney Passage and tucked into two small islands off the east side of Hanson Island. The current was starting to ebb and required us to continue with our pace to round the south end of Hanson Island. The rain started to pour and we paddled in some moderate chop along Hanson Island and crossed to Blinkhorn Peninsula and back to Telegraph Cove.

While the weather was not optimal the trip was great. We would love to return with the time to explore more of what this region has to offer. From what we hear the further into the park you go the less people and more beautiful the area becomes.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jack's Augerpoint Trail, Strathcona Park - July 26-27, 2008

Strathcona Provincial Park is the oldest park in British Columbia and offers some of the best hiking opportunities on the Island. The park is especially noted for long high ridge routes above the tree line. Heather and I have plans on exploring some of the beauty that this park has to offer, however to this point the call of the canoe has occupied our early summer adventures. I have been interested in taking a solo trip (overnighter) in the past, but the stars just never seemed to align. This past weekend when Heather was heading over to the Mainland for a conference I decided this is my chance! Quietly jumping out of my socks (excited) all week, Friday came and the weather was showing off and on rain - "who cares!".

I packed up Thursday evening, so when I arrived home after work on Friday I grabbed a bite to eat, the dogs, my gear and off we were. The plan was to sleep in the back of the truck near the trailhead Friday night and get an early start Saturday morning. I arrived to the trailhead area shortly after 9pm and got set up. I usually leave the back window propped open to let the air flow, all the hot air from the two dogs and myself can make the truck really warm. I woke up at about 6am to a cloudy misty morning, but that wasn't the worst. The nasty no-see-um bugs were out and apparently they are no-hear-ums as well, I was covered from head to toe in bug bites.

I grabbed a quick breakfast and fed the dogs, we were off shortly after 7am. The day, being overcast and cool, was perfect for the trail I was about to encounter. The trail starts about 20km south of the Hwy 28 junction and is marked with a faint blue arrow on the road (need to look carefully to see). This trail is not maintained up to Provincial Park standards and thus does not have the typical footbed and trail posts. The old, provincially maintained, trail burnt in a forest fire and a member of the Comox District Mountaineer Club (Jack Shark) built this trail, hence the name. A series of switchbacks snakes its way up the steep ridge, bring your lungs you are going to need them! The trail bed is easily discernible, just know that it is constantly switch backing as there are a few game trails that head off from the trail which could cause some confusion. After two hours you will come upon an unnamed lake, a welcome destination for the dogs! This area would be suitable to set up camp, however, I am sure the bog-like lake would bring the bugs out in droves. If you think you are done with the unrelenting climb, you are not so make sure you get some water if you are low. The trail continues to contour around some large rock outcrops and proceeds to contour around some large boulder fields from past rock-slides. You will finally come upon a rock rock slide with much smaller stones which denotes the start of a much tighter series of switchbacks. As you near the end of this set of switchbacks you will be greeted to an expansive show of arctic lupine. As you are in the subalpine this is common place for flora, but I was unaware that it would grow so vigorously in such a disturbed place as a rock slide. A few more leg burning switchbacks and you will have gained a pleasant little plateau with some subalpine tarns and flatter terrain suitable for setting up camp. Unfortunately the clouds had really moved in and a decision on whether to set up camp or continue to hike 45 minutes of cross-country terrain to reach the next suitable area for a camp.

Pleasant Plateau in Subalpine

As visibility was still decent I decided to move forward to the next suitable camp. This found me contouring around a large rock outcrop and over the shoulder of an unnamed bump. With the clouds moving in further and the fear of possible rain, not to mention my tired legs, I decided to stop at the next available spot beside a nice little tarn.

Tent in the Clouds

As it was only 1:30pm my plan was to explore the surrounding plateau, however with the clouds so thick I stayed close to camp. I was happy to have set-up camp and eluded getting wet from any rain so the dogs and I spent the afternoon watching the clouds blow through, reading, stretching and relaxing.

A small cloud break revealing Buttle Lake below

Small cloud break

The dogs were weary

I woke up the next morning at 6am and the clouds were thick. I lounged around and had breakfast and by about 7:30am it looked like it would start to break. I packed up the day pack in anticipation of clearer skies and by about 8:45am visibility improved and the sun began to shine.

Video of cloud break at about 8:20am

Views up Buttle Lake at 8:45am

I continued over a rounded hump and descended towards Jack Shark Lake. From here I gained the ridge had a good look at the route to both Augerpoint Mountain and Syd Watts, both of which looked like fairly easy scrambles.

Ridge line followed to gain the saddle

View of Jack Sharp Lake and the Oyster Creek drainage

Views would go forever

View of the saddle

As I gained the saddle some more weather was starting to move in, I decided it would be safest to make my way back to camp before it hit. As I came down the ridge towards Jack Sharp Lake dark clouds and rain covered the Augerpoint Mountain area and my decision was vindicated.

Clouds moving over Augerpoint (you can hear the wind blowing!)

I headed back to camp, broke camp and enjoyed the cross-country terrain and views across Buttle Lake. I returned to the switchbacks and after about 3 1/2 hours of knee-knocking we were glad to take a dip in Buttle Lake.

Although I was not able to summit either mountain, it was still a great trip. I improved my route finding skills, managed route finding in the clouds well and made good decisions and interpreted the weather well - a great confidence building trip. If I had any tips for anyone looking at this route it would be to take your lightweight gear setup if you have one, the first four hours will remind you why you did!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sayward Forest Canoe Route - July 11-13, 2008

We took a few days vacation to create a four-day weekend and planned on doing either a canoe or backpack trip. With Oliver's (dog) health concerns we decided a canoe trip would be best, if he was up for a foray. We gathered a trip report from the Campbell River Tourism Branch that indicated the Sayward route may take up to 10 days. This was a far cry from the 4 days that most guide books indicate. I spoke to a few others and decided that we have enough experience to complete in at least 4 days, Sayward Forest Canoe Route is was!

To ensure we maximized our time we drove up to Campbell River on Thursday evening. We pulled up to Mohun Lake Forest Recreation Site (our starting point) by 11pm with two other parties already there. Considering it was dark and we did not want to disturb the others we moved things around and crowded into the back of the Jimmy, Quiggs got shot-gun and Heather, Oliver and I squeezed into the back. I arouse by 7:30 and took the boys down to the lake for a drink, the others were not up yet so I sat on the tailgate of the truck and enjoyed the serene setting. By about 8am others were moving so I tugged on Heather and we sprung into action. After chatting with one of the other groups and eating some granola we were off shortly after 9am.

The view up from the west arm of Mohun Lake.

Not sure what we were in for, we enjoyed the calm waters and paddled up to the north arm of Mohun. After about 1 hour of paddling we reached the mouth of the north arm and stopped for a snack. The boys requested some mandatory stick play!

Looking back at Mount Albert Edward

Oliver grabbing a drink at our lunch stop.

As we reached the north arm we needed to gracfully navigate through a small narrow to reach the portage (could be a carry-over in late summer. The views behind us at this point were wonderful.

Strathcona Park from North Arm of Mohun Lake.

The portage was easy to find, center right of the bay, with a small campsite and an enclosed pit toilet. We carried on with the portage to Twin Lake and the swamps. The portage was well maintained, however, a few of the bridges may cause trouble in the next 5-10 years. There were a few canoe rests for those looking for a break on the 1.6km portage. We do all of our portages in two trips, this allows me to enjoy the portage without a canoe on my head and makes for lighter loads - enjoy the journey!

We reached the Twin Lake swamp and had a short paddle to another portage. This portage lead to a dried up swamp and left us with a decision to make. We figured the only option was to line the canoe while walking through the muck. Unfortunately, we did not take any pictures as the cameras were sealed up in their dry bag - it was messy. Heather did take this one video prior to the swamp-walk.

The dogs mucked through the swamp and had to contend with the bugs, they were nasty. We got the canoe over a few abandoned beaver dams and put Oliver in the canoe. Quiggs still had lots of energy so we let him swim alongside the canoe until we hit Twin Lakes. A very short paddle found us on the west end of Twin Lakes and the Forest Recreation Site. To find the portage you walk out to the logging road turn left and cross the bridge and find the portage on the other side of the road immediately after the bridge. The 0.8km portage was well maintained, but had a few good hills. We hit our destination of Amor Lake and looked forward to finding a nice site to set-up for the evening. Shortly after entering the water we had some wonderful views of Golden Hinde and the Behinde in Strathcona Park.

The Hinde and the Behinde

We were looking for the sites found in the Backroads Mapbook called "Sterling Island and Sterling Beach Sites". We found no sign of them (did not complete an exhaustive search) and continued on to a small island that was home to a small site with pit toilet (courtesy the Comox Paddling Club). A family was here and they mentioned some nice beach sites on the west side of the lake. As we paddled across Heather snapped this picture of Mount Albert Edward peaking over the mountains.

Mount Albert Edward

We pulled up to lovely beach site with pit toilet (courtesy of Comox Paddling Club again) and a cooking area built on an old root system (quite interesting). We set up the tent and enjoyed a nice meal followed by a swim, some reading and more yahtze! We decided to have a small fire as the sun went down which capped off a great day.

Campfire on the beach

Heather giving a tired Oliver some love!

After sleeping in until 8:30am we decided to enjoy the beach spot a little and had a nice swim and took our time heading out in the morning. We pushed off by about 11am and had a 2km paddle to the portage to Surprise Lake. The portage was home to Mr. Canoehead Recreation Site with spots to set up camp. Surprise Lake was a short paddle and lead us to the longest portage on the route, to Brewster Lake. The portage trail meets up with a logging road, however, the trail continues on the left hand side of the road. We took out first load through the trail (a few fall-downs, requires some attention), but took the last load (with canoe) on the logging road (save 10 minutes). The views at Brewster were amazing!

Mount Albert Edward

Mount Albert Edward and Marble Meadows area

Heather took a short video of the panorama and added a little Birthday Wish

By this time we were getting hungry and pulled off on a nice beach with a beautiful backdrop. As we were quite hot from the portage and paddling I pumped some more water while Heather put together lunch. Such a beautiful spot begged us to hop in for another dip!

Beautiful spot for a swim

We got on our way and headed to the portage that lead to Gray Lake. The wind was still down and the paddling was smooth. As we neared the end of Gray Lake we noticed a log jam on an old decrepit trestle. Luckily the pull-out for the portage was before this mess and we walked through a bunch of campers at the Gray Lake Forest Recreation Site. One gentleman was out in a floating chair with a cold beer and we pondered who had things straight, us or him?

NOTE: The Forest Service has posted a sign (June 2008) indicating that one should take the portage route due to a log jam. As you come to the normal put in (on the other side of the trestle log jam) you will notice a deer cut to the left, DO NOT take this, it looks as though a canoe would be difficult to get through the tight quarters. We decided to paddle across to the next portage that goes around the rapids - this way was clear all the way to Whymper Lake. I would highly suggest staying away from any of the log jams, they can be very dangerous. Footing will rarely be stable and the water runs quite quickly under the jam creating a tricky current. We portaged around all of the log jams along the way.

After feeling like we were carrying our gear in and out of the canoe more that we were paddling we were happy to finally reach Fry Lake. Fry Lake is car accessible and showed, there were campers and people skirting the shores. We were tired and really wanted a spot that we did not have to worry about the dogs bothering others. We found a sandy spit at the mouth of Campbell Lake and decided to make camp. A quick meal, swim and fire and we were sound asleep, regardless of the rowdies on Fry Lake.

Sunset looking back at Fry Lake

We paddled on the large Lower Campbell Lake blessed with another calm day. In the distance you could see the Coast Mountains on the Mainland. The lake was obviously man-made as the large tree stumps underwater were obviously created by damming in the area (Strathcona Dam I suspect). There were car accessible sites all along the north shore of the lake and our destination was Gosling Bay Recreation Site. This portage linked together two logging roads and a small trail that lead to Gosling Lake. The one logging road had a steady grade, we decided to have lunch on Gosling Lake before our final push. With three small lakes left we felt we would be done easily by the early evening. We encountered our first wind on Gosling, however, the short paddle was not difficult. A look behind us gave us out last views of Strathcona.

Glad we took pictures

The portage from Gosling Lake lead us to Higgins Swamp Channel (easily passable with a little care) and to Higgins Lake. This small lake lead to another small portage to Lawier Lake and our final 1km paddle to the end of the route. A beautiful trip, well marked portages, a swamp walk and a little adversity equalled a wonderful trip. The one downfall was the amount of car accessible sites along the way taking away from the "wilderness feel" and made finding a campsite difficult at times. All in all a nice short canoe route!

Emma Lake - Sept. 13-15, 2007

This is a little late, but better now than never. We did this trip last fall in mid-September and had a blast!
Heather and I decided to check out the intriguing Emma Lake and South Powell Divide area. We have talked of doing a longer traverse in the area, and figured this would make for a good reconnaissance mission. The plan was to relax after a long summer and enjoy some of the beautiful scenery that this area has to offer.

Day One

We took the second ferry over from Earl's Cove to Saltery Bay and drove up the well maintained Goat Lake Main. This is quite an enjoyable drive, taking in some of the many lakes in the area, many of which make up the Powell River Forest Service Canoe Route (also on our list). We followed along on the map and turned right on to what we felt was the B Branch (not marked), we were correct and passed through the major washout and up to the trail head.

Trail post indicates the start of the trail.

We ate lunch on top of our truck and fought off bugs and took in the mountain views. The trail was easy to follow and crossed a few slides. The trail turned left and headed up a steep incline with creek left. The bugs were thick and the trail steep.

Heather grinding her way to gain the ridge.

About half way up to Maria Lake there are a few spots to step out onto the granite slabs to cool off in the creek, the dogs loved this. We got to Maria Lake with views north towards Mount Alfred and it's icefields. Mount Alfred is the highest mountain on the south Powell Divide.

Views to Mount Alfred from Maria Lake

The trail turned west and popped out onto a rock slide for a moment and back into the bush. Shortly after this you start to get above the tree line and begin to see Canada Ridge, which we gained after about 2.5 hours (with loaded packs). A few shots of the stunning glacier sculpted granite and a short ramble down takes you to the Emma Lake Cabin. This is a well stocked and well maintained cabin and made for a lovely spot.

Looking north on Canada's Ridge.

The Forest Service Recreation Site - Emma Lake Cabin (Classic Gothic Design)

Day Two

As I said the plan was to relax, so we slept in, had breakfast and got hiking by about 10am. The destination was to visit the chilly waters of the Emerald Valley. We crossed a metal bridge and were afforded with beautiful views of Mount Slide and the Beartooth Mountain group west of Powell Lake.

We skirted the SW shore of Emma Lake until we spotted a small mossy line to gain the granite cliffs of Pickles and Puzzles.

A look behind (north) gave us view of Emma Lake and the Thunderdome.

There is a route that goes around Emma Lake, but we had out eyes on the granite cliffs of Pickles and Puzzles and the Emerald Valley.
We rambled around on these massive hunks of rock for awhile, this rambling could be as easy or as hard as you like. The western end of the ridges showed views of Scrub Lake and the Mountains west of Powell Lake.

Heather taking it all in.

We came upon a icy tarn above Emma Lake with the chilly melt water from the Emerald Valley slowly dripping into it. We had an invigorating dip and ate lunch while warming in the sun.

Icy tarn below Snowy Mountain

We continued south across the granite slabs and moved onto a small snowfield and ended by skirting the Emerald Valley with Snowy Mountain to our east and the rest of the South Powell Divide over a small pass to our south. We decided to head back and explore the Emma Creek and Scrub Lake area on the way back as we were feeling a little tired. We took a tonne of lovely pictures, here a just a few...

Quiggs and I checking out one of the many massive granite slabs!

Oliver and Heather enjoying the snowfields.

Beautiful evening shades against the mountains skirting Emma Lake.

Day Three

We headed back the way we came in, after another lazy morning. What a beautiful trip, definitely top 3 to date!