Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Kayaking North Vancouver Island Straits Solo


I woke up soon after 6:00am. Had a breakfast of cereal and coffee from the thermos. The tide was coming fast and the muddy beach where I landed was disappearing fast. It was crucial for me to load the kayak on that beach, as the rocks above were overgrown with sharp barnacles – not the best place to load the kayak. So I had to speed up my departure. Soon I rounded Pearl Island and was heading for Village Island.

Soon I saw a couple of plastic kayaks on the beach – this had to be the place. When I got closer I had noticed several women on shore collecting  berries. The beach was of small gravel and sand. However, I could see lots of broken glass on the bottom. This was not good for my kayak. I mentioned it to one of the women and she had assured me that the glass was blunt, being rolled over with the gravel for dozens of years. Indeed, when I checked several pieces of glass, I could not find any sharp edges.

Still, to be on the safe side, I kept my kayak floating by leaning it against a big smooth rock that was protruding from water, while tying it up to another rock onshore.

The shore was overgrown with various berries, cultivated when this was a populated village and still growing wild covering the open areas as far as I could see.

The women told me that it was permitted to visit the island but warned about the bears often munching on the berries in the area and advised to make “human noises” while in the bushes, to warn them of my presence. Whistling something light I had walked around for a while tasting various berries, satisfying my hunger for fresh vitamins.

Snakes were warming up in sunny spots, but running away as soon as they felt my approach. A woodpecker a bit deeper inland was working on its lunch, adding a pleasant background noise to the serene atmosphere of the place.

According to the guidebooks, this was a Meem Quam Leese village of Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations, abondoned in the 60s, when everyone had relocated to Alert Bay. Everything had gradually fallen into the decay since then. One building was still standing, while others had collapsed.

The totem pole was lying on the ground. Although the carved figures were covered with moss, they were still visible.

Meanwhile, barnacles had taken over a rusty engine lying in the shallow waters just off the beach, gradually extending their grasp. Soon no empty spot would be left.

The wind was picking up, and the tide was soon to turn, so it was time for me to move on. But first, I explored a nearby Native Anchorage, where a trading post used to be. However I did not find anything exciting, except the indescript ruins of some shack. I then turned around and headed for Flower Island, my next campsite. My path took me past picturesque islands.

I could see a number of reefs in the water. Some were above the surface, clearly visible. Some, like the one on the picture below, with a gull standing on top of it, were just below the surface, almost invisible and definitely dangerous.

I had entered Village Channel soon thereafter. Meanwhile, the wind had picked up making it difficult to paddle in the open. I moved closer to the shore that was partially protecting me from the wind and continued paddling along it. After a prolonged and considerable efforts I had to stop for rest. I found a small bay, protected from the wind, had a snack, then switched the GPS on and checked my location on the chart. Contrary to my expectations, I had covered much less ground than I expected: the front wind must have slowed my progress considerably.

I had realized that the rest of my day was going to be longer than I planned, and that I better to continue pressing on. Some time later, I finally saw the West Passage, covered with fog, with Star Islets in front of it.

Soon I could see Flower Island. I headed for its southeast end, where the campsite was. When I came closer, I got an unpleasant surprise: someone was already camping there. I could see several kayaks lying on shore, and people moving behind them.

Buy that time I was assured of my approach of securing the campsites by arriving early, well before the rest of the kayakers, so I did not expect someone beating me in the race to this camp. The closest alternative campsites listed in the guidebook were a couple of nautical miles or almost an hour away at my current speed. I recalled that the guidebook mentioned five tent pads on Flower Island, and decided to talk to the people onshore and to check the site. Maybe the tent pads were spread over a large area and I could camp at the unoccupied spot without disturbing anyone else.

The group onshore had graciously welcomed me allowing to check the site and saying that they would not mind me camping next to them. However, when I walked through the site, I realized that the camping pads were clustered together. Fortunately, I found a small flat area on the beach, a bit away from the camp. This was the tidal zone, but the current tides were not high enough to flood it.

Soon my tent was up. I decided to treat myself to a meal of pasta cooking whatever was left by the traitorous Malcolm Island crows. I got almost two full portions and finished them all as a late lunch or an early dinner.

I had a chat with the kayakers. They were from Seattle, on a five-day trip. Instead of travelling daily, they decided to stay in two different locations, and Flower Island was one of them. This was their second day there. While on the island, they had seen a black bear foraging on a beach across the strait, orcas in Blackfish Sound and big whales while kayaking near White Cliff Islets in Queen Charlotte Strait, a two hour paddle from the island. Armed with a binocular, one of them was always on a lookout for the marine wildlife, and several times I had been called to see the orcas, unfortunately too far away from the shore for a good photograph.

One of the kayakers was an ecologist. We had an interesting discussion about the native people in different areas. He had argued that the hunter-gatherer societies in food-rich areas, like the Vancouver Island coast, had much better nutrition than those primarily relying on the agriculture. The evening had treated us to a picture-perfect landscape.

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