Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Kayaking Queen Charlotte Strait Solo


Previous morning, I had switched my alarm off to get an extra hour of sleep. This morning, the crows had made certain that I woke up on time. Two pairs had been carrying on a loud conversation over my tent that was going on and on and on. Finally, I had checked my watch -- it was already close to 5:30am, time to start my day.

After a quick breakfast of rice and coffee I had started packing. Then I saw a red disk, just above the tree line, so large and dark that it took me a moment to accept that this was the rising sun. Stopping all my work, I had taken a few pictures.

When the light improved, I photographed the bay and the Old Man's Beard Moss on a tree next to my camp.

This photography had delayed my departure and I only left after 9:00am. The sea was flat as a mirror: no wind, no waves. On my way out, I was hoping to pass through a narrow passage between two rocky outcrops in front of my camp: this was more for fun than for saving my time.

Unfortunately, I was too late: my early morning photography had delayed me by more than half an hour. The tide was falling and by now the approach to the passage had become too shallow for my kayak. I had to turn around and get out of the shallowing bay.

I had retracted my steps and reached the open waters through Sunday Pass, between Angular Island and Narrows Islet, then turned south and started paddling toward White Cliff Islets, with their white cliffs already visible. My initial plan was to explore some islands along the way. However, I had a late departure and in the first hour of paddling had stopped many times to photograph Rhinoserous Auklets, on the water and in flight.

After all these delays, I had decided to paddle straight to the islets, while the seas were still quiet.  I had a quick lunch at 11:00am. The wind had started picking up, just a light breeze at this point. Still, a sign that I needed to speed up, as I was paddling in the completely open waters. In the next hour I had crossed two current streams, one before and one at Knight Inlet, both quite strong and visibly separated from the rest of water.

I kept pressing forward. From the very beginning White Cliff Islets looked deceptively close, yet I had been paddling almost three hours and still had not reached them. At some point I had started seeing a red dot on the larger islet, where the camp site was. From this distance, I could not tell if this was a tent, someone's red jacket or a navigation mark on the shore. In any case, it was a sign of human presence and I started worrying that the campsite might be taken. 30 minutes later I could tell that this was indeed a red tent. Only now, after seeing an object of known size,  I had realized how far the islets still were, and the great distance I still had to cover, so I pressed on again. At some point I had started seeing two people moving on the islet. To my delight, the red tent had collapsed: it was very likely that the people were packing up and leaving. When I got close, I could see a couple on the shore preparing a double kayak for the departure.

I had landed nearby, on a sloppy rocky outcrop covered with barnacles and weeds. The landing and unloading the kayak was manageable, although I slipped once on the sea grass covering the rock and cut my water-tight pants on the barnacles hidden beneath the grass. I also had to mind the light surf and fight off the motorboat wakes, especially a very strong one from an inconsiderate whale watching zodiac that had passed very close to the islet. I had asked the couple about the camping area: the good tent site was up on the hill, on top of the islet. It was already close to 1:00pm. The couple had soon departed, heading to Benjamin Group where I stayed a day before. The seas were already building up and the wind strengthening. I was glad to be at the end of my day's journey.

Portaging my stuff up the hill to the camp site took some time. The sun was shining hard, and the breeze was not strong enough to cool down the air. I had covered my kayak with everything available to protect from the direct sun. Someone had built a driftwood shelter next to the campsite. I used it as a cover while cooking my lunch. Then I had rested in its shade. When I woke up one hour later, I saw a single kayak approaching the islet, with another single and a double some distance behind. I had talked to the kayakers. Their plan was to stay on the islet for two nights. I had shown them a couple of places suitable for tents that I was aware of, close to my campsite, but they had located a better place, a second campsite, a comfortable distance away from mine.

It had been quite cold since mid-afternoon, as the strong wind was now freely blowing over the islet. I had put on a warm hat and a jacket, and went for a photo walk. Captured a number of images of the islet shore.

Soon thereafter, I got invited to the kayakers camp.  Regretfully, I had to decline a dinner invitation, as I recently had a very filling meal, but I truly enjoyed an appetizer and a chat. Two couples, they had paddled around 25 kilometers from a campsite on an island in Beware Passage, close to an abandoned First Nations village site. I had read about this abandoned village in the guidebook. In the days of its glory it was an inspiration for many artists, including Emily Carr. According to the kayakers, there were only ruins left, but I was still curious and had decided to see this place, since I still had extra days in reserve.

25 kilometers was more than I would have wanted to cover over a day trip. I had therefore decided to stop for a night on Flower Island, around 10 kilometers away, in the direction of my travel. During the last year kayaking trip, I had stayed three nights on Flower Island, photographing humpback whales that were passing very close to the shore. If the marine wildlife near Flower Island was as plentiful as the year before, I could stay there for another day. It was already close to sunset when I had left the hospitable camp.

While returning to my camp, I saw a seal resting on a rocky outcrop, bending in a way that I initially mistook it for a piece of driftwood. When I checked the same area later, the seal was gone, maybe gone fishing, maybe it did not like the human presence on the islet.

 Went to bed after 10:00pm, with the alarm set for 5:30am.

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