Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Princess Royal Island: 

My First Adventure in the Wonderland of Bears, Wolves and Salmon


I did manage to get some sleep in my seat, thanks to earplugs and eye shades, but it was not very comfortable. Started the day with a large wake-up coffee, then a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and sausage, followed by a freshly baked delicious muffin that I could not finish, leaving for lunch. The morning was passed taking pictures, chatting with passengers, and exploring the ferry.

Ship Bell, Queen of Chilliwack

We stopped at Bella Bella for more than an hour and I had tried photographing salmon jumping all over the bay, with little success. Same gentleman who talked to me at Port Hardy had explained that these were all hatchery salmon. Fry, released from a hatchery up the creek, had no troubles getting down the stream into the bay. However, the creek was too shallow for grown salmon to enter. The fish, determined to spawn, had been congregating in the bay not being able to get up the creek, giving local fishermen and residents an opportunity for good repetitive catches.

Hatchery Creek, Bella Bella

Once the ferry had departed Bella Bella, I got engaged in an interesting discussion with one of the passengers who had made a point that photographs of nature should never be used to earn money, as nobody was paying back the Nature for providing its spectacular scenery and subjects. I had to ruminate on this for a while. Indeed, had the Nature benefited in any way from all the photographs, paintings and drawings, writings and poems? After a while, I had concluded that good works would help people discover, appreciate, admire and protect the Nature, so indeed the Nature would get something in return, be it an old growth forest saved from the logging, a majestic animal not shot for a trophy, or an entire area preserved as a park after its beauty had been so vividly depicted in a photograph or a story. With this moral dilemma solved, I could concentrate again on photographing the views that the Nature had offered me along the way.

Mountain in Fog near Bella Bella

It was the lunch time, and drizzling. Chicken with fries, same as last night, followed by a tea with muffin leftovers made my meal, likely the last civilized food for five weeks, if everything would go as planned. My mobile phone and one of camera batteries were getting topped off from a 110V outlet -- again, my last opportunity before switching to a solar panel and an external backup battery that I had taken with me on this trip, expecting lots of rain and not much sun.

The ferry arrived to Klemtu around 3:00pm, as scheduled, in by now persistent drizzle. Disembarked and joined everyone else waiting under partial protection of a visitor office roof eave for the luggage carts to arrive. After unloading my luggage, asked a local person who was with me on the ferry if there was a place where I could camp overnight in Klemtu. He directed me to a park next to the visitor office: a 5x10m grass & gravel area already hosting some kayaks and boats. Another local person had confirmed that I did not need to get a permission from anyone for camping there; he asked me about my plans. When I had mentioned kayaking, possibly circumnavigating Princess Royal Island, weather permitting, he replied that I had chosen a wrong timing. September was a weather season, he said, and I should get back on the ferry, while it was still there, and go back home, or they would end up with another goner. On this note he had ended the conversation. Not a very encouraging message, however it was something to take very seriously.... Not to turn back, but to be extra cautious and realistic about what could and could not be done on this trip. Indeed, all kayakers I had met so far had already completed their journeys and were heading back home. However, unlike most of pleasure kayakers, my goal was to experience and photograph the rainforest at a height of a salmon run, not to enjoy a pleasant trip. I had plenty of time and a very flexible plan; it was still a go.

Meanwhile, the ferry was staying in Klemtu for several more hours. This was a wonderful tradition: the local people could come aboard and enjoy a meal. There were no restaurants in Klemtu.

Queen of Chilliwack docked in Klemtu

With my will to go on still as strong as it was before, I had moved my luggage to the park area and went to the band store, just 50m away. It was Sunday and the store was closed for customers; however, several people were busy unloading a truck that arrived on the ferry. They had confirmed that the store did not carry a bear spray or camping gas canisters, and no-one else in Klemtu did. This had finally clarified my travel direction: no point heading counter-clockwise into the grizzly country without a bear spray. In addition, it was likely going to be cloudy/rainy most of the time, so no views on spectacular mountains. My path was now certain: clockwise via Meyers Passage and into Laredo Inlet, and then see how the weather would behave. Another implication was that, without gas canisters, I would have to rely on my wood stove in all weather: the trip was going to be much more challenging than I initially hoped.

It was already past 4:00pm. There was no sense in trying to leave this afternoon: I would have needed several hours to get my kayak ready for a departure. According to the guidebook, the closest campsite was at least a couple of paddling hours away. I was not keen on navigating unfamiliar waters in dark. I had pitched my tent covering it and all my luggage with a large tarp, and used a pause in the drizzle to explore the harbour. First, I needed to find a good place to launch my kayak tomorrow. Soon, I had located a suitable area, covered with fish leftovers.

Discarded Halibut, Klemtu

Discarded Salmon, Klemtu

Fresh large chunks of halibut and salmon carcases were scattered all over the area. It was interesting that only choice pieces had been removed from the fish. Lots of meat was still there. I had learned later that leaving the fish on the shore was an offering to the wildlife to come and share the bounty. Indeed, a couple of ravens were already busy working on halibut.

Ravens with Discarded Halibut, Klemtu

With the launch area located, I headed along the shore to a nearby pier, to get a better view and photograph salmon jumping all over the bay.

Jumping Salmon, Klemtu

On the pier, I had found two young men fishing. One was unsuccessful -- he had offered me his fishing gear to try. Had to decline -- I wanted to photograph. Another fisherman had had more luck and a bucket full of dog salmon to prove it.

Catch of Klemtu Fisherman

It was time for the ferry to depart. Despite my bravado, I had mixed feelings: would the warning I got earlier turn into a prophesy? Bad thoughts aside, I had photographed the ferry sailing away, past the First Nation's Big House.

Queen of Chilliwack Leaving Klemtu

Back to my camp for a dinner: a bagel with cheese, and an apple. Then, at the visitor office, I had filled my water bottles with 20 litres of potable water: this was as much as I could fit in my kayak, considering that I was also starting with five weeks of food. It was getting dark: time to go to bed; I had set my alarm for 5:00am.

Overnighting in Klemtu

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