Haida Gwaii 2013 Trip Report

Haida Gwaii in 2013 turned out to be a different trip than the trips in 2005 & 2009 (click to see photo galleries). Click here for photos from the 2013 trip. Included are photos for the road trip and a stop in Glacier National Park for a week.

Here is a guide to the trip highlights.

The weather was far different than previous years. Drier and calmer. This made paddling the west side far more enjoyable. Note the blues skies and seas that are 3′ or less. Oh and notice the other paddlers. Two people Shayne and Matt from Vancouver Island were on the same ferry as myself and doing the same trip. This was the start to ~2 weeks of paddling together.

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This wasn’t the case all the time. The second day became the typical pattern, one far more predictable in that winds would rise around the points and in the afternoon. A couple of times they rose to a degree it was time to start looking to pull out. But rounding a point would reduce them. Good thing about the wind? It was from the northwest, a tail wind!

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A good thing about traveling with Shayne was that he was good at fishing. He put himself thru college working a fishing boat on the islands. It was multiple evenings with him that fresh Rock Cod fillets would get delivered.

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The calmer conditions enabled landing for lunch at places one wouldn’t consider in bigger conditions. Below is the landing in Portland Bay. Given the size of the cobbles and the size of logs above the high tide line, I was glad to not be spending much time in such an exposed place.

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The weather did give us times to have a weather day and catch up on our rest. Here at Husband Harbor an all day rain settled in and we took the time off. Interesting thing was the wind didn’t come with the rain, so we were able paddle the next day. Same thing for two other weather days we took.

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Most interesting was Wells Harbor. An earthquake, the second largest in Canadian history stuck the area months prior. There were numerous mud slides on the surrounding hills and the wood on the beach came from a tsunami triggered by the quake. Never seen such a density of crushed & mangled wood on a beach before.  There was a certain tension being here knowing it could happen again…

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The wildest and biggest waves came on the longest stretch without an easy takeout – 25 miles from Wells Harbor to Cape Freeman. Overfalls or an uneven ocean bottom combined with the tidal currents to disrupt the waves. We had 6′ waves grow to over 9′ and start breaking randomly around us. Fortunately none broke near us but it was quite a ride for a couple of hours.

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Ninstints, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an amazing place. Totem poles from over a hundred years ago still stand. Haida, the First Nation people have Watchman, or people who protect the site from looters and give tours. Our guide was Kenny. For over three hours Kenny told of Haida history, customs, stories and heritage.

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After Ninstints, Shayne & Matt and I parted ways. It was good to paddle with them but we differed on routes we were taking on the east side. The east side offered a different world of paddling. With a lot of islands that offer protection, calm seas and winds were a daily occurrence. Still a wild and beautiful land. Only challenge was the dry summer. Campside creeks that ran normally were dry and one needed to search for larger sources of fresh water.

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The earthquake also had other effects, it caused the hot springs on Hot Springs Island to go dry. Good news is that they are coming back with trickles of water increasing in volume and temperature the week before I arrived. And this had happened after a previous earthqauke. The bad news is that it wasn’t possible to get a good soak! Below is one of the dry pools.

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Then finally, a photo from the ferry on the way back to the mainland.

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From here it was on to Glacier National Park for a week of hiking.

After three trips and 70 days of paddling on the islands, it is still a magical spot for me. The Haida add a magic like no other place, except maybe what the west of Ireland offers. And as always, weather dominates. The trips in 2005 & 2009 were dominated by weather and had a significant number of weather days. This year the weather at times seemed too good to be true.

So which year is my favorite? I can’t say, each one offered such a unique view of the place. I can say the 2009 trip was my least favorite but I would still take the experience that trip offered despite not being able to accomplish any of its goals. In the end, as a paddler, one responds to the weather and allows it to form the trip. For it is often in the unplanned, that gives a trip the alchemy that makes for an intoxicating potion.
Sam

 

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