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Sanesh & Nathan Paddle Haida Gwaii Part 3: K’uuna Island

This is the final post in a three part series about Sanesh’s trip to visit Nathan in Haida Gwaii, including their circumnavigations of Chaatl and Louise Island and their witnessing of Yaghu ‘Laanaas pole raising & potlatch! Check out part 1 here and part 2 here to get caught up.

After some back and forth, Nathan and I decided to paddle from Daajing Giids, around Sandspit, South to K’uuna (a village site with watchmen), and then Southeast around K’uuna island. We’d then transit Louise Narrows Northward and end the trip at Moresby Camp. We were lucky enough to score a pickup there from a local guiding outfit, Moresby Explorers (MorEx), who had a couple extra seats in their van returning from a day trip.

A beautiful night looking out over Hecate Strait

We launched around 12:00 after grocery shopping and preparing our boats. We paddled along the north coast of Skidegate Inlet. This took us past Haida Gwaii Heritage Museum. The museum was designed to resemble the Haida Village of Kay (where it is situated). From the water it’s really something special to see. There’s a big beach and a number of long-house inspired buildings with poles visible from the water. It gives you a real sense of how impressive it would have been to approach a Haida Village hundreds of years ago. If you ever go to Haida Gwaii, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you approach the museum from this angle. It’s only about a 1.5h paddle from Green Coast Kayaking. We paddled onward, and stopped for a fast lunch in Sandspit. We bought some fried chicken and chips from the local SuperValu, really outdoorsy lunch! We pushed hard around Sandspit, with the knowledge that if we timed it wrong we could have a 4 nautical mile (Nm) detour just because of the tides. We were able to cross Sandspit just as the tide was falling from high. We had to stay a little far off the coast, but we managed to cross the spit itself with only about 12 inches of water and some light scraping of our kayaks on the bottom. Phew, just in time!

The route around K’uuna Island, with a cheeky shuttle from MorEx. Day 1: Pink. Day 2: Purple. Day 3: Dark Blue. Day 4: Light Blue (MorEx ride in gray)

The rest of the day was a bit of a slog. It was hot, with no shade offered by the sandy beaches to the West nor the Hecate Strait to the East. As I was looking across Hecate, I couldn’t help but think “if there was ever a weather window to cross it, this would be it.” Not that I have any serious interest in doing that. We didn’t quite make our objective on day 1, thanks to the heat and a late start, stopping just North of Gray Bay after about 16Nm. We were moving at our desired pace, but we’d just started late. We set up camp, went for a walk, and went to bed. The view across Hecate was stunning that night.

Sunrise over Hecate Strait

The next day we pushed southwards towards K’uuna. Day 2 was similar to day 1. Sunny. Beautiful. Windless. Hot. After requesting to land at K’uuna, the practice required at Watchmen Sites, we were invited ashore. We made it to K’uuna in the late afternoon, between two MorEx tours. The Watchmen were occupied with another tour and preparing for a visit from their boss - Upsy, so they kindly invited us to look around and offered us a coffee. We really appreciated both. We had the chance to wander on our own and take in the sights, and our coffee, and even got to meet Upsy! After they had done their business, the Watchmen gave us a tour of K’uuna which was really informative. If you make your way to Haida Gwaii, I strongly recommend you visit one of the Watchmen Sites. I feel so grateful to have met these people and to have learned from them, and my only regret of this trip is that I only visited one site. After wandering around some more, Nathan and I said thank you and goodbye. They gifted us a 1 litre tub full of frozen halibut. This was gold! I’d later learn from someone that this particular Watchmen is well known as a prolific food gatherer and halibut fisherman.

Something I learned, the number of rings on a pole is equivalent to the number of potlatches hosted by this person, and is a sign of status. I like that status is associated with redistribution of accrued individual wealth. There’s something we can learn from that

We paddled to our campsite, Skedans Bay, and set up camp. Another clear, beautiful night with East facing views of Hecate Strait. We’d accomplished a big 20Nm day, moving at our target of 4 knots, and had a great experience at K’uuna. A fantastic day, both personally and in terms of paddling achievement.

The second-to-last day of our trip, we pushed around K’uuna island. We saw LOTS of wildlife today. Some seals who were very funny. A pack of 6 or so who popped up very close to Nathan to check him out, and then very close to me to check me out. We also saw a pod of humpbacks, who stayed beside us as we approached Louise Narrows. The paddling today was way more interesting than the last days, as we were sandwiched between coast lines with lots of forest and wildlife to observe. It was particularly interesting to see the impact that forestry had had on this region, even lasting through this day.

Nothing quite like a beautiful sunrise, beautiful view, and a beautiful cup of coffee to get you up in the morning

We got lucky, as we approached Louise Narrows we had a tail wind and were riding the wind waves into the narrows. As we got into the narrows the wind stopped and the current was slack, perfect. The narrows were beautiful, very shallow and very narrow. We radioed ahead to ensure we would not obstruct others’ path. We got a response, so we pulled aside and let the MorEx zodiac pass as we were halfway through the channel. It’s a good thing we radioed ahead, it would have been no fun to force them into an emergency manoeuvre in that narrow space. Once we transited the channel, we stopped briefly to fill up water, and then setup camp.

At this point everything was good, except my feet. My feet were in excruciating pain. My sandals had been rubbing my big toes and caused some nice raw spots. I won’t be using sandals for our trip to Alaska. Crocs or broke! Other than this, no gear issues to report.

It was at this campsite that we cooked up our halibut gift. We foraged some greens from the ocean, and added a little seawater for salt. It was so good! We had a long discussion over cooking tools on the trip. Nathan wants to bring a cast iron pan on which to cook fish. We also decided to buy a stove we could simmer on to cook meals — likely an MSR DragonFly or something similar. Another successful day of 20Nm of paddling at 4 knots. Awesome.

The start of something very tasty!

Our last day was very chill. Our morning started with a quick paddle to Moresby Camp, only about 5Nm including a detour we did just to enjoy the view. We landed, unpacked, and hung out. When our ride showed up a couple hours later, we loaded up in the MorEx van with some other adventurers who were very excited to trade stories. This desire to share seems infectious in Haida Gwaii. I managed to fall asleep on the world's bumpiest bus ride. After being dropped off near the Alliford Bay ferry terminal, we re-loaded our boats and traversed Skidegate Inlet, back to Daajing Giids. I peed this time. And it was cooler. And the water had 1 to 2 foot broadside chop. I really got into the rhythm this time, synchronising my paddle strokes with the chop, angling my boat to use it to my advantage. This crossing was a suffer fest the last time. This time it was fun, and we flew. It was a highlight for me, I felt like my paddling psychology (and paddling technique) improved significantly over the course of this trip.

The following day was my last full day in Haida Gwaii. It was bittersweet. I borrowed Nathan’s bicycle and rode from City Center to Jags – where somehow I was already on a first name basis with some regulars and staff. I then just rode around, took in the sights, saw some eagles, and made my way to the Haida Gwaii Museum.

The Haida Gwaii Museum is beautiful inside and out. Paddling up to it is quite striking, I strongly recommend you view it from the water, or at least the bottom of the beach, if you can!

The Kay Centre has more than can be unpacked in this post, but there is one recurring theme that I want to tap on, a reminder to be humble. The museum has some exhibits which portray the Haida oral history beside a modern scientific understanding. An example, in colloquial terms we use “Sea Level” as an unchanging reference value in our day to day lives. It seems as though the sea has always been at it’s current level - or at least for as long as our conception of western society goes. By contrast, many Haida histories speak of oceans rising and falling 10’s of metres! Hearing this through the lens of “Canada is 150 years old” is shocking, to say the least. That lense, registers as barely a blip here, as the Haida are communicating information that covers 1000’s of years. Geological time scales which few modern societies have existed on. Westerners long chalked this up to “mythology” and “legend” and “stories.” More recent scientific evidence (See: Fedje et. Al, 2018) has demonstrated that the Haida histories of flooding are supported with geological evidence. They are not fiction. It is history.

Why didn’t/don’t westerners listen to Canada’s First Peoples? Clear to me, racism. The lesson for me here is a reminder that experiential learning can drive a first principles understanding. If someone tells us something but does not have the technology to explain “why” it was that way, that does not invalidate their experience, it should drive our curiosity to investigate their experience. Our First Peoples have so much to offer, we just need to listen, and we need to be more humble.

This trip was truly perspective changing for me. The paddling was awesome. Having dipped my toes into some Class IV waters and done some big days, I feel confident for next summer’s trip to Alaska. But, the real takeaways from this trip were all the people, lessons learned, and new perspectives. There’s so much more to unpack and talk about than what I can write on a keyboard, I’ll be talking about this trip for years.

Haawa to the new friends I made and the old friends I reconnected with. Haawa to my family and community that prepared me for this adventure. Haawa Haida Gwaii.

If you have the opportunity to go to Haida Gwaii, make it happen. If you’re not able to make that happen, I’ve listed some books worth reading that I have either read or own from the trip. If you have any recommended reading, please share in the comments. All of these are available from the Haida Gwaii Museum Bookstore. Between these books and the gifts of fish, my suitcase was heavy.

  • The Raven Steals the Light, Bill Reid & Robert Bringhurst

  • The Golden Spruce, John Vaillant

I think everyone in BC should read this book, it links together pieces of our shared (colonial & indigenous) histories and provides a holistic perspective I personally did not have before. It also provides an origin story for some very important people. Amazingly, while reading like fiction, it is a history… A good reminder to keep an open mind.

  • Potlatch as Pedagogy, Sara Florence Davidson & Robert Davidson

  • A Taste of Haida Gwaii, Susan Musgrave

  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management, Charles R. Menzies

This book is more specific and detailed than I’d expected, but that is actually what makes it worth the read. Gives a real appreciation for the timescales First People used to generate knowledge.

  • Shaping the Future On Haida Gwaii, Joseph Weiss

Another must read, in particular for the discussion on the experience of “Haida Time.” Lots of lessons we can learn.

Thanks for reading!

Check out parts 1 and 2 if you want find out how the rest of our trip went. Please consider subscribing to be notified by email when the next post is published.


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