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Two Weeks in Gwaii Haanas July 2-16, 2022

For the first two weeks of July, I led two back-to-back sea kayak expeditions Gwaii Haanas for Green Coast Kayaking. The first was a Southern Route from Raspberry to Samuel’s Rock (with a visit to SGung Gwaii) and the second continued Northward through the Central Route from Samuel’s Rock to Ramsay Island (with a visit to Hot Springs Island).

I finished school at the Haida Gwaii Institute at Kay Ilnagay on June 30th (blog post on that experience coming soon), spent July 1st packing supplies and meeting with the first group of guests, and under the overcast morning of July 2nd I set off towards Gwaii Haanas.


All my personal gear laid out before packing.

Ready to be loaded into a kayak!

Southern Route – July 2-9, 2022


We boarded the Highlander Marine landing craft at 8:30 from the boat launch in Daajing Giids and began our 5 hour journey South towards Raspberry Cove. The ‘us’ who were on the boat were: Myself and Mike (an Assistant Sea Kayak Guide with great knowledge of the area we were paddling and of Green Coast’s operation) along with eight guests – all friends from the Sunshine Coast, BC. Grace was our boat captain for the day.

On our journey, we braved the wind, saw a humpback whale feeding in Hecate Strait, and learned the technique for peeing from a moving vessel. We arrived at Raspberry Cove at 13:30, unloaded our gear, loaded the outgoing group’s supplies onto the boat (and said hi/bye to Kelly and Linnea), and set up our camp for the evening. I taught an introduction to sea kayaking, then Mike led a short paddle around the Bay while I prepared dinner – and kept my radio on in case I was needed on the water. Dinner was Sockeye Salmon and Halibut cooked over the fire with rice, salad, and sk’uu (dried seaweed).

On day two, we paddled Southwest through Houston Stewart Channel to Cape Fanny. We left around 10:00 and arrived at 13:00 for a late lunch and camp. It was a beautifully sunny day so a few members of the group went back into the water in the afternoon to fish – catching five Rockfish and a Green Ling. We cooked the fish over the fire and had them with a Thai green curry and rice for dinner.

On day three we paddled West for a day trip to visit SGung Gwaii, a Haida Village which was abandoned in the early 1900’s and is now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. On the way, we saw a group of humpback whales feeding by the point! When we arrived we were greeted by David, the Haida Watchman stationed there to protect the site. He offered us a tour of the village and made himself available to chat at the watchman cabin afterwards. Sgung Gwaii is an incredible place that really has to be visited in order to be understood – the village site has a collection of standing mortuary poles (other poles were removed) and house pits lining the protected bay. We left Sgung Gwaii at 14:00 and paddled back to Cape Fanny for the night (oh, and we saw some more humpback whales!).



Day four was spent paddling back to Raspberry Cove. This day reminded us that we weren’t the only ones enjoying Southern Gwaii Haanas as we saw groups from Ocean Sound Kayaking, Kingfisher, and Moresby Explorers throughout the day.

Day five was the ‘big one’. We paddled from Raspberry Cove around the headland and into Carpenter Bay – a 10 nautical mile (Nm) day! We awoke to a pod of orcas feeding in front of our camp and we watched them as we ate breakfast. We also visited the house pits which mark the habitation at Benjamin Point before we arrived at Koya Bay (in Carpenter Bay) in the mid afternoon. I’m the evening, Bengie the bear visited us and reminded us to be extra careful with storing our food.

The beautifully calm morning of day five!

Day six was a rest day so we did some exploring around the bay and lounging in the sun!

Day seven was a short crossing of Carpenter Bay to the beach behind Samuel’s Rock. We arrived mid-day, had a lovely lunch of grilled cheese, and made a fire in the intertidal zone.

Day eight was a transfer day so we made pancakes on the fire, reflected on our journey, and prepared to meet Grace and her boat at 14:00.

This group had fantastic energy and I was glad to have shared my first trip in Gwaii Haanas with them. They brought games, homemade grappa, and endless banter – all of which I was happy to share! I also really enjoyed working with Mike – our styles compliment each other well and we had some great laughs.


“This would be a perfect day if it weren’t for all of these breast implants floating everywhere”
– Eija (while looking at moon jellyfish floating in the water)


Central Route – July 9-16, 2022


The second group of guests arrived on the same boat onto which that first group loaded so we gathered on the beach to introduce ourselves. The boat trip South had been long and rough so we took some time to settle into camp and have a warm drink before doing an ‘intro to kayaks’. Kelly was the star of the show this afternoon as she was fresh from a week in town so she led the majority of the leading while I worked on dinner (I was grateful for the time!). Dinner was Halibut, Salmon, rice and Sk’uu (this time I added some fresh hemlock tips and made a sauce too).

This group consisted of a pair of couples from California who were in the middle of an epic road trip North to Tuktoyaktuk, a mother and daughter from Colorado, and a couple from North Vancouver. All seemed to be getting along from the time they stepped off the boat (a good sign!), and the laughs flowed freely.

As predicted in the forecast, day two was wet and windy! We had decided the night prior not to move camps, but rather wait for the storm to pass and drink lots of warm drinks. Weather was something I took for granted in the week prior (most low NW winds and clear skies), but already they were dictating the pace of this week. The winds were especially strong after lunch so we all settled into our tents for a free hours. Once we emerged in the evening, things had calmed and we were able to start a beach fire and watch a lone humpback whale then a small pod of orca swim past our site.

By day three, the winds had calmed significantly and we set about making-up some ground by 12Nm to the abandoned mining town of Jedway. Our morning break beach and lunch site were both challenging landings so we went one-by-one and took care not to loose any kayaks in the surf. A humpback whale (perhaps the same individual from the day prior) visited us during our break! We also had an injured baby deer join us on our lunch beach. It appeared to have tumbled down an embankment and become separated from it’s mother on the beach – heartbreaking. After arriving at Jedway, the sun poked it’s head out from the clouds and a few guests and I went fishing (unsuccessfully) nearby while Kelly prepared dinner.

Our lunch spot on day three. A steep beach at the bottom of a dramatic cliff.

Day four saw us paddling North from Jedway through Barnaby Narrows and up to Section Cove, a distance of 11Nm! This day was windy in the morning, against the current in the afternoon, and cold all day. We had a lunch fire to warn ourselves and ate under the branches of the most spectacular Sitka spruce tree I’ve seen in a long time. I was so fond of the tree that I accidentally walked into a branch while looking down and gave myself a small black eye… oops.

It was also on this day that one of the guests began to feel ill and we realized that we had accidentally returned the first aid kit which contained the COVID tests with the previous group (we still had 2 full FAKs, so no shortage of other supplies). This posed an interesting situation as we couldn’t discount it as a diagnosis, so the guest masked-up, and we all doubled-down on hand washing and distancing. In reality, any contagious illness is treated with this care in the backcountry as it could be a trip-enter for the entire group if it spreads.

Day five was a race against the weather! The winds were forecast as Southerly 10-15 knots in the morning, becoming 20-30 knots in the afternoon (vague timing, I know…) so we needed to reach our destination before the ‘afternoon’. In that effort, we left Section Cove at 9:15 and paddled diligently Northward to a protected beach behind Marco Island, a distance of 10Nm. We arrived at 13:30! Around 16:00 Grace swung into our breach to deliver the missing med kit (with COVID tests) and some tea – what a game changer to have friends with boats. The test turned-out to be positive, and the guest’s partner had also begun to feel ill, so they both masked and kept their distance from the group.

Day six was too windy for us to paddle so we stayed put! The two guests with COVID rested while the rest of us explored the bay, walked up the creek, played Mancala and ‘99’, harvested some licorice fern roots for tea, and ate LOTS of food.

On day seven, the weather was cooperating once again so we paddled the 4Nm across Juan Perez Sound to Ramsay Island. Once we arrived, we ate a quick lunch and headed over to Hot Springs Island for a dip in the springs (except for our two COVID compatriots… they stayed behind with a radio). As with Sgung Gwaii, we called Hot Springs on the radio to ensure there was space for us to visit. She we arrived, we were greeted by Girl and Tyler, the two watchmen at the site, and we went for a nice soak. Hot Springs was bustling with activity while we were there: the Skidegate Youth Centre, the Swan Bay Rediscovery Camp, the Afterglow, and another group of kayakers were all sharing the space… and it was grocery delivery day for the watchmen! Oh, and we also saw a pod of three orcas swim by the beach while we were soaking in the tubs.



On day eight we packed up camp, made some oatmeal and apple pie filling over the fire, and reflected on the trip. At 11:30, Grace arrived in the Highland Ranger Landing craft to pick us up (and drop-off a new group of guests for Kelly to take further North). The boat ride back to Daajing Giids was relatively smooth and even a little bit sunny (!!!). We arrived at the the Green Coast shop at around 15:30 to say our final goodbyes before parting ways. Once I was alone in the shop, I began the process of unpacking and cleaning the gear (but that’s a post for another day).

This week’s group was resilient, and knowledgeable, and curious, and an all-around great time! Despite the challenging weather and illness, we had a really wonderful experience and covered some serious miles.



On our Paddle to Alaska next summer we’ll be keeping a journal of our progress so you can follow along with our adventures. This post is a test of a journal-style format we might employ, so we’d love your feedback. Was it too long? Too short? Lacking any specific details? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


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Cheers,

Nathan

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