A second after hitting the water, the eagle was struggling to pull the fish out of the water. Flapping its wings, it finally managed to pick up its prey and reach a rock to enjoy the meal.
As I left the large bay of Desolation Sound behind me, I was also leaving my last possible place to communicate. With no phone coverage whatsoever, it was freeing to be cut off from the constant assault of the outside world. It was just me, my kayak and the people I might encounter along the way. Isolation is interesting, and I must say I enjoyed it. Although I was pretty scared of bears (especially at first) the fact that I had control of my destination and enough supplies for the days in front of me was great. I wasn’t particularly worried about not seeing anyone, and I must say that with all the daily activities there bearly time to think about it. The only moment that I did get worried was when I was being pushed by the wind and waves up Toba Inlet halfway through the trip. The sensation that getting out of the fiord depended only on myself was akin to the feeling one might have during the crux of a climb high up a mountain, where even though a partner is nearby, only your actions dictate your safety. In any case I did meet several people during the week, such David, who was a wealth of knowledge of the surrounding islands. The bear factor is something else I had never experienced. Living in Europe we are not rally exposed to anything that can hunt you down. Very few animals, including snakes and scorpions can actually kill you, and you can always get away. Bears on the other hand can run, swim and climb faster than you. So yes, knowing that there could be grizzlies about made me slightly jittery when I heard noises from the tent! Because of this I always felt safer when sleeping on the islands, the smaller the better.
The actual landscape of the Discovery Islands is stunning: sharp cliffs and summits rise almost vertically out of the water, completely covered in dark green forests. Far off in the distance, the icy white peaks shimmer above the tree line. The dark, salty water mirrors the surroundings, adding to the beauty. Depending on the weather, it can be oily and dark, or if the current is heading into wind turn into a pattern of white ridges. It is also teaming with wildlife, such as the purple and red starfish glued to the rocks that sink down into the depths, or the thousands of jellyfish that float aimlessly in the current. There are also species that play at the interface between the two worlds, such as the seals that will suddenly appear for a few seconds before sliding back under the surface or the salmon, jumping high into the air. The bays and coves of the Discovery islands are also visited by larger mammals, such as killer and humpback whale pods, although unfortunately I did not see any. The mix of place names is strange, a mix of Spanish and English, from back in the time when explorers arrived precisely in the same year. Although it is the same coastline, the natural complexity and beauty I found enthralling must have been frustrating for the crews of the large sail boats forced to navigate through the islands. It is this which inspired the naming of Desolation. Malaspina, although sounds sinister, was actually the surname of one of the officers aboard the spanish ships.
As the sea is quite sheltered by the islands, the water is quite calm, meaning that the most annoying thing can be the wind. As the kayak has no keel, the wind can easily push you about, and paddling against the wind can be tiresome. The high cliffs channel the wind; making it flow in different directions (the predominant wind in the area is north-westerly). The tides can affect the current, especially in the tight places between islands. Certain regions can be quite dangerous or difficult to cross, making passage at the change of the tide mandatory. As I didn’t have the tide table I did not trust myself to go through any of these harder passages. The high tide can also encroach on the beaches and campsites, in many cases coming right up to the treeline. Because of this, a map with indications of the different bivy sites is invaluable, as in most places it is impossible to get the kayak out of the water or set up a tent. This did mean that I would have to plan the afternoon in advance, to be near such a site before nightfall.
This was my first experience of solo kayaking, in fact kayaking full stop. It really is an excellent way of exploring a large region, and makes transportation of supplies so much easier. Accustomed to the Alps, I had packed everything to fit into my backpack. Upon arriving at the kayak rental I was asked if that was all I was taking. Although nothing was lacking, I could have easily taken extra comforts. This is of course obvious to someone who has been out of the water a lot, but for me it was great to load up 10 litres of water and not worry about refilling for several days. It also has given me ideas for other, longer trips, where the large amount of food that you can get into the hatches would be a perfect way of extending autonomy. Maybe combine kayaks and skis? It’s something I will definitely keep thinking about.
Relative to technique, I had brushed up by watching some videos online before heading out. It definitely helped me to try and minimize overexertion and use my back and core muscles throughout the day. Even over the course of a week I felt my speed pickup substantially, and got into a much better paddling rhythm. I still need to work on my rolling technique, thankfully I didn’t capsize during the whole trip! I did manage to get all my stuff wet though, including sleeping bag, but the warm nights meant it wasn’t too much of a problem. That being said, I’d love to go back in the winter, when the bays are empty and snow comes down to the shore line. Maybe next time!
Some info if you want to head out there:
- The transport from Vancouver is relatively easy and there is a bus that runs from Vancouver to Powell river (Malaspina coaches). That being said the timetables are highly erratic, so better check beforehand. From there hitchhiking (illegal in BC) works extremely well.
- The kayak rental was not too expensive, but I would recommend reserving in advance, especially if you plan for several days. The company I used was Powell River Sea Kayak, on the Malaspina Inlet side.
- I got the extra supplies I needed from MEC, in Vancouver. It is a sports shop with pretty much everything you could need. You need to pay 5 $ to become a member of the Co-op, but it’s not too pricey and they have plenty of camping gear. The map I used was the “Desolation Sound and Discovery Islands Marine Trail Mapsheet” which is part of the BC Coast Explorer. It cost 12.95 $ and I got it in Ecomarine Centre, on Granville Island in Vancouver. Its waterproof and definitely worth having. The more complex marine charts are expensive, and not really necessary.
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