Reading break had approached fast like a flooding tide and with classes out of the way it was high time for a quick adventure. But what to do? Hitch hike to Tofino and squat surf for a few days or maybe take the shorter route and check the South Island push? It was looking like Sombrio until an adventure buddy let the “K” word slip… Kayak! Yes! Perfect, and I knew just the place.
The Sechelt Inlet is one of the major fjords of B.C. It starts at the Skookumchuck Narrows (Jargon for strong waters) one of the strongest tidal rapids in the world and finishes at the town of Sechelt. It has two other inlets that branch off heading east about 5km apart called the Salmon Inlet (25km long) and the Narrows or Tzoonie Inlet (15km long). It was here I picked for our destination as I have lived in Sechelt all my life and only kayaked the inlet once. I was also interested in the levels of development in the area. I had heard of the oyster and salmon farms as well as the IPP ‘run of river’ power projects at the heads of the two secondary inlets and I was curious to check them out for myself.
British Columbia is infamous for its deeply carved inlets. These salt-water fingers reach deep into the coast and are remnants from the last ice age. Glacial giants dragged their enormous masses across our province creating steep “U”-shaped valleys also known as fjords. Our west coast is littered with them having being almost completely covered with ice 20,000-15,000 years ago. The Inside Passage, a series of these ice scoured channels, extends 41,000 km from B.C. to Alaska and is often used by ships for travel in relatively sheltered conditions. Although buffered from the open ocean, navigating these channels is by no means a cakewalk. High winds funneled through the narrow valleys combined with huge floods and flows of tidal currents and submerged rock islands and reefs can quickly make a serene sail turn into a very dangerous situation.
For every over night kayak trip there are a few pieces of special equipment that I feel are essential for a safe enjoyable journey especially in winter: a radio for weather conditions and emergency contact abilities, a topographic map and tide charts specific to the area you are paddling, and an axe for fending of hungry wildlife and chopping dry wood (because of the tree’s special water resistant properties, the inner parts of cedar are always dry even if the log is soaked). It is also nice when adventuring to have friends not only to share your adventure with (thanks courts) but also to help you get there and pick you up when you’re finished, Petzold you are a beaut.
Loading up in our boats in Tuwanek things looked pretty grim. Heavy raindrops illuminated rolling waves and rolled down our water proof gear. Darkening skies and heavy mists made the Coastline Mountains and landscape all but discernable. Somewhere above a Raven croaked. I thought about Nate’s offer to call ‘er off and pack it in but my partner was game so we slipped off shore in our boats and paddled into the mist. I instantly fell into that old rhythm of paddle as I listened to my water bottle drum against my hull rolling back and forth with each pull in the cockpit. We dabbled along coastline watching the houses thin out along the bank until we were alone with only our thoughts and the wintering waterfowl.
After passing a few Oyster farms and rounding Mt. Richard Provincial Park we came across Oyster beach. It was nearly dark so we dragged up our kayaks, set up camp and had a fire and dinner before hitting the sacks.
The next morning was a welcome sight as the sun dissipated any worries and dried our soaken spirits. As I walked to the stream to wash my face I took in the ocean only to see a pod of at least 200 Pacific White Sided Dolphins. We ate a quick breakfast and quickly set out to get a closer look. These mammals had a different breakfast to our instant oats and berries, one that required extreme aerobatics. The display was epic and all of the ferries, preparations and car rides and negotiations paid off in the splendor of that moment. The dolphins however were heading the way we had come and once again we were left paddling up the inlet alone.
I was pretty surprised at just how many fish farms we have managed to cram in what was such an abundant provider of wild fish. As I paddled I wonder what was the tipping point of this delicate system. How many dams and fish farms could we put in this area before there are no more wild salmon at all, and the dolphins pass up on their visits to our inlet?
I thought back to when I had been in the area only 7 years prior. It was around the same time and coves in the inlet were littered with the bodies of dead salmon and the amount of bald eagles that had gathered in the trees is something I will never forget. Nature is dynamic it always changing and it is hard to compare one year to the next. Perhaps I had missed the salmon, arriving too late or maybe high rainfalls had flushed them from the riparian zones as has happened in the north end of the passage. High floods in Kingcome and Rivers inlets have washed the ecologically important salmon carcasses from river banks pushing the bears into the mountains early and hurting a growing tourist/adventure industry. I was skeptical as I paddled past the third salmon farm of the kilometer and tried to ignore the blaring chainsaw and clear cuts as I paddled towards my dammed destination.
A flooding current made the crossing across Salmon inlet a grueling two hour paddle and with the time we had spent playing with dolphins we were forced to head back to camp after lunch. The moonlight guided us home back to Oyster Beach where we spent one more night. I had forgotten how many stars one can see simply by stepping in the backyard of the urban landscape. Though the tops of the inlets were left unexplored it was one hell of an adventure as the best adventures leave more adventure to be adventured when you feel like adventuring again.