in­side pas­sage

Story and Pho­tos by Ryan adams

Adventure - - Front Page -

With the long Cana­dian win­ter of plan­ning and lo­gis­tics fi­nally over, fel­low sea kayak guide, Cana­di­an­born Matt Ed­wards and I pad­dled away from Port Hardy at the north­ern end of Van­cou­ver Is­land. The des­ti­na­tion was Haines, Alaska, some 1450km away. We left on May 15, when a de­cent win­dow of weather gave us the thumbs up to pad­dle into the beauty of the in­side pas­sage on the Pa­cific North­west coast.

The seed of the In­side Pas­sage Ex­pe­di­tion was planted in the dy­ing days of the pad­dling sea­son early last year with a few bored sea kayak guides looking for the next step in our cho­sen in­ter­est. The in­side pas­sage is the coastal route be­tween main­land Bri­tish Columbia, Alaska, and their coastal is­lands. The pro­tec­tion th­ese is­lands hold keeps the pas­sage rel­a­tively shel­tered from the Pa­cific Ocean and makes for some ex­cel­lent pad­dling con­di­tions. Just what we were chas­ing…

All last minute anx­i­ety was pushed out of the sys­tem stroke by stroke as I pad­dled the plas­tic necky look­sha that I’d man­aged to rent cheaply from an out­door ed­u­ca­tion lodge on Van­cou­ver Is­land. The aptly named ‘Patch’ had taken a good days work with a plas­tic welder and a good dose of elec­tri­cal tape to bring her up to ex­pe­di­tion stan­dard. We were thrown straight into ex­pe­di­tion mode dur­ing the first few days as the calm flat seas of Van­cou­ver Is­land were left be­hind. The Pa­cific Ocean started pitch­ing up swell with the largest get­ting up to three me­tres, send­ing sprays high into the air as it smashed against the rocks of Cape Cau­tion, one of the most ex­posed stretches of the coast­line.

The first wildlife les­son was learnt too soon with a tired lack of care in cook­ing up our first catch of the trip, two small cod. Matt yelling out loudly awoke me abruptly at dawn the next morn­ing. This was fol­lowed closely by the sound of a large an­i­mal scram­bling into the scrub off the sandy beach we were camped on. Foot­prints in the morn­ing showed a size­able griz­zly bear had been cruis­ing the camp­site, prob­a­bly chas­ing our fish! A closer in­spec­tion re­vealed the bear had had its two front paws on the stern of both kayaks be­fore am­bling over to within ten feet of the small twoman tent we were sleep­ing in be­fore be­ing scared off. Les­son learnt!!

The Pa­cific North­west is home to some sig­nif­i­cant tidal ranges, some­times up to twen­ty­four feet. This tide ris­ing and fall­ing in be­tween the is­lands on the coast can re­sult in some strong cur­rents. Our pad­dling sched­ule while pad­dling up the nar­row Princess Royal chan­nel and even nar­rower Grenville chan­nel re­lied en­tirely on the tides. This meant some early morn­ings, some late nights, to max­i­mize time on the flood­ing cur­rent. It’s a great feel­ing to be liv­ing on the tidal clock, pad­dling when you can and sleep­ing when the cur­rent isn’t go­ing your way!

The tide on one spe­cific oc­ca­sion pro­vided us with a not so pleas­ant late night ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter pad­dling fairly late on a flood­ing cur­rent. Af­ter the tent was pitched and din­ner eaten one beau­ti­ful but cold evening in the Grenville chan­nel, a slight mis­cal­cu­la­tion while check­ing the tide book kept us up past mid­night. Our ex­tremely nar­row block of real es­tate we’d per­haps not so clev­erly claimed for the night be­came wor­ry­ingly smaller and smaller as the tide met its high­est point. Just inches from the tent at its high­est point, the joke of a big boat motoring past and leav­ing the wake that would surely de­stroy the dry camp­site slowly faded as the sound of the Alaskan Ferry ser­vice boat came up the nar­row chan­nel.

Matt threw the tent, full with two sets of ther­marests and sleep­ing bags up into the thick scrub be­hind us, while I held onto the kayaks to try and keep them as dry as pos­si­ble. The wake threat­ened but never damp­ened the tent site while the boats were broad­sided as I strug­gled to keep them per­pen­dic­u­lar to the swell. Af­ter the chan­nel be­came calm again, the tent set back up and the kayaks tied up safe from the tide, the fall­ing tide gave its per­mis­sion to fall asleep for an­other night.

Three weeks of con­sis­tent kayak­ing saw us pad­dle into Prince Ru­pert, just south of the Alaskan bor­der, where the strong pad­dling com­mu­nity wel­comed Matt and me warmly. When the tide and cur­rent run big, a se­ries of stand­ing waves col­lec­tively named Bhutze Rapids are cre­ated be­tween Kaien Is­land and the main­land. Th­ese waves are rel­a­tively un­known in the kayak world be­cause of the iso­la­tion of the area. Lo­cal pad­dlers hooked us up with a cou­ple of play­boats so we en­joyed a much needed two days off to pad­dle this sweet wave in a cou­ple of the favoured shorter kayaks!

Leav­ing Prince Ru­pert re­freshed, warm and comfortabl­e, the ex­pe­di­tion con­tin­ued on into some not so de­sir­able con­di­tions. A ten kilo­me­tre cross­ing north across the mouth of the Port­land In­let was pos­si­bly the cold­est and rough­est cross­ing that was en­coun­tered, with chopped up four foot swells and strong winds com­ing in from the west. The tough cross­ing was re­warded with a breach­ing hump­back whale work­ing its magic on the hori­zon as the north­ern side of the in­let was in reach. A wet af­ter­noon fol­lowed, sit­ting un­der the tarp by the fire on the last sandy beach south of the bor­der. The painstak­ing con­trast be­tween the com­forts of town and the bru­tal wet con­di­tions be­came known as the ‘town blues’ and it wasn’t the last time the blues were ex­pe­ri­enced.

Pad­dling over the Alaskan bor­der was noth­ing but an anti-cli­max al­though the weather did turn for the bet­ter, giv­ing us a warm wel­come into the Amer­i­can state. First port of call head­ing north along the coast is Ketchikan, a city that seems to have sold its soul to the cruise ship in­dus­try. A cou­ple of kayak­ers turn­ing up to the Amer­i­can cus­toms of­fice in Ketchikan, drip­ping wet in full pad­dling at­tire ap­par­ently isn’t the norm for th­ese guys. A dif­fer­ent breed from their coun­ter­parts down south, the cus­toms of­fi­cers hap­pily filled us up with hot cof­fee and cake while all visas (or lack thereof) were sorted through. Af­ter strik­ing more town blues on the fol­low­ing day af­ter Ketchikan, we plod­ded our way north­wards to a lit­tle cabin com­mu­nity called Mey­ers Chuck. Whilst there, Steve and Cass, the com­mu­nity post­mas­ters, kindly took us into their home. Over lunch and

GET­TING UP CLOSE & PER­SONAL IN STEPHENS PAS­SAGE

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