Monday, July 4, 2016

July 4 – Towards Gwaii Hanaas

Today we started our 4 day trip down to Gwaii Hanaas National Park. These posts are delayed because (of course) there was no internet.

These are all going to be LONG posts because we had very busy days.

Since we are staying at the tour companies B&B the night after the trip we drove down and parked there to be ready for our 7:30 am pickup. This is a picture of the office, not the B&B.


We piled into the van and drove back to our hotel to pickup up another couple, Steve and Sharon. Then we went to a B&B to pickup another couple, William and Paul, with their son Kieran (I am guessing at the spelling). So that made 7 of us plus our amazing guide Grace. I think the max is 8-10 but with the boat we had any more than 7 would have been very crowded.

Then we bounced along seemingly endless logging roads for an hour to get to the launch site at Moresby Camp.

We also had our first wild life sightings. While were still on the paved roads, this black bear sat in the middle of the road for a short while before ambling into the wood.


Later on the logging road, this one decided to go for a walk down the middle of the road. We followed him for quite a while before he exited stage left.


The company stores their collection of zodiacs at Moresby Camp when they are not in use, which does not seem to be very often.


The company does 1, 2 and 4 day trips. There was a 1 day trip leaving at the same time as us.

They gave us all heavy duty rain boots, pants and coats. They warned us all to wear lots of layers so with the added layer of the rain suits we felt like the Pillsbury Doughboy.


We loaded all our stuff into the boat and then did the short walk from the shed down to the shoreline.



After Grace launched the boat …


We all piled in. There are two columns of seats with handle bars between them.


Off we go. There was enough room for some to sit up front but with the bouncing it was not very comfortable. Grace said we could also sit on the rubber sides of the zodiac if we wanted (and hold on tight).


There looked like a bit of sun off in the distance.


Our first quick stop was at an old railway terminal and I completely forgot to take any pictures. All that was left was a bunch of pilings. Most importantly we got to sample the first of an endless supply of amazing food. Grace popped open the cooler and brought out a bag of freshly made berry scones.

Our next stop was an abandoned logging camp at a place called New Clew.


To land Grace would just run the boat in as far as it would go. She put an inverted milk carton down and then we would climb over the front or side.

Here the water got shallow at long way out. Those of us with bigger and taller boot sizes could make it in on our own. Grace gave piggyback to those of us with smaller boot. This was an unusual case. Most of the places we could all get off ourselves.


Since the tides change the water level and the location of the shoreline so quickly you can’t leave the boat just pulled up on the beach. Here the company left a kayak on shore. Grace put it in the zodiac, drove out to deep enough water to anchor the boat and then paddled back in.


At some of the other beaches, she would just perch an anchor on the bow, attach a long line to it and then give the boat a big push out. Once it was out far enough, she gave the line a quick tug to get the anchor to fall in the water. This did make for a tough pull when she wanted to retrieve the boat.

At the more established Haida sites there was usually a long loop of rope on pulleys anchored out far enough. She would just tie the boat to the rope and pull on the loop to drag the boat out.

If we were at a stop for more than a few minutes we always peeled off the heavy rain gear. It was a real pain to put it on and off all the time but it was just so much easier to move around without it.


We headed down the beach a short way to the trail into the woods and the logging camp.


All kinds of rusty, moss covered, old logging equipment.



Grace knew what everything was but I forget.


Even some old shoes.




This was the logging road, such as it was. It was really two lines of tree trunks with a groove carved into the top so that the wheels on the equipment would stay on the logs. It ran for the entire length of this large island.


There was a small cemetery as well.


We picked a bad spot to sit and hear some history. The mosquitoes were very thick here and Jennie didn’t have her net.


We passed by this Siamese tree.


The trail in the camp had paralleled the shore. We popped out to the beach and headed back to the boat.


Our next stop was to have lunch on a beach. As we drove in the harbour seals kept a watchful eye on us.



While Grace setup lunch I wandered down to the end of the beach.


Luncheon is served.


Breaded chicken, fresh bread with a salmon spread and a bean salad and then home made poppy seed load for desert. It’s a hard life.


I wandered up the rocks at this end of the beach.


More seals over here.


Off in the distance we could see the sailing ship of another tour company. I think Grace said that theirs is an 18 day trip.



We went on a quick hike to the other side of the point to see a small bridge.


As we left, there were more lazy seals.


Next came one of the highlights of the trip. We spotted some Orcas. First what seemed like two off in the distance.



Then, magically, another one must have gone under the boat because it surfaced just off our starboard side. We were all so surprised that all I got was this horribly out of focus picture but having someone’s head it in shows how close it was.


Then again a bit farther off. Wow!


After we calmed down and watched for a while we proceeded to our first Haida Village, whose anglicized name is Skedans. It was a busy place as the day trip comes here as well.


Each Haida historic village site has 2 or 3 Haida that come down and spend the summer at one or more of them as guardians to make sure that no one disturbs anything. They are called the Haida Watchmen. Before you can come ashore at any of the sites you must radio in to the Watchmen to ask permission to come in. They will come down to the beach and meet you. Usually they will lead you on a tour of the site but today it was so busy that Grace gave us the tour.

Most of the sites have a nice cabin for the Watchmen to stay in. Most of the Watchmen don’t go back to town for the entire time. The tour companies will bring in supplies to them. On the way back we took the grocery lists for three of the sites.

They do move between the sites during the summer to get some variety. When they move they have to learn the history of the new site. One of the ways they do it is to just let Grace run the tour, tag along and remember what she says. She said she has done the 4 day tour about 20 times. We were all amazed at the depth of her knowledge about pretty much anything we asked during the trip.

We waited a while on the beach for our turn.


First some seaweed jump rope. You can see one of the watchmen below.


The all important pit stop.


There are three types of totem poles. House frontal poles would have all the house crests and be on the front of each long house. There are usually only a semi circle with the interior hollowed out, to fit against the building front.. Most of these have been taken because they were the largest, most ornate and the lightest. Memorial poles were erected to commemorate some person or event.

Mortuary poles were used to inter an important person, usually a chief or his wife. They were usually left out of respected for the dead but also because they were less ornate and very heavy. I think all but one pole here was a mortuary pole. They have a cavity at the very top where the person’s remains are places in a bentwood box to allow their spirit to infuse itself into the pole. Once the pole rots enough for it to fall down, their spirit is then free to move on to its next plane of existence.

Many years ago some sailors had thought that they were doing a good deed by propping this one up. Nobody has the heart to remove the props.


You can see the line of shells on the ground, below, marking where you are allowed to walk.


The poles on the ground are usually so rotten that it is hard to tell what was carved on to them.





Since it was bad form to carve a memorial pole for someone before they died, after they did die, they would sometime be placed in these small carved logs waiting for the big pole.


There were quite a few long houses here. The chiefs was always the largest with the deepest pit. The pits had to be dug and lined with cedar in one day, without modern tools, or else during the night the spirits would invade the pit and bring bad luck to the house.





As we headed off, after the tour, it got even busier as a sailboat and a float plane came in.


Kieran usually wanted the front, but one of his dads needed a nap.


On the way to our accommodations for the night, we did a slight detour to see some sea lions.


The dominant male was all alone on one outcropping while everyone else was on the other.





And then into the protected bay that sheltered the tour company’s floating lodge.



This is a really great place. Upstairs there are 6 bedrooms and downstairs at the back are 3 more. It seems that I forgot to take a picture of our bedroom. At the front is a kitchen, dining area and lounge. A young couple, Jesse and Ashley, look after the place and cook. Jesse is completely self taught and came up with some amazing meals.




A nice deck, covered in the front, runs around the building. Lots of little gardens.



They have some kayaks so Steve and Paul went out for a paddle before dinner.


Then time to relax for a while.



There are lot of “fried egg jellies” in the water here.


The tentacles will give you quite a sting.



Dinner time. The first of many huge meals. BBQ’d fresh salmon, grilled veggies, roasted potatoes, salad and beet pizza. Earl grey custard on a crust with crystalized sugar for dessert.


Most of us went to bed pretty early, very tired and very full.

In the middle of the night we experienced another trip highlight. Jesse and Grace had said that on a dark night the water around the lodge is bio-luminescent. Tonight the water was flat calm, we had a new moon and grey cloudy skies. So at about 2 am Jennie and I woke up, quietly made our way downstairs and out on to the front deck.

There are little plankton in the water and when disturbed they give off a blue green glow. I grabbed one of the kayak paddles because I didn’t want my hand in the water with the jellies around.

What an amazing sight. Each time I swished the paddle, I would get bright dots from the large ones and and just a general glow around the paddle from the smaller ones. Even better when I disturbed a fish, it would dart off leaving a streak of light behind it. I also tapped on the large ropes holding the lodge in place and they would glow off into the distance.

Alas I tried to get a picture but it was just too dim for the camera even with a long exposure.

What a way to end a simply great day!

Here is a map of our day.


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