Saturday, July 11, 2015

Broken Group Islands, Vancouver Island, Canada

A year in the planning, David, Gina and I were finally ready to hop in the car and head north to Vancouver Island to hit up the Broken Group! The lure of the Edge to Edge Marathon, surfing in Tofino, getting a beer at Tofino Brewing and paddling the islands was too strong to resist. We headed to Bellingham to meet up with Chris and Hilary and then headed north to catch the ferry.

Let's just start right out of the gate with a 15 second video of us opening 119 beers in the Broken Group. It'll make you thirsty!

Cars loaded up in Bellingham.

A view from the ferry on our way to Vancouver Island. The Fraser River meets the ocean. 

Passing Gina during the Edge to Edge Marathon. I only had 3 or 4 miles left but Gina still had like 10+ to go!

Three studs after the Edge to Edge Half and Marathon! I really enjoyed this run despite all the elevation and direct sun. There was some cool trail with ocean views during the first portion before joining the highway that leads to Tofino for some out and back. After leaving the trail I started to get my groove and felt really strong. I was determined not to walk any of the grueling uphills and I didn't, although at some points my 'running' was about as fast as those walking. My brain started to get a bit fuzzy towards the end and I screwed up some kilometers to miles math. I thought I was close to the end and went in to 'sprint' mode and passed two people I had been following for most of the second half of the run. I was seriously demoralized when I realized I still had over a mile to go. Both the people I passed overtook me and I grunted "I thought I was closer to the finish... wheeze grunt wheeze." Despite that I felt good crossing the finish line, basking in glory as someone put a 'you participated' medal around my neck. I headed to the snack table and had a couple of chocolate milks. Fuck yeah!

Our route through the Broken Group. I labeled a few islands for reference.

 Departing Secret Beach where we left our car.

Heading towards the Stopper Islands.

Gina heading around the point south of the Stopper Islands.

We first swung by Hand Island to check out the camping situation. We were greeted by a large crowd and apparently no place to set a tent. I wasn't too surprised as this was the closest campsite to several of the launch sites that access the Broken Group. It did appear to be a beautiful camping spot with a great shell beach to explore.

Leaving Hand Island on our way to Dodd.

The north side of the beach at the Dodd Island campsite. We carried our kayaks a distance over rough rocks and tide pools. If you camp here I would recommend kayaking around the western point of land to the beach on the south side of the campsite. Only a couple hundred feet of land separate the two beaches and we actually portaged our gear and boats because the launch site on the north side was a nice gravel beach. There was a couple of groups here but plenty of room to camp.

Our tent site on Dodd.

I was excited to check out evidence of Salal Joe's hermit life on Dodd Island. Salal Joe is described in J.F. Marleau's book Kayaking the Broken Group Islands. He was a hermit who lived in a bay on Turtle Island on a houseboat and had a garden and orchard on Dodd Island near today's campsite. This picture is the scene of his garden. Some non-native bushes and trees are still here and some of the poles he used to hang his netting to keep deer out are still standing. In the middle left of this photo you can see some of the netting. Marleau's book is great because it includes some interesting history tidbits which I really enjoyed.

I didn't know what this tree was in Salal Joe's garden was but I knew it wasn't native. A quick Google search showed me it was a chestnut tree. Bad ass!

Checking out Joe's Bay on Turtle Island. His houseboat has been gone over 30 years but I wondered if we would see any sign of habitation on the beach. No such luck and I was too lazy to get out of the boat to explore.

Passing in the channels between Turtle and Willis Islands.

The wind picked up as we reached the campsite on Turret Island.

Chris getting ready to sink the beers o chill them. This is the small cove where the Turret Island campsite is located.

Dinner on the beach at Turret Island.

Waiting for the sunset...


Campfire at Turret Island.

Day 3! This day was long and fucking awesome. We did a big loop around Benson, Wouwer and Effingham Islands before returning back to Turret for the night.

First stop was Clarke Island which is said to have the most beautiful camping in the Broken Group. There's a great beach we had a snack on and David did a cloud report.

Clarke with campsites in the back. David mowing down. We just hung out on the beach so didn't really get a chance to see the camping situation but it definitely was a pretty spot.

Next stop was Benson Island. I was excited to check this place out as Marleau's book describes it as the origin of the Tseshaht People. We wandered around and found a meadow with a statue and a kiosk describing the former village site and the history of the folks who lived here. One of the highlights of the entire trip for me happened here- two Beachkeepers, Fred and Hank, showed up. Hank is of Tseshaht decent and is a storyteller. We sat in the meadow while he told us the origin story of his people and then went on to describe what the village was like right where we were sitting. He also told us about how the Tseshahts interacted with other nearby tribes and their wars and friendships. It was very moving to be in the very spot where this history occurred and to hear it from Hank himself. So cool! In 1999 an archaeological dig at the village site discovered that the village was much older than thought, over 5000 years old!, as well as bigger. There was also a forgotten cemetery on the hill above that village. Very neat!

We continued on exploring the western sides of the islands that are exposed to the full brunt of the Pacific Ocean. The waves and weather made for a dramatic and fucking awesome landscape of basalt and granite cliffs and sea caves and coves . So bad ass!

We explored around Wouwer, Austin and Effingham Islands. Here's the first sea cave we came across.

Another sea cave.

The sea cliffs of Effingham Island.

On the map we could see Effingham Lake and we really wanted to check it out. There is no info online about it so we didn't know what to expect. Fred, one of the Canadian Park Services Beachkeepers, told us it was a 10 minute bushwhack and was a sacred place to the Tseshaht First Nation. He was right- there wasn't much of a trail at all but it only took us about 10 minutes.

 Here's Chris looking for a path.

Our first view of the lake.

On the shores of Effingham Lake. The Marleau book says the only fish in the lake are sticklebacks. We didn't see any but the water was dark with tannins. I was hoping to take a freshwater swim but it wasn't inviting enough. It was a beautiful spot though with Lilly pads and freshwater clam looking things.

And carnivorous sundews!

Hiking back out. Our boats high and dry from the falling tide. There wasn't much good boat parking in this great cove but we had it easy with the calm waters.

In case anyone wants to hike into this lake in the future look for the float I stuck on a fallen log up the hill where the 'trail' begins.

There's some pictures of some sea caves coming up so I thought this would be a good place to stick this 2 minute video. It and also shows Hilary going through the sea arch. So bad ass!

Continuing around the west side of Effingham we came across this sea arch. So bad ass! When the swells would move in the water along the cliffs would rise and full some 5 or 10 feet. It was a blast to go up and down along the rocks and it was fun to see Chris and Hilary, experienced white water kayakers, play in the swells. Chris, Hilary and David went through the arch tunnel but I was scared because you had to time it just right. When the water was at its low point rocks were exposed that could wreak havoc on a pud kayaker like me.

To get back to our campsite on Turret we had to make a crossing of Coaster Channel that was about a mile and a half long. We battled head on winds and chop the entire time which really made for a frustrating workout. Pretty thrilling though!

The next morning we packed up to move on to our next campsite on Gibraltar Island. Our first stop was the cedar known cleverly as Giant Tree. Here's the shell midden that marks the location of the trail to the tree.

David in front of the Giant Tree. It was huge and was said to be over a thousand years old. On the way up the short trail to the tree we passed many massive old growth cedars and hemlocks. It's such a treat to see these grand trees. They are few and far between back in the woods of the US.

We cruised out to Dempster Island. The exposed side of this island had a bunch of super bad ass sea caves. So many that I started to get sea cave fatigue and quit taking pictures of them!

We later learned that we're not supposed to go in them. Oops! Sorry! Because they narrow as you go deeper into them the swells from the ocean that come in are forced to rise so you get a thrilling up and down ride. So much fun!

David and Hilary exploring.

Chris checking out a low sea cave.

The end of the day. The beach in the background is where the Gibraltar campsite is located.

Parking our boats at Gibraltar Island. We were here two nights. The first night the place was jam packed and we scrambled to find a place to set our tent but the second night there were only three groups and it was very quiet.

David recreating a scene from Marleau's guidebook. A to the point quote: "A nap after lunch is a good way to enjoy your trip." What a guide!

Chilling on the beach at Gibraltar.

David collecting some sea asparagus.

Working on dinner.

The next day we set out to explore!

The first stop Wolfhead Lagoon on Jaques Island. A must visit according to Marleau. The route we took to access the lagoon was great. The tide was fairly low so we could gaze upon the fields of oysters and clams below us. Gina also spotted a massive red rock crab.

This Photoshop pic I made makes it pretty obvious why they named it Wolfhead Lagoon.

Taking a break in Wolfhead Lagoon. It was a great spot. We had great weather but I could see how this could be a refuge from rough waters. It's well protected.

Drinking one of my favorite beers in the lagoon.

Chris checking out one of the fishtraps.

The other fishtrap. Very cool!

Kayaking through some turquoise water.
Our next goal was to check out the only other lake in the Broken Group on Gibraltar Island.

Parking the boats at the creek outlet.

It was reminiscent of some of our Honker Divide trip. We followed the creek up to the lake. It was only a few minute walk. The creek was really flowing but I think it may actually be that water at high tides reach the lake and then it flows out as the tide drops. There doesn't seem to be any other water flow into the lake and there were oysters in the creek bed all the way to the lake.

The logjam at the lake. This lake, at least where we were, was very shallow and a bit swampy. No fresh water swimming once again.

We saw hundreds of these interesting clear-ish water slug things milling about. 

There were also tons of these holes in the sand. They look like a clam hole thing but I didn't see any clam shells in the lake.

Chilling at the lake.

Back at camp on Gibraltar. Chris is an expert level fire maker.

Our last night in the Broken Group. This is livin!

Our boats lined up at Secret Beach at the end of our trip. What a great trip! Highly recommended!

These video clues I made for work also give a great feel for some of the places mentioned above. Check it out and test your Canada knowledge!

If the 15 second version of the beer opening video wasn't long enough for you here's the 9 minute version!