it's that quadrennial again...
yes, it's presidential election season.
which also means it's inevitably time for an act of penance...
and so i will begin with a prayer of contrition:
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to post to politard threads and in failing to do good,
I have sinned against You whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with Your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Saviour JCMac, tested blenders and created product reviews for us.
In His name, my God, have mercy.
and i will close with the following tr in the hope that it will be accepted as my act of penance...
[for those of you who’ve never heard of nootka island and are looking for a little geography, history and beta feel free to skip to the end where i’ve included a few of the nuts and bolts... while most of what follows has zero to do with climbing, i’ve occasionally observed that some of you folks like a little spice in your life and in your st :)... and so while most of what follows is centred on backcountry backpacking and surfing, there’s a small bit that is climbing related to keep the theoretically possible but effectively non-existent on-topic nazi’s at bay. finally, as this is also entering into tome territory, if you’re not big on the whole reading deal, feel free to just enjoy the pics :) ]
[two siblings,] a demiwolf, an octoquid, and a maybe baby orca.
a [brother’s] dream.
i don’t know if i’d ever gone on someone else’s adventure before. what i mean by that is i’ve always been, if not the only person, at least one of the main people who does the research, makes the relatively chaotic and flexible plans that are made if i’m involved, and just generally sweats out the details and figures shIt out while in the planning stages of adventures having a high degree of personal unknown.
and so, before last autumn, i had no idea how wonderful it is to just show up and ride someone else’s coattails.
you see, this was my brothers dream.
he’s a surfer and had heard tales of sweet breaks and bays on the west coast of nootka island and wanted to check them out. he also likes an adventure, isn’t afraid to suffer a little and is a very adept penny-pincher. :)
these three aspects of who he is, combined to determine that a little backcountry and backpacking accessed surfing trip was in order. he had dreamt about visiting nootka island for quite a few years, but there are surprisingly few people who think hiking 50-70km roundtrip on an unmaintained and often unmarked trail with rumours of west cost style river fjords and rope climbs while packing a surfboard and all of the accoutrements needed for a week long self-contained stay, sounds like the makings of a good time.
which was great news for me, as i thought it sounded awesome. if not for the specifics of the adventure, then at least because, as we too quickly age, it’s not often that i get to dedicate a week and head out adventure chasing with only my brother and myself.
so during a year which saw an incredible amount of personal upheaval in my life and life directional changes in my brother’s, there was no better time to revisit some of the great backpacking we did in our youth and go on an adventure together.
and so that’s how i ended up flying to victoria, being picked up by my brother and then driving off to gold river within about an hour of getting off the plane.
and with my having done no more than about 30 min of research into an incredible earthly gem of a place.
fresh off the [mv uchuck III] boat.
after a dirt bag style bivy folded into the seats of my brother’s compact car at a rest stop just outside of gold river, we woke up early to make sure we didn’t miss the first leg of our journey.
because it is both an island and relatively remote there are really only two ways to get to nootka: boat or plane. the most common of these are float planes, water taxis, and a refurbished 1940s era minesweeper that serves as both working delivery and sightseeing ship.
due to the previously mentioned cheapskate tendencies of both my brother and myself we opted to atypically take the delivery boat in both directions and so boarded the mv uchuck III at gold river just before 9 a.m.
as we were starting this adventure during the off season in late september 2015, my brother had needed to ask permission for us to disembark from the boat and so along with the approximately 30 retirees who were out for a sight seeing trip, we were the only backpackers to board the boat.
and what a great trip just the sightseeing was and is. the boat is effectively a diesel powered time traveler that drops you into an early 20th century world of west coast wilderness intermittently broken by remote work camps presumably populated only by men.
while world class in and of itself [just on the way in we saw humpback whales, bald eagles and sea lions, including one that was beating a fish to death by whipping it back and forth] the sightseeing is to some degree incidental, as the primary mission of the boat is to deliver supplies to the work camps along the way. and so it was after hours of unloading supplies at fish farms, a logging camp and a fishing lodge that we made it to our landing point at friendly cove on nootka island.
just before 3 p.m. we disembarked from the ship and waved good-bye to the tourists who had incredulously asked us questions about bear spray and what we were going to eat as they tried to determine whether the two people standing before them with backpacks and a surfboard and headed towards what to their knowledge was an essentially vacant island populated by bears, cougars and wolves, should be admired for their adventurous spirit or denigrated for their hubristic naivete.
and in all honesty, we weren’t really sure either.
incase we didn’t have the above uncertainty, it was driven home by the crewman throwing out the gangplank, who had, as we disembarked, looked us in the eye, shook each of our hands and then left us with one of the most sincere but even-toned “good-lucks” i think i’ve ever received in my life.
because we had heard tales of having to pay a $50 fee to cross native land, my brother was immediately high-tailing it down the boardwalk hoping we wouldn’t be seen by the assumed occupants in the house that looked onto the bay and who were the reported enforcers of said dubiously legal fee.
and so we also didn’t dally at the church/museum and instead headed down the trail. after a tricky river mouth crossing and about three hours of hiking we made it to our first camp at the mouth of a secluded inlet.
we were on our way.
[nootka] the demiwolf.
as we’d exited the boat and scurried across the mowachaht reserve we had been followed by a friendly mixed malamute-and-some-other-breed-that-i-couldn’t-quite-put-my-finger-on looking dog. he’d bound ahead of us, often showing us the trail and was just generally a great kind of omen in the rain that began to fall. we were psyched that he was with us, but assumed that he’d get hungry and given we had nothing to feed him, would head back to, what we assumed was, his home on the reserve.
he had a crudely engraved dog tag that indicated he was appropriately named nootka and after chilling with him at the fire the night previously we assumed that he’d be gone in the morning.
but when we awoke we were pleasantly surprised to see him still watching guard over our camp.
while the trail wove back and forth between following gravelly beaches and then inland trails, the beach departure points were mostly well marked with buoys hanging in trees. unfortunately we missed one of the markers and followed a false trail for a half kilometer, or so, on the second day. this resulted in the most challenging “hiking” i’ve ever done. at one point i even had imaginings of some vietnam war era soldiers pushing a machine gun up a hill trying to take a position. but because it was the first real day of hiking and the landscape was so breathtaking, the thrutching on hands and knees with packs and a surfboard through rainforesty underbrush no more than a couple feet high and then pulling some low fifth class root pulling up vertical mud covered slopes while the rain fell on us, seemed like some kind of warped fun, at the time.
plus, how sweet was it that we had, what seemed to be, a spirit dog with us?
while there were other points as well, it was during this portion of the trip that we passed a number of vertical and overhanging bouldering and cragging sized cliffs that give us the meager on topic portion of this trip report. while i didn’t do more than feel holds and boulder a few feet off the ground, for those climbers looking to add even more adventure to this trail, throwing shoes and a chalk bag and maybe even a rope, webbing and harnesses in, in order to set up top ropes off trees, wouldn’t be a bad idea. sweet part is almost all of the landings are gravelly so while not perfect and a little risky given the no cell coverage and no road remoteness of everything, bouldering without a pad wouldn’t be completely absurd.
given the lack of detail about the trail and the unknowns of carrying the surf board, we had a lot of uncertainty regarding the timing and placements of camps. fortunately we figured out a bungy cord attachment system for the surfboard that, while effectively untested prior to the adventure, was one of the keys to our being able to move quite efficiently. a quick weight shift flipped the board to the side so that we could grab it and pull it out of the way of overhead foliage and then when in more open areas we would just leave it standing straight up.
about five hours of hiking after we left our first camp we made it to beano creek and our next camp.
the [seaweed] horror, the [seaweed] horror.
and what a camp it was. there was a sign that someone had carved and hung on a tree in the informal camp in the trees at the foot of beano creek that said “treehuggers dream”. this was not overzealous marketing as it was complete with perfectly tree sheltered clearings, a great firepit, ample driftwood benches, lines in trees: everything you could really want in a campsite.
this was the first known surf break that we came to. it was also the location of the small bits of private land on the west coast of nootka island. there were a few houses and a surf camp hidden away in the trees, but we poked around a bit, as my brother had forgotten his leash, and there was nobody to be seen. we still hadn’t seen another soul since leaving the boat. finally after fortunately finding a leash on the beach, we happened across a gentleman staying at one of the houses, who while friendly enough seemed happy to see us keep hiking.
my brother spent most of the evening prior, checking out the break as it looked fantastic and the swell surge was timing just about perfect with our arrival.
if it would have been up to just him, he probably would have just stayed at beano creek and surfed, but i’m not much of a surfer and i had eyes on the trail that lay ahead.
we had spent the first couple of days mostly in the rain, and it had started to rain again, but i wanted to get going as i had a bit of a secret hope planned for the day following. and so we left the surfboard at the camp and i goaded my brother into taking off during one of the short 30 min rainless spells without much consideration for the timing of tides.
this was, in retrospect and with some understatement, a bit of a mistake.
due to our foolishly leaving pretty much at high tide we ended up hiking for kilometers on first gravel, then rocks, then cobblestones that were covered in a blanket of kelp and seaweed from tree to water line. but while blanket is the commonly used way to describe these things, it is a completely incorrect usage. for all of you midwesterners and prairie kids it was a fUcking silage pit. at times we slurped up to our knees in a rotting mass of festering organic material that alternately smelled exactly like a swine farm and at others almost like vomit and then back again.
it was disgustingly horrible.
and if that wasn’t bad enough we were trapped between the trees and the ocean on slick rocks that at certain points were like stepping on a frictionless talus field. thank goodness we had left the surfboard at beano creek as we went down a number of times and there is no way that the surfboard wouldn’t have been essentially demolished if we would have been carrying it. even with our care on the way in, we [i :)] had put a hole in the surfboard that my brother had had to do a backcountry wax and electrical tape repair on.
but we kept soldiering on and began to frequently see bears along the beach as well. they were smaller coastal black bears so they were hard to be overly concerned about. plus the dog was still with us and he’d start barking at them from a couple hundred metres away. this would cause the bears to take off into the trees as the dog rambunctiously chased after them down the beach. he however didn’t follow them into the trees.
eventually we made it through the truly revolting hiking and onto better ground.
as we began to near calvin falls and our next stopping point, a person emerged from a field of driftwood. as we approached him, the first thing the young gent asked was “have you seen any wolves?” in some european, i guessed maybe german accent. it seemed rather odd, but as the conversation progressed and his compatriot emerged from a blind they had set up in the driftwood it all made sense.
the two of them were on a month or so long national geographic assignment to nootka island in order to photograph wolves. and so when nootka [the dog] came bounding ahead of us on the beach they had initially thought it was their lucky day.
he explained to us that part of the reason the wolves on nootka island were so special is that being on an island they have remained effectively pure bread with a direct lineage that goes back thousands of years.
he was also the one who pointed out what was readily apparent after he mentioned it, but what i hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on earlier: the other half of nootka the dog was unquestionably wolf.
it was then that the dog’s friendly but independent nature, and his willingness to hike with us without our feeding him began to make a lot more sense.
it also explained why i liked this dog so much. while i had had dogs during my childhood, i’d never really wanted to have a dog. that was until i met nootka. and so now i understood that the reason for the change is that i had been unknowingly looking for an animal that was half domesticated and half wild…
after chatting with the two young photographers a bit longer, we fjorded the surging river below calvin falls and then after taking a couple photos of the falls themselves settled into our tent and a perfectly styled if not slightly rotten robinson crusoe like driftwood shack.
being the seasoned wet coaster that he is at this point, my brother quickly collected driftwood and had a great fire going despite almost continuous rain for the first three days and we were soon cooking the fantastic home dried meals that he had meticulously prepared prior to our leaving.
a perfect day [plus a maybe baby orca].
that night i began to have doubts and began to wrestle with my ambitions. my brother was without question going to head back to beano creek to hopefully catch the surf, while i was hoping to continue on hiking to third beach at the end of the island. but this meant one of us would be without a tent and both of us would be hiking solo. given we had seen about a half dozen bears the day before, there had been a notice at the start of the trail regarding it being shut down a couple months prior due to cougar attacks, and now we had found out that calvin falls is the traditional site of frequent wolf sitings, i started to question the sensibility of my plan.
was i my brother’s keeper?
see, my brother is younger than me, and while i’m pretty comfortable, in certain rare context driven situations, with hanging it out a bit more than i normally would while solo, i started to imagine whether i could handle the judgement i’d be on the receiving end of if something happened to my brother.
so i talked to him about it.
he just laughed at me and said “are you kidding, this is what i do all of the time.” and fair enough he had a point. while i generally stick to the cliffs and the mountains he has travelled around the world chasing waves and a lot of that time, whether on the big island or on the vancouver island coast, he’s chasing down rarely visited surf solo.
with that worry out of the way i began to focus on the scale of my plan. i was hoping to make it to third beach then turn around and retrace my path back to calvin falls and then back to beano creek to meet up with my brother that evening. this entailed probably about 35 or 40 km of rugged coastal hiking, a few sections of which had to be properly timed with the tides, if i hoped to make it past headlands that jutted into the ocean.
so with a high degree of uncertainty i took off as soon as there began to be a bit of dawn, in order to try and beat the incoming tide to the headlands that layed between myself and third beach.
because i left first, the dog followed, or rather took off in lead of me. i left my pack at calvin falls and took a small break away fanny pack with the bare minimum of food and clothing.
and everything was perfect.
i just beat the rising tide by about 30 min to the last headland and while the trail was overgrown in places and i ended up trying to take a shortcut at one point that ended up with more jungle thrutching on hands and knees i made it from calvin falls to third beach in just a little under three hours.
while saying you had a perfect day is an easy thing to exaggeratingly say, i can honestly say that while i’ve had fewer than a handful of perfect days in my forty years of life on this planet this was one of those handful. the actual sand of third beach, rather than the previously frequented gravel; the lack of any people for miles and miles except a perfectly independent but sociable dog, maybe a half dozen people on the whole west side of a 40km stretch of island; the first completely sunny day since we had arrived; and a successful first part of a day of deep adventure that had meant facing a lot of unknown when i left, all combined to create an experience that i can’t entirely put into words.
while i’d had some perfectly horrific days, the depths of which i hope i never have to face again, during the previous year, there was a part of me that consciously was aware that living through one day like this could make ten years of living through a perfect hell worth it.
after an hour of relaxing on the beach waiting for the tide to recede a bit i took off back down the trail. i was hoping to once again time the headlands with the again receding tide. while there’s more to tell, the only really interesting experience was a point where the dog refused, for the only time that he spent with me or us, to lead.
as i hiked back to calvin falls there was a section of beach that was maybe 10m [30 ft] wide with thick forest on one side and the ocean on the other. it was here that the dog began to bark and bark and bark. as i caught up to him he refused to keep going, and as i started to yell a bit myself but continued to hike, the dog fell into a perfect heeling distance behind me and followed in that position for about a hundred feet as both of us looked intently into the forest.
it was clear that i had suddenly, for the first time on the trip, been promoted to the alpha dog position.
and i can’t say i was really a fan.
while i’ll never know what was in that bush, given the dogs willingness to chase bears, i can only surmise that it was likely either a wolf or a cougar. as had been explained by the photographers and was later confirmed by another anecdote we heard at the end of the trip, the half-breed dog most certainly would have been killed by any full breed wolf he came across and so i suspect that given the dog’s reaction, and our vicinity to calvin falls that it was most likely one or more of the island’s wolves that was in the trees that day.
but ultimately, and given the dog’s presence probably fortunately, i’ll never know for sure.
i continued to hike and after having picked up my pack at calvin falls bumped into the photographers who had set up another blind a couple kms further down the beach. after some pleasantries, the dog and i kept trucking back to beano creek.
this go round i timed that passage at low tide and so instead of hiking in the silage fields i was able to mostly hike in about 2-12” of sea water out on a shelf in the ocean.
i walked into camp about eleven hours after leaving calvin falls, just as my brother was sitting down to eat and so he fed me another delicious meal.
as we ate he told me about his having surfed with what he could best explain was likely a baby orca.
i know... you’re probably thinking i’m making this shIt up at this point. trust me when i say, both of us have tried to find another reasonable explanation. but given the size and the coloration of the fin the most reasonable explanation that we have, given how far north we were, is that it was a baby orca, rather than a dolphin, shark, porpoise, etc.
that said, he can never be absolutely certain, except to know that something with a medium sized pointy black fin got startled as much as he did when they both finally noticed each other mere feet apart.
[nature’s refrigerator and] the octoquid.
after the four days prior i was beat. i ate food and generally lazed about and slept. at one point my brother headed out to surf and being tired i just threw the food bag in the vestibule and crashed.
i awoke to hear my brother swearing about something...
so you remember that dog that had travelled with us for a little over four days now? the one we hadn’t fed anything, other than allowing him to lick our pots after we were finished, and a couple small pieces of cheese and meat a couple of times? the perfectly independent dog that had never so much as begged before?
yeah, most of you can see where this is headed.
because yes, we were groomed. groomed like a 45 yr old pimp grooms a teenage prostitute abandoned by her father. or maybe more like how a nigerian 419 scammer grooms a rich and lonely elderly gentleman.
either way we had grown to trust that dog and the moment i fell asleep with a dry bag filled with the remainder of our food he saw the chance that he had been waiting for.
he meticulously and thoroughly tore into every single, so very carefully packaged ziploc bag that was contained within the dry bag. and then he mixed anything he didn’t eat into a big mess of ripped bags, noodles, dried powder and granola.
but he was also a connoisseur.
he picked through and ignored all of the breakfast food and every one of the noodle dishes but made certain that there wasn’t one spec remaining of our:
• bags of dried chicken
• graham crackers
• dried fruit
mother fUcker, were we both pissed.
at first even a little pissed at each other even though we were most definitely primarily pissed at the dog. we’d even been saving a bunch of the treats until later in the adventure. but as we calmed down, what could we do? the dog just sat there with that friendly face. and really, he was quite a polite thief. and given the circumstances who could really blame him?
because, as i realized later, there is another way of interpreting the situation, other than our being groomed. from that perspective, the demiwolf chose to travel with us for days and during those days our experience of him was in overlapping turns as a guide, as a companion, and as a sentinel. and during those days, while nootka asked for nothing in return, we didn’t respect him enough to share what we did have. and so from that perspective who was really the thief?
so my one regret about the whole situation, is that in my state of annoyance, i smacked the dog on the nose, giving him one of those ole verbal “bad dog!” chestnuts. ironic how easy it was to think that it was the demiwolf who was in need of being taught…
regardless, the boat wasn’t returning for another couple days so it meant we were going to be hungry.
and since we were already hungry, it meant we were going to be real hungry.
and then we started thinking about all of the mussel beds that we saw everywhere. quite literally miles and miles of them... but we hadn’t checked for red tide warnings before we left. and there was no cell coverage where we were at. so no phoning anybody to find out or for a rescue if we made a mistake.
but damn were we hungry already.
a short time later my brother came cruising back into camp while laughing: “you’ll never guess what i just found…” i wasn’t able to guess, so he took me over to his findings: some kind of octopus looking thing that had washed up with the most recent tide. or at least i thought it was an octopus. because as my brother rightfully pointed out: “you grew up on the prairie, you don’t know for sure what the hell this thing is.”
and thus the octoquid was born.
but would we really eat it? who knew how long that thing had been dead before it had been washed up in the last tide.
again my brother had impeccable logic:
“the ocean is like a giant refrigerator,” he said...
“just look at it and smell it,” he said...
“yeah, looks fine and smells fine,” he said...
“we’ll cook the shIt out of it just in case,” he said.
it seemed highly dubious, but well, i was hungry and it seemed like one of those don’t look a gift horse in the mouth type deals.
alright… let’s do this.
and so he chopped it up and we tried cooking it a couple of ways. first we tried marshmallow style cylinders on the end of sticks. it cooked just like marshmallows too. turned into a brown crust with a briny stringy goo underneath. but neither of us liked that flavour too much, so we headed back to boiling.
and we cooked the shIt out of it just to be sure.
it wasn’t too bad really. and it was definitely nice to have a bit of proteiny like substance to add to the few remaining carbs we had.
it was then as we finished our meal that we saw them: a couple of people oddly carrying a baseball bat and a golf club with two young kids on the beach. after a bit of debate it was determined that i would be the emissary who was going to get to cross the creek.
while chatting with them it turned out they had formerly harvested mussels in the bay and while they weren’t one hundred percent sure, they would be eating a few mussels themselves that weekend.
that was a good enough endorsement for the two of us to consider the mussel beds open season.
as far as the bat and the golf club? turns out one of their neighbour’s kids was one of the cougar attack victims that summer and so they were ready for a fight in the case that a cougar tried to attack their kids.
and so it began: over the next couple days we both ate copious amounts of mussels and octoquid as well as my brother also dined on a crab, clams and snails.
while one never knows for sure, much of this day was certainly experienced, by at least myself, as a series of strange karmic for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction type cycles between the life forces that dominated our experience on that island.
DAYS SIX AND SEVEN:
the road toward home [sans demiwolf].
there’s not a lot to tell about these days. there was a minorly significant siblling blow out, as is an almost prerequisite between often separated siblings. but we worked through it.
we eventually packed up and started moving as we dreamt of the chilli we expected to be served on the mv uchuck III on our way back to gold river.
most significantly, it was the end of the road with the demiwolf. he had befriended the couple we’d met the day before as they had a dog as well and while we yelled for him as we left there was no sight of him, so we started hiking for the first time since we’d landed on the island without the dog.
[the search for] nootka.
we had made it most of the way back the day previously and camped just on the other side of the last river crossing to ensure that we didn’t miss the boat the next morning. my brother hadn’t been willing to wait the day before and so had floated across on his surf board so that he could lay in the sun.
this meant there wasn’t much to do the last day. just hang out, slowly pack and eat the last dregs of food.
when we made it to the boat dock, we headed up to the lighthouse where we found out the rest of the story regarding nootka the dog.
turns out what we had assumed was an unmanned lighthouse was very much wo/manned. there was a couple up there who upon our arrival had a first question for us:
“did you see a wolf looking dog in your travels?”
we had to break it to them and tell them the whole story.
it turned out they had rescued nootka from the mainland just south of friendly cove after he broke into some boaters’ cooler and had proceeded to drink all 4L of their boxed wine!
like i mentioned earlier: a connoisseur.
anyway, they had brought him over to nootka island and had had him for a year or two and he had never been further than a mile or so up the western shore.
basically nobody starts the hike from the south end: the lighthouse keepers estimated that only one other party during the previous summer had started hiking from the south, as the regular way is to fly to the north side of the island on a float plane and then hike the west coast of the island and take the old minesweeper out from the south end.
so all of that time we were following a wolf dog who we assumed regularly traveled up and down the coast… well, no… it turned out he was on-siteing it just like we were.
and now it was kind of our fault, but not really our fault, that their dog was missing.
either way, they now had everybody looking for him: air nootka that does the flights, the mv uchuck III, the coast guard...
well, we knew roughly where the dog was, but given there is no easy way to get to beano creek he wasn’t going to be coming home anytime soon unless he decided to make a break for it.
they also told us about a time when wolves had shown up at friendly cove and nootka the demiwolf immediately dove into the harbour, swam across the half or so km cove and then took off running for miles up the southern coast before he was almost shot by an outfitter who thought he was a wolf that would spook his guests.
and so it was, that after getting the rest of the story from the dog’s “owners” [as it’s one of those situations where i’m not sure who really owned who] and after perusing the church/museum with it’s unattended but wide open doors while waiting a couple more hours for the tardy mv uchuck III to arrive, that as we finally boarded the boat the first and repeated question that we were asked by the mostly retired site-seers was:
“did you see a wolf dog that is missing?”
all we could answer was:
“yes… yes, we did… and we know him very well…”
and so with fond memories of that awesomely friendly and noble demiwolf in our hearts, we dove into sampling just about every possible soup, sandwich and snack that the mv uchuck III had to offer.
[back at] the ranch.
the epilogue to this is that the dog did make it home: we later contacted the couple we had met at beano creek and found out that after a bit of drama the couple at the lighthouse did eventually get nootka the demiwolf back.
while tying up with a single bow an adventure that was as magical and as serendipitous a thousand untold times over, as this one was, seems a bit almost sacrilegious… still, i kind of like bows.
so here’s the bow i’m going to leave you with:
if you ever have the opportunity to go on an adventure dreamt up, planned and organized by someone you love and trust...
don’t ask questions: just go.
NUTS AND BOLTS:
for the non-west coast-philes and dwellers, nootka island is located about 100km northwest, as the crow flies, of tofino and just off vancouver island.
because the sound that separates it from vancouver island is fairly narrow, when looking at a map that is at a vancouver island scale it looks as if it’s connected to vancouver island. when you zoom in however you’ll see it is a separate island of about 550 square kilometers [~200 square miles].
so what makes this island interesting and worth a visit?
the attraction for most people is the nootka trail on the west coast of the island. roughly 35km of wonderfully adventurous hiking that provides access to an incredible landscape, history and wildlife.
the landscape varies between gravelly and sandy beaches, old growth and west coast jungelly forests as well as inland lakes, streams and rivers.
the history, due to it’s being the most northerly point of early spanish travel, a stopping point on captain cook’s travels and a fascinating sea faring indigenous population’s home resulted in a series of important historical events. these include the nootka crisis that almost resulted in a war between the spanish and the english, the massacre of all but two of the boston ship’s crewmen by chief maquinna resulting in the historically significant book The captive of Nootka, or The adventures of John R. Jewett, as well as the fascinating and dark shamanic history surrounding the yuquot whaler’s shrine and its complicated journey from nootka island to a new york museum’s basement, too name but a few.
finally, the wildlife is quite unbelieveable. in eight days, we saw humpback whales, sea lions, seals, a dozen black bears and cubs, bald eagles, cranes, an otter, dolphins, likely an orca, and a half dozen humans and two of their kids. and that was without trying as our main focus was backpacking, hiking and surfing.
basically, how the whole island is not one giant national park is kind of incomprehensible to me. given the intersection of rich history, wildlife and landscape that is surpassed by very few other places i have been in canada, it is a shame that more of this island is not formally protected.
as far as getting there and resources about the trail, here are a few places to get you started:
the nootka trail [includes a with permission reproduction of The Nootka Trail by Paul Horvath]
mv uchuck III
maxi’s water taxi
tahtsa dive charters water taxi
nootka island cabins
mowachaht/muchalaht first nation cabins
as far as costs, it doesn’t have to be super expensive. total cost from victoria including car gas, all boat travel, food, fuel etc came to about $300 for each of us for the week.
while not nearly as busy as the west coast trail, our experience was fairly atypical as the lighthouse keepers told us they had collected close to a couple thousand signatures in their guestbook during the course of the previous season. they estimated that about half of those were people in private vessels who docked at friendly cove [many of whom were retracing captain cook’s travels] and that the other half were backpackers and campers travelling form the north to the south. given the state of the trail at the end of a season, i have a bit of a hard time believing that almost a thousand people hiked it, but i didn’t take the time to count signatures, so can’t say for sure. regardless, the point is while our experience was one of remote solitude, if you go during the high season, this will likely not be the case.
as always: choose your own adventure and enjoy the coalescence…
because in the end what i’ve written above tells only about half of the story as i experienced it. at this point in my life i don’t feel i have the understanding and therefore the words to more fully explain and describe the lifeforces, magic and power that i experienced to exist in and on this land.
and so i hope that if you do find inspiriting information in these tales, and you do travel to nootka island, that you stay open to the possibility that in this existence it is not always only other humans that we are dancing with…