The Zunoquad

The Zunoquad: Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago (1)

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Note: click the small images for larger version. For locations on map, see this Flickr photoset


Steven, Steve and Peter ferried from Powell River to Courtenay in Steve’s van. Steven was instructed in shopping for required drybags, thermal underwear and croakies. They proceeded to Murray’s house and decided to buy food while waiting for the car from Vancouver carrying Ian, Rob, John and Lionel. There was some disagreement in the Thrifty market about what provisions to purchase. Tradition won out.

All members of the party met back at Murray’s for lunch of fresh tomatoes and cantelope, some last minute internet map research and jettisoning of excess baggage. Steve assured Heather that Murray was in good hands and would be safe. The pledge was affirmed by a group cheer and departure photograph.

The two packed vehicles headed north for the three hour trip in pouring rain. A challenging and uncomfortable week ahead was envisioned. Steve’s fellow-passengers were intoxicated by the fumes from his shoe-gooing project.

A restrained visit to the liquor store in Port McNeil was followed by dinner at the McNeil cafe served by a “Renoiresque” young waitress. After extensive deliberation, the majority of the group voted to spend the night in a local motel rather than use the reservations Murray had made in a campground at next morning’s departure point, Telegraph Cove. The need to repack gear and food was offered as a reason, but more compelling was the wish to put off getting wet for one more day.

A brief search led to the “Haida-Way Inn,” whose Balkan proprietors were unwilling to let all eight of us stay in one room. A deal was struck by our broker John which had us paying $280 for two.

Day 1

Dawn broke on a sunny day, rare in these parts. John was elected nominal captain for the day. He gave no orders. Breakfast was granola and dried milk in the hotel room. Ian extracted the bladder of wine from the box he’d bought and most of it spilled in Steve’s van. We arrived at Telegraph Cove and noticed with regret how much booze other kayakers were carrying compared to our paltry portions.

We rushed to get boats rented and gear ready since we were warned that Dennis, the water taxi driver would charge heavily for any delay. But he was late. Ian gave an illuminating account of a National Geographic article he had recently read about “swarming””the way leaderless groups of creatures manage to function, each member doing its own thing, but all working together. It seemed applicable to the way our expedition had been organized thus far.

After forty minutes of waiting for Dennis, a dispute between two unnamed members of our group about future kayak seating arrangements led to angry words, pushing, slapping and lenses being knocked out of both of their glasses. The volume and adrenaline level was impressive, and it was later reported that the altercation between “those two old guys” was the talk of the port. Peace was restored and the long awaited water taxi arrived. Dennis was stocky, cocky and remarkably efficient in loading the four kayaks and gear.

On the hour-long crossing to Echo Bay, he pointed out rare campsites and water sources on the map and regaled us with stories about local characters and warnings about the two native Bigfoot types, Zunoqua, a three foot child-eating, man-raping woman, and Bukhoose, a fearful male Giant. Both can be identified at a distance by their terrible smell.

Dennis unloaded us at the government dock at Echo Bay. We paid him a discounted $500 cash miraculously collected and arranged a rendezvous for pick up at Mamalilacula six days later. It was surprising to find, in this remote archipelago, a floating resort, some beautifully gardened and painted floathouses, an elementary school, in use though not in session, and Billy Procter’s museum of local lore and artifacts.

After lunch of salami and cheese on what we later learned was the big daddy of all clamshell middens, we loaded the kayaks and dipped paddles into the spectacular waters of Hornet passage, directed by John the Navigator.

Two and a half hours later we landed at a protected clamshell beach and campsite in the Burwood Islets. The place was crowded with families enjoying the swimming in the sheltered coves, some from a nearby anchored yacht, others from a beached boat.

The campsite was free and we were happy to claim it. Led by Murray, who took to the water like a black lab, several of us swam in the bay, others napped, collected firewood, pitched tents, and started preparing dinner on the Coleman stove. Swarm behavior.

As it got dark the other visitors to the island departed, but not before the group from the yacht shot off a small cannon they had brought all the way from the USA to ravish the peace and quiet of this remote preserve.

We shared the campsite with one solo kayaker named Ron, a very serious mathematician from Northern Ireland. As the evening went on and we consumed what was left of Ian’s wine and some fine Canadian herb, the noise from our campfire was probably as obnoxious to the yachtsfolk at anchor as was their cannon fire to us. We talked dirty like boy scouts and traded stories of being chased by cops and going to jail.

For a full set (67) of my Zunoquad pictures click here.

For a pool (184) of pictures by several people on this trip, click here.

For a wiki including these journal entries and writings by other participants, click here

The Zunoquad: Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago (2)

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

Day 2

The morning was bright. The tradition, for many years, has been the election of a leader for the day. The appointed leader must choose a title. Lionel, our elected leader going right to the top for his title “Your Holiness,” bowed to the general desire to hang around the campfire and drink yet another pot of high quality coffee.

On average, it turned out, six hours a day were devoted to serious discussions of topics like what we would tell wives and partners we did on the trip and a business plan for our restaurant with a “roughing it” theme called “Ecoccino.” Around 11 am we finished cleanup, hoisted our food bags into trees to keep them away from mice and raccoons and departed on an expedition to replenish our dwindling water supply.

Heading for Simoom Sound where it was rumored one could find creeks emptying into the sea, we encountered a pod of dolphins on the north side of the islets and then crossed the broad expanse of Tribune Channel.

The vertical granite cliffs glistening in the sunlight on the opposite shore grew to 300 feet tall as we approached. The echo effect from the sheer wall dropping into the ocean prompted a chorus of sound effects.

Close to the base we came close to some unusual sea birds with white spotted wings and red feet.

Rounding the point, one kayak came upon a bald eagle feasting on a salmon. They closed in and chased off the raptor, but not enough of the fish was left to be worth stealing for our lunch. John continued fishing. Down the Sound we saw one of many fish farms scattered through these waters. These nests of ecological evil in the midst of the pristine landscape are hated by most coastal residents but loved by foreign investors and politicians. (see this article by the Raincoast Research Society of Simoom Sound entitled, “What has gone wrong with salmon farming in the Broughton Archipelago” for a hair-raising scientific account of this disaster) They stimulated rich fantasies of ecotage.

Fortunately we found a creek in a cove out of their sight, where we pulled up on the warm rocks, filled our containers, ate lunch, napped, swam, and mooned a large passing yacht.

John’s crab trap landed a couple of formidable sun stars.

Exploring the south side of the Burwood Islets on the way back to camp, Ian used his professional fisherman expertise to disentangle a rope from the propellers of another yacht–a service performed without thanks. Another swim in the relatively warm waters of the clamshell cove was followed by a golden sunset illuminating the summit of Bumcrack Mountain to the east”named by Dennis for the cross-shaped snow formations visible near its summit.

Dinner was fish free: chicken-with-rice and butterscotch pudding, which received mixed reviews. The wind came up strong enough to require a windbreak engineered using a large tarp, trees and rocks. Tonight’s co-occupant was as fit and serious a kayaker as Ron. Mark from Portland was cruising the islands in a rare Necki boat, a kayak with a scull rowing mechanism that allowed him to travel at twice the normal pace. Evening entertainment included a lengthy and heated game of cards.

For a full set (67) of my Zunoquad pictures click here.

For a pool (184) of pictures by several people on this trip, click here.

For a wiki including these journal entries and writings by other participants, click here

The Zunoquad: Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago (3)

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Day 3

Ian was today’s elected leader. He commanded us to switch paddling partners. The new combinations seemed to work well and remained in effect for the rest of the trip.

Murray picked mussels at 6 AM and packed them along for the night’s dinner.

We decided on an early departure for destination Insect Island.

Under lowering skies and patchy fog, across wide channels and amidst narrow passages that left me utterly lost, Rob my taciturn co-kayaker, coached me on proper technique he learned as a member of a Vancouver outrigger canoe club.

He told me to keep both arms rigid, making a triangle with the paddle shaft and to move only from the waist, using abdominal and lateral lower back muscles”the “core” that I had been urged to rely on by a physiotherapist last year. Move slowly and with less effort, feel the boat pulled through the water with each stroke, dig deep and quick with the tip of the paddle, he’d repeat quietly at long intervals. I concentrated on the motion, fearful of injuring muscles that chronically ached, constrained by the life jacket I had left inside the spray skirt to cushion my sore back. After a while I would feel the rhythm, a kind of figure-eight movement that reminded me of the synchronized paddlers I had seen many years ago at the Lund-Sliammon dedication ceremony. But most of the time I felt awkward and scared.

An hour or so into Fife Channel, we pulled up to the lead kayak and shared some smoke. Afterwards my movements became more fluid, but the pain in my left hip joint resulting from immobility worsened. I fished two soggy Ibuprofens out of my shirt pocket, swallowed them with saliva and continued paddling with eyes closed, coordinating my stroke with drawing and expelling breath. I was getting soaked by the water trickling down the paddle falling into the grooves of the life jacket. If a headwind should come up or it started to rain I would face a serious challenge.

Once when I opened my eyes, a vision of exactly the kind of movement I was striving for came out of the fog. On a big aluminum boat with his back to us appeared a blond crew-cutted man with huge shoulders and upper arms wearing an orange parka. Hand over hand, rocking from side to side in a figure-eight motion, he was pulling something heavy and deep out of the ocean”a net–with movements as sleek and flowing as a seal’s. My hip ache went from a moan to a scream as we approached him. John was negotiating to buy prawns. The boy’s face was a little puffed, smiling and open. He said he worked for the salmon farm up the arm and was out fishing for the crew on his off time. He offered to give us his last net full of prawns for nothing, but agreed to take a twenty-dollar beer allowance. After dumping five pounds into one of Ian’s dry bags, he thanked us profusely and disappeared into the fog.

Unable to share in the general rejoicing over the new dinner prospect because of a shellfish allergy, I lapsed back into my rhythmic stupor, which combined pleasure in the flow of my paddling, amazement that I felt no fatigue or pain in my arms or back and panic at the damage to my hip. Passing round a corner through a tight channel we came upon a narrow clamshell beach at the base of a banked midden at least twenty feet high, surmountable by a steep slippery trail. We pulled up and exploded into activity”building a fire ring, sawing wood, unpacking the kayaks, cutting steps into the bank, hanging wet clothing out to dry as the sun started to come out, and preparing lunch. Not a great campsite, but a place to stop.

As soon as I was able to move around, the hip pain disappeared and I climbed to the top of the bank, where others had already deposited gear and pitched tents. I wandered down a well-traveled trail above which rose two more flat terraces carved from the mountain of shells. A hundred yards down and around two corners, the bank protruded into the water on three sides, creating a spacious platform with a fire ring in the middle, at the convergence point of three channels heading north, east and south and a view down one to the snow covered mountains of Vancouver Island. This must have been the seat of the monarch, where he’d preside in state surrounded by wives, reviewing the parade of canoes approaching from all directions with tribute of mussels, prawns, and clams. I ran back to the landing spot shouting, “home’s around the corner.” On the beach where we finally parked the canoes was this sign: “This is MUSBAMAGW DZAWAD-ENUXW territory. Respect our land.”

Down a well travelled trail from the spectacular campsite we found water in a creek running through an enchanted glade, a perfect example of “one of the most under-represented terrestrial ecosystems in the province – the Outer Fiordland Ecosection Coastal Western Hemlock very wet maritime submontane variant.”

To celebrate our arrival, Ian led us in the paddle cheer. Murray swam across the channel, but the water was too cold to tempt any of the rest to join him. Our travel south had brought us into the glacier-fed waters of Knight Inlet.

Despite the name, there were no bugs on Insect Island

Steve figured out how to use the GPS unit he’d bought almost a year ago to initiate his retirement. It took over an hour to hook up to the right satellites overhead.

John tried to keep the prawns alive by changing the water every hour. Murray cleaned his mussels.

John and Murray cooked dinner with the fresh seafood. Steven enjoyed the pasta pesto made with a jar of the real thing.

Cocoa with Nutella and rum concluded the meal of the trip.

For a full set (67) of my Zunoquad pictures click here.

For a pool (184) of pictures by several people on this trip, click here.

For a wiki including these journal entries and writings by other participants, click here

The Zunoquad: Kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago (4)

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Day 4

The continuing sunshine and the comfort of our campsite persuaded Murray our leader of the day to allow a slow start and optional activities.

John, Rob, Murray and Steve elected to paddle to some of the outer islands at the edge of the Archipelago facing Queen Charlotte Strait. Steven, Peter, Ian and Lionel decided to explore the interior of Insect Island. Before splitting up someone came up with the idea pooling the collective wisdom about reducing aches and pains by taking turns teaching and leading our favorite stretches.

There was agreement afterwards that this was a profitable exercise. It would have been a good idea to make this a daily ritual, but that would have been too virtuous.

The kayakers traveled to Blackfish Sound via Misty Passage and touched on Arrow Passage (see map).

After a long arduous paddle, they landed on an unvegetated island of smooth rock where one could sit and stare out into the open ocean”a good place to fish, but where no fish were caught.

The landlubbers went in search of the southern tip of Insect Island, hoping for a view of the convergence of Misty Passage, Old Passage and Blunden Passage. They hiked through the second growth hemlock forest, finding familiar immense old growth stumps with spring board grooves, a number of which looked liked recently created cedar bark “cultural modifications,” and a delicious huckleberries.

Though crisscrossed by steep ravines, the bush was relatively easy to crash through because of the absence of salal and the soft springiness of the soil. The destination was something of a disappointment since the water on all sides could only be glimpsed through the tree cover.

After a return to the campsite for lunch, the land explorers napped, read and wrote in journals.

Steven and Ian took a brief kayak jaunt around the island at the center of Misty Passage. Peter and Lionel prepared Tuna surprise for the voyagers who were grateful for the hotmeal immediately upon their return. A weather report came in over Steve’s radio predicting lowering pressure. It rained for about two hours during the night. Peter and Lionel got wet because their tent fly didn’t work.

For a full set (67) of my Zunoquad pictures click here.

For a pool (184) of pictures by several people on this trip, click here.

For a wiki including these journal entries and writings by other participants, click here