Last summer Explore Magazine covered our exploratory SUP trip to the GreatBear and so this year we brought 5 excited guests up to experience the coastal temperate rainforest. Joining us on our first commercial SUP expedition was Lance McClure, Diana Mauriks, Jamie McVicar, Todd Allen and his partner Stephanie with Jen co guiding and looking after food. Here is an itinerary for our trip our amazing trip.
August 23rd:Down to Hartley Bay
We all boarded theTsimshian Storm ferry for our 4 hour ride down to our launching point of Hartley Bay. Hartley Bay is a Gitga’at First Nation community remotely located in Douglas Channel. The ferry left at 830am under rainy skies and many of our guests had a chance to talk with folks from Hartley Bay on our way down. Once in Hartley Bay we organized gear for the afternoon and toured around the town. I lined up a time just before our traditional dinner to sit down and talk with Helen Clifton, one of the matriarchs and great leaders of Hartley Bay. I always like to bring friends over to talk with “Granny.” She incredibly knowledgable of Gitga’at culture and history and is a beautiful story teller. Granny told us all about the Gitga’at traditional ways of life, showed us historical pictures and shared priceless carvings and artifacts with us. I have always said that the people of this area bring depth to our expedition and just spending a little bit of time with Granny leaves people feeling blessed and enlightened.
From Granny’s we headed over to Lynne and Ernie Hill’s for dinner. Lynne and Ernie are family to me and it is one of the special experiences of this trip, to share a traditional dinner in their home. The meal was outstanding and there was so much food that even Lance tapped out and became quiet. Jodi and Mamma served a table full of smoke, candied and baked salmon, Dungeness crab, seaweed, and clams. Traditional food harvesting is still a vital component of Gitga’at life and we were very fortunate to have the Hill’s share this valuable food resource with us. It’s this food resource that is at risk from the potential of oil tanker traffic on our coast. Spending time with Granny and Hill’s gave us a great sense of place for our week long standup expedition.
August 24th: The Beauty and Spirit of Cornwall Inlet
We awoke early to the smell of coffee and Lance baking some delicious blueberry scones for our trip. After gathering up our gear we headed down to the dock to meet Chris Bolton and Darnell Dundas who were going to transfer us, our gear and boards to the entrance of Cornwall Inlet. A 40 minute boat was highlighted by numerous Humpback Whale sightings on our way to the inlet. Cornwall Inlet is a stunning fiord with steep sided walls and a strong First Nations presence. After waiting for the tidal rapids to slow down we made it inside and had an amazing 3 hour paddle to the back of the inlet where we were going to spend the evening in a Raven Longhouse. Cornwall was magical, as the rain and mist provided a fitting back drop and feel to this spiritual area. After making it to the longhouse and spreading out our sleeping bags, making a fire and getting water we explored a local salmon stream and paddled through majestic old growth forests. I tried howling for some coastal wolves since Cornwall is home to a large wolfpack. They did not oblige but I am sure my wolf howl did not warrant any response at all.
August 25th: Humpbacks and Whale Channel
We awoke to rain pattering on the roof of the longhouse and slowly made our way out of our warm sleeping bags and straight to a warm cup of Galileo Coffee, specially brewed by coffee roaster and owner of Gaileo Coffee, Lance McClure. Lance has been amazing in his support of the GreatBear Rainforest and Standup4GreatBear by crafting a GreatBear Rainforest Blend and donating $5 of every bag to Standup4GreatBear, my non profit organization developed after my 400km SUP expedition along the proposed oil tanker route. To order bags of coffee and support SU4GB contact lance at the link above. After a windy and rainy start, the winds died and the water flattened as we made our way out of the Inlet. Once we got out of the inlet and into appropriately named Whale Channel, we were greeted by 3-4 Humpback Whales diving and frolicking not far from the nose of our SUP’s. Chris then transferred us after lunch down to Cameron Cove and the watchman cabin where we would make this our base for the next 4 nights. Just after lunch Chris caught a 10lb coho and kindly donated it to our group for our evening dinner. Fresh coho salmon, some fried in the pan and part cooked in tin foil over a hot wood stove was delicious. Thanks so much Chris, it was a very kind gesture.
August 26th: Sea Lion Rock and Kiel
After a comfortable sleep in we downed our rations of coffee and hopped on our boards and paddled out for our 2 hr SUP to Sea Lion rock. This exposed rock is covered by numerous Stellar Sea Lions. The large males are 3 times the size of a Grizzly Bear and very territorial. It was quite the experience seeing these boisterous beasts on the rock and swimming curiously around our boards. From sea lion rock had lunch at Kiel. Kiel is the spring harvesting camp of Hartley Bay. The whole community comes down to this small fishing village to harvest seaweed and catch halibut. They have been doing this for hundreds of years. At one time there would have been a number of these fishing camps throughout their territory and we enjoyed relaxing on the white shell beach and watching humpbacks swim by. After lunch we bumped in to Marvin Robinson, a Gitga’at guide and steward of the land. I have worked with Marvin for close to 10 years and he has probably seen and spent more time with Spirit Bears than any one in the world. From there is was back to our camp for well deserved dinner.
August 27th: Cetacea Lab and Whale Point
We spent the morning checking out the local river for signs of salmon. We were fortunate to have watched the salmon begin their migration up the river. It’s not too often that you get a chance to see this happen right in front of your eyes. Yesterday there had been very few fish in the river and today there were hundreds that came up with the rain. We noticed a few salmon that had been taken by bears. Finally some good weather started shaping up and our day trip today was going to take us to one of my favorite places in the area and then over to Herman and Janey’s Whale Point Cetacean Research Lab. An hour and a half against a flooding tide took us to an old village site. At one time there was a Gitga’at camp here made evidence by the rock weirs and traditional fish traps the First Nations used to catch salmon running up rivers. A quick step into the forest reveals numerous CMT’s or culturally modified trees. First Nations would used cedar trees for everything from canoes, to longhouses, boxes, baskets and clothing. Numerous eagles lined the river looking for salmon and our group had a chance to collect eagle feathers. The nearby creek had hundreds of salmon and we had lunch in front of a set of falls where we could watch salmon jumping and making their way upriver to spawn. Although there was a lot of salmon there did not seem to be much salmon kill in the area. This area is another hotspot for coastal wolves. After lunch we headed to Herman and Janeys. These whale researchers have been studying Humpback and Killer Whales for close to a decade. They have been doing some incredible work and Janey graciously shared whales calls and explained their work in detail. We visited their new lab on Whale Point before saying goodbye and making our way back to our cabin under flat calm conditions and warm, sunny skies.
August 28th: Spirit Bear Cub
We spent another morning looking for bears in the river by our cabin and found more signs of bear killed salmon. We had been paddling quite a bit up to this point so we took today as a rest and exploration day in the harbour. The weather was as good as it gets on the coast and we were paddling in shorts and tshirts. Most of the group had scattered around the harbour but as i was making my way around the shore line with Lance I saw Jen up ahead with Steph and another boat. Jen frantically signalled me over and just inside the forest we could see a white spirit bear cub sleeping on a log with it’s black bear mom nuzzled right beside. Amazing. Spirit Bears are only found in this area of the world and they say one in ten bears on the island are white. Seeing a white bear is rare but seeing a white cub is even more incredible. We gathered our group up and everyone got a chance to see this amazing iconic species that was highlighted in the Whistler Olympics. Not many people get a chance to see a white bear and we were in the right place at the right time. Usually you may see them in the salmon rivers but this mom and cub had been cruising the shoreline while we were in the river looking for bears. They almost walked right by our cabin. Our group felt very fortunate and it was the “cherry on top” as Diana would say, in an already amazing week. After an hour of viewing we made our way over to King Pacific Lodge for a tour and some beverages. I even managed to do a little bit of wake surfing behind one of the lodge boats. It was a spectacular day all around. We even watched another black bear cruise the shoreline while we had our dinner under the setting sun.
August 29th: Back to Hartley Bay
Our last morning at the cabin we packed up and waited for Chris to pick us up for our trip back to Hartley Bay. Lance and Todd left for an early morning paddle and we picked them up along the way. The sunrise was beautiful and the waters flat as we made our way back. Once in Hartley Bay we headed up to Lynne and Ernie’s for breakfast before getting on the ferry to head back to Hartley Bay.
The trip exceeded my expectations and Jen and I were very fortunate to have had such and amazing group of people to paddle with all week. We had a lot of fun and lots of laughs all week. I will be in the Great Bear till the 20th. My next couple of weeks will be guiding and working with the Christina Mittermeier and Ian MacAllister with the International League of Conservation Photographers and the GreatBear RAVE. The RAVE will bring a collection of the world’s best nature photographers to photo document the GreatBear in hopes of keeping the proposed oil pipeline and tankers off our coast.
*on another note our paddling group and another boat in the harbour at the time were the only ones to see this white cub. Paul Nicklen, National Geographic photographer, who came down with Marvin that afternoon spent two days looking and they did not see it. Paul is doing a Nat Geo feature on the spirit bear and he said this is the one shot he is missing. We were really fortunate. I have also heard that two wolf pups were spotted in the area which means there is a wolf pack there. The wolf pack will push bears out of an area. I am surprised as well that the Black bear mom only had one cub. Maybe the other cub was killed by the wolves. It will be interesting to see if they show up again this month.