This was our fourth September SUP expedition trip in the last four years and it came on the eve of last years trip making the upcoming cover of Standup Paddle Magazine. Aaron Teasdale, writer/photographer was on our trip last year and killed it with his photos and writing. We were also featured on the cover of Sierra Magazinethis past May. Both articles not only featured our expedition but more importantly brought increased awareness to the threat of oil tankers traveling through the Great Bear Rainforest.
September 1st/2nd- Road trip North.
With the Tacoma loaded up Jen and I started our expedition leaving from Squamish headed for Prince Rupert, a 17 hour drive. I always enjoy the road trip but it’s a pretty good pull up there. There was lots of wildlife around the Burns Lake area including three moose, four Black Bears and two deer. Our first day of travel took us to one of our favorite towns, Smithers. We stayed at Jan and Amy’s beautiful home close to the Babine River where we caught up over a warm fire under a starry night. The following morning we loaded up on groceries and then headed west. We stopped at one of my favorite places, Moricetown, to watch the local natives dip netting salmon out of the turbulent river. There were signs everywhere saying no to oil. If you ever get a chance to stop at Moricetown, which is right off the highway, do it, it’s a pretty powerful and memorable place. It showcases firsthand the dependence of the First Nations on the rivers and on the salmon.
The road trip from Smithers, west to Prince Rupert is one of the most beautiful drives you can take. It’s river and mountain county and will leave you incredibly inspired. After numerous coffee stops, we made it to Prince Rupert to meet the guests and to get ready for our early morning ferry ride to Hartley Bay. Cowpucchino’s coffee shop is a place you should stop by for some java and lunch, say hi to Judson Rowse when you’re there. We met our guests that evening at Breakers to go over trip logistics and to have the guests meet each other. This year we had four guest, Scott Fitzgerald from Vancouver, Steve Sawacki and Mika Yokahama from Los Angeles and Christy Shaw from Revelstoke. Another guest had cancelled a couple of weeks earlier due to an injury and i am hoping Alessandro can make it next year. The guests were stoked to say the least, as were we.
|Some wildlife on the road trip north|
September 3rd-Hartley Bay and Traditional Foods.
Up early with the rain we shuttled guests and gear down to the ferry which would take us on a three and a half hour trip to the small Gitga’at community of Hartley Bay where we would launch our expedition. I have been fortunate to be adopted as a Raven by Eva Hill and each year Cam and Eva host our group for the first evening and for our traditional dinner. It has become tradition that we have Dungeness Crabs. Cam goes out to harvest them locally and then shares them with our group and teaches us all how to shuck them. It’s always and amazing experience and it’s the best crabs you will ever eat. Cam usually spends close to a hour showing the guests all of the traditional food he and Eva harvest over the year. Their freezers are full with salmon, halibut, seaweed, octopus, oolichans, Bcod, sea cucumber, shellfish and much more. It’s said in Hartley Bay that you are rich not by how much money you have but by how many freezers you have filled with traditional food. The Hill’s have five freezers stuffed to capacity.
|Cam Hill teaching the team how to shuck Dungeness Crab|
|Steve and Christy checking our our route|
September 4th- The Magical Cornwall Inlet.
Up early we loaded up Cam’s boat, The March Madness with all our gear for our trip to Cornwall Inlet. This year I brought up three Boardworks inflatables, the 10′ 7″ and 10′ 2″ Shubu and the 10 6 Badfish, one Boardworks Joyride and my old faithful, Bark Expedition. Christy, a health food store owner from Revelstoke, was paddling her kayak for the trip. Inflatables are so much easier to travel with, especially with all the boat shuttles and ferry’s. Next year I will be using all inflatables, as they are the perfect board for this expedition. They break down easily into a backpack, have a removable center fin making them easy to stack in the boat and are light enough to pick up off the water with one hand. They are very durable as well and i do not have to worry so much on the rugged shorelines and during boat transfers.
|The Team and March Madness|
|Pumping up the Boardworks Inflatables|
We made our way down to Cornwall Inlet and launched our SUP’s just inside the tidal rapids as we got ready for our two hour paddle to the Raven longhouse at the end of the fiord. Cornwall is just a magical and spiritual place. Last year photographer Aaron Teasdale got some incredible shots in Cornwall and two of his photos of the inlet made it onto the cover of Sierra Magazine and Standup Paddle Magazine. Cornwall never fails to disappoint, with its steep sided granite walls cloaked in ancient rainforest and under the watchful eyes of Gitga’at ancestors. We made it to the longhouse and then explored the estuary and worked our way up a salmon river where we ran into a black bear that was feeding on salmon. The Great Bear has endless areas that are beautiful and stunning and Cornwall Inlet is one of them. That night Jen prepared a beautiful meal and shortly after we were fast asleep in a remote corner of Gitga’at territory.
|Early morning exploration|
|Remote salmon rivers|
September 5th-Waterfalls and Black Bear traffic.
An early morning dawn patrol took us back into Cornwall River to see if we could find some more bears but instead we enjoyed watching salmon travelling up the river under our boards. We headed back to the longhouse for one of Jen’s amazing breakfasts and then loaded up the Madness for our trip out of the inlet. We relaunched our boards just outside of the tidal rapids and right from ancient rock canoe slips that had once been used by the Gitga’at to wait out the rapids before entering Cornwall. We stopped at another sweet little salmon river where a short hike took us to a beautiful waterfall where loads of salmon were stacked in a small pool at the base of the falls. I was sure we were going to see a bear and I have also see wolves here, but not today.
Lunch under a blazing sun got us ready for an afternoon of paddling. I loaded up the team and headed south to check out another waterfall before paddling to the stunning watchman cabin in Cameron Cove.
|Gitga’at Watchman Cabin|
There were Humpback whales nearby and one surfaced close to the group before moving away to look for herring to eat. The weather today and all week was the best I have every seen it for a seven day period in September and the paddle into the cabin with a setting sun was unreal. We set up our camp at the cabin and that evening the bears started their movements into the nearby river right in front of our group. Over the next three nights two blacks would regularly make their way past our cabin, and within feet of our group, on their way for a night feed. They paid no attention to us or the cabin and moved quickly on their way. An incredible sunset turned into the milky way and I stayed up to watch some shooting stars before heading to bed.
|Black Bear on the way to feed for the night|
September 6th-Sea Lion Rock and Lunch at Kiel
Awakening to a magical sunrise over the temperate rainforest we had a quick breakfast and got ready to take the ebb current out to explore the open waters of Camano Sount. We battled a bit of a north wind chop coming out of our quiet cove before making it out to the calm waters of the sound. We paddled over to sea lion rock, a popular rookery, and experienced the thrill of being up close to these massive sea mammals from the decks of our SUP’s.
|Stellar Sea Lions|
After snapping a few shots and taking some video, I collected some sea urchin for us to eat at Kiel, our lunch stop. Kiel is the traditional harvesting camp of the Gitga’at People. During the month of May and early June, elders and community members travel down to Kiel from Hartley Bay to harvest halibut and seaweed. Today we would be having our lunch on the shell beach overlooking the placid ocean. I cracked the urchin and we all shared the delicious taste of “Uni.” After lunch we had a relaxing paddle back to the cove in perfect conditions. We had worked up an appetite so we devoured another great dinner and enjoyed another stellar sunset before hitting the rack early.
September 7th- Stacked with Fish!
Today we took the group to an ultra prolific salmon stream. This fall salmon stream never disappoints. This river valley has a high concentration of eagles, is a ancient Gitga’at harvesting sight and the river itself is loaded with salmon and feeding coastal wolves and bears. This small to medium sized island river this year contains 30-40000 salmon and at times have had salmon numbers over 80000. I have walked this 4km river from top to bottom counting salmon with a creek walker and it was an incredible experience. Walking salmon rivers in the fall can be a very addicting endeavor, and one i love immensely. From the river we paddled over to see Herman at Cetacea Labfor a quick tour. He played us a recent whale recording taken while humpbacks were bubble net feeding in a channel directly on the proposed tanker route. He also told us that Cetacea Lab has identified close to three hundred resident whales which include Humpback and Fin Whales. This is super valuable work considering the threat these whales are under from the Northern Gateway Project. Another epic day paddling in the Great Bear. Before heading to bed I said to the group that we would be getting up early for a dawn patrol paddle before packing our gear to head back to Hartley Bay.
September 8th- Spirit of the Rainforest
Up early before sunrise we launched our boards into the still waters of the cove, it was cool and quiet, except for the raucous calls of the ravens. We floated quietly with the rising tide and soon we could see a black bear hunting for salmon at the low tide, he made a kill and quietly carried it on the estuary grass to fed. As this bear was feeding, another bear appeared on the opposite side of the estuary and quickly disappeared into the forest, most likely working his way up the river to feed for the day. Early morning is a such an amazing time of the day to view wildlife as the rainforest begins to come alive. We spent a few more moments watching the bears and as they disappeared our thoughts turned to breakfast. But before that would happen a Spirit Bear would appear along the shoreline and not far from our group. It doesn’t matter how many times I see a Spirit Bear, it is still such a precious and special moment. The clients were speechless and after a few stops to look for salmon, and as quickly as he appeared, he disappeared into the rainforest and up into the river to feed. Incredible. We paddled back to the cabin for breakfast before packing up our gear and heading back to Hartley Bay. We stopped for a halibut lunch at another Gitga’at Watchman cabin located in a secluded quiet bay that held another salmon river we would explore. The group paddled with Humpback Whales on the way into this cove and from the boat I enjoyed watching them bubble net feeding.
From there it was back to Cam and Eva’s in Hartley Bay for another incredible feast held by the Hill family. It was the perfect close to yet another amazing time standup paddleboarding in the Great Bear Rainforest. The following morning we would awake for one of Lynne Hill’s famous breakfasts then our final pack before getting onto the ferry that would take us back to Prince Rupert.
A big thanks to the Hill Family for their hospitality and a special thanks to Cam for renting his boat to us for the week. Also thanks to Marven Robinson who is the eyes and ears on the territory and for putting us up in the watchman cabins. Thanks to Steve, Mika, Christy and Scott for coming up this year to experience the Great bear. Finally, thanks to Jen for doing such an outstanding job on the food and being my co guide, support and partner on yet another great expedition.
I will be posting a few more trips up to the Great Bear for next year so stay posted if you are interested in coming up and have a look for the new issue of Standup Paddle Magazine.