Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Princess Royal Island: 

My First Adventure in the Wonderland of Bears, Wolves and Salmon


The rain had started at night and kept going through the morning. I woke up at around 7:00am. Switched on my portable short-wave radio, first time since leaving Victoria. Managed to find a few stations, including CBC Vancouver. It was good to have access to the news and especially to an alternative source for weather forecasts: I was not expecting a good VHF reception once deep inside Laredo Inlet.

It had been about 24 hours since I packed away my camera to dry up. With lots of anticipation, I got it out, inserted a battery and turned on: nothing happened. So, that was it: no more video recording on this expedition. Still not clear what was the cause of this failure; likely, the moisture, but how did it get inside? Down to two DSLRs: need to be extra careful from now on.

The rain was still going strong, and I decided against cooking a hot breakfast. Finding dry wood, then trying to get my stove going in these wet conditions would have taken too much of my time. I still had a full thermos of warm coffee, prepared the night before, and I had finished it with biscuits, salami, cheese and a granola bar. The rain had finally stopped in late morning. but it was still very wet outside, with water coming down from trees. Still, no more excuses: time to start my explorations!

First, keeping in mind that one camera was already down, likely due to moisture, I had to come up with some water-tight protection for my main camera with a telephoto lens and other electronics that I was planning to take with me on a walk. After emptying one of my dry bags, I had attached a strap, put my GPS and VHF radio on the bottom, then the camera, and rolled the top tight. This I could carry on my side, water-tight yet easy to access in a matter of a couple of seconds. Although I was wearing a waterproof kayaking outfit (chest pants with built-in socks and a jacket), I still put on top of it a poncho, to cover the red colour of my jacket and provide an additional layer of protection for its thin fabric from sharp objects in the forest. There was an animal trail through the forest and soon I was following it helping myself to ripe Salal berries along the way. Some time later, I had reached a sizable creek.

Creek in Quigley Cove

The trail continued along the creek, in both directions, up and downstream. Decided to go up, to check for waterfalls where salmon might be congregating, attracting bears. Found some blueberry bushes on a slope (at least I believed that these were blueberries). Had eaten a few berries, and then restrained myself: in a few hours at most, I would know for sure if these were blueberries or not.

It did not take me long to find a first pile of bear scat. It was quite old, but at least I knew that a black (or maybe spirit) bear was using this trail. The only way to know if a spirit bear was in the area, short of seeing it myself, was to find some hair on a scratching tree or in a tight area on the trail. After some searching, I had indeed located a few strands of hair in different places: they were all black or black and brown. So, it was likely a black bear with brown patches calling the area home. Still, I had only explored a small part of this creek, and I kept going. M
ore black hair on the trail, and then I had found another sign of bear presence: claw marks on a mossy rock.


Bear Claw Marks on a Mossy Rock

I had followed the trail further up, finding more bear scat, some looking quite fresh, and salmon leftovers in the creek: something must have eaten this fish. At some point, the trail had split into two: one going away and another following the creek, but fading fast. I did not see any point in taking the first trail, as I did not know its destination, and I continued along the creek. However, the trail had soon disappeared completely: the only way to keep going was getting into the creek and then trying to move against the fast running water that was up to my knees in shallow places, much deeper elsewhere. I could see large
fallen trees ahead, blocking further access up the creek and promising lots of exhausting climbing: better to leave this for tomorrow.

The afternoon was a mix of sun and clouds. I had returned to my camp with no new discoveries except seeing salmon jumping in the creek: bears might come for fishing tomorrow! Although tired and hungry, I had first to take care of my laundry -- it would have been a shame not to take advantage of this sun. Then cooked a double portion of pasta with cheese, one to eat now and one for dinner. Finished the first portion and then, still very hungry after all the hiking and exploring, the rest of pasta. After refilling the thermos with coffee for the next morning, I could finally enjoy a cup of tea. Late afternoon and evening were dedicated to studying topo maps of Laredo Inlet, identifying potential salmon-bearing creeks and camping areas, and catching up on writing my diary. Getting hungry again, cooked a large portion of porridge and ate some of it leaving the rest for breakfast. Bugs came out in large numbers later in a day, and I had to retreat inside the tent to keep working on my diary. Checked the forecast on the VHF radio: just some rain overnight -- nothing to be concerned about. Time to sleep.

I did stay in the cove longer, and explored the creek beyond the trail. About two hours of climbing over large fallen trees, wading through the fast running waters of the creek and climbing up the shore in places where the creek was impassable had exhausted me completely, while the progress up the creek was measured in just a few hundred metres. No bears. Photographed salmon jumping over waterfalls; did not get any really good close-up photos -- the fish was too fast and unpredictable. The following image is a tight crop from a much larger photograph.

Jumping Salmon (tight crop)

Found an interesting bush with read berries: looked quite familiar; however I was not sure what it was, and decided to leave it alone. Months later, I had found out that these were likely red huckleberries, edible and rich in vitamin C.

Red Huckleberries

With no signs of spirit bears in the area, there was no point in staying here longer: my next destination was Alston Cove, about 12 km further inside Laredo Inlet. The creek there looked good for salmon on the topo map, and large tidal areas inside the cove were promising a chance of a decent campsite.

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