As soon as I was awake at around 9:00am, I checked the forecast on my
VHF radio. Not encouraging, to
least: the first major frontal system of the season was approaching.
forecast was promising gale-force winds tomorrow. The rain had been
pouring outside; however, just when I stepped out of my tent, the rain
had stopped. I had
immediately taken advantage of dry skies: found a nice cooking place
a view in
tidal zone and fired up my wood stove. As if waiting for this
moment, the rain had returned,
initially as a drizzle, changing into a downpour. Had moved back under
cooking tarp, but still lost the fire in the stove. It took me some
fire it up again. Started with a
breakfast of coffee and biscuits, then boiled odd parts of
and fried six fillets, each making at least one very generous
portion. Salted the
rest, about one half of the salmon.
By the time I was done with the fish, it was already a lunch time.
Enjoyed fried salmon with mashed potatoes and a cup of tea. 2:00pm, and
rain was still going strong. After a morning of hard work, I had treated myself to a
nap accompanied by the drumming sounds of water falling on my tarp.
Woke up at 4:00pm: with nothing else to
do, I had
decided to have an early dinner. Heated up fish stock and made mashed potatoes
accompanied by a large chunk of
salmon. Concluded the dinner with a cup of raspberry tea. While
washing my dishes, I had noticed that a second sailboat had found a
refuge in this protected cove.
Weathering the Storm in Alston Cove
powerful noise had been
building up in tree tops all around me: likely, very strong winds,
almost unnoticeable inside the well-protected cove, if it was not for
that noise and ripples on the water surface.
to the tent, wrote up my travel notes, listened to the 9:30pm forecast
on my VHF radio. No encouraging news: the system with an 895
low, formed in the Gulf of Alaska, would bring more gale-force winds
and rain. The barometric pressure was falling all around,
confirming my own barometer readings. Staying for another day for sure.
Before going to bed, I congratulated myself on selecting a protected
and comfortable place for weathering this prolonged storm. Like many
times before, I had noticed again how a noise of the wind in the forest was
resembling a chanting human voice. No wonder that people believed in
forest-inhabiting spirits and in witches casting spells on dark foul nights.
I woke up at 7:00am next morning, it was still windy and rainy: quite a
miserable day. Tried to find CBC Vancouver on my shortwave radio,
unsuccessfully. Had managed to locate the BBC News and got
on world events. The VHF forecast was not improving: the system had
become quasi-stationary, the winds would be getting even stronger, and
the whole thing was going to last for at least a couple more days. After
updating my diary, I had drifted asleep until 11:00am. Cooking on a
wood stove in this weather had promised to be a less than pleasant
experience. With my supply of dry wood, collected just before the storm
and stored under the tarp, dwindling, I had decided to skip making hot
breakfasts to resort to a two hot meals a day routine: this was my
usual approach on paddling days (sometimes even only one hot meal a
day), although this time I was not going anywhere anytime soon.
On the night of my arrival to Alston Cove I had salted salmon roe, and
it was now ready
for consumption. Deciding for some reason to treat myself to a
decadent meal of blinis with caviar, I had mixed self-raising flour and
water. However, the dough was refusing to raise. At the end, after
trying this and that, I had made
something palatable -- I would have only called it blinis in
conditions like these. After finishing my lunch, with the
thermos filled with coffee for the next morning, I had felt
it was the time to start exploring my surroundings, rain or no rain.
Dressed up in the water-proof kayaking outfit, with my camera safely
stored in a dry bag and a mouth-blown fog horn hanging around my neck,
I was ready to go. As I did not have a bear spray on this trip, the fog
horn was my only line of defense against bears.
Overall, it was a loud device; however, my experience a few months
earlier on Haida Gwaii had shown that a determined bear would simply
ignore it. Still, it was better than nothing. As a an additional safety
measure before stepping away from my camp, I had left
a note at my tent entrance giving the date, the direction of my
exploratory trip (essentially up the main creek), and the time when I
was expecting to return.
I had to cross two smaller creeks. Nothing more than tiny flows of
water on my arrival, they were now several metres-wide
roaring streams. The second one was way too powerful: I
had to find a sturdy pole to assist with crossing.
First Creek after Prolonged Rain, Alston Cove
In the tidal area of the
main creek I had found a salmon carcass. I could not tell if the fish
had been caught here or flushed from the upstream. One point was clear: with lots
of roe still inside, this female had not had a chance to spawn.
Failed to Spawn
The ripped open stomach
suggestive of a well-fed bear preferring salmon roe. When fish
abundant, bears often eat only the parts they like most. Some never
stomach content eating only flesh, some prefer heads, and some go for
roe leaving everything else to other creatures.
Salmon Carcass in Tidal Zone
an animal trail along the main creek (Blee Creek, according to
chart), I had quickly reached the fallen log that I had observed two
days earlier, blocking boat access further upstream.
kept following the
trail upstream. Initially, it had continued along the shore but then
started climbing up
the slope taking me further and further away from the creek. At some
point, I had decided to get back to the creek and started descending,
choosing the shortest direct route. Without a trail to guide me through
forest, I had quickly ended up in multi-story mess of piled up fallen
trees overgrown with vegetation, including
Devil's Club -- a nasty plant covered in sharp thorns. After lots of
crawling, climbing and walking on slippery logs, I had finally reached
the creek, now gently flowing through meadows.
walking back to the camp, downstream, sometimes along the creek,
sometimes inside if the water was not too deep or turbulent. On a way
back, collected a few strands of black hair: no signs of a spirit bear.
the time I had returned, it was already 6:00pm. Gathered some wood,
had tried to get my stove going for some time. It did not want to: the
new wood was way too wet. Fortunately, I still had a bit of dry wood
collected before the storm. With its help, I had fired up the stove and
finally boiled some water. Tea, remaining blinis and caviar, and a big
chunk of salmon made my dinner. In bed by 11:00pm.
I woke up at 7:00am: the rain and gusty winds. Went to sleep again,
9:00am. Updated my diary, listened to CBC Vancouver, then checked the
VHF forecast: all the same story. One piece of good news was that the
pressure had started to rise: end of the storm was finally in sight.
Time to get out of the tent and face the rain. Mashed potatoes and
remaining cooked salmon made my brunch, followed by a cup of coffee
from the thermos. After refilling the thermos so I would have a hot
drink upon my return, I had again departed for Blee Creek. Water, water
everywhere: on the ground, falling from the sky, coming down the slopes
in numerous streams.
Small Creek Waterfall
I had not seen many edible mushrooms in this forest, possibly too dense
and dark for them to grow. This one was in a small opening, likely a
Boletus, and edible. As I still had plenty of
salmon, I left it alone.
when I started walking up the stream, the rain had intensified. The
creek was full of salmon, but deprived of any other wildlife: not even
birds. Likely, all creatures had been in hiding, waiting until the rain
had eased or stopped. After reaching a "bridge", a log used by
crossing the stream, I had positioned myself some distance away hoping
to observe one of the fellows. Waited for about an hour, getting
least outside, to no avail. Finally, packed up and headed back along
the creek to my camp.
Blee Creek Estuary at High Tide
a bit of rest, I had cooked mashed potatoes (they were so easy to
make -- just add hot water), had a piece of salmon and completed my
with a cup of tea. In tent by 10:00pm, ready for the night. Rain was
still pouring outside, but almost no wind. Likely, staying for one more
day in the cove.
Fourth Day. Woke
up at 9:00am. Drizzling, and no wind. Both sailboats were gone --
took advantage of the calm and left earlier in the morning. I was again
alone. Just when I started thinking about packing up and leaving the cove, the drizzle had turned into a steady rain, and
this had settled the matter: staying for yet another day.
The barometric pressure
kept rising: a very good sign that the worst was over. Spent two
frustrating hours trying to cook my brunch. I was out of the dry wood
collected before the storm, and all what I could find in the forest now was soaking wet. The
rain had stopped in the afternoon and I could finally see the clouds:
in past it was just a dull grey overcast. Decided to take
advantage of dry hours and try getting as far up the creek as
Blee Creek with Skies
two hours of exhausting efforts, I had gotten farer up the creek than I
had ever been before. However, when I checked the GPS, it was only one
km from the shore, as the crow flew. No animals in sight; however,
plenty of signs of bear presence, including log bridges and marking
trees, some with old healed scars and some with more recent ones.
Bear Marking Trees
was already 4:00pm: time to turn back if I did not want to risk
wandering in the dark. On my way back, I had taken a picture of
the creek with my waterproof point & shoot camera, hand-held.
camera kept complaining about not having enough light and that the
flash should be turned on. Knowing in advance that this was a bad idea,
I still decided to oblige and see what would happen. Sure enough, the
only thing clearly visible in the image with the flash on was the
moisture in the air. Good reference photographs to retain and
demonstrate during my workshops to highlight disadvantages of using the
flash when the air humidity was very high.
Blee Creek, Upstream
(left image: flash off, right image: flash on)
While trying to avoid a bad spot on the trail along
the creek, I had again managed to get into a multi-story tree pile-up
slope. Climbing, squeezing, jumping, almost falling from slippery logs,
often so rotten that they were just waiting to collapse under me, plus
more than a few encounters with Devil's Club: I could not claim that
was a pleasant experience. Overall, following animal trails had been
the best strategy in temperate rainforests. However, sooner or later,
the trail would go under a fallen tree, too low for me to squeeze under
without crawling on wet and often muddy grounds. Or it would turn
into a tunnel through a dense and thorny vegetation. Again, it was
either crawling and ripping my clothes or trying to find a detour,
often ending up in an impenetrable jungle. Finally, I was back on the
trail, spotting a small bear footprint, likely a juvenile.
Bear Footprint, Blee
was back to my camp by 6:00pm, after four exhausting hours.
light was still good and I took a few pictures of my encampment that
had provided me with a reasonably good shelter for four stormy
Alston Cove Camp
The cove was filled up
with fog: a beautiful scene. Made several photos, likely the best
landscape images of this trip to date.
enjoying a refreshing bath in a tiny creek, I had to dedicate two
to cooking my dinner. All fire wood was soaking wet; the fire kept
off and I had to restart my stove several times. Finally, I had boiled
salmon and made mashed potatoes, then completed the meal with tea, with the rest
of boiled water going into the thermos to have a warm cup of
coffee next morning.
In bed by 11:00pm. With four days already lost in the first storm of
the season and more storms coming for sure, I had recalled the warning
given me in Klemtu that the weather was closing in and that I had
chosen a wrong season. He was right, of course, about the weather. As
to the season -- with the salmon run at a full swing, I still hoped
that I would be able to observe and appreciate this wonder of nature,
and see my bears and other wildlife. The second biggest challenge,
after weathering the storms, was the photography: in this extremely wet
environment I had to find a way to photograph without losing my
equipment to the moisture, temporary or permanently. Keeping the
cameras dry would be an ongoing challenge.
It was also clear that I had no chance to safely
circumnavigate the island at this time of the year. From now on, my plan for
the remaining part of my expedition had become to concentrate on exploring
Laredo Inlet, keeping an eye on the weather and available
campsites, making sure that I would be at a safe and convenient spot
when the next storm hit. My following destination was Bay of Plenty on the
opposite side of Laredo Inlet, about 10-15 km away, depending of where
I was planning to camp. The couple from the sailboat was there a week
earlier, observing a very robust salmon run.
The alarm was set for
6:00am; however, I could not fall asleep: dull pain on the right
side of my chest was keeping me awake. No matter what I tried, I could
not find a comfortable position eliminating or at least reducing the
suffering. Did not recall falling and cracking my ribs: likely,