It all started with watching SPOIL: Fight to Save the Great Bear Rainforest -- a documentary by the International League of Conservation Photographers, still available on the Internet.
Even before, I had heard fairytale stories about endless wild temperate rainforests along BC's central and north coasts, bears and wolves feeding on salmon, and First Nations communities with exotic names like Bella Bella and Bella Coola. It all sounded too good to be real. And so I did not put this wast area on my mental map as a destination for an expedition until this documentary had shown me what the Great Bear Rainforest could offer. I had also learned that the area was home to an illusive spirit bear: an extremely rare subspecies of the American black bear with a creamy-white fir, known in science as the Kermode bear. Finally, with the oil pipeline and oil tanker route proposed to pass through the Great Bear Rainforest, I had decided to get there soon, while it was still wild and unspoiled.
follow-up research had identified Princess
Royal Island, just off
BC's north coast, as a place with highest concentration of spirit bears.
Best time for visiting the area was during the summer-fall salmon run
(mid-July to October), when the wildlife was feasting on spawning
salmon. Internet posts had pointed on September as the prime time for
spotting spirit bears on Princess Royal Island, and that was when I
decided to be there.
previous years, I had pushed durations of my solo kayaking
expeditions from three
weeks to just
over a month. This time, it was
making sense to go for something even longer, considering the island
size, the unpredictable weather and the time required for getting
there and back. Five weeks seemed to be about as long as I could be
away from my home base in Victoria. So, I had decided to depart in
late August and finish my trip in early October, allocating most of
September to exploring the island.
The ideal programme for this
trip was to circumnavigate the island, checking out its
numerous bays and inlets, and also visiting along the way adjacent
islands and mainland bays. However, I knew that this was not going
to be realistic except in case of an exceptionally good weather: the
time required just to circumnavigate the island, without exploring
its inlets, was about two weeks, if paddling every day in my
inflatable kayak. Going into inlets and visiting adjacent islands
could have easily doubled the timing. Expected storms had also
demanded allocating some extra time to waiting them out. Completing the
whole programme in five weeks was certainly less than likely.
get into Laredo Inlet, where wildlife
concentration seemed to be especially high. Kitasoo Spirit Bear
Conservancy was there, a protected area primarily covering Laredo
Inlet. Its name was certainly hinting on where spirit bears were likely going to
Even in case of a prolonged stormy weather, the inlet would be
offering me some protection and an opportunity to explore it on foot
and by kayak.
so it was settled. Klemtu,
Nations community on
adjacent to Princess Royal Island, offered a convenient starting and
finishing point being on BC Ferries' route from Port Hardy to Prince
Rupert. The only major remaining decision was the direction of my
travel. Each had its advantages and disadvantages. Going from Klemtu
clockwise would take me into Laredo Inlet within a couple of
days of paddling. Then, depending of the weather, I could stay in its
or keep circumnavigating the island, checking out
other inlets and visiting adjacent picturesque islands. Finally, I
would get into channels between Princess Royal Island and the mainland
were forming part of the Inside Passage. From there, I could access
mainland inlets with salmon-fishing
grizzlies and wolves.
The other alternative was doing the same route counter-clockwise, starting with mainland inlets. According to the highly regarded Wild Coast guidebooks by John Kimantas, my main source of information, in addition to grizzlies, mainland inlets were also offering breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains. However, the mountains were only visible when the skies were clear, and as I had learned before, clear skies were an unpredictable treat. In addition, going counter-clockwise I would only end up in Laredo Inlet in late September, if at all, when the salmon run would be already winding up and prolonged storms much more likely.
Since I was going from Victoria to Port Hardy by a Greyhound bus, I could not take the bear spray with me, and the only alternative was to buy it in Port Hardy or in Klemtu. Failing that, exploring and camping in the grizzly territory over prolonged periods of time would be way too risky. Unfortunately, my bus was arriving to Port Hardy at a time when its outdoor store was already closing down, and the ferry was departing just a few hours thereafter. I had called the band store in Klemtu: no, they did not have bear spray in stock (and no gas cartridges for my camping stove either); it was unlikely that any other location in Klemtu would have the spray. At the end, I had decided to leave it to the weather on arrival and to my luck with finding the bear spray in Klemtu to guide my travel direction.
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