Earlier this year my longtime best friend threw around the idea of going to Haida Gwaii and without thinking I knew I wanted to go. Since I was a marine-obsessed, west coast (at heart), cetacean loving kiddo, I knew I wanted to visit this foggy archipelago of giant trees. When we decided on a kundalini yoga retreat followed by an unguided kayak trip, there was a lot of what the fuck happening in my head - given it's not all that easy to research your way into kayak proficiency, nor did i relish the thought of days of self-reflection and meditation. Of the two of us, I`m definitely not the free spirit, but I kind of got to the point where I figured twenty-nine is maybe an ok time to learn to wing it.
I also ran out of time to google.
Flying in to Sandspit, the tarmac came into sight about ten seconds before touch down. It was as foggy as my high school days in Newfoundland, but more windswept and giant sitka spruce lined the airport runway. Jenna met me in Queen Charlotte and we headed off to Tlell to get centered. For anyone who has never tried kundalini or isn't much of a self-reflector, ecstatic dancer or mantra chanter (aka: me), try it, it's good-weird.
Graham Island has only one main highway, and it goes from Queen Charlotte to the top of the island, ending in Old Massett. Access to anything else is by forestry road, some are even not so bad. Cell reception is spotty everywhere outside of Charlotte. Hoping to catch friends fishing in Rennel Sound (the only road accessible part of the west coast), and somewhat careful to avoid Echo-eaters (potholes big enough to swallow Jenna's red Echo) we made it to the sound in time for a wild sunset and spicy pasta. In the morning the water was glass and Bonanza Bay was deserted. Jeanne and Gord took us on a tour of the sound - squeezing their fishing boat between narrow inlets to get us into secret coves of seals and herons and eagles and starfish.
Back in Charlotte, we started planning our kayak trip. Knowing our fair share of paddlers, we were told to hit up the guys at Kitgoro. We headed to the kayak shack super confident, but to our surprise, Kye had no idea who the fuck any of the people we were name-dropping were (turns out our friends know his older brother). He offered us beers anyway and was pretty great about renting us kayaks and planning our trip with us considering we were asking to do the trip he guides, with his kayaks and his gear, but without him. Realising what an obvious riot we were, he and Max took us swimming and drinking at Yakoun lake until dark and we spent the night on the lawn of Max`s danger palace. Friends 4ever.
Over the next couple days we went north since this geologist needed to see Tow Hill - it`s an old volcanic plug made of columnar basalt sitting on an unending beach on the northernmost edge of Graham Island. We saw some art, got close enough to touch some eagles, ate caraway fries at Sherri`s Gas Bar & Grill, bought a mug in Port Clements and made bruschetta at Grey Bay. We always came back to the visitor`s center which we used and abused for sink showers, taking photos of pages of relevant guide books (thrifty!), cooked and drank box wine at their picnic tables, charged every camera, phone and portable battery in their outlets and organised our dry bags for kayak day.
Our five day kayak plan was to go from the east coast of Skidegate Inlet through the narrows between Graham and Morseby islands to Chaatl, an ancient Haida village site at the mouth of the west coast. Chaatl used to have some 500+ residents living in three dozen long houses, abandoned in the 1850s. Emily Carr painted the overgrown village in 1912, mid decay. Only two poles now are left standing - one of these being the well known Mosquito pole. Kayaking through the narrows to get to Chaatl requires good timing. The water on either side of the narrows has different tidal ranges (east side is bigger) because of depths, different rising and falling times, and a huge inlet on one side making it so that if you time your trip through you can either be helped by the flow, or face a miserable paddle. We went with the help option - even then the current was strong and we paddled through whirlpools and boils. I don't have any photos of this part because navigating the water was tricky enough, let alone multitasking with a camera. The next morning was magic and we paddled through clouds and fog, a deer swam across Armentiere's channel which was swarming with jellyfish, some as big as my dogs. Our waterproof map had all sorts of helpful marks on it, including a circled high tide mark at the bend of Armentiere's channel. We found out that's because this section can dry up on a low tide, but because we didn't want to wait another six hours for the water to return, we decided to portage which was a brutal choice. It started to rain as we made five trips through the mucky bottom of the channel, which at the same time as being squishy was completely covered with sharp mussels and slimy seaweed. I have no photos of that because it was fucking miserable and I intended on forgetting it happened. From that point it shifted from lightly raining to actually raining, and I have limited photos of the rest of the trip because of the colossal amount of water outside of the boat, in the boat, in the sky, in my pants, and everywhere else. We were for sure laughing (at ourselves) the entire time, but there were moments in the dark, lying on a hefty mossy incline, where we could barely hear each other over the rain pounding on the tent that hadn't let up for forty hours that I for sure thought we were going to die. Classic second hand fun.
Upon return to Charlotte, I had the longest shower beer of my life. And then got rightfully tanked to forget about the cold and wet of the days before and passed out in front of a beach fire.
The last couple of days on the island we spent with island friends, at bonfires, swimming, climbing trees and visiting Kiki (who ran our yoga retreat) at her beautiful home and art studio on Robertson Island, where she offered up her washing machine and balconies to dry out our kit. Those last days were the clearest, warmest, sunniest days on Haida Gwaii in weeks and I truly felt a little heartbroken leaving all that wilderness, freedom and friendship behind as the ferry pulled away from the dock over dark waters, back towards the mainland.
Kiki Van der Heiden's artwork and yoga
Kitgoro Kayaking kayak shack