Broken Islands, September 3 – 7, 2007

Broken Islands, September 2008

Impressions of a 5-day tour to the Broken Islands, off the west coast of BC, billed as Canada’s most popular kayaking destination. It’s part of Pacific Rim park, and consists of over 100 small islands – sheltered waters, lots of wildlife. The tour operators were Batstar, out of Port Alberni.

I have a collection of photographs on Flickr.

Monday September 3, 2007. Restless night of anticipation in the B&B, basement suite in the owners’ home, shared with Margaret, Roxy and Bruce. Up at 6:30 am, breakfast at 7 am, joined by Kal, Lynda, Lara and Doug. Ample breakfast distinguished especially by the muffins, vegan and tasty, and tangy lemon-something herbal tea. Stash stay-behind gear in my big dark grey kayaking gear bag, the one that’s gone with me to Christopher Lake, shed wallet and keys. Load gear into the van, stacking yellow and blue drybags like lumpy logs, boots and watershoes into a cardboard box, multiple lumpy clanking bags kakhi and red. Snag front seat of van, so have the option of fixed stare at scenery if it gets really twisty. Long vistas on Sproat lake, long, narrow, steep mountains above, then climbing through – what’s the pass? Turn off on logging road, having collected other guide, Matt, at the junction, him standing beside a remarkably small pack. Too small, it transpires: he has come away sans sleeping bag, and all spare clothing; he has only what he stands up in. He’s a man of the coast; he’s not fussed. Logging road is dry rutted, jarring; midway up, we round a corner and a compact black animal lollops off the road into the brush. My thought-process go something like: dog, not-dog … bear??

Toquart Bay’s a long parking lot, with a trailer for the wardens, assorted campers. The bay itself is still, shiny silver sea, lacy grey sky. Triangular peaks to the left, low tufts of islands straight ahead. Spread out the tarpaulins, and carry kayaks across the broad, dull sand to the water’s edge, four people to a double, two to a single. Then gear, heaped around the perimeter of the spread tarpaulin, leaving an empty middle. Day bag into cockpit, other gear packed to fit in aft, rear and mid hatches, efficiently by Matt and Jordy. We’ve three Seaward doubles, one Current designs double, and the guides in two Seaward singles. Self in rear, with foot pedals, paddling partner Lynda in front. She’s an experienced dragon-boater. Overcast but not raining, so leave off rain-jacket, pull on sprayskirt and PFD over vintage purple undervest worn through six Calgary, one Ottawa, and five Victoria winters. Roll up sleeves. Pop contact lenses in, sunglasses on, set hat on head. Too wide for a straddle-drop, so sit behind cockpit, foot and foot and slide rump onto seat with barely a wobble. Water’s slick and slippy, for the first hundred yards, gets duller and thicker thereafter. After the Kestrel (my own 12′ recreational boat), the yellow double steers like a laden tanker. Alongside the Stopper Islands we meet the inbound group, weave between them, swap paddles, our straight-edged basic whites for their spiffy ergonomic shaft zig-zag carbon paddles. They’ve seen a whale, they say, out in Toquart Bay. Lunch comes quickly: sandwiches, assembled on a beach on the Stopper Islands. My sleeves are wet, my waist is wet beneath the spray-skirt, and I don’t want to get wetter, so on goes the waterproof, over the wet sleeves. As we launch, the rain begins. We draw clear of the Stoppers, someone points and to the left and the rear across the water, a plume, a narrow line of black, a plume, a heave of black, a tail, just as all the pictures: humpback whale.

My first impression of the islands is: black tufts in the pale grey sea. The height of the trees is startling. Small, medium or large, each has a narrow cuff of rock and beach around a pocket forest. It must be the rain that supports such growth, like the rain on the sheer slopes of Doubtful Sound. The guidebook says sitka spruce, Douglas fir, Western red cedar, Western hemlock, Amabilis fir and mentions shore pines, though I’m not sure from the context whether they’re still here or were a pioneer species post-glaciation. Fern and salal undergrowth. As to the rocks, the guidebook mentions amphibolite invaded by granite, or suspended in light quartz dolorite, forming agmatite, seen on most of the islands, most of all on Hand.

The Batstar campsite is on Keith Island, near to the center of the group, by special arrangement, as it is reservation land. Long fetch against the wind, into the train, towards dark dome of island, followed by long slog down what seems an endless, rain drenched succession of island-knuckles, towards a small and only slowly growing fleck of pallor beneath the trees, our campsite, Matt tells us. The knurled island-coast, on request, gains a name: Jaques Island, named for whom, Jordy cannot say. The scrap beneath the trees slowly expands into a white tarpaulin, balanced on upright poles between beach-anchored and tree-tied guy lines. To its right is a blue tarpaulin erected over a working bench consisting of two log-planks arrayed as a T; this will become the cooking and serving tent. When we land, the tide is almost up to the supports of the white tent. This is where we are to pile the personal gear, which we do, emptying cockpits and hatches and into piles as random as those on Toquart Beach. The camp gear, the translucent blue cuboidal water drums, the black water-sacks, the red and dark green bags distorted with cryptic bulges – one, falling open, reveals the spiky crown of a single pineapple, misplaced in the rain-blurred mossy forest – the boxes of juice, all those lined up along or below the cook-tent planks. Aside from those, the furniture consists in sum of two folding tables covered in green plastic and yellow plastic table cloths, one beachward and one behind the planks, subsequently moved to the beach. Under the white tarp there is a half-buried half-log that might sit three, shoulder to shoulder. To the far side of the cook tent there is a fire-pit, with logs and planks laid out for benches on all but the beach side, but uncovered, open to the rain. A fire, lit, sputters and goes out. We huddle under the white tarpaulin that sags with pockets of rainwater which, when poked from underneath, sluices in random surges off the edge, dousing bags and innocent bystanders. The incoming tide laps around the bases of the seaward poles, and we shuffle the luggage ahead of it. Matt and Jordy boil water, make coffee, set aside a pot of hot water for reconstitution of various brightly coloured herbal teas; I choose blackberry, for consolation. After tea, I carry my dry-bag into the dripping rain-forest, find something of a clearing, and, shivering and trying to balance my bags on the brick-red loam, peel off my saturated purple top and soaked gray fleece pants, and pull on my dusty blue fleece, which shortly seems as wet as the purple, being pulled on over a damp body in the rain, and synthetic chinos, which I know dry quickly. Shivering still, I returned to the beach, clinging to the promise of a forecast that says clearing after today.

The beach is on the end of Keith Island farthest from Toquart and the mainland, sheltered by a small peninsula, which has a stand of trees at its tip. The arc of midden beach almost disappears at high tide, but the rocky beach to either side stands higher and remains dry. The campsite itself is a series of small pockets on the brick-orange loam, between the lean mossy trunks, connected by a trodden-in trail. My guidebook describes the sitka as the preferred tree of the fringes of the sea, magnesium and salt-tolerant; distinguished by its grey, scaly bark and its sharp-tipped needles. I test this: ouch. Three tents are already set up, three are to be set up, one double, two singles. I draw the long stick, for a single tent. Thread my way back and forth along the approximate path in exploration, and detour down to the beach to find a small sandy spot that slopes only slightly, sheltered by a sitka spruce, peering out over a grassy/mossy/rocky beach at the sea. The drawback of the damp and mosquitos, I’ll discover later. Beg Matt’s help to assemble tent, since when I learned to pitch a tent, they had vertical struts and cross-poles. Three multisectioned poles, with elastic to snap them into alignment, threaded through the filmy channels, arced and pushed into the eyeholes, stood, rather uncertainly, up. Over goes the fly, snapped onto the eyeholes. Hammer pegs into the sand and grit, negotiating between friable sand and impenetrable rock. Voila, one tent. Retrieve last sleeping bag from the much reduced heap under the tarp, heeding instructions to not open it until the last moment: being down, it will absorb moisture. Forage for thermarest, nice plump thermarest. Hope to finally break hex that afflicts all inflatable beds I try to sleep on. Locate outhouse, two seater shack to the rear of the camp with water-swollen doors that do not shut. To signal occupancy, you lift orange float hanging on the outer wall off its hook and drop it on the ground. No great cloud of insects rises up with the lifting of the lid, but the ammoniacal smell purges the sinuses. After the first two days, I’ll get the hang of carrying some toilet paper in my pocket, so I don’t have to divert back to the tent for the ziploc-bagged roll.

Supper is chicken stir fry, with rice, eaten with … chopsticks whittled from firewood and niffy with Purel hand sanitizer. Handoff of paddles was also supposed to include handoff of utensils. Jordy sits whittling in the rain by the firepit as Matt serves. The only seating is in the rain around the firepit, and the fire was lit but lasted briefly. We eat, standing up or crouched, beneath the canvas. The tide is beginning to recede, showing more of the white of the midden beach. Eventually the canoe launch will become visible, a curving channel cleared by the original settlers for their canoes. It’s already duskish, so we traipse back to our tents. My settling in is interrupted by my putting my elbow into a pool of water. I’ve pitched the tent running parallel to the slight seaward slope, and there’s a trickle running from top to bottom. The engineering’s beyond me; I roust Matt, from his beach spot above the fire-pit. We scuttle around shifting pegs and guys, but the tent’s age is showing: the fly isn’t staying clear of the tent itself, and where it’s contacting, it’s leaking. We stake it out as tautly as we can, in the sand, in the dark, in the rain. Once inside I discover that each fallen droplet from the sheltering tree overhead lands as if on a drumskin on the taut fly, and still it leaks. I dam the riverlet with my towel, push earplugs into my ears, and huddle in the clammy sleeping bag for a long night, achieving a state of hallucinatory semi-consciousness courtesy of exhaustion and Gravol in the small hours.

Tuesday September 4, 2007. Thin light grows stronger, with a warmth to it that hints at sun. The drumming of rain on taut fly has stopped, only the occasional beat of a drop falling from the tree above. From the water, something goes ‘houff!’, and I can hear indistinct voices from along the beach; belatedly it comes to me, that it might be a whale. It is, and as reported to me later, it sounded right in our bay. I unzip the tent and peer at grey obscurity. The light was deceptive: fog cloaks the far islands. With a roaring clatter the water taxi arrives from the north-east – cutlery by special delivery. Our chopsticks can go back to the land, with thanks. I watch the taxi skip away northwards. Too late to plead for rescue; besides, I couldn’t face that skip. I unzip and fold down the whole half-moon flap and pull my ‘camp’ drybag inside, pulling off sleeping sweats and bundling them in, and rummaging for clean underwear. Then to scoop yesterday’s soggy clothing from the ‘wet’ end of the tent – which is no wetter than the dry end, because the floor’s saturated. Drag on my undervest, and purple vest and paddling fleece, all wet, and over them the new fleece and waterproof jacket. It’s a cramped and arduous process, dressing in a tent, twisting and scuffling and leaning on my arms, and trying not to let any part of me or the sleeping bag for that matter slip off the thermarest, a merely-damp raft amongst the wet. Yesterday’s wool socks are beyond redemption, my microfiber towel is sodden, since I used that to dam last nights riverlet, the sleeping bag feels clammy as I grab handfuls of it to cram into its stuff sac, squash down and cinch the stuff sac, and pitch into its garbage bag. Then the thermarest goes up on its side, likewise the small thermarest pillows, the drybags are parked in the tent vestibules, the openings in the tent are unzipped to the mosquito linings and the inner flaps rolled up and toggled, and I can finally swing my feet out of the tent and balance with them hanging in air until I drag the boots under them. Pull on cold, damp boots, lace up laces, wring moisture out of them, clamber stiffly to feet, look out across the swampy beach to the misty water. The needles on the branches of the sitka are tipped with tiny droplets. Tramp along the loam to join the group on the beach, awaiting breakfast. Synthetics are, as advertised, tolerably warm even when wet. I shall come to worship my thick Arteryx fleece. Breakfast is french toast, with condiments and whale. We crowd onto the rocky portion of the beach to watch it swim by.

Load kayaks, carry them to the water. Tide’s lower, now the canoe channel is visible. Form up and paddle out of the bay. South from Keith, west of Mullins, west of Onion, south of Wiebe, south-east of Dempster, east of Gibraltar, through the Gibraltar-Jacques Channel. It’s overcast and still as we start, with a shiny pleating on the silvery sea, and the tufts of island in dark cut-out. Jordy presents us with the first of several one-sentence puzzlers. We are invited to ask yes or no questions, to collect clues. “A man is found in a pool of blood in a telephone box. There are two holes in the window, on opposite sides.” “A man is found dead among 53 bicycles.” “A man lives on the seventeenth floor. When it is raining, he takes the elevator to his floor. When it is sunny, he takes the elevator to the twelfth floor and walks the rest.” … From the narrow rock platforms of Mullins and Onion, we then turn along the Imperial Eagle Channel-side of Wiebe, Dempster and Gibraltar, where the islands are exposed and the rocks were sea-gnawed into low cliffs, some ten or twenty feet high, with the trees on top gnarled by the prevailing wind. The cliffs are split by sea-clefts only a log-length’s wide, filled with whole logs and rubble driven deep into the cliffs, and piled high on a steep slope. There are several deep caves, dark foam-filled tunnels of indeterminate depth, and isolated pillars of standing stone. All the time the slow swells roll in from the canal and heave up against the base of the cliffs. We in our doubles keep well clear, but Matt in his single rocks up and on the frill of breaking wave against the base. Jordy and Matt have us hold to assess the surf where the rocks have been broken all the way to the waterline, and then we negotiate passage with Matt on one side and Jordy on the other. From Imperial Eagle Channel we hear the distant “houff!”, and see the fin rise and fall beyond the swell and the rocks – humpback. We stop paddling to gaze at the intermittent plumes rising against the dark and distant mainland, heads intermittently swiveling to take account of rocks ahead. Then round Gibraltar, stopping for a snack on Dempster Island, and into calmer waters under what is rapidly becoming open blue sky as the clouds break up into slabs. A sea-lion accompanies us, joined by another. A mat of bright fog fills Sechert Channel, low behind the sunlit islands. The sky overhead’s clear; the clouds grey/white heap over the green/navy mountains. We cross Island Harbor and paddle in to Keith for a late lunch.

The afternoon’s project is a mass drying out. Tents migrate from the deep woods to the beach. Mine is as light as folded paper, and it’s easy to prop it on my shoulder while I pick my way across the wet grass and rocks below my campsite to the sunny area, and perch it in the sun. Roxy and Bruce and I port their double from its forest base, through some narrow spaces; Margaret and Lynda decide on a change of scene and pitch theirs up on the beach on the other side of the tiny penninsula. Roxy rigs a drying-line between two uprights on the high point of the left of the beach. We prop thermarests, drape sleeping bags, fleeces, vests, PFDs, spray-skirts, over the logs and rocks in the sun I use the naked, spiky lower branches of the half-dead tree beside my tent to hang smaller items, socks, wet ziploc bags, and perch the contents of my toiletries bag along the branch to air. In my greenhorn fumblings of yesterday, far more got wet than should’ve. Fortunately I’m within leaping distance when the wind catches my tent and sends it bouncing across the rocky beach like an immense tumbleweed. I snag it before it tears on the rocks, or lofts out into the water bound for Jaques Island or points beyond. You need to put rocks in, remarks Matt, when I later refer to this near-misadventure. By then that’s done, chosen rocks nestled on the floor. Camp chores are interrupted by passing humpback whales swimming in a circuit that seems to take them both ways along the channels between Keith and Jaques and Keith and Mullins, and across in front of our beach. First a single, and then two, one swimming on the flank of another, and then a fourth. We crowd, with cameras, onto the south of Keith, staring at the close channel, and are startled when the whale sounds well to our left, already deep in the channel. There’s clear sky overhead, and wind-tilted heaps of cloud over the triangular slopes of the mainland, now sunlit green and cloud-shadowed dark blue. The islands, dark tufts this morning, are the now the deep green of evergreens in the sun. Gear spread to dry and warm, I seek a piece of shade of my own, since Roxy and Bruce have staked claim to the half-log beneath the white tarp and lie side by side on their thermarests, reading. I park myself under a patch of tree-shade by the blue canvas and read about the Broken Islands. The sea glitters. Nobody stirs. The occasional raven flies overhead, its wings scything the air. Margaret, seventy-something, appears in T-shirt and knickers and goes for a swim. Bruce follows her. I pass; I’m warm, and I’m dry. When the trees on the peninsula start to cast a shadow on the beach, then’s the time to gather up and repack the gear, carry the tents back to their places. This time, I pitch mine across the slope, in what seems to me to be the flattest spot, with the front entrance towards the sea. I stake the fly out separately, insurance in case the weather does not hold.

Wednesday September 5, 2007. Wake in the thin light of morning, almost rested, almost warm, despite the clammy feel of nylon and down. Very stiff across the shoulders and back. No messing around this morning; it’s painkiller with breakfast. From the water, something goes ‘houff!’, and I unzip the tent flap and peer out at the mist as the fin breaks the water thirty, forty yards offshore. The humpback whale circles – hunting? – then the whole body rises and rolls as the whale breaches, and the tail stands up in the water and disappears. I can’t say that the damp, stiffness and discomfort become negligible, but they now co-exist with deep appreciation. I go through what is already becoming the morning discipline of dressing and tent clearing, night-clothes into dry-bags, dry-bags under flaps, sleeping bag into stuff sac and stuff sac into garbage bag, stand therma-rest on its side to dry the obverse. Tent floor is once more slick, a glaze of wicked water under every resting item. The almost-dry socks I left outside on my branch-rack are limp and sodden. Clothes retrieved from dry-bag are almost dry. Lesson learned.

Gale force winds are possible this afternoon, so today’s route takes us west from Keith, through the Tiny Islands Group, west between Chalk, Walsh, Willis and Turtle, around the western shore of Willis, east between Willis and Dodd, Walsh, Chalk and Turtle, through the Tiny Group, east to Keith. Clearing is a bit more laggardly than yesterday, but by lunch, the sun finds us. Lunch is on another sharp white midden beach in a deep, temporary bay (the beach is underwater at high tide) on Willis Island, looking back towards Toquart Bay. We are overseen by a raven, with mutual comment, ours on the meaning of its feather-fluffing and wheezy croak. Coming back through the channel, between Willis and Dodd, we hear whale-huff and twist around to see two sharp upstanding fins framed in the mouth of the channel: orca, says Matt, and draws us promptly to one side. We wait, and drift, and see and hear nothing. Perhaps the group of white kayaks in the middle of the channel mouth diverted them. It’s a day for kayaks, kayaks to the rear, kayaks to the fore, kayaks to the right, kayaks to the left. Four or five groups, three visible in the panorama shot I take from my drifting kayak in the open water south of the Tiny Group, close to the center of the Broken Islands. Herring glitter in the sun, jumping to escape hunting salmon beneath.

Broken Islands, September 2008

Back on Keith beach, Matt draws symbols in the sand, and invites us to continue the pattern. Roxy takes one look, says, I see it, and wanders off leaving the rest of us headscratching. Stiff wind rises in the afternoon, strong and stronger, starting south west, shifting west, blowing straight into my tent: no need to bring it to the beach to dry, though I spread my sleeping bag on the rocks again: it’s down and nylon, with a perpetually slightly clammy feel. We’ve discussed a night paddle, but for that we need calm and utter sobriety. Sitting around the fire involves ducking gouts of smoke, dodging showers of sparks, and evading the snatching of the flame. Matt makes an executive decision: paddle called in favor of beer, and we sit and watch as the gray fog masses in the channel to the south-west and pour over the mainland west of us. Above the bank, fibrous cloud turns orange with sunset. I pick my way to the rocky outer side of the peninsula, joining Lynda; we brace our cameras on logs against the wind. Around the campfire, Matt continues with his visual conundra. We discuss which films are the ones to watch over and over again. An hour after sunset, the wind is gone, the sea calm, calm. I return to the beach to brush my teeth by torchlight, turn off the torch and stand staring up at the sky beyond the wall of sitkas, appreciating the plentitude of stars. I’ve spent my life in cities or suburbs; I rarely see them in full. Something with feathery little claws runs up the slope of my sandaled foot, to our mutual alarm. The deer mice are out.

Thursday September 6, 2007. At 5 am the channel marker over by the Stoppers winks across the darkness, but by 7 am the mist has closed in. Through our breakfast of banana pancakes it’s colder and closer-clinging, but by 10 am it’s lifting, and we embark on glossy water with a slight blurring of the wind in patches. It’s back into paddling shoes for me as the soles of my feet are raw from the scouring of midden-beach sand. From Keith we paddle west of Jaques, through the channel between Jaques and Jarvis, sometimes narrow enough to be bridged with a paddle, the water very still and inky with the reflections of the trees. The rocks are frilled with golden seaweed. Bare skeleton trees cradle dense mats of moss in the clefts between branches: woven utopia, Jordy calls them. He tells an aboriginal origin story for the islands: the scattering of a god’s blood. We exit north between Jaques and Jarvis. Between Denne and Nettle, then along the north side of Nettle at the South side of the Sechert Canal. Sechert Channel is slick and glassy. Lunch is in a harbour on Reeks Island. We return between Nettle and Reeks, weaving amongst the islands in the many-islanded channel, and across the open area between Nettle, Jaques and Gibraltar, and idle to take in the multiple whale-spouts out in Sechert channel, four or five whales at least, breaching, leaping, and fluking; I am convinced I see the classic shape of a whale heading the sky, skyhopping, it’s called, in the guidebook. Nearer to us, along the shore of Gibraltar, a lone whale cruises, repeatedly sounding, watched by a photographer who stands doubled over atop an islet in the middle of the open lagoon, his kayak propped up above the waterline. Through the channel, stopping to inspect purple and orange starfish heaped and knotted on the rocks; perched in a tree, we see rock pigeons. There’s rising wind in our faces as we paddle back, and the sun breaks full upon us as we land at Keith beach. Offload the boats, unpack the gear, drape out PFDs and spray-skirts on boats and rocks to dry; return to the tent, open it to the air, carry thermarest along the short path to the drying area, lay it out, carry sleeping bag to the drying line, drape it over, push dry-bags underneath the floor of the tent to let it air: the daily ritual of return to camp. Lounge in the fire-pit, using my umbrella as sun-shade and wind-break, trying to capture the previous 3 days in the notebook I brought with me with the intention of keeping a good log, including sketches, in complete disregard of the failure of all such previous efforts. Overhead, north to south, spreads a full mackerel sky, complete with spine.

Night paddle around Mullins Island. Load and launch our five kayaks (Kal and Margaret decline, with wine) with near-darkness overhead, and almost all colour gone from the wide-open western horizon except that last colourless glow of past sunset. Paddle out of the bay, around the point, into the channel between Keith and Mullins, already seeing puffs of cold vaguely greenish bioluminescence spreading around every paddle-stroke, and expanding dimly in our wakes: dinoflagellate bioluminescence, excited by the turbulence by a mechanism as yet unknown. A trailed hand develops its own bright wake, with an additional sparkle effect of single points of light – a different species? Larger? Brighter? Biofluorescence is believed to be a defense mechanism against predation: by lighting up when disturbed by a swimming predator (zooplankton), the dinoflagellates expose that predator to its own predators (copepods and others). When paddle and hands are held poised, bright blue-green points wink on briefly as they whisk by in the dark water beside the kayak: small bioluminescent fish. The next paddle-stroke scatters them in a slow, silent and tiny explosion of stars. The species of fish, and whether the bioluminescence is intrinsic or due, as some fishes’ bioluminescence is, to sequestered bacteria, is something I would like to find out.

Reflect upon the nature of human eyesight: pupils fully dilated, running on pure rod vision, paddling tentatively through an monochromatic world in which the other kayaks appear as dark smudges upon mid-channel water, and are folded into the black reflections of the islands. Distances are uncertain, immeasurable. As the bow-paddler, spotter, steerer, I hold us as much as possible to the mid-water. Periodically Matt’s “Woo hoo!” echoes back across the darkness as he finds a particularly rich constellation of sparks or bright patch of bioluminescence, but he’ll have moved on before we arrive, and the “Woo hoo!” will come again, from further away. We trail each other through the channel, turn right into the wider space behind Mullins, with Mullins hulking dark on our right and open water on our right, moving through windless night across dark silver water that is almost completely still. Grope our way around a humped rock barely darker than the water. Intermittently when we grow uncertain, those of us with headlamps cast out a beam, and the strong, colourless light pick out the fluorescent lines on our fellow paddlers’ jackets, bright wire-shapes hanging in darkness, outlining no recognizable human form. Navigating, trying to gauge distance, regrettably draws attention from the ghostly puffs and streaks in the water, but it needs to be done: from the right comes the scrape a kayak on a rock. Matt calls a warning. We mill in mid-channel, headlamp beams swinging, and eventually we all draw back, swing very wide, and go right and right again, continuing around the silent bulk of the island, falling back into the silence and darkness of the night until we see, in the distance, a monochrome smudge which warms to the orange glow of the campfire, tended by Kal and Margaret.

Tonight’s the night I work myself into a lather about wolves, which have been seen on the islands and den on the big island to the south east, Effingham. One, aged and ailing, did try to drag a kayaker from his tent, a tough soloist. In the ensuing fight, the wolf lost. Aside from the little critter that skittered up my foot in the dark, and the evidence of a shredded tissue left outside my tent, I haven’t seen any mammalian life aside from humans. I wonder if I’d wake in time to scream, and fall asleep consoling myself that anything wanting to eat me must get through the tent and sleeping bag first.

Friday September 7, 2007. I wake uneaten, to whale-less mist. It’s the first morning I don’t celebrate with Tylenol; the knot between my shoulder-blades is gone. Breakfast is sweet granola. Last packing, everything bundled and into the bags, despite its mysterious expansion. One sock seems to have gone AWOL, carried away, perhaps, by some little unseen island creature. Matt pounces on and strikes my tent before I’m back from the outhouse. The tide’s well out, our access to the water restricted to one kayak at a time, so we carry the kayaks one at a time down the channel and pass all the gear down after, and perching on the rocks, load.

We start with a sprint, racing for distant – well, 300 m away – Jordy, and then weave in and out of the narrow near channels of Jaques Island, the island knuckles we passed on the long slog in. It’s overcast, glass still and dark in the narrow channels. Bare trees angle across the water. No whale today, but dolphin, off to our left, as we cross the long stretch from the north of Jaques, past the Brabant Islands, to Hand. We encounter the maddening crowd on Hand Island, which is the northmost campsite, and busy. We pay a visit to that outhouse, which comes complete with bulletin board describing the Broken Islands and their hazards, adding cougars to wolves. On the beach we watch, with envy, a group loading the canoe serving them as a mothership, big round bag after big round bag. Watch, with interest, other kayakers loading their boats, including one with very small hatches, and a remarkable appetite for long narrow bags.

Lunch is bean salad, on Stopper, at the very beach we ate on the way in. By then I’m ravenous, and not nearly appreciative enough of the tour though the channels of Stopper. So it’s a very good bean salad, and I’m sure quite irreproducible on the mainland, without that seasoning of brine and sand.

Last leg, paddling into Toquart Bay. We pass the outgoing group and exchange paddles, giving them the yellow and orange ergonomics, taking back the straight-shafted white ones. We saw whales, we tell them, and wave them on. “Snake” says someone, and there’s a water-snake, winding its way island-wards on the surface of the water, its little wedge head tilted up to keep its snout clear. A group of buffleheads skims the water. Clouds break apart overhead and the light and shadow on the mountains casts deep green and deeper blue-grey. We pull in on the beach, clamber out, start off-loading, start carrying gear up to the van, waiting on the parking lot. Seagulls squabble on the midden to the left. There’s a dead fish on the beach, a gray eyeless head, ribs, spine and tail, abandoned even by the seagulls. In full haste we load, so it never occurs to me to get a picture of Toquart Bay in the sun. Visit the outhouse, moving up in the world: doors that close, toilet paper in situ. Climb into van. There’s road regrading going on on the logging road, though for the first part it seems more de- than re: different contractors, says our driver. But towards the summit, it is notably smoother. No bear. Drop Matt and his minimalist pack at the junction of the Tofino road, hug, wave good-bye. The bus gets quiet, and quieter, as we descend towards Port Alberni.