Tag Archives: overnight kayaking

Kayaks landed on East Curme Island

Kayaking in Desolation Sound

We’ve been paddling for two and a half hours. My arms are heavy. My nose prickles under the midday sun, and I quietly wonder how much further we’ve got left.

We’ve already navigated our double kayak through the quiet waters of the Okeover Inlet and now Desolation Sound Marine Park stretches ahead of us. There are more than 6,350 acres of shoreline and water here, and now the winds have picked up, it’s become much choppier.

As waves break against the kayak and soak my lap, I become increasingly fearful of capsizing. To distract myself, I keep my eyes fixed on the view. We’re encased by layer upon layer of tree-clad mountains, each with their own hue. It’s quintessentially Canadian, and it’s nothing short of stunning.

But here’s the thing about sea kayaking – you don’t move very fast. The view can remain the same for hour upon hour, and after a while, your eyes start to play tricks on you.

And that’s when I saw it. Or did I?

A black fin, poking through the water.

“Orca!” I yell.

“Walker?” my boyfriend politely enquires, pandering to my habit of pointing out every man, bird or beast in the vicinity.

“Fin!” I shout. Apparently, I can only muster one word at a time when I’m excited.

“No”, he replies, “no chance!”

And then it breaches. And so does a second. It’s a mother and her calf.

“Whales!” I squeal. Now he believes me.

We immediately stop paddling and sit in silence, hardly breathing, worried that even a whisper will prompt them to dive under. They swim past us, just 30 metres away, gliding through the water in perfect unison.

Then they are gone, back to the watery depths. The entire episode lasts less than a minute, but the memory will stay with me for a lifetime. It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen an orca in the wild, and it’s my first sighting from a kayak.

We were later told by the folks at Powell River Sea Kayak, from whom we had rented our sea-going vessels, that we were incredibly fortunate to have seen orcas. Although they’re not unheard of in Desolation Sound, it’s by no means an everyday occurrence.

After waiting another five minutes to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t resurface nearby, we continued on our way. By now the fatigue had miraculously vanished, only to be replaced by frenzied chatter, toothy grins and a rapid paddling pace.

Kayaking with seals

The seals on their rocky perch

We made short work of the remainder of the journey and soon reached our destination: the Curmes Islands.

If we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we were wrong. This tiny cluster of islands is more akin to the Mediterranean than the Pacific Northwest. Warm azure waters lap gently against rocky outcrops, scraggly trees sprout from scorched earth, and the vast seascape is punctuated by countless uninhabited islands.

Those wishing to spend the night here must purchase a backcountry permit in advance, and due to the delicate nature of the ecosystem, are asked only to camp on the tent pads provided.

Consequently, the next 30 minutes are spent running around like breathless maniacs, deciding precisely which spot would be the best. Despite being warned the Curmes Islands would be busy, there are few other people here, and the choice is ours. In reality, the exercise is futile, as the view from each wooden platform is jaw-dropping.

Woman looks out over Desolation Sound Marine Park

A wooden tent pad on East Curme Island

Once camp is finally set up and the kayak has been hauled above the tideline (which was much, much higher than anticipated), the activity is suddenly over. Now there’s nothing left to do but indulge in our Robinson Crusoe fantasies. The rest of the day is spent swimming, fishing and just sitting and watching.

I follow the exploits of the nearby seals whose rocky perch becomes increasingly smaller as the tide rises, only to disappear completely – much to their annoyance. I watch the sail boats motor lazily on by. And I track the progress of the blistering hot sun, until it finally dips below the horizon, causing reds and purples to bleed like ink across the sky.

Days later, when I’m back in Vancouver, the presenter of the TV show I’m watching poses the question – ‘who gets to live in paradise?’

I did, I think. Just for a night.

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Kayaking up a fjord

Overnight Kayak Trip Up the Indian Arm

Just a 30-minute drive from Downtown Vancouver is the southerly most reach of the Indian Arm, an 18km-long fjord lined with snow-capped peaks, beautiful waterfalls and three different (and entirely free) campsites. This makes it the perfect location for an overnight kayaking trip, especially for first-timers or those who don’t want to stray too far from the city.

What you’ll need

If this is one expedition that you’re keen to try, then the first port of call is, of course, to find yourself a sea-going vessel. If you don’t own one yourself, or you don’t have a friend you can tap up, there are plenty of kayak rentals to be found around Vancouver. Mountain Equipment Co-op is one option, as is Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak.

The latter is certainly the more expensive choice, but it’s also the most convenient. You’ll find this small but extremely busy outfit at the end of the Indian Arm, making it the ideal spot from which to launch. They’ll provide you with a life jacket, some safety equipment and a brief explanation as to what to do, should you capsize. After that, you’re on your own.

While you won’t want to carry too heavy a load (it’s more work, after all), it’s useful to know that the kayaks provided by Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak are surprisingly spacious. The double kayaks boast three separate storage compartments, which although watertight, can get a little damp. Packing your belongings (or at least your clothes) in a dry bag is therefore a good idea.

Seeing as the campsites are free, you don’t need to bring cash. But you will need to bring everything else, as there are no showers, food supplies or potable water at any point along the way. But be sure to pack out what you pack in, as there isn’t a garbage collection service. Oh, and campfires are absolutely prohibited year-round, so leave the firewood at home.

The outbound journey

Once you’re afloat on the water, be ready to develop neck ache as you ogle at the jaw-dropping real estate that immediately greets you on the western shore. In fact, human habitation can be found the length of the Indian Arm. You might think this disappointing (or even comforting), but it’s also somewhat deceptive, as you’re actually within touching distance of BC backcountry.

With Mount Seymour Provincial Park on one side and Say Nuth Kaw Yum Provincial Park on the other, you’re encased by dense forest and towering mountains. As you glide past, keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring up above and black bears roaming through the trees. In the water itself you can expect seals, sea otters and a variety of fish, including salmon.

Woman sits on top tower

Spying for sea otters

After about 45 minutes of paddling you’ll stumble upon a smattering of tiny islands, the first of which is Jug Island, followed by Raccoon Island, and finally Twin Islands. You can stop at any of these for a rest and a swim, and camping is permitted at the most northerly of the Twin Islands, making it the closest campsite to Deep Cove.

If you choose to continue along the Indian Arm then you’ll pass two gothic looking buildings on the eastern shore. These are the Buntzen Lake Power Houses, which were originally built in the 1900s. They are still owned by BC Hydro so you can’t land here, but it’s fun to paddle past and peer into the eerie edifices.

From here the shoreline becomes less populated, and you finally feel like you’re entering the wilderness. Unfortunately if you visit during a warm weekend, then your dreams of peace and solitude will likely be shattered by the numerous sailing boats, power boats and revelers who also enjoy these waters.

Even so, no one can detract from the beauty of your surroundings. Of particular note is Silver Falls on the western shore. Partially hidden behind the foliage, this waterfall plunges down into the ocean with incredible force. But unless you’re an experienced paddler, be sure not to get too close, as the currents at the foot of the falls can be tricky to navigate.

A little further on is the second campsite, known to some as Berg’s Landing and to others as Bishop Creek. Located opposite Croker Island, there aren’t any camping platforms, but you’ll find large grassy areas to pitch a tent. This site is certainly quieter than its neighbour at Granite Falls, but there are more bear sightings here, so be bear aware.

As you round the corner of Croker Island, the most northerly point of Indian Arm finally comes into view. Here you’ll see the Wigwam Inn, which is privately owned by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. In the distant reaches is the estuary, where the Indian River meets the sea. And then there’s Granite Falls, which for many is their desired resting place for the night.

Kayaking on the sea

Kayaking up the Indian Arm

Camping on the Indian Arm

As the name suggests, Granite Falls is a torrent of water that cascades down over a huge slab of granite. It’s a spectacular sight, and there’s a great little plunge pool at the base which makes for a very refreshing swim on a hot day. As far as facilities go, there are a few tent pads, as well as more rustic set-ups beyond the outhouses.

If you plan on camping here, land your kayak on the beach by the lighthouse and pull it above the tideline. Then go bag yourself a spot, preferably not too close to the waterfall, or the wind could carry the spray straight to your door. If you find the campsite to be full or too busy for your liking (which does happen!) you can always retreat back to Berg’s Landing.

Woman stands in front of water cascading down granite rockface

Granite Falls

The return journey

When you’re ready to return to civilisation, take note that strong headwinds can rip through the valley, making it hard going on the way home. This is particularly true during warmer weather thanks to a phenomenon known as anabatic winds, although storms are also a risk during winter. Typically, it takes paddlers between three and five hours one way.

Conditions are generally calmer during the morning, and the tide times can also make a huge difference to the amount of manpower needed to get from A to B. That’s why no matter where you’re kayaking in the world, be sure to plan your trip according to the conditions and the tides. And always take life jackets, rope for towing and a bilge pump.

Kayaking in Vancouver

If you’re still a little nervous about the prospect of venturing across the ocean for an overnight kayak trip, you can always try a guided tour first, or ask a professional for advice. With the right planning and knowledge, it is a great experience and one you’re sure not to forget in a hurry – in spite of the blistered hands!

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