Northern Vancouver Island is a wild and remote place, defined by massive trees, spiderwebs of logging roads, howling winds and a regularly angry ocean. The adventure call was placed at the end of summer and a mighty crew was assembled from across the land to engage in a pitched battle (tent-pun intended) against these elements. The weapons of choice were tarps, tents, food, booze, fishing gear and surf gear (including an arsenal of Paipo’s and an Alaia coutesey of Tim and the Radish Empire), which were collected, divided and humped along the gnarly wet coast trail down to the beach. Right off the bat, Filip and I managed to miss the early ferry by 30 seconds and thus ended up chasing the others north and reaching the beach just after dark to find a fierce headwind whipping along the beach. We decided to ditch the board bags (aka – sails) in some foliage and come back for them in the daylight, as an hour walking down the beach in the dark holding onto board bags for dear life is not how we inteded to start the trip.
Resupply missions were an unfortunate constant on this trip, and to keep it interesting the camp is a steep and technical 1.5-2 hours distant from the vehicles. The trail is challenging enough that constant attention to foot placement is required, which can detract from the old-growth beauty of the surrounding forest and makes it that much more important to stop occasionally and take in the scenery. Otherwise, you’re just lugging expensive bits of gear through a rain-soaked snake den of roots, puddles and deadfall. On the plus side, you can hear the often pounding ocean from the vehicles, so by the time you finally reach the beach there’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and relief.
Cascadia (w)indicator in a rare moment of neutral (Photo: T. Watson)
After hiking, the next variety of survival skill required is the procurment of firewood. While one would expect a remote north-coast beach to be awash with ample driftwood to keep us warm and dry, and with the addition of a chainsaw that assessment is correct. But when the saw runs out of oil and you’re left with a large-ish hatchet plus some bowsaws, firewood harvesting becomes much more labourious and energy-intensive. Selectivity increases and before we knew what was happening, Tim had us hauling bags of prime high and dry driftwood over a kilometer down the beach. Again laborious, but completely worth it when the sun sets and the dark damp cold rolls in.
Stepping in for the heavy lifting. And plaid wearing. And chainsaw weilding. (photo: E. Mitsui)
One of the more luxiourious items we hauled down to the beach was a portable hottub furnished by The Original Nomad. Oringially there were questions about the sanity of this endeavour as a whole, which were only encouraged by the fact that we were bringing a wood-fired hottub. However, once it was set-up and filled with water (who needs a pump when you have 7 people and a pile of drybags?), it only took 2-3 hours of heating before we were soaking the exhaustion out of our cold, tired bones. Verdict – a hefty amount of work to haul it in and prepare enough firewood, but completely worthwhile for the experience of a backcountry tub session.
Andrew tending the home fires… I think we’re gonna need more wood. (photo: E. Mitsui)
A wood-splitters job is never done, partly beacuse he takes lots of breaks. (photo: E. Mitsui)
Other than general escapment from society for a spell, the primary justification for this trip was wave riding. The storm that greeted us upon arrival brought some massive swell and our first morning at camp had us waking to double overhead barrels smashing into outer reefs and a mighty onshore gale of wind and sand. As the storm passed, wave height dropped accordingly and left us with days of gradually cleaning swell and fun sessions that were shared with only the local seal and salmon populations.
Staying warm in some Granted wool where the forest meets the river meets the sea.
In total we packed in two short boards, a step-up and longboard, as well as upwards of four Radish Paipo’s and the Alaia. These wooden wave riding tools are hand crafted from local (mostly) cedar and cured with tung oil, which combined with the short running surface means a scary fast body board that will have you dropping in and barely hanging on before you truly understand the repercussions of what just happened. After a few sessions, everyone was getting the hang of these boards and transformed from floundering in the chop swell to picking off glassy set waves at the back of the line up (which consisted exclusively of us.) As the waves dropped, the surfboards were stashed in the bushes and more time was spent on the Paipo’s, leading to an unending abundance of sandy smiles and enthusiastic cheers.
Stoked to be back to the beach on another classic wet coast day. (photo: E. Mitsui)
Group planning meeting to discuss the orders of the day: fishing rods, coffee, wool, down sweaters, surfing. Sooooooo…. pretty much the same as yesterday? And tomorrow? (photo: E. Mitsui)
The camp is ideally situated in a peninsula of forest, sandwiched between the wild Pacific Ocean and a tidal estuary. Being late September, our camp was constantly inundated by the sounds of surf crashing on the beach, crackling wood in the campfire and wild Pacific coho dancing and slapping tails in the river. With no chance of contact to the outside world we settled into a natural rhythm with our surroundings and the movement of the tides. Flooding low tide turned out to the most active time for fishing, and several hooks were sunk into delicious fish that filled out our meals… BBQ salmon, salmon pasta, even a backcountry soup (and I’m not talking about the hottub). Being right at the mouth of the river, the salmon are bright and shiney chromers with plenty of dance and acrobatics skills to show off – which made landing one on the fly even more delicious.
Cutting up a nice Coho doe, flyfishing in wool and denim. (photo: E. Mitsui)
Who wants a nice cup of roe for breakfast? (photo: E. Mitsui)
Filip with his buck (photo: E. Mitsui)
Fil’s chromer buck, ready for filleting and the grill (photo: E. Mitsui)
The attraction to this type of trip is often not recognizable to people on the outside. The lack of communication combined with the physical and mental hardships required to even get that far away from civilization are enough to deter most people. The good news for us is that was exactly what we were searching for – not perfect waves, not delicious salmon and not the scenery, but a general sense of remoteness, adventure and comraderie amonst the friends that endured those same hardships, (of course, the waves, salmon and scenery were additional motivation and quite welcome.)
While some friends and loved ones were absent and sorely missed on this particular adventure, we learned a lot and already have plans on how to minimize the challenges and maximize the fun for next year. Not that fun was lacking, or that the challenges weren’t worthwhile, but it’s important to be cognizant of lessons learned (especially now that I’m back sitting at a cozy desk in a warm house.) Now that the recon is complete, we can start to focus on general improvements for next year: more tarps, more bear bangers and of course the all-important rationing of single malt whisky.
As I struggle to encapsulate 10 blurry days into this post, the only real lesson I can fathom is that with each adventure/hardship/debacle comes an opportunity to learn a little bit more about ourselves and a whole lot more about the incredible landscape that we are lucky enough to inhabit. Adventure is one thing, but adventure into the unknown is what keeps life interesting… 10 days on a wet, cold and remote beach in the BC wilderness might not be everyone’s ideal vacation, but it was excatly what we were searching for.
Thanks for reading and perusing photos… now get out there and adventure!