Kayaking Desolation Sound, British Columbia

OK, this post has nothing to do with angling, and I didn’t even take a rod with me to Canada, but we were out kayaking and backpacking in a landscape every bit as grand and far larger than our sea lochs. I’d spent time in Ontario a decade before, including several days canoeing, but BC is in a league of its own…

Map showing Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound
Vancouver Island and Desolation Sound

The trip was born from a combination of things but I suppose it was largely an 18th birthday present for Mike coupled with an attempt on my part to recapture some lost youth and pick up the threads of some plans from earlier years. Anyway we settled on two mini-expeditions in BC with a few days travelling in between, and dusted off the tent and rucksacs.

View from Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, looking towards the Coastal Mountains
View from Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, looking towards the Coastal Mountains

We kicked off with a 5 day guided sea kayaking trip to Desolation Sound, around 150 miles and 3 ferry crossings north of Vancouver. I’ve never used a sea kayak although I’ve been on a sit-on-top before and also open canadian canoes in fresh water, so I was quite surprised to find out how stable they were once on the water (getting in and out was a bit more of an art form).

Our kayak group and guides, June 2014
Our kayak group and guides, June 2014
Our fleet of sea kayaks awaits
A mini-fleet of sea kayaks

Day 1 saw us getting familiarised with the kayaks and paddling across to Refuge Cove (looks a bit like a throwback to frontier days, apart from the regular seaplane flights and some satellite dishes). We set up camp a little further on, in a little bay on Martens Island and settled down for the evening. It rained a bit – the only real rain we experienced in over 2 weeks in Canada – but we were comfortable enough eating a large dinner under a decent tarp.

Next day started a bit cloudy but soon started to brighten up as we packed up camp and launched the kayaks across some rather tricky rocks covered in sharp oysters.

Just launched and off Martins Island, Day 2
Just launched and off Martins Island, Day 2

An easy paddle and a couple of hours later we reached the Curme Isles – a little group of dry, pine covered rocks sitting in Desolation Sound. We set up camp on South Curme, which is simply stunning with views of the forests and mountains stretching off into the distance.

Tiny but beautiful, South Curme Island
Tiny but beautiful, South Curme Island

Camping is restricted as the island ecosystem is very fragile, and a small number of tent pads are available – all very well laid out and making great use of the available space (we generally found the Canadian provincial parks to be more interesting and better managed than their national parks).

A superb spot for a tent, with the sea on three sides and the sun overhead.
A superb spot for a tent, with the sea on three sides and the sun overhead.

Perfection included mid-20s sunshine, and only a few bugs (with no midges). So good that we decided to stay the remaining three nights here, as it meant we spent less time making and breaking camp and could travel light in the kayaks.

Mountains, forests and sea - the view towards Homfray Sound
Mountains, forests and sea – the view towards Homfray Sound

Unfortunately for the angler in me, rod and line fishing is prohibited in most of the sound although it is allowed in most other areas. Not really a big deal as that wasn’t why we were there and it probably wouldn’t have been very practical anyway.

A stunning location, and even better viewed from a kayak
A stunning location, and even better viewed from a kayak

The seawater in Desolation Sound is the warmest in the Pacific Northwest and the braver amongst us made a point of early morning swims. Being conditioned by living in Scotland to avoid getting in the sea if at all possible, I have to admit that I didn’t join them – although an afternoon dip in one of the nearby freshwater lakes went down well.

Morning on the Curme Islands
Early morning swim on the Curme Islands

It’s hard to overstate the atmosphere of camping on islands like the Curmes – the combination of great weather, a breathtaking environment and giant natural landscape is overwhelming. The area does get more crowded with yachts and kayakers over the summer, but at the end of June there was plenty of space for everyone.

Our campsite for 3 nights, the beautiful South Curme Island
Our campsite for 3 nights, the beautiful South Curme Island

One fine evening a few of us managed a night-time paddle across the sound, with clear views of the stars and spectacular bio-luminescence every time the paddle bit into the water – but otherwise pitch dark as we made our way across and back at midnight.

Another group of paddlers, viewed from our Curme islands camp
Another group of paddlers, viewed from our campsite

We spent our time exploring the nearby bays and coastline, notably Tenedos Bay and Prideaux Haven (quite a few chunky yachts had made this home for a few days, but there was plenty of space for everyone)

View across Desolation Sound from our tent
View across Desolation Sound

Coming back from Prideaux the wind got up to a good force 4-5 in the late afternoon and evening, and it was quite a struggle to get back to camp paddling into the teeth of the wind. Being in an exposed site the tent took a battering but seemed to survive OK, and we emerged on our last morning to find the wind had died off quite a bit. Given the forecast was for strong winds later in the day we elected to break camp quickly and take advantage of the weather window to get back to Cortes Island whilst conditions stayed reasonable.

Our kayak route in Desolation
Our kayak route in Desolation Sound

It’s hard not to go overboard with superlatives, but we had an amazing time in an amazing place. Fia and Ashley, our guides, were fantastic and put a huge amount of effort into the trip – not least of which was the cooking, which was excellent and put my normal efforts to shame.

We went with Spirit of the West Adventures (www.kayakingtours.com) who I’d very happily recommend to anyone interested in a similar trip.

 

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