Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Lines of the Year

Since being in Smithers I've been out Snowboarding four times. Early season hiking was always one of my favorite thing to do and it reminds me how much I miss riding in the mountains! Hiking before the hill opens is a great way to get in shape, enjoy the ski hill with out many people and take in the spectacular scenery that this area has to offer. The ski resort in Smithers is located on Hudson Bay mountain. HBM is a massive moutain that looms over the village. Part of the mountain is blanketed in a glacier and most of it lies above the tree-line. It is quite a sight to behold and creates a very pictureque feel to the area. There is lots of snow up there right now and we have been riding some pretty sick powder lines. The hike up is well worth the ride down, that's for sure. Just a couple more days until the lifts open. Right now there is enough powder for everyone who is willing to walk for it. Snowboarding right now is reminding me of the countless days of riding I've had in the mountains in years past. Bringing up many memories of pow-filled days and hard-core riding! I'm going to try to get in as many days as I can before having to leave this beautiful place. Oh, how sweet it is!

Into the Snow Zone!

Once we left The Charlottes it was about a 7 hour ferry ride back to the mainland. In some ways it was nice to be back on the 'Big Island', although Haida Gwaii is a spectaculat place. Looking forward to doing some Sea Kayaking there at another time. We spent the a day in Prince Rupert where we got some more Crab to bring inland to our friends in Smithers! We also spent an afternoon at the Northern B.C. First Nations museum. It was a great place to learn about the Native Peoples of this area and learn a lot about thier history. There were some amazing artifacts and displays that brought to life the abundant history of this land.

The drive to Smithers up the Skeena river valley was exceptional. The Skeena is a major river that gathers lots of water and power as it flows from its headwaters in the Spastizi Plateau. It is joined by countless creeks and rivers including the Babine, Bulkley and Telkwa rivers. It is truly a first class Salmon and Steelhead river. About 50 km west of Terrace we ran into our first snow and have been in it for the last week. It steadily built in depth as we travelled further in and upland and there was over a foot in the Smithers area. It feels super good to be back in the mountains and this area of B.C. is super spectacular. Big Valley's, Big Rivers, and Big Mountains! It has been a lot of fun exploring and spending time in a true winter playground!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Haida Canoes & Totem Poles

Here's a few shots from the Haida museum at Skidegate. Unfortunately the museum was not open, but we did get to check out some beautiful canoes in the carving shed. They were beautifully carved boats out of one solid piece of cedar. Many different styles, shapes and sizes of boats were here and it was great to see them up close. I would have loved to see one of these boats in the water and have the chance to paddle it. Imagine being in the open ocean in one of these vessels!

Blow-Hole at Tow Hill

Almost forgot to include our walk over to the blow-hole at the base of Tow hill. At mid-tide the water rushes into the rocky shore and comes spurting out of this hole in the rock. It is quite spectacular to watch as the water shoots 20+ feet in the air. At low tide there is not enough water to rise through the hole and at high tide it is under water. This area was rich with life in the tidal pools created by the raising and lowering tides and was a lot of fun to explore. You had to be careful on the slippery rocks and try not to go for a tumble into the chilly waters of the Pacific ocean!

North Beach

North Beach is a beautiful, long beach at the northern part of Naikoon Park. It is a good walk from Rose spit to Tow hill, especially at high tide. We walked part of the way and then camped in and amongst the driftwood on the beach. We had a big fire that night and slept comfortable with the sound of the crashing waves hitting the shore. The next day we continued our walk towards tow hill and it began to get larger and larger as we got closer. There was a small shipwreck on the beach and we stopped to look over this abandoned vessel. North beach is a treasure trove for shells of various bi-valve species and we stopped to look at many of them on our walk. Razor and butter clams, cockles and scallops, to name a few. The tide goes way out here because of the shallow, sandy decline into the ocean and at low tide the water goes quite a ways out leaving lots of room to walk and explore the sandy flats. We found tracks of Herring Gulls and Ravens as they scavenged for food that had washed up on shore. Surfers also know about this beach and come to ride the waves as they break in clean sets. It would have been nice to have a wetsuit and a board! We walked for most of the morning and the early part of the afternoon before making it back to the vehicle. It was a great walk around this loop and we were happy to end our time in Naikoon park in this manner. From here we headed into Masset to look for more seafood and Old Masset to check out the various totem poles located there.

East Beach & Rose Spit

As we left the Cape Fife area we headed North on East Beach towards Rose Spit. It was a beautiful sunny morning, just right for walking on a sandy beach on Haida Gwaii! There were numerous sets of tracks on the beach. The wet sand afforded some fine detail and I took a little time to make some plaster casts. I managed to make some good track casts of deer, mink and raccoon. I could have easily spent all day examining each of these tracks and learning some of the many lessons that they had to teach.

Walking north we could see Rose spit which 'curls' out into the ocean from the tip of Graham island. It separates the East and North beaches and travels quite a distance into the sea. We could see the waves breaking way offshore where they must have been hitting part of the sandbar that is the 'Spit'. We ate some lunch where the trees stopped and again gazed across the water to the Alaskan islands in the distance. At this location we also began to notice many large Scallop shells, unfortunately they were only half shells and did not contain the tastey 'scallup' part. The locals told us that during a north wind many of these large bivalves wash up on the beach and are collected and eaten. We did pick up a few shells that will make a good decoration or perhaps a smudge bowl. From here we changed our direction and began walking down North beach.

Cape Fife Trail

After a few days of hanging out in one place and eating Crab it was nice to get 'on the tail' and explore some new areas. It is a 10 km hike through a beautiful forest of Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar and stunted Shore Pines passing through the wet bogs of the Argonaut Plain. The topography is quite flat in this area and much of the trail was muddy and even partly flooded in certain areas. It was a however a beautiful walk and the biggest reward was arriving at a clean and well-maintained cabin on East beach at Cape Fife. We knew there was a shelter of some sort here, but did not expect a sweet little cabin with a woodstove, table and bunkbeds. What a score! After firing up the woodstov and getting the cabin warmed up a huge storm blew in with gale force winds from the south east. The sand, rain and wind were pelting the sides of the cabin while we stayed warm and cozy inside. For part of the next day the winds continued to blow fierociously erasing all signs and tracks from the sand dunes surrounding the cabin. The waves crashed into the shore with tremendous force and I felt very thankful for the shelter and protection of the cabin! It was peaceful in this location and provided time to sit quietly and reflect on our trip and life in general. After spending two nights here we headed north on the east beach towards Rose Spit.

Crab Fiesta

In Masset, on the northern tip of Graham Island we spent some time talking with local fisherman at the docks and were fortunate enough to buy some fresh crab 'right of the boat'. We enjoyed hearing the stories about the sea and fishing and had many questions answered that had been on our minds. With a bucket full of crab we headed out of town towards Agate beach in Naikoon Park.
For the next three days we ate crab, walked the beaches and hiked to the top of Tow Hill for a beautiful view of the surrounding land and ocean-scape. Tow Hill rises approx. 100 metres from sea level and holds significance to the Haida people. We didn't hear to much about the mythology of this place, but it sure had a powerful feel looking out over the ocean and surrounding boglands. The highest point in sight, it sure afforded a spectacular view!

On Agate beach we found some of the impressive 'gem' stones that we understood this beach was named after. On a clear day, looking to the north you could see the Alaskan islands. I thought about what a journey it must have been for the Haida to paddle thier canoes from these islands to the mainland. How long would it take them? Would they leave when the weather was 'just right', following experience and instinct? What an adventure these voyages must have been. After 3 days we had finished eating the crab (Boiled crab, crab salad, crab soup) we headed off on a hike east towards Cape Fife and planned to do the loop back to the Tow hill area. A loop of just under 30 km.

Friday, November 21, 2008

East Beach Tracking

After leaving the Haida gathering we travelled north and spent the next three nights just north of Tlell in the southern portion of Naikoon Provincial park. This park takes in a large area on the north east side of Graham island. It is a flat, low-lying area as is much of the Eastern side of the island. We found a nice Shelter spot that included a woodstove and were thankful for the space to dry out our tent and tarp after some wet days in Rennel Sound, not to mention the heat from the woodstove! Here we spent out time hiking the flat sandy beaches and following the many clear tracks let for us in the sand by the local wildlife. It's such a treat to be able to follow these animals in the wet sand. Such detail in the tracks. There were lots of deer and raccon tracks mostly, as well as many birds such as Ravens, Herring Gulls, Stellars Jays and Eagles. I was happy to have all of these clear tracks and was hoping to make some plaster casts to preserve them.

One of the days we spent hiking 5 km out to the pesuta shipwreck. It was a log barge that ran aground on the east beach in the 1920's (I think?). Sometime around that era. There was still part of the ship visible buried in the sand on the beach were it washed ashore. There were many old homesteads on this part of the beach that were abandoned around the second world war. They say that approx. 500 cattle were turned loose and have gone 'wild' in the forests surrounding this area. You could see signs of thier presence in the heavy trail systems and major browse sign on the spruce trees along the shore. I thought that I may have seen some Elk tracks in this area as well, but was not totally confident in this assumption. Later, however a local on the ferry did tell me that there are Elk in this general area. Hard to say for sure?

From here we headed north to Masset and Haida (Old Masset), the most northern communities in the Charlottes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rennel Sound Beach Combing

From our Sleeping Giant hike we travelled 30 km to where we parked our car to walk to final 3 km down to Rennel Sound on the west side of Graham island. On the drive we passed some huge old growth trees as well as many areas that have been previously harvested by timber companies. There was a danger of mudslides in this area and we saw remanants of many previous ones in the not-so-distant past. The steep hillsides and the clearcut logging practices can create a very unstable situation on the sides of many of these mountains. Part of the reason for us hiking the last leg of this trip was because of a recent mudslide that had covered the road. It had been cleared away, but there was still quite a bit of debris and soil on the road.

We saw many deer as well as a Marten who ran across the road in front of us carrying what looked to be a red squirrel in its mouth! Pretty cool. Rennel sound is a beautiful area and is perhaps the only place on the west side of Graham island that you can drive to. We spent three nights here and walked the rocky beaches looking for shells, rocks and other 'treasures' that the ocean had washed up on shore. Bald Eagles soared overhead and curious Harbour Seals kept eyes on us as we combed the beaches.

One of the highlights of our time here was getting to watch a group of Sea Lions feeding just off shore. You could hear them 'grunting' and 'barking' as they swan together. After a while they began to display thier 'playful' nature as they rolled on the surface of the water waving thier flippers as well as even jumping right out of the water. It was quite a event to behold. We also found some more bear trails travelling through the mossy forest beside Mountain Creek. Well worn paths that lead us to a great bear 'marking' tree. All of the moss had been rubbed off of thisAlder tree and there were numerous bite and claw marks between 5 - 7 feet off the ground. At the base of the tree you could see clear indentations where this bear and perhaps others had stood numerous times in the past. It was a great discovery. We enjoyed seeing the western side of the island and spending time in this beautiful area. On our walk out we saw another Pine Marten up in a tree, he kept a close eye on us as we moved past. From here we drove back towards Quen Charlotte and were going o head north to Naikoon Park. Once in town we were told of an event happening at Skidegate hall. There was a visiting storyteller from the N.W.T. as well as a community feast being offered by the Haida First Nation. We were treated to an evening of Native dance and song as well as an amazing seafood soup that contained all kinds of local ingredients. It was Delicious! It was a great way to begin our trip northward.