News & Tidings

Paddling On the Outside Posted on 19 Feb 16:45

In late July 2014, sea kayakers David Steel, his long-time kayaking buddy Del, and his son, Nels, a kayak instructor at UC Berkeley, embarked on an eight-day, sixty-mile wilderness paddling trip in the Clayoquot Sound area, about halfway up the west coast of Vancouver Island, B.C. Here’s a glimpse into their days on the water.

“Putting In” and Heading North

After making their way from mainland Vancouver, David’s band of kayakers begin their trip and “put in” at the town of Tofino. Known for its surfing, Tofino attracts Canadians from all over. From there, the group headed north, spending the first three days kayak surfing on Vargas Island, a popular spot for kayakers, campers and naturalists. Here, they got to put their skills to the test, since some surf landings were required. The area is also known for its rugged coastline with no “take outs”, and there’s a risk of getting pushed too close to the rocks. 

After three days of wave surfing, the group continued on to explore several more watery spots, including Siwash Cove on Flores Island, Hot Springs Cove, and Maquinna Provincial Park. They ended their trip at Hesquiat Harbor, where a pre-arranged water taxi picked them up to take them back to Tofino.

In kayaker speak, most of the trip was spent paddling on the "outside", meaning far from the shore. Again, the groups’ expert skills were called into play. Piloting 17-foot-long sea kayaks in open water presents its share of challenges, including “boomers” (isolated breaking waves), morning fog that required navigating by compass, plus strong afternoon winds and large swells.

Where the Wild Things Are

As with all great outdoor adventures, the reward lies in what you experience when you push a bit farther – and this trip was no exception. The group tented on pristine beaches, soaked in hot springs, and explored sea caves by kayak.

They also had their fair share of wildlife sightings. In this case, some were more tranquil, like spotting sea otters and gray whales. Others sightings were more intense, like watching a wolf loping through the camp, and seeing beachcombing bears.

Soul Food

And speaking of bears …a surprise meal was waiting for David and team at Cougar Annie’s Garden, to which they were late due to a bear blocking the path. They wisely chose to defer to the bear until it went on its way. Better late than never, the group continued on to enjoy a feast graciously prepared by conservationist and Cougar Annie’s owner, Peter Buckland and family, which included sushi, fresh caught rockfish, and barbecued veggies around the campfire.

As for other meals on their journey, the paddlers dined on provisions packed in their kayak, and drank wine from their hydration bags. Fishpeople soups were often the main entrée, and were greatly appreciated. In David’s words, “they brought high cuisine into the middle of this wilderness paradise, and were right up there with the meal we had at Cougar Annie’s. They were also quick and easy to prepare with water boiled on our camp stove.”

So, once again, good food, good friends, and the timeless allure of connecting with the ocean made for a memorable journey, well-paddled and well-lived.