Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fantasy Island Pt. 1

Albert Einstein said, “How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.” Clearly, Einstein was not a kayaker & never he made it out to Vancouver Island. 2 years back I made a series of visits to the Island to run the shit. I fell in love with that place. The juxtaposition of the serene waters of the Inside Passage to the east, against the mountainous interior, and the roiling Pacific to the west, along with innumerable creeks and rivers, all on a compact, easily accessible island, to me, was paradise. For several reasons -- not the least of which was a recently repaired right shoulder -- I didn’t make it back out to the Island in ’07. Needless to say, it had been beckoning ever since.

Winter storms off the Pacific slip into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, providing lots of snow up-Island & at elevation, & lots of rain along the low-lying coastal perimeter & throughout the southern part of the Island. Come Spring, warming temps combined with erratic Pacific weather makes for a wealth of paddling opportunities. This time of year, while you can be reasonably certain something is running, it can be a total mind-bender figuring out what exactly that something might be. Navigating the twisted tangle of logging roads and actually finding your put-in &/or take-out presents a whole other logistical riddle .. But that’s all just part of the "charming" Island experience. Embrace the challenge & you can be rewarded with full-on adventure, awesome whitewater and stunning scenery ... or you might just get skunked.

Down south in HR, Austin R., who’s just as badly bitten by the Island bug, has been itching to head back out too. We’d talked of heading over for the weekend a couple weeks ago, but an illness prevented me from going. During that same time, I’d been invited by Czech-born Victoria resident Jakub Drnecto join him & some Islanders on a mission he’d been planning. Some buddies from CO had been vying for a long-weekend NW getaway, & this trip seemed like the best chance to introduce them to the Secret Garden and the locals that are working hard to protect it from hydro development.

Jakub’s plan was to base out of a remote, tiny seaside village two & a half hours from the nearest paved road, & accessible only by boat, then focus on finishing 2 runs he’d discovered / 1D’d some years back. He was also hot to attempt the 1D of a new run. We were encouraged early on by his emails describing plentiful gorges, bedrock, & waterfalls, all within spitting distance of the Pacific. He also spoke of favorable weather & flow forecasts.

The Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route ..

The crew from the States would be Leif E. & Evan S., fresh off the plane from Fort Collins .. and Scott W. & me from Seattle. The BC crew would be Jakub, Braden F. & Chris M. Scott would be providing the Canoe & Kayak van, which, after picking up Jakub in Victoria, proved to be the necessaray component for comfortable shuttling with our team of 7. The drive from Vic was epic. The van was certainly comfy, but with about 4 inches of clearance, the miles & miles of twisting, rutted, pot-holed, boulder-strewn & even snowy logging roads made for average speeds hovering at about 25 m.p.h. We finally made it to our destination at about 1 in the morning .. much to the dismay of our cottage host.

The Seppo contingent, L to R: Leif, Evan, Scott, me

The Day 1 itinerary included the Sarita, a classic waterfall run, which is kind of like BC's version of Mexico's Cascadas de Micos. But to get there, we would first have to attend to a more immediate watery challenge -- Bamfield Inlet. As I mentioned, our town was water-access only, and as such, our hosts provided us 2 rowboats with which to get back ‘n forth between our cars & our cabin. After a huge breakfast, we piled into the little boats with what we needed for the day & made our way across the inlet. In less than an hour we were at our put-in, but Braden & Chris were nowhere to be found. After waiting for a while, Jakub & I decided to go ahead & deal with a one-car shuttle .. driving the minivan to the take-out, then hitching a ride back up to the lake with a truckload of friendly First Nations folks. We rode in the bed which was full of crabs, clams & salmon, all freshly harvested that morning.

Our own private dock on Bamfield Inlet

Scott W. manning the oars under persistent graybird skies

Jakub & me .. Wayrad says this shot makes it looks like we just dumped the body.

Our put-in with nice view of mountaintop landscaping across the way.

After launching, we floated silently on the familiar crystal clear “bottle-green” water that's common on Van Island, peering under our boats at big boulders & submerged old growth 20 feet below. The canyon formed out of Sarita Lake, densely vegetated with ferns, big red cedars, hemlock and moss-draped bigleaf maples lining the banks. The deep emerald water, though moving briskly downstream, was like a sheet of glass, creating a surreal mirror-pond effect that reflected our surroundings in 3 directions. We quickly reached our first rapid, a river-wide 30-foot waterfall. With the width of the streambed & what could only be considered low flow, we had less than ideal volume in the lead-in of the preferred line. No matter, the landing was aerated enough & the drop “went”, even if you went over the 'bars or corkscrewed mid-freefall due to the shallow lead-in. Several more big, river-wide falls followed. Day 1 was all about low-flow, low-stress, whiplash-inducing "stunt boating". The Sarita’s wide-open canyon & river-wide bedrock features are totally unique in the area, undeniably beautiful, and as Jakub says, a “very special place”.

The first drop.

Scott Waidelich dropping.

Guidebook author Evan Stafford.

More of Evan

Leif Embertson

Hmm .. a split-second before landing very nearly on my head

Numba 2. This one was a folding, manky slide into a bottlekneck with a plucky hole. We experimented with several different approaches .. all with some sort of piton involved.

Nice perspective of Scott on #2.

Evan, confident in his planned line, heads up to close the deal on #2

... & here he is grappling with the last bit.

I went for the far-left air line & ended up pitoning like everyone else.

Evan on the last big drop .. from my perspective

ES on the last big drop .. Leif's perspective

Scott from upstreamish

Scott from downstreamish

Upon returning to town, we again loaded up the rowboats & headed back across the inlet in the fading light toward our plush accommodations, where we dealt with gear, drank a lot of beer, cooked up a huge feast, and relaxed as a storm moved in. We went to bed dog-tired to the symphony created by wind-driven sheets of wet, wet rain buffetting the cabin, excited for the promise of more water & another new river awaiting us in the morning.

Our digs

Nick Hinds was kind enough to allow Leif to take his brand new Pyranha Everest, & how does Leif handle that? By driving the new vessel headlong into rock-solid rock. Here, Scott works on the piton victim's "hognose". (Thanks Nick!)

Lots more photos & stories to come .. stand by!


Anonymous said...

in the close up of ES is Scott swimming in the background?

Anonymous said...

Weird - photo captioned "Scott Waidelich dropping" looks like a Van Gogh painting.

Anonymous said...

Photogs def. captured the elusive "essence" on this trip. TG totally takes us to art school on that shot of Scott dropping. The tree really does look kind of Van Goghesque there. That was a "very special place." All of the waterfalls had character. And I don't mean character like a politician. I mean character like Daniel Day-Lewis or maybe Angelina Jolie in one of her better roles, maybe one with some tasteful nudity. Anyway, yeah I believe Scott may have become separated from his water craft. In his defense he did "fall out of his boat" when he pitoned, and he also self-rescued which is actually worth some points since nobody really made any attempt to help him, we just kept the cameras rolling (obviously, photo in question, case in point).

Anonymous said...

ES above

Anonymous said...

I want to go to Vancouver Island!
Thanks for the sweet-as post.

Anonymous said...

really good post! especially for those of us still looking out the window at fresh snow flakes! that gets the spring stoke on.

Hale said...

Nice post! I have been fascinated with Van island for a long time. I believe the few paddelers that have ventured out there have only hit the tip of the ice-berg. There seems to be alot of creeks/rivers that are only accessible by boat.

Keep me posted if you venture that direction again!

Todd Gillman said...

Anon 1: Was there a swimmer? Huh, I wasn't aware of any swims on that trip .. but now that you mention it, it does kind of look like Scott's out of his boat .. Huh, that's really weird.

Anon 2: Thanks. That's like the only decent shot I got the whole trip.

ES: Thx to you & Leif for the good times! & Thx to the Nicoles for allowing the dudes to travel.

Yonton: Van Island would like you to visit. It told me so.

Anon 3: Thx. Baker reported 9" new this a.m. & expects up to another foot by the a.m. .. Shred the frozen rad? or shred the melted rad? Decisions, decisions ..

Hale: You got it. There are some cool multiday trips out there that I'd like to look into this spring as well .. maybe some time after the 1st Annual Hale Hannaway Invitational Robe Canyon Downriver Endurance Race?

Kneester said...

Thanks for the stoke. Looks like a sweet "weekend getway" indeed.

Anonymous said...

Let's see post number 2 boys! I'm stoked to see photos of the Sarita with water, the time we went in there 2 years ago there wasn't much water and it made for one good 25-30 ftr at the first big one and then alot of boat abuse thereafter....I WANNA SEE MORE!~!!!!!! the way gillman, call me a couple more mish's are in the works...
Peace and love from the gorge

Anonymous said...

are there any good spots to buy cheese there?