My dad and I completed our long-awaited, three-week voyage into Gwaii Haanas, the national park in the southern third of Haida Gwaii. We paddled down the east side of the park from the launch point at Moresby Camp to the small settlement at Rose Harbour, where we caught a zodiac back to the launch.
00 East Coast Gwaii Haanas Map. Click for larger size.
Gwaii Haanas was completely spectacular, easily one of the top five kayaking regions on the west coast. Thanks to our north-to-south route, the trip started out beautiful and only grew more so as we headed farther into the park, farther away from modern civilization.
01 Slept out on this rock near Skeena River. Due to wildfires, we took three days
to drive up to Moresby Island, passing through Prince Rupert and across Hecate Strait by ferry.
02 Cumshewa Inlet from Louisa Island. High pressure aloft gave clear, hot skies during the first week.
03 Black turnstones winter in Cumshewa Inlet. By the end of August, many winter species were beginning to arrive.
04 Hecate Strait southbound toward Skedans Islands. We typically travelled less than
ten miles a day, so there was time to enjoy everything.
We ended the trip with 72 species of bird and 12 species of mammal. Humpbacks were the only whale we saw, but we got at least one very good view of one during the zodiac ride home. Most others we experienced only as distant spouts.
The best bird experience was on an unnamed rocky islet just southeast of tiny Rocky Islet in the Copper Islands chain. In the middle of the night, we began to hear a loud chittering sound. We stuck our heads out the tent and shined flashlights, revealing hundreds of dark shapes whipping back and forth in the dark, misty gusts. We thought at first they were bats, but I eventually attracted one to hover in front of my flashlight beam and saw it was a fork-tailed storm-petrel. Later, biologists at the Haida Heritage Centre listened to a recording dad made of the calls and told us that there were also Leach’s storm-petrels as well. Hundreds of birds kept up the chorus all night long for the two nights we were there, stopping shortly before dawn. Sometimes, they flew so close to the tent we could hear the flap of their wings.
05 Didi describes life at Kuna. Didi’s own grandmother lived at Kuna
in the 19th century, and she told us stories of life in the ancient village.
06 Trees grow naturally from old poles. Decay is a natural and welcome part of a totem’s lifecycle,
not something to be resisted.
Despite the decent species count, Haida Gwaii struck me as a bit of a bird desert. Many species that would be common on the mainland were absent from the islands or present only in small numbers. The alcids were diverse and abundant—we saw the Big Four, plus Cassin’s auklet, plus both puffins—but on balance, southeast Alaska has more birds, and the Broughtons have more mammals. Wildlife here was good, but not outstanding when compared with other hotspots along the coast.
What Haida Gwaii has that no other region can compete with is the richness of the human culture. There are more old villages and campsites here than any other place I’ve seen, and the level of preservation is absolutely astonishing. Walking through the ancient villages with the always-knowledgeable Haida watchmen is more than merely an educational episode; it is an emotional experience. The inhabitants of the villages departed long ago, but they left behind beautiful physical monuments of their existence that still stand, as well as a library of memories and culture that still exist in the minds of the Haida today.
07 Limestone Islands high-pressure ridge aloft. We didn’t use a guidebook to find campsites.
We just guessed from the chart where good ones might be, then hunted around till we found one.
08 Crossing Laskeek Bay in morning calm. The sheltered east side of Gwaii Haanas is accessible to paddlers of all levels.
09 Endangered northern abalone. River otters left trails of shells all over the beaches and forests.
10 Longhouse remains at Tanu. Tanu was once home to dozens of longhouses and hundreds
of people. They lived there for centuries.
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