Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Kayaking Haida Gwaii - No Guides Necessary (Part 1)

So you want to kayak Haida Gwaii... but you don't want to have someone give you a nice tour around the islands and cook all of your meals for you...
Or perhaps you do, but you don't want to pay them the MILLIONS (not an exaggeration) of dollars of your hard earned money to do it.

You, my friend, are in the right place!

In this post we'll give you the run down on how we prepared for our two week trip in Gwaii Hanaas, how we brought our own kayaks, where we went, and provide a chronicle of our adventures and lessons learned along the way!

Preparing the kayaks to walk on at Port Hardy Ferry Terminal
  In short:
-Get irrationally excited about kayaking Haida Gwaii, search the interweb for best routes to kayak in May, base route on typical guided tours of the area
-Spend MONTHS dehydrating food, and buying all the gear including a fancy pressure cooker to make it delicious!
-Drive from Vancouver to Port Hardy, park the car, unload the kayaks, and take them on a ferry adventure to Prince Rupert, and then another one over to Haida Gwaii!
-Take our kayaks on a 2+ hr boat ride into Gwaii Hanaas
-Go on a two week kayaking adventure
-Come home alive!

In long:
I had been wanting to do a Haida Gwaii kayaking trip for a few years. I’m not sure where I first got the idea, but two years ago while at MEC I saw they had a map with info and campgrounds on it so I picked that up, quite excited to plan a trip (https://www.mec.ca/en/product/5045-114/Haida-Gwaii-BC-Waterproof-Map)

Unfortunately, it turned out we didn’t have time to go for a while so it was put on the back shelf… until August 2017 when I (Chris) was running FatDog with Tim (our friend from North Van) and a fellow from Arizona who was asking about our favorite places in BC. Turns out Tim actually lived there for a few years and he suggested that May is a really good time to go since weather is alright and it’s shoulder season so no one else goes then. That was convenient because my summer break was in May/first week of June this year. So that got me thinking about the trip again.

He also said that we could walk our kayaks onto the ferry (true) and that there was somewhere to camp in the bay once we got there (partly true, I’ll get to that), and that we should spend as much time there as possible, “5 weeks would be good”. The part he failed to mention was how logistically ridiculous/challenging it is to plan such a journey. So, with that omission, I set about researching and planning a trip. The timeframe of the trip was constrained by the vacation time available for those we wanted to invite ~2-3 weeks, and the exact dates were constrained by the ferry schedule and the water taxi availability (to take us into the national park). We also knew we wanted to bring our own kayaks since we have them and to save some $$$. We also didn’t want to drive our car on as it was expensive and unnecessary – didn’t have time and therefore no use for it when we were there – so we were looking to walk our kayaks onto the ferry.

Googling for “walking kayaks onto Port Hardy ferry” (or something similar) returned one blog post written about 100 years ago from westcoastdave.ca, the link to which no longer works… So I had just one report to tell me that it was indeed possible to roll/walk kayaks onto a ferry. Basically, you pull up to the ferry terminal, talk to the staff about where to unload, and get to work, not too hard.

The ferry up the inside passage was super cool, but also very long. I probably wouldn’t do it a second time to be honest. Many more details on this to follow.

As for planning our trip, we figured we could do it without a guide, since we’ve done other multi-day kayak trips. Plus, we didn’t want to spend an extra $4000 per person to have someone prep/cook our meals and show us around. Doing all this did turn out to be quite a task, so be sure to thoughtfully consider whether you’re up for the challenge of planning all your own food and not getting lost. Because if you’re not sure, then it might be smarter to book a guided tour… from the sounds of it, they’re pretty plush. Almost all the food is brought in fresh by boat every few days and you have lots of time to explore because they prep the meals, or you can go for the one where you can sleep in a cabin for some of the nights! Conversely, doing it ourselves we spent a great deal of time planning and dehydrating meals beforehand, then the actual cooking of them takes time out of every day.

If you’ve decided you’re capable of the challenge, then probably good to get a map like the one I listed above and start looking at routes you want to do/places to see. We decided we wanted to see both Hotspring Island (which is now flowing again) as well as the world heritage site Skang Gwaii/Ninstints. This meant our route would be ~120km in 12 days paddling with a couple days for weather delays. If I were to plan it again I would increase the number of days we could stay in one place because taking down/setting up camp got exhausting. Also we had a couple days at the end of our trip where it was gale winds and we had to stay put. All in all, it turned out to be more like an expedition, and less like a leisurely trip (there were many redeeming factors though which I’ll get to).
We had 5 people on the trip; 3 of us went up there on the ferry with our own single kayaks, and 2 flew up and rented a double kayak. The double kayak was markedly faster, even when loaded up much more than the singles. For future trips we decided that we would only bring double kayaks – it made that big of a difference! They also hold a lot more it seems.

Another consideration is who is going on your adventure with you. Make sure you've done other trips with them, give them a packing list etc to make sure they're prepared. You're going to be spending days or weeks with these people so choose your adventure partners wisely.

Food. Plan more calories than you think. We had all our meals measured and packed 3500 calories per person per day. This probably would have been ok, except it tasted so good that some people ate more than they should have given their BMR and activity rate. Next time I would plan more like 4000 per person per day. The majority of our food was dehydrated ahead of time (menu to follow) and then we bought some fresh stuff in Prince Rupert to bring. We found that carrots and apples lasted almost a week, the oranges even longer (10 days?) and that the lettuce and tomatoes for the first night barely made it the 2 days with all the jostling.

The next installment is the nitty gritty details of the planning.