Sunday, November 4, 2018

Kayaking Haida Gwaii - Planning Details (Part 2)

Gwaii Haanas park passes

This may be the first roadblock to going on a self-guided Haida Gwaii adventure. You need a park pass to go into Gwaii Haanas National Park, and these do sell out especially in the summer months (June, July). Lucky for us May is quiet and we had no problem getting our passes. However, we did book them in December as we had heard they sold out. Moral: book early and for your whole group, since you may not be able to add more people to your trip later on if the passes are sold out.

The park pass costs about $117 for an annual pass (cheaper than by the day for 2 weeks), so remember to factor this in.

There is a mandatory orientation prior to your trip for all members of your party. This can be completed in Skidegate at the heritage center by the ferry terminal, or in advance (February or March sometime) in Vancouver or Victoria. We chose to attend the meeting in Vancouver. This worked out really well as it gave us an idea of what to expect and how to prepare. We would highly recommend this option for the benefit to planning your trip, though the heritage center is supposedly amazing.
Camping in the mossy meadows at Hutton Inlet
Booking the Ferry
Apparently it is necessary to book the ferry in advance, but May was rather quiet and we probably could have booked this last minute. Still smart to book well in advance if you're driving on or if you want a cabin as space is limited. Either way, BC Ferries does appreciate knowing if they're having kayaks walk on, so good to let them know when you call to book. (Yes, you will need to call for the Inside Passage/Northern Routes, at least we did this past year)

The ferry dates dictated the dates we could go as much as anything. The ferries only run certain days of the week, especially in the off and shoulder seasons. For us we wanted to leave on the Friday due to work schedules, so on the way up our schedule looked like this:

Arrive at Horseshoe BayFri, May 11By 6pm
Leave HorseshoeFri, May 116:35 PM
Stay overnight in Bowser

Drive Bowser to Port HardySat, May 123.5 hours
Arrive at Port HardySat, May 12By 2pm
Leave Port HardySat, May 126:00 PM
Arrive Prince RupertSun, May 134:00 PM
Leave Prince RupertSun, May 1310:00 PM
Arrive SkidegateMon, May 146:00 AM

For both of the legs of the ferry on the way up we booked a cabin. This was kind of nice to have, but many of the frequent travelers just slept on the main passenger decks in sleeping bags - definitely a viable option to save a bit of money. On the way back we only booked a cabin for the second leg of the trip, as the first was during the daytime.

Leave SkidegateTue, May 2910:00 AM
Arrive Prince RupertTue, May 294:30 PM
Leave Prince RupertTue, May 298:00 PM
Arrive Port HardyWed, May 301:45 PM
Drive back to NanaimoWed, May 304hours
Leave NanaimoWed, May 308:00 PM
Arrive VancouverWed, May 309:40 PM

Walking kayaks onto the Inside Passage Ferry
Yes it is possible!
BC Ferries does charge a small fee to walk or wheel your kayak onto the ferry ($10 or $20), but it is much less than if you were to bring a vehicle on.
We used kayak wheels for two of the kayaks that were loaded with all the gear and I pulled both of them. The third kayak went (nearly) empty and J and N carried that onto the ferry. I don't know if we could have carried them with all the gear the whole way onto the ferry down the loading ramp if not for the wheels! We also took advantage of the walk-on passenger luggage service that is available, so we were able to ditch a bit of weight.
We received some mixed messages when it came to bringing camp fuel onto the ferry. The land folks said to have it out so it can be 'safely stowed', but the ferry personnel were quick to tell us to stow it in our kayak hatches. We still don't know what we're supposed to do.

Water Taxi into Gwaii Haanas
The main company that will take you and your kayak into Gwaii Haanas is Moresby Explorers. They only do runs on certain days, unless you have a group >5-6 people and their boats aren't in use for something else. They release the list of dates in November or December.

The cost is dependent on where you want to go/get picked up from. We got dropped off at Murchison Island by Hotspring Island ($210 per person), and picked up at Raspbarry Cove by Rose Harbour ($283.50 per person). They require a 25% deposit when you book, and full payment >1 month out.

Moresby Explorers will also rent double or single kayaks if needed. Two of our group rented a double for $834.30 for the two weeks.

These are the coldest boat rides ever. Do not underestimate this. (Much more detail to follow in the narrative version of our adventure)

Food Planning
First, do you enjoy dehydrating food? Like really, truly enjoy it? Yes? Good, that will soon change.
Just kidding!
Though it is important to warn you: dehydrating food for 2 weeks for 5 or more people will take a lot of time. You may wish you opted for the prepackaged $10 per meal tasteless bags of dehydrated food from MEC, but I assure you all the hard work is worth it.

We learned that it is possible to dehydrate just about anything! Mac and cheese with ham, check. Veggie and egg scramble, check. Even turkey dinner, check.
Everything in the following menu was dehydrated except for the fresh fruit and veggies, the cheese (freeze dried from ThriveLife) and the fresh foods in the first few days. We also had 2 tea bags for every day (varying flavours), and hot chocolate or apple cider mix for most of the days. In the end our menu looked like this:

Gear Planning
After reading all over the place about what to pack and what not to pack, this is what we came up with. If you bring everything on the list and are smart about having a set of clothes for paddling and a dry set for land, you should be well equipped - we were, but your mileage may vary. Also, most of the clothing fit in two 10L dry bags (one for dry land clothes and one for paddling clothes), plus a smaller one especially for down jackets. Rain pants, rain jackets, paddling jackets and neoprene were all kept separate though since it didn't matter too much if they got wet.

Route Planning
Our proposed route was north to south, starting near Hotspring Island, working out way down to Ninstints/Skang Gwaii then back up to Raspberry Cove. Having done the trip, our proposed plan had a few flaws, and we made some changes along the way. Map on the left is our pre-planned route. The map on the right is our actual route based on GPS tracking while paddling.
Planned kayaking route (marker in miles for some reason)
Actual kayaking route (click for Google map of each leg)

While traveling up there we became concerned the crossing from Ramsay Island over to Newberry Cove was too long or would be too wavy/challenging. Consequently, we entertained the idea of using one of our extra days to start at Murchison go to Bishop Islands on to Hutton Inlet, then the next day go Hutton to Newberry. As a result we got dropped at Murchison with this plan in mind. On further discussion (having already been dropped at Murchison) we decided to cross straight to Hutton Inlet as the winds/waves looked favourable and it would be a shorter day than going to Bishop Islands first, though longer single crossing, and it would be a shorter day overall then Ramsay to Newberry would have been. In doing so we traded a day from later in the trip. Specifically we took out the day we planned to go out and back from Swan Islands to Poole Point in search of the sea cave.

The plan was to stay on the north end of Burnaby Narrows by Dolomite Point. However, when we got there we couldn't find the area to camp, and the stream was inaccessible to get water, plus we had already paddled 16km and the group was getting tired. As a result we paddled down toward Burnaby Narrows and found a flat area to camp. Only problem is you're not supposed to camp there, oops! We did try radioing the park rangers to talk to them about it, but they didn't respond, so we just tried to be as careful as possible to not disturb anything and to not have a fire. Our recommendation would by to try a different island on the north end of the narrows (and not have paddled quite so far so you can actually explore and find a good camp site) or add in a couple days and go into Island Bay as there are supposedly waterfalls to be found.

Something to keep in mind: in Burnaby Narrows, generally the tide floods from south to north, and falls from north to south, and since you want to go through the narrows when it is the lowest tide you'll need to carefully time your passage and trip to/from the narrows to avoid too much current.

The out and back at Swan Islands was necessary to refill water. Everywhere was so dry, even in May! Keep this in mind and bring lots with you as you paddle. (This applies to your first day too as there may not be much right where you're dropped off)
We took out the trip up to Poole Point as we weren't sure exactly where the sea cave was and it was going to be a rather exposed paddle.

We used one of the contingency days in Ikeda Cove as the weather had turned and it was quite rainy and windy (we also needed a break!). I believe that Ikeda Cove may be prone to wet weather though as it is surrounded by mountains and it seemed to be much clearer outside the cove when we left.

The whole last leg out from Raspberry Cove to Ninstints/Skang Gwaii had to be altered. We made an attempt early in the morning to paddle out prior to the forecast gale-force storm, but the currents were not in our favour (we basically didn't move for almost an hour of paddling) and it was raining on us. We returned to Raspberry Cove and were able to raise someone on the radio that was willing to take us out to Ninstints/Skang Gwaii in their zodiac.
After that the next 2 days were spent in a lean-to we built bracing ourselves from the rain and winds, so no kayaking was had those last days.

When we did go out in the zodiac the swells/waves appeared quite large, so I'm not sure how much fun it would have been to paddle out that direction anyway. Nonetheless, plan several extra days for this section and stick to the protected shore coves. Or book a zodiac ahead of time! (expect to pay ~$100 per person though)

Final Costs
If you have your own kayaks it is cheaper to ferry and bring your own. If you do not own your own then it is cheaper to fly to Sandspit and rent a double from Moresby Explorers. If renting a single, I think it comes out about equal, though having done the trip, I wouldn't advise using any single kayaks if possible.
The values below are the lower end of costs for a 2 week trip. In addition to having a lot of the gear already we did make some purchases specifically for the trip, like more dry bags and rope to hang food.
I have not included the VHF radio in the tally as we had bought one ourselves to use at other times. If you don't have one you can rent it from Moresby Explorers for ~$60. A VHF radio is required to communicate with the water taxi, and strongly encouraged for weather/safety.
This also does not include the $100 per person we ended up paying for the zodiac out to Ninstints/Skang Gwaii.