Final Days in Haida Gwaii

After a few days of rest, refueling and restocking in Queen Charlotte City, we set out for our last adventure in Haida Gwaii… in search of the infamous Mosquito Pole. We heard about this totem pole from our friend Mary, who had toured Haida Gwaii a few times herself, and willingly gave us all kinds of helpful information for planning our trip. This pole is very remote (even by Haida Gwaii standards), on the west side of the islands where very few travel. It is not part of any tour, and there are no “Watchman” protecting and maintaining the area.

On the morning of June 21st, we set out for Skidegate Narrows, another tricky waterway that is effected greatly by the tide, which can run fast in and out of the narrow waterway. In addition, there are many shallow areas, and many twist and turns. As we did with Dolomite Narrows, we navigated through it (this time in Zephyr with a motor because of the distance… the first time we put the motor on so far this summer!) at low tide to record a safe track line on GPS.

Once back to Summer Breeze, we waited for a higher tide and slack water. (Navigating this waterway is a bit more complicated than I’m making it sound, but I’m guessing most of those reading don’t really care about those details. If you are, make a comment, and I’ll put Skipper John on the reply.) We had a strong headwind, and a 3 knot current pushing us, but made it through without incident. We anchored at the head of Armentiers Channel, where the next leg of the Mosquito Pole adventure would begin.

Skidegate Inlet at Queen Charlotte City with “Sleeping Beauty” in the background

Raccoon searching for a meal at low-tide

Bald Eagle keeping watch over Skidegate Narrows

 

We woke the following morning to pouring rain. As time was drawing near for us to leave (navigating with tides again), John took Sadie ashore one more time since she would remain on the boat while we were away. Because we were traveling more than 5 miles, Zephyr was sporting her motor once again. First we had to cross the flats between Armentiers Channel and Buck Channel. Luckily there were a few inches of water, so we didn’t have to portage the 70 pound dinghy, but we did have to walk her across, and then row through a maze of kelp and rocks. Once past that John fired up the motor and we were off… heading west on Buck Channel. We were not too far along when the prop hit a hidden rock, and as it turned out, broke the shear pin. We actually had a spare with us, but no tools, so… back we went to Summer Breeze, still in the pouring rain mind you. 🙄

With the shear pin replaced we were off again… across the flats, through the kelp and rock maze, and then on down Buck Channel. The wind picked up, the rain came down in buckets, and I… on “bow watch”, took it all… right in the face. It rained so hard I was literally drinking it as it ran down my face. After what seemed like several hours, we finally arrived at what we only HOPED was the right place. There are no signs or markers of any kind, but we had a description to go by. Luckily, it was one of the few spots where there was a bit of a rocky shoreline that was somewhat protected from the waves the crashed around us.

With Zephyr tied to a log we set out in search of not one, but two totem poles. The first one was called “Three Hats”, and we literally hiked right past it. When the trail we were on (likely a wildlife trail) came to an end, we turned around and found it right where we started… but hidden in the foliage growing out of it.

After that we literally slogged our way through the woods (and mud) in search of the Mosquito Pole. We hiked up and down soggy hills, through boggy waters, over fallen trees, and finally found the pole we were looking for. For a totem pole said to be more than 300 years old… in these elements… it looked pretty darn good! We were told this is the only totem pole known to have a mosquito carved in it, and it’s obviously a mosquito! (And to us, it was obvious why they would feature one on their pole!)

Three Hats totem pole

Detail, Three Hats pole

Thick, lush forest we hiked through

Mosquito Pole

Detail, Mosquito Pole of the Haidi People

 

Thankfully, the trip back up Buck Channel was a little more comfortable because, although it was still pouring, we were at least heading away from the wind. Sadie was thrilled to see us, of course, and she and John took an immediate trip ashore. They had an interesting experience while there, and at this point in time I can’t help but wonder if it was a sign of things to come. While Sadie nosed around doing her business, and John patiently waited in the rain, a Black Bear stepped out of the woods nearby. They looked at each other for a bit, and then Sadie and the bear slowly started walking toward one another. No aggression, it’s more like they were drawn to each other. We used to talk about how Jazzy looked a bit like scrawny Black Bear. John observed for a few moments, and then called Sadie back to the dinghy. We talked about the experience for days… fantasizing that the bear was Jazzy reincarnated, or somehow had her spirit, and that she and Sadie recognized one another. (Now we wonder if the bear was there to call Sadie home. 😢)

The following morning we headed back to Queen Charlotte City, anchored in the bay, and went ashore to do laundry and dine in one of their two restaurants. (It’s always a treat when I don’t have to whip up a meal in the galley, with our limited food supply, but not always the treat we hope it will be, if you know what I mean.) The following morning we (me, John and Sadie) rowed ashore again, and rented a car to see a bit of Graham Island, and see if we might find some Sandhill Cranes. We’d heard there were some residing on the island, but got very vague descriptions of where we MIGHT find them.

As we were driving north out of Queen Charlotte two tiny fawns literally bounced across the road in front of us. Of course I had to stop and say hi! 😁

Our first stop was the Skidegate Haidi Heritage Center, where most visitors begin their Haidi Gwaii/Gwaii Haanas experience. (As I mentioned in my first Haidi Gwaii post, we came in at the south end of Gwaii Haanas and traveled north, where most visitors come across from Prince Rupert and start at the north.)

A little Haida humor; toward the bottom of the pole (below) you’ll see a figure… dark brows, red nostrils… that’s a bear. The legs that appear to be hanging out of the mouth of that bear… we’re told that’s a careless tourist. 🤣

Young fawn twins

Totem pole at Skidegate Heritage Center

 

After our visit to the heritage center we traveled north on Graham Island in search of some Sandhill Cranes. We searched in suggested areas mid-island, to no avail. Since we had the car for the day we continued north, making a few stops along the way, eventually ending up at Agate Beach at the very north tip of the island. No Sandhill Cranes, but we did find shiny rocks!! As you regulars know, John teases me about my attraction to “shiny things”, and every time he teases me I remind him that my attraction to shiny things could be very costly, and he should count his blessings that the shiny things I love are free!

Colorful rocks from the beach near Masset

A smidge of Alaska! Looking across Dixon Entrance from north Graham Island.

 

On our way back south we went back to the places we’d searched for the Sandhill Cranes on the way north, again to no avail. We’d just concluded that our search for the elusive Sandhills was a bust, when I spotted four of them off the side of the road. I hit the breaks,  pulled off the road, and hopped out with camera in hand. Unfortunately they were making their way across a fenced property which was clearly marked “Private, No Tresspassing”, but we were both able to rattle off a few fun shots as they displayed their Sandhill antics! Breeding rights, maybe? 😂

Sandhill Cranes

A scolding between Sandhill Cranes

Victory dance maybe? Sandhill Cranes

Pair of Sandhill Cranes

 

The following morning we made our way back across Skidegate Channel to Sandspit, which is an hour closer to the islands well east of us, in preparation for our crossing the following day.  It was about 16 hours crossing from east to west, and from Sandspit to the nearest safe anchorage to the east it would be about 12 hours. We planned on leaving at midnight again, but it was dead calm about 10pm, so we set out ahead of schedule. As it turned out, we really should have waited at least one more day. It did not take long for the winds to come up, causing huge swells and a lot of chop for our long, and ultimately painful crossing. In preparation for the crossing, we put the dining table down and made up a spot to sleep in the stern of the boat rather than the bouncing bow. It didn’t really matter… the whole damn boat rocked and bounced and churned with the high seas. John took first watch, while “Hal” (auto pilot) kept us on course. In the mean time, neither Sadie nor I got a lick of sleep. She was so disturbed that I pulled her up on the “bed” with me and wrapped myself around her.

I finally gave up on the hope of sleep and started to get up to spell John. At the very moment I stood up and wave slammed the side of the boat, launching me backwards against the bulkhead, resulting in a sizable goose-egg.  When I opened the hatch and looked out, a large wave rolled us and swept the kayak right out of the rack.  It was only the cable lock that kept it attached to the boat.  John and I scrambled on deck and secured her in her damaged racks.  This time we tied her more securely.  John was looking exhausted and incredible miserable, and as if I needed proof of this he suddenly leaned over the side and relieved himself of his stomach contents. Then he went below and took over the job of comforting Sadie, and tried to get some rest.

I took over babysitting Hal while sporting a vicious and hard-earned headache. The swells built, and I felt sure… as they seemed to increase in size with each new roller… that we would “turtle” at any moment. I finally opened the hatch, and yelled down at John “The waves are getting huge!  They’re hitting us hard from the side! Can I change course?” I got a very weak, “OK. Change course 50 degrees to starboard.”  That helped a lot, but at no point was it pleasant.  It meant that we weren’t going to land at Spicer Island as intended, but I didn’t really care.  On top of worrying about the waves hammering us, we also had to keep an eye out for crab pots and logs, neither of which could be seen until we were right on top of them. After what seemed like hours of this misery, I looked at the time on my phone. Gawd… we still had hours of this fun ahead of us!

While I was wallowing in my misery I happened to notice gulls flying overhead, which seemed odd since there was no land in sight in any direction. As I was pondering the significance, a whole group of dolphin surfaced and started playing in the waves around us. I managed to get my hands on my camera and started shooting. It was especially hard to keep these fast moving, playful creatures in focus on a bouncing boat, but I managed to get a few shots. It occurred to me later, while asking myself why they were harder to shoot than dolphin I’d photographed from other boats, that in our case they were moving much faster than we were and we were bouncing a heck of a lot more than on those other boats. The group continually doubled back and came by again and again. They LOVED those big waves, and it showed. I almost felt as though they were there to drag me out of my funk. If so, it worked. 😁

This was one of the small waves!

Pacific White-sided Dolphin playing alongside Summer Breeze

Two Pacific White-sided Dolphin

Dolphins dancing in the waves

Dolphins at play, one coming back for more!

Pacific White-sided Dolphin

Dolphin at play

Pacific White-sided Dolphin, smiling at me!

Dolphin entertaining me!

 

So that’s it! Obviously we made it back from Haida Gwaii safe and sound. That was more than a month ago (at writing). Our travels have taken us so far since then! Needless to say I’m WAY behind on my blogging again, and we’re still very remote on the western side of Vancouver Island. I lucked into some wifi at dock in Tahsis. It may be awhile before you hear from me again, or it may be tomorrow. Depends on how long we stay. 😜 Sooooo much fun and beauty out here! More to come!

2 thoughts on “Final Days in Haida Gwaii

  1. I have loved seeing your photos and reading of your wonderful and exciting adventures on the boat. Thanks for sharing. It will be a wonderful book when you are back on land again. Praying for safe travels for you on your adventures.

    • Thanks Joanne. If I recall correctly, you’ve been to many of these places yourself. It’s an incredible world, isn’t it?

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