After stocking up with as much food and fuel as possible and leaving Port Hardy to round the top of the island, we cast off up Goletas Channel and found ourselves in a thick fog and utter lack of wind. The time had come to switch on our 1980’s era radar. Shifting neon green shapes renewed themselves in cycles, showing us the lay of the islands around us. Occasionally a new blip would appear up the channel, alerting us to an oncoming fishing boat. It was already late afternoon by the time we left the dock, so we decided we would head for Bull Harbour, just a short distance away. Bull Harbour is a deep pocket in the islands on the north side of Goletas Channel. The fog cleared a little as we approached and we were able to see the cliffs rising on either side of the entrance and several boats anchored in the mist. Swaths of fog still hung in the trees, floating slowly along. We dropped anchor into glassy jade green water and I decided to go for a row. It was so quiet I could hear the chatter of barnacles opening and closing on the rocks. Purple and orange sea stars clung to the rocks below the surface. A sea lion bobbed it’s brown torso up out of the water, to see what I was up to.
In the morning we pulled up anchor and crossed the Nahwitti Bar under a calm grey sky. Nahwitti Bar is a shallow gravel stretch abutting the open pacific, and as swell rolls over it, it has been known to create enormous waves that at times spit gravel from the bottom up onto the decks of boats. The saltiest of fishermen seemed to shudder at the mention of Nahwitti Bar. On the day we crossed it however, we were met with smooth rolling waves, steep but unbreaking in the calm morning. After an almost successful attempt at salmon fishing off Cape Sutil, we rounded Cape Scott and spotted the Coast Guard helicopter dropping off supplies to the lighthouse keepers we had met while hiking. A little further round the corner and we tucked into the mouth of Sea Otter Cove.
While Bull Harbour was named for the sea lion bulls that once ruled it, Sea Otter Cove was named for a ship. A ship whose business was in the pelts of the animals. Of course the animals themselves and the Kwakwaka’wakw people were there many thousands of years before the ship came and went, a mere momentary blip on the radar of the land. And while the otters disappeared for some time, hunted to near extinction, they are there again now. They quietly munch away on sea urchins, quietly re-growing their forests of giant kelp.
Sea Otter Cove is flanked by two mountains, one of red rock, the other of yellow. Both blanketed by forest and crowned by a rare sub-alpine bog ecosystem. A smattering of small islets protect the mouth of the cove and several real live sea otters floated happily on their backs in the kelp as we approached. Two large sandy beaches are near Sea Otter Cove – San Josef Bay to the south, a popular place for campers as it’s accessible by a short well maintained trail from the Cape Scott Park trailhead; and Lowrie Bay to the north, accessible only either by boating to Sea Otter and finding the rough trail or walking all the way over Mount Saint Patrick and continuing over the headland past the cove.
Harry, Jonty, Bas and Kieran were eager to get surfing in one of the bays. Unfortunately I had come down with a bad cold and all I felt like doing was napping on the beach beside a fire, which is exactly what I did.
After a day and a morning resting and reading, and feeling a little out numbered in interest and in gender, I was ready to rally and hike up to the top of Mount Saint Patrick – the red stone mountain – something I had been wanting to do since seeing it from San Josef Bay while hiking the North Coast Trail. I had a map that marked the trail as crossing the mouth of a creek in one corner of the cove. We all paced up and down the beach looking for any kind of trail emerging but could find nothing. In frustration, we finally started bushwhacking our way into a small headland we knew the trail must cross. After some traipsing around through prickles and sword ferns, we finally spotted small swatches of pink flagging tape marking a barely trod upon path through the thick bush. We were able to follow this path through the forest, up a steep slope around the back of the yellow mountain, and on up to the rare bog at the top of Mount Saint Partick. From there we could see far down the coast and back up to the cape. We could see the waves crashing over rocks at the mouth of the cove and around the headland, dwarfed by distance. We could see the massive wind farm in the hills which had been hidden from our view while hiking the north coast trail. We could also see the extent to which the land outside of Cape Scott Park has been ravaged by clear cut logging. The hills were a patchwork quilt of varying degrees of cutting, re-planting and re-growing, as far as we could see. In stark contrast, within the boundaries of the park was thick, unbroken deep green forest.
The next day we followed the rough trail out to Lowrie Bay, on the other side of Sea Otter Cove. Back when we had been in Echo Bay, Billy Proctor the legendary old fisherman and naturalist, had recommended that we find that trail. We followed the winding path through head high salal and mossy bog to a stretch of serene white sand, blue waves peeling onto the shore. It was markedly warmer in Lowrie bay than it had been in Sea Otter as it was sheltered from the wind on that side. When we arrived there was a family there that had also hiked in. Their two boys ran around shooting toy bows and arrows at drift logs. When they packed up and left it was just us on the beach. I walked down and found a tiny old trappers cabin that sits in the bush on one side of the bay. It’s walls are covered with writing from all it’s guests over the years. Spare emergency supplies and sleeping bags are tucked under two rough bunks. An ancient and rusting wood stove is perched in one corner, a note reading: please remove the stove door when you leave so it doesn’t rust shut.