A Wild and Windswept Place: Brooks Peninsula by Dinghy, Part 1

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Kieth measuring an ancient cedar

Ancient Cedars, puffins, sea lion colonies, alpine lakes and the juiciest wild berries I have ever seen – The Brooks Peninsula is an enormous un-developed, un-logged, roadless and nearly trail-less hunk of Pacific Northwest rainforest and mountains thrusting out to sea off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. After we visited it’s southern side on our circumnavigation of the island last summer, we were spellbound and wished to set foot on it’s beaches again.

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Huckleberries aplenty

This time, since we had a limited window of opportunity during which we were both free from work we opted to find a route via logging roads to an inlet on it’s northern side, put our 11ft inflatable in the water with all our camping gear and two friends, and zoom over the green water to the nearly undisturbed beauty of the peninsula’s northern side.

 

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Getting ready to launch

To get there this time, we chose to navigate logging roads beyond the town of Port Alice to a log sort on Klashkish inlet. We were helped along by the Back Roads Map Book, satellite imagery and the excellent navigational skills of our two friends Jacob Earnshaw and Kieth Holmes, an archaeologist and a cartographer respectively. While smooth and well maintained, the road was often steep, narrow and contained many tight hairpin turns on mountain sides. People Kayaking to the Brooks often launch from Side Bay, a further distance by water but a shorter and easier drive.

 

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Harry and Jacob carrying water back to camp
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Gathering Sea Asparagus, which we ate with fresh fish and instant mashed potatoes. It was delicious!

Since we were counting on being able to plane the dinghy fully loaded with our 20 horse it was necessary to pack very light. For example, we brought only a very small amount of water with us, instead filling containers from streams and either sanitizing with tablets or a filtering pump. Our food was mostly dehydrated items such as instant pastas and instant mashed potatoes (which were surprisingly delicious). Since we brought a fishing rod, Kieth was able to catch us a few fish for dinners. We were also able to gorge ourselves on ripe berries of almost every variety on the coast as well as gather a few other wild foods. Having carefully planned our packing and stowed everything into dry-bags, when it came time to load up the dinghy and climb in, despite being full to the brim, the boat was able to plane and we zoomed off into the unknown through the mist that greeted us.

 

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Harry in the camp kitchen at Driftwhale bay. There are not many photos of Harry because he’s always taking the pictures.

After a first night camped just inches above the high tide line on a tiny pebble beach in Klashkish (we launched quite late in the day and we short on daylight), we landed on the long sandy stretch of Driftwhale Bay. A smooth albeit somewhat wet landing through the waves and we were unloading our gear, dragging the boat up the beach (it has removable wheels mounted on the stern), finding a tree to hang our food and exploring from there.

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The fog clears over the lagoon at low tide

We arrived in a thick fog, but the next morning we woke up to glorious blue skies and warm sunshine, the mountains finally revealing themselves behind our camp. Since the Brooks is often blanket by a thick sea fog, every moment of sunshine felt like a precious gift.

Driftwhale bay consists of a long sandy and windswept beach lined by towering spruce. In the middle of the bay there is a rocky headland, around which lies a river mouth, a large lagoon and another sandy stretch of beach. Looking back across the lagoon, we could see an open view of the Refugium Range, punctuated by the jagged ridge of Doom Mountain. Landslides ominously scar many of the mountainsides, having dragged huge trees and boulders down the mountain in rivers of earth and rock. At low tide, the lagoon dries save for a river channel that winds it’s way out to the sea.

 

 

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navigating up-river

This river channel meant that even on a lower tide we were able to navigate into the lagoon in the dinghy. On a higher tide we were able to explore some distance up the river until it became too rocky. We later used this as a jumping off point from which to hike inland through the bog to the base of Doom Mountain. Away from the constant cymbal of waves hitting the beach, the quiet was overwhelming.

The nights were velvety dark with quiet, the waves the only sound. The days were narrated by warbling thrushes and ravens gossiping, nosily flapping by. The wet sand was pressed with wolf tracks, mussels and anemones anchored to rocks and sea otters floated in rafts. We made plans to reach the cape.

 

 

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