Part 3 Hawa’a Haida Gwaii – Kayaking with Jo
I had the huge privilege of immersing myself in the beauty and bounty of Haida Gwaii through the great experience and generousity of Jo Hager, owner operator of Green Coast Kayaking. She enthusiastically – and literally – embraced me and I became a part of her group of eight. Even though I hadn’t had time to buy food for communal meals as the others had, my three French companions (Stephanie, Melanie and Charles) and Azad and Meghan, the wonderful couple from Toronto shared their food with me. We easily developed congenial relationships in our brief and memorable time together.
Not being a seasoned kayaker or camper, I wondered how I’d fare on B.C.’s northern rainforest coast. I needn’t have worried. Jo and her assistant, Dominic, were superlative guides and I was able to drink in the wonder of one of the world’s most biologically rich areas.
Kayaking with Jo was a lesson in the art of kayak camping ease. My fears of soggy sleeping bags and wet clothes were dispelled by her simple wisdoms, gained through years of guiding experience. (“Nothing dries in this humidity. Keep your wet clothes on because the best way to dry them is with your body heat.”) She helped me steer my kayak through dogged currents determined to waylay me.
Jo taught me the paddling stroke that left my body feeling strong and invigorated, even against wind and choppy water. The trick is moving from the core where you have your greatest strength. The shoulders and arms are extensions of the core and the paddle blade only dips about six inches into the water for optimal effectiveness. On calm seas, I meditated to the rhythm of my strokes. My meditation was often interrupted by shouts of “Humpback!” or “Look at the tufted puffin!” and “Here’s another one of those weird jelly fish!”
My kayak adventure with Jo and Green Coast Kayaking was different than the one I’d signed up for. My original trip had a set route and meals were catered. Jo offers a rare experience that attracts the young and the young at heart who are physically capable and want to fully participate in the adventure. She’s a genuine, expansive and joyfully expressive woman, who is at home on the northern ocean. And she is an excellent leader for her cooperative-style kayak and camping expedition.
As guests, we helped with basic camp tasks and we helped choose our daily route. Morning and mid day, we gathered to examine potential routes using detailed nautical maps of the area, tidal calendars, regular weather updates and the deep experience and local wisdom of Jo and Dominic. They described options for optimal adventure or relaxation – whatever collective mood prevailed – and we democratically chose a route. I loved looking at the maps detailing the convoluted coast we were travelling and hearing Jo and Dominic describe the tides (“If we choose to go to Bluejay Cove, we’ll have the flood to bring us in.”) We always wanted to go with the “flood” aka the tide.
At the end of the day, we found our own campsites and pitched our tents in the aromatic cedar, spruce and hemlock forests. We found comfort on a thick, luxurious mattress of moss. We collected firewood, built campfires and made communal meals from supplies we carried.
Azad came from Iran and prepared an Iranian dish with lentils, cucumbers and exotic spices. Our French contingent served the cuisine of their region, complete with a valiant – but failed – attempt an flambéed bananas.
Nothing topped the fresh black sea bass meals Charles hauled from the ocean an hour or so before fileting and frying them over the fire and then devouring them. The other delicacy we tasted directly from the ocean was bright orange sea urchin gonads, sold in the better sushi restaurants as ‘uni’. On our first night, Jo cooked venison she’d hunted and salmon she caught. Both were delicious and came right from Haida Gwaii.
We explored the forests and beaches where we made camp and stopped for lunch. We entered the rainforest to collect water from streams, and simply to bask in the green cocoon and breathe the pure oxygen that the foliage exudes.
We beach-combed on rocky shores that yielded fascinating sea shells, rocks and exotic marine detritus. Our soundtrack was bird calls, our alarm clock the raucous ravens.
Our campfires were low key. Most of us were pretty bagged by the end of the day. But we did enjoy the fire, letting it blaze after our meal was completed. We adopted a ritual of warming the smoothest of flat beach rocks by the fire and applying them to aching shoulders and tight backs. We watched as the moon rose over the dark forest, cheering its ascent; then practicing creative night photography.
And then we traipsed to our beds on the mattresses of moss, under the protection of massive old trees and the sounds of the sea lapping on the beach as we laid our heads to sleep, visions of bald eagles dancing in our heads. Until morning when a particularly unkind unkindness of ravens screeched itself into our consciousness.
The day I left my kayaking group to be transported back to Sandspit by Zodiac, I was all but asleep on the speeding Zodiac, the wind having whipped me numb. All of a sudden someone shouted though the wind as we sped over the Pacific.The Zodiac abruptly stopped. There, about 100 metres from us was a family of orcas. A leader, mama and a youngster and another adult.
I hoped Jo and my gang would see this sight too.
We watched for several minutes as they languidly travelled beside us, their distinctive black bodies, marked with white saddle patches displaying, until finally they moved away from us and we resumed our exit from this exquisite place.
Hawa’a Haida Gwaii.
Orange blob moonrise
silhouettes pine’s jagged tip
moves on into sky.
Mist hangs, campfire gathers warmth.
Voices, laughter float
in night’s air, orange moon face
shines from sea and sky.
If you go
Book with Green Coast Kayaking: gckayaking.com
Arrive in Sandspit by air with Air Canada from Vancouver: www.aircanada.com
Or by ferry from Prince Rupert: www.bcferries.com
Stay at Seaport Bed and Breakfast in Sandspit (Run by Moresby Explorers)
Eat lunch at Brady’s Bistro in the Sandspit Airport
Visit Moresby Explorers in Sandpit: www.moresbyexplorers.com
Visit Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay ‘Llnagaay on Graham Island: www.haidaheritagecentre.com