The Brooks and Beyond

 As a fair warning, this update is a bit lengthier than the previous ones, so you may want to grab a cup of coffee or tea before settling in.

 

So much has happened since I left Kyuquot. I can say, without hesitation, that every day on the northern part of the island has been an adventure, though each in different ways.  It is a stretch of coast so wild and wonderful; I feel truly grateful to have been able to see it at this time of year. I only came across two boats and the lighthouse keepers at Cape Scott since leaving Kyuquot. The rest has been sea otters, sea lions, seals, shore birds, and gorgeous wave-swept coastline. It felt like I had the entire place to myself. It was also incredibly challenging, with constant 3-4 meter sea states, gale warnings, and driving rain. I think seeing it like this made it even more spectular. After all, this is what this coast is like most of the year, and I got to see It: lush wet hills shrouded in beautiful grey mist, with shores relentlessly pounded by large waves.

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Getting around the Brooks

After Kyuquot I camped for four nights on the east side of the Brooks Peninsula in a small protected cove. The winds had turned to southwest gales and stayed there for several days, building the seas back up to nearly seven meters in height. It was too big and too windy for me to go out, especially around the exposed face of the peninsula, so I settled into a cozy spot back in the woods and waited. The cove I was in ended up being so protected from the wind that I was actually able to have a couple fires on the beach. It was such a pleasure to sit by a driftwood blaze and watch as the big moon traced an arc across the sky. At least for a couple hours, then the returning rain chased me back to my tent.

 Enjoying a fire on the beach. 

Enjoying a fire on the beach. 

The wind direction forecasted for the day I wanted to go around was from the southwest, which could break either way on the peninsula. For some reason the VHF radio was not reporting the weather station out on Solander Island, leaving me clueless as to how these gales were reacting when hitting the mountains. Not sure what to do, I texted friends back home from my satellite device. The told me that the wind should be favorable once I got to the end of the Brooks. I set an early alarm and tried to get some sleep.

I got on the water during that time when you can just make out the outline of shore, rocks, and water. As I headed down the peninsula I had to use my headlamp to check the compass bearing for the first hour of paddling. The wind was off my bow and seemed to be in a good direction, but it was still close. Mountain ranges and points can do funny things to the wind, and although it was good where I was I knew that I could turn the corner and be facing a stiff headwind. I would have to make a decision once I got to the corner of the peninsula. If I came around the corner and it was blowing in my face I would be forced to turn around and retreat the seven miles back to the safety of the cove. I kept heading down the shore, feeling lines of rain showers and wind sweep through occassionally as daylight came on.

 Raining again: 21 days in a row. 

Raining again: 21 days in a row. 

The seas started to build as I approached the corner at Clerke Point. This particular point has a very shallow shelf that surrounds it, causing breaking waves well offshore. Even though I was over a mile from the land I was feeling it: the swell was breaking on one side of my bow and the wind waves were breaking on the other, causing my kayak to bob and weave back and forth. I poked my nose out a little further and could tell that the wind would indeed be in my favor, but the seas continued to break in two directions, making for a wobbly ride. I was almost at the point where I had to decide. Just then a line of rain showers came in, with the accompanying gusts of wind, causing even larger breaking wind waves. I had to decide what to do. I could either: 1) turn around and take the wind back up to my protected cove, but also put the boat in a more unstable following sea, or 2) forge ahead and hope to pick up the current on the outside of the point, which should smooth out the seas by lining up the direction of wind and current.

In that moment I remembered something a mentor once told me. “Water works the same everywhere: a river, the ocean, or splashing in the tub.” I knew, for sure, that there was friendlier current off the point and that it would help the breaking wind waves settle down. Riding up and down in the swells I couldn’t see it, but if water worked the same everywhere it had to be there. I took a deep breath and tried to push down that scary feeling in the gut that comes when throwing yourself into uncertainty. I pointed the kayak out towards the open ocean and started paddling hard into the white topped waves.

After a very long twenty minutes the waves started to break less. I looked back and saw that I was drifting westward with the new current. I was past the point where I could turn back and had to focus ahead. The effects of the point lasted another fifteen minutes, bumpy me around, but now I could see all the way down the peninsula to the gap between the next cape and Solander Island. I waited for what seemed like forever until the compass heading lined up, then turned my corner and ran with the wind. Solander Island was at the next corner, six miles from where I had turned. I knew I had to hit that mark to make it around. I started paddling fast downwind, surfing the bigger waves, getting a feel for the seas. Just then David and John from back on Orcas came to mind: who would have known that those fall downwind runs were the exact training I needed for this trip! I kept going, ticking off landmarks quickly as I moved down the coast.

 Sea otter relaxing in the swell near Quatsino Sound. 

Sea otter relaxing in the swell near Quatsino Sound. 

As I approached the end of the peninsula the winds started to rise substantially, funneling through the gap between the cape and island. The large rolling breaking waves returned as I headed for Solander Island. The wind kept getting stronger as I watched the big boomers breaking on the reef and rocks that extended from the cape. They were getting closer and closer. I was paddling 90 degrees off a course towards the rocks but now I could see that the current was much fast than I had initially thought, pushing me quickly towards the dangerous areas around the rocks. It looked like it was going to be close.

I engaged my whole body, pushing firmly on the foot rests and paddled hard, using my entire body to move the boat. I kept catching glimpses of the line of rocks to my right... almost there... and then yes!, I should have just enough space. I waited for the crest of a wave, swung the boat around to line up on the big rollers, and caught a few long surf rides into the deep water channel next to Solander. As I passed the last rock and entered the lee behind the island the seas calmed substantially. I took a deep breath and got a drink of water, watching my transits slide as the spring-tide current moved me quickly to the north. The six miles from my initial turning point to the island had taken just 52 minutes, which works out to almost seven knots! That was by far the fasted I had traveled on this trip.

Adrenaline was still pumping through me as I turned the boat north and headed up the coast into Brooks Bay. As the rush wore off I felt differently about everything that lay ahead. I was calm, happy, and ready for all the boomer fields and exposed sections between me and Cape Scott. I knew, for sure, that the rest of the route wasn’t just possible, but that I could and would do it. Another mentor of mine likes to say that, “knowledge replaces fear.” I think that was what had just happened. I had known all of the pieces before that day, but now I had first hand experience. What had been concepts in my head had become intimate knowledge. I could trust myself and the fact that water works the same everywhere, even out on the Brooks.

 Looking back from Lawn Point. 

Looking back from Lawn Point. 

At dusk I landed at Lawn Point, on the other side of the bay. The sky had cleared a bit and I could see the entire peninsula across from me. The snow covered mountain peaks led down to the west to Cape Cook, and there, off shore, stood little Solander Island. When I climbed the bluff that night to listen to the weather report on the radio I could see the light on Solander Island shining out in the darkness, marking that turning point that already seemed so far away.

 

Rounding Cape Scott

The next day I paddled six miles around the corner to a little public cabin in Restless Bight. The weather forecast was for winds to increase to 40-50 knots around the headlands in the afternoon, and so I decided to have a short day and avail myself of the luxuries of being indoors. It was delightful to dry everything out by the wood stove and watch the rain lash against the big picture window as the wind started to shake the cabin late in the day. The wind continued to howl all night, occasionally waking me as the cabin rumbled on its foundation. By daybreak it had calmed enough and I carried on towards Cape Scott.

 Watching the front come in from the cabin in Restless Bight.

Watching the front come in from the cabin in Restless Bight.

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About 28 hours later I found myself there, looking at the cape. I had arrived a bit early and was killing time, eating a snack, and letting my boat get pulled in towards the cape by the still strong flood current. The currents around Cape Scott are notoriously dangerous and I knew that I had to pass through near slack, but before the ebb started and the current blocked my forward progress. I had a slack time listed in the current table, but so far I had noticed that the ebbs flows on the coast had been starting significantly earlier than predicted. I was trying to guess how much earlier that meant I had to approach. 45 mins? An hour? Maybe the tables were right at this place? As I floated the wind started picking up again. I figured I had better get going before it got any worse. Once again I pushed down that scary feeling in my gut and paddled ahead.

 Sea lions hanging out on the rocks near Cape Scott. 

Sea lions hanging out on the rocks near Cape Scott. 

The current offshore creates strong tide rips and it is recommended that you travel as close in as you can. Since I was about an hour and a half before slack, I took that advice and started weaving a zigzag path around the rocks close to shore. I watched for the boomers, found the gaps, and timed my entries. I felt like I was being bumped around in a washing machine as the waves broke, reflected off rocks and shore, and shot up around me in unpredictable ways. At one point I had to pass close to a rock that was covered in sea lions. They all raised their heads and started barking like crazy. It was deafening, like a fire alarm going off right next to your head. “Sorry ya’ll, just passing through!” I said, paddling hard to give them space.

I got to a patch of relatively calm water and could see to the very northern tip of the cape. Up ahead it looked like some boomers were going off at the point. I kept looking at my chart, then back at the breaking waves. It didn’t make sense, there wasn’t anything charted there that would match what I was seeing. As I got closer I realized what was happening: a current was flowing fast over the shallow shoal off the point, pushing against the swell. The breaking waves were not boomers after all, but rather the white spilling tops of waves in a proper tide race! It looked a bit intimidating, but at this point there was only one way forward.

I ferried over to a gentler spot in between the point and the bigger waves on the outside and started paddling against the current. As I felt my stern lift I was so grateful for all the training I had done in tide races in Connecticut and Wales. This felt familiar, under control. Another chorus of sea lions on a nearby rock started up, reminding me that this was not a place to linger. I took a few long, clean rides and shot out over the front wave, just past the point. Ferrying back towards shore I was relieved: the coast was behind me. I slowly made my way up the current and into the bay, leaving behind the most beautiful and challenging stretch of coast I have ever paddled.

 Unique sand dunes at Cape Scott. 

Unique sand dunes at Cape Scott. 

The rest of the day felt surreal. I landed in gentle surf in Experiment Bight, donned my cag, had a snack, and hiked up to the lighthouse. The keepers were quite surprised to see me. They chatted me up while figuring out where to find more pages for the guest book so I could sign it. With all the fog there was no view from the top, so I headed back down and paddled of to find a place for the night. As I approached the beach in Nels Bight I saw the tops getting blown off the breakers, white spray launching into the air. It looked like the were stacking up decently near the shore. “Alright,” I thought, “the Pacific wants me to have one last epic surf landing.” I headed in towards shore and soon realized that the “big breakers” were only about waist high! I had gotten so used to the giant crashing waves out on the coast that my depth perception completely fooled me. I laughed out loud as I landed on the shallow sand beach, the waves next to the shore only knee high.

Since then it has been pretty mellow paddling. I have made my way to Port Hardy and am resupplying food one last time before heading out in the morning. Although the big conditions of the open coast are far behind me, I am not quite home free yet. Up ahead is a lot of ebb current flowing against me during the next few days, plenty of precipitation, and most likely some freezing temperatures. It looks like the bits on land might become the harder part for this last section of the expedition, with cold hands in the morning as I try to pack a frozen tent! I am definitely feeling the pull of Orcas and am excited to see what challenges this section brings as I head down the inside passage towards my island home. Though, to be honest, I am already planning on when and how to get back to some of those amazing places on the coast... but maybe next time in the summer.

 I couldn’t keep count of how many sea otters I ran into on the northwest coast. 

I couldn’t keep count of how many sea otters I ran into on the northwest coast. 

Here are some short scenes from the last section of the trip. Not the best video, but it gives you a glimpse of what it is like out there.