Thursday, May 21, 2015

Vancouver Island Adventure: Kayaking the Broken Group Islands III

This is the third and final post about a fantastic week kayak camping in the Broken Group Islands on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Check out the first post here; Read the second post here.

How lucky are we to have a whole island to ourselves each night we camp in the Broken Group? They say you make your own luck. Going early or late in the season (not July and August) is the way to go.  

After some exciting stormy weather, we're blessed with brilliant sunny and mild warm days during the second half of our trip.  And the sunsetsswoonworthy!

Day 5, Turret Island to Gilbert Island
With warmer temps and calm sea, the Three Guys and I are off Wednesday morning to check out Benson and Clarke Islands, some of the outermost islands of the archipelago, before heading to Gilbert Island for the night.

On the northeast beach, Benson Island
Benson Island has been reclaimed as sacred to the Tseshat First Nation people, and camping is no longer allowed here.  The Tseshat recognize it as the creation site where the first man and first woman of the Tseshaht people came into this world.

A wood carving stands sentinel in a clearing (site of a former native village) above the beach with some interpretive signs. With care I find and add a shell to the offerings at its feet.

Probably the coolest paddling of our trip is the next stretch from Benson Island as we cross an exposed gap of open ocean. Today the ocean swells are long and smooth, not too high like a couple days ago. 

As we paddle along through big clumps of sea foam that remind me of a huge bubble bath, the ride is easy breezy. Too fun to stop and take photos.

After a fun few hours of paddling near the open ocean, we find our way through steep green, hilly islands on the southeastern side of the Broken Group to a smooth sandy beach on Gilbert Island.

As we come around a bend to land, we're surprised to see other people for the first time in 4 days. A couple men from Vancouver in a double kayak are lunching on the beach and tell us they came in a day after us. With Dodd Island as their base, they aren't packing up and moving every night but taking day trips. Something to seriously consider for the next trip.

Once again, I'm awed by the lush green forest just above the beach, where we pitch our tents on flat ground beneath big western red cedars. Another relaxing afternoon, gorgeous sunset (pictured above at top of this post), and great beach fire. All we're missing are marshmallows and graham crackers. (We've got the chocolate covered.)

Day 6, Gilbert Island to Gibraltar Island
Now that we're back in the more protected, inner islands, our pace relaxes to match the bluebird, mild days. Except for a choppy, exposed patch on the outside of Gibraltar Island, the paddling starts to be more consistently like this:

When we arrive at the Gibraltar campsite beach, a group guided by Kevin of Majestic Ocean Kayaking is lunching on the picturesque cove that we'll call home tonight. Thanks to Kevin for directing us to the best tent spots on the tiny peninsula!

I know you've been wondering...there are compost toilets at each campsite, some with incredible views (although you have to bring your own TP). On Gibraltar, two cute little dark mice waited until I was quietly seated, then scampered past my feet in a hasty exit.

Shell-lined path to the compost toilets.
Dusk at Gibraltar Island
By now a high pressure weather system has settled in for the duration, and the next few nights are perfect. No rain fly needed on the tent tonight, and I gaze at the brilliant starry sky as I drift asleep.

Day 7, Gibraltar Island to Hand Island
Now we're enjoying the cream of the trip—smooth seas, sweet small islands, protected lagoons full of colorful sea life, sunshine, and a relatively short paddling day (couple hours). Alden read about remnants of a historical fishing weir, so after lolling through a sheltered lagoon at Nettle Island, we go explore the lagoon at Jarvis Island, too.

C'est moi. Shallow sea adjacent to Jarvis Island
Since we only paddled a few miles today to arrive at our last campsite on Hand Island, we go out for an afternoon paddle. While Chris and John go explore the Pinkerton Islands, Alden and I circumnavigate Hand Island.

Hand Island. Yes the water is that incredibly clear and blue-green.
IMO, Hand is one of the most scenic islands and campsites, with nice beaches on either side of a spit where we cook up dinner and enjoy views to Vancouver Island mountains and out to the outer islands. 

Beware the smart and aggressive black crows here waiting to raid your food containers. They managed to unzip a soft-sided cooler I left sitting out and snagged the rest of my dry salami. No damage to the cooler, though. Like I said, smart.

Tonight our thoughts are drifting homeward to hot showers, chocolate milkshakes (a craving, not a regular part of my diet:), and life back on the grid. So we forgo a beach fire and turn in early. Chris is setting his alarm for 5:30 a.m. so we can be on the water by 6:30 to beat the winds and currents on the return to Torquart Bay.

Day 8, Hand Island to Torquart Bay and...home
And before I know it, I'm jolted awake in a soft, predawn light. We're up and out of our tents quickly, by this time a well-oiled kayak-loading machine. Not. I won't miss loading up the kayaks each morning. 

Predawn, final morning, Hand Island.
I hardly have time to stop and enjoy the morning glory, but snap a few quick shots. By 6:33 we're all packed and shove off into the smooth, calm, windless morning, munching energy bars instead of a hot breakfast.

It all feels good and right and exhilarating.

By this time I'm in better paddling shape, my arms are stronger, my stroke is more clean. And soon this memorable and wonderful trip will be over.

A quick rest on the final push.
We cruise back through calm sea, pausing briefly a few times and admiring the impressive peregrine falcon perched atop a tree we pass in the Stopper Islands.

In less than 2 hours, we're back where we launched a week ago. Hungry and ready for a hot meal, we haul up kayaks, load the cars, change into clean clothes, and are are off to Port Alberni for breakfast.

After Kayak Eats
There's nothing like that first meal after a week camping. We find our way to the cozy Swale Rock Cafe in Port Alberni that was recommended by the two Vancouver guys we saw a few times this past week. And there they are, eating breakfast, when we walk in. 

It's 10 a.m., but we all order milkshakes along with our eggs and French toast.

Us Americans were hoping for thick shakes. It seems the Canadian version is more like extra creamy cold chocolate milk. But it all tasted great anyway after a thoroughly wonderful week.

Have you kayaked in the Broken Group? Would love to hear about your time there too, or other favorite kayaking destinations, in the comments below.

For you map geeks, here is a rendering of our whole route superimposed over the islands (with a couple detour loops John and Chris took):

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! Visit us on FaceBook, Instragram, and Twitter between blog posts.

When You Go
For info on kayak touring or boating/camping in the Broken Group Islands, check out the Parks Canada website for Pacific Rim National Park. There is no potable water in the islands, so you'll have to bring all the water you need for however long you're out there. Each designated campsite has a couple compost toilets. You'll need to get a permit for each night through Parks Canada.

And remember, Leave No Trace when you quit your campsite.


JoJo said...

It looks breathtaking! Did you find any beach glass at all? I suppose there probably isn't any since it's so pristine.

Anonymous said...

A great week, no planes, no cars, no boats (very few actually). And the night sky was spectacular!!! Ready for another trip on the west side of Vancouver Island, perhaps further north .......John

jill said...

Hey JoJo, it was breathtaking! I did find bits of beach glass and, unfortunately, we saw lots of washed up plastic bottles, derelict fishing floats and line, and other human-generated trash. As pristine as it is out there, ocean currents dump our waste indiscriminately all over the world. Sad and troubling. I think about my use of plastic now and try to cut down as much as possible.

John, indeed! Thanks for sharing the adventure!

Suezy Proctor said...

Beautiful..stunning actually. My favorite? I love Predawn Hand Island on day 8, and the clear blue is so pretty.

A milkshake? Really? That's something I would do, but you...where's the green smoothie?? hahaha

Thanks for a great trip. I look forward to tagging along again when you venture out on the sound and beyond.

jill said...

Thanks for your comment Suezy, as always! Green smoothie? Yech! Give me a thick chocolate or fresh berry shake any time. Except I can't eat like that very often. :(

Anonymous said...

glad you enjoyed your trip. That was one of my top kayaking and camping destinations overall.

Anonymous said...

Great blog Jill! You captured the feel of our BGI experience for everyone else to share perfectly! I can't wait to go back. I enjoyed our paddle around the island. I now have a new found fondness for chocolate covered ginger and Chamomile tea. Thanks! :)

jill said...

Hey Alden! Thanks so much! So great to share the experience with you, whom I have dubbed Buddha Man. :)