When I first heard of Haida Gwaii it was still named the Queen Charolette Islands. I don't remember how I first learned of the island or the beauty it housed but as soon as I did I knew I needed to go there. There was a draw to this allegedly magical place that I didn't understand. I never made it happen though. It was only a two day trip to get there but the travel always seemed so inconvenient; drive to Prince Rupert, take a Ferry, and then two days are already gone! I could travel far in the four days it would take to get there and back and spend significantly less money. As someone who has never good at managing my money the cost of travelling there seemed too high. So I didn't go.
During what I can only describe as a (minor) anxiety attack while planning our wedding last winter I knew I needed to cancel our big wedding. I didn't want it and Fernando didn't seem to either. Prior to this revelation I had spent four hours of my life on a fall evening trying to pick an arbour. Stressed, I claimed that was it, we were eloping! Then I went back to wedding planning. A few weeks later I had a similar issue with something else. There were too many options, I didn't want to choose, and I didn't want to make the wrong choice. In February 2020, I realized I didn't want the wedding I was planning. I wanted a magical wedding that meant something, focused on us and not all the frill. Laying in bed talking to Fernando about my wedding planning issues I randomly decided to search locations on Haida Gwaii. I didn't think it would be a real possibility but I was drawn to the idea.
After some searching I realized it was possible! We could move the wedding to Haida Gwaii. We would get the marriage commissioner to sign our paperwork and have a personal ceremony together on North Beach in front of whoever could make it. Fernando was in. Things were booked and it was happening!
Until it wasn't.
COVID plagued the world and closed off the island. We didn't know if we would be able to go. We decided to marry in our back yard instead, the perfect substitute if we couldn't have our Haida Gwaii wedding.
Haida Gwaii was more of a need than a desire now. I needed to be experience the island. My friend had lived there and loved it, everyone I know who had been was enchanted by it, and the photographs of it made my desire to go all that much stronger. On a last minute decision, we went to Haida Gwaii this year, 14 months after we planned to get married there. Fernando wanted to hunt Sitka Deer and I wanted to hunt and explore.
Getting there was long. Drive to Prince Rupert and take the overnight ferry to the island. I am intimidated by the ocean. It's immense and unknown features leave room for my mind to conjure the most horrific of possibilities. Despite my fears the ferry ride was pretty smooth. We slept on the ferry and arrived in Skidegate in the darkness. Then we parked until it got light because we didn't know where we were going and wanted to be able to see it. After a quick nap it was sunrise and we were on our way to our AirBnB in Masset.
Day one was incredible. We found Angela's Place, a restaurant in Port Clements that served breakfast! I was so happy and grateful for this little restaurant. There was no food on the ferry and no food readily available when we got off the ferry! Note for next time - bring food for breakfast.
After breakfast we searched some cutblocks for signs of deer. We didn't know what we were doing. We used iHunter to identify cutblocks and decided that while we may not see any today we would scout the area since it was so unfamiliar to us. The way the blogs on Sitka Deer read you expect to see one every 20 minutes and since any deer is open, we should be successful! We bumped a deer and the irony of it made me laugh. Fernando had just said to me (5 minutes into our walk) "Come to Haida Gwaii they said, there will be lots of deer they said" as the deer bounded away, Fernando oblivious to it. The next deer I didn't even see. Fernando saw it but wasn't able to get a shot off on it. We wandered, drove more roads to check out more cutblocks, and then headed to Masset.
I was supposed to have a Kin Club meeting at 6 so after checking in at the AirBnB we decided to go to Old Masset, checked out a random road that looked like it led to the ocean (it did) and then decided to check out Tow Hill. It was only 25km away so I figured we had plenty of time. I swear it has never taken me that long to drive 25km before. The road was rough and by the time we got there I needed to be leaving to make my meeting. I bailed. Thankfully the club members are amazing and one of them covered note taking at the meeting for me.
Tow Hill was amazing. It is where I wanted Fernando and I to have our wedding photos taken. We walked the 1km to the beach, loving the large trees and the river inlet. The light was perfect and as I photographed Tow Hill I realized I have crossed everything off of 2021' vision board. Thank-you universe.
Fernando was incredibly patient as I photographed from multiple angles, trying to get my camera set up without my tripod to take photos of us together and me of myself. I didn't want to leave! Then we climbed Tow Hill. There is a trail that takes you to the top comprised of a walkway and steps. It was beautiful and magical. At the top we could see Alaska, the sunset, and everything we could possibly want to see. Then, I wanted a shot from the ocean level before the sun went down. I ran down the trail and Fernando headed back to the truck to wait, ever patient. I tried to get the perfect long exposure shot but without my tripod it was hopeless. Happy with what I did have, I ran back, determined to not keep Fernando waiting longer than necessary.
The next two days we hunted. As we scoured the areas looking for deer we came across a couple of local men who told us they were still mostly in the mountains and we likely wouldn't see many around here.
Well shit. We had seen lots of tracks but nothing moving during shooting hours.
With this new information I pulled up iHunter and determined where the mountains started. We drove, and drove, and drove. It wasn't actually that far but it felt like forever, as it does when you don't know where you're going. Spooking a deer with the truck we stopped and walked the area, seeing another bounce off to an undetermined location as we walked. That was the last deer we would see while out hunting. Thursday it was supposed to rain 15mm, and was incredibly windy; we took a day off from hunting and relaxed. We ran in Masset on the trail from Masset to Old Masset, worked out, watched a movie, and I blogged. On Friday we tried again with no luck. At the end of the day we talked to the neighbour at the AirBnB who told us that we just didn't know where to go. He knew where the deer were. They were hours away! Three hours one direction he said, naming the area we should have been going. By now it was Friday night and we only had one more day to hunt.
We chose not to go try to find the deer on Saturday morning. There was a hike I wanted to check out and rather than drop me off and leave me alone with no vehicle, Fernando opted to come with me. We hiked to the Pesuta Shipwreck. It was really incredible to see. I was mesmerized by the ship; the wooden remains not yet worn down by the impact of the salt water, the rusted port holes, and the way the water moved through the ship as the tide came up. When you look up the hike, or when you get to the trail head, it says to start your trip during low tide. I had checked the tides that morning, half paying attention in the way that I do. I saw the tide would be low and high tide wasn't until around 4:30pm. I hadn't considered that changing tide impacts the Tlell River that flows into it and submerges the trail along the beach edge.
As we hiked back to the truck the water was rising. It felt like a sudden change. We had a path, and then we didn't. As we approached a creek crossing that was about two feet wide at low tide, I was surprised to see it was now over 5 feet wide and much deeper. Ocean patterns are funny things when you're not used to them. We watched a couple of men ahead of us, hoping they knew how to navigate back to the parking lot with the high tide. One of them crossed a log to get to the other side of the stream. That didn't look like a great time and they still seemed lost. Fernando noticed an odd area, void of trees, resembling an old road. I had noticed that the trail forked and continued on when we had left the forest to walk along the river's edge. This road like slope was evidence to me that it would take us to a trail and therefore the parking lot. We climbed up and within 20 feet there was the trail! Calling to the men below I told them of the trail, adding a disclaimer that I didn't actually know where it went.
Fernando and I trekked along. I was sure we were on the North Beach Trail. He wasn't convinced. We walked and walked. The trail we took to the ship had left the forest at 2km and from tracking our distance on my watch I knew that we would find the trail before the return distance said 3km. If not, I would admit defeat. I didn't need to. We weren't lost. The trail merged back into the main trail and we continued on, acknowledging the differences in the creek as we walked along and across it. Otherwise everything remained the same as it had a couple of hours ago when we hiked in. Back and the truck we decided to go see Balance Rock, but the tide was too high. We retreated to the AirBnb to relax and enjoy some downtime together. We spent Sunday packing, organizing, going for a run, and watching movies. It was the perfect way to end our trip. Monday we packed up and headed to the ferry, with a quick stop at Balance Rock for me to take photos.
The Pesuta Shipwreck hike was easy. 5.5km of mostly flat ground. The hardest part was the fact that the soil along the river was slippery on the rocks in many places. We got to witness rainbows on our way to the ship and on our way out, the always moving rainstorm providing a little more beauty to the day.
When I was editing the photos of the shipwreck I had an overwhelming urge to show them in black and white. I think perhaps because the original photo of the ship was in black and white, it seemed fitting and more respectful. The ship, retrofitted to be a log barge, was caught in a storm that resulted in its demise. The shipwreck has been in place for almost 100 years, since 1928, slowly eroding away.
I don't know what it is about Haida Gwaii but there is a pull to go back. Before we even boarded the ferry to return home we were talking about our next trip there. Although it really isn't significantly different from other coastal forests, there is something magical about the island. It may just be that it is a slower way of life, allowing us time to rest and recover from the daily business we experience at home. Nothing is open late or early. There are no fast food restaurants that I saw. A lot of the island only received cell service a few years ago and wifi isn't always readily available. The slower pace allows you to really appreciate the moments as they come, rather than solely focusing on what's next.
If you haven't gone, I promise it is worth it.
A gentle snowshoe - Adventure Bus Tours
February 6, 2022
The West Coast Trail
July 10, 2022
Fang Mountain - 2 Nights in the Majestic Backcountry