April Explorations – Part 1: Brown’s Bay to the Broughton’s

Sometimes you just need to get out and get lost and we decided it was time for a mini expedition.  Two weeks is just enough time to allow that to start to happen, to move at a human speed and to let life get simpler and slower.  Conditions at the end of April are a bit more wet and wild than in the glorious summer months and it means that you are focused on what you are doing and are present to the moment.  It is so lovely when your world gets that small and there are no other thoughts before you but the next placement of your paddle or perhaps, the next meal.

“Gateway to Heaven” – Frederick Arm.

The trip was two weeks, in two parts:

  • Part 1:  an expedition style trip from Brown’s Bay, just north of Campbell River to the Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park.  We moved every day, had distance goals and timings set around currents and rapids.
  • Part 2: The second week was an exploratory trip through the Broughton’s.  We often base camped and spent long days exploring the endless islands and islets of the park.

We set out from Brown’s Bay on a rainy Easter Monday and paddled north into Johnstone Strait.  We took the “back route” out of the strait proper winding our way north and then west through the likes of Nodales, Cordero, Chancellor, Wellbore and Sunderland channels before sneaking up Johnstone again near Hardwicke island.  Most days it was blowing 25-35 knots in Johnstone Strait and yet we were protected on the inside.

Looking north up Wellbore Channel towards Whirlpool Rapids.

We had a good weather window for passing north up Johnstone Stait, from Port Neville to Broken Islands.  From there we got back into “the inside” in Havannah, Chatham and Clio channels before being shot out Beware Passage into the Broughton’s.  Johnstone Strait surprised with its beauty, it was not just big and epic, but incredible, sparkling blue in the sun, its shallower waters green near the shore.

Cloud topo lines in Johnstone Strait, just outside Brown’s Bay.

The whole area is an ancient place, home to First Nations for thousands and thousands of years.  There are middens and villages, ruins and graveyards.  There is hardly a corner of the whole area that is untouched, or unknown or without a story.  There are fish farms and clear cuts, log booms and crumbling dance halls.  There are aged trees and deep forests, white shell beaches and walls of rock.

View of Johnstone Strait from WW2 artillery platform on top of Yorke Island (end of Sunderland Channel).

There are wide channels, calm ones, windy ones, narrow ones, currents, and tidal rapids.  There are high sided channels with deep green sides backed with snow capped peaks that leave you breathless.

View NW into Cordero Channel from corner of Nodales channel & Frederick Arm.

Everywhere life is layered, on the sides of the shore and in the forests behind them, the biomass is staggering.  You paddle along walls of rock and trees, impenetrable and endless, and then unexpected campsites appear, shell beach pockets or a small clearing in the forest, like the answer to a small prayer.

View from ruins at Minstrel Island looking east into Cutter Cove.

No two moments are the same.  The weather changes often and with it the mood of the water, the air, the backdrop, in eight hours you paddle through every kind of weather and ocean conditions.  You never know when you set out what the day will bring, what to expect or what is around the next corner.  At times it does not seem possible that so much water can pass around you, and you must dance around in time to the natural flows if you are to find a way.

View from Flower Island looking SE across Blackfish Sound.

The days are long, but the weeks are short.  At times you struggle in the moment and then wonder how a week has passed you by.  And before you know it Clio channel brings you to the borders of the Broughton’s and a whole new adventure begins.

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon.

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