Video: Homais Cove, where the Spanish first made contact with the Nuu-chah-nulth in 1774

Day 18 of our expedition, at Homais Cove, on the outside of the Hesquiaht Peninsula: A windy day for me to be shooting a video – just like that day back in 1774 when the Spanish sailors on the ship Santiago, under the captainship of Juan Pérez, became the first Europeans to make contact with the Nuu-chah-nulth inhabitants. That day, the northwesterly was blowing their ship towards the rocks, so the Spaniards were unable to come to shore.

That failure to actually set foot on land ended up being a very important detail. That’s because, four years later, Captain Cook arrived just north of here, at the sheltered bay he named Friendly Cove on Nootka Island, and claimed these lands for Britain. The resulting conflict over ownership led to the Nootka Crisis which, in the 1790s, nearly brought Spain and Britain to war.

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Tatchu Peninsula Hike, Part One: Cruising (mostly)

The Secret Coast Expedition route was divided into four stages: the first three were coastal backpacking trips of around a week or so each, and the final stage was sea kayaking. Stage One was the Tatchu Peninsula hike, planned for six days/five nights. Here’s how the first part of that hiking trip went – mostly pretty cruisy! I’ll leave it to a Tatchu Part Two post to describe what happened when things got a little crazier…

We float-planed in to Rugged Point, a very small, water-access only, provincial park at the southern entrance to Kyuquot Sound, on June 9, 2019.

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Our first morning on the expedition – we raised the RCGS flag! The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the Spanish Embassy in Canada, are the two presenting sponsors of the Secret Coast Expedition. We poked around and explored for the morning, and saw our first bear of the trip, a little guy foraging along the shoreline. (We did some foraging, too – more about that in a separate post).

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Then we crossed the tip of the point via a short trail through the rainforest, and found ourselves on the coast. Not a person to be seen… the only prints on the beach of wolves and bears and ravens and eagles.

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Navigation was, for the most part, very easy – just follow the shoreline. This section of the Tatchu hiking route was mainly broad sand beaches and rocky headlands.

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Out first days out were a lot about getting familiar with our gear. As I have written elsewhere, it’s essential that you have rugged and reliable gear for a committed wilderness trip like this. We had not hiked in our new Fjallraven Kajka packs fully loaded, so it was a bit of a learning curve to get them adjusted properly – but these packs are amazing for the many ways you can customize the fit to every part of your body and to the load you are carrying. They were very heavy, and we noted that every time we took them on or off – but they felt fine on our back. Another piece of equipment we were still breaking in were our new Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX hiking boots – which we loved right away partly because of their comfortable fit and flexibility, but came to appreciate as life-savers once we hit the really rugged stuff on later days: cliffs to round just south of here and on Nootka, and miles of slippery boulders on Hesquiaht.

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One of the things that slowed us down was the geology! Especially on the Tatchu Peninsula section – these are sedimentary rocks deposited in the deep ocean, but showing evidence of current flow. We saw so much – fossils, magmatic rocks with gas bubbles in them (now filled in with minerals), faults and folds… and pretty much every time, I had to drop my pack and get down on my hands and knees to check it out.

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Our second night was spent on a pretty beach beside Porritt Creek. Dave and I both tried our luck fishing at the creek-mouth, while we waited for the tide to go down so we could cross it – but no luck.

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Morning coffee… the nights were still cool the first weeks of our trip, but once the sun came out, the days were just gorgeous!

I had planned our daily distances on the short side right from the start, and this was very intentional. First of all, this time up our sleeve would be essential in case anything went not to plan, e.g. due to weather or injury. Hopefully that would not be needed, and we could use that extra time for other expedition goals: photography and exploring, getting to actually know the place rather than just hoofing it through. Here I am checking out the shoreline and tidepools.

The photography actually was really time-consuming  – especially the tripod shots of the two of us hiking. (Drop our packs, set up the gear, put the packs back on, set the 10 second timer and try to walk through the frame in the planned positions, run back to the camera and check, repeat it until we have it right, drop the packs, stow the gear again, put the packs back on, and continue on our way). One shot could delay us half an hour or more… and I was taking a lot of shots!

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Stream crossings slowed us down, too – it’s not fun to hike in wet boots (and you are much more likely to get blisters… and then have them get infected, which could end a long trip like this). So many of the crossings meant dropping the packs and changing into sandals, and then drying and de-sanding the feet before putting socks and boots on over on the other side.

The long days of June worked both to our advantage and to our disadvantage. Lots of daylight hours to hike, if we needed them.  But with sunset at 9:30 and darkness more like 11:00pm (and then light very early in the morning), we ended up using those hours and staying up very late… and becoming pretty sleep-deprived! Here’s the late-night view from our third night campsite at Tatchu Creek.

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So far, everything had gone to plan. The weather was gorgeous, and it all seemed a bit too… easy… for a wilderness expedition. But tomorrow, that was all about to change. Stay tuned for Part Two of our Tatchu Peninsula Hike.

Reliable outdoors gear: the Swedish connection

It’s kind of a coincidence: three of our gear sponsors are Swedish (Fjallraven, Trangia and Woolpower); I am one quarter Swedish; and Dave has some Swedish heritage too. But then you you realize it is not coincidence at all: Swedes are hardworking and responsible people and Sweden has huge stretches of very wild and rugged wilderness. So of course Sweden produces some of the world’s best outdoor gear.

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When Dave and I got married, five years ago, I wore a crown of flowers… and only later found out that is a Swedish wedding tradition! I guess it was in my genes!

Our aim in getting industry sponsors for the Secret Coast Expedition was not just about getting “free stuff.” Dave and I were going to be out there, in the wilderness, relying on our gear (with no options to exchange it, and limited options of repair) for a month! Our number one criterion was that we needed gear that we could trust: that would work and that we could rely on to continue to work. And secondary to that, we wanted to collaborate with companies that have high ethical standards, especially regarding impact on the environment and treatment of animals.

We are really happy, not only that we found fifteen amazing sponsors to work with – but that we are able to work with companies and organizations that share these values, adhering to high standards and “walking the walk” when it comes to the environment. In this blog post, I am going to profile our three Swedish collaborators:

Fjallraven

LsqDSC_4800Dave was keen on Fjallraven gear (both backpacks and pants) right from the start. I took a bit more convincing – their gear is heavy, and back in the planning stage it felt like every ounce we could drop mattered. But, in the end, our Fjallraven gear ended up saving our butts – mine especially, because I spent a lot of time sliding on it! The lightweight hiking pants I would have worn on this trip would have shredded within a week. But, after everything we went through, we just threw the Fjallraven Gaiter Keb pants in the washer when we got home, and they looked like new! Same for the Kajka backpacks – I will write more about their innovative design in a future post – but they were fully loaded and heavy, and we just could not put them down or pick them up gently. Those packs survived a lot of dragging over rocks and, like the pants, they made it home in perfect condition.

LsqDSC_4085Those few extra ounces made the difference not only for comfort, but for our safety out there. I’m a total Fjallraven convert. And, on top, the company has an amazing corporate ethic. To reduce their environmental impact, they use birchwood frames for the packs rather than metal, and they track the sources of any animal products they use (such as wool, leather and down) to ensure that the animals are raised and treated well.

We shopped at the Vancouver-West Broadway Fjallraven store – or you can find a Fjallraven store near you here.

Trangia

LDSC_5462LOur campstove choice was the other way around – I was already a Trangia convert, and I was the one who had to convince Dave that this is the stove set we want. I have been using Trangia stoves for decades. I should say “stove,” because I have only had one – that’s how durable and reliable they are. I bought it in the early 90s (so getting towards 30 years ago). It is the one-pot size, and it has been to Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia, Patagonia, and of course all over Canada… and probably lots more places that I don’t recall over the years. The only reason I needed a new backpacking stove is because we needed the larger size for the two of us. My old one will still be my stove for my solo expeditions.

LDSC_6210What’s great about Trangia stoves? Well, the first thing is that there are no moving parts. Nothing to break. The fuel (alcohol) can be found anywhere in the world – and you can fly with this stove: no pressurized or gassy fuel containers! And it is silent. All of our meals were so easy: very quick set-up, no pumping or priming required. (And we had no need for those environmentally-unfriendly disposable fuel cannisters). Dave is a total Trangia fan now!

Trangia camp stoves are very popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but they can be hard to find in North America (they are worth the search, let me tell you). Find out where to buy Trangia stoves in Canada or where to buy Trangia stoves in the USA.

Woolpower

LDSC_9439Well, when you are out in the wilderness for months, with few opportunities to bathe (not to mention to try to do laundry), it is hard to keep from getting stinky. I had heard that wool garments don’t stink the way synthetics do, and I hoped it was true.

We each had a pair of Woolpower longjohns, a T-shirt, plus a thicker zip-up turtleneck – so three main items (as well as a tube/hat and hand gaiters). We didn’t hike a lot or paddle in the Woolpower clothing – but our wool garments were our clothing of choice around camp, during the evenings and mornings – and they were our pyjamas too. Which means we were wearing them about 2/3 of the time, or a total of 20 of the 30 days – with only one washing.

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Guess what – they didn’t stink! After all that.

I was worried about durability, since they don’t seem to be as fine a knit as most synthetics – but they held up totally fine in spite of all of our rough use. And (we checked) Woolpower takes great care in sourcing their wool from sheep that have not been subjected to cruel hygienic processes, unlike many other Merino wool products on the market. I will be wearing Woolpower clothing for all of my future long expeditions – both for my sake and for my companions’!

Getting to our start point: Rugged Point, Tatchu Peninsula

The Secret Coast Expedition was a year and a half in planning. We would be hiking and kayaking along Vancouver Island’s remote, and nearly entirely uninhabited, west coast for a month. We expected to see few people – and we definitely would have no cell service or internet connectivity. So everything had to be organized and finalized before we left: from our food supplies (we had three food drops along the way, but everything had to be purchased, packaged and delivered before we actually hit the field), to route planning (taking into account tides, terrain), to the few pick-ups and check points we had along the way.

If I missed anything in the planning… we would pay later!

Those check points were few, but important. Nootka Marine Adventures would be our first. They are a sport fishing/tourism company that operates three fishing lodges in Nootka Sound. I selected them to contact as a potential collaborator on the Secret Coast because I like how they operate: with a strong environmental ethic and very respectful to the local First Nations. Happily they agreed to support us!

They would be picking us up at Port Eliza, at the end of the Tatchu Peninsula, and boating us across to the second hiking stage on Nootka Island. But if we didn’t show up on time, they would contact Coast Guard and SAR crews to initiate a search – a situation I definitely did not want to happen. I would have no way of contacting them if we were delayed (other than by VHF radio, once they were already out looking for us), so I had to make sure my planning was spot on. We had to be there. Same for our other checks over the next month: Nootka and Estevan Lighthouses and Boat Basin/Cougar Annies Garden.

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My previous two months had been incredibly hectic. Planning the Secret Coast had been my full-time job! So it felt almost surreal when, the morning of June 8, Dave and I arrived at the Atleo Air dock in Tofino and started to carry our stuff down: our folding kayaks, plus kayak gear, plus food drop #3 to get dropped in to await us at Boat Basin – plus ourselves and our hefty Fjallraven backpacks to get flown up to our starting point, Rugged Point, at the entrance to Kyuquot Sound.

The flight up was fantastic – a bit overcast, but incredibly calm, both wind-wise which made for pleasant flying, and surf-wise which made for an easy landing and unloading. The flight up also served as a great overview of the terrain we were about to hike across, a chance to try to scope out the places that we already knew, from studying the maps, might prove to be tricky.

 

We landed at Rugged Cove, unloaded our packs and watched the plane take off.

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And then… silence.

We were here! The Secret Coast expedition had finally begun!

But, instead of feeling elated, we were both exhausted. We had been in high-gear, planning and preparing, for weeks. We had each only slept a couple of hours the night before. So we set up camp and poked around – but, honestly, it was a struggle to stay awake until a somewhat reasonable bed-time.

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We finally hit the mattresses at 8pm (yes, an hour and a half before sunset) – and we both slept 12 hours! Wow. But we awoke well rested and feeling great, ready to embark on a month hiking and kayaking along some of Vancouver Island’s wildest and most scenic coastline.

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