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 Post subject: Vargas Island, 2007
PostPosted: September 24th, 2007, 9:36 pm 
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This would be our third Vargas Island trip, and the first time we included the full 6 days normally allotted by the families who introduced us to this trip.

While loading and launching the three canoes, one double kayak and four single kayaks, it ocurred to us that Tofino could enhance its claim to be a world-class kayaking center by moving a few rocks to provide a decent launch beach. Anyway a mid-afternoon launch saw us across Father Charles Channel to Medallion Bay on Vargas Island in plenty of time to set up camp and prepare supper. Setting up camp included arranging and planting drift logs to act as supports for a large tarp kitchen/dining/lounging area. Three tarps made up the roof, one tarp from each family. A couple of kayak groups occupied the other end of the beach.

Not much of interest to canoers happened the next two days. We hiked inland trails, some of which were west coast rainforest thrashes, respectfully visited Adrian Dorst's cabin (who was not home), explored the adjacent shoreline, fished (with some success), and used shovels to construct great waterworks on the beach. We also hung out under in the tarp shelter while it rained, and spent much time improving the roof as the rain found design weaknesses.

There was some discussion of tarp philosophy. We put a lot of resources acquiring, improving and maintaining "nice" homes. Then when we get spare time, we eagerly head off to live in primitive conditions. We then "improve" on those conditions by building yet more structures out of logs and tarps. So we sit under dark tarps where it feels sheltered, but we can't even see the sky. Our tarp happens to be translucent and colorless, but appears to be white. You can't see anything through it, but as a roof it feels like being under the open sky. This became known as the solarium, and a much favoured lounging area.

I have to note the insidious passage of people who need a pair of 400hp outboards to enhance their appreciation of nature. During these days, there was a whale feeding at Ahous Bay farther around Vargas. We were "treated" to an endless parade of whale watching boats (mostly large high-powered zodiacs) and flightseeing aircraft. Rather than try to keep their distance from us, it appeared we had become part of the entertainment. On the water, this sometimes meant dealing with the wakes from their ridiculously overpowered boats. And the aircraft often flew much lower than is permitted (500') over populated areas. If you're there, it's populated. Occasionally, a plane came over the beaches at below treetop level. Later in the trip, the whale went elsewhere, as did half the motorized tourists. I doubt this foolishness is having a positive direct affect on the wildlife.

The third morning is when the group moves around the sw corner of Vargas Island, and along the exposed outer coast to Ahous Bay. I'm not big on flowery prose, but things don't get much better than paddling in a place like that in excellent weather. Unlike last year, Ahous Bay was virtually deserted and stayed that way while we were there. Our early arrival allowed time to hike to the far end of the beach on the same day.

With the best sea conditions our friends had ever seen at Ahous, the next day comprised a daytrip to and around offshore Blunden Island, and a visit to the largest island in the LaCroix Group. We explored a beach on the south shore of Blunden, then ventured around the island. The north and west sides were the wildest places I've ever paddled, with a weather-tortured coast of grey rock and blasted green trees on one side, and the endless sparkling blue Pacific on the other. A few surges and boomers kept us on our toes. South to the LaCroix island, where we thoroughly explored the island and had plenty of time to snooze in the sun. Then back to camp at Ahous. Singing and guitar playing around the campfire through the magnificent sunset and dusk.

The last full day on Vargas was the day for a major hiking expedition to the north end of Vargas Island. Given the gentle sea conditions, and not wanting to deal with crossing the tidal lagoon (Clelland's Slough) that bisects the beach at high tide, we elected to canoe to the north end of the beach, and join the others there. We were late leaving camp, but hoped to make up that time on the direct crossing of the bay.

(The following description of what happened was posted in the Barkley Sound topic, but I'll copy it here rather than insert a link.)

However, the ocean swell at the north end looked too large for us to land, and at low tide, the islets we hoped to sneak in behind were high and dry. So I thought we'd enter via the stream outlet. I'd had a look at it the previous evening, and it looked fine.

Rather than back in as we usually do, I had trouble finding the exact point of the outlet and so we were coming in bow first. A couple of moderate size waves broke ahead of us and looked too big. Then there were a couple of small ones, which looked easy to handle. So we started edging in.

I looked behind and a couple of moderate ones were coming, so I told my wife to backpaddle and reverse back out of the surf zone. We were still slowly backing when I looked behind and saw a big wave coming. My request for backpaddling became somewhat more urgent, and I made sure the canoe was perpendicular to the wave.

It broke behind us and came over the stern, halfway up my back. Since I hadn't closed up my cockpit of the spraydeck, it flooded into my lap and into the canoe. It also rotated the canoe, but we had enough momentum that we weren't taken with it. I felt the stern bump the bottom in the trough behind it.

I looked behind again and an even bigger wave was coming. I gently suggested to my wife some hints about backpaddling with a little more effort and perhaps throwing in a bit of a pry. We had to get the canoe straightened out before we were hit, or we'd broach. As my wife pondered the meaning of "pry", I redoubled my suggestions to improve our circumstances in the little time we had left. I got the canoe pretty much straight and also got some backward speed.

This wave also broke before it hit us, and was up to my shoulders. A considerable amount of water poured into the canoe around in front of me, and also forward into the open cargo hatch where our daughter sits. But fortunately we had enough speed to punch through it and were straight enough that we did not broach. Again, the stern bumped the sandy bottom.

As we backed on out, our soaked 7-year old commented that this was, in her words, "definitely the worst part of our vacation".

We headed to a protected beach nearby with my wife paddling and me emptying the water out of the canoe. Much gear had gotten wet, and it had poured through my camera's belt pouch. Luckily I had put the camera itself into a waterproof lexan box minutes before this happened. So we didn't wreck any equipment.

We felt a little shaken about this mishap, but I knew that had we capsized we would have just ended up walking ashore. Assuming of course that we would not have been clobbered by the floundering canoe. As we dried out gear in the sunshine, we also reflected that we had handled the situation well enough, and that it had been a good learning experience at minimal cost.

Certainly without the spraydeck we would have shipped so much water that the canoe would have rolled. And I wonder if a canoe with less tendency to slice through waves might have been propelled shoreward and been broached by the two big waves.

I should have thought of the surf from the swells, and the fact they would be worst at the stream outlet. Careful checking of a chart would have told that the islets would be dry at that tide level. And I should have closed up my cockpit while preparing to land.

The result was that we were ashore at a small protected beach, but didn't know enough about the trail network to know how to rejoin the others. So we set off hiking by ourselves. I'd heard the others say they were determined to go as far as "dune" beach, so I had a picture in my mind of what "dune beach" would look like.

After a short inland trail, we emerged onto a glorious beach. No one on it, beautiful sparkling blue water with pure white surf, perfect sand and driftlogs, the ocean horizon to one side and the green forest on the other. Imagine the salty air and the roar of the surf. Fabulous. Around a corner, and an even better beach. Neither struck me as a "dune" beach. So we found an inland trail, which took us past a fine cliff-edge viewpoint, and a long distance to another beach (Mel's Beach). There was a kayak group having lunch here, a friendly border collie, and a homestead that I understand belongs to reknown kayaker John Dowd. Finally we had lunch, admiring the views of the surroundings, which included Flores Island a few km away.

On the return trip, I heard voices ahead. Which if you're familiar with such "trails", this is a fairly strange thing. Anyway, in the middle of the jungle we met our friends, who, as it turned out, and despite our cleanup after the surf incident, had been about an hour or two behind us all day. Now seems like a good time to describe informal west coast trails. The coast is laced with these routes, and only the locals know much about them. The "ground" in a coastal rainforest is a virtually impenetrable 3-D maze of roots, moss, ferns, sticks, bushes, deadfall, trees, stumps and mud. There is very little in the way of rocks or ground, let alone level rocks or ground. Trails follow lines of least resistance, usually enhanced by chainsawed gaps through the largest wooden obstacles. The rainforst bush quickly reclaims any opening, meaning often you are pushing through vegetation, feeling the marginally more solid and flat footbed with your feet. Progress is slow and uncertain at the best of times, but vastly preferable to bushwhacking. All much worse if the place is wet, which it generally is. So meeting others in places like that is quite unusual.

Where was "dune beach"? Turns out it was the first beach we'd reached after leaving the canoe. So we'd ended up going farther around the island than our friends had ever done. On foot, anyway. "Dune beach" is actually named McLeod Beach, after early Tofino settlers. It's also known as "Paradise Dunes", and oddly, "Sand Dune Beach". Um, yes, there are sand dunes.

On our way back to the canoe, we just happened across a group of 5 kayakers as they made a very botched landing on Dune beach. Unfortunate for them that a bunch of people happened along at exactly the same time they came to grief in that seldom-visited place. But better them than us, I suppose.

I had noticed them on the water when I was far from them, and didn't realize anything was amiss as the first two landed. On reflection, it did seem odd that I was looking along the beach at the ends of their kayaks rather than the sides, and it made no sense that the kayakers were laying beside the kayaks in the surf rather than standing up. But they did stand up, and tried to drag their kayaks up the beach. Filled with water, the kayaks weren't going anywhere until they emptied them. Then they tried to launch, presumably thinking it was too rough for the other three in their party to land. The waves tossed them ashore sideways again. The situation seemed mild enough to preclude running to them, but I was walking briskly. On the way I motioned to one of the other three of their party who had their back to the others and didn't seem to be aware of what was going on. The surf was much too loud to communicate by voice with those on the water. The two ashore assured me that they were fine. Since one had a wooden kayak, I asked him if he was Westcoastpaddler. He said that their failed landing was sufficient evidence that they deserved no such name. I told him their other people could easily land at the nearby beach where our canoe was, but he said they'd be ok. I also mentioned that we had had our own surf incident earlier that day. I didn't ask about their cameras.

By now the rest of our group had arrived, but the two kayakers assisted their three friends in making more reasonable landings. All three, however, got rather wet and one fell out of her kayak into the surf.

Our paddle back across Ahous Bay with occasional minor whitecaps was at the top of my comfort level for unaccompanied offshore canoeing. One last evening enjoying the surroundings, and we made our way back to Tofino. Before leaving both camps, we toppled the logs we used for tarp supports. I don't like to see "developments" when I visit these beaches, so I try not to leave such things. The most regrettable aspect of the trip was the realization that we'd likely never visit Vargas again in such fine conditions. We have mementos, though. Like the persistent sand in our gear.

Any information about paddling from Tofino warns about currents near the launch/landing point when the tide is changing quickly. We'd always avoided those times, but our arrival this day coincided with maximum inflow. This gave us a fine fast ride between Stubbs Island and Felice Island. But getting from Felice Island across Duffin Passage to the dock involved doing a ferry across a current that was flowing as fast as our cruising speed. Interesting bit of tension for a few moments, and worrying about being swept into the end of the dock. Then vying for space to unload, since even the rocky beach was underwater, and some of the rocky fill which then forms the landing area was occupied by a kayak group. We ended up tossing everything out of the canoe onto rocks, then carried the boat up a stairway. Tofino Welcomes You!

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PostPosted: September 24th, 2007, 10:48 pm 
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Joined: June 22nd, 2004, 4:45 pm
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Location: Canmore AB
Another place on my todo list. :doh:

Great writeup

Hugh

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PostPosted: September 26th, 2007, 12:08 am 
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Joined: September 16th, 2002, 7:00 pm
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Location: Vancouver, British Columbia Canada
There are some fine pictures of a more ambitious trip in this area posted by "Batstar" on WestCoastPaddler's website:

http://westcoastpaddler.com/community/v ... c&start=50

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PostPosted: September 26th, 2007, 9:23 am 
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Joined: December 29th, 2002, 7:00 pm
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Location: Bancroft, Ontario Canada
Good write-up, enjoyed the read. All those little details add to the sense of being there, especially the description of the isolated beach, booming surf, rain forest trails, etc... the discoveries along the way.

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