Karen went to Haida Gwaii in 1987 as an assistant on a Wilderness Inquiry kayak trip. We talked about returning there together as a 'retirement' trip; that time came and went with house building. So we finally got it together. And it worked wonderfully combined with the train trip to Prince Rupert and the ferry down the British Columbia inside passage.
We flew and shuttled to Jasper June 30th and stayed at a nice 'home accomodation' popular in tourist towns. Karen had a close encounter of the elk kind, and we had some nice talks with locals.
The train is a gem, older but well maintained stainless steel with a dome. Just three cars and the engine, a good tourist train. Reportedly, Canadian National (CN) promised the tribes that they would keep the passenger train on this route when the line was privatized and they are still living up to it. The route has great views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and the Coastal Range and is mostly wooded throughout. The train overnights in Prince George; they can use the tourist business. We had our one lackluster hostel experience at the Manor there; safe and clean, but motor noises and basic. Met more interesting people on the train: Aussie ex-pat on the way to a music camp, Saskatchewan farm woman with lots of stories, and the conductor-food vendor-manager of the train was usually in the dome car telling great stories.
The train lost time waiting for the container trains. Prince Rupert is now the main port for northern Asian shipping. But we got in just a couple hours late and had an easy cab trip to the Pioneer Hostel; much better, although we were out early (great coffee shop by the harbor) and waiting for the ferry in plenty of time. BC Ferries is a big operation but seems to be well managed.
Met several people on the Hecate Straight crossing; two artists going home and an Australian traveler. Ours was a mild taste of what this can be in the winter. Lenore at Premier Creek Lodging was a treat and took care of us well, the first night in the hostel, with the added treat of 'Dinner with the Kings', a very nice dinner of Sable fish at the home of the King family.
Next day we lucked into catching the farmer's market for food to take to Masset and the north beach. We travel the Trans-Canada Highway (the Hwy 16, not the Hwy 1) extensively in the east, but at Masset, we found the beginning at Mile Zero. Also checked out Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary before going out into the Naikoon Park and our cabin at Rapid Ritchie's , off the grid but very nice. Great place to catch the sea breeze with the books in the cabin. The big tides and sand beaches of the north coast make for interesting navigation and good crabbing and clamming (didn't) and birding (did). The local bakery-in-the-woods is walking distance. Just a bit farther east, we walked up Taaw Hill that stands far above the flat sandspit and cedar/spruce forest with hanging lichens. You get the picture.
We boarded the Atlas with four other passengers, stopping to pull up his pots with our dinner of Dungeoness crab and more to share. We ate fresh caught lingcod/salmon/halibut/crab/prawns each night and some lunches. Part of the trip is visiting the Haida home sites and we stopped at Skedans the first day. More than I can say; visit Haida Heritage Centre for more info. After successfully jigging for a couple of lingcod, we anchored among the rocks at Reef Island, a site that is only good for the calm weather we had. Captain James showed us how to prepare crab for seven. He is also a good cook with lots of vegetables, and his Mom baked the bread and deserts sent with each trip. Karen and Gene had the dining area converted to our bedroom each night; a little hassle but lots of room and great views of startling sunrises.
The next few days, we motored our way down the east coast of Gwaii Haanas, the park that saved most of the south part of the island from clear-cutting. Read "The Golden Spruce" for a picture of logging in the area. We stopped at Tanu, another Haida site and after a great tour, we were treated to coffee and macaroons by the watchman Mary, Walter, and Raven (age 3) in their house. James brought some cod for them, Mary gave us some salmon, and James reciprocated with our excess crab. Relations among the Haida are gauged by how much you give others; at potlatches, this is to witness an agreement, a wedding, or another event; the expectation is that you give back more. The best site for me was S'Gang Waay (Ninstints) off the Houston Stewart Channel, near Rose Harbor. This is a UNESCO world heritage site and deserves the recognition and protection. We saw the best poles and longhouse sites and Ken (the historian watchman) was super-informative.
The wildlife was interesting. Sea lions covered the outer rocks where we jigged for fish (rock fish and lingcod), we viewed humpback and Orca from a distance, harbor seals popped up in the bays where we kayaked, and the intertidal fauna and flora covered the rocks. Each day, we launched from the boat to paddle the bays or beyond. Out in the sea by S'Gang Waay we saw Pacific Puffins and the ubiquitous Guillemots and cormorants. Onshore, ravens everywhere and vocal as were hermit thrush which we love from our land. An unidentified wren flitted among the beach bushes as well as robins and other birds. Huge slugs along the trails as well as millipedes. We didn't see any bear, but it was not salmon season; reportedly Haida Gwaii has the largest variety of black bear, Ursus Americanus.
A treat at Rose Harbor the last night was dinner at Susan's, a definitely off the grid, woodstove, veges from her garden kind of place. Part of dinner was some of a huge halibut we caught and shared. Susan is a holdover from the sixties and a wonderful person who works harder than I expect any replacement would be willing. Her son runs Moresby Explorers which does supported kayak trips in Haida Gwaans.
As we were the southward week on Atlas, our trip ended with a floatplane ride north to Queen Charlotte, and the northward passengers and resupply came down with Peter the pilot. He is the only float plane in town and did a great tour from the air on the way.
We had to wait two days for the ferry and Lenore took good care of us again. We planned a tour (just us from Bob at Gwaii Taxi and Tours) to Rennell Sound on the west coast of the island which has wilder weather, rocky shores and no resident people. Bob spent forty years driving logging trucks and equipment and flying float planes on Haida Gwaii, so was a wealth of information and insight. We had to stop twice on the gravel "highway" to wait for logging crews to clear the road. The last bit to the coast has a 25% grade. We went as far as Bonanza Beach and had a gorgeous ride and a good talk/tour. Back in Queen Charlotte, we had a great meal at Oceanview and shared our table with a nice couple.
Last day there, we had a leisurely breakfast at Queen B's on the harbor, did a guided walk up to Spirit Lake above Skidegate, and spent time at the Haida Heritage Centre where the food is gourmet quality and reasonably priced. Then, on to the ferries that evening. Happy that we took a sleeping room across to Prince Rupert so we would be rested for the Inside Passage ferry the next day. Again, good acquaintances, a couple from Vienna and Steve from North Vancouver who just finished a solo kayak trip around the wild NW coast of Haida Gwaii! We got to Port Hardy at 11:00 pm but because of strong winds were unable to dock until 1:00 am. Still the hostel staff showed us to our room.
At this point, we were on the glide path home. The day long bus trip across Vancouver Island was pleasant and scenic, the HI Victoria was adequate with a Busker's Convention in town, the float plane to Seattle was great, and the Suncountry flight to MSP uneventful. We got home before midnight to welcoming dogs Scott and Chris brought over earlier and cats well cared for by Martha and Hillary. Good trip and good to be home!