The remote Bunsby Islands are deep within Kyuquot Sound and the destination for my 8 day solo kayak trip. At well over twenty miles from the launch site it would take at least two days to paddle there. But the big challenge en route is a five mile stretch along the coast, reef-infested and open to the ocean swell and westerly winds. It is unforgiving, with no place to land on the rocky shore. If things got bad and the seas got angry, there would be no place to hide. South of here, along a similar stretch of coast on my last trip, the water was big and I was terrified. This time around I was more experienced and ready for some payback. I pored over charts and the few disruptions of the route. Even so, as the trip approached, at night I found myself awake, fretting.
I launched mid morning in a mist with a calm breeze and heavy cloud cover hovering low over the water. I was hoping to make it to Smith Island thirteen miles away, ambitious but attainable if the calm weather and water continued. I steadily cruised west through the inland waters towards the coast and open ocean. Low clouds from the Pacific broke up as they pushed though the trees turning into monstrous ghost figures floating through the forest. I passed the First Nations island village of Kyuquot wrapped in a heavy mist, late on this dark afternoon and pushed onto Smith. I was on the coast now as the swell started to roll under me and the open ocean lay out wide in front. I landed on Smith at twilight, quickly set up camp, made dinner and passed out after a big day.
On these extended trips I obsess about tides, weather and especially wind forecasts. Tides were not a big issue in this area, so all my obsession went on the weather. I would check my radio for the marine forecast multiple times a day, trying to get a idea for the upcoming days. Things get dicey if the wind gets above 15 knots; the swell gets bigger. 25-30 knots = a possible capsize and me getting wrecked onto the rocky shoreline. The weather forecast was high winds for the foreseeable future. So I decided to spend two nights on Smith and wait to see if it would change to the typical weather for this coast; calm in the early morning with the wind building by mid-morning.
Day three was a beautiful sunny day. I found an overgrown trail and started hiking round this gem of an Island. Through pristine old growth; massive cedars and douglas firs dripping with moss. Along pocket beaches with cobblestone beaches bordered with craggy rock outcropping. Around noon I got a glimpse to the north and my path to The Bunsbys. I could see miles of coastline filled with small islands and reefs, a wave-battered rocky shore and trees rolling down to the ocean. The seas were calm and the wind light, it was perfect kayak weather. My first thought: ‘that looks easy.’ My second: ‘I should have paddled it today! Did I miss my one window, was I being too cautious, was I psyching myself out, have I missed my bid to make a run for the Bunsbys?’ At that point I made up my mind to go for it at dawn the following day, even though the forecast was still windy all day.
I woke up before dawn and looked out the tent, the wind was calm and the water flat. I quickly broke camp and was on the water just before six a.m. I rounded the south of Smith Island and the conditions were still good so I made the final decision to go for it. It would take over four hours to get to the Bunsbys, and there was no other village for days. I might see a boat, maybe. It was about to become as remote as it gets.
I did feel minuscule in my kayak as I powered out to sea, out to a safe distance from the breaking waves in the shallows. Bobbing around hundreds of yards offshore does take a little getting used to, but you learn quick. Luckily the ocean was calm with only a genial 2 ft swell washing in from the northwest. A glistening vapor haze hung low over the water obscuring the shore as the sun rose above the pine forest. I traveled behind rock reefs and small islands that blunted the swell. I rested in the lee of islands, in dense kelp beds, sheltered from both wind and waves.
I finally entered a small protected bay on one of the first islands of the Bunsby group to scout for a camping spot. As I stepped onto land relief flowed through me combined with a tinge of pride. I had made it after all! After all the months of planning and fussing and waves, on day four I had landed in the middle of nowhere; perfect.
I did a recon of the area to see if it would be a suitable campsite. It had a sheltered spot for the tent in the woods. A protected beach to launch and land. Lots of firewood. And sun! It wasn’t just suitable, it was a perfect camp spot. Best of all, it was stunning, jaw-dropping beauty, a scene of majestic nature. It was on a point that jutted out into the Pacific with views reaching far up and down the jagged coast. To the west, in the kelp-choked bay, I could see groups of sea otters. To the south, a pocket sandy beach bordered with old growth forest and misty views of Catface Mountain and Vancouver Island. It was my perfect campsite for the next 3 nights.
I spent my days paddling around the Bunsbys. I glided past forested islands that felt unchanged since powerful native tribes ruled and battled over this area centuries ago. It was a true primal wilderness. I also got plenty of beach time in; by day; reading and watching fuzzy otters floating on their backs crunching on shellfish. By night; sipping Jamesons and watching the sunset over gigantic beach fires.
This stunning place was as pristine and remote as I’ve been on this coast. The only sign of civilization I saw for those three days was a lone sailboat pass by. I was way off the grid. Obviously no cell phone service. I had my marine radio to call for help (but only if anyone was within range and listening!) I have a strange drive to find these wild places and spend time there solo for as long as I can. To find a true wilderness adventure. Me against the woods.
Ok. So sometimes I make it sound as if I’m in some sort of life or death struggle with Mother Nature. Sometimes my trips feel that way, but this time, that was definitely not the case. Mother Nature baked me in sunshine, not driving rain and angry seas. The local critters were soft and cuddly, no wolves and no bears. Relaxing wilderness solitude.
I only had one concern, I did still have to get back.