Our first time out
I am finally somewhere I can write a real post, without time limits. I am at my sister’s house in Port Clements on Haida Gwaii. We have been here 2 nights and today we are going to Masset, my hometown -and where my parents live. Kevin is going home very soon, but we decided I am staying here and waiting for a 40th anniversary celebration of the first totem pole raised in my village in 100 years. I admit I was there when it went up. I was 3 years old, and it was incredible to me back then. There were more people in my village than I had ever seen. But that’s another story. I want to write about our kayaking trip.
I am still amazed that we made it! The last 3 days of our trip were so very hard I didn’t know if we could get through. In fact because I am so melodramatic, I was sure we would die! Thankfully Kevin is an experienced kayaker, and he never lost his head.
We had to call around to make arrangements to get dropped off in Gwaii Haanas (this translates to ‘Beautiful Islands’) an enormous and gorgeous park. If we had more time, and a more energetic (and a more healthy) Roberta, maybe we could have paddled from Moresby Camp (like we did last year) down to the ancient villages and back again. The thing is, there is no development in the park (it’s a wild place, so breathtakingly beautiful you would not believe it) so we must bring all our own food into the area. We must also bring all of the garbage we create while there.
We got Moresby Explorers to get us down to Rose Harbour, or more precisely Raspberry Cove. It took an hour to drive from the Sandspit ferry to Moresby Camp. We stopped to watch a mother bear and 3 little cubs eating berries. I assume there were 3 of them, because the guy taking us down there knew there was a mother and 3 cubs in the area. We saw 2 of them, but it was very heavy bush. Moresby Explorers also rents out kayaks, and offers guided tours on zodiacs to all the village sites. They also drop off kayakers anywhere in Gwaii Haanas.
We went out on a zodiac from Moresby Camp to Raspberry Cove. It was very windy and very rough out. We spent a lot of time flying through the air and landing with a tremendous crash for 4 hours, nearly non-stop. I say nearly because after an hour we dropped a scientist off on Talunkwan Island. That was our only real break. We were holding on as tightly as we could the entire time, all muscles tensed, occasionally reaching to move our gear (or someone else’s) back onto the zodiac. None of it ever went into the water, but it was heading in that direction. After 4 hours of traveling in extreme conditions my back was out. I mean I was in so much pain it was difficult to move around easily. I was like that for about 3 days. Kevin ended up badly sunburned (it was raining off and on as we traveled, but once in awhile the sun would come out and shine down on us). He felt quite ill, but regardless, we started our paddling journey. As soon as we landed on the beach at Raspberry Cove, a couple of very nice people, Marik and Carol greeted us with hot Earl Grey tea, honey and lemon! We were very cold and this helped warm us up. They told us they had been camping there for 3 days as the weather was very windy and rainy. Around the headlands in this area, the currents can be quite dangerous.
We also met Sheldon and Sheila who had just completed their kayaking trip in Gwaii Haanas. It sounded like they were fast paddlers, making it to every village in 4 days (or maybe I misheard them, but they did sound very, very fast). They kayaked to Sgung Gwaii (looks like Sgang Gwaay, but sounds like Sgung Gw-eye) in two hours. It took us about 4 hours.
Kevin had to assemble our kayak on the beach, and that took about an hour or a bit more. Then we had to carry it to the water, and he had to pack it up and then we began our trip. I wasn’t so sure about heading out in the heavy winds and the rain, but I could tell he was anxious to begin, so off we went. We paddled one hour only, and found a camping spot. It was approximately 3 kms. It felt like more than that. We were on Ross Island.
I insisted that Kevin not cook, as everything was wet, it was too windy, and that we just have snacks for supper. The next day he was feeling unwell, but he never told me how badly he was, so we paddled to Fanny Cove on the second day. Both of these days were very rainy and very windy. It was hard going and it was very cold. Kevin told me my main job was to keep warm at all times. I was to really make sure I did not get cold, if I did, I had to figure out ways to make myself warm, by getting my jacket out, or all of them (I had two jackets, and a rain jacket) and put them on. He did not want me to get hypothermia-and ending our trip early because I wasn’t properly dressed. In case you do not know, I lose heat quickly and I am always cold. When it’s damp, like it was these first few days it feels much worse. I stayed warm.
The day after this day we made it to Sgung Gwaii, but we missed the cove where everyone is supposed to land and tie up their kayaks, small boats, etc., and we paddled around the east side of the island, where we nearly circled the whole island completely! It made for a long day. We made it into the correct place and before we landed we asked permission to come ashore (we have a radio for this purpose-this radio also gives regular weather reports of all the areas of where we were paddling). Only 12 people are allowed in the village sites at one time. This helps to protect the sites. Sgung Gwaii is a World Heritage site because it has 20 ancient totem poles still standing. We had to wait about two hours before going on a tour of the village because there was a German film crew on site shooting the village, the Watchmen house and the grounds.
The guardians are called Watchmen, after the Watchmen who are carved at the top of our totem poles, who watch over our villages to warn us when danger is coming. The people who look after the villages today are both men and women of all ages. They are specially trained in many areas as they are situated in remote areas for a month at a time (it can also be longer, due to weather conditions). They maintain the village sites, clean up after visitors (tourists), and gather firewood, listen to their radios, which remain on all the time, in case they have to go out and rescue someone. They are busy!
The Watchmen at Sgung Gwaii were: Girl, Alessandra, James, Troy. They have 4 Watchmen at this site due to the extreme traffic of visitors. Some tours offered by Watchmen take about 3 hours, as they share the history of the villages, who lived there, which chiefs were chiefs of the entire village, or if the chief was a house chief. Our tour was not that long. And we had to look from a distance to protect the totem poles, the house posts that had fallen, anything in the area from further disintegration.
Ancient totems in Ancient Village
It was very late afternoon by the time we got to see the village. And I wasn’t sure about staying very long because we still had to paddle back and find a camp site for the night. It took us a long time to get there, and the weather was clearing up, but I didn’t know how long this would last. Maybe we should have stayed longer, but I wanted to get back in the water and paddle to our camp, wherever it might be. It was low tide, and our kayak was well established on ground, and since it was very heavy with our gear, it was hard to lift the whole thing, so we went for a short hike to the cave. The Watchmen told us they thought the cave would be used for shelter when our people first arrived, until they built their houses. An interesting note-but Sgung Gwaii has only been above the ocean for 2,000 years. Some Watchmen from other villages wondered if these caves were the resting places of the shamans, or the medicine men/medicine women. No one know for sure.
I have kept notes on this trip, but I’m not following them closely. We saw some amazing things while paddling towards Sgung Gwaii. We saw humpback whales feeding in the area. We saw deer, the second morning at Fanny Cove we saw a mother deer and her fawn on the beach. The deer here like going to the beach to eat the seaweed and the kelp. We also saw: puffins, rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, eagles, ravens (ravens are enormous here-likely due the rich, plentiful food), crows, gulls (there are a few different kinds, and I never thought they were lovely, but they are). While at Sgung Gwaii we saw a 300 year old huckleberry bush, wish I took a photo, but I didn’t.
I took a pic of some skunk cabbage here, it was a huge plant. My people used this for various reasons, including an impromptu hat. There are several mortuary poles in Sgung Gwaii. These honour the memory of a chief, or a high ranking person. Their family crests are carved onto the frontal boards, most of which are no longer there. Sgung Gwaii is a Raven and an Eagle village. For those of you who do not know, these two names are the names of our clans, or our very, very large family groups. All Haida belong to one of these two main clans. We also have sub-clans, but this is too complicated to list here.
Remains of an ancient cedar house in Sgang Gwaii
Chief Koya, (which means ‘Precious,’ our guide said it means ‘Raven,’ and if he were called ‘Huuya’ yes it does mean ‘Raven’). He was the first chief of the village, but a series of tragedies struck him, and he lost his mind. His wife was killed in front of him. He was made ashamed in front of his entire village. The village then moved to support Chief Nan Sdins, or more known as Ninstints-the Nan Sdins if the correct pronunciation.
We paddled back to Raspberry Cove after Sgung Gwaii, and I worried about the strong currents if the wind were to keep up as it had been doing. There was some headwind as we paddled into our camping spot, and I really didn’t want to fight that all day the next day. This is the dangerous area, and I was worried about it. I listened to the mosquitoes outside waiting for me, there were hundreds and hundreds of them.
Carol and Marik
We paddled to Ramsey Island where we found our friends camping-Carol and Marik. They invited us to join them for the night. It was a rocky beach, and the rocks were immense. It was also a high tide, so we had to carry, or in Haida English, pack our kayak a long way to keep it from sailing away.
Kevin and Roberta in one of the hot springs!
We made it to Hot Spring Island! We radioed in and asked permission to come ashore. They said it would be a two hour wait before we could go in as they were at capacity already. That was okay. Kevin encouraged me to go on ahead to say hello to the Watchmen here. I was always shy at first…so silly. He said, “You’re the Haida, you lead the way,” as I inched forward each time.
in the Hot Spring
I knocked on the door and all I could hear from two Watchmen was, “ROBERTA!” David and Irene happily shouted out my name! They grabbed me and hugged me hard. It was quite a welcome. They invited us in for tea, we had hot chocolate. I think we were needing the extra sugar. It wasn’t a long paddle from our campsite, but we had some rough days. The other two Watchmen were young people Kayla and Tyler.
I neglected to write about how one night we camped in Ikeda Cove and the tide was the highest tide that night, while we slept. It took one of our food barrels away from us! We looked all along the beach, and Kevin found it half full of water. He dumped it out, and I started drying the food we could still eat. He took all the soaked food and dumped it (you can dump food back into the ocean, it’s biodegradable). When I was finished drying that food from that barrel-we had two food barrels-they are small enough for us to carry, but strong enough to keep the bears from getting into them, Kevin opened the other food barrel only to discover that one was full of water, too! So we dumped the water out and I started drying everything in it, dumping food out that was destroyed. I looked worried we wouldn’t have enough to complete our trip. Kevin is very optimistic. He said, “Maybe it’s the ocean’s way of saying we packed too much food.”
We were on Hotspring Island, which is not a village site at all. In fact I believe my people didn’t live there at all ever. They might journey to this place to soak in the springs, but that was all.
Shy Watchmen...hope they don't kill me...
We had a nice visit, laughing, joking, telling stories, drinking hot chocolate. We were about to have lunch when it was announced we could go and soak in the springs. We had to shower first to clean ourselves off. The showers are sourced from the hot springs themselves, and the water makes your skin and hair feel very soft. We wore our bathing suits into the springs. It was a rainy day, so the springs felt just right. Last year this was our final stop with two of our kids before we headed back to Moresby Camp, and it was a hot, hot day, and the springs were way too hot to soak in for long. The hottest spring felt like we were soaking in a soup broth, so we got out quickly. This year it felt okay. We soaked for 2 hours. We were invited back to join the Watchmen for supper! They were eating beef stew (I was hoping it was deer meat), so they showed me a can of tomato soup instead. I also made some sunflower seed butter sandwiches. We came back the next day and visited early, early morning, were thinking of going in for a soak again, but I only showered. So nice to take a shower.
On the morning we left Ramsey Island for Hotspring Island, I walked down to the beach for a short walk. As I walked onto the beach, thousands of little crabs scrambled under rocks (remember I said the rocks were very big?) for shelter from me. I felt like a giantess moving across the land, I felt, well, gigantic! I realize these days I am not very big at all…and I am okay with that. Kayla, who is 15 years old, told me she tells people, “I’m not small, I’m fun-sized!” So there you go. I’m fun-sized, though I wonder if I’m small enough to be that? I know many friends who are much smaller. I tell them I hang out with them so I can feel statuesque!
The day before landing on Ramsey Island, we paddled to Kat Island, and a quiet cove. We had paddled a long, long day, it was dark when we landed. I did not tell Kevin I am terrified of paddling in the dark, so instead I freaked out. We had just gone through Burnaby Narrows and it was magnificent! The water is so very shallow, and so clear you can see to the bottom. We saw sea stars, bat stars, sunflower stars, a huge moonsnail (it was alive and so big we wondered how it fit inside the shell, learning later it doesn’t actually live inside it).
What are all these stars I mention? They’re often called starfish. They aren’t fish at all. And they are brightly coloured. We saw a lot of these strange circular things that looked like parts of old dinnerware. Kevin learned they are the egg collars of the moonsnails. There were so many of them we wondered why we didn’t see more moonsnails? We saw crabs, and very, very large, empty clam shells. Now we know they are being eaten by the moonsnails, who drill a little hole in them (it’s a perfect hole) and then they suck the meat out of the clam shells. It was so beautiful there. And the current was quite strong.
It was a calm early evening, and without paddling at all, we were pushed through the Narrows very quickly. We sailed through backwards, though that didn’t matter, we could easily see everything. Before we knew it, we were out of there! We thought of paddling back to the entrance of the Narrows and looking for the camping spot Kevin knew was close by, but I have become one who does not like to go backwards and we pushed on ahead. By the time we got to the spot we were going to camp there were several kayakers already camped there. They had about 6 kayaks and one canoe and several tents set up everywhere. I was so mad because it was already late and there was nothing else nearby. We ended up paddling at night, in the dark by the time we got to Kat Island.
The next day I admitted to Kevin I was extremely frightened of the dark water. There is so much to my fear, it’s difficult to explain here, but let me tell you, it has to do with my upbringing. Not necessarily what my parents taught me, but what I learned while growing up with my people. The stories that still exist from ancient times and the sea, and what can happen to people if not careful. I cannot even think of it, nor can I mention it. While on Kat Island we saw a mother raccoon and her two babies. She was very crabby and nasty sounding. There is no rabies on Haida Gwaii, I think she was just an overprotective mother. Her babies were especially cute, while she walked them across the beach at low tide and the beach kept squirting at them. The squirts came from clams called geoducks (sounds like gooey ducks). These clams are big, with huge siphons (maybe you can google them to get a visual? I didn’t take pictures of them, I don’t know why).
It was so neat on Kat Island, because there were a lot of geoducks, and I remember looking into the shallow water at sea stars, bat stars, purple, red, pink, green ones, sunflower stars, moonsnail collars, and other things…anyway I could hear something behind me. I wasn’t afraid, as I thought it was more of the raccoons. There was also a single raccoon wandering around. This one was more friendly, but it kept its distance, glad it did not associate us humans with food. This sound was so weird, finally I had to turn and look and see what it was. The entire beach was squirting water all at the same time, again and again. It was like a Monty Python skit, the whole beach spraying water at once! The sound was a squishing sound, kind of repulsive, but neat at the same time.
The day before this day we watched and listened to a humpback whale breathing, and surfacing near us. If my memory serves me correctly, this whale first surfaced very close to us, close enough for us to see it’s blow hole exhale a loud expulsion of air. It did not scare us. We were just excited to see it so close to us! We watched it move further and further from us. It’s a baleen whale, so it eats phytoplankton, and because it is so enormous I am sure it must have to eat all day long. I cannot imagine being that big and only getting to eat tiny, microscopic food.
That same day we passed a small ‘island’ called All Alone Stone and came across a seal lying on a rock. We unknowingly blocked it’s escape route, and it was terrified. We could see it’s nostrils flaring, and it’s eyes looking very scared. I didn’t take a photo, though I wish now that I had! It was gorgeous, a brown spotted coat. I was talking to it as we moved away from it, letting it know we are not trying to hurt it, that we are only here passing by. I called it by its Haida name – ‘Hoht.’
There were two seals there, but the other dove and swam away so fast we didn’t really see it at all. While were on Hotspring we shared our sad tale of lost food. It was funny to us now and we did let them know we had enough to last us. They knew we didn’t have fresh food, and they had a lot, so they gave us some fresh fruit and some potatoes. That was a real treat!
We spent a long time visiting, and reading the Haida dictionary, learning new Haida words. This dialect is Skidegate, which is a bit different from my dialect-Masset. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s my language. After Hotspring Island visit, we easily paddled to Windy Bay, only paddling a half an hour and then we put up our sail and we sailed the rest of the way to Windy Bay, which is on Lyell Island.
We noticed early on we were taking on water and had to pump it out. We made an emergency stop on a very rocky, very rough island, and a tiny beach. Kevin really pumped the water out of the back where the water was, we had a quick snack, pee break. I found two feathers there, one raven and one eagle.
Did I forgot to mention while we have two clans, we must marry into opposite sides? An Eagle marries a Raven, and men and women belong to both clans? Well, even though Kevin is not Haida, he is considered Eagle clan. I am Raven clan. Finding these feathers made me feel less afraid. You might notice I get scared a lot! I took it as a sign that we would be all right.
Gladys working on a hat
We sailed into Windy Bay. This is a camp for the protesters on Lyell Island in the early 1980s. They were protesting the logging of the last of our ancient forests. These trees are 900 – one thousand years old, and immense giants in this area. Many of my people, young, old stood, blocking the loggers from going into the area we wanted protected from entering.
My people wore traditional regalia, that is our button robes, cedar hats, face paint (only some families are allowed to wear face paint, according to ancestral tradition). They sang songs for strength. One song became the Lyell Island song, the protest song everyone knows today when they hear it. A lot of attention was drawn to our fight, enough for Bruce Coburn to make an entire album of songs, music to support us. I believe the tape (this was before cds) made money to support this fight. I think there were others of prominence who stepped forward to lend support to protect these ancient forests. My people won! It’s a protected area, and this is why we have Gwaii Haanas today.
As we got closer we radioed in permission to land,
and got it. When we were very close I sang the Lyell Island song as loudly as I could. I sang it three times with all of my heart. If it weren’t for my people who stood on the line back then, if it weren’t for others, this site might not be here for us to enjoy today. My heart was happy. My spirit light.
Al at Windy Bay
Watchmen Al Vandal greeted us. He said he’s not a Haida, but Polish (and some more ancestry of European origins, but I don’t remember). I said he could have fooled me, he looks Haida! He said his wife, Gladys is the Haida, and she heard me singing and asked, “What? Are they Haida?” They were there with their gra
We were invited to spend the night in the longhouse. All boaters, kayakers are allowed to do this. We let Al know we were taking on water, and we were cold. So he lit the fire in the woodstove in the longhouse. Kevin started taking all the gear and food out of the kayak. I helped by carrying the stuff up onto the grass. When that was done, I took the food to the longhouse and emptied it of our food out of the barrels, and set it out all over one of the tables to dry out. The house was all warm and toasty inside. I went down and brought all of gear inside, everything was soaked because it was sitting submerged for so long in our kayak. So I took everything out and hung it all up to dry. Kevin managed to cook on the woodstove instead of taking our cooking stove out, finding small bits of firewood for fuel, and then cooking. It’s a small stove and it doesn’t need gas to keep it going.
Al and Gladys invited us in to visit them when we were don
e. I suggested they might go to bed early so we better get over there to their small house. I went over alone while Kevin cooked. Did I mention Kevin does all the cooking while we take these trips? I get cooking amnesia on these trips. I do most of the cooking when we’re at home.
I talked Gladys’ ear off. Poor thing! She was weaving a hat, and she wove two hats while she was there. She was excited about getting onto a sailboat to go home in. The captain asked her to weave while she was on board. We met some from the sailboat later on who told us they learned how to weave a bracelet, a frog and a cedar rose from Gladys.
The captain of the sailboat is Bill, and Sandy is the cook. It was nice to visit with them at Tanu village and later on at Moresby Camp. It was a nice paddle right before Tanu, but it was about 8 pm when we asked permission to land. I sang the gambling song to the Watchmen I could see leaving the shore. I learned they had some jellyfish on their clothes and they had to get it off asap as they’re toxic. They were rushing to get into new clothes.
Roberta, Sean, and Helen at Tanu
I didn’t say it was hard paddling around the point where we move closer towards Tanu. It was windy, headwinds. We stopped in to visit Sean and Helen, the Watchmen here. They offered us hot tea with sugar and milk. It was so good. I felt cold from being soaked. It wasn’t a rough day, but we’re surrounded with water, so it’s inevitable that we would be wet.
Today was the second day we didn’t see any whales. Before this we saw whales everyday. It was eerily quiet, with few sea birds as well, for the whole day. We paddled late into Kunga Island, a long beach. We learned to empty the kayak completely and remove items as much as possible in order for me to be able to lift it.
It was cold as it was getting dark fast. Kevin set up the tent quickly, and then I got our gear into the tent, and then our air mats. I then went down to where Kevin was making our supper. It was late when we ate, but the food was so good. We figure we’re burning 5,000 calories a day from all of our hard paddling everyday. It also keeps me very warm at night. It has been hot during the day. We were invited back to have coffee in the morning with Helen and Sean. We didn’t get there again until 11 am. And by then Sean had a tour group out with him. Helen visited with us, while we talked about all kinds of stuff. Helen was called out to more visitors to the beach for another tour. A sailboat arrived and the visitors on the beach waited for them to arrive so they could tour together. Sean arrived later and had a visit with us, too. It was too busy to visit them together, but it was nice to visit them. After we left Tanu we paddled 6 hours in the kayak. 6 hours without breaks. It was very rough the whole way as we paddled our way to Limestone Islands to find a camping spot.
There was nowhere to land, and even if there were, it was too dangerous to go anywhere close to a shore. No pee breaks. It was very, very rough, strong headwinds, very big swells. The winds were blowing Northeast. It felt like we were getting nowhere for several hours. We barely had any food all day, and it was a small snack for breakfast. We were hungry all day long. I fell into a trance to make it through the day. My arms moving automatically, stroke after stroke after stroke…on and on until we made it. I kept wishing to be somewhere else, but here I was, with Kevin in the kayak paddling for what seemed like forever. This is getting to be a very long post and I had better stop to get lunch, and to eat with my family. It’s been beautiful here everyday.