Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hesquiat Penninsula

After a month of frustrating weather, we finally got a window of stable conditions to embark on our much anticipated summer trip to the Hesquiat Peninsula. This took us to a remote region of the outer coast on Vancouver Island, an area that's only accessible by boat or float plane. We chose the latter, and the flights turned out to be one of the highlights of the week. We spent six days and five nights on the 46-km trail and enjoyed excellent conditions throughout. We were lucky enough to see wolves, bears, sea lions, otters and dozens of bald eagles. It was a memorable experience.

We flew with Tofino Air leaving from the dock on First Street. Elise wanted to fly up front with the pilot so we happily obliged. None of us had flown in a float plane before and it was quite an experience taking off and landing on water. (Click on the pictures for larger images.)

We enjoyed fantastic views of the coastline as we flew north. The massive beach seen in the picture below was one we'd hike on our second-to-last day, a highlight of our trip.

The Hesquiat features many kilometres of sandstone shelves. In general, these are excellent for hiking when the tide is low, but you have to use caution on the slippery seaweed.

We landed in a sheltered cove behind Escalante Island. It was a "wet" landing, meaning we had to wade ashore.

As the plane took off, we were left utterly alone - just us and the animals. There were wolf tracks everywhere, along with bear, elk and deer. We didn't see any other people on the entire hike except the keepers of the Estevan Point light station.

Our first campsite was at Little Escalante River. It was a beautiful spot and Elise enjoyed the fine sand on the beach. In the evening, a bear wandered out of the forest beside the river and lumbered upstream near our camp. We watched with interest from our evening campfire.

Interesting formations on the sandstone shelves.

Elise thoroughly enjoyed all the tide pools and their opportunities to catch cool stuff. There were quite literally millions and millions of crabs. Every rock we lifted was hiding dozens and you could hear them constantly scuttling away us as we hiked along the coast.

Since the first half of the hike was on west facing shoreline, we enjoyed some gorgeous sunsets.

The sandstone featured amazing sculpted formations, along with what we believe were some fossilized impressions of various plants.

Some of our days involved less hiking than others, and we enjoyed taking off our packs and beach-combing. We're not sure what this skull is, but our best guess was bear or sea lion.

The coastal flowers were in full bloom. Fields of fireweed lined the beaches.

Our second night was spent at Barcester Bay, a gorgeous beach with rolling surf. The afternoon was windy so we elected to place our tent alongside the river in a more sheltered location. As usual, though, we were right on the "animal highway" since we were near fresh water. The tracks in the sand provided much evidence of their passing...

Barcester Bay.

Our third day of hiking saw us travelling over the most interesting sandstone formations of the trip, dome-shaped features that provided an excellent walking surface. It was early on this morning that we surprised a lone wolf on the beach. It came trotting around the corner doing its morning rounds, and was surprised to see us standing there. We all froze and after a minute or so the wolf turned away.

We found parts of a whale skeleton. This might be a rib.

Close to our next campsite was a small cabin in the woods, built for emergency purposes. We found out later that a large pack of wolves lives on this beach and their den is in the forest behind the cabin. Not surprising since we saw a great number of prints in the sand.

We saw an interesting set of sea stacks in this area and decided to investigate before continuing onward. However, while we were out exploring the tide started to rise and came rushing across the shelf where we'd left our backpacks. I literally had to run through knee-deep water to get them off the shelf before they were washed away. Apparently, Elise was extremely upset about the possibility of losing "B.K.", her beloved stuffed animal. Tent, sleeping bags and food? Not a problem. Losing B.K.? Big problem...

We crossed an Indian Reserve to reach our third camp spot. This lonely welcome figure greeted us as we started across the beach.

Homais Cove was another gorgeous location and Pam and I enjoyed swimming before dinner. During our evening campfire, I heard a loud cracking in the trees right beside our fire pit. Turns out, a bear was pretty interested in what we were doing and had climbed into the branches for a better view. Elise fled to the tent but Pam and I watched with interest as it slowly came down and moved onward.

The Estevan Point light station was a highlight of the fourth day. The couple who lives there gave us a thorough tour of the facility. Interestingly, this lighthouse was shelled by a Japanese submarine during World War II.

After touring the light station, we began our multi-kilometre march across "Billion Boulder Beach". The shelf in this area is covered in rocks and this slowed our progress significantly.

Elise took to wearing a "buff" around her neck and sometimes over her face entirely. Why, I don't really know...

After the rock beach, we rounded Matlahaw Point to reach our fourth campsite, a quirky surf camp on a point near Hesquiat Village. The next morning, we headed north into Hesquiat Harbour leaving the pounding surf of the outer coast far behind. Here, we were lucky enough to spot a second wolf and enjoyed kilometres of gorgeous white sand.

Elise dug vigorously for clams on the sandy tidal flats.

We dropped the packs and spent an hour or two enjoying this idyllic spot. The swimming was great fun!

When we continued on our way, we were somewhat horrified to see evidence of multiple, huge jellyfish washed up on shore. This would have been an unpleasant surprise while playing in the waves!

We found sand dollars on this beach. In fact, the entire hike provided great opportunities for shell collecting and we came home with a few treasures. No glass fishing floats, though.

Elise "guided" us on various parts of the trip. This kept her engaged and provided some entertainment for Pam and I as she navigated along the convoluted shoreline. She had a tendency to get a bit "distracted" at times, and would simply wander uphill into dead-end coves before realizing we might be going the wrong way! These detours provided some good laughs, but in general she did an excellent job!

Our final campsite near Le Claire Point was simply beautiful, but we had to rise early the next morning to ensure we made it to our float plane pick-up on time.

As luck would have it, we arrived with a couple of hours to spare and were able to tour "Cougar Annie's Garden", site of a famous West Coast homesteader. Cougar Annie carved an amazing garden out of five acres of coastal rain forest and raised eight of her eleven children here. She outlasted four husbands and was infamous for trapping numerous cougars that roamed the property.

The entrance to the garden.

Our pick-up spot was Hesquiat Lake, a sheltered valley at the back of Hesquiat Harbour. It felt odd not having any way of communicating with the airline and just hoping the plane would arrive. But, sure enough, it did and our pilot for the return journey turned out to be a young Scottish girl who could barely see over the dashboard! We had an uneventful flight back to Tofino on a gorgeous afternoon and enjoyed bakery treats in town before our journey back to Squamish.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Talent Show

Elise's school hosted a talent show last week and she entered by performing a few of her magic tricks:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


For our Christmas vacation this year, we decided to travel to Greece and explore Leonidio, a new area that's slowly gaining a reputation as a good European winter climbing venue. Leonidio is a small coastal town in the Peloponnese, and can be reached via a winding 3.5-hour drive south of Athens. The area's economy is based on a mixture of tourism and agriculture, and this becomes evident once you arrive in the farm-studded valley. Small, sweet eggplants are a local specialty, but they were out of season during our winter stay, unfortunately. For accommodation, we booked a stone cottage at Agroktima, a small working farm just outside of town. The owners spoke English, provided a unique Greek breakfast each morning and were very helpful in planning daily activities. This farm fit our needs well and Elise enjoyed watching the chickens lay eggs in their coop each morning.

The weeks before the trip flew by and we suddenly found ourselves poised to leave with minimal plans for our two-week stay. Luckily, the forecast looked very promising so we decided to simply go with the flow and explore anything that looked interesting. It turned out we had a beautiful bay close to Agroktima that provided ample opportunities to beach-comb and find small shells. We ended up swimming three times, not because it was hot but because the water looked so inviting. We returned to this spot on Christmas day since it was so idyllic.

The climbing, of course, was spectacular and the limestone was streaked with orange, red and brown stripes giving the appearance of cliffs on Mars. Many areas were south facing which meant we spent a fair amount of time in the sun. The hikes varied from a few minutes to half an hour and the climbing spots were quite spread out. We definitely needed a car to move around.

We explored the countryside as best we could, but even moderate distances were slow to drive since the roads were so winding. A drive of 60 km could easily take 1-2 hours. Regardless, we saw an amazing monastery at Elona, toured Mystras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Sparta, and explored the beaches around Kyparissi, a beautiful coastal enclave. The roads went to elevations of 1,000 m so snow and frost was a concern, especially as the weather started to change...

Although Elise complained about missing the snow (!) back home, she seemed to really relax and enjoy herself. Our cottage had a loft with a large bed and a smaller couch-bed on the main floor. Elise didn't want to sleep in the couch-bed for some odd reason so I obliged. Highlights for her were daily trips to the Greek patisserie and evening trips to the beach where she discovered a clan of stray cats living near a hotel. She fed the cats regularly and they soon learned to come running when she arrived. On our last day we brought chicken and cheese - there was a feeding frenzy.

During the latter half of our final week, the weather got decidedly worse. First, a heavy rainstorm blew through and then a significant cold front. It snowed to within 100 metres of sea level, a rarity in the region. We made the best of it and did some cold weather beach-combing and coastal driving. Afterward, we drove to elevation so Elise could build a snowman and have a snowball fight. We did not expect this on our Greek vacation, but sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. Oddly enough, Elise thought the arrival of the snow was great, kind of a highlight of her trip!

Our journey home was long, but thankfully uneventful. Apparently, Squamish had a very white Christmas and we've got much more snow in town now than at any time last year. The sunny days in Greece already seem like a distant memory. Time to dust off the skis...

Marc, Pam and Elise