BC - Vancouver Island Part 5 - Tofino

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Tofino is on the southern edge of Clayoquot Sound containing densely forested islands, valleys and inlets. It is the largest area of intact temperate rain forest left on Vancouver Island. The waters around these protected lowland coastal temperate rain forests provide many kayaking opportunities.

In January 2000, Clayoquot (Cla Kwat) Sound was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. No additional protection was afforded to the area, nor does that designation require the implementation of new environmental standards. Industrial logging continues to destroy the Sound’s forests and fish farms continue to pollute its waters.

Ahous Bay, Vargas Island, Clayoquot Sound

On its shores, ancient Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and Western Hemlock up to 1700 years old and 300 ft. tall provide habitat for a diverse array of wildlife. Black bears, cougars, wolves, otters, bald eagle, grey, humpback and orca whales, all species of Pacific salmon, hundreds and thousands of migrating waterfowl and shore birds, and the earth’s second largest shark, the basking shark, are some of the creatures you might be fortunate enough to see.

We came to do some kayaking here. This was our first trip to the Pacific Northwest and we were anxious to see this area we had read so much about. The previous day we enjoyed a half day trip in the much quieter Ucluelet, just 30 miles down the coast. Then we had spent the rest of the day walking around the surfing/kayaking/tourist town of Tofino itself. Now that we had moved our base of operations to a motel in Tofino and located a kayak rental, we were eager to get out on the water and see what this place was all about.

Day 6 - With the chart we had picked up the previous day, we had planned a trip out of Tofino across to Lemmes Inlet to see the large trees on Meares Island and then spend the rest of the day in Lemmes Sound itself. Somewhat cautious in our first day in this new location and respectful of the tidal currents that we had heard about in this area, we expected to do about 16 miles this day.

The weather was foggy and drizzly when we arrived at Pacific Kayaks to pick out our equipment. The rental shop was a part time endeavor for the proprietor, and to say the least, his safety practices were "loose". He had Tesla 17 foot fiberglass singles for rent at $40 CD per day He also had doubles, but we were not interested in those. All the equipment was well used. The paddles were heavy and old. The PFDs were cheap and well worn. All the equipment was well worn, but still quite functional, with some innovative substitutions for normal gear. Instead of paddle floats, he provided Styrofoam blocks and mesh bags, cheap, but effective. Sponges were pieces of foam bedding. The questions about our kayaking skills were perfunctory and the advice we received about where to go and what to look out for was minimal. He did advise us about the heavy traffic in the harbor and to be careful in any fog as the water taxis tended to navigate by GPS and considered kayaks "speed bumps". Then he gave us hand drawn outline photocopied page map of the area and said, "Have fun, Eh?" I would not suggest that novice kayakers use his services. Beginning kayakers need more support and advice than this. On the other hand, his rates were the lowest in town, so if you are confident in your skills, this might be the place for you.

We put our kayaks into the water and slipped from the edge of the floating dock into the kayaks. Located in a quiet backwater among commercial and pleasure boats and the ubiquitous whale watching boats, it was a secure and safe launching facility. We slipped past a fishing boat and out to the edge of the channel. Things were still active here with boat traffic, water taxis and shortly, a float plane taking off. We headed across the channel on a northerly course to the left of Stone Island to avoid the narrow passage between Morpheus Island and the peninsula jutting from Meares Island where the boardwalk in the old growth forest was located.

A really big tree
A really big tree
by Julio Perez

In about an hour we had reached the little beach where a tourist boat was anchored out waiting for its load of clients to return. We pulled our kayaks up on the beach and tied them off to an overhanging branch. With an outgoing tide it was really unnecessary, but it always a good idea to secure your boat when leaving it for any period of time. There were four other kayaks at the beach also. We scrambled up the steep bank and came to an unmarked junction. Julio turned east with little consideration at the junction and headed off along the unmarked but well worn trail. We followed the trail for about a kilometer as the footprints in the mud became fewer and fewer. I convinced Julio that we had turned the wrong way back at the junction where he hadn't seen the other option. We returned to the junction and took the other branch. Within 100 meters we came to a boardwalk. From then on the walking was much easier on this very convenient board trail.
Along this trail, created to highlight the magnificent old growth forest during the logging protests here, were some really big trees. Some were so large that it was difficult to see just how big they were. The oldest tree looked as ancient as it was. Large sections of the trunk were dead and portions of the upper story were twisted, storm damaged and dead. We got to the far end of the boardwalk which then transitioned to a trail. That trail quickly became muddy, then overgrown. We turned around after venturing a short way out on the remarkably firm mud flat that covers a large portion of Lemmes Inlet. We made out way back to the kayaks and paddled back they way we came. Once past the edge of the mud flat, we turned up into Lemmes Inlet.

We paddled up between the islands. Once past them we saw a number of salmon and oyster farms. The salmon farms are somewhat controversial because of the claim that salmon farming pollutes the water. Overfeeding causes the extra fish food to settle on the bottom where it pollutes the water column. But I have also seen that these issues are being corrected as the salmon farmers have no incentive to overfeed the fish. Food falling to the bottom is a waste of money. I would think that the oyster farms would only be good for the water as they are filter feeders. At the very end of Lemmes Inlet we found several small floating cabins. They didn't seem to be occupied at the moment, although they were definitely in use. Perhaps the men tending the floating farms lived there.

Under the high tide line
Under the high tide line
by Julio Perez

Some small streams tumbled down the shore and into the inlet. The foliage was so heavy that these little falls could not be seen until one came within a boat length of them. But they were easily heard for hundreds of meters.

It started to rain moderately as we turned back. The strongest wind of the day, about 10 knots, blew against us as we headed back down the inlet. By the time we returned to Tofino, we had covered 16 miles. We were ready for the warm shower that awaited us at our motel.

We went out for dinner at The Loft. There we each had a nice seafood entree and enjoyed the warm atmosphere of the restaurant. It was a good day.

Day 7 - This day was predicted to be rainy so we decided to spend it driving on the logging roads between Tofino and the Pacific Rim National Park. When we looked out that morning, the predictions were coming true. A steady drizzle and heavy clouds hung over Tofino. After the a stop at the local coffee shop, we headed to the west side of town to the small Tonquin Park. A boardwalk and a series of steps led down to a pocket beach open to the ocean.

The cloudy day was a nice contrast to the blue skies we had been having. This seemed much more what I had pictured Vancouver Island to be like. As we had discovered in the provincial park, a sheet of water ran down the beach from out of the forest. But here there was also a substantial stream carrying tannin stained water out to the sea. We backtracked the stream and followed it a little way into the dripping forest. Our camera strained to capture the scenes in the low light of this overcast day.

We returned to the car and drove out of town about 5 kilometers to the airport. A small dirt strip and a Hertz rental car depot with about 5 cars was all there was. We followed a circular driving trail, but were turned back by high water about half way around. We took a series of logging roads, slowly negotiating the rocks and puddles in our rental road car. We eventually made it to Lake Kennedy. This was the other side of the large lake we had seen when we first arrived in the area. This time we were on the outflow side of the lake where Kennedy River resumes to eventually empty into Tofino Inlet.

We found a small sign high in a tree with simple white lettering. Across from the sign was a small empty parking lot. We stopped and found that there was a boardwalk headed out into the trees. Along the boardwalk we found an open forest and tall canopy of cedars and firs. It was one of the most beautiful we had seen, made even better by the fact that we had simply stumbled upon it. This day of unplanned exploration on a rainy day had worked out marvelously.
Day 8 - We returned to Pacific Kayaks and rented the boats for the next two days. We got an early start, getting our gear from the storage shack and down to the launching float before the fog had lifted. After checking out all the equipment and slipping into the boats, we pulled out into the harbor as the fog lifted to several hundred feet overhead. The float planes were already making their runs and we were grateful that we did not have to wait until the fog lifted enough for them to see us as we paddled across the busy harbor channel.

Our plan was to paddle out past the west end of Meares Island and up into Crystal Bay. If conditions were good we were considering the option of heading out past Vargas Island into the ocean ( see map ). We would make that decision when we got there. For now we enjoyed the paddle over to the Indian Reserve on Meares Island. We continued along the rugged shore as the light fog blew in and out from the across Vargas Island. Along the heavily forested shore, we passed trees loaded with orange bracken on the dead snags. In a small cove we were greeted by a seal whose loud barks let us know that this was his territory. The sun began to shine through, dissipating the fog and leaving a view of Vargas islands and Cat Face Range over the glassy waters.

We pulled over to a small beach for a break. The pebbled beach was covered with mussel shells, one of which had grown to gigantic size. We joked that only one was needed for a meal, if you could chew it.

We turned Northeast between Dunlap Island and Meares Island and into the still waters of Yellow Bank. It was early in the day, and we weren't sure whether there would be any wind blowing up later. We paddled on to Saranac Island, and made a loop around it. Then we headed over along the coast.in Hecate Bay. We pulled into a little beach formed in a small cove at the half tide. There we ate our lunch. I noticed that the beach had recently had a visitor. Like us, he left only footprints. After a short rest we got back in the kayaks and paddled around the point. There on the larger beach in the bay we saw our fellow beachcomber moving down the shore looking for food, investigating under rocks and logs. We paddled by and he never even looked up.

Retracing our path a little we then headed into Calmus Passage on the north side of Vargas. There was a little current flowing under us. We decided to take a look at what the swell was like out in the ocean, as the winds were quite light, less than 5 knots. We headed into Brabant Channel to the south of Barnett Island. The swell was small and the wind nearly calm. There was only a few small breaks on some submerged rocks. We angled between Barnett Island and Vargas and headed for Ahous Bay. Behind Vargas we could still see Catface Range and to the north, the other mountains of Vancouver Island.

Landed in Ahous Bay
Landed in Ahous Bay
by Julio Perez

We paddled down to the bay and saw several whale watching boats drifting along with the current. We soon saw the condensation of the exhaled breath of several whales being shadowed by the boats. We paddled closer and got within several hundred yards of the giant mammals feeding in the calm waters of the bay. They were too far away to get a decent picture, but it was still a thrill to be out there with them. We headed into the beach through the small surf. I was a little apprehensive of this project as I did not know how these unfamiliar rental boats would perform in surf. But the spilling surf on this gently sloping beach was very easy to handle in spite of my boat's strong broaching tendency. I side surfed in on a little roller with ease. We spent about 30 minutes on the beach before heading out once more to resume our journey down the ocean side of Vargas Island.

Returning into Tofino
Returning into Tofino
by Julio Perez

We stayed well away from the shore as we paddled south along the outside of Vargas Island. Occasionally, a larger swell would break over one of the rocks sending a huge plume of spray up into the air. Most of the time the swells merely surged against the rock. It was a strong reminder of the importance of observing waves sets when exposed to the open ocean. The size of individual swells do vary significantly. I would not like to have been in certain places when the bigger ones came rolling in. We followed the channel back into Tofino. By now the tidal current had changed and we had a favorable current to help us back into the inlet, as we had expected. After 26 miles, we were happy to have a little help.
We finished off our great day on the water with a good Tough City Sushi meal at very reasonable prices. Located right on the edge of the harbor, we watched the light fade over the Catface Range that had been our sentinel all day long. What a good day this had been.

Day 9 - Since we had already paid for our rentals, we were able to get an early start for Friday, our last day in Tofino. By 8:30 we were ready with all our equipment down on the float dock. As we pulled out into the channel, the fog was lifted off the water. There would be no excuse for sea kayak speed bumps today.

This day started out so much like the previous one. Even the pictures seemed like Deja Vu all over again. High level fog burned off to reveal a deep blue sky. Patches of fog remained in some valleys and blew over the water, descending from green mountain tops. It was another gorgeous day in Canada.

The current was with us again. The gentle eddies circled off the rocks along the shore, proving to be the only disturbance on the otherwise flat silver surface. The tops of islands poked up through the fog still lying at the entrance to Tofino Inlet past the narrow constriction of several islands in Browning Passage. We had timed our passage for near slack with a favorable current through the constriction, which can have a formidable current racing through it at other times.

With the current near slack, we passed easily through the crux of Browning Passage and were into the shallow Grice Bay. We pulled in for a break at a small boat launch we had stopped at on Wednesday when we were scouting around by car. This ramp would provide a place to launch to explore Grice Bay and Tofino Inlet without passing through Browning Passage if you had transport for the kayaks. But we found nothing difficult about the passage this day.

Grice Bay is very shallow. Much of it goes dry with a mud bank at low tides. There was a fog bank still hanging in the far end as we returned to the water. We made for a small space between islands and slipped into Tofino Inlet as the fog lifted.

A bright blue sky was revealed as the last of the fog lifted under the strong sun. There was no wind whatsoever. As we paddled into the still center of Tofino Inlet, there was not a ripple or wake anywhere. Our reflection in the water was disturbed only by our own small waves which we could see spreading out behind us for a mile. It was the only time I have ever felt that I was disturbing the environment while paddling in a kayak.

The calm conditions lasted about 30 minutes as eventually a very light breeze rippled the water surface, ending the magic of the glassy surface. We reached the mouth of the Kennedy River where we found a nice little island for lunch. After scrambling carefully onto the slick algae covered rocks, Julio claimed it in the name of Lord Baltimore as the start of our northernmost Maryland county, a.k.a. Who Island.
After resting on the sunny rock and eating our lunches, we paddled up the outflow of Kennedy River. The current became progressively stronger until we were stopped by a riffle with 5 knots of currentt coming over the rocks. We could see that the rapid extended for another kilometer at least, so this was the far point of our journey. It is not possible to paddle in or out of Kennedy Lake to Tofino Inlet. We sat in the eddy and watched the salmon jumping their way upstream through the rock garden. Finally as we turned into the current our bows were swept downstream and we flushed out of the rapid paddling along at 8 knots.

The return paddle to Tofino was uneventful. A 15 knot wind (head wind of course) built up, making us think fondly of the incredible conditions we had encountered on the way out. The tide had turned and we rode it down Browning Passage and back into town, returning quite late in the afternoon after a 25 mile day.

We finished our day with a long walk on Chesterman Beach. It was low tide and the gentle Pacific swells were rolling up on the shallow sloped shore. Out to sea a line of low clouds masked the sun and then turned firey red as the sun set behind them. A three quarters moon rose over the trees as we walked up the hard packed beach.

We went back to the Loft Restaurant where we each enjoyed an entree different but equally good as we had on our first night in Tofino. Our stay in Tofino was a great success and we looked forward to the rest of the trip, but with some sadness at leaving this beautiful area. In the next several days we would be traveling to other parts of Vancouver Island by car, and checking out the kayaking opportunities there for future visits, but this was our last day on the water. We had learned more than enough about this great kayaking spot to arrange a trip here for another year. The rental kayak fleet along the harbor will be waiting for us when we return.

On to Part 6............




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