JF Plouffe

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” — T.S. Eliot

The earth is 71 per cent water, human beings are about 60 per cent water, and our brains and hearts are 73 per cent water. Here in the Coast Mountains, those numbers mean more than just biological fact. Some of us are mountain people in love with oceans and rivers. Some of us are water people in love with mountains. But water – rain, snow, clouds, rivers, ice and oceans – is part of who we are.

 

From Bella Coola Harbour we paddle for 9 days, slipping in and out of the timeless flow of the wilderness and adventure. Numerous times we gather around a fire in the torrential rain. Random bouts of spontaneous laughter shatter the silence after 17 hours of paddling. At times, the winds howl so hard against the fortress-like walls of the fjord that we are forced to paddle through the night. Under the glare of the moon, we watch phosphorescent algae twirl away from each paddle stroke, keeping our minds occupied, happy even, as we push onward in search of shelter. Photo: Chris Christie
From Bella Coola Harbour we paddle for 9 days, slipping in and out of the timeless flow of the wilderness and adventure. Numerous times we gather around a fire in the torrential rain. Random bouts of spontaneous laughter shatter the silence after 17 hours of paddling. At times, the winds howl so hard against the fortress-like walls of the fjord that we are forced to paddle through the night. Under the glare of the moon, we watch phosphorescent algae twirl away from each paddle stroke, keeping our minds occupied, happy even, as we push onward in search of shelter. Photo: Chris Christie :: Opening Photo: Jim Martinello

Inspired by the West Coast’s unique proximity to massive peaks and scenic ocean fjords, we arrived in Bella Coola with skis and stand up paddleboards ready to encompass all of the elements into one adventure. The plan was to hike into some big mountain ski lines then return to the river to paddle through ancient Nuxalk First Nations territory along the Atnarko River before hitting the pacific and venturing into the Dean Channel, an isolated, 100+km fjord of steep shorelines dotted with natural hot springs. Finally, we would cross Hakai Pass to Calvert Island, where the open pacific winds and swell would hopefully bring good surf and a chance to savour both the wilderness and our successful journey amongst it.

 

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Mystically guarded by the eagles that soar continuously overhead, we feel welcomed after our two days of floating down the Atnarko and Bella Coola rivers with inflatable boards heavily loaded with expedition gear. At one point, the Boileaus, a local family, wave us to shore and share their beers and fresh salmon dinner, a feast. The Atnarko sees migration of all five species of Pacific salmon. Photo: Chris Christie
Mystically guarded by the eagles that soar continuously overhead, we feel welcomed after our two days of floating down the Atnarko and Bella Coola rivers with inflatable boards heavily loaded with expedition gear. At one point, the Boileaus, a local family, wave us to shore and share their beers and fresh salmon dinner, a feast. The Atnarko sees migration of all five species of Pacific salmon. Here Chris Christie stands up to the whitewater. Photo: Jim Martinello

But nothing fires up Mother Nature’s sense of humour like a well-detailed plan. We arrived in Bella Coola to discover gusting winds, a ridge of high pressure and unseasonably warm temperatures. Local ski guides relayed stories of dropping cornices and wet slab avalanches and our plan had to change before it even had a chance to get going. Bella Coola has some of the best skiing in the world but for us it was not to be. We inflated the boards and hit the water.

 

Thomas Lance Nelson, of the local Nuxalk First Nations, welcomes us with a traditional song and dance near stone petroglyphs carved by his ancestors some millennia ago. Lance tells us great stories and legends of animal spirits and the supernatural world, as he pours water over the stones to bring the carved faces and images to life. Photo: Chris Christie
Thomas Lance Nelson, of the local Nuxalk First Nations, welcomes us with a traditional song and dance near stone petroglyphs carved by his ancestors some millennia ago. Lance tells us great stories and legends of animal spirits and the supernatural world, as he pours water over the stones to bring the carved faces and images to life. Here JF Plouffe explores the petroglyphs. Photo: Jim Martinello

There was a moment on this trip – not long after we paddled away from the mouth of the Atnarko and onto the Pacific – when a biological transition occurred within our bodies. A point where the water from the creeks and rivers of our landscape had totally replaced our bodies’ stored reservoirs of tap water from home. Right down to the cellular level, we were now truly a part of the wilderness we’d come to explore. Of course, it was impossible for any of us to know exactly when this moment occurred, but we could all feel that it had.

 

I often wonder what my own environmental impact is when I go to a remote area. Near Hakai Pass, we discover Namu, a once prosperous community of 300 people and an abandoned cannery. Now everything is rotten and leaking; forgotten boats, buildings and oils, asbestos, old industrial batteries and garbage slowly leaching into the pristine Pacific ecosystem and the Great Bear Rainforest. We paddle on, wondering what Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is doing about it, but also knowing the answer – nothing. Photo: Chris Christie
I often wonder what my own environmental impact is when I go to a remote area. Near Hakai Pass, we discover Namu, a once prosperous community of 300 people and an abandoned cannery. Now everything is rotten and leaking; forgotten boats, buildings and oils, asbestos, old industrial batteries and garbage slowly leaching into the pristine Pacific ecosystem and the Great Bear Rainforest. We paddle on, wondering what Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is doing about it, but also knowing the answer – nothing. Photo: Chris Christie

 

The crux of adventure: Challenged by the elements and fatigue we are blown away not by the Pacific winds, but by the epic vista of the Northwest Coast as we hit cross Hakai Pass. This is the open Pacific; thick fog can roll in very quickly and sea conditions can shift from flat, calm to 4–6-metre (12–20-foot) swells within a matter of hours. Capsizing and re-gathering yourself in a place like this is neither simple nor relaxing, but the promise of surf and a beach on Calvert Island invigorates our last stores of energy. We stroke on.

 

Photo: Jim Martinello

Time is not ticking anymore. The sun rolls in and the waves shape up. This is a time of leisurely cooking, resting, surfing and welcoming the stars as we gather around the fire. It’s a simplicity that we cherish and do not take for granted, combined with a sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching any destination. To step into nature, alone or in a group, is to build a connection and an understanding of what needs to be protected.

 

Photo: Chris Christie

“Right down to the cellular level, we were now truly a part of the wilderness we’d come to explore.”

Laying in the sun, I find myself thinking of my own young kids and how early and often they will develop ecological values. Will they need a big trip like this or can an afternoon in a Provincial Park build that connection too?

 

Photo: Jon Burak

“Memories of the journey, the wilderness, good friends, and of simply being present while outside, alive and in step with nature; we can only hope these things will stay in our cells forever.”

Photo: Chris Christie
Photo: Chris Christie

 

Photo: Chris Christie
Photo: Chris Christie

“The winds howl so hard against the fortress-like walls of the fjord that we are forced to paddle through the night. Under the glare of the moon, we watch phosphorescent algae twirl away from each paddle stroke, keeping our minds occupied, happy even, as we push onward in search of shelter.”

Photo: Jim Martinello

I look over at four grown men, fathers and adventurers, with smiles in their eyes and peace in their hearts. Soon we will be home and the waters of the Northwest Coast will be gone from our bodies. But memories of the journey, the wilderness, good friends, and of simply being present while outside, alive and in step with nature; we can only hope these things will stay in our cells forever.

 

Photo: Jim Martinello
Photo: Jim Martinello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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