The middle island driftwood camp site.
I had taken my family of myself, my wife, my older son Peter, and younger
son Joel on almost 20 kayak trips in one year to prepare for this trip. Each paddling trip
had been more challenging than the last and had all involved sea experience. First in the
Gulf Islands, then in the San Juan's, and then out in the Deer Group Islands on the west
coast of Vancouver Island. I now felt they were ready to go to the beauty of the
Mimlaqueese that I had told them so much about. We had been paddling throughout the winter
in storms and all kinds of weather. We were toughened, but I made one major
miscalculation. This was way too early in the spring to be going to Telegraph Cove. Even
the whales wouldn't be showing up for a few more months, but I did not know this.
We called the band office to notify them that we would be camping on their
islands and wanted to send fees in. We happened to get a Tom Sewid on the phone. He was
the grandson of the famous chief Sewid (see Guests Never Leave
Hungry). He was curious about a family that would go out in the Mamalillaculla area
this time of year and asked if we would call him on our way through Campbell so he could
meet us. At Campbell we called the number and he showed up at a nice restaurant and ate
breakfast with us. Besides his eggs and sausage, he had fat French fries with ketchup,
gravy, salt, and pepper on them. Peter and Joel marveled at how this guy knew how to enjoy
eating. We sprawled a huge navigational map out over the whole table and he circled every
fresh water site in the area. He x'd every camping potential. Then he put an arrow to many
sites of historical Indian interest. Burial sites, the bathtub of the chiefs, petroglyphs,
etc. Now he said you are too late to get through the Plumpers passageway so you must go
around the right side of the Hanson island, but there is a very nice camping spot on one
of the three islands on the east side of Hanson. You can use it if you can't make it
all the way.
Between the two larger islands is a small one that has a nice driftwood
sculpted campsite that obviously has had a long history of use with cable reel tables and
tiger's balm hidden away, etc. It is beautiful here, but the constant call of the 20
eagles that live here is the most attractive feature. We couldn't get the sound of it out
of our ears for weeks after. After staying the night there in constant rain, we paddled
further around the corner to the north side of Hanson where Tom had asked us to
visit the Paul Spong family who winter here every year listening for whales the whole year
round via the underwater microphone system that they have built up over the years. Here
there is a ramp going out to a laboratory for study of understanding whale speech.
We met one child and Paul's wife at the beach and they led us to a 1,000
year old cedar tree. This an area where cedar skin was historically peeled for use in
clothing for the natives. We got very cold and didn't think the weather permitted us to
cross Blackfish so to get to Mamalillaculla so we paddled back to our island but couldn't
even get into the passage way to it because the current was flooding out of it so
strongly. We landed on a wet beach and ate some cheese and apples until we thought the
current had slowed by watching the logs float by. We were just able to paddle against the
river flow, but we could not for the life of us find our camp look as we might. This was
not good as all our gear was still there. Coming back after having passed all the three
islands I realized that that was our camp on top of the 20 foot hill above us. This meant
that we had to carry our boats up that black rock near cliff. At least they were empty. It
was a great place to camp, and a good place for meditation.
The next morning it was storming some, but we needed to get back to
civilization so we started out for our one easy crossing. It was funny seeming that there
were no boats on Johnstone Strait and as soon as we turned the corner of Hanson the wind
hit us in the face. The waves were at their maximum four feet high and Joel was barely
able to even move his 16 foot boat one inch per paddle stroke with his three inch arms. It
took three hours just to make the crossing and then four more hours to creep up against
the wind towards Telegraph Cove. It was a wide awake nightmare that strained everyone to
their limits over and over again. Our eye whites were solid red for two days after.
On the ferry ride of two hours back to Canada, the boys ate fat French
fries with ketchup, gravy, salt, & pepper smothering them. I bought Canadian history
books a vowed to return again to find the petroglyphs and the chiefs bathtub.
Third visit to Mamalillaculla