My son Peter ( aged 11) and I arrived at Telegraph Cove at 8 am Friday
morning, thinking to get a good early start for this adventure as we only had the weekend
free for it. Our goal was to reach Mamalillaculla island and take the guided tour there.
It was very foggy, but being ambitious and ready to test my newly found compass skills
(see Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation), we paddled out of the
dock maze through the interesting fishing boat variety. Two fishermen accosted us at the
exit with, "You know that most of us are not going out today because of this fog,
right?" I responded gleefully ignorant, "Yes, but I've got my compass right
here." I held the small device up from its string around my neck.
We paddled out to the Johnstone Strait crossing even though we did not
realize that the usual high traffic here would be impossible to navigate in fog that
allowed visibility only 50 feet ahead. I carefully set our course and checked often to see
that we kept on it, but each time we were at a sharper and sharper angle to our degree
goal. We continued to correct. Finally we saw that we had completed what seemed like a
very long crossing as we approached many small islands called the Plumpers. We had no idea
though that we were on the extreme north edge of those islands instead of being close to
We tried to go through two of the islands and found ourselves working
ourselves to death in a perfect treadmill against a rapid tide. The first time one finds
oneself in this situation it is maddening and awkward. I yelled to go to our left 90
degrees and we were able then to get around the other side of one of the islands. Now the
island contours didn't match the map so I knew we had strayed from our course. I saw a
fishing boat and so went over to it and gave in to ask where we were. They said, "See
that island over there, that's the last island before you are in the Queen Charlotte
Strait. We'd been pulled way north by a strong tide and now we would have to hug the east
side of the Plumpers to get back to Hanson Island. I had the map on my deck convenient,
and so checked every curve on it with what I saw emerge around each corner until I felt I
was confident which island we were passing.
The fog was still thick, but I could see two mountain peaks southeast of
us. Since they were in the right direction, and nothing on the map could be mistaken for
them I set compass readings adjusted from my plans for just left of those mountains. Both
of us felt at this time that we had been through something big. We were feeling totally
exhausted, and I felt we should find a temporary landing place where we could rest and eat
to get some energy for the next even longer crossing of Blackfish Sound. We took a right
turn into the huge Doublebay, but everywhere we looked we saw mud beaches that looked like
they would suck you right down. We looked until we ate in the boats and got the energy to
paddle the crossing, deciding we would rest when we got to Mamalillaculla.
We began the long crossing with steady strokes and a set determination. We
continued our paddling for an hour when suddenly Peter began sputtering,
"Wh,,,wh,,,wh,,,whales!!!" We grabbed our cameras and shot every last picture in
each camera. What a thrill to see your first whale right 100 feet in front of you hearing
the breathing of lungs much larger than a horse's with no warning. Suddenly we had all the
energy in the world for paddling. We cruised along until coming into a school of salmon
jumping all around us. Boats came from everywhere all at once. One boat offered to loan us
a pole, but we said we were just cruising.
Now the fog was beginning to raise, and there was the gentle sloping back
of Swanson island (see stories about this island in Inside Passage),
and Compton to the right of it. To the right of Compton was a white shell beach passageway
to the many islands scattered over five miles in front of the Mamalillaculla Island which
is called by the natives, Mimlaqueese. The many islands had come from when many Indians
were chasing one canoe and the paddler of that canoe turned to look back at them and
turned them all into islands.
Now it was fun passing one beautiful island after another, and knowing we
were not lost after all. We had come about 15 miles and had 5 more to go, but keep in mind
that here if you don't understand the tides you are destined to travel slow and then fast
at the ocean's whim. One must take off from Telegraph Cove when there is about one hour of
ebbing tide left to suck you across Johnstone Strait and through the Plumper Islands. If
you are late arriving at Plumpers though it will be impossible to get through almost as
soon as the ebb turns to flow. As soon as the tide begins to flow in it will carry you
over to Compton island and all the way into the Mamalillaculla. I wouldn't suggest even
venturing to paddle here unless you are with a tour if you can't understand what I have
said in the last sentence as it is just too hard paddling this far if the tides are not
with you. So may the tides be with you.
The tides were not with us, and it took forever to get to Mamalillaculla
at about 5pm. We landed on the midden beach where 12 other kayaks of a tour were docked.
We were excited. As we met the other explorers on the island, and they directed us to
totem poles and long houses, there is only one way I could simply describe it. It was
Disneyland for adults. We got out all our film and literally ran around shooting every
thing in sight. There were snakes wriggling off into the bushes, berry bushes above our
heads, and trails of foot squashed grass that grew above our heads that went far into the
dense forest (see Curve of Time for more stories). The tour
suggested that we not camp here but around the island a bit. I never got to ask why we
shouldn't camp here, but we paddled around for one half hour without finding even a
landable sight. In some places there were bugs flying so dense we had to paddle fiercely
to get out. We finally gave up exhausted and headed back to the main beach to camp there
as there was a nice picnic table there with an incredible view. The tour people said that
for some reason the Indian guides had not shown up that day. We did not know that one is
never allowed to camp where we were about to camp. We cooked sloppy joe hamburgers and set
the tent and passed out cold by 9pm.
It began to rain gently. I couldn't sleep. I kept hearing something
walking around and around our tent. Something big. Finally I couldn't stand it any longer.
I got all my rain gear on and grabbed a flashlight. I went outside and could find nothing.
I heard something over by the Victorian house ruins. I went over to the closest one and
went in. The second floor had partially fallen into the first floor making for a
kaleidoscopic image of things going up and down and being scattered all over were things
like a bayonet, big cans, a little tricycle. I thought I heard voices all collapsed on top
of each other railing about what all had gone on here before and I couldn't stand it. I
went back out in the rain on the dense grasses. Lying on the grass like an out of place
vase, was a huge turd like I had never seen before.
I got back into the tent and took off all my clothes and put on dry/clean
underwear and felt better, but I still couldn't sleep. This island was more than
excitement, there was something strange here that brought fear. The rain continued until
9am in the morning and then I woke Peter saying that we can't wait any longer, and that we
must push off to get with the tides. The second that I pushed the tent door open to exit,
the rain entirely just stopped and the sun came out. That was strange.
We loaded the boats and I was glad that at least Peter had gotten lots of
sleep. We had been so concentrated upon loading the boats that we hadn't looked out to sea
yet. Peter looked first and said, "What happened?!" "There is no
Yes, the water was gone, and we were in the middle of a huge island. Where
we had landed from was now a mud flat for as far as I could see. I could no longer see the
ocean anywhere. This was bothersome as it now seemed we would not be able to get home in
time. We own a business and many people rely on us to be there Monday morning. We slid our
boats down the cliff and let go of them so they would slide out as far as possible onto
the mud flat. They got about 50 feet out. That was a good start, but we found our rubber
boots were getting stuck in the mud so each step tried to suck them off us. We pulled the
boats along very slowly with sweat dripping off us with the toil. Finally we gave up on
the boots and pulled them off to go barefoot. The shells cut into our feet and the
progress was slow, until I spotted a stream that was continuing to empty the island of its
water. We barely had the energy to get over to it. Once we got in the stream it raced us
in a few minutes out to the sea on the other side of a burial island that had skulls
laying like monuments on the mossy soil. We had just begun paddling out the five miles to
Compton when I heard some small cry. I saw on an island about a quarter mile away a person
waving both arms over head. "Help!"
I reached a young Indian who said he was one of the guides for the island.
He asked if we had camped on that island last night. I acknowledged we had as we had been
waiting for the guides. He said, "Do you know how many bears there are on that side
of the island? You might not want to camp there." Then he told a story of how he and
his friend who was now on the other side of the island had gotten lost in the fog and tied
their boat to a tree to sleep the night away till mornings light. They woke up as the
lower tides of 20 feet sometimes were hanging the boat off a cliff and they had scrambled
up to safety on the island. They had no food or water. I gave them some as he gave me
directions where to get help around the corner at Indian Anchorage. He would meet me with
his friend at the other side of the island on my way back with news of help on its way
We paddled in this extreme low tide thinking about how the Indians must
have loved the natural protection that their island afforded them. During the day the mud
flats kept their enemies out and at night the fog and darkness and the cliff gave them
great advantage also. This was a warring area. At the bottom of each long house tree trunk
beam was a dead slave underground for good luck. Now we saw plumed anemones as white and
fluffy as first snow carpeting under our boats. We arrived at the protected Indian
Darrell came out with strange blue eyes like a wild dog's. We told the
story of the lost Indians and he laughed. "They are supposed to leave today on a
seaplane, so last night we had a party here. They got drunk and started arguing. Then they
stole the chief's boat. Now I think they should stay there a good while to teach them
something. I can't get my boat off here till the tide rises anyway." I told him we
would tell them.
When we arrived back at the other side of the lost ones island, I saw this
huge new fishing boat hanging off a cliff totally vertical from a rope connecting to a
tree. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen and I laughed and laughed with Peter. The
Indians hung their heads and said, "We knew you'd laugh!" We told them the bad
news and gave them some more food and water. They were very concerned that they miss their
plane ride out of here. I later heard that they got in major trouble for their escapade as
stealing and messing up the chief's boat is not good manners here. And then we met that
chief's representative in Tom Sewid later and we wouldn't cross him for the world.
We were very late now with those tides, but got to Compton's where we
couldn't get out the entryway even though we were paddling as hard as we could. The whole
tour group was encamped there and was in the process of being instructed one move at a
time how to prepare for take off to paddling somewhere. They became our audience as we
cussed and sweated and I barely was able to get through. Now my worry was that Peter could
not make it, but there he was coming through with the frown of a king. My head felt like
syrup and tears welled in my eyes with the pride I felt in him.
We crossed hearing but not seeing whales. At the Plumpers the tide was
right and we were sent flying through rock formations at such speed that we did not paddle
at all, but use the paddle as a steering rudder. On crossing Johnstone Strait we hit what
are very common here. This strait has underwater mountains which get hit by the strong
tidal currents, pushing water at high speeds upward where they break the surface as a
standing rapids, tide rips, or clapotis. Your boat is pushed every which way and
controlling can be difficult. We had to push hard here until we were out of it. Also there
are large whirlpools common here. Make sure you paddle to the safe side of a whirlpool as
one side will suck you in and the other throws you away from the sucking center. I have
heard from Tom Sewid that in the Plumpers a large fishing vessel was sucked down a few
Now being no fog the traffic was heavier than I have ever seen on the sea.
It was like a 50 lane freeway going both directions. The entire crossing was dogging and
waiting to miss being hit by one of these tugs, luxury cruisers, fishing boats, scientific
research boats, whale watchers. Finally we came into the protected cove called Telegraph,
but salmon jumped all round us again. Boats appeared from every direction. Lines were
being cast over our heads as we raced to get out of this mess. Back at the launch ramp,
there must have been one hundred boats all trying to get launched. It was busy as Pike's
Place Market on a Saturday noon. We could barely find room to get out. Another couple
pulled up in Kayaks behind us and called to us. "You guys paddled right through those
rips. We paddled an extra mile just to avoid that."
It is hard to describe, but from where our knowledge was at this time, we
felt like we had gone through the biggest thing in our lives that weekend and we knew we
would have to return again someday.
Second visit to Mamalillaculla