Mamalillaculla first visit 

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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 Hanson Island.

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 water."

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 hopefully.

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 Anchorage.

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 years back.

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