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Wild West Coast


Paddling in the Bunsby Islands, Wild West Coast of Vancouver Island. BC

Nearly every year, around this time in early spring, I decide I need to go away. Sometimes it is the rain, or the grey of winter. Sometimes, just the urge to wander and see new wild places. It is a great time to head south, that great migration when friends leave the Pacific Northwest and winter in Palm Springs, California, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, or Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona. Sun, blue skies, deserts, and birds.


And I have gone south many times, but for some reason each spring I dream about Vancouver Island and the Wild West Coast! The coastal areas of British Columbia (BC) are definitely a destination that calls me back again and again, and I hope, in the next year, to spend even more time along this vast coastal region, sharing my time with whales, coastal wolves, bears, oyster catchers and puffin.

Tidepools, West Coast Vancouver Island.

If it is raining or grey here at home, it most definitely is even greyer and rainier up there along the shores in BC. Several years ago I tried to scratch that itch by loading up my sea kayak and traveling up to Port Renfrew. It rained so hard the entire week, that not only did I never take my boat off the car, but I really never left my vehicle. After several days of poor light, poking the camera lens out the window, and nights car-camping in a complete deluge, I found a good hotel with hot meals and stayed there until I came home. Some of the photos in this blog are from that trip. Rare finds in the rain.

Ocean Surf & Light. Wild West Coast. BC

But other trips to coastal BC were fantastic and make up some of my greatest adventures and best memories. Right after moving here in 2001, I backpacked along the 75 km (46.6 miles) West Coast Trail from Bamfield to Port Renfrew. Canada in all her untamed splendor and magnificence! That was my last backpack, the beginning of so many stories about bears, mud, and ocean tides, eating fresh caught Dungeness crab at Nitinat Narrows (all within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve), and the point when I absolutely knew that I would be coming back to BC again and again.

Bunsby Islands, Wild West Coast. BC

Soon after that, paddling friends told me about a kayak trip to the Bunsby Islands and the Brooks Peninsula. After a few minutes I knew I had to go and blurted out “can I come along?” Maybe the only time I’ve begged onto a trip, and I am so glad I did. Ocean surfing, rips, ocean swell and my first time paddling out of sight of land. Daunting at first, but then my love of paddling kicked in and I was in the moment and enjoying each stroke of the paddle.

Night Sky! Port Renfrew, BC.

Later on, a kayak trip with Stephanie to BC’s Broken Group (over 100 islands in Barkley Sound on the southern west coast), early mornings sitting watching beavers near Port Alberni, salmon fishing near Port Hardy, and return trips to Port Renfrew and Botanical Beach in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. I remember sitting on the tailgate of our Subaru with Stephanie after a hike to the beach, taking off my boots… when maybe the largest black bear I have ever seen wandered out of the woods and spent an hour munching grass not twenty feet from us. We were tired, it was sunny, the bear was happy, and we just watched him until he finally wandered off.

Port Renfrew Eve! BC.

Not too long after, I learned about the Great Bear Rainforest, and I have targeted trips there for years and expect to spend even more time there this spring and summer. Then trips to Sitka and Juneau, going to Alaska either by driving through BC, or by ferry, sailboat, floatplane, or private charter. Alaska is not the wild west coast of BC, but both those towns (along with Victoria and Prince Rupert in BC, and Ketchikan, Petersburg, Skagway, and Wrangell) are coastal in nature, and all, along with coastal BC and Washington State make up the inside passage, an amazing five -hundred mile journey among fjords, tidewater glaciers and temperate rainforest and island scenery.

Nurse Log! West Coast, BC.

Vancouver Island, and really anywhere along the coast of BC (and further north), is just a favorite place for photographing otters, bears, tides, and winter storm waves. And often, after I spend the fall months up in the Great Bear Rainforest, kayaking along Salt spring Island, or traveling up to Sechelt or to Skookumchuck Narrows on the Sunshine Coast, I really miss this wonderful land of tidepools, ferries, cougars, and of course…. rain. In all circumstances, it is a favorite destination that draws me back again and again.

At some point, I may learn my lesson and wait for days of sunshine and hours of light. But not this year. My wife Stephanie and I left for the West Coast yesterday.

Room with a View! West Coast, BC.

I tried to set this trip to Port Renfrew, the southern terminus for the West Coast Trail, home to Botanical Beach. But most campgrounds are closed for the winter, and hotels and rentals were booked up (they must know something I don’t). So we are headed for Tofino to find new shores, adventures, photo opportunities, and, if lucky, that winter explosion of waves on rocks! Of course, we also packed a few good books and look forward to just spending time together. Hey -- we’ve learned something over the years!


Endnotes:

· If you would like to learn more about the amazing West Coast Trail, there is a great book called Blisters & Bliss. Visit the website for some videos of the area and buy the book if you want to laugh. Mostly, my days of backpacking are over. But I still hold out hope that I can do this trail once more. The last trip was a solo adventure, next time I need to convince my wife, daughter and son-in-law to come along and share the load!

· There are an estimated 4,000 cougars in BC, with an estimated six to eight hundred living on Vancouver Island, making it the highest concentration of mountain lions in North America.


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