Sunday, 27 September 2015

Raft Cove: A Lightweight SUP'er

Darcy Wardrop duct-taping gear to his board

As you can see, the put-in on the MacJack River is a kind of small, muddy and mildly claustrophobic spot. But Darcy and I were very happy to be there after having driven the better part of 6 hours from Campbell River to get there.  Especially after some unplanned touring about trying to find the right logging road spur after missing a key detour sign at Holberg. Fortunately, Darcy remembered the way well enough from a few years before to get us back on track.

Another good thing was that we only had to carry our stuff about a 100 meters from where we parked my truck. Not that we had much stuff to carry given that we were packing everything in that we needed for four days on our paddle boards- including ~12 litres of water each. We were concerned about the reliability of the usual water supply given the record dry spring and summer conditions we'd been having.

Without tie-down points on his board, Darcy used ratchet straps going right around to secure his gear and then duct taped over that to make the bottom surface area more streamlined. Hey, it worked- an excellent west coast solution to a slippery problem and we were soon on our way. We wore the bottom half of our wetsuits because we didn't have anywhere else to put them and it was cool enough.

From Campbell River on Vancouver Island, it takes about five hours driving to get to the put-in spot on the Macjack River. The last two hours or so are on logging roads heading west from Port Hardy on the Holberg/ Cape Scott signed turnoff. There is 24 hour gas in Port Hardy- but not Port McNeil. Good idea to top up your gas in Port Hardy before heading west. Its a long way out there in remote country with no cell service- and no services past Holberg.  For a final good coffee and just because- you need to make a short detour into Port Hardy where you'll find the 'CafĂ© Guido' a combo bookstore/ coffee shop/gift shop at 7135 Market St. A great little place- and especially good to know about if you are in that area and need to wait out some inclement weather.Once you leave Port Hardy the only other community you'll come across is Holberg about 45 minutes along the gravel road. There's a general store with a gas bar and the 'Scarlet Ibis' pub/restaurant- which we were very glad to visit on the return trip.

Selective logging? Culturally modified trees? A hill with a haircut?

Once you start on the Holberg Rd, you are in logging country. The picture is of an older cut but there is plenty of active logging going on so you will likely encounter BIG logging trucks and other industrial vehicles along the way. Some of the locals who know the road well drive it at a higher speed than you or I may be comfortable with- so it's a sensible tactic to assume some huge truck is going to come barreling around every blind corner and that way you're prepared. And also pull over and let people by who come up behind you as its often hard to safely pass someone on these roads. Its an expected courtesy in these parts.

The first 15 minutes or so of the Macjack River past the put-in have a number of shallow spots and log jams to get over and around. Nothing difficult really- and nothing that required unloading but we were glad to get through those obstacles and then it was clear paddling for the remaining ~8 kilometers to Raft Cove. The scenery just kept getting better and better as we paddled along and the landscape began to open up, the sun began to shine and the water went from a darker cedar brown to clear to an almost luminescent pale green as the incoming tide began to reach us. I saw the first of several ospreys we were to see during the trip- a sign that the fishing is good.

Our progress was slowed somewhat by the straps and duct tape resistance on the bottom of Darcy's board. And he became even slower once the incoming tide and a freshening westerly breeze both began to work against us. Given the wind resistance of his load atop the board, I made the helpful suggestion that perhaps he should turn his board load-side down in order to make faster progress. What he then suggested I do with my own board was physically impossible- so we both carried on as we were.It took us just over two hours to reach the estuary and the sand bank take-out area. Although there were a surprising number of people there, we lucked into a 5 star campsite tucked just inside the trees and facing the open beach and the ocean which from there stretched out for thousands of miles with only a few tropical islands scattered here and there in the endless blue.Darcy set up his Hennessy hammock and I set up my lightweight Bibler single wall tent. We briefly considered going out to play in the waves but by then there was a stiff westerly breeze which made it less than appealing for stand-up paddling.

Darcy Wardrop; enjoying a wee dram
Supper consisted of simply having more of what we'd had for lunch- a good strategy for traveling light. Sardines for Darcy, sausage and cheese for me. After that we gravitated towards a suitable log and settled in to watch the sun in its long, slow motion fall into the sea to the west. Now that we had everything set up and we'd eaten, we could really relax and begin to arrive more fully into this beautiful wild west coast setting we had journeyed to. It can take time to become fully present to where one is when going from one place to another and very different place- so it was nice that we had given ourselves the gift of this transitional time. For the next several days, we had no thing to do- and no place to go. We were already there- life had suddenly become much simpler.We had both brought our own scotch whisky's. Glenlivet for Darcy and Laphroaig for myself. Sitting there in the warmth and light of the setting sun in such a place while sipping on a fine whisky- well it just doesn't get much better than that.Watching one of the resident ospreys hunting quickly became a favourite pastime while reclining against our log. They're large birds and amazing fliers. The osprey would hunt above the water and then just fold its wings and plunge straight down after its prey. There was no hesitation or pulling back at the last second- the osprey would hit with a great splash right into the water and then emerge flapping its way out and up with a fish in its talons. Several times, diving straight into breaking surf areas. Once well back up in the air, it would give itself a good shake and then head upriver to wherever it roosted. Hard to imagine the shock and surprise for this fish just swimming idly along minding its own business and then this great splash and commotion and "What the f---!"suddenly finding itself held in steel talons being hoisted out of the water and flying through the air now in an element not it's own and facing a much shortened day ending not quite the way it expected.

Heading out to play in the waves: Photo by Darcy Wardrop

The next morning, we enjoyed a long leisurely coffee reclining against our favourite beach log and then headed out to play in the waves. No wind and the ever changing light on the water was exquisite. We followed this pattern for the next three mornings and just had a great time out there.

I had brought the book, 'Far from the Madding Crowd' by Thomas Hardy to read. An apt title given where we were. It was good reading in the afternoon and before I went to sleep. Absorbed into a living rural England landscape of a time long ago and far away, I followed the ups and downs of the young and beautiful Bathsheba as she, with experiencing ever deepening levels of heart- encountered various archetypes in the forms of the three men who tried to court her. Interesting how in so many stories, myths and fairy tales- how things always show up in threes.

Sunset; Raft Cove

We did go exploring the beaches and rocky points just north of Raft Cove. And on our boards, we could have just kept going and going and then rode the waves and afternoon westerly back to the home beach. Lots of kelp beds and reefs about so the fishing would be good. The fishing for coho salmon was good while we were there and we were lucky to be invited over for a fresh salmon dinner with a friendly family from New Westminster.

Given our meager dinner rations, we took notice of the amazing number and variety of  sand-flea like critters hopping and scuttling about during our beach walks. Many were quite large. Perhaps a few dozen of those in a quick stir-fry-makeshift chopsticks- taste like shrimp? Well, maybe if we'd been stuck in there for an extra week or so.

Getting freshwater turned out to be no problem at all. Clean, cool, sweet water was at full flow through a one 1 inch pipe on the other side of the river. Neither ourselves or anyone else was bothering to treat it and we never had any problems. Given that the summer of 2015 had been a record breaking virtual drought- the fact that this water was still flowing and tasting so good was a welcome surprise. 

Note for hikers coming in by the trail: even at low tide, it would still involve a potentially hazardous swim across the river to access the water- and the water from the Macjack  itself is salty for a long way up the river. Best idea would be hitch a ride across in someone's canoe- so good idea to bring a large folding water container. Sure beats the water from the creek along the trail access which is a cedar infused tea colour.

We had a great time at Raft Cove and it was hard to leave. We met many interesting people- and there were lots there for such a remote place but it was August and a record summer for sun. Everyone had made a long journey to be there in that special place- and so we all shared that in common. 

Next time: The fishing is obviously very good  so a compact fishing rod would be well worth bringing in. Go for longer and bring a lightweight tarp to create a covered area in case of rain. 

Darcy's Hennessy hammock: He was actually having a nap in it when I took this picture and claimed he slept very comfortably for all three nights we were there. I was a bit skeptical- having no experience with overnighting in a hammock but now I'm curious. A very light set-up and weatherproof with the fly. He did say that an ensolite pad is needed for insulating warmth on the bottom.  

We started our paddle back out at the start of the rising tide and were back at the launch point in 1.5 hours. In spite of what we'd heard at times- I don't think it makes much difference what the tides doing for going either way. People were coming and going during all stages of the tide while we were there.

In the parking lot, we were lucky to encounter a really friendly couple from Vancouver who had just arrived and were planning to head into Raft Cove for a week or more. We were all hot and sweaty from our paddle back so when they asked if we'd like a cold beer- we were very grateful . 'Stella Artois' no less. Man, did that taste good!

Just over an hour's drive put us into Holberg where we enjoyed a great burger out on the sundeck before hitting the long and winding road back to Campbell River. 

An excellent outing and exciting to know that we could pack so lightly and do a 4 day trip on our boards. All that would be needed to extend that to a 7 day trip would be a bit more food- maybe a fishing rod and definitely more scotch!

Paul Kendrick


1 comment:

  1. Hi there. Where abouts did you put-in on the Mack Jack river? Thanks!!