PART 5 - PADDLING WITH FRIENDS. Rounding the Brooks
June 25th - Day 27
St Josef Bay must be the most beautiful beach in all of Vancouver Island. The bay is nestled deep inside in a cut on the cliff wall that runs down from Cape Scott and is surrounded by old growth forest whose trees reminded me of the columns supporting the ceiling of a great temple. The low tide exposed a beach a thousand feet wide covered by a sand canvased into a never-ending myriad of colorful patterns by the receding water. Even the most skilled abstract painter would find it hard to match the detail.
After setting camp and messaging JF that I had made it to our rendezvous point with a day to spare, I went on a walk to explore the landscape. At high tide there are many sea stacks that are inaccessible, but when the tide recedes, they become connected to the mainland, and it is possible to walk between the rocks and discover what the sea water has sculpted. I was fascinated by how the creatures of the tide pools predictively layer themselves as though they had decided on a hierarchy. At the very bottom where the rocks are wetted even at low tide are the mollusks and starfish. Then come the shellfish which always have the larger individuals in the bottom and smaller ones on the top, as those on the bottom have more time to feed in the hightide. After them come the barnacles which can survive exposed to the air the longest. The final layer before the rock is permanently exposed in all but the highest tides is capped by a scrawny little algae called the rockweed which is the kayaker’s most feared plant. It signals a submerged rock about to hit the bottom of the boat. You never want to gamble and paddle your kayak over a bed of rockweeds.
While meandering through the stacks I found a deep cave gouged into the rock cliff ringing the beach. The cave was deep enough into the cliff that my eyes needed a moment to adjust to the low light, and when I turned to stare at the entrance the landscape outside was a white glare. The roof of the cave was covered with a thin moss layer and dripped constantly as though it had started to rain. The water was fresh, which meant that it must be percolating through the rock where the trees are growing. At the deepest point in the cave was an interesting artifact from the sea; a large piece of driftwood which indicated to me that when a storm is raging in the Pacific Ocean, this cave will be no safe to hide.
I think that the cave is the preamble to a new sea stack in the making. As the sea gouges ever deeper into the cave, eventually the roof won’t support itself, and whatever remains after the collapse will become a new sea stack. Things may last a long time, but not forever. Ultimately even the sea stacks will topple one day, and the mollusks and barnacles will finish off whatever is left of the rock. In a way a cross-section of the coastline is like a timeline. It starts with the sea, then the sand, rocks, sea stacks, caves, cliffs and finally the trees of the forest.
In the afternoon I decided to hike inland. I was told by one of the fellow campers that on the trail was an immense spruce tree. “Its definitely worth the walk, it’s about a mile beyond Eric Lake on the way to Nels Beach.” I put on my boots, grabbed my wide brim hat, holstered the bear spray on my shorts, and fitted two Perrier bottles to the back of my shirt.
The walk wasn’t very eventful and there wasn’t much to see as the trail is mostly buried in the forest. As the distance from the sea increased, however, the moderating effect on the temperature by the ocean became less pronounced, and the afternoon humidity began to feel like spring day in Florida. The canopy thick and impenetrable and only specks of light made it to the forest floor.
At Eric Lake there was a pebbled beach from where I could see that the sky was bright and sunny. I stretched my neck to look as far down the trail as I could, and when I was reasonably sure there wasn’t anyone nearby, took a skinny dip into the refreshingly cool water.
After passing Eric Lake I was on the lookout for the big spruce tree. “It can’t be much further.” I thought. The trail began a steep climb up a mountain in a series of switchbacks. I eventually caught up with a couple on their way to hiking the entire Cape Scott Trail.
“Oh, we passed it a while ago.” They said, much to my chagrin.
I turned around and began walking back but arrived at the lake and still did not find the tree. I concluded I must have had too high expectations after seeing the big Cedar on Hansen Island. I had seen several large spruce trees on the trail but none whose height and girth spoke to say, “Yes, I’m the big one everyone writes home about.” I must have passed the tree and failed to be impressed enough to notice it.
At the parking lot where the trail forks between the way to Cape Scott and St Josef Bay I ran into three women piling their camping gear onto the trail wheelbarrow provided by the park service for those making their way to the campsites on the beach.
“Well, those fancy Hawaiian shorts sure go with this wheelbarrow.” One of them said, while pointing at my colorful attire.
“I suppose if they fit you, then we can switch.” I said, deliberately pretending to misunderstand her. They laughed and one of them gave the obvious clarification.
“We are asking if you would be a gentleman and push it for us.”
“You mean the two miles to the beach camp?”
I thought about it for a moment on how I could diplomatically decline the request. “Sorry. But I have to go really badly and use the latrine at the campsite. Seriously, it cannot wait.”
The truth was that that was a half-truth, I had to go, but not so urgently that I couldn’t handle the discomfort of pushing a wheelbarrow all the way to the beach. The part I didn’t say out loud was that I didn’t think any of them were cute enough to be worth my discomfort to push their wheelbarrow full of camping gear for two miles.