The Cape is only about fifteen miles away but the tide was forecast to start around 8:00 am which would almost certainly mean I’d be paddling against the flow by the time I got there. I decided that the best thing to do was to camp at Nels beach, and round the Cape the following day. That way I would get a closer start, and would coincide my arrival there with the slack tide.
When I stepped outside the tent to begin packing, I saw the remnant of a strange encounter that happened during the night while I slept. There were deer footprints on the sand. One set was from an adult, and another much smaller in size, was made by a fawn. They had been walking side by side along the beach when suddenly the footprints became a tangled mess with skid marks in all directions as though the deer had been skipping and jumping. Intermixed with the deer prints were the footprints of a wolf, not a very big one, but it had claws that left grooves on the sand. Whatever happened in the night, the wolf must not have gotten the meal it had been wanting.
A short walk away I found the deer and the fawn, elated to be walking on the beach like a toddler.
I was done paddling at Nel’s beach before 10:00 am. On my approach I noticed several tents pitched on the sand, concluded that was the location of the campsite, and landed there.
The tents were two families from Winnipeg hiking the Cape Scott trail. There were about sixteen of them and they had seen me from a distance and for a while wondered what I was. Everyone was very friendly, except for one person. A man a bit older than me, gave me a fixated look that made me feel uncomfortable. When I was setting my tent, he asked me two times in a tone I didn’t not appreciate why I had chosen to camp next to them.
Twice I gave him the same answer. “From the water, the place with all the tents looked like the campsite marked on the map.”
True, I could have packed and camped somewhere else on the beach, but getting everything back into the kayak and paddling three hundred feet down the beach to please some guy acting like he had a gerbil up his ass felt like too much work.
In the afternoon I hiked the remainder of the Cape Scott trail to the lighthouse to see if I could catch a glimpse of the sea conditions around the Cape before paddling around it.
From Nels beach the trail to the lighthouse was about seven miles one way. It climbed steeply from the beach over a forested headland before arriving at tombolo. The bay facing north is called Experimental Bight, while the beach to the south is known as Guise Bay.
From the aerial images on Google Earth, I had the impression that the tombolo separating the two beaches was a low stretch of sand that could be easily crossed. I was surprised to discover that it was a tumbling dune field some fifty feet high. The trail had several steep switchbacks along the edge of the field where the tall grass covered the dunes in a kind of prairie.
My legs felt tired. For nearly twenty days I only exercised my arms, my leg muscles felt atrophied, and they made their complaints be known.
At the edge of the prairie , I noticed some wood stakes with rusty barbed wire that looked like the remains of a half buried fence. I asked a fellow hiker if he knew what they were.
“Probably a remnant of the old Cape Scott Settlement.” He said. “You’ll see a lot more ruins around the meadow by the Hansen Lagoon. Stoves, farm tools and even an old rusty tractor hidden in the forest. It’s kind of spooky, like walking through an abandoned cemetery.”
I checked my guidebook which did indeed note that there was once a village here in the early twentieth century. A group of Danish migrants attempted to make a fishing colony after the Canadian Government Promised homesteads for anyone of European descent who settled the land. Unfortunately, the winter storms were ferocious, there was no good harbor, and the Canadian Government never built the road from Port Hardy they promised. Eventually people got tired of waiting and gave up. The last settler left in the fifties when he was too old and could no longer make the trek.
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The trail turned west into the forest of the Cape Scott headland. I continued on all the while making lots of noise and speaking my thoughts out loud so that if any bears were nearby, they would hear me coming and hopefully avoid meeting me. Sometimes I would even say, “Hey Bear! Make way! Don’t come here where I am at.”
That strategy did not work out as I’d hoped. Around a bend on the trail, I met a large black bear trotting along in the opposite direction towards Guise Beach where I had just been. He was a good 4 feet tall at the shoulder, and we both stopped immediately upon noticing the other about thirty feet away.
“Well, what do you want to do?” I asked the bear who seemed as startled as I was.
I started walking back slowly then started pacing forward while keeping a safe distance.
“Oh come on, if you keep walking this way you’re not going to like what I have for you.” I shouted, pointing the bear spray at the bear.
I stopped walking backwards once I reached a fallen log on the trail that would have forced me to crouch underneath to keep moving. The bear also stopped.
“I think you know the bush better than I do. How about you walk around?”
“I am not moving any more. You go the fuck around, damn it.”
We stood still for what felt like an eternity in this kind of Mexican standoff. Eventually I think the bear understood my predicament.
“He can’t go past the log.” He must have thought.
The bear veered out of the trail, walked through the bush while scraping his way through the foliage like a tractor clearing a path in the undergrowth, before veering back on the trail some ten feet behind me, and continued on with his day.
“That’s right you keep going your way.” I shouted at the bear like a small dog on his owner’s lap, but he completely ignored me. Later, after the adrenaline of the moment had passed I felt a chill run down my back thinking of what had happened. I just had a faceoff encounter with a bear!
When I reached the lighthouse, I spoke with the keeper about the experience.
“Ah yes. That’s the big bull. He makes the rounds on the trail nearly every day to visit the females. At low tide he goes down to Guise Beach to look for shellfish. He’s probably there right now. Sometimes he comes up here to the lighthouse too. I think he likes to drive my dog crazy. If you stick around until late afternoon, you might see him again.
“I won’t stick around too long then…”
Tom had been working as the lighthouse keeper for the past 23 years. “It’s steady work with 8 weeks of paid vacation. Plus, I can’t complain about the office view. It’s quite calm today, but you should see what this place looks like in a winter storm when the swells are building to 30 feet or more. I wouldn’t want to be out there… Tomorrow morning for you, you should be good on your kayak if you go with the falling tide. There will be a northwest wind to push you along.”
I looked at the sea from the top of the lighthouse. The wind was maybe fifteen knots from the northwest, the tide was rising and there was a lot of white chop on the water, but it was all really far away, and the base of the cliff where the swells would be breaking was obscured by a sea of pine trees.. There were a set of standing waves in the channel, but they seemed closer to the Scott Islands, much further than where I intended to be paddling.
“Yeah, not too good right now with the wind against the tide. The worst part is the Northern tip of the headland which you can’t see from here. That’s where the tide wraps around the Cape, and the waves get nasty. But in the morning, it will probably be fine.”
“I certainly hope so. I have to be in St Josef Bay in two days at most. If tomorrow morning is good, then it’s tomorrow I’ll be paddling the Cape.”
Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation