Hiking Nootka Island - Bears, Wolves and Whales
Our Nootka Island story begins about a year ago, in 2018, when we first heard about the Nootka Island Trail.
We had spoken with some work colleagues who had some amazing stories from Nootka including sightings of bears, wolves and whales. The stories left us mystified and with a deep, burning desire to make this hike happen and experience the Island for ourselves. When we brought the hike to attention in our hiking group, everybody was instantly sold. The adventure of flying into the island and sailing back on a beautiful historic vessel were to good to pass up. The planning began. We collectively scheduled our vacations for June 2019 and booked our flight and our return sailing.
Before we knew it, June had arrived and it was time to embark on our journey. The months leading up to June entailed gear prep, excitement and the breaking in of new hiking boots. When the time came, we were ready. We started our journey at about 04:00 hrs in Victoria B.C. We ventured north to Nanaimo to rendezvous at one of our group’s houses then hit the road again. It took us about 4 hours of driving to arrive in Gold River, where we feasted at the Ridge Roadhouse. Any good backpacking trip should be initiated with a feast and a beer. We stuffed ourselves in an effort to avoid having to cook dinner once we arrived at our first campsite that evening.
Our flight was scheduled to depart at 17:30 hrs. We went through all of our gear one last time before our 6 day journey and headed down to the Air Nootka headquarters. When we arrived at Air Nootka we were greeted by Scott, our pilot and owner of the company. Scott was very kind, he patiently gave us directions and got us prepared for the plane ride ahead. We were informed that there was a large amount of dense fog surrounding Starfish (Louie) Lagoon and we may not be able to land on our first attempt. Full of excitement and nerves, we weighed our packs for check-in, removed our fuel canisters from our packs and donned our water shoes, we were determined we would make the landing. The 6 of us plus Scott climbed into the floatplane and our journey finally began!
We flew over open water fisheries and vast expanses of logged old growth forest on our way to Nootka Island. Scott providing us insights and tips along the way. He had many useful tips as he flew us over the trail and towards the lagoon we hoped to land in. We flew over dense fog, so dense all you could see was the shadow of the floatplane riding along the fog line. But... fortune was with us and as we came close to Starfish (Louie) Lagoon, we saw an opening in the fogbank. Almost as though someone had cut the fog like pie and removed the piece lying directly above the Lagoon where we were to land. Scott made it look easy, a few swift manouvers and before we knew it we had our feet on the ground and our packs on the beach. We waved goodbye to our invaluable pilot and so began our 6 days on Nootka Island.
We quickly hiked the initial stretch between Starfish (Louie) Lagoon and the sandy beach that lay about 45 minutes to the south. We arrived at our first campsite at about 18:30 hrs, we found a beautiful site and setup all alone on the sandy beach that stretched on for kilometres in either direction. Despite stuffing ourselves at the Ridge Roadhouse, we still ate a supper meal and enjoyed an amazing first night on Nootka Island. The sunset was exquisite, the moon in full splendor lighting up the beach and making the waves sparkle as they crashed along the shore. We explored the nearby area but crawled into bed early as to get the most out of the day to come.
We awoke to a still, sunny morning. Everybody packed up their sleeping gear, and tents, then sat and enjoyed breakfast and a coffee! As we sat, we noticed it began to rain a fine mist down upon us and a slight wind began to pickup from the east. Coffees and breakfasts devoured, we headed on our way. The fine mist and breeze was actually quite pleasant as it kept us cool while we trekked along the beach. We were taken aback by the numerous wolf tracks we spotted on the sandy beach, along with black bear prints and scat.
Today we planned to hike just shy of 10km to Skuna Bay. However, perhaps due to how eager we were, we accidentally hiked aboout 13km. We realized we had passed our destination when we came around a sandy point and heard a waterfall in the distance. Sure enough, we had hiked straight through Skuna Bay and were at Calvin Falls! While we were hiking the wind and rain had picked up and by the time we settled into our campsite the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It never hampered anybody’s spirits though, we were all happy campers! We setup our tents behind a tall log wall, formed by so many logs being thrown up on the shoreline from winter storms. This provided ample space to hide away from the wind that was now raging. I believe this day we faced winds upwards of 55km/h.
We decided to spend two nights at Calvin Falls since we had overshot our hiking on the previous day. The morning brought more sun, but similarly ferocious winds. We spent our day drying out gear in the sun, relaxing by the fire and checking out the beautiful falls. Had the wind not been so intense, a nice swim would have been a necessity. During our exploration we actually unearthed our first chanterelle find of 2019, which brought great excitement to the group as the mushroom picking season would soon be upon us when we returned from Nootka. The evening turned out to be gorgeous. The winds stilled and the sunset threw brilliant golds and oranges across the entire skyline.
We were all gathered around our campfire taking in the night when one of our group members spotted something about a kilometre down the beach - we went to investigate. We ended up viewing the bum of a black bear as he scampered off into the nearby woods. We sauntered slowly back to camp and made to settle in for the night. Moments after we returned to camp we heard a nearby camper yell ‘WOLF ON THE BEACH!’ Everybody immediately fixed their eyes on the sunny horizon the sunset created in the tideline. The outline of a wolf wandering along the tide was quite apparent. I rushed to my camera bag, I didn’t haul all of this gear out into the wilderness to miss this moment, off came the 50mm and I slammed on my 75-300mm, it just got me close enough. Everybody took up positions to take in the moment.
The leading wolf appeared to be male, he cautiously walked through the river and passed in front of the campers. He didn’t seem very disturbed that we we re inhabiting his beach. Then, we noted a second figure coming out of the haze, a female perhaps? The leading male turned and sat about 200 feet from our campsite, you could tell he was quite large while he sat there, waiting patiently. The second wolf was much more leary of us. She was much smaller and timid. Slowly wandering up to the river she repeatedly looked back towards the woods. Cubs in the forest perhaps? She got to the rivers edge, looked around one more time then turned and made for the woods. As soon as she made her decision to run to the woods, the male wolf leapt to action and ran back across in front of us to meet with her. An amazing experience all around.
The next day we pushed on to Beano Creek, our favourite site, despite the wolf sighting at Calvin Falls. It provided us a welcome campsite in the woods to get out of the sun and hide from the wind which had been tearing away at us for 3 days now. We swam in the waters nearby the campsite and warmed up on the hot rocks nearby, feeling slightly cold blooded.
The remainder of the trip was smooth sailing, we swiftly made it to the campsite just outside of Friendly Cove to await our pickup by the MV Uchuck. When we awoke in the morning we were greeted by a small family of gray whales in the bay, we packed camp quickly and enjoyed a morning coffee then rushed on our way down the beach. The gray whales had taken to the pebbly, well rounded bay and were in the shallows scratching at otherwise untouchable itches. What an amazing moment to be a part of! The three whales spent an hour or two doing this then swam off on their way. What a spectacular way to wrap up our trip to Nootka Island. Shortly after our whale watching experience we boarded the MV Uchuck, Staffed by a merry group of sailors and an excellent chef who filled our bellies to our hearts content. A trip so amazing, we cannot wait for our trip to Nootka 2020!