Kitlope Chapter 1

I guess we’re going to go for it, reads the text from Anne. It reaches my phone as Karen and I are crossing the bridge over Hirsch Creek.

It’s a blustery day, not as windy and unpredictable as the day before, but a wind blowing southeast strong enough to make for a lot of turbulence in Douglas Channel. We park then pack our gear down the ramp and on to the Minette Bay Wharf.

The wind, the choppy sea, the setting, and our reason for going spark a recollection of the day, a long time ago now, that Bruce took me into the Kitlope for first time. Only a few years earlier, he and Myron had sailed Bruce’s boat down the Gardner Canal to river’s estuary. They were awed by the beauty of the place. They took the tender ashore and discovered the telltale fluorescent flags hanging from the branches of huge old growth trees. Logging was imminent.

The sailing holiday turned into work — important work.

They just can’t log this place, Bruce said to Myron, they just can’t.

With almost no idea how to proceed, the two began a personal campaign, a small stream that joined a slightly larger flow initiated by the Haisla Nation, who had enlisted the help of a USAmerican NGO out of Portland Oregon by the name of ECOTrust, to save the same place from the chainsaw.

By the time of my first trip to the Kitlope with Bruce, he was immersed in the fight to save what turned out to be the largest extant piece of temperate rainforest in the world with an indefatigable energy of which few men are capable.

On more than a few occasions, he raved about the beauty of the place to me. I love rivers. I’d fished the nearby Dean River. I wasn’t a hard sell. By the time he offered to take me there, I jumped at the chance.

It was summer. The sea was calm when we left the village in the Boston Whaler Bruce was skippering at the time. The farther we got away from Kitimat, the more beautiful the coastline became. After a quick stop over at Weewanie hot springs for lunch, we pushed off for Kemano where we stopped for fuel. The approach to the Kitlope was everything Bruce said it would be and more. Steep mountains rising from the sea, cascades falling hundreds of feet into it.

Near the end of Egeria Reach we passed an intriguing estuary.

What river’s that? I asked

Tsaytis, said Bruce.

In a matter of minutes we were in the estuary of the Kitlope. Bruce anchored the whaler and transferred to a jet boat for the trip to Kitlope Lake. I remember being impressed by the size of the river. After stopping to wash our faces so that we could more clearly see the wonder of the place, we cruised past the snag strewn outflow of Kitlope Lake. Dozens of seals that had hauled out to rest on the woodwork after chasing salmon plunged into the water at the sound of our approach.

We camped at the site of the Rediscovery Camp where we spent two days cleaning the place up in preparation for the potential funders who were, by then, getting guided tours into the Kitlope in hopes that they would subsequently offer financial assistance to the campaign to preserve it.

The work was hard. The surroundings were invigorating. At night we sat around the fire with Gerald Amos, Cecil Paul, other Haisla, and with a couple of hunting guides who were part of the operation that had bought the hunting rights to the valley. The guides were stranded when their boat had broken down. They eyeballed the slopes ringing the lake through their spotting scopes. Since guided hunters had all but wiped out the grizzly population of Kitlope, the Haisla were not entirely comfortable with the presence of these Albertans. This led to some tense conversations around the campfire, but other than that the talk was interesting and cordial.

We spent the last day of that, my inaugural trip to the Kitlope, transferring and loading gear for transport back to Kitimat into the Boston Whaler. The next day we embarked early. The skies were filled with thunderheads. By the time we passed Chief Matthews Bay, there was a good chop on the water. The closer we got to Kitimat, the heavier the seas got. By the time we reached Coste rocks I was seriously entertaining the possibility of swamping, loaded to the gunwales with gear as we were.

Gerald’s boat was close behind us. He took water on the inside of the island ahead. Bruce had already taken the outside. We smashed through the waves. I turned. Bruce was soaked in spray.

Are we Ok? I hollered back to him.

You can’t sink these boats, he yelled.

I decided to believe him, even though I knew better.

The water, thanks to the river tide and strong wind out of the south east made the approach to waters to the village even worse.

I still recall the overwhelming sense of relief I felt as we tied up at the dock.

I’m thankful Karen and I will be on the crew boat, but wondering if maybe we shouldn’t be waiting to embark on this, Bruce’s last trip, into the Kitlope.

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