Setting the trend for the next few days, the alarm went off at 6 am. We packed our tents, piled our stuff into the car, and headed for Gold River. We reached the town within half an hour and before we knew it, we were out the other side, heading for the Air Nootka dock. After passing a deer grazing at the roadside, we were slowed to a crawl by a logging truck. After what seemed like an age we managed to pass the truck and we found the plane terminal. OK, nowhere to eat here so we headed back to Gold River and went to find the Manila Grill, now called Lucy’s Cafe. Big breakfasts all round! Lumberjack platter for me – 2 eggs, 2 sausages, 2 strips of bacon and 2 pancakes :-) I thought I’d end up leaving some but nooo, I had no problem putting it away.
Feeling suitably well-fed and relaxed, we headed back down to the Air Nootka terminal where the Gold River enters the deep-water fjord of the Muchalat Inlet. We parked up and dragged our packs over to the office and checked in for our flight. We paid the balance of our tickets as well as the $40 trail access fee for Yuquot, carefully stowing away the receipt for when we would have to show it. We weighed our packs, just to see who’s was the heaviest. It was a tie between myself and Brenda at 51 lbs. We sat around in the sunshine waiting for our plane to return from an earlier sightseeing trip. Just after 12 noon, it landed and we took ourselves down onto the dock to load up.
This was going to be the first flight in such a small aircraft for me – I’d only flown in large passenger planes before, the smallest being a 50-seater twin turbo-prop. Now it was time to get into our single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, which seats up to 5 (+ pilot), callsign C-FOXD. We drew straws to see who would get the co-pilot seat: Merewyn won and could hardly wait to get in. We took our seats and donned our headphones. With cameras at the ready, we taxied away from the dock (only to turn round briefly and drop off the sunglasses of one of the previous passengers) and with everything checked out, the pilot opened the throttle and we were on our way.
What a great flight! A silky smooth take-off followed by a gentle climb and we were up to our cruising altitude of a mere 500 feet at an airspeed of 110 knots, the engine ticking over at 2000 rpm. Our pilot was great, pointing out all manner of interesting stuff along the way: schools of fish, fish farms, logging operations and the red tide. We even got a quick demonstration of how powerful thermals are: flying over one of the small islands the plane was accelerated sharply upwards for a few seconds before dropping back down again. That was fun :-)
We reached the end of Muchalat Inlet after about 15 minutes, entered Nootka Sound and banked right over Yuquot. This put us on a path parallel with the coastline and for the next 20 minutes or so we watched beach after beach drift past, giving us a preview of what we would experience over the next few days. Suddenly 37 km looked like a very long way! But the beaches looked spectacular: cobbles, pebbles, sand, intertidal shelf, and rocky headlands. We passed the sea caves which we camped in on our last night; Beano Creek (which was blocked by a new beach); Bajo Point (the only spot where we could be picked up if we ran into trouble); Calvin Falls; and finally, Third Beach. All these places we had read about were now a reality.
After passing Third Beach, we flew over the north-west tip of Nootka Island (and the wreck of an old freighter), banked right and began a short, steep descent into a calm Louie Lagoon. The landing was as smooth as, if not smoother than, the take-off – I was amazed at just how smooth it was! The plane decelerated, and the pilot cut the engine, allowing the plane to drift towards the shore. He was obviously well-practiced because the plane slowed perfectly to a crawl before beaching gently on the shore.
Once we had stopped I stepped out and plopped down into the knee-deep water, narrowly missing an enormous seastar. One by one the others got out of the plane and we unloaded our packs onto the tiny patch of “beach” which marked the trailhead. Once safely unloaded I pushed back and spun round the plane so it was pointed in the right direction for the pilot to take off. We thanked him and watched him set off down the lagoon. (Beaver engines have a wonderful distinctive sound.)
Within a minute or so all was quiet and we stood around looking at each other. For the first time, the reality of our situation sank in. Big time! We were on our own out there and the only way home was to our own leg power. Putting off the inevitable, we spent a good 20 minutes looking at and taking photos of seastars. Now we knew why Louie Lagoon is also known as Starfish Lagoon!
Eventually we figured it was time to move on so we dried our feet, put on our boots and hefted our packs onto our backs. Time for a group photo! As we were setting up, a mink paid us a brief but inquisitive visit. Then it was time to get started and we headed into the forest.
And what forest! The trail was well-marked with orange markers but the density of the surrounding vegetation was incredible. The trail was the only way through the forest – it was simply impossible to even think about heading off trail due to the amount of thick salal, small trees, and fallen larger trees. Welcome to mature old-growth forest! Within a few metres the tone was set for the next few days of forest hiking, as we ducked under and clambered over several fallen trees. We passed and marvelled at numerous huge old cedars, impressive to look at but unfortunately impossible to photograph. It just doesn’t do them justice.
We knew we only had 1 km or so to hike, but it felt like a very long kilometre. I think we were all wondering if we had it in us to do this for 5 days. However, 35 minutes later we heard the sea and, passing under a large cliff, we emerged onto Third Beach.
And what a beach! We’d seen it already from the air perhaps an hour or so ago but to see it close up was a different experience. We crossed a small creek (with wolf-prints galore in the mud) and walked out into bright warm sunshine on white sand. We walked up the beach, around a lagoon and decided on our camping spot. We dropped our packs and pulled out lunch.
All the trepidation of Louie Lagoon evaporated. We couldn’t believe where we were and that we had it all to ourselves! What a beautiful spot. We pitched our tents and had only one thought on our minds: time for a swim. Merewyn and Brenda went first and all we could hear of them was the occasional squeal – the water was not as warm as it looked! Maria and I soon joined them and braved the chilly seas.
The water was beautifully clear. I saw fish swimming near me and I wished for my mask and snorkel. Eventually we hauled ourselves out and dried off. Within a couple of minutes I noticed that I had a rash on my arm. Then I saw it was on my body, legs. Then, like the kid in “Stand By Me” after they’d encountered the leeches, I had one last place to check. Yup, it was everywhere. I didn’t remember getting stung by anything and it wasn’t itchy or painful. I took some antihistamine and went over to the creek to wash off. It had disappeared within an hour. I have no idea what caused it.
Dry and comfortable, it was time to explore the beach a little. Maria had found a hammock and some decorative beach art made from driftwood and floats. We went to the south end of the beach, walking along the tide-line scattering little beach-hoppers at every step. These little shrimp-like creatures had a nasty habit of getting between your toes and your footwear, with the inevitable occasional squish – I couldn’t eat prawns for ages after that. We found more wolf prints and plenty of mouse prints in the sand, but there was no wildlife to be seen. Walking back up to the north end of the beach we saw a bald eagle fly over, and another landed in a nearby tree. This end of the beach had great rock pools to explore as the tide went out, which were full of seastars, anemones, crabs, and small fish.
Dinner time came and we cooked our first meal, sitting back in comfort on the sand. We had miscalculated a little though and it was getting dark by the time we had cleaned up. The lure of taking sunset photographs had been just too strong :-) Only then did we think of looking for somewhere to hang our food for the night! With headlamps at the ready, and hoping that we weren’t going to encounter any large and pointy-clawed wildlife, we set off to the place with the hammock where we’d seen a rope slung over a high branch. We couldn’t really judge what we were doing in the dark but at least our food was well above the ground and far from our tents.
Satisfied, and with our alarms again set for 6 am, we crawled into our tents and settled down to sleep. What an amazing start to the trip!