Another year, another Arctic ski trip cancelled due to the pandemic. And once again I’m replacing my snow journey with a backyard kayak trip. Last May, my buddy Dave Berrisford and I left from near his house in Squamish, BC and paddled 1,000 kilometres up to Prince Rupert, on a trip we called ‘The Bear and the Wolf Paddle North.’ This year we've settled on a new line.
I circumnavigated the Haida Gwaii archipelago by kayak back in 2005 and we did the Inside Passage last year, so the natural settling point for our trip is a lap around Vancouver Island. After that, I’ll have paddled pretty much the entire BC coast—one of the most spectacular and extensive stretches of landscape on earth. This time, we’ll be departing from near my home in North Vancouver and paddling over to the island before we reach its shores and ‘keep it on the left’ the entire way.
Joining Dave and I on the journey will be our kayaking buddy Amber Blenkiron. The three of us have been paddling weekly since October so the plan to do the 'VI' circumnavigation came together quite naturally. We've named our trip the Qwunus Expedition. ‘Qwunus’ means 'grey whale' in the indigenous Coast Salish language, and like this great traveller of the seas we’ll glide our way 1,100 kilometres around a classic piece of coastal beauty. We’ve spent the last little while cobbling together the bits of necessary gear we’ll need to pull the journey together so, without further ado, here’s what I’ll be using to move me forward, keep me fed and keep me dry. Once you have your transport, food and shelter all sorted for any expedition you’re good to go.
Kayak-wise, I’ll be paddling a P&H Cetus—a great all-round stable and fast sea kayak. I picked it up for $150 about five years ago. It was an old rental with a hole in the bow and other damage from flying off the roof of a car, so it needed a little TLC. Some fibreglass and Kevlar work brought it into fighting form, and it’s given me years of service and thousands of kilometres of paddling fun ever since.
I’ll be using a Werner Ikelos carbon fibre paddle to propel me around. It has a powerful blade akin to a whitewater blade but is as light and airy as a feather. My spray skirt is a burly Seals Shocker, able to shed the inevitable waves washing over me as we traverse the outer coast of the island that’s exposed to the open ocean swell and storms that we’ll inevitably have to tackle en-route.
My apparel of choice is Kokatat, the best possible water wear for paddlers of any ilk. For rough outer coast traverses and plain old cool, rainy miserable days I’ll be living in my Odyssey Dry Suit. You could paddle all day long in a deluge wearing a tuxedo under this Goretex piece and step out at the end of it ready to attend a wedding, dry as a bone. For warmer days when I need some more venting I’ll wear a two-piece combo of Tempest Jacket and Tempest Pants that’ll keep splash and swell away but also keep me from sweating. Add the ultra-comfortable Hustler Life Vest and I’m ready to tackle the wildest seas and the worst weather mother nature can throw at us.
Inside my kayak, my food, clothing and other equipment will be protected by a combination of Sealline Dry Bags—in particular the Bulkhead Tapered dry bag that fits snugly in the bow, a selection of Discovery View dry bags for everything else, and the burly 30-litre Discovery Deck Bag where I keep my sleeping set up for rapid deployment when we hit camp.
Speaking of camp, we all have the compact but oh-so-deluxe Helinox camp chairs to keep us out of the sand. We’re not savages after all!
My meals will consist of oatmeal in the mornings and hearty, nutritious Happy Yak meals in the evenings. Made in Canada with the finest ingredients, Happy Yak meals hydrate quickly and come in delectable varieties that are far tastier than anything I could whip up at home. My favourite is the Braised Pork with White Wine Mushroom Sauce. To boil water in order to get this food inside my belly promptly I’ve got my tried and true MSR Reactor stove, which will get 1.7 litres of water rolling in a blazing-fast minute or so.
When it comes time for bed, I’ll be sleeping beneath the shelter of my MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent. Ultralight but still roomy, I’ve snoozed for over 60 nights in this tent, and it still looks brand new. When I finally recline after a long day on the water, I’ll be lying on my cloud-like Thermarest Neo Air Xtherm mattress—which inflates incredibly fast and efficiently with the included inflation bag, and be cocooned inside my Thermarest Parsec sleeping bag, which has hydrophobic down that repels water and dries quickly if damp.
So there you have it… food, shelter and transportation… everything we need to follow the path of the Grey Whale on the ‘Qwunus Expedition.’