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On the Beaten Path

Discovering Haida Gwaii

The view before me was nothing less than spectacular. Located at the northern tip of Graham Island on Haida Gwaii sits North Beach. A remote coastline where the only thing between the ocean and forest is sand. It is met with East Beach which travels south for 90 km. These two beaches are joined by Rose Spit, Canada’s longest sand spit formation, and separates Dixon Entrance from Hecate Strait. As I stood on the viewing platform, halfway up Tow Hill, my heart began racing. In less than 12 hours, Joel, Ben (6), Liv (4) and I would begin the last adventure of our Haida Gwaii vacation. We plan on hiking North Beach and hopefully making it to the end of Rose Spit. Looking down at our final journey, the past 7 days started to flash before my eyes.

Approaching the Pesuta Shipwreck at the tail end of a gale force wind storm

The journey began as a journey itself. It takes 3 days to reach Haida Gwaii when travelling by ferry. One day to ride the bus from Nanaimo to Port Hardy. Another onboard BC Ferries Northern Expedition from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. A 16 hour sail thru the spectacular Inside Passage, beautiful even in the pouring rain. Then the final 6 hour sail from Prince Rupert to Skidegate marking the end of day three. With long days of travel behind us, we could now begin our adventure on Haida Gwaii. While researching our trip, I read numerous times that residents are friendly and helpful. This was quickly noticed during our time spent in Sandspit. Due to poor weather we opted to stay at Captain Ron’s Guest Studio and reassess our travel plans. Zane, owner of Captain Ron’s, rolled out the red carpet by treating us to a salmon and crab supper upon arrival. He offered use of his bikes, car and anything we else we might need while staying in the guest studio. Zane’s idea of a red carpet however is more of a rustic, battered old rug. The bikes looked kind of ride able, but I was not about to find out. The car wobbled at speeds over 60km per hour and the studio was a work in progress. First impressions had me thinking “run now” but the experience turned out to be wonderful.
“Come on Mom!” shouts Ben. Reluctantly I turned my back to North Beach and followed the troops to the top of Tow Hill. It seems I am always at the back of the line watching Ben, Liv and Joel hike ahead. It was no different hiking the Pesuta Shipwreck Trail near Tlell. (46 km north of Queen Charlotte City on Graham Island.) The 10 km trail lead us through a moss covered forest to the pristine Tlell River, along the dunes of East Beach and arrived at what remains of the Pesuta. In 1928 the Pesuta, a log barge, breached on the sandy shores while crossing the Hecate Strait during a fierce storm. As gale forced winds crashed waves against the remnant bow, it became quite evident how the barge had sealed its fate.
 We made our final approach to the top of Tow Hill, a 357 foot huge outcrop of basalt columns formed by volcanic rock 2 million years ago. Thankfully today the wind was not as strong. Part of our adventure was to learn as much of the Haida culture as possible. An interpretive sign told the story of Tow Hill, a tale of two brothers (mountains) whose mother gave a dog fish to only one. The brother without the fish became angry and left, searching for a new place to call home. Along the way he dropped rocks until finally resting alongside the Hiellen River. Reading this story to the children instantly took me back to K’uuna Llnagaay (Skedans) and our experience with the Haida culture.

The remnant bow of the 1928 Pesuta log barge

On the northeast corner of Louise Island is Skedans, a Haida village that, at its height, had between 26 to 30 longhouses. In the late 1800’s more than 50 monumental poles and figures were recorded. Getting to the ancient village site requires using one of many tour guide companies. Moresby Explorers offers a zodiac day tour to Skedans with stops at an abandoned logging camp, old settlements and a pleasant trip through Louise Narrows. Emily Carr was famous for capturing images of Skedans through her paintings and I recall images of frontal poles towering above longhouses in her work. At the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, several poles are on display revealing the artistic talent of the Haida. So when the zodiac made its final approach into Skedans, I was shocked by what I saw. There are only a few carved memorial and mortuary poles left standing. Others have fallen and are slowly being taken over by the land. The detail on the few poles left standing is so deteriorated that without our tour guide pointing out the features, I would never had deciphered the carvings. During the tour the children were respectful and attentive but both agreed the best part was the bumpy boat ride. Splashes and all.
 Leaving the top of Tow Hill’s viewing platform I said, “I can’t wait to start hiking tomorrow.”
“Me too.” Replies Ben.
“Me too.” Replies Liv.

Tow Hill a prominent landmark on North Beach

We headed down exactly how we arrived. Joel, Ben and Liv out front and me following behind. I relived the past 7 days while walking up Tow Hill but now focused on the adventure ahead of us. We have never hiked great distances along a beach before. Were we ready? Hiking along North Beach requires us to pack all our own water and we will be exposed to the elements the entire time. Will the weather cooperate? I wish I could answer all these questions ahead of time. Instead I trust our experience and preparedness to get us through it all.
to be continued…
Follow the adventures of Jill Collins and her family in their year long challenge to find five living things on every adventure. Check out the living things they found on Haida Gwaii by visiting


About the author: Jill Collins

Jill Collins

Jill goes off the beaten path a lot.

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