West Coast Banks Islands - a field guide for paddlers
Why? Since the publication of the Wild Coast Series by John Kimantas and Boat Camping Haida Gwaii by Neil Frazer, kayakers have been able to paddle almost all of the west coast of British Columbia more safely and enjoyably. A gap in the Wild Coast series, quite understandable given the size of the project, is a lack of information for most of the west coast of the outer islands from Larsen Harbour on Banks Island to Cape Calvert on Calvert Island. The information provided here aims to fill part of that gap. Areas already covered by the Wild Coast series are not included. Who? Four members of the Nanaimo Paddlers (itâ€™s what it sounds like) decided to survey the western shores of Banks and Aristazabal Islands in the summer of 2011 and make the collected information available to those who can use it. The collective experience of those involved in the survey and preparation of this field guide includes paddling all but about 60 nautical miles of the western shores of British Columbia South of Prince Rupert and Cape Knox to Tofino. An injury resulted in the trip being diverted homeward after the completion of the west coast of Banks Island, leaving Aristazabal for another day. Overview of the surveyed area From Deadman Point on the northern tip of Banks to the area around the southern tip is between 45-50 nautical miles going more or less directly. Subjectively, aside from headlands like Cape Scott, Cape Cook and Estevan Point, we found the area comparable to the west coast of Vancouver Island north of Tofino in terms of challenges for the touring paddler. The area is very isolated and paddlers should plan to look after themselves, expecting help from outside to come, but perhaps not in a very timely way. In 2011, there were no people living along the west coast of Banks, and we encountered only one sail boat and no sports or commercial fish boats near to shore. The shore shows very few signs of post contact historical development. In short, it is an isolated wilderness experience. Leave your ego and schedule at home, bring an extra VHF, and enjoy.
Weather The best time to find warmer temperatures, reasonably long periods of daylight and fewer low pressure systems is between the later part of July until about the end of August. Our experience is that it takes about two weeks longer to warm up in the central and north coast area than it does on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This varies from year to year, and if you have flexibility, keeping an eye on the water temperature of the many weather buoys in the area can help you decide how fast it is warming as the summer season approaches and develops. Expect air temperatures to be heavily influenced by sea water temperatures at both ends of the daily cycle. We have found that when paddling for periods longer than a week, it is likely on our coast that the trip will be punctuated by a variety of weather conditions. The goal is not to avoid being in the area when sea states are likely to be beyond oneâ€™s comfort zone, but to avoid being on the water during those conditions. In many respects, due to the weather reporting areas, availability of timely weather information from the west and local topography, the survey area is one of the easier places on the exposed coast to achieve this goal. For purposes of the marine forecast, Hecate Strait is divided into its north and south sections. This makes the area covered by the forecast among the smallest of the districts on the west coast. Given the variability that can occur within a reporting district, this makes it a little easier to interpret when the events described in the forecast will likely affect the spot where you are located. Most weather comes generally from the west. The survey area has three lines of ocean buoys to the west over which that weather must pass before it arrives. Inshore are a line of buoys from Central Dixon in the north to West Sea Otter in the south. Further west there is a line of buoys from West Dixon in the north to South Moresby in the south. Further off shore North, Central and South Nomads are useful for advanced warning. Also to the west are the land based weather stations at Rose Spit, Sandspit Airport, Cumshewa Inlet and Cape St. James. Bonilla Island can be useful for keeping aware of rising north westerlies. These reporting stations are updated regularly and often are not far removed from real time. Paddlers are encouraged to know the location of all of these stations, not only generally but in relation to where they are at as they move through the area. Banks Island is relatively low in elevation along its western shore and there are no wind creating inlets. This means that unless one is in line with potential outflow or inflow winds from Douglas Channel, local topographic effects on the wind will be relatively minor. The lack of significant inlets also means that generally tidal streams flow parallel with the shore and the phenomena of difficult sea state associated with tides ebbing out of inlets meeting income swell is not a large issue. A notable exception is the west entrance to Otter Pass. We found these factors make it easier than most places on the exposed coast for those who want to predict accurately the timing of the changing weather and sea state to avoid unfavourable conditions. 3
Currents, Tides and Boomers In most places on the North Coast tides and associated currents are a significant factor for paddlers and Banks Island is a fine example. Daily water level changes on the west coast will often be between 15 and 20 feet. Our experience was that tidal currents along the coast are often quite strong, occasionally in the 1 -2 knot range. Also the large variation in water levels makes it difficult to find beaches that are suitable throughout the tide range. There are not a lot of choices for camping on Banks Island and during Spring tides, the areas at the top of the beach tend to disappear and the areas at the bottom tend to be mud or rock. A suggestion is to plan your trip (if you are going from North to South) so that tides are tending toward neaps and high water is in the morning when you will be launching. This will not only make launching (and landing later in the day) easier but also minimize late night moves to higher ground. Another advantage of this timing is that you will be paddling with ebb currents, a factor that can potentially double your speed compared to paddling against the current. During our time paddling along the shore of Banks, we generally had relatively calm sea states, and to do our survey we stayed near to the shore and among the many islands. The area nearer to shore tends to be shallow and the potential for scraping on rocks greater than we have experienced any other place on the coast. In rougher sea states the potential for settling on an unfriendly rock with poor outcome needs to be given appropriate consideration. Access Road access to the survey area does not exist. The closest road accesses are Prince Rupert, about 60 km from the north end of Banks Island, Kitimat, around 100 kilometres from south end of Banks Island, and from Bella Coola, too far to contemplate. From Port Hardy, B.C. ferries provide summer service every other day to Prince Rupert and from time to time to Klemtu. The North Co-op provides regular and reasonably priced water taxi service from Prince Rupert to Kitkatla, about 10nm from the north end of Banks Island, and Hartley Bay, about 26nm from the south end of Banks Island. Charts The Canadian Hydrographic Service is in the process of updating the charts for the area to the 1-40K scale with considerable new survey data. As of early 2011 they had new issues south as far as the southern end of Banks Island except for the middle portion of the west coast. Google Earth provides poor to reasonably clear satellite images for much of the survey area which we found useful for those areas that had poorer scale (and older survey information) charts.
Communication and Assistance No effort was made to use a cell phone but it is near to inconceivable that one would work in the survey area. VHF radio communication for receiving weather reports and contacting Prince Rupert Coast guard radio is spotty. Most of the time we were receiving weather reports from the repeater at Cumshewa inlet on the Moresby Island. Frequently we needed to paddle to an exposed place in order to get reception and even then patience was required to hear the entire report. Given the remoteness of the area, paddlers should expect that in good weather emergency assistance might be slow in coming and in poor conditions, slower. We think that paddlers should always be able to get themselves ashore and secure without assistance. Relying on help from others to get ashore runs a very high risk of having a poor outcome. We did not test whether Prince Rupert radio could hear us on channel 16 but it would frequently be the case that we would not hear their response and even if they could hear us it would likely take many hours, at least, before help could arrive in the event of emergency. Terrestrial wildlife As is typical of our coast, mice, crows or ravens are likely to cause the most unrest with your gear and food. There are also bears, cougars and wolves. Our experience is that wolves seem to be the dominant large animal, bears are rare on the outer coast and cougars even rarer (we saw no tracks of either bears or cougars). A wolf who ventured quite near to us seemed perplexed as to what we were and what we were doing in his space. Leave no trace The area is among the less used areas on our coast and when you arrive at a site there are likely to be few if any signs of recent usage. There are signs of earlier first nations use such as canoe runs, fish weirs and house sites. Sites should be left the way they were found. Given the size of the area and the light usage, human waste disposal is not much of an issue but unburned wood from campfires that have not been allowed to consume all of the fuel can be unsightly. Fishing We relied on fish for a large part of our protein and like other remote, exposed areas of the coast, rockfish, ling cod, snapper and often salmon are easy to catch if you have developed some technique. Shellfish are generally closed in areas of the coast where there is no testing (most of the west coast) so check before you leave home with DFO and be cautious should you choose to ignore their warnings. (Note: the only test station that I have come across on the coast for shellfish was in Larsen Harbour. Why DFO picked that place is a mystery.) 5
First Nations There are no Indian reservation lands on the west coast of Banks Island. This is probably more of a reflection of provincial government policy many years ago than an indication that the area was not occupied and used for a very long time by First Nations people (see discussion of conservation areas below). If you find evidence of this early occupation, leave it undisturbed where it was found. The only other boaters that we encountered were a couple who research ancient canoe launches and weir areas based on rock ‘arrangements’, a number of which they had evidently found along Banks’ shores. Conservation Areas There are two provincially designated conservation areas in the area: the Banks Nii Luutiksm Conservancy covering over 19000 ha on the northwest portion of Banks Island, and the Lax Kul Nii Luutiksm/Bonilla Conservancy that covers Bonilla Island off the west coast of Banks. Both were designated in 2006 to preserve the biodiversity of the area and to protect representative coastal flora, fauna and species at risk. As the names suggest, the conservancies also have a long history of First Nations use. More information about these and other conservancies on the North Coast can be found on BC Parks website. The Survey We had access to little information about the west coast of Banks Island except that the area had a reputation for not having places to camp. Google photos for most of Banks vary between poor quality and so-so quality. Prior to leaving, from the charts and Google photographs we identified 73 potential beaches/camp sites along the shore and among the many islands and bays. Our goal was to do a fairly complete survey of the entire coast with the exception of some of the deeper inlets. With a couple of exceptions, the places we identified turned out to be of no value for camping but the process of checking them out led us to places that were quite acceptable. As described below, we found suitable camp sites appropriately spaced along the entire shore. While we found suitable places to camp, it is useful to point out that the vast majority of the shoreline is rocky, inhospitable to kayaks and devoid of easy camping opportunities. A note about GPS points Our group was not fully co-ordinated in setting our GPS devices before leaving and the information given might be either NAD83, NAD27 or just an estimate from the chart which might be either NAD27 or NAD83. This potential variation will not have a huge effect but if you find yourself arriving at a site after marching 50 meters inland, you will know that you should have switched to NAD27. Most of the variation will be from east to west with very small differences north to south.
Banks Island: Northern Tip As noted in Wild Coast II, there are several fine sand west coast style beaches along the north shore. An issue with these flat beaches is that with the large range of tide levels, it can be several hundred meters from camp to water if you hit it at low tide. 53° 37.671'N/130° 28.385'W Deadman Inlet The long shallow beach near the west entrance to Deadman Inlet has 2 small fresh water creeks that drain the upland bog behind the beach.
Beach at west side of Deadman Inlet (mid to high tide)
The first 2 sites marked moving west from Deadman Inlet are flat sandy beaches
53° 37.900'N/130° 31.240'W For those who cringe at the thought of fine sand in their sleeping bag there is a steeper gravel beach 1.2 nm west of Deadman Inlet at 53º 37.90 N , 130º 31.24W. It appears to be clear to the lowest of tides and has a more substantial creek. Gravel beach west of Deadman Inlet
53° 37.149'N/130° 33.316'W Another possible campsite is located on a beach spit in an inlet entered about 1.7 nm west of Deadman Inlet; an abandoned hull adorns the sandflat behind the spit
Beach spit 1.7 nm west of Deadman Inslet
53° 36.735'N/130° 33.979'W Larsen Island We got through the channel between Larsen Island and Banks Island with a foot or so to spare when the tide was about four meters at Griffith Harbour. A boulder type beach is located on the outside of Larsen Island; a limited sand strip provides access to the upland beach, with potentially a few campsites. Outer islands and reefs provide protection from NW winds and waves.
Beach on outside of Larsen Island, limited access through boulders – mid tide
We did not investigate the heads of Norway Inlet and Griffith Harbour.
53째 33.671'N/130째 32.741'W Solander Point A tombola on the south side of an inlet and just north of Solander Point provides a very pretty stop and a potential campsite for a few tents. There may be freshwater sources further up the inlet.
Tombola north of Solander Pt
53° 32.600'N/130° 30.600'W Sneath Islands From Solander Point, staying in the lee of the Sneath Islands, to a south facing bay 1 nm east of Laverock Pt. there are 3-4 sandy campable beaches which appear capable of surviving all but the highest tides. The Sneaths provide exceptional protection to these beaches. We were in this area when tide levels at Griffith Harbour were near to 5 meters and commonly in the area in the lee of the Sneath Islands we could see a sandy bottom below us. What the beach conditions are in this area with low tides remains to be discovered by others.
Small protected beaches east of Sneath Islands
53° 32.610'N/130° 30.520'W
East of the largest of the Sneath Islands is a nice sandy beach, without water but which appears to be campable at all but the highest tides.
53° 32.130'N/130° 29.510'W
Sandy beach east of the largest Sneath Islands
A southwest facing inlet entered along 53º 32N has a strong creek at its head and could be used for camping, but the bottom is shallow and at lower tides it might be many hundreds of meters from tent to water. There is a good and fairly well protected beach along the north shore of the inlet
53째 29.410'N/130째 25.730'W Kingkown Inlet/Kirkendale Island This large inlet deserves to be explored, regrettably, except for the western islands it was not for us to do. The best place we found was on the southwest side of Kirkendale Island. The beach is mainly gravel with mud toward the bottom but with firm footing along one side at lower tides. There is room for 3 to 4 tents on the beach and considerable potential on what may be a midden in the upland. We survived camping on the beach with a 20.3 ft tide (at Griffiths Harbour) with a low pressure and a south wind. The site is well protected from SE weather.
Kirkendale Island campsite, looking out at low tide
There are good creeks on the Banks Island shore to the north of Kirkendale; one is at the top of a pretty bay and lagoon. Tidal currents around these islands can be quite strong and should be taken into consideration when visiting the area. 11
53째 27.288'N/130째 23.584'W Going south from Kingkown Inlet there is a south facing bay that is the last place of refuge before Kelp Point. This good sized bay is spanned part way in by what may be a man-enhanced wall of rocks which create a large inner bay. We stayed here due to deteriorating sea state and the central of the three beachs survived a 21' tide at Griffith Harbour. The beach is sand/grit, a relatively short area of sand/boulders further down and then a very long sand/mud lower beach. If the goal of the rock wall was to create a large clam bed, it worked. The site is accessible only with tides greater than 11.5' at Griffith Harbour. There is a large creek to the south of the camp site and an interesting tidal flat to the north.
Waiting for the tide, camp south of Kingkown Inlet
From the previous site it is about 4.7 nm to Kelp Point without opportunity for shelter. This is the longest fully exposed section of Banks Island. With current against us, it took us about 2 ½ hours of steady paddling. A good opportunity to pick up a coho.
53º 22.960'N 130º 15.940'W Kelp Point Approximately 1.7 nm eastsoutheast of Kelp Point is a south facing bay entered along 130º 16'. Toward the head of this bay on the east shore is a sand/grit/gravel relatively steep beach which is accessible down to about 4.5 feet (Griffith Harbour). The upper beach is strewn with drift wood and logs some of which will need to be moved a bit to make camping areas. We had no difficulty clearing spots for four tents. Once into the drift wood, the beach easily survived 21' at Griffith Harbour. There is freshwater a short paddle away. This is by far the best site in this area that we found with the next good site being around 12nm south.
Beach and campsite (with some log moving) 1.7 nm southeast of Kelp Point
We could find no suitable site in the vicinity of Survey Bay.
53° 20.790'N/130° 10.200'W (NAD27) Wreck Islands We spent quite a long day checking out the area proximate to the Wreck Islands, Waller Bay and south as far as the larger bay entered along approximately 53º 14.5'N with limited success in finding good stops and campsites. There is a very small beach patch of gravel above most tides which would be suitable for 2 or 3 tents (cosily spaced) at the end of a narrow west facing cove proximate to 53º20.79'N and 130º 10.2'W (NAD 27). The top third of the beach is gravel, the middle third rock/gravel and bottom third extremely soft mud. This is the sort of place that one would seldom choose as a goal but which could prove to be much appreciated, in an area with few places to land or camp, in a situation where sea conditions were deteriorating. Bring your mosquito net and don’t expect to spend much time enjoying the view.
A refuge from deteriorating sea conditions
Going south there is a sand beach which is suitable for taking a break at tides below 4.5 meters (at Griffith Harbour) at 53º 17'N 130º 5.7'W. Above 4.5 meters is rock and we found no place to camp. There is a creek a little to the east.
53ยบ 15.130'N 130ยบ 01.400'W Grief Point Approximately midway between Grief and Spearer Points is a well protected bay entered along approximately 53ยบ14.5'N. This bay is generally southwesterly facing and there are some islands which divide it into westerly and easterly parts. North of the easterly part is a south facing inlet which at its head has a small river that drains several lakes shown on the chart. The chart indicates a sand bottom, which seems unlikely and it shows that the inlet dries which might happen but for the flow of water from the small river.
Creek at head of inlet
Near the head of this inlet along the north shore you will find a small beach which is notable for the presence of an apple tree. There are remnants of a boat launching channel with some cross beams for sliding a boat, and near the high tide mark there are further beams and other remnants of usage within the last 100 years or so. At high tides the beach disappears but in the upland there is room for several tents on a flat area that possibly has a much longer history than the more obvious recent use. At higher tides it is possible to paddle up the river into the lake but show caution as at lower tides the route becomes a water fall. We left at a fairly low tide and launching into the river on sea weed was relatively easy. We were very lucky to find this place which was shown to us by the only people we met on the outside of Banks. A couple from Washington who have spent the last thirteen summers in their sailboat checking this area out happened to have an interest in archaeology and an intimate familiarity with the shoreline of this bay. We never would have found this place without being taken there personally and we found no other good site between the Wreck Islands and Terror Point. The place is a little easier to spot now since we cleared a few branches to facilitate access to the upland and make some room for boats. At times of neap tides there would be room to camp on the beach which has patches of gravel. There is a substantial creek with good water at the top of the inlet.
Remnants of boat launch
Camp at head of inlet
There is a west facing bay entered along 53ยบ 11'N which has a sand beach along its south shore. This is one of the few places that looks like a beach on Google, the problem being that it is only serviceable at medium to low tides and we found no place that would survive a higher tide.
53º 10.071'N 129º 57.245'W Terror Point Terror Point is on an island marked ‘61' on chart 3984. Immediately NE of ‘61' is a small narrow island approximately 1/2nm in length which is unnumbered. North of the northwesterly corner of this island, on Banks Island, is a small sand/shell beach which is quite visible on Google. We landed at a lower tide in the channel behind the longer, narrow island entered from the east, and it was a couple of hundred meters to the beach over gravel/rocks/ mud which provide quite good footing. The tide marks on the rocks suggest that parts of the beach would survive most tides although be aware that the beach is backed by rock and there would be no place of retreat should the tide keep coming in. A difficult place to access except at higher tides but a possible choice, if one were going from south to north and sea conditions past Terror Point were unsuitable. This beach would be exposed to wind from the SW but it is protected from swell by the outer islands.
The terror of Terror Point
53º 10.770'N 129º 49.975'W Calamity Bay We found places in Calamity Bay where camping is possible along the west and north shores but they are marginal and would require some clearing and flattening. However, on one of the small islands in the north east part of the Bay is the best site we found since leaving the north end of Banks Island. At approximately 129º 51'W between 53º 10.5' & 10.8' N there is a group of four small islands. At lower tides the islands are best accessed along the shore of Banks Island approaching from the south. The east and north shores of the most northerly and smallest of these islands has good beaches for landing. The north end of this small island has excellent beach camping on gravel under some trees, which should survive most tides. This is a very pretty spot. Approximately 1/3 nm north of this small island a creek enters from the NE which has a strong flow. Near where the creek enters the bay, there is a beaver dam which creates a small lake — an excellent chance for a fresh water swim.
Camp on small island in Calamity Bay
We did not check out the bays on the southeast corner of Banks west of the campsite so there may be some opportunity to camp along the north shore of Otter Passage.
Comments and Addenda Those wanting to download one or more of the guides in pdf format can find them at http://www.coastandkayak.com/PDFs/West_Coast_Banks_Island.pdf where they are available for that purpose. Paddlers who have new information, who wish to report a change of site conditions or who just want to ask a question about the covered areas contact us a email@example.com. Be patient, this is not a business. Ferry information in the guides is dated so check schedules. Also BC ferries says they will have a place to launch kayaks at the Klemtu terminal some time in 2015 (it wasn’t there in July 2015). In the summer of 2015 Jon Dawkins, Greg Polkinghorn, and Dave Resler, all of the Seattle area, paddled the outside route starting toward the south end of Athlone Island and finishing in Prince Rupert. They camped at the site SE of Kelp Point and noted that once into the trees above the beach the forest became more open and the potential for creating some upland sites by clearing salal was good. Their stay at this site was during strong winds from the south and they noted that the site provided little protection from hard weather. They also noted that directly across the channel from the Terror Point site there is a gravel beach that is accessible below about 3.5-4 metres of tide. Above that level it is boulders which make access to the top of the beach difficult. In the upland there is room for a couple of two person tents and some potential for expansion. If the main beach is going to disappear due to a spring tide, this might be an option if you need to stay in this area. Also in the summer of 2015 Ted Oldham of Nanaimo led a group down the outside of Banks starting in Prince Rupert and finishing in Bella Bella. Ted reports that they stopped for a break at the Larsen Island site at low tide and the bottom of that beach was boulders and landing difficult. Further information on what level of tide is required to give access to the upper gravel portion of that beach would be useful. Ted also reports that the ‘Grief Point’ site is at 130 01.5W rather than at 130 01.4W as indicated in the guide. When they were at this site there was evidence of use by other campers and he describes the sites in the upland as “nice dry sites”. Ted describes the water in the small creek at the site as “excellent”. Ted also noted that the sand and gravel at the Calamity Bay site had shifted. This is likely to be an annual effect due to winter storms. The site remains probably the best option in Calamity Bay although this year at low tides the beach was very steep. This guide and the information it contains was researched and prepared by Reale Emond, Glenn Lewis, Geoff Mumford & Harriet Rueggeberg. Our aim is to facilitate responsible access by paddlers experienced in West Coast conditions. Our wish is to bring awareness to an area which is coming under threat of oil tanker traffic and make it better known as a national recreational treasure.
Published on May 1, 2012
A field guide for the 45-50 nautical miles from Deadman Point on the northern tip of Banks Island to Calamity Bay on the south.