EVERYTHING'S SKOOKUM ON THE SUNSHINE COAST
Our boat skims over water so smooth it mirrors the surrounding mountains. The emptiness is vast and we have not passed another vessel in the last hour. There is evidence, though, of those who came long before us - petroglyphs on rock faces and abandoned logging camps. Bryce, at the helm, nods at massive Mount Churchill ahead and tells an old Sechelt legend. "It is said that if you point at the mountain, it is guaranteed to rain. No indication of when," he smiles, "but I don't test it!"
In Bryce's Sunshine Coast Tours boat, we are zipping towards Princess Louisa Inlet on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, just north of Vancouver. Based at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge in the tiny village of Egmont, we can soak up the scenery in a boat or on foot and return to delectable meals and a comfy bed. Lodge dinners, garnished with fresh herbs and nasturtiums grown on site, include locally caught seafood and a sinfully sublime crème brûlée. Our outdoor pursuits should leave us too tired to notice the lack of nightlife.
The most popular walk in Egmont is the hour's ramble to Skookumchuk Narrows. A quiet trail meanders through the coastal rainforest. Trees drip with lichen like they have donned their best lacy shawls and mosses make a brilliant carpet on the forest floor. We can hear the rapids long before we see them. A low rumble reverberates around the tree trunks, giving just a hint of the power of the millions of gallons of water rushing through the narrows. Skookumchuk means "strong water" and the name is not a misnomer. It is an ebb tide and the fast swirling eddies of dark green water rush past in mesmerizing patterns. How do the starfish cling to the rocks with that much water roaring over them? If we were here on the flood tide, we would be amazed by kayakers crazily maneuvering on the standing wave.
As we walk back, the roar of the rapids gradually dissipates and the forest silence envelopes us. Nearing the trailhead, our noses pick up a delicious scent. Just up a driveway, past an old truck being slowly swallowed by forest undergrowth, is a bakery with freshly baked cinnamon buns on offer. These are the perfect treat for afternoon tea on the balcony of our room at the Lodge. Steaming mug in hand, we enjoy the panoramic view of Sechelt Inlet. Looking down at the Lodge's dock, I am relieved to see the waters are totally calm compared to what we saw at the rapids. It is time for my kayaking lesson.
My fellow kayakers from South Carolina are new at this but the Calgarians are looking like pros. One of our guides, a newly arrived Aussie, slips into her kayak like it is a second skin. This eclectic group is symbolic of the different ages and fitness levels of visitors to the Sunshine Coast. I paddle along at a slow pace, managing to circumvent beds of bull kelp but staying close to the shore. It's a calm perspective, right at the water's surface, and wonderfully quiet. Towering over craggy rocks, dark green cedars and firs contrast the golden peeling bark of arbutus trees. None of us fall in, garnering applause from our instructors as we glide back to the dock.
Foregoing paddle power, we board Bryce's boat for his tour to Princess Louisa Inlet. Many of the landmarks in the region bear royal names, a legacy of the early British explorers charting the region. The boat ride is about two hours and it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere. It is a surprise when we finally arrive at the Inlet and see kids from a summer camp waving from shore. Luckily, the tide is right for Bryce to navigate the tricky Malibu rapids at the entrance and we slowly motor into the narrow fjord. As if by magic, we have found a secret, calm and sheltered world rimmed by towering granite cliffs that would dwarf Half Dome at Yosemite. Waterfalls on the rock faces glisten like diamond necklaces. Once docked, we head for the woodland trail to the charmingly named Chatterbox Falls. The falls are not the highest in the area but certainly are the widest and loveliest. Their spray is a welcome coolant on this warm summer's day. With no rain clouds in sight, we can only guess that no one pointed at Mount Churchill recently!
IF YOU GO: West Coast Wilderness Lodge http://www.wcwl.com/
Sunshine Coast Boat Tours http://www.sunshinecoasttours.bc.ca/
Skookumchuk Narrows Provincial Park http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/skook_narrows/
Princess Louisa Marine Provincial Park http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/princess_louisa/
Across the street from the Skookumchuk trailhead is Egmont Heritage Centre, featuring displays on the fishing and logging heritage of the region. http://www.egmontheritagecentre.com/
1 Author at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge. Photo by Gary Cullen
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