Flash Back Fridays
NOOTKA’S HOT SPRINGS
The strongest hikers were in front, pushing a tunnel through a three-metre- high jungle of salal. One by one, they plunged into the bush and disappeared. From above, on a granite bluff, it looked as if the salal was being shaken by a monstrous snake.
We were plodding across a point at Nootka Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island. There were no signs of humanity, not even a crude trail, when he jumped off a float plane’s pontoons and waded to a crescent-shaped beach. It was the same Van- couver Island that Captain cook saw when he make his first landing in North American at Friendly Cove, a few kilometres across the sound.
Six days later, when another floatplane picked us up at Hot Springs Cove, we knew why few hikers tackle that untracked coastline. We had managed to make it to our pre-arranged pickup point, but not without mooching a ride on a fishing boat. The worst injury was a slightly sprained ankle, but a spry, 61-year-old Toronto man bailed out three days early and had a lighthouse keeper arrange for a floatplane to take him away.
There were nine of us; four were experienced hikers.
We were on a trip organized by Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Educational Centre, a trip that cost us $360 a piece. It was led by Daphne Hnatiuk, a 22- year-old woman and outdoor educator who had just returned from a stint of prospecting in the Yukon.
Daphne’s log, July 21: “We had to bushwhack across Burdwood Point to the next, big bay – one hour following a compass bearing… Bushwhacked for (another) 45 minutes … Couldn’t get around the next point due to steep rock cliffs and high tide waters… We bushwhacked a good hour and came out a few bays down.”
We made a quick campfire. There was little after-dinner conversation that night. Daphne’s log, July 22: “Hot and sunny. Ocean breeze. Going to have to watch for sunstroke.
Nice hiking… due to low tide (and) shelves of rock to cut across bays. One point has to be crossed at low tide due to a deep, narrow inlet.”
The point was sculptured out of a black conglomerate, a rock as dark and eerie as a lava field.
We had to cross the inlet quickly or face the prospect of heading back into the salal and climb across the point. The tide was coming in, cutting off the shortcut, a few metres’ jump onto the sand and a brief rock climb up the other side of the inlet. We threw our packs down first, jumped, then scrambled up the other side before the waves swept in.
As a reward, I found a large, Japanese glass float a few kilometres further on.
Daphne’s log, July 23: “Fog rolling from land. Wet mist night. Up at 7 a.m., off by 8:30 a.m. Low tide so we cut across shelves. Last 1 1⁄2 miles to the lighthouse is walking on stones… hard on feet and slow going. Nils has decided to fly out as his feet were sore and bleeding. He felt he was slowing us down, so we phoned from the lighthouse for a plane at Hesquit Village.”
We were the second party of hikers to stop at Estevan Lighthouse this year. They offer a tour and we climbed the curving, steel stairs to the top. After three days of deserted beaches, the clean, white buildings and smoothly cut lawns seemed out of place.
From there, we walked along an old cedar plank road built by the department of national defence. The skids are still passable by foot and the pace was quick. The only thing that slowed us was the bushes laden with salmonberries, thimbleberries and salal berries.
We removed our packs and flopped down on the ground just outside the In- dian Village. We had hiked about half the 90-odd kilometre route but our pace was slowing down each day. Even if we made it to Hot Springs Cover in time for the plane, there wouldn’t be time to enjoy the springs and relax. We were waiting for Nils’ plane and others were thinking of climbing aboard.
I walked down to the concrete dock when a fishing skiff came in and four native Indians threw a few salmon into a wheelbarrow. I explained who we were and asked permission to walk across the reserve.
“Just as long as you take off your shoes,” an Indian named Zecheus replied with a grin.
Know anyone going towards Hot Springs Cove?
“I’m going there tonight. Want a ride?”
Eight giddy hikers climbed onto his troller and smiled as the sun sunk unto
the sea. Zecheus gave us tea. We gave him $40 for fuel.
We spent the next three days lounging at Hot Springs Cove, a sulphurous
stream that spills over the rocks before joining the sea. There was serious work to do, such as finding the pool with the most comfortable temperature and other equally strenuous sports.