Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Along Dean Channel

We cruise happily on salt water each year, spending considerably less time on the many freshwater lakes, rivers and streams along the way. This year we planned to do more freshwater day trips in the skiffs and kayaks as we traveled the B.C.coast. The Capt. was eager to run up both Dean Channel  Smith Inlet to their heads and explore the great rivers that empty there. These were two very different excursions. 

Dean Channel is a long, winding fjordlike channel with 65 miles of dramatic scenery, punctuated with tall, snow-covered peaks, steep-sided valleys and deep underwater canyons. 

Photo: The bottom of the channel is 700 feet below the hull; that's plenty deep!

Photo: Wow! it's 1518 feet deep in the channel, so close to shore. The contour lines indicate steep slopes up to the surface, which usually continue up into steep cliffs above the water. 

It's hard to imagine the difficulty of overland travel through this rugged portion of B.C.'s coastal mountain range, but Scottish explorer Alexander MacKenzie did just that. He arrived here in 1793, completing the first east to west crossing of North America reaching to the Pacific. His party was 10 years ahead of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and MacKenzie missed meeting explorer George Vancouver in nearby Bella Coola by 48 days. MacKenzie recorded his arrival by writing this inscription on a rock above the tideline, historic graffiti of a sort: 
"Alex MacKenzie / from Canada / by land / 22d July 1793"

Photo: Sir Alexander MacKenzie marker in Dean Channel
Elcho Bay welcomed us as a base location, a scenic spot sheltered from afternoon winds and channel chop outside in Dean Channel. The winding Elcho River offered lovely scenery on a dinghy excursion, but birds were the only visible wildlife. However an unseen but very noisy something crashed through the bushes alongside us. The water was shallow, the river was narrow, and I could imagine all sorts of scary possibilities. We shouted, we sang, we made a lot of noise as we reversed and headed back downstream toward the bay. The crashing continued along with us, keeping pace with the skiff until we exited the river. We never saw the mystery critter, and maybe that's a good thing. 

Photo: A channel at the mouth of the Elcho River.

Photo: Elcho River where the water becomes too shallow to transit further by dinghy.

Photo: The tiny dot on the water is Rhapsody at anchor in Elcho Bay.
Several other bays along Dean Channel are noted for their hot springs. We poked the bow into two, but didn't stay to explore. Tiny Eucott Bay had other boats at anchor and Nascall had unfriendly Keep Out!! warnings posted everywhere. I'd love to return when the salmon are running and bear are more likely to appear in the estuary.  

The Dean River is legendary for its steelhead run, but we didn't know that when we cruised by, pausing only for photos. Later I found this testimonial on a fishing lodge webpage:
"A mile and a half from the mouth of the river lies the Dean River canyon- a narrow, steep section with strong current and many small falls. For an anadromous fish to successfully navigate this section on its way to spawn, it must be not only strong but resilient. Evolution has dictated that there are simply no weak Dean fish- any steelhead in the Dean with less than world-class athletic ability will quickly fall out of the gene pool, losing its battle with the canyon.
Dean River steelhead crush flies. They jump repeatedly. They torch drags. They sprint downriver. They sometimes sprint upriver. They don’t quit, and they often leave shaken anglers wondering what the heck just happened on the end of their line."
Photo: Anglers begin a run up the Dean River.
Photo: Dean River's mouth barely hints at the steep canyon and rugged country beyond.
Dean Channel continues on past the Dean River delta and actually ends at the Kimsquit River estuary. The Kimsquit empties with several wide, winding and shallow channels filled with debris. The scattering of trees that litter the river delta here hint at the power of this river when it floods. The area displays weathed evidence of 20th century logging, new growth deciduous trees outline old logging roads and log dumps remain along the shore. 

It was late in the afternoon, the wind was up and weather was changing. With no sheltered anchorages close by, we wisely turned and ran back to Elcho Bay for a worry-free night.  

Photo: The entrance to Elcho Bay was a welcome sight.

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