Day 2: The Longhouse
(click here to read Day 1: Hartley Bay)
Another day of heavy rain as we hauled gear down the wooden boardwalks to the dock. Wally, a resident of Hartley Bay and fisherman had caught a six gill shark on Halibut gear (a trolling line with hook). The shark was large – almost as long as his boat.
We loaded a center console aluminum boat with all of our gear for the next week: clothing (in dry bags), food, our stand up paddle boards and paddles – there was room for us too! We left the dock early in the morning and made our way south towards Cornwall inlet on Princess Royal Island. After almost an hour we put the boat in near Salmon Point and unloaded our gear onto the beach. As the boat departed it became very apparent to us that we were quite alone and very remote. We strapped our bags to our boards and set off.
The entrance to the fjord – Clement Rapids – is a narrows where the tide creates intense current. The tide was on its way out and against us as we paddled in. Once past the rapids we paddled to shore to look at ancient camps and still visible canoe slips where first nations fishermen would wait for the tide to slack. The water is full of life – barnacles as big as my hand, underwater kelp forests, nudibranches and spider crab clinging, sunstars on clam beds…
The wind and current were against us and it was a slow paddle – but incredibly beautiful. The still pouring rain soaked the spongy rainforest floor and now the rivers, streams and waterfalls were flowing freely. The sound is incredible its like non-stop waves crashing on the shore. Through the water’s rain-pocked surface, I could see huge jelly fish that all seemed to be hovering at two to three meters underwater. Within the darkness they reflect any available light – it is slightly eerie.
Further up Cornwall Inlet we paused at a steep rock face plunging straight into the water. The face has a long wide horizontal crack. The upper face overhangs the lower, creating a protected shelf. This was an ancient burial site for high ranking members of the Gitga’at Raven clan. We could clearly see two bentwood burial boxes made from steam-bent cedar. These mortuary boxes are about 300 years old.
After several hours we reached the end of the inlet. We beached our surf boards and took our gear ashore. On the bank was a longhouse made from thick cedar planks, beams and posts. We moved everything inside, opened the roof vent and built a bonfire to dry off and warm up. Inside the long house it is completely dark except for the light through the door and roof vents, the floor is cedar wood and drops in the middle to a clam shell lined fire pit. As the fire went from smoke to burn, the essence of red cedar began to permeate the big room. Our new home was originally the site of an agreement that would stop clear cut logging in this area. It was last occupied by high ranking Tsimshian first nations people, David Suzuki and Robert Kennedy Jr.
After eating lunch we paddle into the estuary and up the river. The healthy rains have brought the rivers up to the level where salmon can now swim upstream to spawn. We are making this short river trip to see if we can spot any early runs of Chum salmon. We are also paddling here for the sublime beauty of this place. After stopping on a bank we turned around and moved with the flow of the river back to the estuary. Its a wonderful feeling after paddling hard against its current. We eased out into the inlet and turned in toward the longhouse. We soon stopped. In front of us was the most amazing site. In the rock face of the mountain, directly above the longhouse and aligned to its center, the formations created what appeared to be a huge face with eyes closed, a stream, like tears, flowed past one of the closed eyes, solemn mouth and a beard of trees. We were speechless and slightly unnerved beneath this massive stone visage.
In the longhouse we ate heartily in front of a crackling cedar fire. Occasionally the splitting wood would send sparks up to the ceiling where they would disappear in the swirling air created by the roof vents. We were tired and soon asleep. That night we all had some very strange dreams. I woke up twice in the absolute blackness of the big cedar room. I thought I’d gone blind.
Great Bear Rainforest Stand Up Paddle Expedition · Day 2: The Longhouse