Grizzly Bear Adventure

After a warm greeting on a cool day, Misty Isles departed Cortes Bay with almost zero visibility in the fog. Many of the guests were quite intrigued watching Mike navigate around the rocks and past other boats by radar and by hearing. We cleared the fog just off Squirrel Cove and ran the rest of the day under mostly sunny skies.

Two of our guests were to have flown in to Powell River that morning and then taken a water taxi to Cortes Bay to join us for departure but their plane could not land in the fog. They spent the day on an adventure of their own trying to join us and when they finally caught up to Misty Isles just a short distance from our destination at Orford Bay, they were very ready for a hot, relaxing cup of tea!

Upon arrival, we were immediately taken by mini bus to where the Orford River and Algar Creek join together. As we walked out on the sand bar we could see the chum salmon hovering in the streams ready to spawn and this is why the grizzlies gathered here to feed. We were fortunate enough to see a large boar come charging through the stream right towards us and catch a salmon no more than 10 metres from where we stood, then return with the fish in his jaws to the opposite bank where he devoured his catch.

That night we ate supper at the Orford bunkhouse, good solid camp fare of roast beef, potatoes, chicken wings, frozen veggies and pie. After a long adventurous day, it was good to hit the bunks in the spartan although comfortable bed rooms.

We were up at 6am the next morning for breakfast and then back out to the sandbar in the growing daylight. In all, we saw upwards of 20 grizzly bears including a very rare sighting of a mother with three cubs. In addition to the bears there were mergansers, bonapart gulls, eagles and herons all feasting on the salmon or their eggs. We even saw a harbour seal swimming in the river close to the bears. The run of salmon comprised mostly of chum returning to the river was not strong this year and any returns at all are due in large part to the fish hatchery here run by the Holmalco First Nations band.

You can’t view these magnificent bears without a sense of awe. To most of us, these top predators exemplify the wilderness and it is a wonder to us that they live so close to Cortes Island. We can only hope that it would remain so. Plutonic Power is vying to put in a run of river power plant further up the Orford watershed. The Homalco First Nations Band who run the bear watching tours are in the planning stages to replace the existing camp with a world class destination resort. The construction of reception facilities, a 5 star lodge, gift shops and all of the attendant infrastructure. We were told that it is only a half hour helicopter flight to bring guests from Whistler to Orford Bay. We were told that they wanted fewer guests with deeper pockets to reduce their environmental impact. We can only hope that the bears agree to this business plan.

Late morning saw us underway onboard Misty Isles again with partly cloudy skies and lunch with a magnificent mountain backdrop. After a close look at the “Hole In The Wall” and the abandoned Holmalco village of Church House, we hoisted sail to take advantage of the westerly breeze as we headed for Toba Inlet. We sighted harbour porpoise along the way and the maple trees blazed yellow on the hillsides. Onboard, we tended the sails and told stories while Samantha served up tea and cookies until late afternoon when we arrived at Toba Wildernest at the mouth of Toba Inlet. We gathered in the comfort of the Mountain View cabin for our supper of “grizzly fare”, Samantha’s famous BBQ teriyaki salmon with fresh, organic vegetables followed by homemade chocolate brownies. The perfect way to end a fantastic day!

Our return to Cortes Island on the third day had us southbound through scenic Homfray Channel to view ancient First Nations pictographs and old pioneer homestead sites. Desolation Sound which is normally full of yacht activity in the summer, was practically deserted and the flat calm waters threw back mirror reflections of the mountains and clouds above. A last bit of excitement was the rendezvous with the water taxi to send our Vancouver bound passengers on their way and then we returned to Cortes Bay to end a fantastic day out on Misty Isles and another very memorable trip.

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