Circumnavigation of Princess Royal Island

June-July 1996

This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.

Home of the Kermode Bear

by Steve Weir

In July of last year, ten of us took off for two weeks and circumnavigated Princess Royal Island, the 4th largest island off the west coast of Canada, covering 2,274 square kilometers of near pristine wilderness.

Those of you that read Beautiful BC may have seen an article "Island of The Spirit Bear", or "White Bears of the Rain Forest" in Canadian Geographic . The bears referred to in both these articles are the rare Kermode Bear (a black bear with a colour range of white to cinnamon to gold to bluish gray) and Princess Royal has one of the highest concentration of these bears in the world.

We left Prince Rupert to be ferried the 200 kilometers south east on July 2nd. Once at Princess Royal Island we paddled south down the west coast, camping on both Princess Royal and Gill Islands. Then we turned east through Meyers Pass and north up the world famous Inside Passage.

The scenery ranged from white sand beaches to 1000 meter granite cliffs, beautiful water and weather and a little rain (as anyone from BC can tell you, it can rain on the north coast).

We visited the Tsimshian village of Klemtu, and were warmly received by everyone there (especially the guy that sold one of our party a small sockeye salmon for $20).

The weather and camping spots in the Inside Passage were not the best, so when we reached the former ghost town of Butedale (year round population now a mind boggling two) we were a wet, tired, hungry group of eight (two couldn't leave Klemtu).

We had heard stories from boaters along the way that the people at Butedale were not very friendly and they may not allow us to stay there. It was with a great deal of anxiety that we paddled up to the dock.

Well, nothing could have prepared us for the welcome we received. They helped unload our boats and put us up in the netloft, stringing lines for us to dry our gear, and helping us settle. Then just as we were starting to cook our dry soup on our little stoves they came down and invited us up to the cook house for supper, fresh halibut, dungeness crab, white bread and cake for something called dessert.

The next morning they were up early and had prepared bacon, pancakes, eggs and coffee for us before we departed. We fooled them and stayed another day. They took the day off work, and showed us around the cannery village.

They are in the process of reclaiming the village from nature and had a work party of about eight in the summer. A fascinating piece of BC history. That night, as we started to make our pasta for supper they came down and invited us up for supper again. Beef, salad, white bread -- and pie for something called 'dessert'.

The next morning they were up early and had made pancakes for us before we departed -- no bacon! I guess it was time to go. As we got back into out boats and pushed off it was a real Kodak moment as they took pictures of us leaving and we took pictures of them waving. Great people.

We met four other kayakers along the way -- all American, as were two of our group. I would encourage all BC paddlers to look close to home, we live in a world class destination for paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts, but too often we are looking to paddle Baja, Hawaii, or Australia. Let's get to know what we have here.

And stop in Butedale if you paddle the Inside Passage. You will never meet nicer people anywhere in the world than Steve and Yukon (real name unknown). For some reason my group took to calling Steve, "Steve The Good".

In fact, we did not see any bears but lots of wolves, orcas, porpoises, deer, mink, bald eagles etc. Lots and lots of wolves! We had them right outside the tents several nights -- really cool, in an eerie sort of way. While we were on the trip, my father who lives in Prince Rupert, was driving to Terrace (the nearest community to Prince Rupert, 145 kms away), and a Kermode ran across the highway in front of him. I won't tell you how that made me feel!