COVID-19 restrictions kept us from heading back to New Zealand to ALULA, so we planned a three-week trip aboard Maddy in the summer of 2020 (our Grampian 28 moored in Vancouver). We ventured up Princess Louisa Inlet for the first week and hiked into the Alpine with our great friends Leah and Charlie.
“What’s the plan for our week sailing together?” Charlie asked. We already had an idea. We wanted to sail Maddy up Princess Louisa Inlet and do an epic hike up to the alpine above Chatterbox Falls to spend the night. “Sure! Sounds fun!” was the response. We knew it was going to be, which is why Charlie and Leah are such good friends. 🙂
We were also revisiting an old promise to ourselves. We first visited Princess Louisa Inlet during our summer sail aboard Leela in 2015, and we had the same goal of hiking up and camping in the alpine at Loquilts Lake. Unfortunately, a nasty cut on my feet as we were sailing into the Inlet meant I couldn’t wear shoes for 2 weeks and struck that plan down. Looking back, it turned out just fine. Making this trip with our friends Leah and Charlie was worth the few years we had to wait!
Leah joined us in Vancouver to sail North to the entrance of Jervis Inlet together. We picked up Charlie at the Saltery Bay ferry terminal and continued onwards. We weren’t too keen on the cold and rainy weather on departure day, but we appreciated the SE winds it provided, making this stretch of the trip much easier on the boat and us. The first night we anchored at Thormanby Island.
The weather eventually cleared that evening and it was incredibly cold. Tuques and all layers on in July? Was this going to be our summer vacation?!
We were up bright and early the next morning and enjoyed some lovely sailing to Saltery Bay to pick up Charlie. He had an adventure of his own, catching the ferry from Courtenay to Powell River and biking the 40km or so to Saltery Bay with his gear.
Now, sailing to Princess Louisa Inlet can be a glorious affair on a sunny day as the anabatic airflow feeding the mountain thermals inland creates a wonderful (and sometimes strong) inflow wind. That means downwind sailing for the 40 nautical miles or so to the head of the Inlet. However, there are few anchorages on route as the steep mountains drop vertically into the ocean. We didn’t have enough time to sail all the way in that day, so we decided to anchor at Harmony Islands in Hotham Sound for the night and get an early start the next morning. We’ve never explored Hotham Sound, and adjacent to the islands is majestic Harmony Falls, falling 1,450’ from Friel Lake. The 360 photosphere below shows Harmony Falls with the Harmony Islands behind. The boat at the base of the falls is Maddy.
Excited to have the whole crew aboard finally, we thought the best way to start our week vacation together was to go and swim in the waterfall. It was one of those moments where you just feel like biting into the present and living it to the fullest. It was a bit of a hike up before we found a pool, but find a swimming spot we did, and it was a real British Columbia snapshot!
The roar of the waterfall was deafening, and mist was flying through the air. The water was coooold, and Charlie kept on screaming “BUBBLE BATH!! BUBBLE BATH!! ….. BUBBLE BAAAAAATHHHHH!!!” like a kid at an amusement park that had way too much cotton candy! These are the moments that get seared in your mind. Summertime, friends, with the sun low on the horizon, and we’re swimming in a 1,450’ pristine waterfall with no one around going wild with excitement. It really doesn’t get better than this.
We had a wonderful evening catching up in person. It had been a long time since we had been together as a four-pack after many months of COVID-induced isolation. One of the highlights of that night was the best phosphorescence we had seen in years. For some reason, a school of fish had congregated around Maddy, and every time one of us would stomp their feet on the deck of the boat, the shock wave would spook the fish, and they would dart away, leaving arrow trails of phosphorescence all around the boat. Magical.
The next morning it was sunny, and we wasted no time lifting the anchor and embarking on one of the most beautiful sails in British Columbia. On a sunny day, it really is the stuff sailing dreams are made of. Downwind the whole way and breathtaking scenery, you slowly but surely tick off the miles through Prince of Wales Reach, Princess Royal Reach, Queens Reach and finally into Princess Louisa Inlet. What a Royal treat!
You have to time entering Princess Louisa Inlet perfectly to catch the entrance, Malibu Rapids, at slack tide. When Captain Vancouver sailed up Jervis Inlet in 1792, in search of the Northwest Passage, he and his crew discovered the entrance of Princess Louisa Inlet but were stopped by a strong ebbing current. Upon entering the cathedral that is this Inlet, the wind stops, and it is quiet as can be with dozens if not hundreds of waterfalls streaming down the steep mountainsides.
By the time we tied up to the dock at the Princess Louisa Inlet Marine Provincial Park, we were exhausted and ready for a break from the sun. A full day of wind and sailing had us hitting the sack early. We had to be in full form for our planned hike into the alpine the next day. Luckily, the weather forecast was shining upon us with a continuation of the high pressure and sunny skies.
The hike from Chatterbox Falls to Loquilts Lake in the Alpine is definitely hard and steep. We ascended 5,600 vertical feet in roughly 6 hours, and there are not many flat sections. You literally hike from sea level to glaciers in one go.
Most hikers will make it as far as the trapper’s cabin, a 2-hour steep hike from the dock. By the time we got there, we were soaked with sweat and ready for a shower in the nearby waterfall.
We agreed it was the most beautiful hike of our lives. But I’m told I use hyperbole liberally, so fair to say it was at least STUPENDOUS!
The mosquitoes got horrendously bad on the way up, luckily, once we found the large granite slabs in the alpine, they were nowhere to be found. What a blessing!
First things first, we swam in the freezing Loquilts Lake, dodging floating pieces of ice. Charlie made it look easy. I squealed, and I am not proud of it.
We found a massive flat piece of granite rock, and we declared this mosquito-free area would be our camp for the night. Unbelievably, we found 4 folding camping chairs (!!!) hidden under a rock with a plastic pale and lid that contained camping food within. We’re guessing the whole thing was a food (and chairs) cache dropped by helicopter for a previous hiking party that hiked from Squamish over the mountain range. We couldn’t believe our luck in finding exactly 4 camping chairs. It was SO nice to take a load off after a big hike up.
We had a few hours to kill before sunset, so we set about exploring around camp and gathered firewood for the evening.
It is hard to describe the magic of this evening, but I will do my best. Imagine being completely alone in the world with your close friends on a huge granite slab in the beautiful alpine of coastal British Columbia, likely one of the most beautiful places on the planet. You are surrounded by a bowl/cirque of sorts, with more than 24 waterfalls spotted in sight and earshot. The fire is glowing, and so are the stars above. There are no bugs around, and while we are surrounded by snow and ice, everyone is barefoot and warm since the granite is now radiating the heat it absorbed during the day. Conversations flow, jokes and laughter. Everyone is dry and comfortable. And you keep looking around thinking: “Is this real? Am I dreaming this absolutely magical moment?!” To quote fellow Black Knight Curtis: “Are you kidding me?!!” 🙂
We woke up to another sunny day, and the plan was to hike down to sea level and back to Maddy. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the granite slab, and Charlie went for a casual morning shower under a glacial melt waterfall. The guy is a snowman.
When we finally reached the dock, my legs were very wobbly. We walked to the end of the dock, asked our boat neighbours if they minded nudity, “nope” was the answer, and we promptly threw off our clothes and dove off the dock in the skinny. Aaaaahhhhhhhh…. Now that was a refreshing moment. We learned the next day that a beautiful Grand Banks that was trying to dock at that very moment almost ran into another boat as the Captain “got temporarily very distracted,” said his lovely wife.
Our unreal weather streak came to an end, and we enjoyed a sluggish day. We moved off the dock to a mooring buoy, swam to some waterfalls, and generally rested and relaxed.
The wonderful inflow anabatic wind, which gave us the glorious downwind sail up the Inlet, turns into a formidable foe on the way out. We were hoping for cloudy and muted conditions to minimize the thermic activity and resulting anabatic wind. But the sunshine showed up, and we ended up tacking and clawing our way out well into late afternoon when the winds finally started dying down – all in all, another glorious day in paradise. We returned to Harmony Islands to anchor for the night.
The following day was sunny again and we headed to the Back Eddy Marina, above Skookumchuck Narrows, so we could sample what is known as the best Fish & Chips on the Sunshine Coast. We were not disappointed!
We sailed onwards through Telescope Passage to Blind Bay, where we anchored for the night. Charlie and I went fishing and returned with a beautiful Ling Cod! This was the same spot Saxony caught her first fish in 2015!
Up bright and early the next day, we had a stiff NW wind on the nose as we headed up Malaspina Strait towards Powell River, where our adventure with Charlie and Leah ended. We dropped them off at the dock, and they caught the ferry back to Courtenay. We headed into town for a grocery refill, repacked Maddy, and just like that, we were back on our way north to Desolation Sound for the continuation of our summer sailing adventure.
These were such special moments to spend with friends. Lifetime memories were created. Thank you Charlie and Leah for being such wonderful shipmates.