Expedition Notes: Kitlope Valley Aboard Swell, 2022
Satellite update by naturalist, Ethan Brown:
“We greeted guests on the pier in the late afternoon, and proceeded with our rapid Covid tests along with our safety briefing. Shortly after we were cleared to sail, we left Kitimat and motored down Kitimat Arm towards our first anchorage in the south Bay of Loretta Island. The anchorage was serene, protected, and teeming with harbour seals, and marbled murrelets. We enjoyed the first of many incredible meals onboard the Swell, and a few of us stayed up until midnight to watch the sun set and the stars appear in the night sky.
“Early the next morning, a few of us watched for wildlife from the stern deck while the sun rose over Loretta Island. Before the deep growl of Swell’s generator waking up, the sounds of common mergansers touching down on the far side of the bay cut through the cold and quiet morning air. We appreciated over 10 species of birds before our 07:30 breakfast, and once everyone had finished eating, we hauled the anchor and left for the Kitlope.
We made our way south in Devastation Channel and around 09:30 arrived at Crab River, regarded as the cultural boundary between the Haisla and Xanaksiala people, and to custom we stopped the vessel. As the gentle flood tide carried Swell through the pass, we held a traditional ceremony on the bow, explaining the cultural significance of the Huschduwaschdu to the Xanaksiala. As per custom, we spread loose leaf tea in place of tobacco as an offering of peace and acceptance and read a passage from ‘Stories from the Magic Canoe of Wa’xaid’ before turning the Swell in a clockwise fashion before continuing into the Gardner Canal.
The rolling mountains we had become accustomed to transformed into jagged, snow capped spires as we continued further into the canal. We enjoyed the wildlife, the scenery, and when everyone had had their fill, we turned out of Kemano Bay and proceeded towards Europa Hot Springs. The weather was incredible, and as a group we were shuttled to shore to scramble up the slippery, algae covered rocks to the Hot Springs. The weather was stunning, and we all enjoyed a good soak in the hot pools before returning to Swell to continue to our terminus point of the Gardner Canal; Kitlope Anchorage. Turn after turn, we snaked our way down the Gardner Canal as we approached Kemano; a historically important oolichan spawning ground and site of the [Alcan Rio-Tinto] Kemano Completion Project. We pulled into the bay and found amongst the trees the Nanakila or ‘Watchman’ totem pole. Raised as a sentry to keep an eye over the health of the Kemano river, the totem features an eagle with mirrored eyes perched above schooling oolichan. As we admired the totem, a coastal brown bear was spotted on the intertidal zone further into the bay. It wasn’t more than a minute later until another brown bear was sighted, this time in the center of the bay. In total, three coastal brown bears were foraging sedge in the intertidal areas of Kemano Bay. We transited the remainder of the channel and anchored in Kitlope Bay, and enjoyed a beautiful pork tenderloin dinner on board the Swell and afterwards settled into the clear, warm, evening light in one of the most serene environments on the planet.”
On the invitation of the Xenaksiala, Maple Leaf Adventures has navigated the Kitlope River Valley and its neighboring fjords since the early 1990s. The area, which in the Haisla language translates to “source of the milky-blue waters” due to the glacial silt carried to the sea by local rivers, conjures images so extraordinary that it needs to be seen to be believed. Check out itineraries and availability for our Kitlope tours.