“You want to build a log dump right next to our campsite?” I asked incredulously, “Can’t you move it somewhere else!?”
“Nope” replied the forester, standing tall in his Interfor issue orange raingear and spiked caulk boot. “That’s where it’s going, non-negotiable”. Ralph let out an audible sigh beside me, his frustration fuelled by decades of near fruitless negotiating with forestry companies. I could tell that my earlier optimism had been misplaced; after an hour of negotiation with the forester, all he’d offered was the movement of the cutblock boundary a few paltry meters. Provincial forest policy requires citizens concerned with the impact of a clear-cut to negotiate directly with forest companies, but does not require the company to make concessions. We knew who held all the cards here, and so did the guy in the orange raingear. Perhaps sensing our despair, he added,“you’ll still be able to access the beach in summertime if you paddle around the log booms”.

That statement signaled the end of our Toba Fjordlands kayaking expedition. The trip had been a mainstay of the Coast Mountain schedule, offering visitors a chance to paddle a remote and rarely visited corner of the province, where waterfalls cascade from hilltops and snow capped peaks tower above. It was where I cut my teeth as a kayak guide, and a place that I still compare to all other beautiful places I visit. Standing on the makeshift float, I realized that what made Toba Inlet so special, its remote and unexplored nature was also its undoing. Without the weight of thousands of concerned citizens behind us, our arguments for preserving the inlet carried little weight. It wasn’t just a matter of camping on another set of beaches, there were no others. Until the logging finished, we would have to stop running the trip.

But even as we pioneered a new route into nearby Bute Inlet, we never forgot about Toba.

Fast forward seven years.

I’m perched on the edge of our 19 foot aluminum boat, my face in the frigid December wind, staring ahead through Pryce Channel. Below me in the boat are Coast Mountain founders Ralph and Lannie, as well as two friends from Quadra Island. Beside me, strapped to the roof is a shiny red kayak. How could we not? A brisk wind pours from the North, sending scattered wind waves our way that obscure the myriad of flotsam in the water this time of year. Ralph has to slow the boat numerous times to plow through clumps of driftwood unleashed by winter high tides. A log strike out here could be disastrous; a damaged propeller or outboard leg could leave us drifting at the mercy of wind and tide. I’m worried, but more about wind than woody debris. The fresh breeze I’m feeling could be a regular fair weather wind from the Northwest, or it could be inlet outflow, a katabatic wind resulting from the ridge of high pressure that recently settled over the interior. If it’s the latter, our trip up the inlet will be literally dead in the water. And we really want to get up Toba Inlet.

Fortunately, the wind drops off as we round the next point, the mouth of Toba looming ahead, seas calm and sky clear. Snow frosted peaks tower on either side, and ahead I can see mist from the first of several large waterfalls in the Inlet. I can also see the more recent logging, a scar on the hillside to my left that’s just now starting to show a fuzz of new green growth. Memories of our meeting with the forester all those years ago and the sadness that followed send a chill through me, but my spirit is lifted by the beauty that remains.

“You can take the trees”, I say to myself, “but you can’t take the soul of this place”. We stop at the first waterfall and pause to take in the view. Sparkling water droplets lit by the winter sun cascade down. It’s magical.

We’re on a tight schedule, so it’s not long before our boat is skimming further into the inlet and toward the tallest mountains. I’m surprised by how little flow some of the falls have, then remember that they’re largely fed by snowmelt. This time of year, the snow is accumulating in the mountains, not melting. At last we reach the largest of the waterfalls, a rushing torrent that pours from the hillside. I undo the ratchet straps that hold the kayak to the roof and slide it into the water. Within minutes, I’m paddling at the base of the plume of spray. I savour every paddle stroke. It’s beautiful, and an emotional moment for me. It’s been seven years, but I’m finally back.

The boat ride out is smooth, the powerful outboard pushes us effortlessly back towards Read Island. A part of me wishes I’m paddling a kayak right now. Seeing all these beautiful places by boat feels like cheating. There’s something about having to work for each mile, to dig against wind and tide and waves that makes kayaking such a rewarding means of travel. It occurs to me that sometimes the key to protecting wild places is to bring people to them to experience the beauty first-hand. Perhaps just a few more voices are what’s needed to save our wild treasures.
A single Toba Fjordlands Expedition will take place on Aug. 1-7, 2018, with advance booking for returning customers. We hope you join us!