A Journey Through the Discovery Islands

An eight day loop of the Discovery Islands with a climb of Mount Addenbroke, on East Redonda Island. This report only covers the paddling section.

Map showing our route through the Discovery Islands. Route and campsites are in red. Previous trips are in green or blue and summited peaks are the blue icons.

Discovery Islands. 145km. 7 paddling days. 1 climbing day.

The main intent of this trip was to explore the Discovery Islands with L who had yet to do any significant trips here, aside from in the Desolation Sound area. We were also planning on climbing Mount Addenbroke, the highpoint of East Redonda Island. I am quite familiar with these waters having spent three seasons guiding more than 2000km of wilderness trips as well as a solo trip through the area in 2018. It would be fun to show L some of the my favourite spots.

This loop could easily be extended by adding on explorations of other classic Discovery areas, including Surge Narrows, Octopus Islands, Bute & Dent, and the Toba area. We have explored most of those areas on other trips and decided to stick to paddling around the Redondas and Cortes Island.

Day 1: September 6, 2020 – Read Island to Penn Island North

We were heading home after another season of guiding on Read Island. It was a strange season of guiding private bubble groups by myself, but ended up being another spectacular summer of wildlife, wilderness, and friends. We left late in the afternoon with just a short paddle in mind for the day, to the Penn Island Group.

L had been working all summer and hadn’t had the chance to paddle much and had never camped at North Penn. This is a great site, if you can get it to yourself! We left Evans Bay and enjoyed some great intertidal life – it seems to have increased in the area in the last 4 years that I have paddled here, but that is only my observation.

Leaving Evans Bay on Read Island. The CME Lodge behind L. Absolute paradise.

The forecast was for lots of sun and lots of wind as a massive high pressure system set up over the coast. The sun would last for the entire trip (aside from the smoke), but the wind was only forecast to last for a few days. We stuck to the shore and then battled the wind across to the Penn group and made our way to North Penn. It was late, and unfortunately there was another party of two here. I didn’t make the best impression when I destroyed their firepit in the middle of the beach, but only two weeks prior I had put out a fire on the grassy bluff above and I was shocked people were still having fires despite the weather.

L and I camped in the forest and didn’t get to fully enjoy the site, but it was gorgeous none the less. We ate a hasty dinner out on the rock bluffs and fell into a good sleep, anticipating a long day tomorrow!

Day 2: September 7, 2020 – Penn Island North to Walsh Cove via Raza

We had a long day of paddling if we wanted to reach the awesome site at Walsh Cove. After a great start with a humpback swimming by camp (that makes 8/8 days at Penn with a whale siting for me), the day became more difficult. The 1 nautical mile crossing to Cortes ended up taking us more than an hour as we battled the remnants of the NW wind.

I often find in a strong NW wind Calm Channel will be blustery, but Deer Passage will be calm. This was the case today, and as soon as we rounded Bullock Bluff, we had smooth waters and calm winds. This would last for the next four days. We took a brief break in the boats and a much needed stretch after the early morning battle – it is never fun to start a long day with a strong headwind.

The pictograph panel on the southeast shore of Raza Island. There are other sites along this shore as well, including what may be depicting a beehive.

We elected to continue to Raza Island, a shoreline that neither of us had paddled. I was stoked to try and find a panel of pictographs that I had read about but could not find any detailed information on. I submitted my photographs to the Pictographs and Petroglyphs of British Columbia Facebook page but they did not publish it – I could not find any other images online, so this may be the only one!

Despite its scarred appearance from afar, the Raza Island shoreline is extremely beautiful and I recommend making the short crossing. Aside from the pictographs, it has one of the coolest upside-down growing arbutus trees on the coast. You will likely be alone, and if you are doing this route and using the Rendezvous campsites, then it makes no difference in the distance. Humpback frequent Deer Passage. There is camping on the north side of Raza, but I cannot speak for it having never been there; otherwise camping will be difficult on the island and best left to the myriad established sites nearby.

From Raza, we crossed an incredibly calm Deer Passage, playing peek-a-boo with a lone humpback the whole way. A heated debate over logging practices on the coast – a constant topic of discussion – brought us to the beach at Connis Point, where I was keen to show L the local sites. The first – the root cavern – is quite well known to BC paddlers and published in many guidebooks. It sits right beside the beach. Aside from being beautiful, it is a great source of year round water, which was great given the season and the weather on this trip. The second is a bit more secret, but I have seen it posted online – the grave site to the east of the beach. In 2021 a massive tree fell just inches from the grave site and locals have re-cleared a trail in. You can read more about these sites in Jeanette Taylor’s wonderful Tidal Passages.

Paddling in Pryce Channel.

We still had a solid amount of paddling and it had already been a long, hot day. We rounded Connis Point proper and entered the magnificent scenery of Toba Inlet and Pryce Channel. The mountains here are imposing and I love paddling these channels. We cruised along, enjoying the customary stop at Gloucester Beach and the great scenery there, before finally turning into the entrance to Waddington Channel.

L at the north entrance of Waddington Channel, with the entrance to Toba Inlet behind.

As fate would have it, the current was against us, but we battled for a few more minutes and managed to sneak through the narrows where the current diminishes sharply. The views back towards Toba were stunning, but we were paddling to one of the cooler destinations in the area: Walsh Cove. The rock bluff camping here is superb and the pictograph panel is amazing. The main pictograph at Walsh Cove is well known to many, but there are other images that are hidden behind the trees – next time you visit make sure you take the time to wander around on foot!

I have included some images of the lesser known pictographs on the panel. The main pictograph image can be seen in the Mount Addenbroke report linked below on Day 3.

A rare black ochre pictograph at Walsh Cove.

A slightly hidden pictograph at Walsh Cove. Perhaps a chief and his copper, although I will not claim any authority here.

We wandered around the cliffs by the pictograph panel until the light started to fade and we felt we should make camp. There are numerous sites here, but my choice always depends on the amount of boats in the anchorage. This time we chose a site on the outside island, furthest away from a busy anchorage – foreshadowing what would come in Desolation! This is the best site anyway, and we enjoyed views towards Toba and easy access from the water. (Make sure you heed the winds of Toba here – one night during the summer, outflow winds turned a still night into 25+ kn, threatening to blow away all our gear that was hanging to dry).

Gorgeous camping in the Gorges Islands. Rock ledge at its best.

Day 3: September 8, 2020 – Walsh Cove to Pendrell Sound

The morning at our rock ledge campsite was great, but we were sleepy in the heat and didn’t end up on the water until 1030AM! We had a short paddle, but a long day of hiking ahead. Although I had paddled Waddington Channel many times I had not paddled the eastern shore. I would argue this is the more picturesque of the two options and you avoid the large shellfish farms by Allies Island and industry at Doctor Bay. The shoreline is quite bluffy and you begin to enter the classic Desolation Sound ecosystem of arbutus and douglas-fir with shore pine growing from dry, thin soil and barren rock.

(Around this point, L found her first of three 5 gallon buckets. She mounted these on the back of her boat and paddled with them for 7 days.)

L paddling up Pendrell Sound. The first views of our objective on the right.

From Shirley Point, we followed shoreline with increasingly higher bluffs until reaching the entrance to Pendrell Sound. The bay and the point are incredibly gorgeous and seemed the perfect setting for a cabin. We turned into the Sound and were greeted with a very pleasant looking paddle. For some reason I had expected the sound to be dull, but it was very pretty and we enjoyed paddling there. We only regret not extending the paddle to view the pictographs near the end.

We paddled along the western shore for only a moment before crossing and following the eastern shore to the old log dump where we intended to start our hike and then camp the following night. The forest along the shore seemed wild and healthy and there were many fine beaches here. The island on the east side of the sound is an ecological reserve (despite being mostly logged in the 60s and 70s).

We found the site easily, packed up our bags for a night in the forest and set out to climb Addenbroke. To read more about the climb check out the trip report: Mount Addenbroke by Kayak. It is a rather long and wordy report, but it includes some good photos and is a decent read to help you plan your own ascent.

Always stoked to be starting at sea level.

Day 4: Mount Addenbroke Climb

We managed to climb to the summit of Addenbroke from our high camp and descend to our boats by evening. We camped in the forest by the boats on soft, flat ground. It was an exhausting, but great day.

The summit of Mount Addenbroke, one of the highest islands in BC.

Day 5: Pendrell Sound to Bold Head (Desolation Sound)

We had a pretty short day to get to Desolation Sound, but we were tired from the climb and I was tired from a season of guiding, so we slept in. We had a lazy morning of hot chocolate and enjoyed the shade of the forest; we were in no rush to get on the water and into the sun. The paddle out of Pendrell Sound was just as pleasing as on the way in: beaches and cliffs with mature forest in places and arbutus clinging to the rocks.

The bluffs at the south end of Waddington Channel on the east shore are particularly epic, rising straight out of the water and covered in nesting bird sites. We did not see any at this time; perhaps they were out fishing. The days were still long, but it was getting late in the day. We were hoping to paddle through Prideaux Haven and then camp at the Curme Island site. I thought that September may be quieter, but we were in for quite a shock.

Gorgeous shoreline along the Pendrell Sound and Waddington Channel shores.

As we paddled across to Mary Island from East Redonda, we saw our first flotilla of kayaks. By the time we reached the first island, we had already encountered multiple groups. We paddled through Prideaux Haven, spotting numerous kayakers camping on the bluffs illicitly. We also found some very faint pictographs that we had not previously read about.

The classic peaks of Desolation Sound.

Amazing colours paddling around the tiny islets in Prideaux Haven.

We explored around in the small channels and passage of the anchorage for a bit, but then decided it was time to camp. We had asked one of the groups earlier and they had informed us that all of the Curme Islands were full. We had never camped at Bold Head, but it always looked beautiful from Curme, and we were excited to check it out.

We enjoyed the paddle and barely snuck through the narrows south of Eveleigh Island, which saved us a kilometer or so. We just managed to snag the last campsite at a very busy Bold Head! It was the furthest from the boats, but as a result we had some privacy and ate our dinner up on the fish drying bluffs overlooking the Strait of Georgia. We took a late evening dip in the amazingly warm water and settled into a very comfortable and content sleep.

Day 6: Bold Head to Kinghorn Island (via Refuge Cove)

Another sunny day in paradise. We were keen to get out of Desolation proper though and escape some of the crowds, so we decided to head over to Kinghorn Island, another fairly relaxing day. We left our campsite at Bold Head with a frustratingly difficult boat load given how well used the site is!

L crossing towards the Martin Islands with Addenbroke and Denman behind.

We were in familiar waters again for both of us and we crossed over to the Curme Islands. There is a reason this place is so popular, and regardless of how busy it gets, Desolation is still gorgeous. We paddled over to Mink Island and along the shoreline a bit before crossing over to the Martin Islands. We had great views back towards Mount Addenbroke, which we had just climbed, and the classic Mount Denman, which I would climb in 2021 with some buddies. The distant peaks were beginning to look a little hazy, but we paid it no mind and continued on to Refuge Cove.

We stopped in at the store and bought some books, beer, and ice cream, but the supply was limited as their season had been drastically impacted by COVID-19 and the lack of US boaters. We unfortunately did not stay long as it felt strange being back in civilization after months on Read Island or living from a kayak. We hit the water and paddled out to Kinghorn Island.

Just outside of Refuge Cove – always a great stop!

The wind was calm and we reflected on the last time we had made this crossing in treacherous SE winds; we were happy to have the flat water. The smoke was getting quite bad though, and by the time we reached Kinghorn it was getting difficult even to see East Redonda Island. This smoke was from wildfires in northern California and was the beginning of about two weeks of heavy smoke cover across the coast.

We were happy to be in the comfort of the Kinghorn Island campsite. This is a great spot, with lots of camp furniture and typically great views. Although the main spot can look tight, there is plenty of camping if you look a bit further into the forest. Do not venture too far though as there is an eco-lodge operating on the island. We got a scare when twelve kayaks approached the beach, only to turn at the last minute towards the hidden-to-us lodge.

We ate some pasta and fell into a great sleep, where we dreamed of clear skies. We were both looking forward to getting to Marina Island the following day.

A great campsite at Kinghorn Island.

Day 7: Kinghorn Island to Marina Island

The lingering dog days of summer, combined with the thick smoke meant we woke up already hot and sticky with sweat. We both quite like this campsite and ended up having a nice relaxing morning. Although we could barely see Cortes Island, we were still both stoked to paddle this section of shoreline along Cortes from Mary Point to Sutil Point. Neither of us had ever paddled it before and it is always fun to paddle new coast! The wind was blowing a bit, which was relief from the muggy heat of the smoke, but it did little to help our speed.

Ominous crossing to Cortes Island in the smoke.

We crossed to Cortes and followed the shoreline. There are many highlights here, including the quaint homes, splendid intertidal life, and beautiful beaches. Hank’s Beach looked like the most pleasant option and we pulled the boats up here for a snack. This is a great beach right across from Twin Islands, if not a wee bit steep for the kayaks. The smoke was now so thick that we barely had one kilometer of visibility. It looked like today would be our last full day out and despite the smoke we tried to enjoy it!

We left Hank’s Beach and paddled through the shallows in front of Hollyhock Resort and over to Sutil Point. This was the first time I have rounded the point at high tide in calm conditions and it was great paddling. On a previous trip through the area I paddled the stretch of water from Sutil Point to Savary at an extreme low tide – each boulder was claimed by a different harbour sealed, perched 2m above the sea! In 2021 we paddled this same section in 30 kn winds – it was a “skill building day” and definitely type 2 fun.

Pictographs in The Gorge on Cortes Island. Worth a visit if you are in the area! This photo is from a trip in fall 2021.

L and I stopped to refill our Dromedary water bags at Smelt Bay Provincial Park. This is an old village site and is a special place. As we pulled onto the beach, I slipped while getting out of the kayak and got soaked! That was a bummer. We filled up with fresh water and then hastened our way over to Marina Island, where there is great camping on the sandy beaches or in the grassy upland. We skipped the pictographs at The Gorge, but if you are in the area, they are definitely worth a visit.

Marina Island is a great spot to spend the night. It was the first place on the coast that I saw wolves and I always love coming back to camp here!

Gorgeous beaches surround Marina Island and offer great camping options.

Day 8: Marina Island to North Quadra

Although I had some time off and L had a few more days free from work, we didn’t really fancy being out in the smoke and we had decided to call it quits today. Our truck was parked by the Surge Narrows Public Dock so we had a fairly simply paddle ahead of us.

We packed up and launched the boats into the shallows by Shark Spit. Throughout the guiding season I had been skunked in my attempts to find a Lewis’ moon snail. I love these slimy guys and L had never had a chance to see one in person. As I sat brushing my teeth in the boat and waiting for L to pack up I found a fairly large specimen hiding in the shallow grasses! So awesome!

A Lewis’ moon snail. So cool! The largest marine snail in the world and lots of fun to hold.

We put our cute little friend safely back in the shallows where he could go munch more clams and then paddled across Uganda Passage and back to Cortes Island. The shoreline here is nice, but this area is very residential and has many homes. Subtle Islands appeared out of the smoke and we paddled around the west side to Centre Islet.

We could not see Read Island in the distance but we were fairly confident it was there. The wind was blowing decently for the first time in many days. A humpback breached nearly 20 times in the distance, but we could only hear the thunderous crashes as the smoke obscured our view. Once or twice we caught a glimpse of a splash, but we missed the entire spectacle.

Paddling back up Hoskyn Channel.

The water off of Viner Point and Read Point was a little unsettled, but we enjoyed a little playfulness after calm water for so many days. We stuck to the Read Island shoreline and then paddled through the lovely King Islets. A fish farm was here in 2020, but when we returned in 2021 it was no longer operational, though the infrastructure remained. A terrible logging clear-cut from a private logger scars the land at Hjorth Bay. A little bit of current bugged us as we paddled, but the rest of the time was uneventful. We stopped at the pigeon guillemot cliff just north of Sheer Point, but most had left for the season. From there it was simple crossing back to Quadra and our truck.

The next few days would remain extremely smokey for the entire South Coast and we were glad to have made the decision to stop and were happy with our exploration of the islands and our ascent of Addenbroke. This was a great loop of the area and I was happy to show L around one of my favourite places. We are hoping to go back in 2022 to climb another coastal giant, Estero Peak.

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