Spring Island (Part 1/3): A West Coast Adventure

If you know the west coast at all, you’ve heard of Saltspring Island.  Unless you know the west coast VERY well, however, you’ve probably never heard of Spring Island.


It’s not an easy place to get to.  First, there’s a five-hour drive from Courtenay down  remote logging roads to Fair Harbour, which is even farther up the coast than Bamfield


Then there’s a forty-minute local water taxi out to Kyuquot, beyond which lies Spring.  In the 1950’s the small island housed a LORAN Station, but now, each summer, it’s home to West Coast Expeditions (WCE).


WCE, a kayaking expedition company, has been operating off Spring’s wild shores for over four decades; owners Dave Pinel and Caroline Fisher setup camp from June to September, offering guided base camp kayaking trips as well as multi-day expeditions.  


Their operation is a model of eco-tourism; solar panels power the camp, rainwater is collected for showers and washing up, all toilet paper is collected and disposed of, food scraps are composted, and nearly everything is recycled. 


The main ‘lodge’ was constructed years ago out of found wood and driftwood, with its plastic walls tacked up at the beginning of each season and taken away at the end.  Dave told us it takes many long days and dozens of people to completely set up camp and take it down.  For this reason, they rely on a team of dedicated and capable staff.


Each day, we kayaked with our unbelievable guide, Serina, from about 10am to 5pm, with a break for lunch and explorations of surrounding islands.  Daily adventures included a hike around Paradise Island (a well-deserved name); a paddle out to Lookout Island with its rare forest of Sitka spruce and moon-like rocky shores and sandstone formations;


peering into endless tide pools; and at the end of each day, some of the best sleeps we’ve had in years.


You couldn’t look up without spotting an eagle (or six), and we paddled past dozens of sea otters each day.  Until Serina shouted “Puffins!” I didn’t even know it was possible to see them anywhere in Canada but the east coast, but there they were, in all their tiny, colourful glory.  Apparently, puffins are more rare to see off Spring Island than whales. 


The wild blue and green landscape of the west coast is impossible to describe well, but I hope you’ll be fortunate enough to experience it, or already have.  Our trip with WCE was a life-changing experience. 


While you might not expect to find extraordinary food at a remote base camp, you will on Spring Island. 


Guests and staff are fed each day by James McKerricher, a chef and kayaking guide whose resume includes head cook for the Tour D’Afrique (a bike tour from Cairo to Cape Town) and The Maple Leaf, a sailboat where he cooks gourmet food from a tiny, ever-swaying galley kitchen.  Basically, this guy can cook on land, water, any country or continent, and with just about any foods/tools available to him. 


In upcoming posts we’ll describe the food that fuelled us through all this kayaking, including a salmon and crab dinner prepared by women from the local Kyuquot First Nations, multiple seafood dishes masterfully prepared by James, and a lot of edible kelp!  Stay tuned......