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British Columbia Wilderness

Call of the Bute Inlet wild

Nelson Alcantara, Special to eTn  Sep 19, 2008

Prior to my trip to British Columbia’s Bute Inlet, I half-heartedly agreed to going. But the team of Gregg Dickie from Desolation Sound Boat Tours was very insistent in having me join the group of four journalists who were mainly from Canada. I was the only one from the United States, and there were many aspects about the trip that screamed “it’s a no-go”—flights, my schedule, the timing, etc. Given that I was based in Hawaii was also a factor, which made me think that I really was not going to go, or was it that I didn’t really want to go? But the organizers went to great lengths to have me on the trip, so I sent them a rider, and they agreed. I told them exactly where I needed to be and they met every requirement, with flying colors I might add, and for that I am indebted. I rarely attend press trip invites. The only ones I really make it a point to attend are the ones attached to big tourism affairs, such as the United Nations World Tourism Organizations’ General Assembly or something of that caliber. The reason being is that I am more on the news side of the business, not features, as most travel journalists are.

Thankfully, there were elements on that trip that will make this read for you a little more interesting than a regular destination feature article. First, I’ve got to admit one thing: no previous press trips have ever done what my trip to Bute Inlet’s Homathko Camp environs has done—scratching my head.

Homathko Camp is located at the very far end of British Columbia’s Desolution Sound, which is easily a two-and-a-half hour boat ride from Lund, British Colombia. Getting to Homathko Camp meant waking up at 6:30 a.m. to meet with Gregg Dickie for an hour-and-a-half van ride to secure a spot on the first ferry ride. Then after the first ferry ride, it took another 45 minutes on another van ride to get to the second ferry ride, which would take us to Lund. Once in Lund, we were off to Bute Inlet via another two-and-a-half hour boat ride. I saw civilization trickling away to what is by far the most remote place I have ever been to – even more remote than the one-and-a-half hour boat ride from Coca, Ecuador to the Ecuadorian Amazon! The number of boats that were sailing the sea on that Saturday afternoon became less and less until only our boat was the only one left on the water. Every inch of that speeding yellow boat that we rode towards Bute Inlet meant the inevitable—we were inching away from civilization towards the wilderness of British Columbia.

On the boat ride to Homathko Camp, the group was treated with a spectacular view of British Colombia’s wilderness and some things quite unexpected. Green trees stood gracefully on picturesque mountains, former logging areas were visible and birds flew across the strait and rested on logs in the water along with lazy sea lions. There were sightings of occasional campers, and we even got a glimpse (albeit very far) of Michelle Pfeiffer’s house. The boat ride was long, but with each member of the group having their digital cameras ready, there were ample things that warranted being committed to film along the way.

Once we arrived at Homathko Camp, the group was introduced to an interesting group of characters. First we met the camp residents and workers, including camp manager Chuck and his wife Sarah and the rest of their crew. Chuck proudly showed the group around Homathko—he showed us the power plant, the wooden bear, the camp’s chimes and his garden (which was aptly named “Chuck’s Garden”). Chuck claimed that he had been living at Homathko for 15 years and that before settling there, he had sailed on his boat for 20 years. The boat that Chuck spoke of is still floating idly at Homathko’s boat dock. Ironically, it was actually the first sign of human existence at the camp after the long boat ride from Lund.

After that quick introduction of the camp, we were whisked from Homathko for a tour of the area in hopes of sighting bear and beaver (Canada’s token national animal). We saw neither, unless you count the beaver hut, which was special enough on its own merit because I had never seen one before. The lack of beaver and bear sightings was not a big deal as the actual attraction for me was the ride through the wilderness, which introduced me to something I found quite amusing—the British Columbia carwash. You see, traffic is so rare on those pathways that trees (more like their leaves, really) hugged our rugged little 4x4 truck as we passed through, giving it a carwash-like treatment. It was bushy and bumpy; it was British Columbia wilderness.

During idle times, which were plentiful, I got the chance to chat with various individuals staying at the camp whose respective roles were to study the environs of Bute Inlet, including a three-person crew studying birds. There was a crew whose purpose was to study flowers and plants, and there were the tree people who made sure those trees in areas that have been logged are growing properly. Some of them occupy the rooms at Homathko Camp, while others just put up tents. More importantly for them, however, is that they come to Homathko to “shower and spend the night.” Once that was done they are then airlifted (via helicopter) to their various assignments.

There is friction between Chuck and our tour guide Gregg Dickie, and there is friction between the settlers and the natives. One native named Angela spoke of the injustice her people have suffered over the years—from Canada’s shameful residential schooling. According to her, “the church” had taken their children throughout the years, forced them into residential schooling, abused them, and that some 150,000 of them have never been accounted for. She even dishonorably admitted that she hesitantly had to color her hair blonde so she could be taken seriously because apparently “her people” are perceived to be lazy, alcoholics, and/or drug abusers. Something she does not dispute, “But what choice do my people have?” According to her, it is her people’s land, and she has every right to be there. Luckily for her, she had the smarts to take her people’s great misfortune in stride and decided to better herself. She proudly claims that she has received her certification for the highest first-aid class. “The next step is paramedic status,” she proudly claimed.

As for the friction between Chuck, the camp manager, and Gregg Dickie, I couldn’t fully comprehend it. All I know is that it has since become a lot more complicated because there apparently is a guy named Jack Mold (or Pole) who went missing in the area about a year ago. I can’t disclose the information here, as I have been advised that an investigation into the disappearance of this Jack fellow has been revived by comments made during my brief stint at Homathko Camp. However, it is worth mentioning that there is an upcoming multi-billion dollar project in the area, and the environs of Homathko Camp and Gregg Dickie’s property near the camp is right smack in the middle of it. Whether that has anything to do with the ongoing friction between the two isn’t clear at this point, but I am sure the answer will surface sooner or later.

Niche markets are there for a reason—tourism products are invented to cater to the needs of a specific market. That said, let me be clear about one thing: This trip is not the kind of trip that is for the masses. For one, the infrastructure is not there—there are only 30 beds at the camp, although there appeared to be more construction going on. Unless Gregg Dickie builds new cabins at his property, then there will be more room for guests. For now, however, there are only 30 beds and tents. That’s it.

In addition, for one to enjoy a trip to Homathko means having to do away with many of the conveniences of modern living, including hot water. I was unfortunate enough that on our last day the hot water had run out by the time I got to the shower, and, boy, was the water cold. It was summertime in BC, but given that I come from Hawaii, the temperature at Homathko during the summertime doesn’t even come close to how warm Hawaii is even on its coldest of cold days. Not even close. But that was to be expected.

The trip had a very personal impact on me on so many levels. This trip is one of those that I’d recommend for one to take if they want to really “get away from it all.” This, for me, meant not having to worry about my Blackberry receiving a signal and not having to worry about meeting deadlines (thankfully, the trip took place on a weekend). It made me feel isolated, which gave me ample time to reflect and the opportunity to purge some of the things that were convoluting my mind; and ultimately, be one with nature. The mornings were amazing. The mist that hovered over the river was quite a sight to behold, so was being up-close to the Twin Waterfalls. Then there was the magnificent view of a 500-ft. glacier that sat high atop one of the mountains of Bute Inlet. Seeing that glacier is significant because it meant for me seeing with my own eyes the effects of global warming. Sadly, by Gregg Dickie’s account, the glacier has been slowly melting over the last 15 years he had been braving the trek to Homathko. By his estimation, the glacier will likely disappear within the next 15 to 30 years.

In the end, I came away from that two-day trip relatively unscathed. No grizzly bear encounters to report and definitely no beavers! More importantly, I learned to better appreciate the beauty behind being “isolated” and dealing with the aspects of being in that condition—physically and mentally. It takes a certain kind of man to be able to withstand the hinterlands of Homathko Camp year after year, and I know I could never be that person. But, in the same token, it certainly takes a special kind of tourist to last a day at Homathko, and I would gladly fill that role. It is great to know that I’ve discovered a place I could return to in times when I am feeling the need to answer the call of the wild.

Call of the Bute Inlet wild
Photo by Nelson Alcantara

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