By Nat Hab Expedition Leader Eddy Savage
Growing up in Canada, I always dreamed of venturing to Haida Gwaii. This enticing nature destination was at the forefront of my mind, as I often heard stories of the political, cultural and environmental quandary of Haida Gwaii from my parents or in the news. In my early 20s, Haida Gwaii was a common topic throughout my network of adventure-guiding companions. We all wanted to go there or had been there and wanted to return.
Stories from expeditions through the “Misty Isles” were often a focal point around the campfire, detailing wildlife and nature spectacles you’d have difficulty imagining. To summarize these campfire chats, the islands were most often described to me by peers as beautiful, mystical, powerful and wild.
The “Islands at the Edge,” as they’re called by some due to their position at the western edge of the North American continental plate, lay at the very top of my list of places to explore and experience for most of my adult life. In 2021, after a decade of yearning to go, I was given a chance to explore Haida Gwaii by the best means possible: aboard an 83-foot expedition sailboat, the S/V Island Solitude, working as the vessel’s First Mate.
Heading to Haida Gwaii
The flight was spectacular, as I flew northwest across the coast of British Columbia. The dramatic and snow-covered Coast Mountain Range to the east, Vancouver Island to the west and the open Pacific further west. I arrived in Sandspit to meet the rest of the crew and head to the ship before our travelers arrived the next day. Immediately after leaving the airport, I could tell this place was different.
I had a quick stroll on a many-mile-long beach just outside of town and was amazed at the size of the mussel and clam shells washing up on the beach. Haida Gwaii is known as the Galapagos of Canada. Thanks to its perfect environmental conditions, this is a species-rich oasis. I couldn’t remember a time I’d seen so many shells of that size and variety in one place. Abundance was here. Later that day, I joined the rest of the crew, and we took a shuttle for about 30 minutes down a dirt road to Moresby Camp (a campsite, boat launch and logging equipment site), where we would meet the S/V Island Solitude.
That evening and the next day, we prepared. Fresh groceries were delivered, tanks of fuel for the Zodiac were loaded and fresh laundry arrived to make up the cabins. The captain, chef, naturalist and I walked through the vessel together to ensure everything was in tip-top shape and ready for the week ahead. The chef baked chocolate chip cookies, and the whole boat filled with the delicious scent for when our travelers arrived.
Black Bears of Haida Gwaii
With a couple of hours remaining, I went for a short walk down the road leading to Moresby Camp. Looking down at the mud and gravel road, I was impressed—there were many black bears there. It seemed like every 50 feet down the road there was a bear trail and muddy tracks through thickets of salmonberries and thimbleberries.
The Haida Gwaii black bear is the largest subspecies of the American black bear, with a larger skull, stronger jaw and overall larger body size. Looking at the size of these tracks, I could tell even the smaller ones were quite big. I figured they must be heading to the beach at low tide to feed on intertidal life like mussels, barnacles and small crabs.
I kept walking down the road, listening to songbirds like the hermit thrush, varied thrush and song sparrow compete for the most beautiful and gentle echo through the quiet rain forest. Peering up one of the bear trails into the forest, I saw the ground was covered with a dense mat of moss. Makes sense—if I were a bear, I’d nap there too!
Wandering back toward the S/V Island Solitude, I paused momentarily and stood in reverence of the awe-inspiring scene before me. Our expedition sailboat sat peacefully anchored amid the calm, emerald green inlet flanked by dense green forest from sea to mountain peak. We hadn’t left port yet, and this expedition was already spectacular.
Preparing to Set Sail
I returned to the ship and couldn’t have been more excited for the travelers to arrive. There is a child-like giddiness when meeting travelers from around the world. As a representative of Canada’s wild spaces, I am excited to share the intricacies of these remote places and show adventurers the abundance and diversity that thrives in the most magnificent ways.
We gathered as a group in the wheelhouse of the S/V Island Solitude to introduce ourselves, eat those freshly baked cookies, move luggage to cabins, discuss safety protocols, and most importantly, hear what brought everyone to this remote and far-off wilderness that is Haida Gwaii. After our introductions, we all settled into our cabins for the evening, buzzing with anticipation of the adventure afoot.
The next morning, we rose early, weighed anchor, and began our journey south toward one of the gems of Canada’s protected spaces—the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.