After a slightly uncomfortable night on a bed a bit wetter than I had thought (thanks to the good seamanship exhibited by all three of our crew in forgetting to shut the portholes on the drenching southbound cruise yesterday), I rose early this morning and dressed quickly for our 9am boat trip up to Princess Louisa Inlet. We almost missed it: an earlier one had tied up next to us, so we expected ours to do the same. But it was at the other end of the dock. Brookie McColloch rousted us from our salon just in time.
The ride up to the Inlet was increasingly dramatic, with the boat operator slowing the boat to point to rock petroglyphs and waterfalls, and with glacially rounded mountains reflecting huge areas of sunlit rain-wetted summits, like bald men caught without umbrellas. Each turn up the route, past abandoned Indian villages or logging ports, became narrower and the crags and wooded slopes on either side more steep. On the last turn the clouds had lowered right to the water, and mist of rain enveloped the boat. John McColloch worried that the mist might clip the views of the range around Princess Louisa, but as we approached the narrow Inlet entrance, guarded by a wood structure with Indian totems, it began to clear.
The few minutes floating through the Inlet to the docks at its innermost point were increasingly magical. Turn by turn, around each curve in the shoreline, higher and more dramatic rockfaces appeared; a sea lion suddenly burst to the water’s surface with a salmon in its mouth, and was immediately swarmed by mercenary seagulls, like white and grey flies around an open picnic. The water’s surface stilled, and began to reflect the sharp wooded slopes on all sides.
Finally we made the last bend. The docks appeared. On the left, a huge rock face slowly revealed a thousand foot waterfall, streaming like a river down and across ledges and cracks, until finally it erupted at the base into a large fountain of water that poured into the water. It was magnificent.
We docked and clambered out of the boat. While some dawdled and looked around, some of us marched up the ramp to the trails that had been laid by volunteers. There are only a very few, and they wound to the base waterfall, through heavily mossed woods, past a big house, or open wood-roofed hut, with a fire pit in the center. After half an hour of exploration, the boat crew had prepared a salmon and salad lunch for us, and we ate in the shelter of the big house.
After we had finished we could begin to hear the rumble of an as-yet-hidden seaplane, and we knew our trip home was arriving, carrying inbound the second half of our fleet participants. It appeared flying over the water and settled gently into its pontoons. The pilot feathered the prop and eased the plane across the remaining surface to the small dock, maneuvering with the prop’s power until he just scraped the dock’s edge, at which point the door popped open, the pilot scrambled onto the pontoon, and tied a rope to a cleat as if it were no more than a skiff.
Out climbed the other NYYC visitors, and all were smiling and had evidently enjoyed the flight. Several posed for pictures with the plane and pilot. This was encouraging for the rest of us.
The time came to board and John McColloch led us aboard, barely folding himself into the co-pilot’s seat on the right. The rest settled into the ten or so passenger seats, all metal framed with folding backs held up by wire cables. In one of the first seats, I found myself facing the manufacturer’s plaque: date of build, 1955.
The takeoff run was surprisingly gentle and we ascended along the steep walls of the Inlet. The cloud ceiling that had provided us with mist on our arrival kept the altitude about level with the tops of the surrounding peaks, so we flew along the waters below as our highway, winding in and out of mountain canyons, above hidden lakes and high-altitude waterfalls and the remains of empty logging camps. No other means could have given us as spectacular a view of the the entire Desolation Sound geography.
After about 20 minutes the young pilot throttled back and the plane began to descend, dipping and turning as it lined up to “land” in the same cove as we were docked. The plane settled imperceptibly on the water and with occasional bursts of throttle eased its way to the floating dock. Suddenly the door pilot’s door popped open and he vanished out onto the pontoon to tie us up, leaving John McColloch as our potential pilot for a few seconds – with no controls. And then it was over, and we scrambled out, exhilarated and impressed.