September 21, 2017 – I usually travel to the Conuma River Hatchery in October for the chum run. I usually do a lot of travel in October, so much so that I usually see little of my own bed and much of the inside of hotels or the rooms of residence buildings at sites far from towns with hotels. And, as a result, at the end of October I usually catch a cold or a flu bug that recycles and keeps me ill for a month or four.
I decided to try and buck that trend this year by spreading my travel out a bit and seeing/participating in some different programs, and pulling some of it forward. So this year I opted to travel to Conuma to take part in the Chinook program and spend a day on the Burman River with the crew and the volunteer group that is associated with this particular project.
It was an on-again, off-again trip since some weather came in the other week and the crew went in early thinking the fish might move through on the early rain and they would be missed. But over the weekend only a low percentage of the fish were ripe so they scheduled another trip in and, on short notice, I tossed my sleeping bag and waders into a vehicle and headed in for a couple of days.
It was not a disappointment. The West Coast of Vancouver Island is a magical place under any circumstances. It is wild, and rugged and, when calm, belies the dangers that it can hold to the unprepared; it is simply a spectacular place.
The boat ride up Muchalat Inlet was flat calm and the morning was spectacular. At the mouth of the Burman River we met up with the landing craft and the rest of the hatchery crew. The tide was low so we couldn’t make it all the way in and had to beach the boats and walk to the egg take site where the First Nations and community volunteers were waiting for us.
On the way we had to send black bear scurrying with a warning in the form of a bear banger, he wasn’t showing any fear and rather than heading away from some crew on the walk, it was heading towards them. No one needs an aggressive bear on the crew.
A Roosevelt elk wandered into the river upstream of us and someone who knew I had my big camera in my bag called out to me to grab it. Sometimes you know you’ll miss a magical moment if you run for the camera though, so the best images are only in my mind as I watched that elegant animal step carefully across the water. I managed one or two shots that weren’t very good, but I got to see something I rarely see because I chose to not grab the camera.
The crew employs a drone to find the fish in the river and improve their net sets. It’s a great use of new and old technology mixed together. The drone shows where the biggest concentration of fish are located and then the drone pilot can direct the boat operator on where to best set the net for maximum catch.
When the eggs were all collected a helicopter flew in and picked them up for a quick ride back to the hatchery where some crew waited to fertilize them and get them safely into the incubators. Without the helicopter ride it would be an hour boat ride back down to Gold River, and then an hour truck ride on a bumpy logging road to reach the hatchery.
Muchalat Inlet has a fairly steep and rocky shoreline with small caves and huge boulders and rocky overhangs. We’d been talking about the original people in the area and part way down the inlet my colleague slowed and wanted to show me something she and her husband had found a decade earlier and not been back to since. The first location wasn’t the right spot…finding something along this coastline is challenging, but it still wasn’t a disappointment as we found a hidden waterfall within a narrow cave on the water’s edge.
We backed out and slowly cruised the edge of the steep shore a bit farther until she thought we had the right spot. She nosed the boat into the rocks and tied off to an overhanging tree before stepping off onto a submerged rock and wading ashore, picking our way through the thick brush, and carefully picking our way up to the rock wall. ensuring we disturbed nothing but vegetation. Tucked safely above the tideline and back under the overhang of a huge rock wall lies the burial site of a long ago Nootka Sound resident, still wrapped in a woven cedar clothing that can be seen near his/her neck and at his/her side.
The site is presumably well over a century old and has been documented in the archeological records; it is a rare find and I felt honoured to visit the spot. There was a peacefulness to the site, the moss, the cedar, the ferns…. it’s a suitable resting place for a person of the land and the sea.
Back on the boat, we ran down the inlet to Gold River where the jetboat was trailered for the haul back to Conuma. Behind us, the lower knob of the Golden Hinde could be seen. The Golden Hinde is the tallest mountain on Vancouver Island.
Four of us boarded the landing craft to take it back around, by sea, to Tlupana Inlet and Moutcha Bay where it generally resides tied up to one of the seapens and a short drive to the hatchery.
The water was rough and choppy down at the botton of Muchalat Inlet but flattened out when we turned the corner to run up Tlupana Inlet to Moutcha Bay, in the shadow of Conuma Peak.
This is work.
Pretty awesome day at the office, don’t you think?