Knight Inlet is the longest inlet, or fjord, on BC’s coast. Stretching 112 km into the Coast Mountains, the inlet is less than 2.5km wide at it’s widest point. It is surrounded by steep peaks, some more than 1300m, and is almost 450m at it’s deepest points. The numerous creeks and waterfalls that flow into the inlet make it turquoise in colour – but with a sea temperature of about 10°, its definitely more glacial than tropical!
We headed up Knight Inlet on Saturday morning, in what should have been a flood tide (ie: pushing into the inlet) for the first few hours of our journey. Instead, the combination of SE/outflow winds and recent heavy rain had us pushing against 2-3 knots of tide for most of our trip. Combine that with an upwind sailing angle of about 35° to the wind (heading more across the inlet than up it), and the 22nm journey ended up taking most of the day and required a good amount of motoring, despite our best attempts.**
Our purpose in making the trip was to reach Glendale Cove, which is the only decent overnight anchorage in Knight Inlet (the sailing guides point out a few others, but they’re mostly temporary anchorages). At the head of Glendale Cove is a river estuary, with a shallow floodplain that dries at low tide. This area is home to both black bears and grizzly bears, who come out on the flood plain in search of food.
Glendale Cove is in the traditional territory of the Da’naxda’xw/Awaetlala First Nation (DAFN), and the eastern side of the river estuary is inside of reservation borders. The DAFN works with the tour groups to maintain viewing limitations and guidelines so as not to disturb the bears. On Sunday morning, not long after low tide, we jumped in our dinghy and joined the tour boats as they made their way up the various channels in the delta to see the bears.
When we started the day, the tide was low, so the riverbanks were a good 1/2 metre tall, meaning we were about eye level with the grass. As the tide rose, the estuary filled in and we were able to navigate further inland, carefully maneuvering through deeper sections of water and avoiding the motor-eating grasses (we actually rowed a fair bit, to save the motor from the weeds).
In total, we watched 5 grizzly bears – two larger, though not huge, single bears, one smaller bear that was maybe a few years old, and then a big mama bear with her cub (probably born in the spring, but getting big now!). The bears were clearly not bothered by our presence, yet knew full well that we were watching them.
The three single bears spent most of their time digging holes – I’m guessing in search of grubs or other mud-dwelling edibles. In theory, the river should have provided a great source of fish, but the salmon don’t seem to have arrived yet. For the bears’ sake, let’s hope they’re not too far away!
After several hours with the bears – and just as it sorted to pour rain – we headed back to the sailboat for lunch. We spent the afternoon lounging in the cockpit and enjoying the temporary moments of sunshine – and the occasional rainbow!
If you want to take a bear journey of your own, I believe that the tour companies we saw are apparently based out of Telegraph Cove. GrizzlyCanada.com was using the two-level pontoon boats – ideal for viewing bears when the tide is really low – and the 8-person zodiac we tagged along with was based out of Farewell Harbour Lodge (we sailed past this beautiful lodge a few days ago – their wilderness and photography retreats sound amazing!).
** The upside to fighting current on the way in, is that you will (ideally!) Have the current with you on the way out of the inlet. As I write this, we’re currently sailing downwind in 15-20 knots of apparent wind, with .75 knots of current in our favour, and a speed of almost 8 knots! (That’s fast for this boat 😆!)