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          Into Cape Beale (14 years ago)

Cape Beale

Thanks to web archives I was able to pull up this hike I did shortly after starting my business. This is exactly what I am going to get back into doing. It is still fun for me to read it. (pictures to be re-added soon)


Thursday, October 12th, 2006


While I was working at the BC ferry marketplace last summer, I met and had some great conversation with Norbie and Kathi Brand, keepers from the Cape Beale Lightstation on the West Coast near Bamfield. Before they caught the ferry, they extended an invitation to come stay at their light. What an opportunity! I have always been more than intrigued by the lights on the coast, I even researched into applying for a lightkeeping position years before. I was sooo thrilled at the thought of this adventure and I hoped they were serious because I had full intentions of going…. and I did!
I left my home in Qualicum Beach in the wee hours on September the 14th. Driving the gravel road from Port Alberni into Bamfield deserves the utmost respect not only because of the wildlife and potential road conditions but also for the oversized logging trucks that own the road during working hours. At this early hour of the morning I met only one pickup truck and could see its headlights well before we passed. Maybe driving in the middle of the night isn’t for everyone, then again neither is this hike. I got into town around 6am and grabbed a nap in my wheels. It felt a little too dark and a lot too chilly to start my hike into Cape Beale just yet so I hit the trail around 8 am after a call to Kathi at the lighthouse with a heads up I was on my way.

The trail was still fairly solid underfoot but the trees and salal were drenched with the previous night’s rain and I was wet right from the start. Making a note to invest in rain pants for next time. I didn’t really care in the moment… I was totally excited to be out in nature on another island adventure. I got to my first stop at Tapaltos Beach in about an hour and a half. It was great to see the blue sky and sun shining.

I took my time walking along this awesome sandy stretch, breathing in the fresh salty air and watching the waves roll calmly onto the beach. I restrained from collecting too many of the beautifully smooth, flat rocks as I still had a distance to go and back again. I couldn’t help myself though and had a pocket full of glass, shells and rocks before deciding to get on the next trailhead, which would take me another 3 km up and down a hill to my final destination. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it went.

I couldn’t find the trail and spent the next hour and half crashing through the trees, sinking into old rotten logs and climbing neck deep in salal straight up a mini mountain with my full pack. Every map I had seen or text I read mentioned the trail starting up again about 2/3 of the way down the beach. It is not. It is almost at the VERY end. If you went to the rock face at the end and came back 60 regular paces there it would be.

Marking the trail were three fishing floats tied and slightly hidden in the new growth of a tree and on the ground a well-worn trail quite unlike the bear and deer trails I had been exploring up unto this point. I know bear traveled them because I ended up less than 100 feet from one. I didn’t part the trees for a closer look at what was crashing around and swaying the bushes but the cumbersome movements, salal berry scat and obvious bear prints were a good hint. Most of my walk was spent whistling and calling good morning to the bears so as not to come as a surprise, especially between any cubs and mothers.

I felt a little like I was advertising to cougars though as I had seen a long fresh set of tracks along the beach and I had a feeling they weren’t there when I first walked that stretch of sand. However, knowing they prefer smaller prey and attack from the back I felt comfortable enough in my size with the back pack… still the possibility of being stalked haunted me enough that I found myself looking over my shoulder on more than one occasion. I am not just trying to add interest to this adventure; there have been enough attacks on the island and from what I know a cougar will always try and sneak up from behind. If they think you have spotted them they will reposition themselves…. so I think if you can spin and walk at the same time they will never get your back and even a hungry cat will leave out of sheer frustration. (Note to self: bring a facemask to wear backwards next time)

Because I couldn’t find the trailhead and I had phoned Kathi out at the lighthouse to tell of my delay (my cell phoned worked on the beach, thanks to modern technology and the Telus repeater station at the end of Barkley Sound). She insisted she come and meet me, expressing she always asks herself what she would want someone to do for her own daughter. So on this day Kathi hiked the trail by herself for the first time. On our previous phone conversations, I had insisted that I would keep searching, stating I was enjoying myself and feeling confident sooner or later I had to find the trailhead. In our family it’s practically tradition to never ask for help, often deny any offered and keep persisting until you figure it out.

Pride or stupidity, I’m not sure, but secretly after an hour and a half of trying to hike through impenetrable forest I was glad Kathi was coming because I felt on the verge of tears. Of course once she’s underway I make it to the end of the beach and the trailhead shows itself… I kick it up a notch and start my fastest hike ever. I tried to call again but with no answer I knew she was on her way and I wanted to shorten the distance. I passed by my other planned stop at Cedar Beach with only a glimpse of surf through the weather blown trees. It is Kathi’s favourite place to collect sea glass and small shells and I definitely wanted to explore it on such a sunny day, but really I was just so thrilled to be on the trail again and soon after I met Kathi with her big smile coming down the hill. 

Kathi gave a great guided tour for the last 45 minutes to the light, and for the first time since probably being turned off them in childhood, ate some salal berries which were pleasantly good, although slightly gritty in texture and not at all sweet... When you can’t get fresh blueberries I hear it’s the next best thing. Kathi also showed me the bog where she and Norbie traditionally harvest cranberries for Christmas dinner as they float to the surface.

I wish all the boardwalks along the trail were as nice as the piece through the bog… On the path to Beale it is a crazy trail from the start to end and you need to watch almost every step of it. Rotten old boardwalks suspended over creeks and crazy beaten down root systems complete with mud that can suck off any loose footwear, windfall that has to be crawled under or climbed over, and slippery when wet. It can make you feel a little bit older and a lot less invincible. The end reward was definitely worth it. The end YAY!

At the lagoon behind the lighthouse rock the tide was low enough that we walked across. Norbie was ready at the top and for the last hike up narrow concrete stairs I was pleased to place my pack and things in the sling and have it hauled up. The weather was gorgeous and Norbie and Kathi were as welcoming as the eight Southern Resident Orcas that passed by the light just as we were arriving. Southern Residents are Orcas that make their home on both sides of the lower half of Vancouver Island and south into Puget Sound. Like all residents, they travel in matriarchal family groups known as pods.

If I had went straight to the bluff instead of into the crew house to change out of my wet clothes I would have had almost a birds eye view as they swam by. Still, I got some good sights of tail splashing and frolicking as they leisurely cruised across the mouth of Barkley Sound towards Ucluelet. It is amazing really how just looking at these intelligent and magnificent mammals can lift your spirit right up and fill your being with good energy… when I think about that moment as I sit here writing I feel it still and smile.

After the Orcas I joined Norbie and Kathi inside their home. I was instantly struck by the number of lighthouse things throughout. Having only bought one themselves, a cute door plaque that says “Welcome, our light is always on”, Kathi laughs as she tells me there is a ban on anymore “lighthouse items” entering their home. It is a most welcoming and very comfortable place filled with amazing artwork, and I was even more impressed with their collections from the beach including an old Brass porthole and whalebones that Norbie recovered with determination. Sea glass and a huge collection of shells reflected Kathi’s passion. The moonsnail being so loved and treasured she even had one tattooed on her ankle so that when she looks down one can always be found.

Her hugs from God she calls them, making her feel better on any day. Norbie is quite an artist himself, turning driftwood into beautiful and unique Santa Clauses. The first inspired by a Christmas gift he made for Kathi is paddling a blue kayak and his sack is filled with gifts and shells. I can’t say enough about my experience with these two guardian angels of the coast. Not only are they dedicated to their job and take pride in doing it but they are genuinely caring and giving people. Reading their guest book that Norbie has carried for his 30 years on the lights tells me I am not the only one that feels this way.

Later that day Kathi took me over the land bridge which is a narrow swath of rock, over 50 feet above a chasm to the outer rock, a most perfect vantage point. I was also thrilled to lean over from where I crossed and have a bird’s eye view on a group of birds… Cormorants to be specific.

Any way you looked the view in front of Cape Beale was mesmerizing. It is in this spot that Barkley Sound meets the open Pacific Ocean and also the tail end of Juan de Fuca Strait. The lighthouse at Cape Beale overlooks this junction amongst one of the most dangerous reefs in the aptly named Graveyard of the Pacific. On the calmest day waves still build and crash as they are pushed through the rocks.

It seems that the patterns are unpredictable… I saw waves appear sideways and then build straight up creating water mountains but then roll straight over the reef next time, while the rest of the ocean stayed incredibly calm. I spent hours watching… trying to think about how I might navigate my way through… thinking about the history of this place, the lives lost, the power of nature, the peace in such a day as I had, as I sat on the rock in the warm fall sun, drinking hot coffee, watching the waves, sea lions, river otters, and sea birds.

After a delicious dinner I watched the sun melt into the ocean… and by the way -  anyone who ever thought there might be a green flash of light at the last minute of sunset… there really is…. just kidding. In all their years staring out at the sunsets, Norbie and Kathi have never seen it. I'm not sure where that myth came from, but personally I was glad to lay it to rest because I spend every sinking sunset I see watching for it.

As the sun was setting the light came to life and back in “my house” I was inclined to choose the bedroom with the window looking up at the tower spinning and reflecting in all the trees, but I felt strongly unwanted in there as if it belonged to someone else… so much so that I didn’t even cross over the threshold into the room and try out the bed. No matter, I respect my inner voice and decided on the smaller room with the lesser view. Just prior to my departure the next day my inner voice got validation when Kathi talked matter of factly about the ghosts at the light.

The next morning I jumped outta bed, made a thermos of coffee and went out over the landbridge again to the rock… watching for everything and nothing. I was surprised at the number of sport boats cruising to the Halibut grounds about 20 kms off shore. Later, I made my way over to the helicopter pad for another view… the Coast Guard chopper flew past on it’s way home to Victoria checking in with all the lights to see if they had any mail needing to go out. There is definitely a loyal bond that builds with people when they rely so much on each other for basic needs and aid in emergencies.

It’s easy to be envious of that sense of dedication to other people, even if it is a job, especially today when many of us don’t even know the name of our own neighbours or become more isolated socially or emotionally than one could ever be in a physical sense. Maybe it’s the connection to nature and the environment that so many people are really romanticizing about when they think of lightkeepers. I think any lightkeeper will tell you their job is anything but romantic…especially when it is being dictated and influenced by politics, cutbacks and people who have no damn idea what lightkeepers mean to the people who live and work on the coast.

My great grandfather was a certified coastal pilot on this coast since 1908 and the lights reflect the heart of our history and the courage of people who made or still make their lives on the water. He was rescued twice that we know of, once from a beach in Alaska in the winter when his ship sunk and the cook drowned and once when his ship, The Coaster, was rammed and sunk by the Passenger liner NorthStar. It was carrying Gold Ore from Squamish to the US and went down in a matter of minutes… and so here I am…. a reflection of that history.

Back to Beale. Before lunch, Kathy and I descended the concrete steps from the rock down to the lagoon and walked around the sand flat to old native village sites completely unnoticeable except for the shell-strewn beaches and a slightly deeper channel through the rocks they cleared for the canoes. Glimpses of an earlier time into people whose very survival depended on making a connection to nature and with their environment.

A raven flew overhead quite distinct in its unusual behaviour as we walked the beach… we both felt that there was something it was trying to communicate although it’s message remained unknown. We spent a good while here, Kathy searching for more bones from her sea lion, and I pleased with the thick smooth muscle shell bits; the best collection I have found to date. We enjoyed the sun, the beach and each other’s company.

Later that day I found myself out on the rock in front of the Lighthouse, staring over the ocean again watching. When I returned, Norbie took me up the light tower for the best view yet. I was leaving in the morning and was glad to have the opportunity. Even more magnificent a view, it was hard to get down and of course I asked one question after another which Norbie answered. On a clear day you can see over to Ucluelet, or even get a flash of sunlight from one of the sport boats on the Halibut Reef. The film crew that came to dive all the wrecks off the reefs.

Over and around that corner is where the whale washed up and he climbed down the cliff to bring it’s big bones home. He told me of the days it took to pry the brass porthole from an age-old wreck buried under rocks and logs and how the light had been changed recently to a lesser model imported from the US, visible at a lesser distance… Kathi finally called up that it was time to fire up the Bar-B-Q. I was invited to diner again. Lucky Me! Then the rain came… bummer.

I returned to my quarters later that night and did the best I could to understand a research paper about shell density that Norbie’s brother Uwe had written. I am definitely a research fanatic, so I had to remind myself what an Isotope was again and the difference between Mollusks and Echinoderms… I already forgot most of the scientist type words. What I did retain was that different variants, such as nutrients in the water and temperatures definitely play a roll in shell growth. I haven’t all the answers and hope to talk to a layman scientist who can sit down and give it up straight.

I’ve got more leads on this subject… you need good shells to make good jewelry and also I think it’s interesting. On the outside of the island, the deep water welling up may be bringing a lot more calcium rich isotopes which are used by some to increase strength. Anyways, it is this mini obsession of mine that got me hooked up with Kathi and Norbie in the first place. Stay tuned for more shell research in the future.

I was glad to have had two nice days for this trip. Even the rain made everything fresh and beautiful in it’s own way, especially after the crazy dry summer and water shortage not so far away in Tofino. On the other hand, it seemed a little less fun to hit the trail but I didn’t want to delay too long and Kathi and Norbie walked me down from their rock and across the lagoon before lunch the next day. Kathi gave me a thick aqua piece of sea glass collected from the Beale beach that she said reminded her of a heart along with my choice of a driftwood walking stick to help on the trail.

I chose the one with the little fork in the top which fit my thumb perfectly… It proved more than handy on the return trail. Norbie pulled a feather from his hat and we all hugged. I started my hike into the woods, completely wet in less than five minutes and soaked through to my socks in not much longer than that. The heavy rain caused the big leaved bushes to bow over the trail and more than once I had to look down to figure out which way to go. The continued rain flowed down the trails like a river and each footstep acted as a mini damn whether I was going up or down… The walking stick saved me as my knee was still swollen from the hike in and besides the trail being slippery, some parts were actually getting quite deep.


I pulled my camera out a couple times when the rain wasn’t pounding so hard and decided I will invest in a more weather proof one specifically for times like this. I did stop at Cedar Beach and would have stayed longer than an hour or taken even one picture but the rain was starting to blow sideways, I was getting cold and my fingers were getting hard to work… I did my best collecting lots of little shells and urchin pieces, sea glass and more. I loved this little beach. Kathi was right about it… I’m definitely going back there.

I got back on the trail and continued talking to the bears I couldn’t see. I came up with a general bear announcement that I gave every 5 minutes. It made me laugh and went something like this:

“Hello and Good afternoon Bears. I would like to introduce myself. I am a human being, a person and if you want me to get more specific, my name is Anissa. I am not for chewing and absolutely not for eating, this is my body and these are my rules. If you are curious about me please feel free to take a look but please keep your distance and respect my personal space. And soon enough move along. You may not follow me.

In return I promise not to bother you or your babies. I am just passing through, meaning no harm to anything. And if any cougars are stalking me without my knowledge you may not jump on my head because I will do my best to kick the s**t out of you (trying to act tough… this is where I look around quickly)”

This kept me entertained and I was tired of singing… I think the rain and trail condition dampened that spirit. Tapaltos Beach was beautiful but chilly. I picked up some more rocks and walked wide around the posse of seagulls resting from the wind and waves on the shore to the return trailhead without delay. About 3pm I found myself back at my car, strippin’ outta the wet gear and looking forward to some hot coffee and a halibut burger at the Kelpvine restaurant. Both commercial and sport fisherman alike were hanging about complaining on the weather and their delay. I just smiled and nodded… I was glad to be off the trail and warm. I felt really great and also really thankful that my dad lent me his Land Rover.

The road was really horrible on the way out. Sunday night was good for no logging trucks, but there were many people with messed up vehicles on the side of the road because of the conditions. The road was so ridged and mini rivers crossed them with lots of washboard surface and little lakes around the sloped corners. I got to Port Alberni just after six and a friend I knew heading home that night said there were trees and live power lines down. Without four-wheel drive he never would have made it home via a back way logging road.

All in all, I had a wonderful time and plan to make some specific jewelry from the pieces I collected on this trip. Keep your eyes out in the gallery for the Cape Beale Adventure series…

– Anissa