Reaching Clayoquot (klak-wot) Sound, one of the woolier sea-kayaking destinations in North America, requires a two-hour ferry ride from the city of Vancouver to Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, a 130-mile drive west to the end of the Pacific Rim Highway, and a willingness to launch your craft into a storm-lashed archipelago crowded only with killer whales. The draw: 236,000 square miles of watery wilderness. Some 30 miles from the put-in at Tofino are shoreline hot springs—a perfect camp spot. Of course, that doesn’t mean the paddling is easy, as I learned on my debut trip to Clayoquot back in high school. It turns out that following the windward side of the islands, instead of the tame inland passage, means surf landings and long, exposed crossings. Fog can arise even in July, and strong currents slow the progress of those unacquainted with local tides—like me and my three buddies. We never made it to the hot springs: a squall blew in and stranded us on Vargas Island for three days. To pass the time, we built a driftwood fire large enough to divert passing tanker ships. (Hey, we were 17.) Recently, I asked my friend Tim what he remembered about the trip. “I still have nightmares about the awesomeness of that fire,” he said. “Had it not been absolutely pouring rain, we would have surely lit up the entire island. It was freaking beautiful.”
GET THERE: Plan your trip with Sea Kayaking Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds, by Mary Ann Snowden. Tofino provides the essentials: groceries at the Co-op and boats and charts from Tofino Sea Kayaking (US$40 per day for kayaks, including paddles, flares, PFD, sprayskirt). For a deluxe, all-inclusive version of the Clayoquot experience, take a 30-minute boat ride from Tofino to the spectacular kayak-equipped Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (US$4,800 for three nights).