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Esperanza Inlet - Vancouver Island in British Columbia - Extended Trip Report

by  pishalski

A self-supported trip created by pishalski

Trip Overview

Altho the town of Zeballos didnt appear on a map until the 1930s, the areas history goes back further. 200 years earlier the Spanish were convinced that somewhere along the Northwests jagged shores gold would be found. Captain Malaspina and lieutenant Espinosa and Cevallos, who the town would be named after, did explore the area. According to Spanish archives there is a reference to a single shipment of gold from the west coast of Vancouver Island. This was mostly from placer working however there is evidence that they did lode mining as well.

Shortly before WW I several old timers found some very rich gold specimens around the area. However it wasnt until after 1924 that mining resulted in much beyond prospecting. By 1929, forty claims in the valley had been staked but none was very successful. In 1936 a Victoria lawyer formed a syndicate that dug a tunnel deep into the hillside above the Spud Creek Canyon. Work was hard, dirty and wet. When ore was taken out, it had to be hauled 5 miles to the beach through rugged almost impassable terrain. The first shipment of 4,800 lbs of ore yielded $2,605 or $.54 per lb. They were getting 30-45 ounces of gold per ton with potential profit estimates in the millions.

Other mines quickly opened supported by new industries including a sawmill and powerhouse. Flooding from the Zeballos River continued to be a problem. BC newspapers devoted special sections to the Zeballos boom; however the greatest single obstacle in the way of rapid development was transportation. The only way in was by coastal ships to a nearby cannery, Ceepeecee. From there everything had to be brought in to head of Zeballos inlet, about 12 miles away by small boat. Ore shipments had to be brought out the same way. Back-packers on the trail could carry only 50 lbs a trip and make just two round trips a day.

Prospectors faced considerably worse than winter rains if they went out to seek their fortunes in the hills beyond Zeballos Arm. They faced a nightmare of back-breaking trails and creeks which could crush the spirit of even the strongest. The first liquor license for the hotel was issued in 1939. Room rent was $2.00 a night. Beer was 40 cents for a glass of local ale and 55 cents for Eastern ale. It was delivered to the dock at Zeballos by CP Steamships from the Slicks Capilano Brewery in Vancouver, then by Zeballos Transfer Co. Ltd.

The main street in Zeballos was known as Rotten Row probably due to the amount of rain that fell especially in the winter. In 1940 the main street was flooded by 5 ft of water. The town however continued to grow, tents were all over the place and there were at least 18 bootleggers. It had its own newspaper, fine hotels, well-stocked stores, a bank, electricity, school, library and hospital. The ensuing rush built an instant town that some say reached a population of 5,000 at its peak, though estimates vary. A 750 foot wharf was constructed so men no longer had to trudge through mud to reach boats in the bay. During the WW II, the scarcity of skilled labour closed down the mines. When the cost of gold was pegged in the late 40s at $35 an ounce, it became too costly to mine. Those in the know say there's more gold underground than was ever taken out. Between 1938-1943, more than $13 million worth of gold was shipped from Zeballos.

Logging came to the valley in the early 1950s (a rough logging road was punched out to Nimpkish Lake), during the early 60s Zeballos boomed for a while with iron ore being taken out but that was short lived. Logging began to employ more and more as the future began to brighten. A couple of more attempts were made to make the larger of the gold mines profitable, one in the 1970s (spike in gold prices) and another in the mid-80s, but they didn't last. Tahsis Logging had made Zeballos home while today Western Forest Products Ltd. is the main employer. There is however a current slowdown in the lumber industry. There are three fish farms down the inlet providing steady work and an ice plant is in full operation. Today eco-tourism is increasing especially for travelers who tackle the well maintained 40 km gravel road off the island highway.

Most of the village's 250 current residents, along with the population of the two neighboring Native reserves, Oculucje and Ehatis are employed in the forest industry. Small business, fish and oyster farming are also an important part of the local economy. Sport fishermen from all over the world are drawn to the area because of its rich fishing grounds.

The rugged and remote Esperanza Inlet and Nuchatlitz Inlet region on the west coast of Vancouver Island was our kayaking destination. The smaller inlets (Port Elize, Espinosa & Zeballos) leading to the open ocean, were gouged out by glaciers during the last ice age and are extremely remote and sparsely populated. The area is rich in native culture and history, being the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, who inhabited these lands for thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish.

This coastline is known for its ocean swells as the Pacific rolls in all the way from Japan, superb outer reef systems, and long expanses of pristine and deserted beaches. Marine wildlife in the area includes killer whales (Orca), migrating gray whales, seals, porpoises and rare sea otters, which are making a comeback. The fur trade largely reduced their population in the early 1900s and destroyed it by the late 1920s. Between 1969 and 1972 sea otters from Alaska were transplanted to the northwest coastal waters and the present population on Vancouver Island is estimated at 2000. Land mammals include black bear, cougar and deer. The coast is also an excellent area to study intertidal life, as many tide pools can be found throughout the maze of islets and reefs.

Nuchatlitz Provincial Park encompasses the very northwest tip of Nootka Island and a large number of small island groups and is named after the old village of Nuchatlitz. The park protects a number of archaeological sites, evidence that the area has been inhabited for millennia by First Nations people drawn to the region by the abundance of natural resources. These sites include ancient burial sites on Nootka Island.

Catala Island Provincial Marine Park incorporates Catala Island and Twin Islands. The park protects numerous reefs, islands, islets and marine ecosystems. Catala Island itself is forested with mature trees, twisted and stunted by the strong winds blowing off the Pacific Ocean. A lake and bog area is also found on the island. The 850-hectare wilderness park is an area with important significance to the island's First Nations people. A Native Reserve is situated at the extreme eastern tip of Catala Island.

The Rolling Roadstead Channel between Catala and Vancouver Island is subjected to constant large and steady swell from the Pacific. The channel lies on an almost perfect northwest angle; funneling ocean swells down into the inlet, hence its name-Rolling Roadstead.

On some of our previous trips we have hired a water taxi to take us out to the furthest point in our trip and we then paddle back over the next 7 days. We left Zeballos in pouring rain in a converted herring skiff and were deposited on an island not of our choosing in Nuchatlitz Marine Park. The inlet where we camped was narrow and the sun did not reach the small beach until late in the day. We moved our camp to an islet that Rob, Dave, Henry and I had camped on during out last trip into the area. The number of kayakers in the islands has increased since our last visit which with the increase in popularity of kayaking is understandable.

We encountered a mixed bag of weather, it rained hard and we had sunny days. I tend to be somewhat of a fair weather paddler and unless its a travel day, stay in camp and read when its pouring outside. We have a large blue tarp that keeps our kitchen and eating area dry.

Most of the guys are pretty good cooks and while there isnt a contest, everyone tries to turn out the best meals they can when its their turn to cook. Good wine also helps.

So what really goes on with a bunch of middle aged professional men who spend a week or more living out of kayaks and sleeping in tents? A lot of energy is expended on day trips out of our camp into the surrounding islands. We also did what looked like an easy hike to an old radar installation left over from WW II. It turned out to be a lot of bush-whacking. Much of the time is spent just sharing what goes on with in our individual families and how our lives have turned out. Philosophies, concepts and various ideas are discussed but mostly it is just a group of good friends spending time together in an activity that we all enjoy. After all, isnt that what life is supposed to be about? Until next time...


Drive north from Victoria BC on the Island Hyw. for approximately 6 hours,past Campbell River till turn off for Zebellos.

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Open Water/Ocean

Trip Location