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Into the woods

Hiking on Haida Gwaii

22 September 2022

Late one evening the hermit thrushes sing. The northwest wind has finally died off and everything is calm. The surface of the ocean is a mirror, reflecting the lazy, hazy clouds sitting high in the stratosphere. The boat motors are still after a long day on the fishing grounds and the only sound is that of the thrush’s trickling notes as they carry across the water. Soon other birds join in; their high, clear notes like a piper’s welcome at the end of a journey, spilling out from the trees.

These beckoning calls often invite us into the woods, encouraging us to explore the lush green bounty of Haida Gwaii. Often, it can even be reassuring to know we have these little winged companions alongside us when we are busy out of doors. A reminder that we are not adventuring in the wilderness alone.

However, on these islands we can quite easily slip away from humanity. The wild lies just beyond our backyards, often overlapping with it and giving us a sense of confidence in nature. Though not misplaced, it is still important to trek wisely.

Hikers, adventurers and birdsong enthusiasts alike: before crossing the treeline, check your bag for two navigational essentials – flagging tape and a compass!

Even long time island residents can get turned around in our forests. Take it from the professionals – seasoned backwoods workers often rely on their compasses, despite having thoroughly flagged their route.

Many of our trails lead from beach to backwoods, with muskeg trails being especially arduous during our frequently wet summers, when everything looks the same and the moisture takes a toll on the feet. The trees on the fringe appear the same age and size, familiar looking deer trails lead us astray and the humps and hollows of the bog all take on the same characteristics.

Many remote mountain trails are “user maintained”, if not “user created”, and the rugged paths are buffered by far less trampled territory.

There are many stories of people getting lost in the bush here. One such hiker had been lost for days when the search crew finally found him. His feet had begun to rot from the wet moss he had been wading through and he had even, unknowingly, crossed the highway a few times in the rainy dark.

Visiting hikers generally arrive excited to explore the wild wood around the same time the birds have come home for the summer. The trees ring out with enticing calls, making a jaunt in the woods seem dubiously benign. While the birds have the advantage of their elevated view, we do not. So go on, follow their soft trills and echoing warbles, but always keep an eye on the trail and a pocket full of flagger.

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