Huson Caves and Little Huson Lake: Stuck in a Labyrinth with Shifting Walls

October 21, 2016

Getting ready for our trip to Huson Caves, James and I were both pretty crabby. I was pooped from working at the pizza place Friday night, and James was stuck with virtually all the preparing. The only contribution I could make was to pack my own bag and water the garden. I was trying to water the garden deeply, but it was making James restless. He was eager to get going.

As we were packing up, Chloe was very concerned about being left. She sneaked into the truck when the door was open and refused to leave. When it came time for me to pull her out of the truck, so James could drive it out of the protective shade of the carport and the car in, you could tell there were a lot of thoughts going through her mind, and a lot of emotions.

On the road, we stopped at Hyde Creek for some coffee, aloe vera juice, the Gazette and the Sun. We checked our maps and determined we would have to turn onto the road to Zeballos. When we arrived at the turn, we stopped to read a map by the road, discovering, to our disappointment, there was no campsite at the caves—at least there wasn’t one showing. As it turned out, there was no “official” campsite, but there was a small unofficial one that was an absolute gem!

Seeing a campsite icon at Anutz Lake, we determined we would have to go right and right again—though that turned out to be a gross oversimplification of the facts. Driving down the well gravelled but narrow winding road, we saw a fork that gave us the willies. It brought back memories of our trip to Gooding Cove, where we ended up on a cut-block on top of a mountain with not much room to turn around. We listened to our instincts, which was telling us that this was not the turn we should take. They were 100% right. As it turned out, there were all kinds of roads and forks, but, thankfully, there were also regional district signs pointing the way to Anutz Lake and Huson Caves, though, not one for that first fork—which was probably the most critical one! It all is in keeping with the tradition of BC signage: of not telling you where to go until you’ve already figured out how to get there! We saw a sign that said Anutz picnic site, but we weren’t sure if that also meant it was a campsite. A truck came driving out. Assured by signs of human life, we decided to try it.

We penetrated the forest and followed a very narrow rugged road that seemed to be going to the ends of the Earth. We felt certain we would eventually find a nice hidden secluded place deep in the forest to pitch out tents. Instead, we found a mob! We came upon a giant family reunion, with people, kids and RVs everywhere! There seemed to be more vehicles, people and congestion there than downtown Vancouver! We couldn’t get out of there fast enough! You’d think we would have been happier to meet up with a pack of wolves!

We were back on the road and headed to Huson Caves, not sure what we would do about finding a campsite. As we drove, the road started looking more and more rough, narrow and forgotten. We caught sight of the butt of a big black bear before it disappeared into the shrubs. We finally came upon a pullout with information and direction signs for Huson Caves, which was the trail head. There was nowhere to camp at the trail head, but the park sign indicated a campsite further down. We drove on. The road got very dark, and steep in places. We finally came upon a dead end and a parked truck. We parked ourselves and, seeing water through the leaves, decided to take a little walk into the bushes. James went ahead of me. I later heard him say a very emphatic “Wow!” When I saw what he saw, I saw that he wasn’t kidding! We found ourselves on the shore of a very sunny small lake with a picturesque Swiss-like mountain in the distance. We were contemplating spending just one or two nights there and moving on, but those plans were promptly altered. I said I didn’t care if I sat around all day doing diddlysquat, I wanted to stay here for the whole four days.

Huson CavesRoad through the forest. Huson CavesDeep in the forest. Huson CavesOur private paradise. Huson CavesLooking north. Huson CavesRadiance.

The campsite is small, so it can only hold two, maximum three sets of campers. Hidden behind some bushes was the campsite of a young couple with a terrier and weiner dog. We also had a brief visit from a large crowd of people who just looked around and left. Our neighbours stayed until Monday. We had the beautiful picturesque spot all to ourselves on Tuesday.

We had recently bought a Nikon 3300. After pitching our tents, I went out and checked out what it could do around our campsite, which wasn’t much. I had a lot to learn. We later went out on the kayaks for a short paddle, but we didn’t have our usual amount of energy. Even Chloe seemed too pooped to kayak. Because it was the middle of the day, the water was wavy. We were heading toward other end of lake, but James hinted that it was farther than it looked. I suggested we head back.

Huson CavesChloe at the helm.

On the way back to the campsite, we thought we could go past the logs and access the caves to the north. When I saw James working hard at it, I decided to land and save that battle for another day. I needed to purge my work week out of my head before I could do anything. James paddled around the driftwood for a while. When he came back, he determined that we could paddle there to get to the caves, however far the water lets us go—which, as it turned out—wasn’t very far at all! We spent the rest of the evening trying to take photos of the moon and Jupiter in the dark that ended up being just squiggly lines on a black background. I used James’s app to find out what other planets we might be able to see. We found out Mars was by the moon. Neptune and Pluto were on the other side of the mountain, though probably not visible to us anyway. I was falling asleep sitting up. I dragged myself to bed without brushing my teeth and slept like a rock all night…which is a rarity for me these days.

Huson CavesThe Moon.

May 22, 2016

We dawdled around camp until nearly one o’clock. We headed out on the lake toward the caves. The current lead us to the deepest spots, and we were drifting smoothly into the centre of the lake. The wind was coming from the north: we had to engage our warp drive paddle to get anywhere at all. We weren’t paddling too long when we met up with some logs blocking our path. James was surprised as, when he had kayaked here night before, that area was wide open. That was when we first realized that logs on water tend to move. Nevertheless, we could quite easily push through with our kayaks, getting hung up on a log only a time or two. I tried to take some pictures, but James complained I was going to get the camera wet by using it while in motion. He offered to hold onto my kayak, so I could get my fix of pictures for while. It worked for a bit, but not really. An artsie with a brand new SLR camera: I was a snap-happy maniac!

Huson CavesHeavenly Huson Lake. Huson CavesThe snap-happy maniac.

We peered at what we thought was the entrance to the cave. It was choked up by millions of logs! Even if we had been able to somehow get past the log jam—which was impossible—we would have met up with cliffs, waterfalls, whirlpools, shallow rapids and rocks, rocks and more rocks! We overcame our denial, even though the circumstances were pretty obvious, and finally decided this route was impassable. Nonetheless, some weird part of us wanted to keep going.

We turned around to go back, but that was a problem! I was fiddling with the camera and quite oblivious to my surroundings. James was a bit ahead of me when I heard his expression of dismay. What? I asked, only half interested. “We’re trapped,” he moaned. In the short time that we were there, all the logs that we had passed by got pushed together by the wind after it had changed direction. It had closed the gap we had entered by and we were definitively trapped!

Huson CavesMy dear, I do believe we are in a pickle!

Panic started to set in. There were a lot of logs in our way. It seemed to be more than we had passed to get there. Maybe we could have walked on top of them all the way back to shore, but we would have had to leave our kayaks behind, or we would have had to drag them across the logs trying hard not to trip, fall into the water or damage our kayaks! We headed to a part of the lake that seemed to have less logs, though there were some gigantic ones among them. James pushed a few of the logs out of the way to make a path through the logjam. He warned me to keep close behind him or the driftwood would quickly close up and block me in. We struggled and fought, pushing and pulling on logs from our kayaks. Chloe was getting so distressed by our distress that she kept trying to crawl into my cockpit. Even though we were in the midst of catastrophe, I couldn’t help but reach for my camera several times, which, with fact that we were trapped, was making James even more irritable. What can I say, I am a slave to aesthetics! Finally, he told me to put that @#&*# camera down. We managed to forge ahead, James creating openings in the logs, and I following close behind. Then we came upon a gigantic immovable log that was tightly jammed up at both ends!

Huson CavesChloe oblivious. Huson CavesMove you damn logs!

That’s when James got out of the kayak and started jumping on top of the log in frustration (he later confessed to me that he had fun doing that)! While standing on the log, he looked around, picked up a stick and started pushing logs around. He managed to create a temporary opening for Chloe and me. Before I was able to get through, I accidentally bumped James’ empty kayak and caused it to drift away (I’m not much help in a log jam, am I?). He had to run down the log to retrieve it! With his kayak secured, he pushed the last two logs apart with his legs so Chloe and I could pass under. I really, really wanted to grab for the camera, but didn’t dare! I found some mobility by grabbing onto logs and pushing them behind me. I moved myself along in one spot by grabbing onto the short branches and pulling. James got into his kayak and followed.

Huson CavesNow what! Huson CavesAbandoned kayak. Huson CavesLogjam.

Back at the campsite, we discovered that the campfire that we thought was out, actually wasn’t! I have to admit, I had lapsed in my vigilance. Because it had burned down and stopped producing flames and smoke, it was easy to do. By the time we came back, it was smoking again. See folks! Just because a campfire looks like its out, doesn’t mean it is! All it needed was the heat of the mid day and the wind to bring it back to life.

James then asked what we are going to do now. I said we go hiking. We ate our kayaking snack, then soaked our fire until we were sure it was completely out. Because we forgot to bring a day pack, we ended up having to use my laptop back pack to carry our hiking supplies. We drove back up the hill to the trail head with the park signs and the outhouses. We studied the map, read some of the info, and were off. I kept taking pictures of everything from moss to old man’s hairs. James was getting very impatient for a normally patient guy. He ended up walking ahead on his own, while I dawdled and clicked away like a woman obsessed.

Huson CavesThe campfire is out!

Huson CavesAre you coming or not?

It turned out to be a short trail. We found ourselves going down some very steep stairs to a viewing platform overlooking a rocky stream that flowed into a cave. We couldn’t see very far inside it. James jumped over the railings and out of sight. I could not see the outcropping of rock that he landed on, so it looked like he was jumping into the river. James encouraged me to jump on it with Chloe. I said no thanks and passed the camera to him.

Huson CavesCreek in the caves. Huson CavesSheltered waters.

James flashed away inside the cave, then, disappeared for a while. Not knowing where he was or what he was doing, I just sat there and hoped for the best. Chloe was crying the whole time he was gone. He finally came back with a couple of pictures that were the money shots.

Huson CavesInside the cave. Huson CavesJames’ money shot.

We went back up the stairs and found another set of stairs descending to a below ground oasis. The Huson Caves are part of a karst formation, caves created by gradual weather and erosion that form depressions, underwater rivers and caves. The Huson Caves themselves are carved out of a layer of limestone formed during the Upper Triassic period, over 199 million years ago. The water in a karst formation tends to flow between the layers of bedrock, rather than through joints or cracks, as other types of caves do. The canyon then became a home for vegetation, like lichens, fungi, mosses, ferns and shrubs that like to live in old growth cedar-hemlock rainforests—hence, the oasis effect.

Huson CavesBelow ground oasis.

On our way down, James checked out a dry cave and was tempted to go down a hole. He said he needed a rope to attempt it. I thanked God we didn’t have one! We both bumped our heads a couple of times. I worried about Chloe disappearing into one of the holes, so I attached her leash.

After descending the 300 metres to the bottom of the formation, we found ourselves standing in front of a tranquil pool before the dark mouth of the cave. Rapids cut into the canyon and flowed into to the pool and, eventually, into the cave and away. The pool itself was full of rounded boulders, with a couple of opportunistic trees growing on small rock islands. I went nuts with the camera. I took almost 500 shots at different light levels. Too bad I didn’t know how to use my camera properly at the time, but I managed to get some good shots anyway.

Huson CavesA world above. Huson CavesFifty shades of green. Huson CavesMore green. Huson CavesMoss and shrubbery. Huson CavesNatural rock carvings. Huson CavesNot suitable for kayaking. Huson CavesOasis effect. Huson CavesOpportunistic tree. Huson CavesCreek flowing into the cave. Huson CavesLayers of forest. Huson CavesAnother world.

James engaged his inner child and decided he was going to leap over the creek onto a rock. He then crawled up the rock to the other side, disappearing into the darkness of the cave. I was left to wonder and wait. He came back, crawled down the rock face, leapt from the rock in the creek and demanded the camera. I resisted at first, then reluctantly surrendered it. I told him that if he wrecks it he pays for it, even though he was the one who paid for it in the first place.

Like he had springs for feet, James was up the rock face and gone into the darkness. He seemed to be gone for an especially long time. After envisioning how I would call 911 from this deep canyon, I started calling for him. Shortly after, he came hopping and jumping back.

Huson CavesCan you find James?

On our way back up the stairs, James got into a conversation with a hiker, talking about a hole James saw on the way down. The hiker told him where the various branches of the cave go. He showed him a hole to go in, and they crawled through, along with the guys’ wife. I decided to stay back, claiming a touch of claustrophobia, or maybe just being burnt out from taking so many photos and not being willing to crawl and creep around tight spaces on slippery rocks with a finicky Chihuahua.

While James was in the cave, I met our neighbours from our camping spot. They informed us about a decommissioned trail to check out. Instead of going straight back to our vehicle, we hung a left and walked passed a sign that told us not to enter. This is not a move I recommend, as there was a risk of running into things like sinkholes and underground passages…so I didn’t tell you to do this! The trail led to a dirt and rock bridge that had collapsed. Unable to proceed further, we had a good look around. We saw the other side of our lake with the logjam where we were trying to access the caves in our kayaks. We had a good laugh: we were actually thought we could paddle through that! We met a couple of batches of people on the trail and had discussions with them about secret hideaways on Vancouver Island, that is, until they found out we were bloggers and the conversations abruptly came to an end.

Huson CavesWe thought we could paddle through this!

After leaving the caves, James and I later went cutting firewood at the brush piles further up the road. I sat on the truck watching him. He seemed to get carried away and cut more logs than we could ever use. We ended up taking some home at the end of our camping trip and leaving a lot behind for the next set of campers.

After supper, I was taking pictures of the sunset. James hopped in the kayak without saying anything and took off across the lake in the semi dark. He went quite far until I couldn’t see him. I was starting to think of calling 911 again when he eventually emerged out of the evening darkness.

Huson CavesTwilight shot. Huson CavesSunset.

May 23, 2016

James got up early, around 8, and I stayed comatose in bed until about 10. We were planning to go on the water early to benefit from the calmness. When I came out of the tent, it was cloudy. James said the waves weren’t going to do anything anyway. We hung around until about 12, walking Chloe, having breakfast and drinking lots of coffee.

Huson CavesOvercast. Huson CavesChloe with reflections.

We paddled along the rocky shore of the lake, exploring cave-like indentations, and an outcropping of rock that looked like a giant horse’s hoof. As I was dawdling behind, preoccupied with taking photos, James took off and hid around the next point. I had no trouble figuring out where he went because, paddling on a still fresh water lake, he left a very noticeable trail of bubbles in his wake. I saw a yellow line on the rocks and asked if this lake has a bit of a tide. James said it was from spring runoff, the line marking the level of the water when it was at its highest. The yellow colour comes from the tree pollen. It reminded me of a carpenter’s chalk line.

Huson CavesPut the camera down. Huson CavesRock shaped like a horses’ hoof. Huson CavesKaleidoscope effect. Huson CavesNature’s chalk line.

Lo and behold, we found another cabin in the BC wilderness! The water was very deep in that area, so we landed several metres away and walked to it. A few of my steps discovered sink holes, so I had to move fast. Inside the cabin, it looked like the last people there left in a fit, as there were dishes and debris scattered everywhere. When I took pictures, I stepped carefully, worrying about falling through the floor.

Huson CavesThe cabin. Huson CavesSomeone left in a fit.

After I got back in the kayak and waited for James on the water, I heard a gun shot that told us there were people around. We paddled toward the campsite where there was an SUV. By the time we got there, the SUV was gone. Their campfire rim was still warm, but their fire was definitely out. Good show, guy, whoever you are! It later turned out he was someone James worked with. James figured it out by noticing a photo of Huson Lake on Facebook some time later and finding out who took it.

We walked down the river to some rapids, trying to figure out how to make the endless stream effect with the camera. We were still so woefully ignorant about the operation of our camera. We walked toward the beach and saw an odd wood construction: a wood frame facing the lake. We read the inscription on it that said, “See TV.” We sat and watched the “natural” TV program of waves on Little Huson Lake while we ate our snack.

Huson CavesDreamy green. Huson CavesSee TV.

The wind picked up. We realized we had better head back. I had had my fill of photos, so I took the Eskia (Tigger) this time. I noticed how tippy it was, but also how fast it was. It just slips along. The Manitou (Eeyore) seemed like a tractor by comparison, but it is a tractor we need, for Chloe and the camera box.

Huson CavesShadows and reflections.

For our last evening at this special little spot, we had a supper of Greek salad and steak with Cajun spice. We started up a conversation about the camera and how to get certain effects. I asked James if he still wanted to go on a night kayak ride. He said his typical “do you want to?” which means he doesn’t really want to. I then had an idea. Since James had an alone kayak the night before, I thought it was my turn to have an alone kayak in the evening light. He promised to take some pictures of me in the hopes of getting some good ones, since I had been complaining that he takes such bad photos of me. Even though he doesn’t have much to work with, he always seems to get me at a bad angle, in a bad light, or when I’m mussed up or frumpy. If I was dressed up to the nines, probably the last thing he’d think of is to reach for the camera!

Going on the water alone like that, it was like a meditation. For some reason, the clutter that moves around in the brain seems to suddenly disappear. I didn’t "think", and it was easy. I just listened to the birds and looked around, paddling a few strokes and then drifting. When I meditate, it is quite a discipline. Meditating alone on the kayak, though, came quite naturally. I did do some deliberate thinking though. I imagined what this place looked like before people. There would still be birds singing, but the mountains would be completely covered in trees and there would be no cut blocks or logging roads. There on the lake, I was in a timeless zone. When I came back, James actually took some not bad pictures of me, including the one where I’m sticking out my tongue (oh well, you take what you can get). Clearing one’s head can be highly beneficial in unforeseen ways. There’s nothing like a little pre-historic time travel to rid your brain of busy work week.

Huson CavesAlone kayak. Huson CavesRaspberries to you.

On our way back, we stopped in at Nimpkish Lake, just off highway 19, at “the sign with no sign” by a cabin at the side of the road. It was one of the special hideaways that the other hikers informed us about. Because it is a very long, Nimpkish Lake makes a good wind tunnel—not great for kayaking. I’ve read in the Backroad Mapbook for Vancouver Island that it has a few rivers flowing into it, with varying levels of difficulty, that would be suitable for kayaking. Because of the perpetual wind, it is an excellent spot for parasailing and wind surfing—and is well used in that respect. It is very scenic too, making it a good spot for a camera buff. Here are some of the pictures I took while we had a short stop there.

Huson CavesNimpkish Lake Huson CavesBlue on blue. Huson CavesThe Upside-down stump.