Cape Fife-Rose Spit Loop
When I was researching for suitable hikes to
do in British Columbia's Haida Gwaii, the East Beach Trail in Naikoon
Provincial Park naturally caught my eye. This is a challenging
multi-day hike of well over 80 kilometres along the east and north coasts
of Graham Island. While completing this one-way hike would have
undoubtedly been a rewarding experience, I felt that the minimum four
days required would be too much of a commitment to just one part of the
Haida Gwaii. As a compromise, Zosia Zgolak and I hiked the initial
southern section to the
Shipwreck as a day trip, and we would follow that up with a shorter
loop at the north end encompassing Cape Fife, Rose Spit, and North Beach.
The most challenging aspect of backpacking in this area is finding good
sources of fresh water. Many of the rivers near the beaches are
influenced by ocean tides and can be brackish or salty, and water found
further inland tends to look unappealing to drink or can be difficult to
access. Unfortunately, the visitor information centres in Port
Clements and Masset were of little help in pointing out reliable water
sources for us, and in the end, we decided to make the loop an overnight
trip to limit the amount of water we would need for camping.
Early on the morning of 6 August 2021, Zosia Zgolak and I started our
trip from the Tow Hill trailhead parking area which is located 25
kilometres east of Masset along Tow Hill Road. Crossing the bridge
over Hiellen River, we easily found the signed Cape Fife trailhead on the
other side (parking is limited here). The 10-kilometre trail to
Cape Fife is well-marked and mostly forested with little in the way of
views. There are also many boggy sections, and waterproof boots are
essential to keep feet dry. Otherwise, we had no issues and arrived
at the deserted Cape Fife shelter about four hours after starting out.
Contrary to the information given at the trailhead, the
first-come-first-served user-maintained shelter has room to accommodate
up to eight people and possibly even a couple more in a pinch. I
had carried Zosia's two-person tent just in case the shelter was full or
uninhabitable, but as it turned out, this was unnecessary. Inside
the shelter are three bunk beds, a picnic table, a wood stove, some
limited kitchenware, a drying rack suspended from the ceiling, and ample
hooks for hanging gear. There is also a reasonably clean outhouse
nearby. While we certainly could have pushed on for a few more
hours, we opted to stay put and relax at Cape Fife for the rest of the
day. Moreover, we had the whole place to ourselves and would not
see another soul until the next day.
Zosia and I still had ample water that we hauled in with us, but we spent
some time collecting additional water from both the shelter's rain barrel
and nearby Kumara Lake. The water from the lake was expectedly
brownish from tannin, but Zosia reported that it was odourless. The
rain barrel water looked clear, but when we used it later for making soup
and tea, we found that it had a slight funny taste. Fortunately,
neither of us had any ill effects from ingesting the rain barrel water
(it was boiled anyway), and although Zosia carried the collected lake
water for much of the following day, we ultimately never had a need to
drink it. While it was not absolutely necessary, I fired up the
wood stove which made the shelter nice and warm for our evening dinner.
The only other noteworthy event was when a scurrying mouse woke me up
during the night. I heard the pitter-patter of its feet, and when I
turned on my headlamp and groggily opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of
the mouse dashing across the head of my bunk. Thankfully, the mouse
disappeared and did not disturb us the rest of the night.Zosia and I were up before dawn on 7 August 2021, and after a
quick breakfast, we tidied the shelter a bit and packed up before hitting
the beach for the long walk to Rose Spit, the northeastern tip of Graham
Island. Despite being technically easy, hiking along the beach
still has challenges. Footing on the beach can vary between firm
flat sand to unconsolidated rubble, and route-finding is important in
order to minimize fatigue. We found it was best to walk below the
tide line, but we also had to be careful not to wander out onto exposed
sandbars which have the potential to trap unwary hikers when the tide
rises. The novelty of walking along the beach also wears thin
pretty quickly, and the hike can become monotonous when the scenery does
not change for kilometre after kilometre. Consequently, we would
perk up at virtually any unusual object we would come across on the beach
including, sadly, a lot of man-made garbage. Temperatures were
fairly cool throughout the day due to the clouds and the ocean breeze,
but I think that actually made for ideal hiking conditions. We felt
quite comfortable hiking in our jackets, and as I had already mentioned,
we did not have to consume extra water to keep ourselves from
overheating. Upon reaching Rose Point which is roughly where Graham
Island's vegetation ends, we dropped our heavy packs and walked an
additional two kilometres out to the very last vestige of land on Rose
Spit. We actually spotted a sea lion in the water here, but it was
too elusive for us to get a good photograph.
After returning to Rose Point and collecting our packs, Zosia and I
settled into a lengthy trek along North Beach back to Tow Hill. The
high tide was now in, and we had difficulty avoiding the more tiresome
rubble on the beach. Although Tow Hill, our endpoint, stood out
like a beacon of hope on the horizon, it never seemed to get any closer.
We eventually started to see more people, mostly in vehicles, on the
beach, and at one point, we even stopped to chat at length with a crab
fisherman who also showed us how to dig for clams using a tool similar to
a core sampler. I was actually more interested in his e-bike; it
would have been heavenly to ride it the rest of the way out!
Fortunately, the final few kilometres of North Beach are easy to walk,
and slowly but surely, we arrived at Tow Hill to complete our loop and
conclude our trip.
Zosia leaves Cape Fife shelter in the dark before sunrise.
The tide is low as Zosia begins walking along the beach.
The sun finally rises on the horizon as Zosia proceeds north along the
The sunrise is a heart-warming sight.
Zosia fools around with a large shell fragment.
Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak
Zosia approaches Rose Point which is somewhere at the end of the long
Zosia finds the stinky remains of a beached whale--possibly a minke
The beached whale almost appears to be smiling.
On the way to Rose Spit, Zosia spots the remains of a second beached
This part of Rose Spit likely gets inundated during high tide.
Zosia walks out as far as she can on Rose Spit.
Sonny and Zosia stand on Rose Spit with opposing waves crashing against
each other in the background.
After visiting Rose Spit, Zosia turns southward for the long hike along
North Beach to Tow Hill which is partly obscured by clouds at distant
North Beach is seemingly littered with thousands of dead crabs, but most
of these are likely the discarded shells of molting crabs.
Tow Hill becomes more distinct as Zosia progresses further south along
Zosia pokes at the remains of a giant squid which is surprisingly
Oddly, the squid's arms and tentacles are missing and even appear to have
The Kelly Ruth ran aground on North Beach in 1994. The
shipwreck is a bit difficult to explore at high tide.
Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak
For some reason, a lot of foam accumulates on this part of North Beach.
A crab fisherman can be seen in the water.
Almost at the end of the hike, Zosia stretches out her
Total Distance: ~39.7 kilometres*
Round-Trip Time: 32 hours 5 minutes
*My GPS battery died partway along North Beach, and the
red line shows the approximate route for the remainder of the loop.