(Map: Courtesy of Maple Leaf Adventures)
The Great Bear Rainforest was so dubbed by environmental groups in the 1990s, partly in reference to the famous Kermode spirit bears — a subspecies of black bear with a high incidence of a type of albinism — that inhabit islands like the Princess Royal in great numbers. First Nations groups, environmentalists, logging companies and the B.C. government agreed to a landmark plan in 2006 that formalized the protection of a third of the area that stretches from Alaska down to the Discovery Islands sandwiched between the northern third of Vancouver Island and the B.C. coast.
“There’s this magical, grand landscape that you’re travelling through that you’re humbled by,” says Smith, the tour operator, captain and part owner of Maple Leaf Adventures. Smith has been working in the area since 1991, when he did a nine-year stint as a park ranger. But he sees himself more as an explorer than anything else. He says he tries never to visit the same area twice on his tours because he needs that sense of discovery in his life.
“I get the biggest boost of energy when I’m off exploring new territory,” he says. “As a captain of the ship, I have this tremendous opportunity to decide which channel I’m going to go through on a particular day.”
And daily choices tend to include everything from twisting fjords with 1,000-metre deep inlets to the gamut of cascading waterfalls or ancient fish traps used by the ancestors of First Nations groups like the Heiltsuk. They invariably include an abundance of coniferous trees, orange-trunked cedar or the distant snow that takes over the rocky peaks from the verdant mosses blanketing the lower altitudes.