Haida Gwaii Roadtrip: Pesuta Shipwreck and Tow Hill

After arriving in Skidegate Inlet, the center of Haida Gwaii and the biggest port area, we quickly realized road tripping with a rental car would be the best way to explore Moresby Island. Moresby is the north big island of Haida Gwaii, and it doesn’t have many good anchorages. For our sailing style, Moresby is best explored by car.

We rented a car in Queen Charlotte City for two days and focused on the phenomenal hikes and beaches. The first day we drove north to Masset, doing the Pesuta Shipwreck trail, the Tow Hill hike, and having dinner at Charters in Masset. The second day we stayed more local, driving just to Skidegate for the Spirit Lake trail, the Haida heritage center, coffee at Jag’s cafe, and stocking up with provisions at two of the grocery stores.

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Pesuta Shipwreck

The Pesuta Shipwreck was a 264 foot log barge that wrecked on the beach in 1928. Getting to it is a 10 km hike through rich forest growth, along a river, and lastly on the beach. It was an excellent hike; a bit chilly because we had a stiff southerly breeze, but the sun made some appearances and the rain held off.

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Seeing the shipwreck had a bigger impact on me than I expected. For starters, it’s a photographer’s playground, providing dramatic angles and gradations of color that make for striking images.

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But besides that, as a sailor, it had sort of a ghostly beauty to it – a testament to the power of the sea, and a visual memorial of mankind’s machines pitted against nature. I thought about the mariners who had washed on shore that one stormy night, and how scared they must have been. It was horrible to think of, and made me grateful that we’re able to sail these waters in relative safety in modern times, thanks to many advantages – GPS, buoys and navigational aids, excellent charting, and decent weather forecasts.

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Tow Hill Hike

Next we drove to the north end of the island, passing through Masset. On the way there we had crazy weather – a graupel storm that pelted our car with tiny pellets of ice and made visibility terrible. We slowed to 1/3 the speed limit and fortunately the storm quickly passed. Haida Gwaii has many microclimates – it can be sunny in one area while raining or graupeling in another.

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The Tow Hill hike requires driving down a narrow dirt/gravel road. The hike itself was pretty easy, taking us only about 1 hour roundtrip – a good thing since we were a bit tired from the 2 1/2 hour Pesuta hike this morning. The Tow Hill lookout provides panoramic views of North Beach, Agate Beach, and the Dixon entrance – the body of water dividing Haida Gwaii from Alaska.

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North Beach, looking towards Rose Spit.

On a clear day you could see Alaska from there (we didn’t have a clear enough day though). Tow Hill itself is a rocky elevation that was formed by volcanic action and eroded during the Ice Age.

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Agate Beach

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Spirit Lake Trail

We also hiked the Spirit Lake Trail, near the Haida Heritage center and Jag’s coffee. It goes through old growth forest and cedar trees and is well maintained. A sign at the trailhead said a bear had been spotted earlier that month – unfortunately we didn’t see it.

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We maximized our hiking in these two days because we hadn’t had any hiking in a while (the North Coast has no hiking trails) and soon we won’t have much for a while (Gwaii Haanas doesn’t have much hiking either).

We didn’t even do all the hikes we could’ve, running out of time for several other hikes in the area. Northern Haida Gwaii has lots of good hiking!

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