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Photograph by Max Lowe

Exploring the Cold Coast: The Adventure Begins

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Eliel Hindert walks down the beach near Sombrio on the hunt for drift wood to cut for kindling to start the morning fire on Vancouver Island; Photograph by Max Lowe

So begins a 14-day adventure odyssey to drive the Pacific Northwest coast from Seattle to Vancouver Island.

The rocky shoreline was crowded with Sitka spruce trees, like slender green giants pressed up against the edge of the sea shrouded in a layer of morning fog. Sea birds stirred into flight with the growing light of the coming day as we looked out across the Georgia Strait and back toward the distant but still twinkling lights of the Washington coast.

It was cold, cold enough to warrant wearing a down jacket and long johns under jeans, but the insulating mantle of fleeting darkness and the warm cup of coffee in my hands made this morning scene almost cozy.

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Alex Guiry stands among vaulted trees on a coastal trail en route to Vancouver Island; Photograph by Max Lowe

We had made it here to the southern coast of Vancouver Island, the largest island off the West Coast of North America that shields British Columbia proper from the tempest of the Pacific Ocean. With a largely unexplored coastline, dense pine forests, and some of the most renowned cold-water surf breaks in the world, this the western seaboard of Canada would be the apex of our adventure on in the Pacific Northwest and on the Cold Coast.

Ten days earlier at the start of this odyssey, I sat in radiant sunlight streaming through the window of Milstead Coffee in Ballard, one of the many nestled boroughs of Seattle, Washington. My journey north toward the rugged coast of Vancouver Island would begin here in the rainy city itself—minus the rain for at least one day—to the great delight of my friends who hosted me.

That morning we had risen with the sun to explore the extensive forested pathways and striking old lighthouse point of Discovery Park, neatly tucked into a corner of downtown Seattle. As we watched tug boats ushering huge cargo ships from distant lands into the waiting embrace of the already bustling port city from the pebble beach, the distinct feeling of being on the teetering edge of the great American civilization sounded deep and low in the tugs distant hoots.

Over the following two weeks I would make my way north to meet up with friends, new and old, and explore the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest Coast by land and sea, seeking out as many different adventures as we could find along the way. Our plans were rough but we had some ideas, such as sailing the straits of the San Juans, then trail running and mountain biking through the coastal forest outside of Bellingham, Washington. We would make our way by ferry to the end goal, Vancouver Island, the epicenter of cold-water surfing, where those coasts rimmed with pine would host us to camp, spearfish, and cook mussels over campfires and soak in the infinite wild of the Cold Coast.

Up next: Adventures in Seattle, Washington

The Adventurists blog series “Exploring the Cold Coast” is sponsored by Sperry, which provided footwear and apparel for this adventure.

Follow us on Instagram at @NatGeoAdvenure—coming soon!

The Adventurer

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Max Lowe
‘s adventures revolve around photography and storytelling. A National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee and Bozeman native who grew up in a family rooted in the outdoor industry, Max dabbles in most outdoor adventure sports. Recent excursions have taken him from skiing Denali to surfing Sumatra. In 2014, two of his short films were screened at Mountainfilm in Telluride. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic Adventure. See his latest series for The Adventurists, Navigating Baja and Montana by Dirt.