People of the Wild is a blog series profiling residents of British Columbia who have one thing in common: their love for exploring the BC wild. This week we’re featuring Gord Pincock, a professional sea kayaking guide who uses his decades of experience to show visitors to BC the stunning, remote beauty of Haida Gwaii.
What do you do and where do you live?
My name is Gord Pincock and I am a professional sea kayak guide and wilderness explorer with my company Butterfly Tours. I feel like I’m a bit migratory in that I live in different locations depending on the season. In the winter months I live in Sechelt, which is where I have my primary residence, but every June for the last thirty-four years I’ve headed up north to Haida Gwaii for the summer months. I was born and raised in Vancouver, but I have also lived in Tofino. Aside from spending a few months at a time doing guiding work in the Caribbean, I’ve essentially lived in BC my entire life.
What is it that makes you proud to call BC home?
I feel more a sense of gratitude than pride. Some of the most wonderful things about living in BC are so simple, that unless we bring our attention to them they can be overlooked. I am endlessly grateful for the plentiful, clean, fresh water and air. I’ve travelled quite a bit throughout the world and there are a lot of places where tap water is not drinkable. Here we have awesome water flowing from the mountains and accumulating in numerous freshwater lakes. It’s the norm here for the environment to be clean and the air fresh.
How does BC’s nature and wilderness inspire you?
I feel like wild places can essentially rejuvenate us. I know I’ve experienced that myself and I certainly feel like I’m witnessing that while guiding my tours. I guide weeklong tours with people so I get to see them come fresh into the wilderness and then transform into these wilderness beings that have been rejuvenated.
Also, I think being in the wilderness can enable us to know ourselves better. I’m often reminded of the saying, “If you want to get to know someone then travel with them”. I think if you want to get to know someone really well, then travel through the wilderness with them. And if you want to know yourself, travel alone in the wilderness. But as a practical disclaimer, a tremendous amount of preparation and training is required in order to safely travel in the wilderness by yourself. However, part of what my company offers is the ability to travel through the wilderness in organized groups with someone who has experience. My experience enables me to manage the risk of the wilderness while my clients still get the chance to allow the wilderness to show them who they really are.
That’s an underlying concept or philosophy for my life. I’ve been changed through some long solo trips in the wilderness. In my twenties I used to go for weeks or months at a time alone up in Haida Gwaii and I would come back transformed. Those experiences have remained foundational to my life and I can utilize what I’ve learned during those times in pretty much every aspect of my life.
What would you say makes BC’s rainforests so special?
One of the things that I continuously and simply enjoy, so much so that I feel it right down to my very bone marrow is the timeless sensation of exploring old growth forests. You can see old growth that is so old that it fell over a century ago and it’s now a nurse log for other new growth. Essentially you’re looking at continuous and timeless life cycles. It’s like looking back through centuries of a natural calendar. But conversely, you’re also able to project forward and imagine a new seedling as a future nurse log. For me, the rainforest has the similar effect to that feeling you get when you look up at the stars and feel really small.
Another quality that makes old growth forests really special is that there are so few remaining on Earth. True old growth forests are entirely different than tree farms, and thankfully BC still has some intact virgin rainforests. The first one that springs to mind is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. A few decades ago it was at risk of losing even more of its rainforest, but as a result of the activism and protests, they stopped the logging, shut down the logging camps, and created the National Park Reserve. Sometimes I like to describe it as a place that has been sustainably logged for ten thousand years, because the Haida people have lived there for that long.
What would be a place or experience that you would recommend that a new visitor to BC not miss this summer?
I would suggest that they go find a place with what I call a long view toward a wide expanse of distant horizon. There are many places in BC that fit this description and I would suggest they find at least one that is a bit difficult for them to get to so that they get the satisfaction of having overcome a challenge.
The reason I suggest this is that staring into such vast spaces, similarly to the sensation of stargazing, gives me a sense of realism into whatever is going on in my life. I might think I have troubles but after a walk where I’ve looked out onto the horizon, I realize that I’ve got a few first world problems, but I am just fine. It shifts my perspective.
For example, when I lived in Tofino I would often go out to Long Beach to do this. Although thousands of people go there, it wouldn’t take long for me to climb up on some rocks and get to a higher location where I could spend hours alone. I would get some solitude combined with a beautiful view and this incredible sense of distance. I continually see this impact my guests on my weeklong tours. While I’m making dinner I see them sitting and just gazing out into the wilderness. I figure it’s an original form of meditation.
Then, after finding one of these places, I would suggest seeing how it feels to take no photos and share no social media. Being unplugged can be an exception these days but it can truly provide an entirely different quality to the experience of being in the wilderness. For the first twenty years of my career I did all my guiding and paddling with no camera. I didn’t take any pictures because my philosophy was that it would bring me more into the here and now. And it does. Now I do travel with a camera, partly because I want photos on my website to keep my business going, but I’m careful when and how I bring it out. As soon as I’m looking through the lens, it’s not the same degree of here and now. A camera can enhance the experience in some ways but it certainly detracts in others.
What would you say is BC’s best-kept secret?
For me it’s definitely the west coast of Moresby Island on Haida Gwaii. That’s one of the places I used to do my long solo trips and it’s incredibly remote. You can spend weeks up there and see no one else. It’s on the map, so it’s not a secret, but it’s so rarely visited that it may as well be.
Any last words of advice to somebody thinking about visiting BC?
Less is more! BC is a vast and diverse place. If you’re visiting with limited time, I’d suggest that people consider narrowing the scope of their explorations. The danger with attempting to see it all is that it could actually result in experiencing less of what this province has to offer. I’m often discouraging guests from trying to fit too much in and encouraging them to slow down and take their time.
Follow along with Gord’s BC adventures here.
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