Published: August 13th 2011August 6th 2011
Stunning Morning on Bowron Lake Chain
Beautiful BC clear sunny morning ahead
Whenever I don my backpack to venture elsewhere into this world, I always make sure I am an unofficial ambassador for my home. And yes, I have a Canadian flag sown proudly on everything I own. I know...gag. But seriously, British Columbia is
really worth the brag.
Like a true Canadian, I get teased for my positivity and wonderment, and for my happy-go-lucky way. We are all polite to a default, so I try not to say "sorry" too many times in a row, but let the occasional "Eh?" rip for the amusement of others. At first glance, most believe I'm an American. Americans however, can immediately identify I'm not, and will screech and point like they spotted an alien hiding amongst a crowd of humans...kinda like that horror movie, They Live. That's okay they think our President's name is Tim Horton so we forgive them.
Because I adore beautiful British Columbia so much, my summers are spent right here in lotus land doing 'stay-cations.' Over the years, I have hiked the 4 day West Coast trail along the treacherous coastline of the Pacific Rim park, over landed 350 km by horseback to follow the Alexander Mackenzie eulachon trail
The beginning of the end. So very optimistic when starting out! Trails looks great, canoe is on wheels, what more can you want?
from Quesnel to Bella Coola, biked the entire abandoned Kettle Valley Railway in the sunny Okanagan, traversed mountainous regions of the Chilcoltin to spot wildflowers (including the highlight of being 'treed' by a grizzly), marvelled at the moon-like surface of the extinct volcanoes at Nazco, and fished in the turquoise lakes that dot the high terrain along our snowy mountain peaks. These being a life-time of glorious memories, my only regret is I didn't blog them.
This year, I'm headed for the Bowron Lakes Provincial Park. It is a chain of lakes situated in the center of British Columbia, located about 8 hours north of Vancouver. This circuit of 116 kms and is nothing less than stunning. A cornucopia of glacial mountains, cascades and waterfalls, crystal clear waters, virgin forest, and endless photographic opportunities. Costs for this adventure are reasonable, the reservation fee is $18, circuit fee $60pp. But it is stupid popular, so you must make a reservation way in advance, or risk not getting 1 of those 4 daily drop-in spots. Rental of canoe and cart are approx. $170 and $40. If you'd prefer, a guided group will run you about $1200, everything provided. This is the
It was like Glass
The beautiful Issac Lake as the day progressed.
ultimate B.C. wilderness experience with a bit of government regimentation thrown in to ensure a safe and enjoyable time for all. Best thing, all participants are spaced somewhat adequately giving the illusion the whole circuit is yours.
The first time I completed the Bowron lake chain, I was 13 and on a family vacation. None of us had ever been in a canoe before. The park suggested a leisurely pace of 8-10 days to complete the circuit, my crazy parents decided we could do it in 4. It was hell.
This time around, I'm with my mountain man whom I'll call Smitty. He committed to take it easy peasy. Eight days of no blisters, no bears, no problems...okay 1 problem, we forgot the bug repellent....and a flammable fire source, i.e. matches. Thankfully, there is a lovely general store called Beckers that offers up everything you would ever need...for a premium. We stock up with stuff we suddenly decide we need. We need Cheetos? Really? After parking and sequestering our rental gear, we head for the registration office to watch a mandatory orientation video. Before we know it, our epic journey is underway.
Day One starts off with
Make sure you know where you are going
Not that you could get lost but 116 kms of lake can be confusing.
a portage to Kibbee Lake, named after Frank Kibbee who became the first long-term game warden in the early 1900's. He's the one that made sure this area was set aside as a game reserve back in 1925. Speaking of portages, the Bowron lake chain ensures you quickly learn what a portage is. Bonus this year, canoe carriers are allowed on the trail. Yay!
Back when I was 13, my mum and I had to balance the canoe on our lopsided shoulders while lugging gigantic packsacks of clothes each. My father had the other canoe and a rutsack with all our camping supplies, and my little brother carried the huge bag full of food, begrudgingly I might add. Because my arms were up over my head, the exposed skin had accumulated a thick carpet of blood thirsty mosquitoes and when I realized I was being ruthlessly slaughtered, 13 year old drama ensued. Crisis quickly averted with a drenching of bug repellent. Undaunted, we arrived on Kibbee Lake excited to learn how to canoe. Dad and my brother had the hang of it pretty fast, mum and our canoe went around relentlessly in circles. Dad yelled something about a j
Most people just sit and enjoy the view, Smitty must move rocks. I enjoyed watching him.
stroke until my mum stopped speaking to him. I was then bequeathed the task. I did pretty fair across the lake, but was overjoyed as we came to shore, as my inexperienced arms ached. Dad carefully announced we had two more portages and two more lakes to complete before dusk. By the time we made it to the middle of Issac Lake we were in pitch darkness. As a joke, God decided we needed to be wet for all this. And it poured rain for 2 days straight.
This time around, and because we started late in the day, Smitty and I leisurely stop at the entrance to Indianpoint Lake to make our first camp. We enjoy the company of a German couple who helped us drink our bag of wine. Day Two sees us quickly canoe Indianpoint Lake. From this lake, we portage onto Isaac Lake and spend our second night at Nigoo Creek in Wolverine Bay. Issac lake is stocked with fish, so Smitty threw a line into the water and caught some rather nice trout for our dinner. As we set up camp we also spot our first black bear scat nearby, which prompted me to
Back in 1982 - Bowron Lakes Day 1
We all look ready to rumble. I cannot believe the amount of stuff we had to carry!
rummage through our stuff for the bear spray and sleep with it under my pillow that night. Each campsite offers bear caches in the ground to store your food, but that still doesn't guarantee you won't have good ol' fuzzy wuzzy wander by for a Cheetos inspection.
Day Three the fog had lifted from the lake early to reveal a sunny glorious day. We spent the entire day leisurely paddling Isaac Lake, the largest lake on the circuit (38 km) named after George Isaac, a logger from this area. I forgot to apply sunscreen and a hat, so I am now nuclear red. Our third night we found a empty bench directly opposite Betty Wendle Creek, named for the wife of Joe Wendle, the two spent about 20 years as guides for the Bowron Lakes.
At this very location, my family and I were absolutely soaked and miserable on our first night. I remember my 13 year old self thinking, if I ever get out of this situation alive, I'll never set foot in another canoe as long as I live
. My parent’s patience had long worn off. Dad went about trying to get a fire started for
I convinced the German couple at our first campsite that Steller Jays only eat Pringles. They were feeding this guy at the end of the trip. LOL
the night, so we could maybe dry some stuff and eat a hot meal. He painstakingly hovered over bits of dry paper and tinder attempting to block out the driving rain. An hour or so later, his persistence paid off and he finally got enough flame so we could boil some water. Me, always the helpful one, went to fetch a large pot of water from the lake, tripped over my awkward 13 year feet and doused the entire campfire. My father chased me around that campsite for at least half an hour in a homicidal rage. We ate cold beans.
This time, I am cozy warm and fed a wonderful dinner. My mountain man is a wiz at blazing fires, camp cooking, and blowing up air mattresses. We enjoy a midnight swim, and the subsequent picking off leeches before retiring to a comfy tent for the night. Up early on Day Four we quickly paddle the rest of Isaac Lake with the plan to set up our camp near the chute, where Isaac Lake empties into the Isaac River. I'm suffering from a few unresolved nerves due to my last experience at this very spot. I recall my
Trout caught fresh during our trip. I got the bigger one.
father surveyed the area confidently and deemed this whole chute do-able. Halfway down the monstrosity, I think he changed his mind. I'm not going into details but I'm pretty sure I may have used up one of my lives that day. Somehow we made it to shore and portaged the rest of the way, but my family still doesn't speak of it.
Smitty spends most of our exploration day trying to coax me into agreeing to it again. We go for little hikes to check out the entire system, as well as watch several canoe’rs attempt it. Smitty is skilled and knows it won't be a problem. When I wake that morning, I decide to tempt fate. I will mention I was bribed with a pretty nice breakfast-in-tent too.
So, Day Five starts with us shooting the white water rapids. If you need a scale visual, I believe this part is officially called the "Roller Coaster." Weirdly, it's only a short .8 km which can be either canoed or portaged. I would recommend for those who choose to run it, know your strokes and how to read moving water, followed by some practise runs. I don't know what
here moosey moose
these monsters of the marsh can do a number on a tent if you let them
happened because I did it with my eyes closed. But, I was somewhat dry and more importantly alive when we pulled our canoe out near the danger sign with a broken piece of canoe hanging off of it. Smitty proudly smug for most of the day after.
From this hell chute to McLeary Lake, there are two short portages for the two short stretches of river rapids. Just before you get to McLeary Lake, there is a side trail leading to Isaac Falls. My family, under dad's time restraints, passed it by. Smitty and I took the time to enjoy the beautiful scene.
For my family, who stood under the trees to escape the pounding rain at the entrance to McLeary Lake, the feeling was not so victorious. Soaked and exhausted, blistered and angry, this fun family vacation had turned into an ugly version of Survivor. I remember looking down at my shrivelled rain soaked fingers before I spied my brother secretly gnawing on a coveted hotdog wiener. The fight was on. Hey! Rations. Daaaaaaaddddd!!! Dad mustered enough energy to give his team a pep talk. We need to hustle and paddle our asses off for the remaining
two days. No time for stopping, no time to take pictures, just paddle paddle paddle.
Another stunning morning
This was near the end of the trip, a volcano like mountain in the backdrop. Beautiful
Insert expected teenage reaction here.
McLeary Lake is a beautiful, small lake with a great view of the mountains and the Cariboo Glacier high above. There is still a little snow left this year. It is also the site of Freddie Becker's first cabin, built in 1935. Smitty and I paddle the swift-moving ice cold glacier-fed Cariboo River. Here, we encounter some crazy sweepers, snags and a couple of log jams...but nothing like the difficulty I remember my family enduring. It's all about finding the right channels and we seemed to get through without any problems. Several other canoeists didn't have such an easy time, we helped recover floating gear, etc. Once the current eases, you know you are coming into Lanezi Lake, the second largest lake on the circuit with spectacular mountain peaks towering over the aquamarine coloured waters. Our fifth night was near the Turner Creek camp site on Lanezi Lake.
Wildlife is so abundant on the Bowron Lake chain that paddlers are often treated to moose feeding by the waterways, beaver and otter busily doing their thang, and the occasional
Segregated to one Canoe
My parents were smart enough to throw us in one canoe whenever we got a little to whiney for them.
bear or woodland caribou skulking about. Not to mention it is an absolute birdwatcher’s paradise. Day Six we arrive on Sandy Lake, fringed with aspen trees and beautiful beaches all along one shore. I tell Smitty about a myth I'd heard way back that Sandy Lake is hiding a massive motherlode of gold on its bottom, never to be discovered. We spend the next hour discussing how we will spend our riches....once we figure out how to dredge the lake...from behind a canoe.
Up in the sky an eagle slowly utilizes an updraft. When I passed through this area with my parents on our day 2, I begged them to stop so we could enjoy this beautiful riviera for a second. It was a firm no. This time around, Smitty and I divert to Hunter Lake for a look before we come back and find a vacated sandy beach to watch everyone else go by for a few hours. Although most of the year groups are adequately spaced on this circuit, July and August can be canoe chaos in these parts. Smitty pans for gold while I lay in the sun and swipe at bugs. We are in no
Issac Lake morning
My favourite part of camping, early morning fog on a lake while drinking a nice hot cup o' joe.
Our sixth night campsite is on Rum Lake, which technically we aren't allowed to use, but no one else is around, and it has the warmest water. This is also the point of the circuit where you start feeling pretty grubby. Saturated daily by layers of repellent, dirt and sweat, it is beyond heaven to strip down and kowabunga into the lake at dusk.
Day Seven we make a side trip down to Unna Lake and the mile hike into Cariboo Falls. Missed the first time around by my family, I was pleased we took the time to check out the wall of water with what looks like at least a seventy foot drop. Afterwards, Smitty and I portaged to Babcock Lake named for J.P.Babcock, a B.C. Fish Commissioner who was also instrumental in having the interior of the lake chain set aside as a game reserve in 1925. We ate our picnic lunch while we paddled across Babcock, then did the two short portages on either side of Skoi Lake, the smallest of the chain, into Spectacle Lake. We have left the steep mountains now and are into more open, marsh-type country. We spy our first
mooses (meese?) knee deep in the grasses as we pass quietly by. Smitty says it smells like rain.
We made it just in time before the heavens opened up and drenched us, our night spent under the picnic shelter half way up Spectacle Lake. The other half of the shelter was shared with a couple of B.C.'ers who were kayaking the circuit and were on their day 5. There are many like-minded people from B.C. doing their own stay-cation. You will always meet a nice mix of locals with lots of international adventurers, many opportunities to share stories and food around a campfire nightly. After the rains, dense fog usually greets you in the early morning in B.C. Smitty was sent out of the tent first to determine if we could even see where we were going yet.
I've been kinda waiting for it, but finally I hear that familiar cry of a Loon calling its partner across the lake. Always a eerily mournful sound, whenever I hear it, it truly makes me feel Canadian. After all, the Loonie is technically our national bird. To commemorate this unofficial title, our dollar coin is referred to as a "Loonie"
Exhausted but finally done!
Day 4. My teenage expression explains situation entirely.
and adorns a picture of the bird on one side. Not altogether clear why our two dollar coin is referred to as a "Twoonie" though.
Smitty's left the tent flap open and although mozzies are floating in the air above my face, I lay there warm and cozy for a little bit longer. My muscle aches are subsiding, I realize I could do another 10 days of this. Wait. Is that bacon I smell? Smitty is sharing our fire pit with these Quebec'ers on kayaks who came off the lake late last night. I hear them all babbling away in French, Smitty a pro at bartering our coffee for a few rations of back bacon. The men scoot off quickly, they are attempting to complete the circuit in 3 days. Not us. Smitty allows for me to have an extra hour in the rack, presents coffee in bed, with a bacon and egg sandwich! Holy. Can it get any better? By 10 am the fog soup had worn off and presents another spectacular day on where else, Spectacle lake.
The Bowron marsh is pretty much how I remember it, the only difference is, my Dad spent most of
Nice spot to pull over and have lunch
Loved stopping randomly, doing some hiking inland, and enjoying the beaches.
this segment getting in and out of his canoe into waist-deep glacier water to haul our canoes, us, and our gear up and over all the gigantic beaver dams - cursing out those varmits with words my 13 year old ears had never heard before. So far, it appears the dams have vanished (fate of beavers unknown), so the only thing Smitty and I must contend with is a few snags and debris. Smitty gets bonus points for spotting the most wildlife on this trip so far...but he still hasn't seen an allusive Sasquatch yet, so really it's all irrelevant. I plan to have that victory someday, however for now I concede into a peaceful la-la land to enjoy the endless wonderscapes that leisurely go by. As we head downstream into the Bowron River, benches of grassy marsh line a gentle, crooked stream. We startle waterfowl which in turn startle us. We are somewhat on edge because we are half expecting an encounter with a huge grizzly or two, the salmon will start to spawn any day now, and this is the prime area for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Instead we see a moose, some otters, and what we think is
A Spectacle of a Lake
Spectacle lake is absolutely named appropriately.
Speaking of moose, my family arrived here at the Bowron marsh on our night 3. Knackered beyond recuperation, we all passed out in our family-sized tent without even bothering with a fire. Sometime during the night, a moose cow and her twin calves meandered into our camp. Something spooked the mamma and she took off, our tent directly in her evacuation route. I had a gigantic hoof come about an inch from my skull as she went right through. Somehow, our tarp got wrapped around her neck like a superman cape and the flapping rattle scared the shit out of her, she and her gigantic babies all trampled back and forth through our camp bugling bloody murder to one another. Dad stumbled around in his tighty whities, flapping his arms like a madman attempting to shoo them out. He managed to pull the tarp free, and they finally fled. This all took place at about 3 am, so instead of trying to reassemble our camp, we sat huddled under a tree sleeping upright until day break, and then miserably packed up with the intent of getting the stupid trip over with.
Smitty and I rejoice as
Just as scary as I remember. Luckily this is the part of the chute we portage. Whew.
Day Eight finds us paddling up Bowron Lake, formerly known as Bear Lake, which was renamed for John Bowron, one of Barkerville's residents in the 1860's who held important positions such as postmaster, fire warden, government agent, and gold commissioner in this parts. We decide to have a celebratory breakfast in the town of Wells and because I have some time left before I have to go back to work, we head towards the historic town of Barkerville for a visit.
Named after Billy Barker, the miner who unearthed a motherlode of gold on Williams Creek back in 1862, Barkerville provides tourists a sneak peak of what life was like in a frontier gold rush town back in the 1870s. Street entrepreneurs walk around in period costumes, you feel like you've gone back in time to a place that actually swelled to a huge population, second largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco! Bustling Barkerville faded after the gold rush only to be reincarnated so visitors could experience the past. Pencil it into your itinerary, as it's really worth going and having a look.
This "stay-cation" was everything I could have hoped for in lovely
Wet, Miserable but Exhilerating
We had to use garbage bags to stay dry but the scenic view was still stunning.
British Columbia. With the added bonus this year that it helped to resolve some earlier trauma of my youth. Smitty and I had fantastic weather, saw a ton of wildlife, and had no worries. I can now go back to my crazy ass job all rejuvenated and relaxed.
On a side note, I think it's fair to point out for those who may not know - a fairly tragic thing has happened in British Columbia to our beautiful pristine pine forests. On my drive up from the west coast to meet Smitty in Quesnel, I was gobsmacked into utter silence at what I saw. Even I didn't realize the scope of the catastropic destruction. The pine trees that dominated this region have been systematically destroyed by a little beetle creature. Yes, most believe global warming is the culprit, as our winters haven't been cold enough in decades to kill these critters off. So these pests have swarmed across our province like a plague and turned all the lush greenery into a bright red hell. Bowron Lakes is almost Ground Zero, the stunning mountainsides of my 13 year old memory are gone, clearcut haphazardly in an effort to control the
Not funny. A jagged piece of canoe hangs from the danger sign.
uncontrollable pest. Now all that is left is standing dead trees which are now turning grey tinder dry. The risk of forest fire is so ridiculously high we might as well sit on a box of dynamite and play with matches.
Luckily, we have had the wettest July on record anyone can remember, and this has slowed the chances of a cataclysmic forest fire....so far. For a visual reference, I've provided a little map to show you how the red spread back in 2006. Fast forward to 2011, the distinctive hew of red in the backdrop is turning to ghostly grey. It's tragic really. And I think we may be too terribly late to fix it.
There are more photos below