Tuesday, September 26, 2006

BC Without Beta

While everyone back east was facing the trials and tribulations of competition, Leif and I embarked on a kayaking adventure of our own, a little closer to home. British Columbia is large, full of incredible mountains, impressive scenery and high quality whitewater, and up until recently was largely unexplored... by me. Leif and I decided to go see what was up there in the wild and maybe, just maybe we would get some good video footage for our forthcoming kayak flick.

The first step to any successful mission is to go to the store and buy some guidebooks, topo maps, and do some research on the internet. We decided to skip that step and go to Skookumchuck instead. Turns out that was a pretty good choice because we had a sweet 5-day session at Skook during some pretty premium tides with minimal crowding. Big air was the name of the game as usual... that and trying to explain to confused tourists why we were paddling upstream and continually falling on our heads. We even surfed an early morning tide and were lucky enough to be the only ones there. By the end of those five days we were too sore to continue pushing the edge of the freestyle envelope, so we went to Squamish for some world class creeking.

Since we had no beta on any of the local runs we decided to drive up the Cheakamus river and peer into the canyon. It looked good, so we drove up the road a ways and met a dirt biker on the way who happened to know where the putin was. Sweet. The run started off with a technical 12-footer and then crashed through boulder gardens and ledges for a couple of miles. With our appetites wetted for BC whitewater, we drove up to the Soo River that afternoon, placed my bike at the alleged takeout and drove up the road five or six miles until we found an suitable access point. The run was even sweeter than the Cheakamus, sporting one superb walled-in class V gorge and numerous steep boulder gardens. We thought we were starting to see what BC boating was all about, but we were wrong.

We read on the internet that the takeout for Callaghan creek was at a bridge. A quick glance at the trusty road atlas showed only one bridge, so we parked the bike at a campground just downstream of it. Perfect, now for the put-in. It seemed smart to drive up along the road that ran parallel to the river to find a good access point. After four or five miles of driving up the gravel road we encountered a road construction project. We asked the workers where we could get down to the river and they didn't seem to know, so we continued on to a viewpoint for a big waterfall near the Callaghan. We decided that the tiny creek that fell two hundred feet into a rubble filled canyon below us probably met up with the main river somewhere. So we bushwhacked down the steep canyon walls toward the creek. Of course there was not enough water to paddle the side creek so we sloshed down a mile or two, ran three small, dried-up waterfalls and plopped into the milky blue Callaghan. This run was sweet not only for the 3 or 4 waterfalls, of which one is a perfect 25-footer, but for the steep boulder gardens and powerful rapids. This was classic BC creek boating. The locals had told us it would be far too low, but only a spoiled girlyman afraid to put some scratches in his boat would call it too low. We took out, euphoric from the paddle. Then only a long bike shuttle separated us from our next trip on the Ashlu.

Bryan Smith, a Washington state native turned Squamish regular, and his friend Joey were kind enough to show us down Box Canyon of the Ashlu. This is perhaps one of BCs finest class V runs. Having local paddlers to guide us was imperative, though, as many of the drops in Box canyon are both un-scoutable and un-portageable. I can’t really tell you much about the Ashlu because it is kind of a blur in my mind. I was nervous putting on, especially once it started hailing and thundering, but managed to style most of the lines. The canyon was phenomenal with smooth, polished, vertical rock that extended straight up from the river. The drops were steep and super clean with fun boofs and continuous action. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes class V and knows a boater that lives in Squamish.

It is important to note that the Ashlu is currently threatened by an impending hydro project that will siphon the water out of Box canyon and other sections during most of the year. While we were there, crews were already logging along the access road in preparation to widen it to bring in the equipment necessary to construct the dam.

From Squamish we drove over the mountains to Lytton, home of the Thompson River and base of Hyak Rafting, where an Australian kayaker we had met up at Skook was working for the summer. We sampled the Frog wave and whitewater of the Thompson, as well as the two beautiful gorges of Cayoosh Creek. But the real highlight of that area was the Lower Stein River.

The Stein River is typically run from Stein Lake down to the Fraser River which is about a 3-day wilderness trip. Usually the lake is accessed via float plane or an excruciating hike over snowy mountain passes for a whole day. Turns out float planes are expensive and we didn’t have enough time to hike in to Stein Lake. The alternative is to hike up-river from the confluence along a trail until you have gone as far as humanly possible and then collapse at a reasonable campsite. Leif and I and an Englishman known to us only as Burt, took off up the trail one rainy morning. That evening it only took two gigantic meat and cheese sandwiches each, courtesy of Hyak Rafting, and about 3-dozen granola bars to satiate us after the grueling hike. We stayed up late looking for meaning in a warm campfire before passing out under a tarp around 8:30. Once we regained consciousness in the morning we noticed that nature was all around us. It had snuck up on us in the night and now we were surrounded. There were tall, rocky peaks and forests and a clear green river crashing down through it all. There were bears too... we didn’t see any, but they were there. The woman at the visitor’s center had told me all about the grizzly bears.

As for rapids there was really only one. It began right where we put in and ended about 10 or 12 miles downstream when we hit the Fraser later that day. Most of it was really nice, continuous read-and-run boulder gardens. There were a few larger ledges and holes. And there was one sweet rapid called the Devil’s Staircase which is a series of five or six powerful ledges backed up on one another amongst a congested boulder garden. Paddling loaded boats through it was a little out of control, but it just made it that much more fun. Of course the Rocker allowed me to style my line through it. There was more whitewater after that, but it was just a blur of continuous class III-IV. The whitewater wasn’t super hard, but the whole experience of the wild Stein makes me want to return to run the rest of the river.

And that was that. We ran the shuttle from Lytton to the Stein trailhead, packed up the car and drove back to Portland that night. Leif continued on to Arcata the next day where he is bumming around for the next year. We’ll have lots of video from our trip in the next Sweet Bunion Production, but unfortunately, I don’t have any photos.

Dan Rubado


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