Saturday, September 23, 2006
Left line off Overlander Falls - Upper Fraser River, BC - Canada.
BC's longest river has a record much entwined in the history of British Columbia. For centuries native peoples, traders, explorers and settlers have been bound to using the Fraser River corridor because of the essential route it provides through the mountains between the Interior and the Coast. The upper portions of the Fraser River were first encountered in the late 1700's by hardened explorers Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser. It was Simon Fraser himself who in 1808 followed a large portion of this uncharted river to its mouth. After many months in the wilderness he reached the Ocean discovering that the Fraser wasn't part of the Columbia River system.
Today the main flow of British Columbia's largest watershed is one of the last major rivers in the world still running its course free of human interference. Although this doesn't include many tributaries forever changed from hydro projects, the main flow of the Fraser has never been dammed.
To really locate the classic whitewater of the Fraser however, you must make your way across the province near BC's border with Alberta. Here in the wilderness of the Northern Rocky Mountains, the Fraser headwaters slowly begins to grow from its own remote valley in the heart of Jasper National Park. Most people will encounter the Fraser when it begins to follow a classic stretch of the Yellowhead highway. After Moose Lake, the river begins to pick up gradient and offers the best whitewater. Roadside scouting and access to a couple of sections are along this route.
The most popular 9 km pipeline to Robson Meadows campground stretch is world class by means of its continuous challenging whitewater, unsurpassed beauty, and extra long paddling season which extends from April thru September. If you increase the run about 5km longer near the outflow of Moose Lake, you will spend a day paddling consecutively up the scale of river difficulty from class I thru IV.
Patch Bennett in the mix of outhouse rapids.
Not far below the pipline put-in you will know you have arrived to the start of the continuous whitewater once you pass a small outhouse style shack just as the river turns sharply to the right. Here the river creates outhouse rapids followed by the infamous Eric's hole. At certain flows this continuous class III boogie water can quickly grow in size and create a number of class IV rapids just downstream. A few pourovers are always capable of administering good beat downs if one is caught sleeping at the wheel. Holes, waves and a few great boulder gardens all create lots of technical moves but still provide good times for those in their playboats.
Jen Spragg in the Canyon.
Near the end of the pipeline section is the misty horizon line of Overlander Falls. In September it is amazing to see salmon below this waterfall who started nearly 1000 km away in the Pacific Ocean. Fish who reach this point are now at the furthest point possible to spawn. Overlander Falls takes the entire flow of the river over a single ledge therefore the height seems to vary from 20 to 30 feet depending on water levels.
A big volume left line is always there but puts you quite close to an undercut wall. Going right means taking a bump off a middle shelf before landing in the clear at the bottom. The remaining 2 kms constrict through a class IV (V) canyon with some more great rapids before ending in a giant pool. Here at the takeout, a perfect campground awaits you in the shadows of Mt. Robson.
To get a detailed description of the Fraser River and learn more about the Fraser River Festival and some classic creeking nearby, checkout Sean Allen's and Spencer Cox's Kayakwest website.
Also check out the Fraser Flows (Fraser River at Red Pass).
View Upper Fraser River (III-V) in a larger map
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Jordie McKenzie drops a backcountry bomb on the North Stein River, BC - Canada
Since the beginning of backcountry river exploration in BC, the few paddlers who ever got to run the entire length of the Stein Wilderness had to do so by getting a solid group into Stein Lake headwaters with the assistance of their wallets and the Whistler Air Service. This all changed however in 2003 when David Norell, Braden Fandrich and Corey Boux first attempted to access the Stein River Valley with only their boats, a map, sleeping bags and plenty of ambition.
After coming out from the mosquito abundant bush days later their infamous journey quickly turned into a much talked about adventure among their paddling friends in Western Canada. Their story about the trip was later published in a paddling magazine and the tales of the cheap dirtbag route became a classic and inspiring river story for anyone looking for a new BC multi-day mission. Best of all, not only did the trio of core-boaters save themselves more than a grand in plane fare, they discovered that the mandatory access tributary happened to drop 1800 feet over endless runnable slides in the last mile and a half. It was this discovery now known to a few more including myself as the very special North Stein River. Of course no tale on paper really can describe just how much hell is sometimes needed to find that piece of heaven you're searching for.
Chip Powell eats up the gradient on the final mile of the North Stein.
After 5 weeks of twice a-day creeking with fellow wingman Jordie "two boats-a-month" McKenzie, we ran into Braden Fandrich and quizzed him on our logistics of heading into the North Stein a week later. With our plans and route confirmed, I returned to Calgary to grab back-yaks, more beer and the unemployed and always smiling Chippy Powell as a third leg also keen for some vacation from hell training.
Just two Alberta dirtbags and an immigrant who can't afford a floatplane.
Once back at the Stein River take-out our adventure began with an afternoon drive out of the arid Fraser River Canyon and into a much cooler Coast Mountain Range. Pavement became dirt which became rock and overgrown trees on dirt track. Eventually the road came to an obvious end at 6000 feet with still plenty of elevation needing to be gained on foot. With majestic peaks surrounding us the enormity of the task of carrying nearly 100 pounds further into the unknown began to take effect. Just as final words of uncertainty were being uttered from our gracious shuttle driver Jenny, she watched her man Jordie take an epic nosedive down a steep slope out of view as we departed with loaded kayaks and the rest of the week’s adventure on our shoulders.
She's just over them there hills.....
Nearly three hours later we camped near the highest point of our climb and shivered the night away hoping tomorrow would be easier on our body and mind. The following day we walked through beautiful open meadows while constantly swatting the mosquitoes buzzing our heads. As a finale to our journey on foot we dropped down a steep wooded slope while chasing our boats into a maze of overgrowth and snags until the water appeared and rejuvenated our hopes. The North Stein at this point was still very far from being a river and the drysuits both Chip and Jordie were wearing began to be quite useful as our trio began hopping over numerous logjams on into the day.
All business after 6 hours of hiking.
Nearing the point where we thought more hell was being dished out than the amount of heaven we could ever receive, a treasure of gradient and big drops was found. We camped in the canyon only three drops into what would follow as one of the steepest river running days of our paddling lives. The morning of day 3 we crawled from our bivys and headed directly into what we had traveled so far to discover.
By the end of it all we had portaged only four times and ran more than a dozen slides and drops one would expect to find in the Sierras of California. The heaven meter had finally surpassed the hell.
View North Stein (V) in a larger map
Friday, June 16, 2006
Kelsey Thompson on the endless white torrent known as East Rosebud Creek - Montana
High flows, snag-wood shores, strainers and a gradient of over 200 feet per mile might seem like a class V creek to walk away from. Other times it is best to follow through with your instincts, stick together with your friends, paddle like experts, and meet the challenge that lies ahead. If there ever is a creek to keep your heart rate at its highest throughout the entire length of the run, East Rosebud with around 2500 cfs coming out of the lake sits well in this category.
Essentially looking like the whole run.......
After Joey Vosburgh and Kelsey Thompson held a brief creekboat hole-riding competition near the takeout, we attempted to draw comparisons of a super stompin' East Rosebud with some other runs which we knew.
The tranquil outflow of East Rosebud Lake just before the chaos erupts
East Rosebud creek flows north out of beautiful East Rosebud Lake in the Beartooth range which borders Montana with Wyoming. In September of 1996 a forest fire started in the alpine and blazed out of East Rosebud Canyon and onto the front range. Today new tree growth is just beginning among dead standing trees which fill the valley. Along the river, the trees still standing look as if they are begging to be brought down by winds so that they too can join their friends resting along the banks.
As we made our way up the road along the river left shore twice we found ourselves making strange faces and noises as we envisioned being caught up in the spider-web log jams within a raging torrent. Although scouting these spots before putting on was the ideal decision, there was no doubt the wood and high water played with our heads as we continued on. As we drove across the final bridge where a wide flat channel exits the lake, our conversations ended at the sight of which seemed to be too much water for something called a creek. Russ Fry, Nick Turner and Matt Wilson capture the feelings exactly in their Montana Surf guide book with quotes about East Rosebud like: "Putting in at serene East Rosebud Lake gives you a moment of clarity before the rush begins" and "this is as close to sword fighting as you are going to get in a kayak"
If you are in the area, checking out East Rosebud is a must do. The road is nearly paved the entire way up and allows for easy scouting while you drive. The put-in for the run is straight out of the lake and finishes either at the bridge where the pavement ends or about 3/4 of a mile downstream from there. Depending on snowpack the creek flows throughout the early summer and runs longer thanks to a large drainage and lake support. Our decision to scout many corners on the way down was important for our first time but in no way did it prevent the action from feeling like anything but riding a white roller-coaster down a valley of sacred sticks.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Michelle Basso punches shot in the heart. Skookumchuck Creek, BC - Canada
Although Skookumchuck is the name most commonly referred with the playboating wave/tide formation on the BC coast, a fine creek with the same name also exsists on the opposite side of the province in the East Kootenay's. Skookumchuck creek flows steady during the months of May and June and provides endless technical class IV creeking in a relativley safe wilderness setting. This often makes Skook creek the place to go early season for those wanting to test their creeking skills before dropping into the harder runs in and around the area.
photo by David Faubert
It had been many years since I had returned to paddle Skookumchuck Creek, but with interior BC rivers coming up much earlier than our local creeks in Alberta, making the 3.5 hr drive certainly became worth it over a few weekends last May.
Few rapids on this run distinguish themselves as significantly harder than others. After 3km of flat water from the put-in, the river narrows and the gradient increases enough to make things more exciting but still very manageable. Look for two technical class IV boulder filled rapids in this section before things ease off again.
Mild but technical boulder gardens for 20km.....
Just beyond the second smooth weeping water rock face on river right, look for a few interesting drops which may or may not contain wood. Nearing the end of the run is "Shot in the Heart", a name given in Stuart Smith's guidebook. At most flows this rapid deserves a scout on river left, but essentially it is a boof through a narrow river-wide ledge hole. Setting safety is also very easy here.
photo by David Faubert
The best news about Skook Creek nowadays is the old but newly discovered shuttle road that goes partly up and over Lookout Mountain instead of around it. Thanks to some local boaters from Kimberley, this route cuts more than 20km off the rough and very long 40km Torrent/Skook forest sevice road. A link for the new shuttle directions is provided here.
Scott Feindel enjoys an easy new shuttle through classic BC clearcut.
View Skookumchuck Cr (III-IV+) in a larger map
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Tyler Curtis gets back on his Canadian playboating game at Skookumchuck - British Columbia.
Ingredients for a 5 day Skook mission from Calgary
1 truck with canopy
2 ferry rides
3 possessed kayakers
4 hikes in and out to the wave
5 bags of groceries
6 pm departure time
7 gas stops
8 am arrival time
9 minutes of sleep
This winter in Alberta the weather has been fairly mild and the skiing quite epic. But once late March rolls around, many of us find a need to make the transition from mountain ripping back on over to the search for steep creeks and big waves. A good way accelerate the wait for our local rivers to break free from their wintery hold is to make an 11+ hour roadtrip over to the green wet goodness of the BC Coast. This time our adventure could only be of the 5 day version, but our timing was ideal as we were able to hook up with Tyler Curtis and Mariann Saether for some of the first daylight Skook waves of the year.
Michelle Basso airblunt
This was Mariann's first time to Skooks and Tyler had not been around here since the days of the EZ. After some coffees and a parking lot fashion show display of some new paddling threads, our Skook crew along with some boaters from the Seattle area paddled out on a cloudy afternoon just as the tide was turning.
It's better than Christmas! Tyler and Mariann dig into a new box of paddling goodies fresh off the Greyhound express.
If you're still not in the know, Skookumchuck Tidal Rapids is a provincial marine park located on BC's Sunshine Coast about 2.5 hours from Vancouver including the ferry. This glassy tidal roller that forms for a 4-5 hour period once the tide comes back into Sechelt Inlet is now a frequent stop for many local and foreign paddlers. Summer months can sometimes get especially busy when tides over 12 knots begin flow consistently throughout the daylight hours. Camping around the area is easy to find. About 4km before Egmont harbour take a right and head up to Klein Lake Campground if the weather is nice. Another alternative is to camp or rent a cabin at the Egmont Marina Resort.