Canada Summer 2004
ICCC does British Columbia
We had a dream. This time it came true. Twelve paddlers, three hire cars, several thousand miles and a collection of rivers which just cannot be found in Europe. Our dream was British Columbia (Canada), and thanks to generous funding from the Imperial College expedition board we were going to get there.Early one morning in August we found ourselves at Gatwick airport, complete with an un- holy amount of kit, 11 kayaks and one canoe. With the check-in staff bribed to accept our kit we settled down for our 11 hour monster flight. Arriving in Vancouver, we were met by the remainder of our group. I want to introduce a store called MEC at this point (the mountain equipment co-op). They sell cheap outdoors kit. This sub group had already been to MEC. With everyone united at the airport and hire cars loaded we headed out to our Vancouver based youth hostel.
"Unfortunately this section contained multiple log jam's, large enough to make a beaver blush, and they ended up walking out"
After a great deal of sleep the next morning found us in MEC (keep count boys and girls) buying kit which we couldn't have flown out. Several hours later we dragged ourselves out of this shopping paradise, climbed into our hire cars (each with four boats loaded onto inflatable roof racks) and headed north in search of white water. We camped that night in Squamish, and formed plots as to what we were going to paddle the following day. Tim suggested that we should check on the water levels, hence after driving up the dusty gravel road, we came across the river we were to paddle and found it empty. Arse. A new plan was sought for the next day.
This new plan was the Elaho. I don't remember much of the Elaho, except that I
hadn't had breakfast (ask anyone I know, this is a problem for me) and that it was
HUGE. Think something the width of the Thames at Westminster with 8 foot high standing
waves, 30C water and a flow of 10mph. Normally this would be tricky, but without
breakfast? Gad sir, it's just not cricket.
Sense (for once) prevailed the following day and we all did an easier river. Better
described as a float than a paddle the lower Cheakamus was just what the doctor ordered
after yesterday's ordeal.
As Thursday dawned we hit upon the idea of running the middle Cheakamus. Genius.
The river is dam released, hence Ralph and Theo spent a while discussing how to destroy
it allowing more water to be released. Since ICCC is not an international terrorist
organisation nothing was done, and we set off down the river with its really warm water.
It was a classy run, with relatively low volume (but still larger than Wales) it
offered much, with one hard drop which I portaged.
Mark: "...I decided to run the difficult drop. After all, most people had already. It had to be fine."
Proof of insanity came on Friday with Callahan Creek. Containing a 25 foot water
fall, some tough rapids and portages only 6 of our number ran this river. The put in
itself was tough, requiring a 50m climbing rope, 8 people and other throw lines. Tim
dropped his boat halfway down, and watched it cartwheel over the rocks to the bottom of
the cliff. Dave then sat down on an upturned branch before climbing into the river to
cool himself off. Ed. Question: why scramble down a dry tributary and walk 3 km along
a riverbed to paddle 3 km of grade II before we got to the perfectly good put-in next
to the road? I would say 'contour counting' is the only safe guidebook in our sport
On Saturday we ran the middle Cheakamus. Feeling mischievous I decided to run the
difficult drop. After all, most people had already. It had to be fine.
The drop started with a 1.5m fall into a pool, the water from which (further down)
washed over rocks at around 10mph. The line? Head right at the bottom of this pool
and avoid the rocks. After a comprehensive brief, two Hail Mary's and much safety
being set up around the rapid, I headed out into the river. Running the drop much too
slowly I caught the inevitable back loop and found myself upside down in the pool. I
needed to roll fast. I attempted and failed. Crap. Resigned to my fate I ditched my
paddle and curled up attempting to avoid injury. Hitting the rocks with my shoulder I
went straight over the rocks and landed in the safe, deep water behind. Swimming from
my boat I was rescued within seconds by James. Once I reached the side (and after
being laughed at by Rob) it became clear that I wouldn't be able to paddle for a few
Sunday traditionally follows Saturday, and this Sunday we were heading off to
Schookumchuck play wave. Naturally we passed through Vancouver and equally naturally
we went via MEC. This move took all day (the rumour is that BC is 44 times larger than
Britain) and the last I remember is the lads playing with their boats on what was a
secluded, quiet and peaceful lake (next to our campsite). The other campers must have
Leaving our campsite early on the Wednesday we stopped briefly in Vancouver:
a) to go to MEC
b) to replace our broken hire car with a fixed one
Driving out from Vancouver along the US / Canadian border we just managed to squeeze a
section of the river Chilliwack in before dark. Boringly no one swam - it was great to
get on a river though.
Friday was spent on the Nahatlatch. This was one of my favourite rivers, and I think that most people agree with me. Cut into four sections (upper, middle, canyon and lower) most of the group ran the middle before doing the canyon. I however got scared and didn't do the canyon, pulling out the 'my boat isn't padded right' excuse. Ed. A breakaway group, consisting of 'the boys', just couldn't get enough and decided to run an extra rapid between the canyon takeout and the Fraser confluence. Once committed the next point of road contact was in Boston Bar some 10 km down the river. This river had whirlepools, wavetrains and real trains in it. After convincing Tim a 25m high bridgejump was just silly, we had nothing to do but to sit in the emergency shelter while Rob and Alice drove around manically trying to find us. At between 9-10 pm they finally found us but, alas, were less fortunate in finding an open food store.
"Leaving the Clearwater the next day, we drove up a stupid (4x4 only) dirt track to our next river, the Chilco. Naturally we did this in our three overloaded saloon cars."
The expressions people wore when they emerged made me curse my temerity and I swore
to do the canyon on the Saturday.
Which I did! It genuinely was truly awesome. With the river down to half it's
previous width, it was anything any of us could have hoped for. At mid morning we left
the river and the group split. Alice, Rob, Jon and Claire went to do the upper and
middle section, while the rest of us went off to do the Thompson.
Sunday was a day for the insane. After being turned away from the river Stein (which was on fire) we made for Cayoosh Creek. I didn't paddle this. I like life. I don't like portaging / running two tier grade V falls, loosing my paddles above a (different) portage and having to hand paddle it. James did. I don't like screwing up and dropping over a fall (upside down) where two thirds of the bottom is rock, and one third deep water. Raph did. Madness. Having said that no one was injured and everyone who ran it arrived at the bottom with big smiles. Ed. Those smiles had more to do with actually reaching the end without an epic then anything else.
Monday was Clearwater day (cool name for a river eh?). Vancouver canoe club had recommended it to us. The water was warm (although not as warm as the 180C Nahatlatch), but the river was reasonably flat, with only two rapids of any note. We also had spent a long time at the top of the river, while Rob fixed the hire car he had just broken. The Clearwater was good, but I felt as though there was something missing by the time we had hit the bottom. Rob, Alice and James made up for it by having an impromptu bath. We towed their boats to the side for them.
Leaving the Clearwater the next day, we drove up a stupid (4x4 only) dirt track to
our next river, the Chilco. Naturally we did this in our three overloaded saloon cars.
Getting rapidly bored in the back of the car Tim and Ralph decided to ride Chicago
gangster style on the side of the car (to help Raph decide the best rut to drive down
you understand). Since we were without running boards they wound down the rear windows
and stood, bear foot, on the doors. Theo, sitting in the middle and with four feet
within easy reach of his nose was less than impressed.
Thursday dawned. After floating down the Chilco to the main road (in an effort to make the cars lighter) we saddled up, and drove off to the Quesnel. Leaving Alice on the play wave at the top, the remaining 11 of us moseyed on down. With some great waves and a memorable (though short) gorge section which had everything, the Quesnel was great. Boringly no one swam and we arrived back at the campsite again, complete with smiles.
On the Friday we ran the Caribou. It was like the Quesnel, except for one feature, a
five meter high left-right chute. I wasn't going to run it, I liked life. It is worth
mentioning that first Theo, then Raph came to similar conclusions.
After three weeks in Canada Jon, Raph, Harry and James had to return to Blighty.
Taking one of the hire cars they made off to Vancouver, but not before stopping off for
misty run of the river Soo, followed by a luxury night in the a motel. The remainder
of us struck out further north, heading for the Rockies.
After a trek through the night we arrived next to the Holmes river. This river was cold; much like Scotland can be over new year. Fed by melting glaciers the water had little time to warm up, and I for one (and seemingly everyone else) spent much of their time doing everything in their power to keep their hands out of the water. This included paddling with hands next to each other in the centre of the paddle. Theo also managed to poach us a couple of Salmon from the river. We had to cook them surreptitiously on the fire, since we had some fisherman camped next to us who explained that fishing Chinook salmon was illegal.
"Little did they know that they had put on in the wrong place. (our 4th river of the day - the Soo)"
We were a long way North now, and although it was still August the weather was
starting to turn against us. It was getting cold at night. With less than a week left
in Canada we pressed on, doing the river Dore. Again, this was split into two sections
with the upper prosecuted by the remaining lads. Dave managed to snap his paddles
halfway down. He carried on in a C1 style before failing to roll and swimming. Theo
went one better (if such a thing is possible) and left the river. Guess that he had
gremlins to (or too much beer the night before, hmm).
We met a dude from Quebec that night, who escorted us to the upper Fraser. While
the Fraser is truly huge at Vancouver, further up it is a deal smaller (but still not
insignificant in size). While it remained a run too hard for the likes of me, I had
fun watching the other run it.
Dave's description of Pebble creek: "like being trashed while still upright"
On the Wednesday we drove to the Lillooet, back towards Vancouver. Although we arrived too late to do the section, we drove over a silly looking river called Pebble Creek. Obviously it needed running. The lads then ran it, although there was only the one place to stop in 800m. Dave described it as 'being trashed while still upright'.
The Thursday was a special day. Usually in Wales we manage 2 rivers a day.
Previously on the expedition we had been managing 1 most days. On Thursday some people
The final river we ran (on the ensuing Friday) was the Calcheack. This was a repeat run from when we had run it previously. I got to do it this time. Much as it said on the tin, it was a great run, with a fantastic play wave halfway down.
Our time was over. We were done. Returning to Vancouver (and naturally enough to MEC again) we stayed over night in the youth hostel before scattering to the four winds. Most people flew back on the Sunday.
It leaves me to thank everyone who came on the trip: Alice Grogan, Claire Brown, Harry Wood, Tim Burne, Dave Burne, Theo Petre, Jon Lovell, James Pratt, Raph Munton, Ralph Evins, Myself (Mark Flower) and especial thanks to Robert Tuley, who organised the entire thing.
I also must thank the Imperial College expedition board, who funded us to the tune of £3000 and made the expedition possible.