Canada Summer 2004

ICCC does British Columbia

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The vast, cold and fast waters of the river Elaho creates a thick fog when it meets the warm valley air

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.
Claire, Alice and I ended up showing off our swimming action in the wave trains before admitting too much and walking off the river before the end. That evening I think that we all looked at each other and realised just how much BC had to offer. This expedition was going to be truly awesome.

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.
Sense then dissolved (as it is apt to do) and 'the lads' then went to paddle what they thought was the upper section of this river. Unfortunately this section contained multiple log jam's, large enough to make a beaver blush, and they ended up walking out

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.
'Da lads then went up to mission the upper section. Putting on at the correct point I followed along the bank with a video camera. Arriving at a suspension bridge over the canyon I got some great footage, and had some difficulty explaining to the local walkers that the people in the canyon weren't completely insane. Strangely they didn't seem to believe me.

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 outside Wales.
I know the river was tougher than the put in because they arrived at the bottom shell shocked while being both mentally and physically exhausted.

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 days.
Everyone else then finishes the run before heading off to do the Calcheack. I sit there, envious.

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 loved us.
Monday and Tuesday was spent on the wave. To get to the wave you have to walk 3-4km carrying all your kit. I followed after the lads later in the day, and for the first km I laughed at them every step, after that I felt sorry for them. It was the trek from hell.
The wave itself has been listed as one of the top 10 play spots in the world and once we had arrived we all had lots of fun. I paddled it on the Tuesday and managed to get on the wave three times. Honest. We have the video evidence to prove it.

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.
That evening (11/8) was marked by an amazing meteor shower unlike anything the south east of the UK gets. With total darkness and not a cloud in the sky, it was an evening to remember.
On the Thursday we ran more of the Chilliwack. Alice had hooked up with a local open boater, who just happened to paddle the same boat as our open boater, Jon. Unfortunately Alice had gremlins (dirty, rotten, evil creatures) and she ended up walking out. Dave contracted cramp, and tried to swim the bottom 3km, before sense overtook him. The rest of us? We loved it!
That evening Ralph was woken by a skunk shuffling around the campsite. Fortunately it didn't spray anyone, although it did spawn a conversation discussing the fate of anyone who gets sprayed. That was the last night he didn't bother pitching a tent.

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.
The Thompson is a big river. 600 tonnes of water flowed down it every second while we were there. I'll describe it as having huge whirlpools, eddy lines and wave trains. You can imagine the rest. It was enormous fun, although only after I got over the fear of it.

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.
Six in the morning is no time to be out of bed. Not unless you have a very good reason. We did. The Chilco. We were camped at the take out, and even though we left at 6am it was 12:30 before most of us got on the water. The roads were that bad. The river itself was (and I'm running out of superlatives here) brilliant. The entry rapid to the river was HUGE. Three of us swam down it. Claire, Harry and myself. Harry went left (after being told to go right) while Claire and I were munched by the huge waves. Claire had it bad, after spending the first half of the rapid upside down trying to roll (further than me by all accounts) she swam, and then spent the second half of the rapid swimming to the surface.
Eventually we were all reunited with our kit (Harry having dropped his paddle). The second half of the river was unique. I have never paddled anything like it. With large waves and large piles of water (so large some of us got completely airborne as we went over them) it was awesome. Coupled with the 5 or 6 brown bears we spotted on the bank (some within half a mile of the campsite) it was a bunch of happy paddlers which crawled into the campsite that evening.

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.
Step up the lads. Auditioning first, James. He ran it alright, although he ended up powering to far left, and having to combat the undercut rock breifly. Second was Dave. He ran it fine. Third, Tim. He ran it better still. Finally, Rob. Rob was doing alright until he reached the flat bit at the bottom. Then he got scared and pulled his deck (at least that's what it looked like from the bank). He maintains that the river popped his deck. We just laughed and kept filming.
All this took place while the Salmon were trying to leap up the water fall. None made it.

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.
Conveniently there happened to be a river which had been recommended to us on the way. Strange how things like that turn out. Deciding that it would be rude not to run it, we went to inspect the get in. The guide book had described it to be difficult, and although it wasn't as bad as the one to Callahan Creek, it still took us about an hour to shift the five of us (and our kit) to the bottom.
The run itself wasn't all that great, there was no water left in the river and although it was obvious that the gorge contained powerful hydraulics (in high water) the only distinguishing feature was the number of dead fish in it. The salmon had obviously finished spawning, and had started dieing.

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).
When I arrived at the road up to the Dore we (Alice Claire and I) found that the road bridge had been ripped up, and was in the process of being replaced. Deciding not to drive across it we started walking, meeting the others higher up. The middle was a lot of fun, although much like the Holmes it was really cold. Alice proved this by taking a swim halfway down and banging her knee in the process.

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.
Overlander falls are on this section. The entire river drops about 15m into a pool below. Tim had a picture of this fall on this bedroom wall at home, and he stared long and hard at it. There is a line down it, but if you screw it up slightly, it's bad news. You can't be rescued from the bank, it's just too big. Tim was practically sick by the time he decided to do the sensible thing, and walk to the highest cliff beside the falls and launch of in our boats.
After this we drove for a bit to the river Canoe (great name eh?). This is continuous grade 3 water which is, again, glacier melt (read cold). This river did not stop once. For the entire 6-7 km that we were on the river, you had to plot every single line. This river had it all. Further down it got less continuous and had a few more harder drops contained within it. The first of these has commentary on the video camera (from Theo) saying "Shall we tell Claire the line? Nah". Claire then drops into the big whirly bit (read somewhere you want to avoid) window-shading a few times before brilliantly removing herself. Dave and myself sat in the eddy, applauding.

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 ran 4.
The pebble was the first to be run. This time they walked up it a bit before putting on. Next we all ran the Lillooet (aside from Alice, who had her Karma upset after seeing Tim and Claire rolling within the first 200m).
After this we drove to the Green river, a nice grade 2 wander. It was fun, aside from the put in, which required us to paddle across a dirty great lake first.
Finally a few of the lads ran the Soo. When Jon (etc.) had left us the previous week they had paddled the Soo. Describing it as a read-and-run, the lads thought nothing of it, and put on. Little did they know that they had put on in the wrong place. The section they did was horrific, with pourovers, siphons and holes. I had contemplated doing this river. I'm glad that I didn't.

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.


The affectionately named 'chocolate river' flowed into the lower Cheakamus just above the takeout.


One of multiple log-jams on the section below the upper Chekamus.


This big class 4 rapid on the 'middle' section of the Cheakamus is actually out of character with the rest of this grade 3 fun-run. 


This 20 (or 25) foot fall on the Calahan is safe as houses


Skookomchuck narrows on a 11.5 knot tide, a world-class playspot


The Nahatlach Canyon - appricated class III/IV


The screeslopes of the Cayoosh will slowly unviel themselves


The Quesnel - The final rapid is also the most difficult so watch out


The falls of Caribou deserves respect from 'yakers and salmon alike


The north fork of the dore river - probably the steepest run we ran in BC


The Upper Fraser is a great big water run


The Canyon above the upper soo put-in is probably a grade 5


Oct 2004