been trying since last year to get up to British Columbia for some creekin'
but had been unable to do so for whatever reason. It seemed like the same
excuses that hold back every kayaker trying to escape the routine at home
for some adventure were there: too much work, too many things to get done
around the house, can’t skip class, etc. However, this August, things
looked like they would come together nicely for me to make my way north
for some fun before the semester started here at Washington State. First,
James Black from Spokane had posted on a local forum that he was looking
to plan a BC trip for the exact weekend I was looking to go. Second, everything
around here was dry, so you pretty much had to get up to BC if you wanted
to boat. Third, I had just received my new Prijon Cross and was desperate
to get it out on the water. Lastly, my boss actually encouraged me to
take a couple days off before school starts, how often does that happen?
I guess that’s why it’s great to work in a company full of
Despite the fact that all of the stars
seemed to be lining up, I still had some doubts about the trip. First
of all, I had never boated with James before and we were planning on running
some creeks that were out in the sticks, far from help. So, in order to
feel more comfortable about the situation I wanted to invite a few of
my own boating friends along who I knew and could trust to get things
done in an emergency situation. I tried to get my friends Brian, Jon and
Nate to come up with me. Immediately, Brian said he could not go due to
work. Nate held out for a few days saying he could go until he found out
otherwise from his boss (however he did let me borrow his BC guide book
by Stuart Smith that I have yet to return…). Jon, on the other hand,
flipped sides on me a few times: first saying he could go, then saying
he couldn’t because of how hectic it would be trying to get all
of his stuff moved into his new place and getting ready for school in
the few days before we left. This situation got even more difficult since
we were coming back the night before school started! However, after much
nagging and calling of names on my part, he finally gave me the words
I wanted to hear, “Screw it, I’ll just do it all when I get
the plan was set. Jon and I would drive up on Thursday, August 18th and
meet James and Bob White (henceforth known as Superbob) in the small town
of Skookumchuck to camp and run Skookumchuck Creek the next morning.
1: The Drive and the Dent
Jon and I woke and met early (around 7am)
to start our drive so that we could arrive plenty early to get some food
for the three days at a grocery store and to get some Canadian beer at
the liquor store. After a final check to make sure we had all of our gear
we loaded up my Subaru Outback (henceforth known as “the subie”
pronounced “soobie”) and took off for the 6-7 hour drive.
The border crossing went surprisingly fast considering that I was using
a photocopied birth certificate that had been in my wallet for about 6
months and was about to fall apart! We arrived at the town of Cranbrook
around noon with plans of getting lunch, groceries, beer and some info
from any local boaters (if we could find any).
Things looked good rolling into the town,
we spotted several good looking, greasy spoon restaurants and a gear shop
with a kayak in the window. Perfect! We could get our lunch and beta right
here on the same block; this was much easier than I thought it was going
to be! We came around the block looking for a spot to park among the spots
lining the street. I spotted a car leaving a parking spot right in front
of the gear shop and stopped to wait for them to finish backing out when
all of a sudden my car shook and there was a loud crashing sound. I looked
over to see the back of a Ford F-150 right up against my passenger window
and Jon with a look on his face like he had suffered a coronary. The Ford
had backed right into the side of my car! Luckily the guy who hit it was
very nice in taking the blame and giving out his insurance info. Unfortunately,
my passenger door had a dent that was 2 inches deep and my side mirror
was hanging by the wires that controlled it…. great start to the
trip. Nevertheless, the gentleman who hit me directed me to a friend of
his who worked for an auto body shop who was able to duct tape my mirror
back in place so that we could finish our trip.
After my car getting hit, I was in no
mood to get anything productive done for the time being so we had a quick,
greasy lunch and headed for the grocery store for our food for the weekend.
We were in such a hurry to get out of town that we forgot to stop at the
liquor store to get beer (blasphemy, I know)! Luckily for us, we were
able to find one last liquor store that was basically run out of someone’s
house about 20 miles or so before Skookumchuck, and John and I were able
to pick up a case of my favorite Canadian beer: Okanogan Spring Ale (it’s
a shame you can’t get this in the states).
Because of our early start and the situation
in Cranbrook we arrived about 2 hours before the scheduled meeting time
with James and Superbob and decided to take a quick drive up to the creek
to check it out. What we found was a creek that looked fairly low and
a long, dirty shuttle!
driving up the put-in road for a little while, we discovered that the
road doesn’t come back to the creek for about another 15 miles.
Since we didn’t feel like making the whole hour-long shuttle drive
that night, we snapped a quick picture of the surrounding valley and headed
back to the meeting spot about 30 minutes early.
After a short wait, a car pulled up with
a kayak on the roof. The gentleman stepped out and identified himself
as Alex. Apparently Alex had received the post that James put out about
our trip and had driven all the way up from Portland to meet us. Since
I was from the area (Kelso, WA) we were able to find common runs to talk
about and I immediately took a liking to him because of his humorous personality.
This was starting to shape up to be a good trip (despite my car troubles)
with some good people! Soon after Alex arrived, Superbob and James showed
up in James’ Winnebago. James turned out to be a nice guy and I
already knew Superbob from a swift water rescue course, so the table was
set. We drove up the creek road to check out a campsite Jon and I had
seen earlier. Fortunately, the site turned out to be right on this amazing
little lake, so it was a good night of tasty food (James baked a pizza
in the Winnie) and beer. The next morning, it was off to creekin’,
I could barely sleep!
lake we camped at on the first night
2: Skookumchuck Creek
sleeping in the Subie it was easy to get an early start on the day because
we knew that we had ample time for this one. The shuttle is 22 miles
on bumpy gravel roads with your top speed around 30mph. Plus, the run
was listed as 19 Km long or about 12 miles. We knew it would be a long
day! After driving down to the take-out, we determined that the Subie
would shuttle us to the put-in because it didn’t make much sense
to take the Winnebago.
Subie ready, if you look close you can
see the dent on the passenger side door!
the hour long ride to the put-in, you can guess that we were pretty excited
to finally get on the water and experience this run that was listed in
Stuart Smith’s favorites in his book. We dressed quickly and put
on around noon. The creek looked pretty boney but we were sure it would
gorge up and become deeper. After putting on we were forced to scrape
down shallow, rocky sections (at times having to push with our hands)
for almost 2 miles!
start of Skookumchuck: good scenery
but not enough water!
when we were starting to get irritated with the lack of water and the
feeling a bit foolish at having to push our boats down the creek rather
than floating, we started to see the gorge narrow up a bit and see some
running a typical boulder garden in the first part of the gorge.
the gorge formed, the rapids started coming in hurried succession, too
many to make note of. Most of the rapids consisted of boulder dodging
and small 3-4 foot ledge drops, tons of fun! However, once in the gorge
we also came across a few log jams that needed to be portaged, so if you
run this river keep your guard up!
author putting in after a log portage.
running a small ledge after the log jam.
doing a little log limbo about half way through the gorge.
when we thought the rapids had to be coming to an end (due to how long
we had been in the gorge) they started getting a little bigger!
running a typical drop on the middle/lower canyon stretch.
we came to, according to Smith’s guide book, the hardest drop on
the run called “shot in the heart.” Superbob got out to take
pictures while James opted for the portage. This drop isn’t really
that difficult (only a class IV) but if you miss your line, it can get
ugly quick. Basically the slide leads into a little kicker that will send
you into a boulder if you hit it. Once past that, you have to bust hard
left because of a log in the river that you have to be on the left side
to get under. I took a look and liked my line that I picked and opted
to go first.
author hitting the line, the log is just out of the picture.
I went Jon, Alex and Bob went without incident.
line through in the Mafia.
this drop I was following James and Superbob down the next drop when all
of a sudden they split and went different ways. I was following too close
and took Superbob’s line and should have noticed he was going into
a pretty bad spot. He squeezed between two boulders forming a two-foot
drop and barely made it through without getting stuck. I went next and
didn’t fare as well. When I went over the drop I was wedged sideways
and my bow hit a rock on the bottom pinning me in the drop. Luckily, I
was able to keep my head forward to create a pocket of air while Superbob
ran up and pulled my stern out to free me (I believe I still owe him a
beer for that one!). I was shaken up but feeling good enough to finish
After about another half hour we pulled
over to a small beach thinking that the gorge was coming to an end and
that the run was almost over (after all, we had been on it for over 4
hours, only taking a 15 minute break for snacks and water). However, at
this point we decided not to take any more pictures and try to make a
straight shot to the end. It turned out that the river gorged up again
for another couple miles with a few drops even bigger than “shot
in the heart!” I wish we could have taken a few more pictures because
some of the drops were sweet. One was about a 7-foot slide after a long
boulder garden and another was a 3 and 4 foot ledge drop one right after
the other. After a couple more hours of boulder gardens and ledges the
river finally eased up for the last mile to the take-out.
This creek ended up taking us about 6
hours to do and, once it reached the canyon, was pretty non stop-until
the finish. At the flow we ran it at, low according to Smith’s book,
the river was mostly technical rock dodging. We all agreed that this run
could have used a little more water but not too much. As it was, there
were tons of pin spots and while I was the only one to get outright pinned,
everyone else got hung up on the rocks at least once. Smith rates the
river a class III-IV at this level and we would definitely have to disagree
and give this one a solid IV. There were plenty of bad consequences for
swims on this river and getting someone out in an emergency would be very
difficult due to the remoteness (the town of Skookumchuck is pretty much
a gas station). That said, this was one of the most fun runs I have had
the pleasure of doing. It kept you on your toes but was not overly difficult,
so long as you have solid class IV creeking skills. With a lot more water
this one would become a solid class V because there would be pretty much
no eddies and any logjams would be disastrous.
“quickly” (about an hour and a half) finished the shuttle
and drove north to the town of Radium Hot Springs to recoup and camp for
tomorrow’s trip down Dutch Creek. When we arrived at Radium Hot
Springs we had two options: get some food and brew or relax in the hot
springs. Time was an issue so we could not do both. Superbob and James
opted for the hot springs while the rest of us, who didn’t have
the luxury of a traveling kitchen, opted for the food. We stopped in at
a nice pub and had bacon cheeseburgers and a few pints before meeting
up with Superbob and James again to head out into the dark and find a
camp. Nobody in the group had any idea where we were going to find a camp
in the dark around this town, so we decided to try to find a camp around
the take-out for Dutch Creek. After about 4 wrong turns in the dark we
finally just turned down a gravel road in hopes that we would discover
a turn around or place to pull off rather than somebody’s house.
The road seemed to end in a turnout, so too tired to do anything else,
we set up camp and passed out within about 5 minutes!
Stay tuned for Part II of "Creekin’ in BC".