A golden day on the Chilko
by Polly Miller written for NZ Canoeing
As Duncan disappears into an absolutely enormous crashing wave, I think... this rapid should be called the Mad Mile, not the White Mile!... and what on earth is behind that thing? As I cut over the shoulder of the four metre monster, I have a fantastic view of the continuing wave train big, blue and white and friendly and Duncan frantically rolling up downstream. We romp down the rest of the kilometre long rapid the best part of the Chilko river in high flow, and one of the highlights of our seven week boating tour of British Columbia.
The trip started with the usual divvying up of tasks. If I arrive first and buy the car, can you sort guidebooks and music? Largely due to the sterling help of NZ friends living in Seattle, the whole set up process went seamlessly and with a quick stop in at the local kayak store (new boats!) and REI (luxury thermarests!) we drove north into Canada.
By week three of the trip, we have a camping routine down pat and have learned more about each other. Duncan, recently married to his lovely wife, needs to check in with home more regularly than Im used to. It has additional benefits, because on one of our email sojourns to the local public library (free, airconditioned, internet) I get an email from Slime. Visit Likely (where the hell is Likely?) and paddle the mighty Chilko. Other sources suggested wed need help with the shuttle. We drove into Williams Lake, in the heart of the Chilcoten to see what we could organise.
Williams Lake is an undisguised logging town, although the friendliness of the visitor information staff suggest theyre trying to branch out into tourism. There is a local bloke who runs a mountain biking company and can take us into the Chilko for $300. We gulp. We do the maths its 3 hours in on a 4WD track, 3 hours on the river, and 2 hours out. He offers to make us lunch. Were in.
We meet Merle from Adrenaline Adventures at what is virtually an alpine start for us. Right away, we feel weve made an excellent decision. As we drive up an old mining road, I reflect they must have really wanted that gold. In the 1800s the Chilcoten area was the frontier of Canada, and the stories of the gold rush, abandoned communities and mine workings have a similar feel to spots on the remote NZ West Coast.
On the drive in, there are lots of red-brown dying pine trees in the hills, the result of an infestation of a native beetle, normally contained by winter frosts. They havent had a bad winter in 20 years, and as efforts to contain the beetle havent worked, the forestry companies are now clear cutting huge swathes of sick trees, while they are still worth something.
Merles huge vehicle easily copes with the road, which would have been the death of our city car. We stop high above the river, and hike down to scout the hardest rapid. Red squirrels call out as we enter their territory, and its a bit like being in an echo chamber of sharp squawks and cries. Once you see Bidwell, youll know whether to take your playboats or creekboats, Merle explains. The river is a beautiful glacial blue and is running high. Bidwell is full of crashing waves, and the move to the right, while pushy, is straightforward. A playboat day! we decide and drive up to the put in.
Were a little hungry before we put on, so Merle produces sandwiches, and I feel that being looked after is something I could get used to. We relax in the sunshine with the typical lack of hurry boating inspires. The first section of river is high in a dry alpine valley, with sparkling water and high mountains upstream, we feel very much like were in the middle of nowhere.
Down at water level, Bidwell looks MUCH bigger. There are some nasty rocks on the river left, almost covered today, which we have to avoid. Hurtling over the entry wave, Im amazed by how much speed you can generate in a kingpin. We both bounce down, and wave goodbye to Merle as we float around the corner.
Duncans aim is to push his limits a little more today, so he scouts the next drop and runs down first. We both reach the bottom with wide eyes what huge holes! What a great line thru the middle! This sets the tone for the next hour on the water as we paddle down through the aptly named white mile rapid (apparently featured in a movie) on some of the best big volume class four Ive ever seen.
At low water, the Chilko must be full of awesome play waves. I caught a few on the fly, and was treated to some great fast rides. We left the main class four section behind, and floated through a spectacular black basalt box canyon, a huge grey heron preceded us and I could see a peregrine falcon hunting high on the ridge.
The river continued to be busy and interesting and with lots of great 3+ fun and the occasional class 4 to keep us on our toes. It was blissful not to always be terrified about the wood in the river round the next corner. Unlike most BC runs, the Chilco does not trap much timber.
About a kilometre above the confluence with the Taseko river, the Chilco flattens out. Meandering down to the take out, we admire the mix of water, as the grey silty Taseko meets the clear blue Chilco. Merle has his table out, with home made hot soup and fudge brownies to finish the day. On the way back to Williams Lake we cant stop smiling, its been one of our best days out in BC.