LIFE BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK 'COMFORT ZONE'
B.C. - THE LOGISTICS
First published in Canoe Kayak UK
A World Class boating destination
British Columbia is jammed packed full of creeks big and small, from the Rockies in the east to the Coastal Mountains and Whistler area in the southwest. In between, to the south, there are the West Kootenays and to the north, along the coast, several classic multi day paddles at all grades, such as the Alsek, Babine, Skeena, Homathko and the legendary Stikine. The Albertan/ eastern Rockies feature many more creeks.
When to go
It depends where you choose to go in B.C. It is quite far north and many of the rivers are glacial and some also snow fed, so the season runs long into August. The Albertan East Rockies creeks are at their best earlier, in June, whereas the southwest creeks tend to drop down to the right levels by mid to late July. As a result, the best time to do the full Calgary to Vancouver road trip is probably July.
The major airlines, including kayak friendly British Airways, fly to Vancouver. Sadly, BA do not fly to Calgary. I flew with Air Transat, paying 590 return for a flight to Calgary with a return flight from Vancouver. Air Transat have a sports friendly policy and whilst they charge extra for baggage exceeding their allowance of only 20 kgs, they in addition allow one piece of sports equipment up to 30 kgs to travel free. The list of items might not include kayaks but they happily waved my kayak through- the easiest check in with a boat I have ever had.
Having at least one 4 wheel drive car within the group may be not be absolutely essential but it is strongly recommended. The cost worked out at just over 100 per week each, picking up the cars from Calgary Airport and handing them back at Vancouver. Alamo were very good (www.alamo.com) and don't penalise you for returning the car at a different town to the pickup.
Buy MapArt's British Columbia, and Alberta, 1:500,000 road atlases. Make sure you get the more expensive C$19.95 version featuring 'back roads' (www.mapart.com). Also look out for Mussio Ventures' 1:150,000 backroad map books. These focus on regions within B.C such as the Southwest and Kootenays (www.backroadmapbooks.com). (1= about C$2.2 at the time of writing). Buying these may reduce the possibility of your shuttle bunny getting lost in the woods for several hours. Allegedly.
Where to stay
Take tents. There are numerous good value forestry service and private camp sites, ranging from basic sites without showers to sizable sites with pools etc. We typically spent around 2-4 per head per night. If it rains, there are cheap motels everywhere, typically about 10 per head per night 4 to a double room. If you stop in the various National Parks, you will need to buy a permit and an annual pass per car can be the cheapest option.
Where to eat
Leave the stove at home. Make an effort to venture beyond McDonalds and search out the local diners, which offer great value. Major Canadian chains Smittys and White Spot are also dependable.
Creek boats or play boats- B.C. is suitable for play river and creek boats tours. Better still, take creek boats and hire play boats from the 'Mountain Equipment Company' store in Vancouver for 2-3 days play boating on the Skook Wave and some play river running.
White water guidebooks
'Canadian Rockies Whitewater' by Stuart Smith. Two guides covering the southern and central Rockies, B.C and Alberta (www.headwaterpress.com). These are excellent guides however, bear in mind that Stuart is evidently a 1980s hair boater who wrestles bears for fun. He will typically grade a river at Grade 4 and then go on to say that you should 'be prepared to run a lot of Grade 5+ or portage a lot'. Be careful.
'Whitewater in B.C.'s Southwest' by Steve Crowe and Jim Hnatiak. (www.gordonsoules.com). This guide only came out in 2001 but whilst it includes many trips in the Whistler area and beyond, it completely misses the area's classic Grade 4/5 boating. Maybe the authors prefer Grade 3-4. Weird.
'West Kootenay Whitewater' by Jeff Krueger. This is available at the Squamish kayak shop and they may be able to mail you a copy. This is an excellent little guide to what looks like a very interesting creek and play boating area in its own right.
Calgary: Aquabatics, 8435 Bowfort Road, NW Calgary AB T3B 2V2. Located on the western edge of the City on Highway 1, opposite the Olympic Park and next to a Shell garage (www.aquabatics.com).
Squamish: Squamish Kayak Adventure Centre, 1-2557 Mamquam Road, Squamish. Turn off at 'Canadian Tire' and head east for 500 yds to the river bridge (www.squamishkayak.com).
Vancouver: Mountain Equipment Company (www.mec.com). MEC hire out kayaks, including play boats, at very reasonable rates: C$15 and $10 for each further day.
The Skookumchuck Wave
See the Skook guide.
There are all sorts of possibilities for non paddling partners and mixed groups. The area to the north of Vancouver is a World Class sea kayaking destination, famous for whale watching. Organised sea kayaking weeks and sea kayak hire are both available. Check out www.bcseakayak.com. Their hire charges are surprisingly reasonable.
Whistler is a well known ski resort, but Summer mountain biking is now a major industry in its own right. You can hire all the kit, take a chair lift to the top and scare yourself silly on numerous downhill runs.
Chris Wheeler went through 'portage hell' with Kevin Francis, Andy Levick and Mark Rainsley. Heather Rainsley drove the rescue vehicle and didn't get lost during the shuttles as often as you might imagine. Mark was lugging his much loved but heavy Perception Java and sweating away in a Nookie dry top, but he'd like to thank them for their support anyway.