DUCC IN BC
Durham Uni do British Columbia whitewater
When to go? - we went out there for the whole of August. Water levels were good at the beginning but by the last few days stuff had really dropped away. I'd recommend heading out there towards the end of July.
How long to spend out there? - we were out there for a month and could easily have spent longer (had water levels not dropped). Spend as much time out there as your budget allows!
What boats to take? - we had all sorts of boats in our group ranging from a Dagger Kingpin to a Pyranha H3. Unless you are going to be doing some serious creeking (which we weren't) then your playboat/river runner will be fine
Transport - we hired two people carriers from 'rent-a-wreck'. This is allegedly a reputable company, and not some dodgy outfit! However one car was a bit suspect, the brakes went (we wore through the brake pads to the metal), the air conditioning broke down and the sliding door jammed! If I went again I think I would try a different company. The roof racks were also rubbish, they were very flexible and putting five boats on was a bit of a mission. Take your own straps for tying on boats
Accommodation - we camped for most of the trip (unfortunately there aren't that many nice 5* hotels near the rivers!). Although we did stay in youth hostels in Vancouver at the beginning and end of the holiday. We also stayed at a rafting company holiday resort which was rather nice (swimming pool, Jacuzzi, buffet breakfast etc.) Camping is cheap and you can wild camp or stay in the National Park campsites. The ground is ridiculously hard though and we bent loads and loads of pegs and even broke a mallet trying to hammer the pegs in.
Other stuff to do? - there really is tons of stuff to do out in BC so if you don't want to spend your whole time paddling you will not get bored. Vancouver and Victoria are both worth a visit. A day on the 'Icefields Parkway' is also quiet fun, make sure you stop off and go up onto the Athabasca Glacier. Having said this there is enough paddling out there to keep you busy too! Make sure you go and look at Hell's Gate on the Fraser river. It doesn't look to bad from the bridge but you get no perception of size, the whirlpools are big!
Paddling - we were a very mixed group, ranging from one person who couldn't roll on white water to someone who had done the Gyr at 7pm in the evening when it was flowing through the trees! However we weren't out there on 'a grade V mission' or anything. We were mainly paddling grade III and grade IV rivers, although some may have touched IV+. If you are happy paddling most of the grade III alpine rivers you should find enough stuff to do in BC, obviously the better paddler you are the more stuff there is for you to do.
The rivers we did (these obviously all change in with water levels. The gradings are based on my opinion and guidebooks, it is only meant as a rough guide)
*The Green River, grade III- - This was our 1st run and an excellent warm up. It starts off in a lovely warm lake where we saw seaplanes taking off. It steepens up considerably in the middle and becomes a bit harder. The lady in the kayak shop in Squamisch said it was a grade II+ river. Possibly it was certainly the best 'grade II+' river I've ever done! The harder section in the middle was grade III.
*Cheakamus River below Daisy lake, grade III (IV) - A great III run with one grade IV drop that backlooped everyone who ran it! Don't miss the takeout, there's a nasty unrunnable Canyon section below. A nice read and run river that still kept you on your toes.
*Upper Cheakamus, grade IV - Very 'full on', possibly the toughest run we did out there. We did it in low water, when it was less pushy but the holes were still big, I managed to get ends in my H3 in one of them! Mark soloed it earlier on in the trip when it was a couple of feet higher - it changes a lot with water levels. He inspired us all with confidence as he lead the rest of us down it later on in the holiday by saying "this is a completely different river and I don't remember it at all"! You can look at some of the river from the banks. Make sure you look at the last major rapid from the bank before you get on. There is a plaque on the rocks for all the paddlers who had died paddling rivers in the area scary stuff.
*The Elaho the Squamisch, grade III - The Elhao runs into the Squamisch it's a high volume run that starts off harder and gradually eases up. We had a swimmer on it and had an 'interesting' time re-uniting boat and person involving some rock climbing! The Squamish is like the flat bits of the Durance in places and the big and bouncy bits of the Imst Gorge in other places - a odd river! There is supposed to be a harder (grade V) section of the Elhao further upstream although we didn't do/see this.
*The upper Nahatlach, grade III (IV) - Another brilliant grade III river with two easy grade IVs on it. Hazel got her boat pinned in the middle of a rocky rapid in the middle of the river. It gave us the chance to behave like 'boys with toys' and get out our rescue kits! A textbook z-drag rescue which Franco Ferrero would have been proud of saved the day and Hazel's inazone. We camped beside the get-out and just got off the river by our tents!
*The Nahatlach canyon, grade IV - My third best river, not quite as hard or as continuous as the upper Chekamus but still a serious undertaking. You can't walk out of it since it's a canyon (obvious I know!). Comment of the day was Mark saying "We'll inspect all the major rapids from now on" just before leading us blind down the hardest rapid of the run, he gave some lame excuse about their being no eddys above it! We were able to inspect most of the rapids though (either by boat or bank) and were able to portage some of them if necessary. Was one drop in the middle of the run that might have been grade V at higher water levels.
*The upper Thompson, grade II - we did this the day after we did the Canyon section of the Thompson, on reflection I think it would have been a little more sensible to do this as a warm up to the canyon section! There were still quite a few nasty little boils and swirls. Not as bad as the canyon but it gives a flavour of what to expect on the canyon.
*The Thompson Canyon, grade IV - BIG WATER! We did it when it was low (at 250 cumecs!) It was the most scared I've ever been on a river. It made the big water runs of the Alps look small. The rapids weren't too hard in themselves but the boils, whirlpools and eddylines below them aren't very nice. There were some very nasty looking holes/pourovers you really wouldn't want to go into! You get to paddle on the Fraser river at the end for 20m (this is the largest volume white water river in the Western Hemisphere!).
*Kicking Horse from Beaverfoot bridge to Glenogle, grade III (IV) - Another brilliant grade III run with a grade IV drop on it. Everyone who ran the drop managed to cock it up to some degree, Mark's smear move on the wall whilst being pulled back towards the hole was very impressive! It steepens up a bit towards the end as you approach the Glenogle. Make sure you get out before Yoho bridge, there is a short hard grade V section linking this section with the section below - you don't want to do it by accident!
*Kicking Horse from below Yoho bridge to Golden (canyon section), grade IV - My best run of the trip, big water in a canyon. Nothing too difficult in there (at the level's we did it at) but we didn't know it at the time! An amazing adrenalin buzz not knowing what was around the next corner but knowing you wouldn't be able to portage! There was a lovely little playwave towards the end. The river eases up as it approaches Golden.
*Toby Creek, grade III (V) - We did the section from Panorama mountain village down, getting out above the 'seven canyons' section. This was low when we did it and wasn't that good. There was a nasty (rocky drop) grade V in the middle of it which we portaged.
*The Shauswap, grade III - another river that was low when we did it. It looks like it would have been really good in high water. It goes throw a canyon and is very beautiful
*Clearwater, grade III/IV (V)- We did it in low water levels and portaged around the nasty grade V bit called 'The Kettle'. The upper section was easier than the lower. We met the nicest fishermen ever just after The Kettle, chatty and helpful they even took in their lines and stopped fishing when we wanted to go past. There is another section above this called 'Sabretooth canyon' that looked like quite a short fun run.
*The Soo (IV) - I didn't do this run but those that did said it was their best one, technical and continuous they came off the river with big grins. It was supposedly very technical and took the boys 2 hours to do the 4km run!
*Skookumchuck (tidal rapids) - although not a river, no trip to BC would be complete without a trip to Skook. Some claim it's the best playspot in the world. Easy to surf and stay on it, but if you flush off the boils and whirlpools down below it are not very nice. If you like surfing/playboating then you will be in heaven. I don't so I sat on the bank moaning all day that we could have been paddling a real river!
Some advice - A few points/ tips! Firstly be prepared to spend lots of time driving. BC is a huge area and the distances in between the rivers is sometimes quite a way. We spent a few days just driving. Secondly start off on easier rivers! Seems obvious but make sure you do so, we had quite a shock on our 1st 'grade II' river. Thirdly there are bears out there be aware of this! Fourthly do not trust the Stuart Smith guidebooks. He is some complete nutter and seems to call a river 'grade II' even if there are 3 grade V drops around blind corners! Finally make sure you go with people who have all the same aims for the holiday (i.e. Don't take someone who wants to spend 2 weeks sightseeing and paddle one grade II river if everyone else wants to spend 2 weeks paddling grade V!). Our group worked out well, (bar a few moments where Mark and I moaned about spending another day doing 'tourist stuff'!)
Mike Pigott paddled with Katie Fisher, Miriam Grimes, Peter Harker, Chris Lomas, Matt Reynolds, Emma Runciman, Mark Williams, Hazel Yeadon out in BC.
(This is an expanded version of an article I wrote for the December 2003 edition of Canoe Focus)