Monday, September 21, 2009

UnLikely Paddle Festival 2009

If you can imagine a huge posse of paddling friends from all over western Canada, a couple of kick ass whitewater rivers, a party with live music near a historic setting, and some great Cariboo hospitality - then you've got the scene for the UnLikely Fest. During the third weekend in September, paddlers gather in the small community of Likely BC for this annual celebration. This festival has always been a wicked fun way to mark the end of summer and wind down our paddling season in the north.
This year marked the 150th Anniversary of the town of Quesnel Forks, shown as it was historically in the above picture from 1885. Located at the confluence of the Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers, the Forks once had a population of a few thousand - mostly miners that came to the area for the Cariboo Gold Rush. By 1950 however, it had been mostly abandoned and became a ghost town. It remained this way until just a few years ago when the community of Likely started to restore some of the old buildings on the remains of the townsite. Now it's not only a great paddling destination but an impressive piece of BC history.

To celebrate the big anniversary, most of the festivities this year were at the Forks instead of in Likely. So on Friday night after a few rounds at the Hilton, we rolled into the Forks campground which was packed with kayakers, rafters, and campers. Good times! The next day the plan was to run the Upper Quesnel.
While toned down from higher water levels earlier in the year, the Upper Q was still at a super nice playful level --- about 0.6 m on the online gauge. Above pic is our club President Chad Ridsdale surfing near First Drop, and below is PG old skooler Ed Day throwing ends on the put-in wave. Saturday we managed a couple runs on the Q, with Deanna and Tlell making their first successful descents. Have to hand it to Deanna who hung in through a couple good beatdowns, and also to Ty Smith who showed up outta nowhere after a summer of canoeing in Ontario, and did the entire run to the Forks. Gotta be stoked on that dude! Below is Smithereen Tlell Glover shredding the Bullion Pit wave, and me getting ejected off the same wave.

Saturday night was a loosely organized jam at the Forks, headlined by Drum and Bell Tower, aka Brent Morton (check out his tunes here: Drum and Bell). He played a solid set of original tunes and I think most of us would have liked to have heard more of him but.... it was an open stage so yep. As far as the other performers go, it was some kind of folk-screamo-rap thing. Or maybe Korn meets Leonard Cohen unplugged? Still a good time round the fire though.
Sunday morning already? Let's go paddling!! Woot!! We hooked up with Cam's gang from south coast as well as Savard's crew and headed to the Upper Cariboo. Water levels were surprisingly up, around 4 or 5 on the rock gauge. Despite our good intentions, it was decided that Cariboo Falls was too high to run, as shown in the picture below. Some great excitement through the first few drops though.

At the bottom of the biggest rapid there was some decent carnage, when Deanna swam and all these guys rushed to her rescue. In the ensuing chaos, Jesse broke his paddle after trying to roll up off someone's boat, and ended up slicing open Cam's spraydeck with the sharp end of his broken paddle before swimming. No harm done though, as Jesse c-1'ed the remainder of the Upper. Once we got to the bridge at the bottom of the run, Tlell, Deanna, and I decided to carry on to the Lower Cariboo, pictured below.
What an awesome weekend! Huge props to Mark Savard from Red Shreds for organizing this year's festival, and also to Ryan and others for the shuttle driving, flapjack flipping, and the constant enthusiasm. Finally, special thanks to Deanna's parents for the delicious borscht, shuttles, pictures, and goodies. Cheers!!

That's all from the Brigade for now, probably until our Annual General Meeting which will be held on October 29th. Check the forum for more details. And hey, the season ain't over yet so get yer gaskets fixed and see you on the river...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mini Fraserfest Report

Every September long weekend, a bunch of boaters get together on the Upper Fraser River in Mount Robson Provincial Park. The event has become known as Mini Fraserfest. This is contrast to Kayakwest's Fraserfest which is an experts only event during June or early July's high water (from Kayak Jasper for the 2009 festival: Fraserfest is Western Canada's best scare-a-thon. Last year we rafted Rearguard Falls in pitch black. Better show up this year to see what we have planned. Oh, and the kayaking is incredible as well. Don't forget your roll and maybe practice holding your breath. See you there). Peak waterflow in late June this year was about 200 cms. The Upper Section at this level is class V+ according to Sean and Spence.

Later in the summer, the Upper Fraser is at a more manageable water level, so Mini Fraserfest is good for those wanting to experience the river at a mellower pace. Levels this year were at 50 cms. I had done the Upper Fraser last year, but skipped out on the Upper Fraser Canyon, so I was looking forward to running this section as well as running some other rivers in the area.

A few of us made the trip out from Prince George and Quesnel, and on Saturday, we met Stu and Amy from Fernie, Brian Joubert from Edmonton, and some peeps from the Mistaya Paddling Club for the hook up. We decided to do the Canoe River, 30 minutes away in Valemount. This is a fun low volume run that comes out of the Cariboo Mountains. The top half is continuous boulder gardens (class III) similar to the Dore River near McBride, and the bottom half is more pool-drop (class III+). Below are a couple pix from our run.

After returning to Robson Meadows Campground, Stu, Brian and I decided to run the Canyon section on the Upper Fraser. This section starts below Overlander Falls and continues to a bridge crossing the river on the campground road. The action starts quickly with Carom Shot (III+), then a few techinical-twisty drops before flattening out for a bit. When the canyon starts up again, things really get fast and pushy with some wave trains and holes before the Terminator (IV), a large drop into a deep hole. The line at this level is to go right into the meat. Hold on! Going through upright was difficult, as well as managing the river-left eddy. Here's a couple of pix from our first run down.

Sunday, Kelly, Richard and I did two full runs on the Upper and Canyon sections. A long day, but such amazingly fun, continuous whitewater. All of the named rapids on the Upper (class III-III+ at this level) are unique, and fairly continous grade II-III rapids between them. The scenery is spectacular as well, with Mount Robson and the Rocky Mountains looming above us. Here's a couple pix near the Toilet Bowl on the Upper Section.

The last time through Terminator, Richard and I finally made it through upright. Definitely some good hoots and hollers through the last rapids! What is much more impressive however, is the fact that some river-boarder from Calgary apparently did the entire run from top to bottom, including Terminator AND Overlander Falls. Think about going face-first off Overlander with nothing but a two inches of foam between you and the water. Cojones grandes!

Thanks to everyone that helped organize this event, especially Sara Jordan from Calgary. For more info on the Upper Fraser, check out my trip report from last year here: Upper Fraser.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Heat Wave Whitewater

Backyard Prince George Creeking
The central interior of BC has been blazing in a heat wave recently, with temperatures in the 30s and nothing but sunny skies. What better way to cool off then head to the river? For some, this may mean floating down a meandering waterway on an innertube with a six pack. Whatever floats yer boat I guess. While whitewater enthusiasts would likely agree with the beverages, we at least need a wave or two right? Okay so river levels are getting pretty low around Prince George. Before they dropped though, a few of us managed to get into the Lower Lower Willow this summer. This run is located below Killer Canyon, and is a great stretch of technical whitewater similar to the rapids under the Highway 16 bridge. Below is a picture of Ian boofing Ed's Hole.
Picture below is Mike running Duck Shit Chute. The trail into and out of the Lower Lower has had a reputation of being more difficult than the run itself. While it is a very steep descent down to the canyon, a long hike out, and more mosquitos than you can imagine, it is well worth the trip. The trails have recently been brushed and cleared as well, so at least now it's a straight-forward walk, not a battle through blowdown and dense BC bush. If you haven't seen it, here's a video I made of the entire run: Lower Lower Willow (be sure to watch in HD).

Clearwater Road Trip
Clearwater is one of the great whitewater meccas in British Columbia. There are several classic runs on the Clearwater River itself, as well as numerous other rivers and creeks in the area. This past weekend, we made a road trip to hit the Clearwater River at primo play levels: 2.5m on the bridge gauge. I have never actually been on a river with this much surf! Apart from the legendary Pink Mountain, there was also Tsunami, Little Pink, and many others. Good times were also had in Sabretooth Canyon. Woop! Having said that, I put together a short video of the trip. Check it out here: Clearwater Road Trip (click on HD for best quality). Don't forget about their whitewater festival this coming weekend, here: Clearwater Kayakfest.

See you on the river.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

McBride Whitewater

Nestled in the Robson Valley amid the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains is the town of McBride. With an abundance of quality rivers and creeks nearby, McBride has earned the rightful reputation of being a whitewater paddlers paradise. Any boaters on a road trip between Jasper and central British Columbia should be sure and spend some time in the area. Boating season in McBride is during snowmelt in early June through July, but heavy rains could also bring things up later in the season. Recently, a few of us made the trip from Prince George to run some rivers and scout a few more. Here's the scoop:

Dore River
The Dore River is located 5 minutes west of McBride off highway 16 up the Dore River Road. It has three sections: North Fork, South Fork, and Main Dore. I've never done the North Fork (grade V), but kayakwest has an excellent write-up you can read here. Last weekend, we had a look up the South Fork (grade IV) to 5 km. There are some tough looking shallow rapids on this stretch like Sucker Punch, and wood is also an issue on this entire section. We ran it from 3 km down to the confluence where the Main Dore begins.
The Main Dore River (grade III+) pictured above, has continuous rapids from start to finish. The biggest rapids are near the first bridge on the way to the put-in. It's a hoot of a run, requiring constant boat scouting and navigation to avoid the numerous holes, rocks, and the odd log sticking out. It's fairly clean compared to the North and South Fork, but one should always be deligent of wood regardless. Below is a picture of Ian on the bridge rapid from a couple years back.
Holmes River
This river is located about 5 minutes east of town up the Holmes River Forest Service Road. As you drive along the FSR, you'll soon see Beaver Falls which isn't really a waterfall, just a big short rapid. The normal put-in is at the 15 km bridge. The Holmes is a fast river with several long continuous rapids (grade III+). The run finishes off with Beaver Falls (grade III+ to IV) pictured below, before the take-out near the highway.
Last weekend on our way to scout another creek, Ian wagered some beers that I couldn't get in my gear, put-on the Holmes at the rec site above Beaver Falls, run the rapid and be back in the truck in less than 15 minutes. Needless to say I had a good buzz by the time we started scouting the next river. If you haven't done it before and your nearby, Beaver Falls is a fun little park n' huck.

Horsey Creek
The next drainage east of the Holmes is Horsey Creek, about 15 minutes further. This is like the Main Dore, but steeper, especially as you continue up the road. I've only looked at this one, but hairboaters take note: the top part is pretty stout as pictured below (grade IV+). Last weekend, the road past this rapid was impassable due to a snow avalanche which had buried the road. It looked like there were still considerable rapids upstream. Lower down, there were also a few logs across the river which hopefully will blow out in high water. Maybe by next visit?
Small River
The last significant drainage east of McBride before Tete Jaune Cache is the Small River, near the Dunster turnoff. It's similar in character to the Horsey with fast shallow rapids in the bottom stretch, and increasing steepness as you go further up. Starting just above the bridge on the dirt road that parallels the river, there is a long class V rapid, pictured below.

Burly!! Again, some wood issues on this river, but nothing impossible so far as we could tell. I think Norno is eyeing this one up for some future descent. Give er' dude!

Other McBride Runs
There are several other whitewater runs in the McBride area, including West Twin Creek, East Twin Creek, Castle Creek, and McKale Creek to name a few. For more information you can check out Stuart Smith's guidebook to Central Rockies Whitewater. Thanks to Ian Norn and Hardy Griesbauer for the great pictures.  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Springtime Prince George

Just a quick update on recent runs around our hometown. Levels have been quite high for awhile now and will likely continue with the delayed snowmelt.

Arguably the best playwave around Prince George has recently come into shape on the Bowron River --- Wayne's World --- named after local PG paddler Wayne Giles who found it several years back. It's located in a wave train about 100 m downstream of the highway 16 bridge on river right. It has easy roadside access and decent eddy service, making it the perfect park n' play spot. Below is a picture of Chris Robberts from a couple years back.

The Willow has also been at high water for a few weeks now. Recently, a few of us have been running it during flood, when every rock in the river is completely underwater. The rapids under the bridge are the most difficult (grade IV), with large boils, compression waves, and the ultra-nasty House Rock hole.
Enjoy this video I put together of some recent footage at Wayne's World and the Lower Willow. Be sure to click on HQ for best video quality: Springtime in Prince George

June 19-21 is our annual Prince George Paddle Party. This year will be pretty rockin' with the high water, loads of rivers to chose from for all levels of paddlers, and new venue out near Crescent Spur, about 1.5 hours east of Prince George. Check here for more info and updates: PG Paddle Party.
See you on a river soon!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Futa & South America

This past winter, my girlfriend Melissa and I travelled in South America for seven weeks. One of the highlights of the trip was the Rio Futaleufu. The Futa has attained legendary status in the international paddling community for its breathtaking scenery and spectacular whitewater. We spent a week there with Expediciones Chile, owned by American kayak pioneer Chris Spelius. Melissa got to raft, hike, and mountain bike in the valley, while I kayaked. Our accomodations, food, shuttles, guides - everything was excellent, professional, and well worth it.The Futa is located in northern patagonia Chile, near the Argentinan border, as shown on the map above. Much of the river runs through a deep gorge, lined with granite cliffs, lush green slopes, and waterfalls. The area is surrounded by mountains and forests. Below is a picture of Tres Monjas, one of the peaks above the Futaleufu valley.

Amongst kayakers, the Futa is well known for it's volume and power. Normal flows on the Futa compare to peak flow on the Upper Cariboo or Upper Quesnel (about 450 cms). During high flows the Futa can exceed 2,000 cms. During my first couple days there the river was low, but three days of rain brought it up to seasonal levels.

For the unintiated, playboats are not recommended on the Fu because of the sheer volume of the rapids, as well as the speed and continuity of the water. I paddled a Wavesport Diesel 75 all week and compared to my playboat, appreciated the additional boat volume. Pushy! I had brought all my other paddling gear.
The Futa can be divided up into 3 sections: the Upper with Infierno Canyon, Zeta, Throne Room, and The Wild Mile; the Middle or Terminator Section; Lower or Bridge to Bridge; and the El Macal Section.

The first day there, we paddled the El Macal section of the Futa, class II-III. Having not been on a river in a few months it was a great warm-up for what was to come. During 6 days of kayaking, I was able to run --- or look at --- every section of the river.

Upper Section
Below is one of the biggest rapids in Upper Section in Infierno Canyon, Dynamite, class V. This was taken from about 150 meters above the river. The entry v-wave here is the size of a bus. Infierno Canyon has more difficult rapids than any other section of the Futa. Because it is in a vertically walled canyon, scouting is difficult and portaging impossible. For experts only...

The above picture is my guide Caden just below Infierno, in Las Escalas Valley. This is where we put-in to run parts of Upper Section. From here it was a scenic float with a couple of small rapids and cool caves to paddle through before arriving at Zeta.

Above is Caden standing beside Zeta (class V+), the hardest single rapid on the entire river. What makes this rapid so hazardous is all of the undercut walls. Needless to say I walked this one. Below is a picture of Chris Spelius running Zeta from back in the day.

Shortly after Zeta is the Thrown Room (class V), a very impressive and large rapid where the river drops over 20 m within 200 m. After portaging, it wasn't until I was at river level looking back up that I really got an appreciation for how big this rapid is . Truly massive. Here's some borrowed footage of professional kayaker Marianne Saether with a good line at Throne Room: good line. Here's an Exchile guide with a not so good line: bad line.

Following the Throne, the Wild Mile Section of the Upper begins, class III-IV. The photo below is the scout for Chaos and Confusion... named after the feeling of threading between the holes into the white frothy bits below.
Still in the Wild Mile above, busting through The Thing: a random stopper-pile that can swallow you whole if you have bad timing. From here, the river mellows for a while....

... Until the confluence with the Rio Azul. Melissa and I spent two nights camped above, just below the confluence. Here we had the honour of being taken care of by Chris's mother-inlaw, Abuela. Apart from being a great cook, she was one of the most genuine and funny people we met during our travels --- and she didn't speak a word of english. The banter between her and Julion, one of the guides, provided great evening entertainment.

Middle Section
The Middle Section of the Futa starts right at the confluence beside camp. There are a number of rapids before reaching Terminator, a long and difficult stretch of whitewater. Apparently there are over sixty holes here at normal flows. The rapid can be run a few different ways, depending on the level. During our run, there was a pin hazard on the "easiest" creek line (class IV). Excluding the middle line (grade V), the other option didn't look much better to me as it fed into a series of holes at the bottom, which then goes right into Lower Terminator. I took the well worn portage trail. Here's an old video of Corran Addison on the Centre Line at Terminator.

Shortly after Terminator are two super fun rapids: Kyber Pass and the Himalayas. For our run, one of our crew didn't make the "traverse" on Kyber Pass and ended up getting worked in China Hole. Luckily she hung in there and flushed out in her boat.

Lower Section
The most popular section of the Futa is the bridge to bridge run in the lower section, considered to be the heart of the river. This section is considered to be one of the classic big volume runs in the world, with 17 named rapids in 8 miles, ranging from class III-IV+.
Above: descending some massive wave somewhere on the Bridge to Bridge. During my stay I did this run several times, and every run was different just because the push and turbulence of the water made it impossible to stay on the exact same line. The photo below is me dropping into the seam on Pillow Rapid.

Above eddying out below Mundaca. Some highlights while paddling the Lower Section include a solid hole-beating on lower Entrada, and getting "Mas" on Mas o Menos. I also came very close to swimming on Casa de Piedra, the most difficult rapid in Bridge to Bridge. Seven roll attempts before getting up --- intense!

Rio Azul and Rio Espolon
The Futaleufu Valley also has easy access to other rivers including the playful Rio Espolon (grade II) pictured above, and Rio Azul (III) shown below.

The Azul was a fun run and change of pace from the intensity of the Futa, and we often paddled it at the end of the day to unwind.

The Volcano
Last spring, a volcano in the nearby town of Chaiten erupted, causing a national emergency and the evacuation of both Chaiten and Futaleufu. When we arrived by ferry in Chaiten 8 months later, there still wasn't much left of the town. Mudslides and ash had pretty much destroyed it.

One of the days at camp, we all headed up the Azul valley shown above --- me to paddle and Melissa to mountain bike. It was forecast to be a nice sunny day, but we noticed some very unusually dark clouds approaching. We also heard what we thought was thunder...

So Caden and I are paddling through the rapids, and it starts to snow, or wait --- it's volcanic ash! Turns out, the volcano in nearby Chaiten had erupted again and was spewing ash into the Futaleufu Valley. Craziness! We paddled back to camp to find everyone okay. Abuela had briefly thought the end of the earth was at hand - hilarious! Things quickly returned to normal, although it was a little dusty in the town of Futaleufu. Below is a picture of mel covered in ash.

For the remainder of our travels, whenever we were in an area with a rafting company, I would find hook ups to run a local river. Although the rivers did not compare to the Futa, it was still great to paddle a new river and meet other boaters. The first river in Argentina was near Bariloche, the Rio Manso (class III) pictured below. Thanks to the kind folks at Extremo Sur for a great couple days! Especially for the kick-ass barbeque.
Shortly after we went to San Rafael, where Bob Daffe's friend Silvio Gallo lent me his playboat and took us to the Rio Atuel. Silvio's plan was to surf the Forbidden Wave --- a big, bouncy wave right below the dam, beside the police office --- totally illegal to paddle. Being a lawyer, Silvio managed to convince me that as long as were sneaky, we'd be fine. Good rides and a great time! Nice beer banter after too. Following San Rafael, we went to the beautiful city of Mendoza, where I spent a day paddling the muddy Rio Mendoza pictured below, with Argentina Rafting Co.

While in Salta a couple weeks later, I got out with Grillo and Salta Rafting to paddle the Rio Juramento. Pretty low and mellow, but a beautiful river teaming with wildlife. It felt like I was in a National Geographic show (pictures below, and thanks again Grillo!!):

That wraps up the paddling part of my South America trip. If only the snow could melt here! Till then, cheers.