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.