Saturday, October 22, 2011

Season Wrap-Up 2011

Recently we held our Annual General Meeting and voted in the Brigade executive for next paddling season. With lots of new paddlers on the scene this year, it should come as no surprise that almost every position was taken by someone who has just started in the sport. Great to see the enthusiasm! There is no doubt that they will bring new energy to the club and our paddling community in 2012.

From left to right in the above picture, we have our President Dani, Scribe Hayley, Assistant Jesse, and Vice President Curtis. Club assistants not pictured include Erin, Rob, Matt D, Ian and others. Rounding out the executive is Rick who once again will take the reigns as Treasurer. Thanks to all of you for stepping up to the plate. Pictured below is the VP and Prez ripping up Isle Pierre on the Nechako River during a sunny September trip.

We are nearing the end of another great paddling season in Prince George. The days are getting shorter, colder, winter is fast approaching and soon we'll turn our attention to more seasonal sports. During the off-season there will be lots of opportunities to develop your kayaking skills at the pool. We won't start our formal NWBPC Pool Sessions until March, but informal drop-in sessions are available at the Prince George Aquatic Centre. The best time is usually during Monday-Thursday after 9pm when it isn't too busy and there are no other groups using the shallow end. Always be sure to call ahead and confirm with the lifeguards first. They are friendly and helpful if you are respectful of the space and the privilege we have to kayak there. Also make sure your boat is clean. If you would like company or help with techniques like the roll, be sure to post something up on the forum. There are experienced boaters willing to help, just let us know...

As most of you you know, for several years now I've been taking care of the club's media. The primary purpose of my role was to share stories, pictures, videos, and information about local waterways and paddlers with Brigade members and the greater paddling community. This included the blog, our youtube and picassa sites, the paddlepg forum, the Brigade newsletter, and so on. Starting next year, I will not be in this role. It's been a good time for sure as I've enjoyed spreading the word about Prince George whitewater and stoking the fire on our little scene. I'll still be on the river and somewhat active with the Brigade, but my days of running the club's media are done. Thanks for the feedback and support over the years, and I wish the new executive all the best. Cheers...
(Kananaskis Rodeo, May 2007)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Surf Kayaking Tofino

Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island next to Pacific Rim National Park, the town of Tofino is well known as a resort community that's popular with tourists, beach lovers, and storm watchers. It's also considered to be the surfing capital of Canada and is a great destination for a winter kayak road trip.
The surf is spread out along a series of west-facing beaches south of Tofino including Mackenzie, Chestermans, and Cox Bay. Further south in the adjacent National Park is Long Beach, Wickaninnish Beach, and Florencia Bay closer to the town of Ucuelet. The surrounding scenery is spectacular with open ocean, rainforest and coastal mountains.
Shown above is a beautiful peeling right taken in Cox Bay. If you get waves like this consider yourself lucky because surf conditions on the west coast are quite variable. Generally the most consistent surf is found during the fall to spring season, but this is also a time when huge storms can occasionally blow through bringing wind, rain, and huge waves. During the summer months, there's certainly a better chance of sunshine and cleaner conditions, but you can also get skunked and have no waves at all.
Understanding the forecast conditions is important to planning a surf trip and knowing what to expect once you're there. The first time I went to Tofino I was a novice. We stayed at a place right in Cox Bay and that's the only spot we surfed. While it was convenient to stay and surf in the same place, the conditions at Cox were too big for most of us. The more experienced kayakers couldn't get outside to the green waves, and the novices in the group got worked. There were several swims. No biggy, but not really an ideal introduction to surf kayaking. Had we known there were other beaches nearby with more moderate conditions, I don't think we would have surfed there. 
To find out the forecast or what current conditions are like, check websites like Magicseaweed, the Washington Marine Forecast, or buoy data at La Perouse Bank. The most important variable to pay attention to is the size of the swell, because it has the largest influence on how big or small the waves will be. Keep in mind that the swell size does not translate directly to wave height. Many other variables influence wave height such as swell direction, wave period, wind speed, wind direction, and tides.

Generally, when the swell is really big (~15 foot +), it's better to head to spots like Mackenzie Beach where it's sheltered from the brunt of the swell. When the swell is much smaller than this Mackenzie will be totally flat, but Cox Bay, Long Beach, Wickaninnish, and Florencia Bay will still have good waves as they are more exposed. Between fall and spring, it's usually somewhere in between and then Chestermans is where it's at.
Conveniently, it's quite easy to drive around and check out the three main beaches closest to Tofino (below), as they will have enough variety for any level of paddler. While driving south into the National Park isn't necessary, it can be fun if you're into exploring or it's busy and you'd rather avoid the crowds.

For the uninitiated, it's a good idea to learn basic surf etiquette before paddling out (above). This includes not dropping in when someone else is on the wave, giving priority to the person closest to the breaking peak of the wave, and not paddling around someone who's waiting for a wave (snaking).
After that first humbling trip to Tofino in 2006, I returned several more times. During fall or winter when we were jonesing for a whitewater fix, a few of us would head down there for a few days. It was a fantastic place to learn the basics of playboating  and get comfortable in bigger whitewater features.

One kayak trip that sticks out in my memory was during the Remembrance Day weekend in 2007. When we arrived we had awesome conditions including sunshine and fun waves. However, during the second night a massive storm slammed into the west coast with 100+ km/h winds and 25 feet swell. When we got to the beach the following morning the seas were a maelstrom of whitewater. When the wind gusted it almost knocked you over. Going out in the water was not an option at most spots.
But we had driven a long time to get there, so we headed to Mackenzie Beach where it wasn't as crazy. Below is a shot of me on a wave well inside of where the big sets were breaking. Look closely and you can see the looming grey walls of water in the background.
Extreme storm conditions like the Remembrance Day trip can happen on the west coast, especially during late fall or winter. Generally though, they are uncommon and don't last long. Most people stay out of the water when they do happen, not just because it's unsafe but the wave quality is usually very poor during a storm. Can you imgaine surfing the waves below?
Most of time, kayak surfing in Tofino is suited to any level of boater. This is because of the variety of beaches that provide options for the size of surf you want. Beginners can learn to play "inside" where the smaller waves are, and because the beaches all have sandy bottoms it's reasonably safe of underwater hazards (i.e, no reef or rocks). It is also easy to wade out of the water if you need to self-rescue.
For intermediate and advanced boaters, the biggest waves and the best potential for fast rides and dynamic moves are "outside", where the green waves first start breaking. All the modern playboating moves are possible on a decent-sized ocean wave.
As far as the cold water goes, it's no different than paddling around PG in the early season. As long as you're properly outfitted, it's easily tolerable.

Apart from ocean kayak surfing, there's some great whitewater rivers to check out on the island as well. The whitewater season on Vancouver Island is during the interior's offseason. The Cowichan (class II-III), Naimo (class II-III), Gordon (III-V), and Koksilah Rivers (III-IV) are super fun and not far off the beaten path to Tofino. Be sure to look up Don and Rose at the Warm Rapids Inn for hook-ups as they live and work right on the Cowichan River. Don't forget there's also the Capilano River (class II-III) and Lynn Creek (III-IV) in North Vancouver if the level is good.
Before signing off, I should add that there are other decent places to surf on the west coast of British Columbia aside from Tofino. On the southern end of Vancouver Island these include Jordan River, Sombrio, and Port Renfrew. On the north end of the Island there's Raft Cove and San Josef Bay. Up on the north coast of BC there's Haida Gwaii (picture below), a stand-out if only because of its proximity to Prince George. It may not have the amenities of Tofino, but Haida Gwaii definitely has the waves and wild west coast scenery. As a surf destination it barely receives any attention at all, but I think the locals like it that way. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bowron Lakes Provincial Park

Both Matt Delong and I have a reputation for extreme slowness in the club. No surprise, then, that this write-up is so late.

It would definitely be pushing it to call this a club trip... in fact it was probably the smallest club trip since the president of the Baltimore State prisoner rehabilitation society suggested Christmas Dinner with Hannibal Lecter. Nevertheless back in June Matt and I loaded up our sea kayaks and headed south to the Bowron Lakes for what we thought would be four days of gentle paddling and soaking up the Cariboo Mountain scenery. There would certainly be plenty of paddling, and as it turned out, soaking.

After a night camping in the park near the put-in we attended an early morning orientation session in which the park warden showed us the various ways we were likely to get killed by bears. She also mentioned that it would be unlikely we could outrun the mosquitoes. Unperturbed we loaded our gear into our kayaks and figured we'd make a quick start whilst the other paddlers - all in canoes - had to have their gear weighed. The first part of the circuit is a long 2.4km portage that had us both puffing and sweating before we'd turned the first corner. We'd loaded some gear in backpacks and some in the boats, but it was a long, tough haul in the heat. The mosquitoes prodding every time we stopped encouraged us to go faster.

Kibbee lake was the first actual paddling and the small lake slid by in about 20 minutes. We had a quick lunch on the far side and then tackled the second longest portage, 2km, to Indianpoint Lake. Indianpoint started to give me a sense of what being in the wilderness is really like, there were no people and other than the slow splash of two kayak paddles there was no noise. We held the left shore and crossed the lake fairly quickly, spotting our first moose on the far bank.

We'd aimed to get the first three portages out of the way on day one, so when we arrived at the end of Indianpoint Lake with plenty of afternoon left we knew we were in good shape. We decided to try a different approach and moved all our gear across the portage, then came back for the kayaks. I wasn't sure it was any easier than hauling the lot in one go, but it was a nice day for a walk. Plus it gave the mosquitoes two chances for an evening meal. The bugs were bad there, mainly due to the high level of Isaac Lake. The far side of the portage was all boggy. I suggested to Matt we paddled down some of Isaac Lake, and we soon found a campsite for the night. After a pizza dinner we both turned in. Something creeping in the campsite during the night gave me a scare and I sat for a while wondering if nylon tent was to a bear just like wrapping lunch in a bag.

It started raining in the night and didn't stop for two days. We got up and started down Isaac Lake extremely late, paddling all afternoon in the rain. I was wearing drytop and pants but may as well have dressed in a teabag, by mid-afternoon I was soaked through and shivering whenever we stopped paddling. Matt was little better and when we came across a guy fishing he tried to talk and was not able to get a sentence out properly. The fisherman offered us a hot drink and we found that we were at one of the few cabins around the lake circuit. The four guys in the cabin made us hot tea and after a short discussion we decided to stay the night outside on a tent pad. Sadly the tent pad was on a small spit of land between two gushing rivers and the rivers were starting to flood the site with all the rain. Added to that the four guys had spread the remains of their fish all over the place. We cleaned up but were convinced that flooding, bears or hypothermia were going to get us.

The following day we pressed on down Isaac Lake in the rain, I'd figured we would manage the whole lake in one day but as morning turned to afternoon and rain to hail, we pulled up at the end of the lake shivering and ran for the group shelter there. Someone got a wood stove going and neither of us wanted to move. So the third day of the trip ended and we were still, technically, on Isaac Lake. So much for doing the whole circuit in four days, and I was rather glad we packed five day's worth of food!

Matt taking five on the Cariboo River

We were both determined to make progress on day four and we left camp fairly early - for us - in the morning. We ran 'The Chute' which is a rapid leading from Isaac Lake into the Isaac river and then enjoyed the rapids as we followed the river for a bit. There were a few portages and after McLeary lake we were on the Cariboo River. It made a lovely change to let the current take us and the sun came out along with the view. We were surrounded by mountains instead of clouds. We passed a wrecked canoe and shouted to make sure no one was stranded nearby. The canoe looked like it had been there awhile though.

The river emptied into Lanesi lake and almost immediately a storm hit us, the headwind crashing waves over us and making it very difficult to paddle. I saw Matt with his head down powering into the wind and just tried to follow, battling the wind for control of my paddle blades. When we pulled in to check on some canoeists the wind died and we got to paddle almost a third of the lake in sunshine before the wind hit us again. We turned the South West 'Corner' of the circuit and paddled into Sandy lake and out of the wind. It was late but we both felt strong and just agreed to keep going.

Lanesi lake during a rare break in the weather

We figured there were three short portages to do and then it would be all paddling. If we could get the portaging done that evening then we'd easily finish the circuit the next day. As my supplies amounted to a bowl of oatmeal and some beef jerky I thought that was a good plan.

The rain came back and made paddling unpleasant for a couple of hours, until at the end of Babcock lake we started portaging and the rain stopped. The sun, just about to dip over the horizon, came out from behind a cloud. We were approaching Skoi lake and talking when a big moose stepped up out of the lake right in front of me. She had a calf and they both swam off much to my relief. As we began paddling across Skoi lake the water steamed in the sunset. A Loon sat calling. Another moose on the far bank ran into the forest as we paddled closer. When we reached the shore and stopped for the night finally, we'd been paddling for eleven hours straight. I ate my last dinner by the light of my headlamp.

It was hard to start paddling the next day... the thought of a burger and a hot shower was about all that got me moving. We paddled up Spectacle and Swan lakes and then wound through the Bowron river into Bowron Lake. My body was on automatic and had long since gone pretty numb as we paddled back into civilisation. There were houses and motorboats on Bowron lake. We congratulated each other at the top and whilst we loaded the truck the park ranger turned up and asked if we were the two people that had made an emergency VHF call from in the park. Apparently two guys had stopped in the stormy weather and simply ran out of food.

Matt had to stay awake and drive us home which was not easy. We both looked like refugees from Woodstock. All we could do for several days was sleep, eat and scratch our bug bites.

I'd recommend the Bowron Lakes - they are a wild and beautiful part of BC and I'll definitely paddle them again some day. But it will probably be at a warmer and less buggy time of year ;)


Monday, September 19, 2011

UnLikely Paddlefest 2011

The UnLikely Paddlefest has been hyped up and raved about more than anything else on this blog and among PG paddlers. Why? Because it's a super crazy fun whitewater party that we look forward to all season. According to Mark Savard who's been at every fest but one, last weekend was the event's 20th year, and as Dani indicates above, it was a gooder.
Levels this year on the Quesnel River were the highest they've been for the fest (0.80 m with last year being 0.50 m), on account of the big water year we've had in this part of BC. Decent enough for surfs and spins on the put-in wave as seen above, and also good for some pretty exciting action through the Upper, as seen in Best Drop in the picture below. A couple of our local boaters, Duncan and Fraser, made their first kayak trip down the entire run and did awesome. Nice work gents!

Others came down the Quesnel in more alternative crafts.When Ian first mentioned he was intending on river-boarding the entire run, I didn't really believe him. And then when we saw someone swimming below Pearly Gates, our first thoughts were that a rescue was in order. Turns out it was Norno and his river-board, who made easy work of all the rapids, even the Eyebrow section. Shouldn't be surprised I guess, the nut!
Speaking of nuts, after busting out some decent surfs on the put-in wave, Alene and Tyler pulled off the entire Upper Q in a tandem kayak. Haven't heard how it was through Deepthroat and Notch, but they made it to the Forks so I guess it was all good. Really though, doesn't it seem like the tandem kayak run and Ian's river-board antics belittle the accomplishment of getting down the run in just a kayak? Maybe next time I'll go in some bubble-wrap and an inflatable crocodile or something. Or maybe even a raft cuz there were lots of friendly rafters out on the rivers as well. Indeed...
Other than the Upper Quesnel, there were also some great runs down the Cariboo River as well, with local PG kayakers Danielle and Curtis making it down the Lower for their first time in fine form. Great to see the progression and all of us are stoked to see the number of new people getting into the sport around here.
This years party scene was one of the better ones for sure. Friday night was a big ol' ho-down at the pub, with some decent live music and good vibes. As usual most camped out right in the town of Likely within stumbling distance of the Hilton. Saturday night things amped up even more with Foam Mesh Press from PG playing to a full house, with loads of cheering and dancing revellers going off till the wee hours. Woot! Sunday AM most of us awoke a little fuzzy, but there was a tasty pancake breakfast in town to ease us into the day, with proceeds going to the Likely Community. Well done!

Huge thanks to everyone that helped put on this fantastic event, including the people of Likely, the Likely Hilton, Mark Savard, all the shuttle drivers, Kim Van Diest, and anyone else that helped make this weekend so great. Also big thanks again to the Danskins for putting up with a bunch of grubby paddlers at their beautiful place up the lake. Finally thanks to Fraser and Curtis for taking the pix.
The season is starting to wind down in PG, but there's still a few good runs to be had. Check the forum for the latest, and hopefully see you on the river.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Updates

Wet, cold, cloudy, miserable, depressing, dismal.... these are just a few of the colourful adjectives I've heard to describe this summer in Prince George. While these may not be far off the mark for the weather, it's not how I would describe our whitewater season. Despite the lack of sunshine, us boaters really have had very little to complain about. Water levels are higher than normal for this time of year, giving lots of options for boating close to home or road trips away.

High Water Likely
Peak flows on the Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers usually occur a little later than our local rivers due to the higher elevation watersheds. With the big snowpack this winter combined with the wet weather this summer, the peak flows in Likely this year we're some of the highest in memory. A few of us managed to get on the Lower Cariboo in late spring and early summer at super-fun high water levels, before returning in July to have a go at the other runs.

After hearing from our paddling friends in Williams Lake that the Upper Cariboo and Quesnel were off the hook and in flood, we were keen to check things out for ourselves. Just like they said, it was massive. Probably some of the biggest whitewater I've done since the Rio Futaleufu. No eddies, moving with the speed and power of a freight train, and some of the hugest crashing rapids any of us have paddled through -- especially Bubbleyum (IV) on the Upper Cariboo. Thankfully there weren't too many holes and it was all flushing through. We can't be sure what the level was for the Cariboo as the rock gauge was underwater and there was no eddy at the put-in. 

The Upper Quesnel gauge for this trip showed 2.6 m. The waves in the White Kilometer were like crashing ocean surf with some up to 12+ feet in height! But overall this section wasn't too hazardous really (class III+). We had a look at the Devil's Eyebrow section with binoculars from the road to Quesnel Forks, and even from a distance it looked pretty bad ass with a deep river-wide hole and a lot of swirling whitewater. Having no idea if there was a line and knowing that scouting may not be an option, we decided not to run this section. So far as we know the Eyebrow has never been paddled this high, and this is according to Likely locals Jay and Wayne. Check out the vid I put together from our weekend here: High Water Likely. Thanks to Ian for running the POV camera! Check out this wave below, with Rebecca on the crest and Ian in the trough. Note the angle of the trees in the horizon compared to the wave-hole and think about it...

Willow River
Above is a shot of Mike Brine getting funky on Diamond Wave at our local whitewater run, the Lower Willow. Normally this river drops and comes into playful levels in late June and by early July it's gone. This year the play came into form mid-August and the continued wet weather has kept it up. Super fun! And it doesn't get much easier for eddy-service play than Diamond Wave and Surf City. Keep an eye on the online gauge (LINK Willow River at Hay Creek at the bottom of the page), where between 3.45-3.85 meters is good play in the Lower Willow.
The Upper Willow has also seen plenty of action this August with lots of beginners getting out, learning the basics, and developing their skills. Super stoked to see our little kayaking scene grow in Prince George! Any beginners interested in getting out should check our forum as there are experienced people willing to help out, including beginner river runs, gear advice, and a couple available club boats to loan out.

Clearwater Road Trip
Above is a shot of Alene dropping into "The Wall" on the lower section of the Clearwater River, from a road trip here on the August Long Weekend. This river has to be one of the classic whitewater destinations in Canada, with world class play and a variety of big water runs for most boaters. No surprise that the level was high for this time of year, a little too high for the monstrous Pink Mountain wave but still great for one-timers like Tsunami and Buckaroo. It was a super fun weekend and we even had some hot sunny weather. Here's Alene again, in the middle of it with Richard looking on from the eddy.

Upper Fraser
While taking in the Robson Valley Music Festival this past weekend (LINK), Ian and I made it out to the Upper Fraser River. Without question this is one of my favorite runs in BC. Apart from the incredible scenery, it has a wicked fun combination of technical, continuous rapids with a big water feel. Level for our run was 60 cms, or medium-low. Ian ran Overlander Falls and finally after 8 attempts over the last few years, nailed it smoothly and made it through upright. Awesome to see! I was pretty happy just to take pictures, as seen in the sequence below.

Terminator, class IV for our run, is the crux rapid and it never fails to get my heart going. Like usual, I got eaten and tossed into the river left eddy at the bottom. My exit wasn't particularly graceful but I came away in my boat unscathed nonetheless. Exhilarating! Worthy of a few hoots through the last stretch, and thankfully the festival beers that night were not from a booty. If you ever want to check out Terminator, turn towards the river at the Mount Robson Visitor Information Centre, park at the bridge across the canyon, and have a look upstream. Terminator is the big drop at the end of the view. You can get a closer look if you walk upriver along the trail and hike down.
Likely Road Trip
Look through this blog post and all the links and you'll see lots of trip reports, videos, and pictures of paddling in Likely. The reason being is that for big, fun, exciting whitewater within a reasonable driving distance from PG, it really doesn't get any better. During the last weekend in August, we made the trip here to hook up for some river action with other boaters from Quesnel and Williams Lake. Weather-wise, it turned out to be one of the best trips of the summer with big blue skies and WARM sunshine.
Above is Jess Stanley on the Lower Cariboo (II-III), who smoothly made it through her first time down with not even a flip. It was a super fun run with a great bunch of boaters and big grins all around...
The Upper Quesnel gauge (Quesnel at Likely) was 1.25 m for our trip, well down for our flood runs earlier in the season but still a solid medium level and much higher than normal for this time of year. Note that levels during UnLikely Fest are usually between 0.50 m and 0.75 m. The put-in wave was barely in during the weekend, and only good for flushy front-surfs. There were consistent rapids all the way from First Drop through to the Bullion Pit, with the biggest stuff near Best Drop. Unfortunately it's difficult to take pictures of the Upper Quesnel so you'll have to imagine with these descriptions only.

Fraser and Matt D came down the Quesnel to the Bullion Pit (III+) for their first time. This was the biggest and most difficult whitewater either of them had experienced. It was also the highest level Duncan had ever done it. They all made it through without too much of a thrashing and were super stoked. Nice work gents!

The Devil's Eyebrow section of the Upper Quesnel (IV) was full-on at this level, with boat control being a relative thing compared to the chaos of what was happening in there. Alene made her first run through this section and despite her "I totally f***ed that up" exclamation after Deepthroat, she managed with no problems.

The final constriction or "notch" of the Eyebrow is where the entire river narrows to about 3 meters. At this level it was like a huge toilet bowl and getting through upright was a roll of the dice, with some people skipping over the boils and others like Wayne, Richard, and myself getting flushed down the drain. If the drain opened up in front of you, you were getting gobbled whether you liked it or not.
Above is Jay from Williams Lake, Rebecca from Hope, and Richard from Quesnel about to head down the Upper Quesnel for another run. Below are some more shots of the Lower Cariboo.

By all accounts, this road trip was one of the best of the paddling season thus far. Gorgeous weather, awesome whitewater, and great people. Thanks again to Duncan and Deanna for hosting us! Don't forget the UnLikely Paddlefest is September 16-19.

Cheers to the season!