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Bowron Lakes Canoe Trip

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Bowron Lakes Canoe Trip

August 28th, 2008  · stk

Day One - Bowron Lakes Campsite #12
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
6.0 Km (3 portages) + 11.8 Km (zigzag paddling)

Despite not sleeping well, it was 7 AM before we ventured out of the tent and began stowing our gear into the assortment of dry bags that we had borrowed from Rachel's folks. Because we're backpackers, we're good at minimizing our gear, but we're not used to having six different bags to keep things in! (All through the first day we asked each other, "Which bag is [such-and-such] in?", as we rifled through three, identically colored bags, each the same size! We hope that by the end of the trip, we will have a system for our gear.)

Once our gear was packed, we jumped in the car to drive to Bear River Mercantile, to rent some canoe wheels and to see about getting a journal notebook, just in case the HP Jornada computer battery dies. The store was out of notebooks, but the owner was kind enough to give us a few sheets of paper. With canoe wheels in hand, it was back to the campsite to load the canoe and get to the registration office.

When we arrived at the weigh-in scales, next to the parking lot, there was find a flurry of activity. People, gear, kayaks and canoes seemed to be scattered everywhere: Four kayakers had just finished weighing their gear; four university guys with a pile of assorted backpacks and shopping bags (they were desperately trying to find a combination of bags that would (a) keep the scales under 60 pounds and (b) which, if not in the canoe, could be carried); and other adventurers seemed to be pulling up every minute.

When it was our turn to weigh-in, we quickly loaded our bags onto the scales, easily passing under the 60-pound mark. We were then given our registration ticket, which we then took up to the registration booth, so it could be laminated. (The ticket summarizes the bags allowed to be carried in the canoe during portages, facilitating on-circuit checks and has to be attached to the bow of the canoe, for the duration of the circuit).

We milled around, waiting for the orientation session. The tiny room was full and there wasn't an extra seat anywhere. We watched a 15-minute video (coincidentally, the same one we'd borrowed from Rachel's parents and watched at home, a few days ago). After the video, Rose, the park facilitator, spoke to the group for another 15 minutes, telling us about the current conditions of the park and where the bears were a problem. At last, the orientation was over and we were free to begin our adventure. Rachel made a phone call to her parents, to let them know that we are starting and then we were off.

The circuit begins with a 2.4 km portage from the registration office, the majority of which, is uphill. Although the canoe was not terribly heavy to push, it was very awkward. We exchanged some short words as we struggled to find a way to - as the park insisted - have one person at the bow and the other at the aft portion of the canoe. (The person pushing in the rear, which was Scott, ended up shoving Rachel up, left, right and down, since the canoe is 14 feet long and positioning the aft part, means moving the bow in the opposite direction). Finally, at 3/4 of a kilometer in, we decided that it was better for one person to push the canoe, rather than have two people fight over it. Since Rachel was carrying the backpack (containing heavy food bags, stove and the pots), this left Scott in charge of pushing the canoe. Finally, we settled into a pattern that worked for the rest of the trip - Scott pushed the canoe and 60-pounds worth of gear, while Rachel carried the backpack and assisted with the canoe up steep hills or over rocky terrain.

Halfway along the first portage, we realized that we had forgotten our sandals back in the car. Scott walked back to get them, while Rachel continued on with the entire lot of gear. (Oops!)

Rachel arrived at the lake and watched four kayakers loading into their kayaks and shoving off. Shortly after, a young couple pulled up in their canoe - she had forgotten "her medication" and she was headed back to the car to get it, while her boyfriend waited. All during the trip, we wondered what "the medication" was, concluding that it was likely birth control pills! ;) The four university guys finally arrived - they must've been able to find the right gear combination - and they loaded into their canoes and then disappeared around the bend of the lake. Scott finally appeared and it our turn to load up and start paddling.

What a riot! (Neither of us were experienced canoeists and for the first bit of the trip - it showed!!) Rachel had a few canoe trips in under her belt, but they were all about 25 years ago, with her parents. During those early trips, she was always sitting in the bow of the boat (when canoeing, it's the person sitting in the stern that does the steering). Scott had even less experience!

Because of this, we had borrowed an instructional video titled "Path of the Paddle", from the library. We'd watched the 28-minute chapter on “Doubles Basics Canoe Strokes" the night before leaving and we felt as if it were simple enough. HA!! There's a big difference between "seeing" and "doing".

Scott took the stern first. The north side of Kibbee Lake is shallow and marshy. It has an open water path that leading through the reeds, into the open water. As we pulled away from the beach, we tried to follow the pathway, but we zig-zag'd, bumping into the reeds, first on one side and then the other. Thankfully, we were quickly out of sight of the guy waiting for his girlfriend to fetch her birth control "meds" and shortly after that, we were in open water. However, the zigzagging continued across the lake, but Scott slowly got the hang of the steering "J-stroke" and eventually, our course became more of a straight line. (Whew!)

Kibbee Lake is only about 2 kilometers long, but as we made our way to the far shore, we were acutely aware of our aching shoulder muscles. If we were like this now, what are we going to be like tomorrow, or by the end of the week?!

Finally, we arrived at the opposite shore and we pulled the canoe out of the water, got the wheels under the canoe and were off on our second portage. The funny thing? Being hikers, we both thought it was easier to portage than paddle the canoe! (So much for a canoe trip!) It just shows where our "comfort zone" lies. Not far into the second portage, we came upon the four kayakers. Two were having a much more difficult time with the portage. While we had an easy time with the portage, we would be envying them on the open lakes with their speed, independence and grace (whilst we zig-zagged all around, with aching shoulders)!

Back onto the water of our second lake "Indianpoint Lake", Rachel took the stern. She figured that she could master the steering and show Scott a thing or two. Her steering, just like Scott's, made a zig zagging course across the lake and she was humbled from the experience. What appeared easy in the video is not so easy to put into practice.

We stopped for lunch at Campsite #5. It was a nice spot with a sandy beach. Since our tummies were grumbling, it was just in time. We enjoyed a lunch of dried pepperoni sticks, cheese, bagels with peanut butter, and hard boiled eggs. Feeling refreshed, it was time to climb back into the canoe. This time, Scott took the stern and it was an unspoken acknowledgment that Scott had mastered the skill of steering a straight line faster than Rachel did and would take the aft seat for the remainder of the voyage.

We made our way along the lake and as we neared the end, we had to navigate through another path of marsh reeds. We kept our eyes open, looking for moose, but unfortunately, didn't see any. The path through the reeds led to more open water, but it wasn't far before we were pulling out at the next portage to Isaac Lake.

The third portage was certainly not the longest, but it was without a doubt, the roughest. The rocks along the way were more like boulders and the pot holes were mud pits. At one point, Rachel actually had to help Scott pull the canoe out of a mud pit and over a boulder after the canoe wheels got stuck in the hole. The portage began with a relatively steep climb and ended in a marsh where the mosquitoes were thick and hungry. We made quick business of getting the canoe off the wheels and out onto open water, to escape them. Nonetheless, our exposed skin soon welted with a number of red, itchy spots - in sensitive places like behind the knees and on the knuckles.

After escaping the mosquitoes, we stopped in open water to enjoy an orange and have a drink of water. Being that we are used to carrying everything on our backs, we are not in the habit of bringing fresh fruits on our backpacking trips, so having the fresh and juicy oranges was a real treat.

Not far into Isaac Lake, we spotted Campsite #11, on the south side of the lake. There were already two canoes pulled up on the beach, so we guessed that the University guys had pulled in there. Ahead of us we could see another four canoes in the water, so we took a moment to look at the map and make a plan. If the nearby Campsite #12 (which has two tent pads) was empty, we would stop there, otherwise we would have another couple kilometers paddle to the next group of camp sites at the arm of Isaac Lake (which Rose said are usually crowded). Fortunately for us, we rounded the point and saw that not only did Campsite #12 have a nice beach, but it was empty.

We pulled in went about making camp. Shortly after we arrived a party of two canoes carrying four adults and two kids went by. We had passed them on the last portage and Rachel felt a little bad that they would now have to paddle on, as there was only room for one more tent. A half hour after that, the four kayakers pulled up and asked if they could join us. We figured that there was room enough to pitch a third tent (off of a pad), so they beached and made camp.

The kayakers introduced themselves: Janet and Rob, Lilia and Mike. They are quite the bunch! They have a fair bit of experience with different types of adventuring, so the conversations have been good as we talk about cycle trips, canoe/kayak trips and such. Rob had been planning ahead and had found a way to circumvent the “no commercial beverages” restriction (beers cans or bottles, tetra packs, or liquor bottles); he made a batch of “non-commercial” beer at a local U-Brew, in Kamloops, using reusable plastic bottles. He generously shared a bottle with us and we enjoyed a very tasty beer, as we went about our camp activities!

Scott went for a quick swim in the lake, but stated that it was almost "headache-cold" which was enough to keep Rachel on the beach. We ate a delicious dinner of home-made, dehydrated Spaghetti that Scott cooked up and then enjoyed the beautiful scenery, while sitting on the beach, drinking coffee and hot chocolate. Too bad that Rob didn't make any “non-commercial” Baileys for the after dinner drinks.

As Rachel cleaned the dishes after dinner, Scott went for a little walk around the corner of the campsite. He came back and reported that he had seen bear scat on the beach. We will be sure to lock up our food in the metal bear cache tonight (each campground has one - or more - of these caches), as the rangers had warned us that bear were active at this camp-site.

The sun sunk behind the mountain across the lake, which put us in shade. Across the lake, we noted that Campsite #11 was still basking in the late evening sun. We could hear the University guy calling out to each other, making us glad that we are no closer. It's now time to retire to the tent. Hopefully the second night in the tent will prove to be better sleeping than the first.

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