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Bowron Lakes Canoe Trip

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Rachel·Scott

Bowron Lakes Canoe Trip

August 28th, 2008  · stk

Day Five - Bowron Lakes Campsite #48 (Spectacle/Swan Lake)
Sunday, August 17, 2008
20.0 km (paddling) + 2.0 km (3 portages)

We woke up this morning just after 6 AM and quietly began our morning routine. We weren't yet out of our tent, when we heard the first of other voices from other tents, and then shortly after, voices outside. What is it about camping and being on an adventure/physical trip that people all get up early? People wouldn't be getting up a this early at home, at least, not Rachel!

As has been our norm, we were the first to shove into the water. Because of our Pacific Crest Trail hike, the young couple said this wasn't surprising, as we're "professionals"! It's not like we were super quick (2 hours between waking and our first paddling), but we don't kill time with things like campfires. (We'd rather spend that extra time enjoying calm conditions on the water, with cooler temperatures, rather than have a fire in the morning and take the chance that the conditions become difficult in the afternoon).

For the third time, we negotiated this section of the Cariboo River. "Haven't we been here before?" we joked. After a good night's sleep, we could joke about our dumb idea of a side trip to hike to a mud puddle that involved seven MORE kilometers of paddling. (Later on, we learned that the group site at Sandy Lake had been empty, except for one couple, the same couple we'd passed while heading upstream, after our hike. Go figure.)

When we were about a third of the way toward Sandy Lake, we spotted something swimming across the river in front of us. We weren't sure if it was a beaver or an otter, but as we got within camera range, it said, "BEAVER!" by slapping it's tail on the surface and then disappearing underwater. Again, no photo! Scott managed a "blurry speck" photo, when it reappeared, further away, but doesn't show much other than a brown spot in the water.

"It's really a beaver," he says, unconvincingly.

On Sandy Lake, we kept close to the northern shore and slowly paddled our way along. There was still a tent pitched at the first campsite - the group site - but the other, sprawling "individual" campsites, further along, were all cleared out. As we negotiated the turn around the last point, we saw two canoes disappear down the next stretch of the Cariboo River.

The topography around Sandy Lake is different from Lanezi Lake. Lanezi had steep mountains on both sides of the lake. Sandy Lake, in contrast, has flatter hills all around it. The sky opened up and pine trees - many dead from pine beetle infestation - covered the hills in all directions, rather than stopping short at tree-line.

We stopped for a break at Campsite #38, near the end of Sandy Lake, because we saw an information sign. Coincidentally, the sign talked about the pine beetle and explained that it is a natural phenomenon, but that recent, warmer winters, haven't kept the beetle larvae in check.

One of the positive outcomes from the pine beetle infestation has been the plentiful supply of firewood. At the registration orientation, Rose had explained that canoeists had to stop at designated "wood-lots", to load wood into their canoe and haul it to their campsite. "This is because we discovered when we put the wood at the campsites, people tended to burn through it all. Having to haul firewood means there's enough wood for everyone."

Several canoeists last night had joked about hauling firewood all day, only to discover that there was plenty at the campsite. (Scott even made a joke about how many times various pieces of firewood might make their way around the canoe circuit and how they should be notched, on each trip around.)

Truth is, with the pine beetle devastation, there's a gazillion downed trees and more than enough firewood, at every turn. Perhaps, the wood-lot firewood policy will be abandoned, in the near future? It's difficult to tell whether there are more trees living or dead from pine beetle attack, it's that bad.

The paddle down the next leg of Cariboo River was interesting. The current was very gentle, but steady and strong enough to help carry us down river more efficiently than by paddle alone. The banks of the river had reeds and marshes, so we traveled as quietly as possible, hoping to see wildlife. Finally, as we passed by the sign for the Babcock Creek portage, and we had only had 400 meters left of this four-kilometer section, we were disappointed that the only wildlife we had seen was an Osprey flying overhead and a Bald Eagle perched on a tree.

We passed by the Babcock Creek sign and later, turned into Una Lake. We wanted to hike the 1.5 kilometers to see Cariboo Falls, which we heard was breathtaking. Entering Una lake through the reeds, we looked to the left at Campsite #40 and were amazed to see a plethora of tents, tarps and canoes still on the beach, despite the fact that it was 10 AM already. We paddled to the opposite shore, where we easily found the trail head to the waterfall. As we were landing, we ran into the two young girls from Prince George, returning from their visit to the falls and preparing to head off for the day. We had another nice, but brief, chat with them. It was nice to see that young, single girls enjoyed things like canoeing and camping. After, we cached our food bags in the bear box and then headed off down the trail.

The trail to Cariboo Falls is well traveled and in good condition. After a short rise away from the lake, we leveled off onto a plateau. The trail meandered though a pine forest, devastated by pine beetle, which was very interesting (especially after having read the sign about the pine beetle at Sandy Lake) - but also depressing. After the easy one-kilometer walk, we could hear the roar of the falls getting louder and then the trail began to descend. Soon, we came to a drop off, just above the falls. We saw the white water rushing over the cliff and a powerful back-spray, shooting out into the void. Further down, we scrambled down some mossy, mist-covered rocks and then we were standing near the base of the huge waterfall. The four University boys were fishing and after several fish-less days, one was rewarded with the first fish of the trip. We snapped off a few photos, but it was hard to capture the full glory of the waterfall, as we were too close to it. Then we headed back along the trail to continue the trip.

The paddle from Una Lake, back to the Babcock Creek turnoff, requires a 400-meter upstream paddle along the Cariboo River. We hugged the inside bend of the shore most of the way, which eased the strain of the current. Finally, we had to cross the river and it was there that we felt the current sucking the canoe downstream. With several long strokes, we finally gained the opposite shore, where the current eased.

Babcock creek is a very shallow, sandy-bottomed passage through the reeds. We passed by a Rangers Hut with three boats tied up out front (including a jet boat, to navigate shallow waters). The passage wound around for another 200 meters, before reaching a mandatory portage. Travelers used to paddle along Babcock Creek, pulling the canoe through shallow areas, but conservation efforts now require a portage, eliminating the disturbance of fish habitat. This new, fairly wide and level portage, is 1.2 kilometers long.

At the beginning of the Babcock Creek portage, we met three women who were doing the circuit in two kayaks - a tandem and a single. They were loading their kayaks onto wheels and preparing to head off, when we pulled onto the beach. Although we were right behind them, they were nothing like the kayakers that we had met on day one - these ladies didn't hold us up at all. Though they announced they were "in dilly-dally mood", they disappeared from view down the trail and we only caught glimpses of them, until we caught up with them at Babcock Lake.

There at Babcock Lake, we prepared our canoe for voyage, then sat on the shore to enjoy a lunch of sharp cheddar cheese, wheat buns, pepperoni sticks and chocolate chip cookies. As we were eating, the three kayakers prepared to disembark. A few minutes later, other canoeists arrived, followed shortly by the four University guys. Thoughts of a crowd on the lake motivated us and we got moving again as we thought that a crowd might limit our chances of seeing wildlife. Despite our haste, by the time we got out onto the water, we were the last ones to push off and start out across Babcock Lake.

We passed the University boys, who were intent of fishing in every lake and by the time we made it to the middle of the lake, the wind picked up considerably. At first, it was a little breeze, warm and refreshing, but after a few minutes it developed into a full-on, blustery gale. Waves began building, white-caps formed and there were even ripples on top of the waves, which was interesting. We were amazed that it had gone from being calm to white caps within a five minute period. Fortunately, the wind was mostly at our backs and though our speed seemed to increase as a result, steering became difficult, as the wind kept forcing the aft end of the canoe around.

As we pushed on, we felt like we were surfing! Rachel looked at Scott in the stern and noticed 2.5-high waves cresting around the canoe. The kayakers pulled off onto a marshy bank and we shouted at them, asking, "Are you alright?" They mimed being tossed about and (later) explained that one of the girls - who couldn't swim - was in the single kayak and lashed down with gear, didn't feel comfortable in the choppy water. The other canoe couple, like us, were enjoying the ride and only the husband was paddling, from the stern. Soon, we were ahead of the pack, making our way across windy Babcock Lake.

We pulled in at the next 400-meter portage - between Babcock and Skoi Lakes - where we quickly put the wheels under our canoe and made our way over the small "hump". Skoi Lake started in a reed bed, and we followed a narrow route, through the reeds, into open water. Clearing the reeds, Scott's keen eye spotted a moose off to the left, at the edge of the water. We made a detour over toward her, as she climbed out of the water, onto the marshy land and slowly made her way over to the edge of the woods, where she browsed in the trees. We watched her for about five minutes, before we moved on, thankful that we were the first canoe out, so that we got to see her before she got scared off. (Nearing the far side of the lake, we noticed that the next canoe - the couple - didn't see the moose at all, as they just headed straight across tiny Skoi Lake).

Because Skoi Lake is less than a kilometer long and surrounded by tall trees, there wasn't much wind. We made our way across and quickly made another 400-meter portage onto Spectacle Lake.

Spectacle lake is much bigger than Babcock lake, but the wind wasn't nearly as strong there. Still, it was breezy and fortunately, still at our back. The paddle across Spectacle lake wasn't as exciting as it had been on the choppy, windy Babcock Lake, but it was refreshingly cool and to have any kind of wind working in our favor was considered a bonus.

Before long, we approached Campsite #45, which is about 1.5 kilometers up the lake, on the eastern shore. The campsite is on a sand spit, which nearly stretched across the whole lake. For a while we thought that we were going to have to get out of the canoe and drag it over 15 feet of sand, but as we got closer, we realized that there was a very narrow water passage - not much more than 10 feet wide - on the western edge. Once clear of the spit, the lake was still very shallow and we had to be careful where we paddled otherwise we would bottom out. After a hundred meters or so, the lake got deeper and we were able to resume our usual paddle strokes without fear of hitting the sandy bottom.

We passed Campsite #45 at 2:30 PM and we decided to stop at the next site, about three kilometers further along. The next camp was at the "S" bend, where the Spectacle Lake turned into Swan Lake. Those last three kilometers seemed tough as our muscles ached and our tempers started to get short. At one point, after Scott teased Rachel about something, she retaliated by splashing him, using her paddle. He had soaked legs, from the knees down. Scott splashed back, but with less effectiveness, as she found the shower of water on her back refreshing in the humid heat. The brief water fight was enough to break some of the tension and got us laughing again.

Finally, we approached Campsites #46-48. As we were debating where to pull up on the beach, we recognized Dave and Gord's canoe on the beach. We headed over towards them and as we approached they came out onto the beach to greet us. They told us how they had missed having their sail up for the big winds on Babcock Lake, but that they had gotten it up for the ride up Spectacle Lake. Apparently the wind on Spectacle Lake had been strong for them and they didn't even have to paddle (other than to steer); they had sailed the entire six kilometers down the lake, to the campsite. (Later on, Dave took Scott out for a short spin, so that they could return to the beach "under sail" and we could see his sail, in action. Wouldn't you know, right when they got out on the lake, the wind died. Rachel was still treated to a visual and the idea of the sail was appreciated).

Before dinner, we had our usual swim and rinse - for both ourselves and our sweaty clothes. Dave and Gord were kind enough to allow us hang our clothes to dry on any number of the ropes that they had strung all over camp to hold up the tarp over their tent. A warm wind blew through the camp and our clothes dried long before bedtime. (Yay, no damp clothes in the morning!)

We had another nice evening in camp with Dave and Gord. We watched them engineer and rig up a tarpaulin over their 30-year-old tent, and we were treated to a few good laughs as the brothers interacted. Twenty minutes after we arrived, the other couple pulled in and then an hour or so after them, the three kayakers arrived. It turned out that Dave and Gord had camped with the kayakers the night before, at Una Lake, so they were quite chatty with them. Because all were planning on finishing the canoe circuit tomorrow, Dave suggested we have a pot-luck dinner. The idea was a huge success and seven of us had a nice time with lively conversation, sampling a wide variety of camp foods that were outside of everyone's "norm" (e.g., not everyone brings candied hibiscus flowers!).

We erroneously thought the pot-luck was for appetizers and we began rehydrating a dinner. Upon returning from the pot-luck, however, we found we'd sampled so much that we weren't really hungry. We forced down the re-hydrated chili con-carne (without the normal "minute" rice we use as filler). Despite already being full, the chili was tasty and went down amazingly easy.

The finale of the evening in camp was another thunder and lightning storm. Scott had said, earlier this afternoon, "It's going to rain." Soon after, the clouds cleared and only blue sky showed. After dinner, however, we watched the thunder clouds build overhead. The wind came up and we heard the thunder off in the distance. With each passing minute, the thunder came closer and closer, and then the lightning flashes joined it.

Looking across the lake, you could see the rain coming down as a dark apron, on the other side of the mountain. Next - we heard it! It was a wall of water, pouring down on the forest across the lake and it made a huge noise! As we watched in amazement, we could see it advancing toward the lake. It looked like our camp was right on the edge of the advancing wall - we might be spared. A few minutes later, however, as the wind picked up and drops began to fall, everyone ran around, gathering up our loose gear and throwing it into tents. Just as we turned our canoe over, huge swollen raindrops began crashing down. Scott dove into the tent and Rachel joined the group in the cook shelter. The rain hit hard, but it didn't last long. Within 4 minutes it had stopped, but was later followed by another 5-minute burst of rain. The show was spectacular, but brief. Unlike that storm that we had a couple of nights ago, this cloudburst was over quickly, leaving a smell of fresh rain. The rain didn't cool things down much and the heavy, humid air permeated everything. After the storm, there wasn't any breeze, which before, had helped cool down the inside of the tent.

As it nears 10 PM, we are still hearing rumbling thunder in the distance, as we wish for more rain to help liven our night and cool us off. Dave and Gord are under the cook shelter playing a dice game with the kayakers, and the two other parties to the left of us have all retired. We are about to do the same, hoping for a good night sleep and fine weather in the morning - our last day of the adventure.

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