- Paddling days to date = 55
- Weather-bound days to date = 24
- Rest & Resupplying days to date = 23
- Total Trip days to date = 102
- Favorite piece of gear = Expedition Canoe Cart from MEC
- Most trusted resources = Alcan employees. They gave us important information on trail conditions, water flow, cabin locations, and ice cream (to name a few!)
- Number of grizzlies spotted = 2
The Gardner Canal is one of the most beautiful places we’ve paddled so far. It does not grant entry easily. Normally, we plan our day to travel with the current as much as possible. In this case, we had our choice between a current against us, or a stronger current against us for 40 nautical miles! The spring runoff is so strong that we were reaching speeds of up to 5.4 knots paddling in the eddy. (*An eddy is a spot on the river behind large rocks or other obstacles where the water is actually moving up stream. When the current flows around these objects it creates a current that continually pulls water up stream.)
Aside from the mountains rising straight out of the water to 5000 feet, and cascading waterfalls on all sides, the Gardner Canal also has hot springs!!!! You can be sure we worked them into our travel schedule, as pictured above.
The 53 km portage over the pass into the coastal mountains is the hardest thing we’ve ever done. It began at Kemano Bay where we put the canoe on the cart and Taq into his harness. The first leg was 12 km – flat, paved and full of grizzlies looking for a mate! There was grizzly sign every 20 feet on the road. Peter Cotter told us that he had seen 29 grizzlies from his truck the previous week in the same stretch we were about to walk.
If you had asked us what we expected to be doing the Tuesday evening we arrived in Kemano, we would have said “sitting in our tent worrying about grizzly bears.” Thanks to the Alcan crew (listed below in Thank You list), we were sleeping in a warm, dry, bear-proof building with running water. Not only did Larry bring us a delicious dinner, but he gave us an incredible tour of the Kemano Power Station as well. We stayed up far too late bowling!
The remaining 41 km of the portage followed Sandifer Road over the pass into Tahtsa Lake. It is no longer maintained which made fallen trees, rockslides, and washouts a challenge while climbing 954 m or about 3100 feet. This is where Taq earned his 6 cups of kibble per day. The three of us pushed, pulled, lifted, dragged, and heaved the canoe along with our gear. Sometimes the cart hit a hole and toppled over, requiring us to unload, straighten the canoe and cart, and reload. On an incline it is difficult to get moving again once the momentum has been lost. We managed to travel 17 km (10.5 miles) and climb 380 m (1240 ft.) before camping at almost 8 pm.
The next day our bodies were tired, but fell into rhythm as we pressed on. We had hoped to reach Sandifer Lake cabin by the evening. That dream came to a screeching halt when we neared the pass and the road was covered in up to 5 feet of snow. As a result, we ended up camping beside a river in the snow. Geoff and I were cold and soaking wet. We had traveled 14 km and managed 580 m of climb.
The last day of the portage was no less strenuous. It took 7 hours to travel 5 km (3 miles) through the snow. Instead of ferrying gear, we decided to put it all in the canoe and pull it like a sledge. The snow was sticky and wet – it behaved more like Velcro than ice. It took every ounce of effort from the each of us to move it forward.
To make matters worse, as we were ferrying gear through the snow, Taq came running up to us licking and rubbing his nose on his paw. Somehow he had slipped away and tangled with a porcupine. He brought about 50 quills home as a souvenir. It turned out to be more traumatizing for us than Taq. When we released him from our grip after the last quill was removed, he rubbed his face in the snow leaving small lines of blood. Within 30 seconds he was completely back to normal searching the trail for critters. Geoff and I shook our heads and slogged on.
Sandifer Lake cabin made the portage worth it. We spent our One Year Wedding Anniversary there. We had bought a bottle of champagne in Kitimat, paddled it 60 miles on the ocean, and carefully portaged it up to the cabin. A big thanks you to the Kemano Community for allowing us to use the cabin.
Paul Bjorn took the photo of us in front of the cabin. He sent it with the following e-mail:
We happened to come across a couple who were canoeing across the snow and (mostly frozen) Sandifer Lake. Maybe you know them…
This lake is north of Kemano, BC, just south of West Tahtsa Lake near the water intake for Alcan’s power generating station. This was taken on June 24, 2007, from a helicopter that was passing through the area. We had heard that they were traveling in this area and the pilot (working for Canadian Helicopters) was gracious enough to make a slight change to his flight plan to see if we could find them and confirm that they were ok.
After receiving a “thumbs up” from them both, the helicopter proceeded on its way as there was no safe landing site near the cabin.
Wildlife doesn’t tend to stop within photo range, wait for me to grab my camera, and pose in proper lighting and weather. After many failed attempts, I’ve managed to capture a few subjects, although the hummingbird still eludes me.
During our stay at the Kemano Bowling Centre, a male grizzly fed in the adjacent parking lot the entire time we were there. Taq sat at the window watching “grizzly TV.” Occasionally he would glance back as if to say, “don’t you see the bear? He’s right there. Why aren’t you more concerned?” If you zoom in the picture of Taq, you can see a grizzly near his right ear through the window.
A loon is pictured swimming amid the eerie standing dead trees on Tahtsa Lake. The trees were never logged when the reservoir was made.
The moose cow and calf pictured here must have decided we were less of a threat than something on shore since they swam across Tahtsa Lake right in front of us.
In many of the stands of dead trees that line Tahtsa and Ootsa Lake we saw Osprey Nests. It is very difficult to miss them because a swooping, squawking Osprey bent on driving you from the area accompanies these nests. A few times we saw one fly into the water with a giant splash and emerge with a fish!
After seeing Sandifer Cabin, you might think that we don’t actually carry a tent at all! To prove that we actually rough it, we’ve included a couple of camp pictures. The first is a picture of our campsite on top of the pass. It is strange seeing a canoe lying on snow. It seems more appropriate to see a sled instead!
The second is a photo taken of our first campsite on Tahtsa Lake. It was a novelty to camp in such a dry area. Geoff started this fire with only a handful of dry pine needles – that would never have been possible on the ocean!
This winter brought record levels of snow to the Coast Mountains. As a result, spring has been late this year. The Nechako Reservoir is full, resulting in the Nechako River flowing at least 3-4 times more volume than normal. Geoff and I decided to paddle as far as we could, assessing the situation as we went. When we reached Cheslatta Falls and the beginning of the Nechako River, we decided not to proceed until the water levels recede.
The river is extremely high, resulting in the beaches disappearing, trees hanging in the water (sweepers), and pine beetle killed logs choking the shoreline. When we see and hear rapids ahead, the first thing we do is pull out at a safe distance to scout them. If we determine they are runnable, we choose a route then go for it. If not, we start looking for a route through the woods. Regardless, we always stop to take a look.
Right now, we cannot guarantee that we can get off the water in a safe and timely manner. We will wait until we can.
Bill and Crystal Senger (thank you for the photo) graciously offered to transport us, Taq, our gear AND the canoe to Prince George. They gave us part of their lunch (two delicious subs), stored our canoe in their yard, and drove us to a motel in Prince George where we met our friend, Ben Guerard. We are incredibly lucky to have met them.
- The staff at the Chalet Motel are wonderful. They gave us directions, found us boxes to send gear, gave us ride to the bus station to mail gear, and put up with us washing and drying gear in the parking lot.
- Janice Kyle in Bella Coola had graciously agreed to allow us to send our resupply boxes to her, even though we had never met. After the route changed, she forwarded our many parcels to Derek de Geoij of Command Marine in Kitimat. He was kind enough to drop them off to us and give us a lift to the marina. Thank you!
- Thank you to the Haisla Trapline Association for making the trapline cabins available to the general public. We stayed at Q’ayuxw, held by George Hall.
- We met Dr. Bob Van Horlick at Europa Hot Springs. He saw our canoe and stopped by to say hello. Shortly after, he brought us a large pot containing salad, 2 Dungeness crabs and 2 yogurts. Delicious!
- Alcan employees some pretty amazing people. Larry Scott, Bill Schreurs, Peter Cotter, Randy Livingston, Ralph Kerman, Syed Ali, Al & Kathy Grier, and Graham Geeraert were all incredibly helpful. They gave us grizzly information and locations, put us up at the Bowling Centre and Skins Spillway, fed us dinner and breakfast, gave us a tour of the Kemano Power Station (incredible!), told us of cabin locations, gave us water flow information and maps, showed us pictures of important landmarks and checked on us when possible. We can’t thank you enough.
- Due to the large concentration of grizzly bears in Kemano, we arranged with our friend, Ben Guerard, to call each day on our satellite phone at 3:30 pm until we were finished the portage. We didn’t want to worry our parents. Ben went as far as getting a topo map to mark our progress each time we phoned. We really appreciated his encouragement.
- Allan and Judy on Tahtsa Lake owned one of the cabins suggested to us by Peter Cotter. They keep a very helpful guest book with instructions for lighting the diesel/kerosene stove and the propane cook stove. In addition, the book contains a complete history of the structure along with humorous updates of the continuing battle between the owners and the mice.
- A thunderstorm rolled in as we were paddling past Tim Fehr’s house in Marilla on Ootsa Lake. He invited us into his house for a couple of beer while waiting out the storm. Can’t think of a better way to pass a storm…
- Nathan Nicholas of Littlebear Ranch lives near the dam in Chief Louis Arm on Ootsa Lake. He showed us important landmarks to help us find our route between the dam and Cheslatta River.
- Don & Frank Thaczuk are brothers who stopped by our camp at Cheslatta Falls to say hello. They do a lot of back roads exploring on weekends. Don gave us a three BC Forest Service Maps and pointed out important landmarks and trails.
- Taq always makes friends on the trails. Bill & Crystal Senger stopped to talk malamutes with us and ended up offering us a ride to Prince George. They helped us push the canoe and cart up the trail and across the bridge where we loaded it onto their truck. Geoff and I thought hitchhiking with a canoe, 2 packs, a 30L barrel and a huge dog would be difficult – not with these folks around! They have stored our canoe at their home outside of Prince George until the water levels go down.
Our friend, Ben Guerard picked us up in Prince George. We managed to squeeze all our gear, and Taq, into his little Toyota. Since paddling was out, we decided to camp in Jasper for our 4 day visit. Geoff and Ben have always wanted to run the 44 km Skyline Trail; this was their chance. Angus Mclean-Wilson, whom they met on the trail, took this picture.
After Ben left, Geoff and Taq went to Cranbrook to visit Katy (Mom), Eddie (brother), Wendy (sister-in-law), Mykayla (adorable niece), and Missie (dog).
I went to Hinton to visit Wendy Wheatley (sister at 7 months pregnant), Matt Wheatley (brother-in-law) and their two dogs (Qola and Charlie). Phil (Dad) drove down from Fort McMurray to visit. We went for a short hike to the Athabasca Lookout in Hinton.
Where do we go from here?
Once the water recedes, we will paddle the Nechako River to Prince George where we will begin paddling UP the Fraser River to Tete Jaune.