By BERNICE TRICK
The rapid and rising waters of the usually docile Nechako River has stopped one canoeing couple dead in the water.
Geoff and Pamela MacDonald had paddled their 18-foot craft about 1,000 miles along the B.C. coast, in and out of inlets and waterways, from Victoria to Cheslatta Falls on a mission to reach St. John’s, N.L., when the Nechako River intervened.
“Normally, the Nechako is the straightforward, easy part of the trip, but with the water level so high, it’s too risky. The rapids are not portageable and you can’t get off the river due to eroding shores and the debris piled up against them,” Geoff said during a stop Tuesday in Prince George.
“Wouldn’t you know that the one year we decide to do this, the Nechako isn’t navigable. We expected it to be the easiest leg of the trip, and paddling up stream on the Fraser to Tete Jaune to be the toughest,” added Pamela.
So the couple, who live in Provost, Alta., will delay their journey. “The problem is there is no other waterway that will take us to the Fraser. We could bypass it, but that’s not in our plan,” said Geoff.
“We saw that the snowpack was immense at 3,000 feet (during a mountain portage), so you can just imagine its depth at 4,000 or 5,000 feet up,” said Pamela, who believes there’s still lots of water to come down from the mountains, and that “it will take a month or two for the Nechako to return to normal.”
The couple, with their Alaskan Malemute dog, Taq, are heading back to Alberta to visit with family and friends to wait out the Nechako’s rage.
The pair, who are doing this trek for no other purpose than to see Canada and meet fellow Canadians along the way, have a plan to travel the waterways that will take them to Kinbasket Lake ( in the Valemount area), and on to Golden.
They’ll portage the Kicking Horse Pass to Lake Louise and head down the Bow River to reach Calgary this fall.
Their planned route includes paddling the Saskatchewan River to Lake Winnipeg, across northern Ontario on the Albany River to James Bay and up the coast of Hudson Bay to northern Quebec and across Labrador.
“We hope to reach St. John’s in 2010,” said Geoff, who sees the highlight of the trip thus far being the people they’ve met along the way.
“The rule of thumb is that people on the water are interested in meeting people. We’ve met water squatters who live on a barge that floats only during the highest tide of the year, house boat people who helped us immensely with our route plan, and the Alcan people were super fantastic with information about water levels, finding us places to stay, and keeping watch as we portaged through dense grizzly bear territory. We saw grizzlies, but had no problems with them,” said Geoff.
The couple saved their money to make the trip. Geoff, a geologist and Pamela, an operations analyst, both had professional jobs in Calgary, but lived in a basement suite to save for their dream trip.
“Once you’re out there on the waters, it doesn’t cost much to live,” said Pamela, noting the canoe is packed with tenting equipment and dry food like lentils, rice and pasta, and they bake bannock over a fire on a regular basis. “Our treats are chocolate, dried fruit and brandy.”
Both have advanced first aid training, which came in handy when Taq tangled with a porcupine and had to have 50 quills removed from his nose.
“He is quite a character – when we scold him, he howls and talks back,” said Geoff, noting Taq’s role on the trip will be companion and mediator, bear alert, neckwarmer and heating blanket, sled puller and greeting committee.
The modern voyageurs have a web site at https://www.canoeacrosscanada.ca to follow their progress, and a free newsletter available. To subscribe go to the home page of Regenesis Holistic Inc. and click on Free Newsletter at the bottom right.