Skookumchuck Creek

There are several rivers called Skookumchuck, the one we found is located in the Canadian Rockies not far north of the US border. The first adventure was getting to the river – it was our introduction to BC logging roads – poor Macy, but we looked after her. We found the take out suprisingly easy, but then it was a 25mile drive along dirt/gravel roads (1.5hrs) to the put in. We started down a road that required a 4wd high clearence vehicle, and soon stopped when we noticed it getting worse & good job we did, the road was closed slightly further on down. This was the lower put in. the upper put in was another couple of miles up the road. We found it and debated what to do; it was 3pm – we'd spent all day just finding the river. The decision was taken to wild camp at the put in – a very picturesque place & we'd then put on early tomorrow.

We elected to avoid subjecting Macy to too many more trips along that road – this meant someone not paddling and driving her down while we were on the river, otherwise we'd need to make two more trips along the road and spend another 3 hours driving along dusty roads. Sharon very kindly volunteered (thank you).

The day got off to a flying start when Conrad's over-enthusiastic off road driving resulted in a flat tyre on the trip back from the motel that he and Gina had booked. With the flat tyre and waiting for them to arrive, and some faff over how far up we should put on, it was about midday when we put on. It was due to take 3-6hrs according to the guide book,

Macy's Healthy!

After a delayed pick up from the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association), Macy was dropped off at a closed garage. The next morning, we went to find out what the problem was and was told that she may not be seen that day but to call in at noon. After a little whimpering and some hints as to what may be the problem, the mechanic came out and diagnosed the problem as a likely timing belt issue. At noon, we returned to pick up boats and find out if they had the spare parts. Turned out they had a cancellation and Macy was nearly fixed, so David and I decided to wait around. Soon she was being driven out of the garage – a very good sign since the engine hadn't been turning over before! She's all happy as are we, now we're all reunited – hopefully we'll be able to go paddling again soon…

Animals and an ill Macy

We went to the British Columbia wildlife park to get our cute animal fix, but I think David and I had been spoilt with the refuge we went to in Oregon. It was very much more of a zoo than a refuge as we were led to believe, and a lot of the animals looked like they would much rather be somewhere else. In fact, our favourite sight was the cheeky chipmunks who were running around freely stealing food! There were two grizzly bears, who felt like their spirits had been broken – nothing like the awesome magnificence of the one at Oregon, who you felt honoured to be able to see but very glad there was an electric fence in the way! There was a cute badger, but I think she would have prefered more space and far less concrete in her area. The raccoons were cool, one seemed to be pawing at an area that looked shallower – I wonder if they were planning to make a break for it…

The drive to Golden in the rain was interesting, apparently the others saw a black bear run across in front of them, but we got to see the stunning lightening storm. The plan today was to run the Kicking Horse river, however Macy's got a bit homesick. I think the little bit of sunshine we've had after all the rain has made her miss California, and so we're waiting for our faithful friends, the AAA. We will update you….

BC rivers – the beginning

A summary of the rivers we've paddled since crossing over into British Columbia.

After heading up to Vancouver to pcik up goodies from MEC and Gav, we went to Squamish to pick up boats and celebrate David reaching his first quarter of a century. 20th July, we finally got to paddle some fresh water again at the Mamquam. This had a rather interesting shuttle, but Macy did very well while Jerald the Jeep decided he was a little thirsty. However even though the fuel light came on and we were some distance from the main road, he survived. This was a river Sarah had done before and the guidebook told us the first rapid was indicative of the rest of the run. It started as a low volume boulder garden and soon flatted out to a rather too low volume gravel bed, and so I thought it would be a very nice gentle run with nothing to worry about. There was lots of water in creeks on the sides of the road with all the rain we've been having and I hoped that wouldn't make it too high but it seemed simple enough. Suddenly the river picked up somewhat and became more continous than I was expecting. Towards the end the additional streams had doubled the volume of the river and there were some more interesting high volume features with lots of waves and a few stoppers. It was a fun river even if it wasn't quite the gentle warm up that Gina had hoped for and I had expected. Apparently it was a little higher than when Sarah had run it, but it was still below medium levels according to the guidebook.

Next stop was the Chiliwack with its several sections – Simon and Cheryl had pointed out one as being more pool drop and good fun, so we decided to go with that. It was lovely grade three bouncy waves with some trees to avoid, but nothing that caused any problems. Part way down, we were waiting to see the other group when two boaters came down. Dismissing them as 'not part of our group' we started to recognise the boats and kits – Simon and Cheryl had caught up with us. After admiring my new cag, and catching up on what we'd been up to since Skook, we carried on downstream. This was a great fun tigger like river – a rather relaxing float down.

Some people hadn't had enough water for one day and did another section which was pushier. However at the put in, an icecream van rather conveniently pulled up, so I made the most of the opportunity and shared an ice cream with David.

We went back to the same section today that we had paddled, but the rain had worked its magic and brought up the river by a reasonable amount, and talk started about the Slesse Creek.

David says:

Slesse creek was a 3/4 in the guide book – exactly the same as every other river in the area – so we decided to look at it. From a logging track we could scout the canyon, it was a short fast section with lots of waves, small holes and confused water, but it looked great fun & most importantly it was clear of trees. BC seems to have a big problem with trees falling into the rivers. Conrad found a sign that says some trees are deliberately placed in the river to stop gravel bed erosion or to encourage fish habitat, not good for us kayakers. Soon after the Slesse creek put in was a river wide tree, but no eddies above it – it was a time to invent an eddy – which we did to varying degrees of success. I ended up deciding it was easier to paddle through the tree and let Claire use the eddy I was in, but I flipped and ran it upside down, which was fine. Fearing that this would be the the same for the whole river, Cheryl and Claire got off, leaving Conrad, Simon and I to run the rest. There were more trees, but we'd spaced out even more and were far more cautious, so didn't have a problem – I think the smaller group helped too. The canyon was awesome, though, and made the tree limbo worth while.

Tomorrow we're driving towards the Rockies but will stop off and see some animals in a rehad centre in the morning.

Sharon's phone

Apparently Orange don't like their pay as you go customers using their phones in Canada, so I won't have any signal until I get to New Zealand… Well I may have some when I back in the USA, but anyway its not worth trying to contact me on that at the moment, so please use David's phone number instead if needs be! Or there's always good old email.

Animal Watching

Gina and Conrad have arrived in Canada and for their first few days they organised a sea kayaking trip, which is something that neither of us had done before, so we joined them.

To get to the Broken Group Islands, which is where our 3 day sea kayaking introduction would take place, we needed to take two ferries from Vancouver and several hours drive.

There were 6 of us – Sharon and I, Gina & Conrad, Conrad's sister Claire and their friend, Sarah whose been living out here for 6 months – and we'd hired out 3 double sea kayaks for the adventure. The plan was to see lots of animals and it started well with Gina spotting what she thought was a black dog through her binoculars on the ferry over to the Broken Group. However she had spotted her first black bear over here. Later on a guy from a diving school spotted a whale, and we also saw lots of jumping fish in the water. While waiting for the kayaks to be ready, we saw a jellyfish and lots of starfish including a giant one.

The wildlife we saw included: humpback whales, deer, a river otter, seals, sea lions, mink, porpoises, more tiny jumping fish, bald eagles, slimy gigantic slugs, and lots and lots of starfish of all colours suggesting the 90 species may not be an overestimation. We also saw tracks along a beach which were rather large and very wolf like – however we didn't get to see what made them – I was hoping to hear one howl but no such luck. The whale put on a great show and we saw him bring his head out of the water – it was very impressive. There were other birds that we saw but unfortunately our bird identification isn't quite up to speed yet.

The scenery was wonderful too. It was great to do something different, but we're looking forward to getting back to some rivers now.

Photos will be posted soon.

Sharon and David.

P.S. Thanks to everyone who sent stuff on the Chocolate Express (aka Conrad and Gina's flight), it's great to have loads of English goodies & especially loverly to have cards to open on my (David's) birthday.)

It's a long way to Skookumchuck

It'a a long way to Skookumchuck,
it's a long way to go…
It's a long way to Skookumchuck,
To the sweetest wave I know.

Skookumchuck is a tidal rapid, famous world wide for its big fast waves that kayakers flock to, like bees to a honey pot, except plastic and brightly coloured.

So flock we did. The tide tip off we had said it'd be good right before we needed to be in Vancouver to meet Gina and Conrad, and given that 'Skook' isn't far from the City, it worked out well. Simon and Cheryl were heading over with their friend Alex and so we tagged along.

The trip started with an exciting 45 minute ferry from the mainland – it really felt like we were going on holiday. The views from the ferry were great, with mountains rising from the water all around us. A 50 mile drive across the peninsula brought us to a beautiful lake with a good, if a little noisy campsite. The heatwave was still with us, so a cool down swim in the lake was needed and a floating log provided amusement as we tried to balance and walk along it.

Conveniently the tide meat that we didn't have to do anything unti lunchtime, which is about when we started our 10 minute paddle out. At a point around the bay from Egmont the sea channel narrows between the mainland and the island and as it does so, it forms a huge series of standing waves when the tide is flowing fast enough.

We arrived just after the slack water point, and got to see the wave build from nothing – it started off flat and built right up to a wave train of a dozen or so of the largest waves I've seen. As it starts to form the ripples get larger and larger, until they're surfable – at this point the longer, faster boats provide good long surfs and the queues are short. As the wave builds and the pile (white bit) gets bigger, the shorter more playful boats come into their own. We'd obviously chosen a good time to go, since there were probably 20 other paddlers around and about the same number of observers.

When the wave is at it's biggest, the water downstream is an almost indescribable mess of churning and bubbling water with nothing better to do than unseat even the most careful paddler. I got knocked off the far side of the wave and one time didn't manage to quite get back in far enough, I managed to stay upright, but couldn't quite fight the huge boils and spent much longer getting back into the eddy than I would like – the locals call this taking the tour. Cheryl didn't fare as well when she took her tour, the water was higher and faster making it even messier and she was eaten by a whirlpool that sucked her out of her boat and spat her out. Eventually. She was safely reunited with her boat and paddled back to shore, cold but otherwise ok. This marked the end of our first day at Skook.

We'd planned ahead and brought locks so we could leave our boats near where the wave forms and hike back along the trail to the car park. This meant we didn't have to paddle the boats against the tide on the way out both days & it was a popular option – the bushes turned into a storage shed for kayaks and kayak gear. The hike was longer than we expected – somewhere in the region of 3 miles, and we were glad to cool off in the lake at the campsite, washing the salt from our kit as we did.

Friday morning started too early when unexpected thunder rolled in and threatened to dampen our drying kit and stoves that had been left set up form the night before. The meanacing thunder crashes never materalised into the heavy deluge we expected, and soon after we started the hike back in, just after lunch, the sun started shining again.

Our timing was spot on again and we arrived just in time to rest a little before kitting up and jumping on. At first it was just the 5 of us on the water, with Sharon catching almost the first surf of the day and impressing the audience no end. Soon the crowds got on the water and the wait increased, but so did the water. It was quite a high tide, which means the wave gets bigger faster, eventually becoming too big to surf. However, before it got too big and the whirlpools became huge we all got some good rides in and then sat around watching paddlers who either hadn't got up as early as us or clearly had more energy.

I'm glad we saved some energy for the paddle back, we decided the 3 mile hike would be too far with a boat on our shoulder, so paddled back around the bays to our launching point in Egmont. It was a hard paddle against the current – it would have been dark had we waited for the slack water – and took about an hour. But we did get to see Seals playing about during the paddle, as well as purple starfish and what we think was a kingfisher.

Skook is a great all day activity, we turned it into two full days, it's one of the best playspots I've been to and set in awesome scenery, it's well worth a visit and would make an impressive spectacle for the non paddling visitor who chose to walk the trail too. Our tides were maxing out at around 17 knots, which is a little too large for it to be ideal, so I'd probably go on smaller tides next time.

Logistics: Getting there from Vancouver is easy, follow signs to Horseshoe Bay, get on Langdale ferry ($50ish return). Once on the Peninsula drive towards Sechelt, this is the last main town and best bet for picking up groceries and petrol. Camping is good at Klein Lake, not far up the road from Egmont and the Egmont Marina does good food, hot showers and has laundry facilities.

Paddle out on a slack tide, ~ 3hrs before the peak flow. Once on the water, turn right and follow the bays around, past a red house, then a chain link fence with “Skookumchuck Provincial Park” sign and then take out at the next point & watch the wave build, getting on when it looks like fun.

Sharon says: Skook is one of those names in kayaking that has an almost mystical quality about it – its where some of the best moves can be seen since the wave is so big and fast. However turning up in creek boats wasn't such a bad idea since the early stages of the wave forming is when its at its glassiest and greenest and thats when I got my surfs. The water is some of the clearest sea water I've ever seen and while sat on top of this magnificent glassy wave, you can clearly see the rock creating the rapid and seaweed dancing underneath you. My Mamba did me well and treated me to long rides, surrounded by snow topped moutains – it is indeed an awesome place, where the seals play as much as the pro-boaters – definitely a place I'll look forward to returning to (especially when I can throw some of the moves there!)