Day 9, June 30, 2019
This was the final day of our trip. We left the campsite after breakfast, breaking camp and packing everything into the canoe. We had an inauspicious start to our day when we attempted to cross over the shallows between the two spits projecting out from either side of the lake. The route that we chose was too shallow and we came to a halt when the canoe scraped along on the sand below. We tried pushing our way over the sandbar with the paddles but it was obvious we were stuck. The only remedy was for me to get out of the canoe and pull it across to deeper water. Finally, once we were off the sandbar, we were on our way.
The rest of the day was plain sailing or perhaps I should say "plain paddling." The weather was the best we had had for any of the previous eight days with blue skies, warm sunshine and only gentle breezes. Obviously Mother Nature was thumbing her nose at us by showing us what our trip could have been like if she had cooperated. We paddled to the north end of the Spectacle Lakes and through Swan Lake by taking the channel along the east side of Pavich Island. At the north end of Swan Lake we negotiated the channels through the marsh land where the Bowron River enters Bowron Lake. The main channel twisted and turned but it was easy to follow and it was marked occasionally with posts sticking up over the marsh vegetation. Finally we were in Bowron Lake and on the last leg of our journey. All that was left was a straightforward paddle to the jetty in the Provincial Park where we had started the trip.
When we arrived at the jetty I took one look at the path we were supposed to negotiate with the canoe and all of our equipment and my heart sank. It wasn't a long path but it was steep and we had just paddled all day and this did not seen to be a fitting end to our 116.4km odyssey. I talked to Keith and decided to go up to the park office to sign out and to check to see if there was an alternative to hauling our gear up the path at the jetty. Fortunately I found that there was a public boat launch a little further along the lake at the Becker' Lodge boat rental office. When I got back to the jetty I convinced Keith that if he paddled the canoe over to the boat launch I would drive the van over and it would be much easier to load it with the gear and the canoe. So that was what we did, much to my relief.
Now that we had finished our trip we agreed to spoil ourselves and spend our last night in a comfortable bed in the Wells Hotel. It turned to be better than a good decision - it was a great decision. The room was comfortable and the food for supper and breakfast was really good.
The bonus was a night in the pub, sitting at the bar and enjoying interesting and entertaining conversation with several locals. The bar is in the hotel located in a town which had a population in 2019 of 231 but that doesn't stop it from having the largest private selections of Scotch Whisky in British Columbia. It boasts "We have BC’s largest privately owned Single Malt Scotch Collection with over 200 different bottles to choose from, ranging in age from a young 8 years, to a mature 31, strong and smoky, clean and smooth." A fitting end to our travels.
Day 8, June 29, 2019
Today was the last day for portages. There were three portages left and we were determined to get past them so that our last day would be just paddling on lakes and along a river. We started early and paddled a short distance on Lanezi Lake before it narrowed down to a short, wide stretch of the Cariboo River. I guess it qualified as river because there was a barely perceptible flow otherwise it could have easily been mistaken as a continuation of the lake. Once it widened out again we entered Sandy Lake and after a 4.8km paddle across the lake we once again entered a stretch of the Cariboo River. We travelled along the river for 3.6km to the mouth of Babcock Creek and the start of the first of the portages. This portage from the Cariboo River to Babcock Lake was 1.2 km along a trail that was in good shape but not without its challenges. There were the usual ups and downs and the occasional roots and rocks to be negotiated. The best part about this portage was knowing that it was the last long portage that we had to endure. There were only two more to negotiate and both were less than half a kilometre. Leaving the portage behind us, we launched into Babcock Lake and paddled 2.8km to reach the start of the short, 0.4km portage to Skoi Lake. Skoi Lake is a small lake with a shallow shoreline that supports an abundance of aquatic vegetation, ideal habitat for moose. The lake did not disappoint. We saw several moose along the shore, all cows and some with their calves, but the most exciting was when a young moose decided that he wanted to avoid us by swimming to the opposite side of the lake. As you can see from the wake behind his head, a moose is a powerful swimmer that has no problem swimming for long distances.
Once we reached the end of the lake we only had a short, 0.4km , final portage to the head of the Spectacle Lake. From there it was easy paddling until we reached our campsite for the night, Campsite 45. The weather had been changeable all day and as we were setting up the campsite it seemed that we were going to get some more rain so I spent some time setting up the tarp to provide shelter for our gear. Then it was time for supper. All of this activity provides me with the excuse for the lack of notes and pictures for this and the next day. I didn't write my journal that evening and the lack of pictures was because of my poor choice of camera for this trip. I decided to use my Nikon D70 and I even bought a Pelikan case so that it would be safe and dry on our canoe journey. A great choice with its 70-300mm telephoto for the shot of the moose but far from ideal when trying to capture quick shots along the way. Digging the Pelikan case out from under the spray deck when you are sitting in the bow of a canoe proved to be difficult and frustrating. For my future trips I will stick with my Olympus Stylus 770SW and my new Samsung Galaxy A50 because they are both easy to carry safely in an accessible pocket and the Olympus is waterproof, shock proof and crush proof.
Day 7, June 28, 2019
It rained all night and was still raining in the morning. I got up later than usual and rigged the tarpaulin over the "kitchen" area. With the help of three bungee cords it was possible to provide shelter for us and our equipment and supplies. Keith decided the tarpaulin setup would look like he had an umbrella if he stood holding the pole that we used to raise the centre so that it would shed the rain better.
The rain continued until 17:00 so we didn't do much all day except eat, talk and take frequent observations of the weather in the hopes that it was going to clear up. The greatest excitement of the day was when four groups of paddlers passed by our campsite. Two of them stopped by for a visit but the second group of two canoes went straight by without even a wave. It was clear the bow paddler in the lead canoe was not in good shape. He was hunched up and only made the occasional effort to put his paddle in the water. The first canoe that came by was two men who had to push on because one of them had to be at the airport in Vancouver to catch a flight on July 1. The third group was a group of New Zealanders who stopped and chatted for awhile and shared some of their lunch snacks with us.
The last group to come by was the family group we met at the south end of Isaac Lake. They paddled by and chatted with us as they travelled along in front of the beach.
It was such a miserable day we decided to have a hot freeze dried meal for lunch and a second for supper. The freeze dried meal we had for supper was Thai Vegetables and Rice made by Harvest Foodworks and it was the best commercially prepared meal of the whole trip.
Day 6, June 27, 2019
Rolled out of the tent around 06:15. There was a heavy mist above the lake which became low cloud. As the sun warmed the air the mist and cloud dissipated and the day started well. We did the usual morning routine; tea, oatmeal and pack up the campsite. While we were doing this we also chatted with the family group and exchanged contact information.
Then it was off on our river cruise. We went through the Chute with no problem even though I did a draw stroke a little too early and a little too strongly and we nearly ended up turning into an eddy on the right. One of the family members took a video of our passage and as you watch it you may be able to follow our early turn and the correction that followed.
The paddle down to the take out at the start of the first portage was interesting enough to be fun. I did get wet at one point when Keith steered us through some standing waves and water came over the front and over me. Unfortunately I hadn't done up the spray skirt on the spray deck so we took on enough water to make several pieces of equipment quite wet. The next stage of the journey was to exit the river above the Cascades and to portage to the next part of the river that we could paddle, a short stretch of river before the portage to to go round and avoid Isaac River Falls. The end of the portage was where we launched into McLeary Lake, a small lake more like a widening of the river flowing into the Cariboo River. We entered the Cariboo River and the paddle down to Lanezi Lake was a welcome respite as the river helped us along with moderate flow and easy paddling. The only obstacles were deadheads that were few and far between. As we traveled along it started to rain so we pulled into a backwater to put on our rain jackets and to have a snack. As we were pulled up at the river bank a couple of paddlers went past on there way to the lake. By the time we had reached Lanezi Lake the rain had become a steady downpour so we decided to pull in to Camp 32 at the head of the lake to take a break but it was a quick one. The campsite was a wet, buggy mud hole. No wonder we were warned about its lack of desirability at the orientation session when we started. From there we continued down the lake checking out Camp 33 and bypassing Camp 34 and Camp 35 continuing on to Camp 37 because Camp 36 was already occupied. Camp 37 turned out to be a really nice campsite with a sandy beach and a sheltered fire pit and tent pad. We were lucky because the on and off again rain we had had all day changed to a few hours of dry weather with some sunshine. We took advantage of this change by stringing up a line so that we could hang out some clothes and equipment to dry.
Unfortunately our luck did not last. Later in the evening it started to rain and it rained all night, but we had a fire going so at least we had warmed up before going to bed.
Day 5, June 26, 2019
After getting out of our sleeping bags at 07:20 we launched the canoe at 09:50 and set off down towards the southern end of Isaac Lake. We arrived at Camp 28, the last campsite on the lake, at 10:45. The weather for the paddle to the campsite was perfect for paddling - some sun, some cloud, not too hot and a light breeze on our backs. It was a short day, only 6km, which we had planned so we could have a rest day. I think Keith would have gone further but I wanted to have a break before we had to contend with the portages coming up ahead.
When we reached the campsite we unloaded the canoe, picked a tent pad and then went to watch a canoe shoot the fast moving water where the lake emptied into the Isaac River. Apparently they had gone through successfully earlier but then decided to play in the rapids. The result was an upset and the loss of two pieces of equipment, one of which was a good pair of binoculars. From the bank Keith and I scouted the best route for us to take the next day before going back to set up our campsite.
A group of Boy Scouts paddled in to the group campsite and unloaded their canoes and set about setting up their tents. Once they were settled in their leader took them back onto the lake for some safety training. He showed them how to do a T rescue and how to get back into a canoe after being tipped out. Then he had them tip their canoes and carry out a rescue. It was interesting to watch but I didn't envy them. The water was very cold, but it didn't seem to deter them because later they had fun floating down the river through the rapids.
Later a large family group arrived and it turned out they had got together to organize the Bowron Circuit trip for their father/grandfather so that he could take one item off his bucket list.
After having our lunch we hiked along the portage trail from the camp to the take-out point downstream so that we could scout the river ready for the next day's paddle through the Chute and the rapids a little further down. It looked like we would not have any problems on the river but the following portage did not look good.
When we got back we chatted with the scout leaders and had a good conversation with the family group. We all stayed in the group shelter because it had started to rain shortly after we had set up our tent and it rained on and off all day varying from light to heavy and with a brief thunderstorm.
To make our evening more enjoyable the family lit a fire in the wood stove and we all took advantage of the warmth once the stove warmed up. It was a good evening spending time with good company.
Day 4, June 25, 2019
Another early morning. Up at 06:15 with the usual routine of breakfast, break camp and pack the canoe. It was a nice morning; still, calm with the promise of a good day.
We launched the canoe at 08:20 and paddled down the lake to the south. We must have been fully focussed on making progress because my notes have very little information for this day. We stopped at Camp 20 for a quick nutrition break of granola and trail mix before heading off again. The promise of the morning was soon broken as the wind and waves grew stronger and bigger as we paddled along. We decided to pull into Camp 22 to wait for the weather to improve before continuing on with a goal of reaching Camp 24 for the night. It started to rain lightly so we put on our raingear but when it became a question of a choice between being slightly wet from the rain or being hot and sweaty inside the raingear we chose to remove it as soon as the rain was occasional drops. As we went on our way the wind and waves subsided which meant we could reconsider our options. We decided to continue on to Camp 25 and to stay there for the night. As we went along the weather settled down - no wind, cloudy with very light rain. We reached Camp 25 around 15:00 with the weather improving. We set up camp and I rigged a tarp over a rustic bench by the fire pit to provide some shelter for cooking and our equipment.
It was an evening that makes wilderness travel the joy that it is for me.
I waited and waited for a glorious sunset to follow the sinking sun but I was not to be lucky. Sunset at this latitude is a very gradual affair with the sun moving along, dropping slowly behind the horizon.
Day 3, June 24, 2019
Rolled out of my sleeping bag at 06:11. It had rained a little during the night. We went about what was to become our usual morning routine: I prepared our breakfast of oatmeal and tea while Keith packed up the tent and its contents. While we were having breakfast we saw our first wildlife - a small rabbit walked through the campsite. We left the campsite around 09:15 and paddled 6.8km to the head of the main arm of Isaac Lake where we stopped next to the ranger station at Camp 15 for a short rest and a quick snack. From there we continued south down the lake, stopping once to put on our rain jackets as it had started to rain. It was just a squall but enough to make rain jackets necessary. A we continued to travel along the wind started to get stronger from behind us and the waves began to grow. We were approaching Camp 18 so we decided to pull in and wait out the wind and the waves. The campsite marker was difficult to see but we were paddling close to the shore so fortunately we spotted it. Stopping at this campsite was a good decision. Just after we pulled in the wind increased to the point where there were whitecaps blowing along.
If we hadn't stopped at this spot we would have missed a great campsite; well sheltered from the north and with a log cabin for us to sleep in. We settled in, made vegetable soup and boiled water to replenish our water supply. Keith used my MSR water filter to pump 2L into our water bag. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and making tea. Obviously a couple of expat Brits!! Between 16:00 and 17:00 the wind veered 180 degrees to be coming from the south with enough strength to create whitecaps again. We were both happy that we were in camp and not fighting the wind and waves.
When I was preparing for this trip I used some recipes from the internet to make dehydrated meals. So when I started supper at 18:10 I used my home dried Georgian Chicken Stew. The result was a meal with really good flavour and soft vegetables but the chicken was so hard to chew I had visions of an expensive visit to the dentist.
By 19:00 the wind had died down and by 20:00 the lake was flat calm.
Day 2, June 23, 2019
We got up early and I prepared breakfast while Keith packed up the tent and our equipment. Breakfast wasn't very exciting - instant oatmeal (porridge) and tea - a sign of things to come. We did some sorting of our equipment and supplies and then at 08:30 we went up to the park office to register for the canoe trip. When I went to the office to register it seems I had made our reservation for June 25 and not June 23. Luckily the circuit wasn't busy so we were able to do the 09:00 weigh-in and then go to the orientation session and video. While we were in the Registration Centre I noticed, to my great delight, they had baseball caps for sale. My hat problem was solved and I would be able to use my mosquito net without it being on my face. The weigh-in is a measure of the weight of the equipment that you intend to carry inside your canoe when you are travelling along the portage trails and the weight limit is 60lbs. This limit is in place in order to protect the trails by reducing the impact of the canoe cart wheels of the thousands of paddlers who visit the park every year. We were prepared for the reality of carrying a lot of gear in our backpacks but we had a pleasant surprise. It turned out that safety gear was excluded from the weigh-in and their interpretation of safety gear was very liberal. What a relief! I only had to carry approximately 20lbs on my back when we were on the portage trails.
Once the weigh-in was done we set off along the first portage from the Registration Centre to Kibbee Lake. We had only just gone 300m when I realized I had forgotten to go back to the office to collect our permit tag for the canoe and the map and garbage back they provide. As a result I went back to the office while Keith continued to push the canoe along the portage trail. After leaving the office it took me a long time to catch back up to Keith. He had pushed the canoe probably more than half of the 2.4km before I caught up to him.
When we had completed this portage we paddled 2.4km across Kibbee Lake and from there we portaged 2.0km to Indianpoint Lake. We paddled 6.4km across the main lake and then through a narrow, twisty channel to a small pond extension of the lake to the start of our next portage. This 1.6km portage to Isaac Lake was the worst. It started with a difficult ledge that was impossible to climb over with the loaded canoe on the canoe cart so we unloaded the heaviest gear and carried the the canoe up and over the ledge.
Then we reloaded the canoe and set off again. The trail was terrible. Mud holes, random rocks and shallow ditches across the width. Not fun at all. Once we reached Isaac Lake it was plain sailing. We paddled along the lake until we reached the campsite that we had decided was our destination for the day, Camp 12. We set up the tent, ate supper and chatted with a fellow paddler who was already settled in. Not a bad start to the trip.
Day 1, June 22, 2019
This was a travel day from Jasper to Bowron Lakes Provincial Park in British Columbia
To start the trip we had to travel 587km to get to the Bowron Lake campsite where we were staying for the night. Keith arrived at the house in the morning and we made sure everything we would need was safely packed in the van or, in the case of the canoe, on the roof. After roughly 8 hours on the road we arrived at Bowron Lake Provincial Park and set up our camp for the night. It quickly became apparent that we were going to be swarmed by clouds of mosquitoes. Both of us put on our mosquito protection, in my case a mosquito net and for Keith a repellent infused hat. It was at this point that I realized I had not packed everything after all. I had left my Tilley hat on the boot rack in the house in Jasper. My mosquito net helped but there was nothing to keep it away from my face which was not pleasant. However, after preparing and eating supper and organizing our gear for the next morning, we explored the campsite before retiring to the tent for the night.
The Bowron Lake Cicuit
This is a repeat of the blog item that I posted on July 7, 2019. I was concerned that should post it again because it has been such a long time since I posted the original.
A scaleable version of this map is available at:
The Bowron Lake Circuit is a canoe/kayak route that I first attempted in 2012. I started my paddle at the end of May in a kayak that I had just bought and in which I had minimum experience. Once I was on Issac Lake, the long lake that runs from the northwest to the southeast, I was assaulted by winds blowing directly against me. At one point I was paddling hard and I looked at my GPS and my speed was zero. Not only that, but significant waves had developed which I was comfortable paddling through as long as I was close to shore but I was not confident that I could safely turn round and head back to a campsite to wait out the wind. As a result I kept paddling to the next campsite and eventually after camping a couple of times I reached the end of the lake. But I was exhausted so I had to ask the park rangers to get me out before I ventured past the end of the lake into an area where I would be putting myself at greater risk and help would be more difficult to get.
I don't like to fail so this year, 2019, I returned with a canoe and a companion, Keith Marsh.
I'm a grandfather who lost an infant granddaughter and who wants to help Gillian, her mother, provide support for other grieving parents through Hazel's Heroes.