AROUND THE BOWRON….MAY 2013
I must admit, I personally have not kept track of the number of times that a group of friends, largely from Quesnel, have made the journey around the Bowron Chain of Lakes on the May long weekend. Members of this group informed me however that 2013 marked year 17 of this annual odyssey. That’s hard to believe, some of the fellows on this year’s trip weren’t even born 17 years ago. It truly has been 17 great years, with 17 years worth of memories and stories to tell.
In some ways, the 2013 trip was a totally new journey for me. Many of the same friends were along for the trip, and of course the lakes and the trails hadn’t moved. Lately however I have been searching out information about the cultural history of the Bowron, and on this trip I found myself looking at familiar sights from a totally different perspective. As the Chain unfolded around me, I tried to insert myself into each location, but back in time. If anything, this made a normally great experience even better.
For about the 25th time I sat in the Park registration office and watched the mandatory orientation video. My mind wandered a bit, especially during the part where the paddler is instructed to place his/her garbage bag on the end of their paddle and wave it in the air if they are in distress. But I was also thinking about the fact that in many ways the information about portage trails, campsites, cook shelters, outhouses and the volunteer creel census was all so new and recent. The building we were sitting in was relatively new, certainly the person giving us the orientation was very new. Up until 50 years earlier the portage trail running past the registration office and all of the other infrastructure in the video didn’t even exist.
The present day registration centre is located on the north shore of Bowron Lake, possibly on the very land that was the site of a year round First Nations settlement. It is clearly documented by HBC traders that First Nations fishers and hunters made seasonal trips between the Fraser River in the Quesnel area and the Bowron however it is also documented that evidence of pit houses existed along Bowron Lake’s north shore, particularly at the mouth of what is now called Kibbee Creek. This can only mean that there was also year-round First Nations habitation in this area.
It is stated that in 1964 there was a large land slippage in this area and some have postulated that this may have coincided with that year’s Anchorage Alaska earthquake. There is certainly evidence when paddling along the Bowron Lake shoreline of a significant land slide which has reportedly obliterated any evidence of the pit houses, which unfortunately had not been carbon dated.
Frank Kibbee arrived at the Bowron in 1912 and he built his first home approximately below the present-day site of Bear River Mercantile, right where the Bowron river flows out of Bowron lake. When digging his garden, he uncovered evidence of a First Nations burial site, this would certainly suggest year-round occupation of this area that could go back as much as 2000 years. When you think of it, this location had all that was needed for year-round habitation, in particular an annual run of salmon to ensure a winter food supply.
The Bowron became a provincial park in 1961. That year the park was gazetted and some private lands within the park were purchased by the government. Actually the area that lies within the lakes had been established as the Bowron Lake Game Reserve in 1926. Prior to this date, this area was a big game hunters and trappers free-for-all. Today the Bowron Lakes is a wildlife mecca, on our journey this year we came within a few feet of browsing moose, we saw several black bears. At the turn of the 20th century, hunting big game was a popular rich man’s sport and those who pursued this pastime had a lot of success in the Bowron. Prior to the establishment of the Game Reserve they were assisted in their pursuits by big game hunting guides like Frank Kibbee, Roy and Norman Thompson, Floyd
DeWitte Reed, Dean Cochran and Joe and Betty Wendle. But there was concern about the scale of the hunting in this area and it is interesting to note that the push to create the Game Reserve was spearheaded by some of these very same people as well as by J.P. Babcock the B.C. Fish Commissioner at the time, Chief Justice Hunter of the B.C. Supreme Court and Thomas and Elinor McCabe, an intriguing couple who were truly naturalists and environmentalists years ahead of their time. If these names seem familiar, it is because virtually every one of them is commemorated on some landmark within or adjacent to the Park.
As for early day (pre 1926) trapping in this area, there were a significant number of trappers running traplines throughout the Chain. After 1926 their activities were government regulated and of course after 1961 there was no trapping within the Park. Beginning with a few disaffected gold miners who found that the Cariboo Gold Rush was not to their liking, trappers included the ethereal Swamp Angel. Just who was he? His surname was Wilson, his given name was Neil or was it Richard or possibly Mathew (my vote is for Neil). He lived along the lower Swamp River hence the name Swamp Angel. The Swamp River is today’s Cariboo River, the lower river is that section just above and below the Cariboo Falls, the upper Swamp River is the section upstream from Lanezi Lake running right to the headwaters above McLeary Lake. On this trip around the Chain I took a critical look at this river and the fact is, much of the land adjacent to it is in fact a marsh or a swamp.
The Swamp Angel’s trapping partner was another gold stampeder named Ken McLeod and an early-day contemporary was George Isaac who was a gold miner. Prior to 1926 they were joined throughout the Chain by other trappers including Harold Mason, Jason Moxley, Eric Woltortin, Marius Andersen, George Turner, James Duffy, J. Brierly and Mr. McLary. The location of each man’s trapline has been documented but if their cabins were still standing, in some cases they would now be close to 150 years old. Needless to say, these rustic structures are all gone but one, and that is the 97 year old Joe Wendle cabin built on the banks of the Upper Bowron River in 1926. As we paddled by this cabin on this trip, it was clear that the cabin has been severely undermined and is in danger of sliding into the river.
The earliest land access road/trail into the Park ran north initially following the Bowron River and then branching more easterly to Thompson Lake and then running to Indianpoint Lake The trail crossed Indianpoint Creek where it flows out of Indianpoint Lake at the site of the beautiful McCabe home. This trail continued to run in a northeasterly direction just north of Indianpoint Lake (with a branch running to Kruger Lake) and north of the west arm of Isaac Lake to Wolverine Bay where it then turned northward, eventually connecting with the Goat River Trail. Parts of this early access route were apparently even fit for automobile travel by the 1920‘s, certainly pack horses and even horses and wagons used it.
We hauled our gear over the “modern” portage trails, I’ve formed a close love-hate relationship with them over the years. Just about 100 metres before Kibbee Lake there is a nondescript trail branching off from the portage trail to the left. About 25 metres down this trail we found a small marker tacked to a tree which stated Sentier Pedestre — National Hiking Trail. This trail, which is not to be confused with the Trans Canada Trail, is part of a nation wide network of hiking trails that has been under development for the past 30 years by a group now known as Hike Canada, which is represented in British Columbia by Hike BC. This trail would link up with the old access route to Indianpoint Lake and beyond, eventually connecting with the present-day Kruger Lake road, then running past Littlefield Creek before linking up with the Goat River Trail.
When we got to Kibbee Lake it became obvious that the early day pioneers were right, Kibbee Lake and Thompson Lake are not two separate lakes, they are actually just one lake with an ancient beaver dam constructed to make it look like there are two lakes. In the early days the single lake was in fact called Beaver Lake and Kibbee Creek was Beaver Creek.
Our little group of six had left later in the day than the other members of the larger group We decided to complete the second portage to Indianpoint Lake where we camped right at the end of the portage. With binoculars we could see the others camped a few campsites ahead at Kruger Bay. We had left a canoe at Kibbee Lake because very early the next morning, the last member of our group who had to work on Day 1, was going to drive out to the registration centre and hike to Kibbee Lake where he would be met by the canoe….this arrangement worked out fine, and by 8:00 a.m. on Day 2, the (now) seven members of our little group were all together in our east-facing campsite and enjoying breakfast and a beautiful sunrise over Indianpoint Lake.
Once we were on the water we made a side trip to visit the site of the McCabe home located overlooking Indianpoint Creek at the point that it flows out of the lake. Elinor
Bolles McCabe had pre-empted 135 acres in the 1920’s and she and her husband built a two story log structure with a dirt basement, using huge logs harvested on site. It is said that the logs were so large that Thomas McCabe constructed beautiful drawers that actually slid in and out of the logs and that this is where he kept his supplies for banding birds. It is said that the railing of the stairway leading to the second floor was a work of art, each of the balusters and spindles being hand carved, the bottom of each was a depiction of a local or native tree while the top was a carving of the head of one of the local mammals. This home had french doors, it is said that books filled the shelves that lined the walls. All that remains of the home today is the stone and brick fireplace and various bits of debris slowly decaying in the soil. This is one of the structures that was burned to the ground after the creation of the Park, but there are conflicting stories about just who actually started the fire. The local flora is gradually reclaiming the site but there is still evidence of the McCabe flower gardens . I have often thought that this would be a great spot for an archaeological dig.
We paddled on, the morning was sunny and warm. At the other end of Indianpoint Lake, just before entering the marsh that leads to a small lagoon, stands the cabin that was part of Frank Cushman’s registered guiding area which was actually headquartered at Kruger Lake to the north, home of his Wolverine Mountain Outfitters. This is one of the cabins that was not burned down by parks officials, in the 60’s it would have been pretty new., and was actually built by the previous owner of the guiding area. The fact is, it was not the first cabin to be located on this inviting site, at least three early-day trappers had cabins in this area and one of them stood on the same little knoll where the Cushman cabin stands today.
We made the portage over to Isaac Lake, relieved that the portaging was finished for at least 24 hours. I always look towards the “elbow” of Isaac and Wolverine Bay in awe, probably because of the splendid backdrop that Wolverine Mountain provides. At this time of year the slide areas show up green against the white snowy backdrop. I was told that grizzly bears congregate in these areas in the spring because of the tasty plants that mature early because the darker slide areas collect the sun. Wolverine Bay was a busy place in the past, at various times trappers Kenneth McLeod, J. Brierly, Eric Woltortin , Slim Good and Alf Brown and until 1965 Ole Nelson all trapped in this area. There seemed to be a tendency for these men to run their traplines along the various creeks that flowed into the lake. This was the case for Jason Moxley who had a trapline along what was first known as Moose Creek and then Cottonwood Creek before it became known as Moxley Creek, located just around the corner on the east shore at the beginning of the long arm of Isaac Lake. We rafted up and ate our lunch right at the elbow…huge delicious sandwiches on a bun big enough to choke a horse.
Our little group spent the night at the Lynx Creek campsite, we didn’t really know for sure where the other members of our larger group were camping that night but we had a hunch that they were a few campsites ahead of us on the other side of Betty Wendle Creek and as it turned out we were right.
The Lynx Creek campsite is the spawning ground for what has become a local urban (rural) myth. About 20 years ago a young German, a medical intern from Seattle was paddling the Chain with his girlfriend. They were camped at Lynx Creek when they were attacked by a black bear and depending on what bit of gossip you believe, the young intern lost a good part of his posterior in the attack. His girlfriend safely barricaded her severely injured boyfriend inside the Lynx Creek cabin while she paddled their tandem canoe solo in the middle of the night back to the ranger cabin at Wolverine Bay. A helipad was hastily constructed by the rangers, a helicopter flew in, the injured German was treated at GRB in Quesnel before his mates flew in and took him back to their hospital in Seattle for convalescence. This could have been the end of the story if it wasn’t for Cariboo Observer Editor the late Gerry MacDonald who wrote a great story about this incident…so great that it was published in the Reader’s Digest, and this is where the urban myth comes in. It is stated among locals that this young German intern’s wife was still in Germany and it was only by chance that she read the Reader’s Digest article about her husband on the Bowron Chain….you can take it from there.
The cabin at Lynx Creek has a little different provenance than many on the Chain, it was built in the late 1950’s by a local log builder and gold miner (he also built the cabin on the Bowron River) named Erik Rask. He was commissioned to build the Lynx Creek cabin by the Wells Rod and Reel Club. The 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s was really the Wells era on the Bowron and the Rod and Reel Club at one time had 9 cabins located throughout the Chain. They actually perfected a type of pre-fabricated structure that could be brought in disassembled on a motor boat and then assembled in situ.
Our group made it to the end of Isaac in a pelting rain storm around noon on Day 3. Our friends travelling a few hours ahead of us had seen us coming down the lake and they made sure that the stove in the new shelter was still burning when they left to complete the Isaac River portage. The heat from the stove was wonderful, we stripped off our wet rain gear and stood around the heater enjoying a cup of hot soup along with our bean,rice, cucumber, tomato and avocado sandwich wraps, hot chocolate and french press coffee. What a group of intrepid troopers!
We did the portage, first the chute which had actually disappeared in what is truly a high water year for the Chain. Then the roller coaster where we were buzzed by confused harlequin ducks. We then slogged through knee deep snow on the portage trails, eventually rafting up in the middle of McLeary Lake….or should it be McLary Lake. There is good reason to believe that McLeary is a typo. We looked over at Fred Becker’s cabin (did you know that there are two Fred Beckers who figure in the history of the Bowron?), noting that before him, trappers Jason Moxley and Floyd De Witte Reed had cabins in this same spot. We also speculated, as we do on every trip, that there just had to be a trail that ran from McLeary Lake to Isaac Lake along the east side of the Isaac River. The sky was darkening and we still had about two hours travel to get to our night’s campsite so we turned our canoes down the Upper Swamp River towards Long (Lanezi) Lake. It was great to be travelling with a current…watch out for the sweepers.
Because of the steep mountains that come right down to the shore line, it can be very difficult to find a decent camping spot on Lanezi. We stopped at the first campsite to put on rain gear it was a spot that was totally saturated and which features a round plastic neo-Star Wars outhouse with no roof, giving it a hot tub look. We figured that the high water table must make it impossible to dig a hole for a traditional kybo and this space crapsule which was located at the top of a small rise overlooking the lake seemed like a good substitute.
Within half an hour we reached Turner Creek on Lanezi Lake, this has to be my most favourite spot on the Chain. To quote Jean Speare from her booklet Bowron Chain of Lakes –Place Names and People “…in a broad bay to the right, Turner Creek boils down out of the interior mountains to fan its clear water out into the milky waters of the lake. Turner Creek was named for George Turner, early game warden and a member of the B.C. Provincial Police”. There is a beautiful new fir timber frame shelter at Turner Creek, complete with doors and plexiglass windows….and inside there is a heater and it is both dry and warm.
This is where we finally met up with the rest of our larger group, they said that they had been less than an hour ahead of us but this was the first that we had seen of them in two days. By the time everyone had arrived at this campsite there were 17 wet paddlers seeking to set up their tents, dry out their gear, cook their supper, kick back, visit and relax, 15 in our group plus two fellows from Vancouver who had left a bit before us. It turned out to be a great evening, lots of inflated talk (i.e. B.S.), mostly about the Bowron, of past trips in all seasons — spring, summer, autumn as well as winter expeditions. It was indeed a unique group of contented paddlers that sat back and enjoyed that memorable evening together.
We all got away early on Day 4. I always look for the carving in the rocky outcrop at the end of Lanezi Lake…Morris – Reed Ohio 1926. Who was this man? What was he doing in that spot in 1926?. Just around the corner we soon entered Sandy Lake. I looked along the lake’s northern shore and there it was, the cedar forest that I had been reading about and which I had never really noticed on previous trips, the place where all of the early day lodges and cabins built around the Chain obtained the cedar for their shake roofs. To quote Dave Jorgenson, “500 km from the coast the rainforest reappears behind Wells. Besides being unique in the world, a repository for rare species of plants and animals, and being the most biologically productive forest in the world….it’s also unbelievably beautiful”.
We had lunch at Sandy Lake and then took off to conquer the last (and probably the best) major portage, the one along Babcock Creek. This creek used to be called Three Mile Creek and the lake that it drains used to be called Three Mile Lake (now Babcock Lake). This is the part of the Chain where the Wells Rod and Reel Club really made its mark. Picture a bunch of hard rock miners at the end of a Friday day shift all leaving the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine with nothing on their minds but fishing out on the West Side of the Bowron Chain. The car is packed and ready to go the 18 miles from Wells to Bowron Lake. It is 1950, there are no motor restrictions on the Chain and some of the families, the McKelvies, the Gradys, the Motherwells, the Gilberts have built rough cabins or shelters that they refer to as “shake shelters” out at Grizzly Lake, what we now call Unna Lake. George Gilbert has also built a shelter on a little lake that he christened Rum Lake, where he and his chums would go to drink rum. These camps have colourful names like The Knot Hole and The Ram’s Pasture.
The Wells Rod and Reel Club had boats with motors located throughout the Chain for the use of club members. To facilitate the portaging of motor boats, the club was responsible for rebuilding and maintaining a little “railway” that ran from Spectacle Lake to Skoi Lake (also known at various times as Tenas and Little Lake) with a second line running from Skoi Lake to Babcock Lake. The original wooden tracks had actually been installed by James Kew and Sid Susag in the ’30’s but this was upgraded by the Wells Rod and Reel Club with squared timber “rails” and a moving platform made from a rejigged ore cart obtained from the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine.
And if this wasn’t enough, in 1958 the Forest Service invited the Wells Rod and Reel Club to improve access to the Park as a precaution in the event of a forest fire. To accomplish this, a channel (as in canal) was blasted (as in dynamite) between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes. The sloughing sandy soil made it difficult to keep the canal open, but this was used until the Bowron became a park in the 60’s. The current discussion about the maintenance of the ‘rough’ portage trails in the Park seems pretty tame when compared with laying tracks and blasting canals in the old days. This is a great story and it appears complete with photos in George Gilbert’s memoir Kicked By A Dead Moose.
By the time we arrived at these portages, railway tracks or not, we had this portaging thing down to a science, it took us no time to get over them and on to Spectacle Lake, just about an hour and a half’s paddle to Pat’s Point, the “Riviera of the Bowron”.
Who was the Pat that Pat’s Point is named after, was it Pat McKenna? This beautiful piece of property was once owned by Harold Mason, an electrician who was responsible for “electrifying” Barkerville. The creek that flows into the Cariboo River from river right just before Babcock Creek is named after him, today it is known as Harold Creek, it used to be called Mason Creek. The cabin at Pat’s Point was built by the families of Vinse Halverson and Sid Dannhauer, brothers -in-law who purchased the property in the late 1950’s. The families camped out at Pat’s Point for a whole summer while they built the cabin. Each evening, Vinse Halverson would tow a barge load of building materials behind his motor boat as he commuted after a day working at his Wells Barkerville Sawmill. For years after the establishment of the Park, this cabin served as accommodation for Park staff before the ranger cabin now located across the bay was built. This explains why this cabin wasn’t burned down when the Bowron became a park.
Our group had a great evening and night at Pat’s Point. We had two teenagers with us, and they added a refreshing dimension to our time around the fire ring. With the boys’ example and encouragement it was Smores all around as this group of old fart paddlers let their hair down and joined in the fun. Before long we were all teenagers again, some of the fellows had even jumped into the lake for a swim. We had a great supper, while we were a large group we cooked in smaller groupings so it was fun to compare meals and to sample what others were eating. One of the fellows from Vancouver offered a trout that he had caught in Spectacle Lake and this was cooked over an open fire.
We anticipated getting to the take out in the mid afternoon so were on the water early on Day 5. There is an island in the middle of this section of Spectacle Lake, we paddled to the right of it. Now generally known Maternity Island (because the moose apparently favour giving birth on the safety of the island) and Deadman’s Island. I have read the identical and very compelling account of just how this latter name came to be applied to this island in three different sources however none can be considered to be a primary source of information so it is very difficult to know for certain just what may have transpired on that island in the past. The account I have read is related to the tragedy of the small pox epidemic that essentially decimated the First Nations people living at Bowron (then called Bear) Lake in the 1880’s. There is certainly a need for much more archaeological work in this area with the hope that this could spread some more light onto the history of First Nations people on the Bowron.
In the late 50’s Paul Pavich purchased the property on the Bowron River (where both the Bowron River cabin and the 1926 Joe Wendle cabin are located) from Joe Wendle. Paul and Eugene Krause were partners on this purchase and the plan was to build two cabins however only one (the Pavich cabin) was finished. This cabin was built by Erik Rask, the same fellow who built the Lynx Creek cabin for the Wells Rod and Reel Club. Everyone stayed in the 1926 Joe Wendle cabin while the new Pavich cabin was under construction. Volunteers helped to fall and peel the trees for the cabin itself, the shakes were cut from the huge cedar trees on the north shore of Sandy Lake and transported to the building site by barge. I have been told that when the cabin was finished there was an “official” house warming and many people made the trip out to the cabin from Wells for what was apparently a great party that people still talk about over 50 years later.
We visited Birch Bay (The Birches) located in Swan Lake, just to spend some time at this special campsite. We then took the ‘back door’ towards the upper Bowron River. There is often confusion when paddlers talk about another island called Pavich Island, confusing it with Deadman’s/Maternity Island. The Pavich Bowron River cabin is actually located on an island, and this is Pavich Island. It is possible to paddle all the way around that little island by taking this ‘back door’ route to connect with the Bowron River.
Due to the high water levels we were fighting a strong current where water from the river “spilled” into the lake until we made the turn into the river itself and started silently and quickly moving downstream. The moose were just standing there looking at us as we glided by. We had favourable winds on Bowron Lake and made good time down the right shore. As it turned out we were the first paddlers to complete the circuit in 2013.….hurray! There was a nice new floating dock at the take out which made the process of offloading the gear and getting the canoes ready for the portage up to the parking lot that much easier.