The large campsite at the bottom of Isaac Lake, is a perfectly located spot that paddlers on the Bowron Chain find ideal for rest and regrouping, it is often used for a layover day. Actually two separate camping areas have been established at this location, along with a brand new post and beam cooking shelter, this is also the site of the infamous Isaac River Chute.

Located right in the heart of the Interior Temperate Rainforest that runs north-south through the interior of British Columbia, this campsite is also home to relatively uncommon harlequin ducks that swim and feed in the fast moving waters of the Isaac River. Perhaps the most memorable highlight that this location offers however, is the opportunity on a clear warm summer night, and from your tent pitched with its open front facing down the lake in the direction from which you had probably been paddling all day, to view some of the most spectacular sunsets seen anywhere.

On the night of July 3, 2014, paddlers had an additional thrilling experience, a powerful deluge of rain and a display of thunder and sheet lightening, turned the black sky into daylight, mother nature’s power had every camper awake and filled with awe….as well as fear.

Ron Watteyne and his wife Elaine were paddling with friends, they were completing the circuit in six days. “We were having a great trip, we were still excited when we went to bed because we had seen a grizzly bear on the shore of Isaac Lake earlier in the day and then there was this storm, it was incredible” said Ron. “You could hear excited voices coming from every tent. it was about two o’clock in the morning, everyone was awake, there was a Scout group camped nearby and it was one of them that spotted the fire started after a lightening strike”. Even several days after this event, the excitement in Ron’s voice conveyed just how he had been affected by this unbelievable display. In an attempt to minimize things he added “I wasn’t frightened though, I knew that I had those tent poles and that piece of nylon just above me for protection”.

The fire turned out to be forest fire C10067, dubbed by the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch as the Isaac Lake/Huckey Creek fire. It had been my mistaken understanding (and I don’t know why), that there was a policy to not fight forest fires that occur in Provincial Parks. Upon reflection, this understanding made no sense and so I looked for clarification.

In actual fact, in such a situation, there is a very clearly defined policy in place. When a fire is reported, the Wildfire Management Branch Co-ordination Officer liaises with the appropriate land managers (in this case those officials with BC Parks responsible for the management of Bowron Lake Provincial Park). More specifically it is the Cariboo Region of the Wildfire Management Branch connecting with the BC Parks Cariboo Section, both offices are located in Williams Lake.

Their discussion, which is formally known as a threat analysis, considers the current fire behaviour, the circumstances of the fire occurrence, the suppression capability and finally the values that are at risk. In the case of fire C10067, the blaze was apparently occurring in an area that was prime grizzly bear habitat where there were known to be a number of this year’s cubs. Based on this assessment, particularly of the values at risk, the decision was made to fight the fire which was quickly suppressed and contained to an area of 20.30 hectares.

This is a feel good success story. I was told by friends that it was quite inspiring to see the impressive young fire fighters who were spotted in the area of the Park getting ready to leave once the fire had been very quickly extinguished. Hats off to all of those officials who were responsible for this success, and to the Wildfire Management Branch Cariboo Information Officer who so willingly shared information regarding these details with me. All of this was happening in the midst of intense forest fire activity throughout interior British Columbia. The very helpful Wildfire BC website is also a source of regularly updated information regarding the current wild fire situation in British Columbia.

Jeffrey Dinsdale
July 24, 2014



Friday, April 06, 2012

Dog Mushing Around the Bowron Lake Chain
Two weekends ago, the second last weekend of March, our good friend Sylvia Feder travelled all the way from Seattle along with her two young [and quite wonderful] Candian Eskimo [Inuit] Dogs. We had planned to take a day trip out onto the Bowron Lake Chain with our dogs if the weather would allow it. The weather on the Bowron can be quite fickle and unforgiving, but we lucked out! Based on several Bowron trips over the past 20 years, I would have to say that the conditions could not have been better. We had a fantastic day! What about this area and its dog mushing history?

The Bowron is actually Bowron Lake Provincial Park and in addition to the main campground and park headquarters, it consists of 10 major lakes connected by a series of portage trails, rivers, and creeks, all in the shape of a quadrangle and set in the midst of the spectacular Cariboo mountains. It is a world class and very unique summer canoe/kayak route in that even though you travel over 116 kilometres, you start and end at the same place, without having to back-track. This interconnected network is known as a circuit or chain of lakes. There are amenities for paddlers consisting of approximately 50 developed campsites, all with pit toilets, fire rings, tent pads and bear caches. There are also 7 rustic, but very usable cabins [with wood heaters], and 4 open-sided cooking shelters, also with wood heaters. While the Chain gets heavy use in the summer, the number of winter visitors probably numbers fewer than 15 or 20 different individuals or groups.

The Bowron is part of the traditional land of Ndazkoh people who are part of the Dakelh or Carrier First Nation. There is little remaining evidence of these people having habited this area with the exception of a few midden sites comprised chiefly of freshwater clamshells and some stone artifacts. It is said that the remains of First Nations pit houses which lined Kibbee Creek all disappeared at the time of the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964. There are a few references to these people in the fur trade literature and of the fact that they frequented the Bowron lake area. Why wouldn’t they, it is a beautiful setting that is teeming with freshwater fish, it is also the site of the longest salmon run in North America, these salmon migrate up the Fraser River, then up the Bowron River, through Bowron Lake and then up to the extreme end of the Upper Bowron River.

Two developments conspired to drive the Ndazkoh people from this part of their territory. In the 1860’s, thousands of gold seekers flooded into this area in seach of gold along Williams Creek…this was the Cariboo Gold Rush, and their presence had the effect of pushing the First Nations people out of this area. At about the same time, First Nations people throughout all of western North America were decimated by various epidemics [measles, smallpox, influenza], wiping out over 75% of the population. Today the Ndazko people reside on reserve land that is west of the Fraser River.

There is no tradition of the use of sled dogs among the Ndazkoh people. They had smaller “fox like” dogs that were used for hunting but these dogs were not used for pulling. The snowfall throughout this area is significant, making the use of dogs in the winter extremely difficult. The primary dietary staple of these people was salmon that were caught and dried in huge numbers to last throughout the winters. These people tended to “hunker down” for the winter in their pit houses, travelling on snowshoes if needed, but not wandering too far in the deep snow.

When the miners arrived in this country, they travelled on foot or with horses. There is sparse evidence that sled dogs were used during the Cariboo Gold Rush. It is true that some individual miners established dog teams to get about once they were settled on their claims. Some entrepreneurs used sled dogs to travel the 20 or so miles from Barkerville [the hub of the gold country] to Bowron Lake in order to catch the big lake trout which would fetch a handsome price when delivered to Barkerville for sale. There is also a history of individual trappers and outfitters using sled dogs on the Bowron Chain. Dean Cochran and his wife Lutie homesteaded on Indianpoint Creek [which flows out of Indianpoint Lake which is part of the Bowron Chain] in 1912, and while he used horses, he also used sled dogs in the winter [you can read about their life on the Indianpoint in Lutie’s book The Wilderness Told Me, printed by Spartan Printing of Quesnel in 1970). Another outfitter/trapper who used both horses and sled dogs on the Chain was Tim Cushman, who had his main cabin at Kruger Lake and whose father’s trapline actually ran inside the boundaries of the park. Ernie Holmes was a conservation officer inside the park, and he patrolled parts of the Chain by dog team. No-doubt there were others, but very few people have used sled dogs in this area.

The weather and ice conditions on the Chain are constantly changing, even several times in the same day, and dog mushers know that travelling on lakes can be both a blessing and a curse. The weight of the very heavy snowfall has the effect of pushing the ice downward, which causes the water to rise up on to the ice, causing horrible overflow conditions. There are springs running into some of the lakes and this can cause the lakes to be wide open in sections, even in the middle of winter. The overwintering Trumpeter Swans love it, but for skiers and dog mushers it can be very frightening. There are three rivers that comprise part of the Chain, the Cariboo, Bowron and Isaac, and it takes very cold weather to freeze these rivers up tight.

I know of no example of anyone who has succeeded in travelling around the Bowron Chain in the winter by dog team. There are those who have skied and snowshoed around the Chain and who have had a dog along with them, but to my knowledge, no dog team has ever made it all the way around the Chain. Last year some local mushers made a valiant effort to become the first mushers to complete the circuit, but they became quite bogged down on Isaac Lake after an incredibly tough slog to that point. This trip is documented in the Winter 2011 edition of Explore Magazine [#172] and it contains one ominous quote. As the exhausted expeditioners were regrouping at the Moxley Creek cabin at the end of a gut wrenching slog of a day, one of them muses, with a bleak and hollow tone to his voice…..”I went to some dark places today”.

To the contrary, Sylvia and I had a great day! There had been some ski and snowshoe traffic out on the Chain during the weeks prior to our trip and this had the effect of packing the snow on the portage sections of the route. I had spoken with the park contractor and he said that he had been out to Isaac Lake on snowshoes…judging by the sawdust on the trail, he also had his chainsaw with him, for the blowdown had been cut out of the portage trails. Out on the lakes, the conditions were ideal, there was essentially no open water and only a couple of inches of wind packed snow covered every lake….the dogs could go anywhere.

If ever there was a need for a good gee haw leader this was it….there were vestiges of the old ski/snowshoe trails on the lakes, and the dogs did follow these when they appeared… but generally the dogs were asked to follow the shoreline of the lakes. We were in no hurry and had no real destination, it wasn’t unlike a traditional Inuit journey. When the Inuit travelled with their dogs, virtually everything they owned was on their komatik [sled] wherever they were and however fast they were travelling was just fine…and today that is the way it was with both of us.

We knew that some folks had skied/snowshoed out the day before us to overnight in the cabin at Kibbee Lake…we arrived on their doorstep just before 10:00 a.m…..they were already out of bed. I naively thought that we might stop for coffee, but the dogs had very different ideas, they were wired and were screaming when we put the hook in at the cabin….it was a very short visit. From the cabin we went around Thompson Lake, then down Kibbee Lake, over the portage to Indianpoint Lake and down almost to the end of Indianpoint before having lunch and turning around…we knew that the trail had been broken over the next portage to Isaac Lake, but opted to return home at this point. Had we covered the 2 km. portage to Isaac Lake, it would have opened up 40 km. of clear sailing right down to the end of Isaac Lake, passing two cabins and two shelters on the way…..maybe next year.