Bowron Lake Trip
May 14 – 18, 2015
From May 14th – 18th 2015, ten men, all residents of the Cariboo and experienced wilderness paddlers, completed a very enjoyable trip around the Bowron Lake Provincial Park Canoeing Circuit (the Chain). This was the 19th year in a row that members of this group have paddled on the Chain on the exact same Victoria Day weekend. Over this time period this group has experienced a variety of conditions. Last year on these dates for example, Isaac Lake was still frozen solid. This year (2015) marked the earliest break-up ever experienced by our group. Conditions on the Chain were well advanced, migrating waterfowl that normally would be congregating on the Chain at this time of year had already passed through.
We left the day before the Park officially opened for the season and so were not required to register. We did discuss our trip with the front office staff at the Registration Centre and even though we were not “officially’ registered, we did check out with the staff at the completion of our trip. Because we had not registered, there was no paperwork and so no opportunity to complete the COMMENTS section on the registration/check-out form. I want to offer some feedback and so have chosen to forward my comments in this format. I am sending this to the Park Operator and to the Williams Lake office of BC Parks. I will also be posting these comments on my website, http://www.celebratethebowron.com Please Note: I was able to complete a trip around the Circuit in September 2014 (last fall) and I did forward my comments in a similar format following that trip.
Our group found the Chain to be quite busy for this early season departure time. This could be a reflection of the unseasonably mild weather. This could also be confirmation of what would appear to be a desire on the part of an ever-increasing number of paddlers to experience the Chain during the shoulder seasons (early spring and late fall) in an attempt to find a different and possibly more challenging paddling experience. We were aware that paddlers had completed the circuit at least two weeks before our departure.
This writer was pleased to note that at least on May 15th there were no signs of destruction of the Wolverine Bay/Isaac Lake Warden Cabin. It is hoped that there may have been a reconsideration of the ill-conceived plan to destroy this cabin (and the remaining Indianpoint Lake Warden Cabin) and to replace it with a fixed-roof, post and beam duplex identical to those new $250,000.00 structures located at Babcock Creek and Pat’s Point.
As indicated, this was a very positive trip, emphasizing once again that the Bowron Lake Wilderness Canoeing Circuit is a destination that is unique in the world. The significant infrastructure that is in place lends itself to a fantastic wilderness canoeing experience that is potentially accessible to all.
The Park work crew had been around the Chain previous to our start. All blowdown (and it had been a harsh winter) had been cleared from the portage trails. This was reassuring and in genuine contrast to our experiences over the past number of years when the trails were impassible even after the Circuit was officially open for the season. In previous years our group has had to cut blowdown with axes in order to proceed. This was definitely not the case this year.
We noted that Park work crews had visited every campsite and had bucked up any blowdown into lengths suitable for firewood use. This was a godsend and was much appreciated.
A new canoe rest had already been constructed on the Kibbee Lake to Indianpoint Lake portage trail to replace a derelict canoe rest that was no longer usable. This was the first time that this writer had ever actually carried his canoe over the portage trails (as opposed to using a wheeled cart) and it quickly became evident that the canoe rests are invaluable for those who are carrying canoes on their shoulders.
While we were not required to register as the Park was not officially open, we enjoyed a positive conversation with the very friendly Park front office staff. They were able to share a bit of very helpful information about the numbers of groups on the Chain and the anticipated use over the coming few days. It was helpful to establish this contact for as our trip unfolded, it was necessary to call the Park office from the radio phones.
Most of the portage trails were very dry, there was virtually no snow which was in stark contrast to our trips on this date in past years. We took a careful look at the trails to try and assess the actual need for trail upgrades in order to ensure that the trails would be safe for both humans and paddling equipment. Our observations and suggestions are documented below. The significant majority of the portage trails were in good condition.
This writer (all group members) were impressed by the memorial bench located on the west end of Sandy Lake. We understand that such benches are being placed in all B.C. Parks, this is a wonderful tradition. This particular bench is a memorial to a gentleman named Dinty Moore. This writer searched for his obituary to learn more about this man who died at the age of 92. Here is one small excerpt from this obituary, written by one of his granddaughters… ”Dinty’s passions included canoeing and building canoes. He and his friends travelled some of the great rivers of British Columbia, including the Peace River before it was dammed. He told stories of encountering moose and bear and of finding dinosaur fossils. He also took his young daughters and nieces around the Bowron Lake circuit many times“.
We were pleased that even though it was so early in the season, we found good firewood in the woodlots. It did get cool in the evenings and campfires and a fire in the shelter stoves were very welcome.
It is fair to say that our whole group rated this trip as being wonderful. Some of our group have completed this journey over 20 times.
There is an urgent need for upgrades on some of the trail sections. In our opinion, the specific sections that require attention are:
The first half of the Indianpoint Lake to Isaac Lake trail
The second section of the Isaac River trail, along that part of the river known as the Cascades
The third part of the Isaac River trail from the log jamb around the Isaac River falls ending at McLeary lake
In all of these areas, the trail work would involve removing large rocks, pushing these to the side and filling in any resulting holes with appropriate fill. It is evident that this type of work has been successfully completed on other sections of these trails in the past. While labour intensive, this work would not require heavy equipment, it could be completed by fit and healthy persons using hand tools. It would be time consuming but the end result would be a great improvement. The reason why this work is required is the significant risks to paddling equipment and to personal safety that are posed by these large, sharp rocks . Some special attention would have to be paid to the few steep downhill sections, for removal of large rocks in these areas could lead to a further degradation of the trails.
A decision was made some time ago to make the Circuit accessible to more paddlers by encouraging the use of wheeled carts. This was indeed the right decision, opening up this paddling experience to those who would otherwise be unable to negotiate the portage trails. The fact that these sections of the trail are so dangerous totally defeats the intent of creating the trails in the first place. Last September, this writer met a group of six kayakers, all of them seniors and members of an outdoor club in the lower mainland. Three of the six had sustained damage to their wheeled carts and it had become necessary for these people to assist one another on the portages. . Word gets out! Despite the Park’s reassurance that the trails are in place, paddlers will learn that the conditions are unsafe and as a result the number of paddlers coming to the Chain will continue to dwindle. For several good reasons, including local economic development reasons, this writer would like to see the numbers experiencing the Chain increase.
We noted a significant hazard on the Isaac River downstream from the Chute, right at the area known as the Roller Coaster. The hazard consisted of a large tree that had become uprooted and fallen over the river, blocking 7/8th of the river and acting like a very dangerous impassable ‘strainer’. Those checking the Chute for hazards might not look downstream for hazards and once committed in the river, it would be impossible for even experienced paddlers to avoid this very dangerous obstacle. We attempted to telephone the Park office to inform them of this hazard from the radiophones located on both the Cariboo River and at Turner Creek. On the Cariboo River we did hear a female voice speak two or three words but there was no ongoing dialogue. One of our group simply repeated the message about the hazard and hoped for the best. At Turner Creek we were unable to establish radiophone contact with the Park office, this was at about 4:30 p.m. When we checked out at the end of the trip, we were relieved to learn that in fact our message from the Cariboo River radiophone had been heard and that action had been taken to remove this hazard.
We were informed that the radiophone service essentially ends at the end of the work day (6:00 p.m.) This raises the matter of an after hours emergency contact number. I have not been able to find an advertised emergency number for the Bowron Lake Provincial Park. Is such a number/service available to the public? If so, where is it advertised?
Once again it was noted that the tent pads in every campsite we used and visited were in need of upgrading. Over the years the dirt/sand used to create the tent pad has either become very compacted or has been removed from the boundaries of the tent pad. This means that in the event of a moderate or heavy rainfall, the tent pad will “fill” with water and will act as a receptacle for water rather than as a a way to drain the rainwater away. The “fix” for this problem is labour intensive but not difficult. This could be an excellent project for a youth group, especially if the needed materials could be located nearby.
Finally, given my new experience with carrying my canoe on my shoulders, it would be helpful if there were two new canoe rests constructed on the Babcock Creek portage. I discussed this with two others in our group who were carrying their canoes and they heartily agreed.