Jean Speare….A True Bowron Pioneer

Inductee, February 2, 2018

Quesnel and District Community Arts Council Gallery of Honour

Jean Speare, Quesnel B.C.

Jean Speare is a 97 year resident of Quesnel and area (Cariboo), a published and acclaimed author and poet, a noted local historian, a visual artist and a strong initiator and supporter of all things associated with Arts and Heritage in our community. It is an honour and a pleasure to announce that Jean Speare will be admitted to the Quesnel and District Community Arts Council Gallery of Honour at a special ceremony to take place at the Quesnel Art Gallery on February 2, 2018.

Jean is the great niece of one of Quesnel’s true pioneers, Abraham Barlow, who emigrated from England and arrived in Quesnel in 1871. Abe Barlow encouraged his nieces and nephews to emigrate from Lancashire England to Canada and to settle in the Quesnel area. One of these nephews was Robert (Bob) Barlow who, in 1904 settled just south of Kersley where he had purchased the Mountain View Ranch. His fiancé Jane Cook arrived from England in 1909; they were married in Kersley that same year. Their daughter Jean Emma Barlow was born in the Quesnel hospital in 1921, their son Jerry was adopted as an infant in 1927. Jean attended elementary school in Sisters Creek, high school in Quesnel, later studying in Vancouver.

In reviewing Jean’s outstanding life, it becomes readily apparent that many of her significant personal qualities, interests and abilities are very similar to those of her father. Bob was a Kersley rancher and this is the lifestyle into which Jean was born and raised. To this day Jean is very comfortable talking about the ‘ranching’ way of life, and this grounding no doubt influenced Jean’s significant interest in and involvement with life in the outdoors.

Bob Barlow is described as being gregarious and outgoing, with a “keen wit and fine sense of humour, which added to his talents as (a writer and) story teller”. Bob was deeply interested in local (Quesnel and Cariboo) history, particularly the history of the Cariboo Gold Rush.   He put the very first signage on Blessings Grave, having made the sign himself. Bob was one of the founding officers of the Cariboo Historical Society in 1951. He was a collector and donated many artefacts, including his extensive arrowhead collection, to the Quesnel Museum and Archives.

Jean’s father not only modelled all of these interests for his daughter, but he openly encouraged her to write about life in the Cariboo and Cariboo history. With her ranching/outdoors background, Jean was very comfortable doing just that.

There is a discussion in the Spring 2014 issue of BC Bookworld regarding “a recent increase in the numbers of books being written about the lives of individual First Nations women of B.C.” The article goes on to point out that this was not always the case and that it was ”Cariboo resident Jean Speare (who) broke new ground when she interviewed her Shuswap neighbour, Mary Augusta Tappage, born in Soda Creek in 1888, and produced The Days of Augusta, in 1973.” This book had its beginnings in Jean’s unfolding friendship and conversations with Augusta which she felt led to preserve. This book, which also features photography by Robert Keziere is still widely read and circulated and is written in a distinctive poetic style using Augusta’s own words. The subject matter rings very true, almost prophetic today, as many of those events that were of concern in ‘the days of Augusta’ are today seen as having had a significant influence on the course of First Nations history and the lives of First Nations people in our country.

Bowron Chain of Lakes (1983) has proven to be an invaluable historical document that is sought after by researchers.   Written by Jean and based almost entirely on her first hand personal knowledge and experiences, this deceptively thin 40 page book provides historical details about those people who were responsible for the creation of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit and the establishment of Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

At one point in our discussion, Jean shared with this writer that it is hard to separate herself from local history as her life has essentially been the local history….“I feel like I have actually lived all of the history that I have written about”. Certainly with regards to Bowron Lake and the Provincial Park, this is the case. Jean was born in 1921, in 1928 the interior of ‘the Bowron’ quadrangle was made a Provincial Wildlife Preserve, it became a Provincial Park in 1961. All of the people involved in these developments were personally known to Jean, individuals like Joe and Betty Wendle, Frank Kibbee, Tom and Elinor McCabe, the Thompson brothers (Norman and Roy) and many others. Jean herself has been an active participant in the Park’s evolution as well as being actively involved in the wilderness camping, hiking, climbing and canoeing lifestyle of the Park.

While a resident of Wells during the ‘heydays’ of the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mining Company, along with her first husband (the late Mac Grady) and friends, Jean would canoe and camp, fish and hike and explore all throughout this area. Together with other Wells residents, Jean helped to develop an enclave of what were called ‘shake shelters’ along the shores of Grizzly (now Unna) Lake on the Bowron Chain. This area was a weekend retreat for the Wells miners and their families. Very close to Unna Lake and still inside the Provincial Park are two small lakes that appear on maps as Jean and Rete Lakes, named for both Jean and her very close friend Rete (Rita) McKelvie. Jean speaks wistfully of her experiences with her good friend and kindred spirit Rete. “Every spring we would paddle a canoe down the Cottonwood River from the Old Prince George Highway to the Fraser River then on into Quesnel.”

 

Jean wrote a number of educational Children’s Stories for magazines and the Gage Educational Company. One of these stories is The Princess Swan which also became a play, scripted by Heldor Shafer.

 

A Candle for Christmas, (1986) illustrated by Anne Blades is a lovely story about a young First Nations boy who fears his parents will not make it back to the reservation for Christmas. His love and concern for his parents, and the candle he lights, reunite them on Christmas Eve.

 

Jean published a book of short stories White Loon…and other stories ( July 2010), virtually all of the stories have a Cariboo connection.

 

Jean’s involvement as a journalist, working with various newspapers familiarized her with all aspects of Newspaper Work. Jean worked as a reporter/writer/journalist, she worked as a travel writer. Jean also became familiar with the production aspects of the newspaper business. Her writing has appeared in many of the province’s newspapers. Jean worked for the Williams Lake Tribune, she also worked and wrote for the Quesnel Advertiser, along with that newspaper’s founder, the late Fred Lindsay, an author in his own right who wrote about Cariboo history.

 

Jean has been an active member of the Quesnel Wordspinners, a group of Quesnel-based authors, for many years, having held virtually every executive position with the group. This group produced and published Footsteps of the Past (2008)  and Jean served as editor of this publication. This book is described as being “highly commemorative of British Columbia’s anniversary year, 2008. Contributing members have drawn from personal experiences, related stories, memoirs, and moments of historical significance to give the Cariboo its rightful place in the growth of our province. “

 

Jean’s active writing continues to this day.   She is working on two historical pieces right now, also at the present time Jean is in the midst of a special poetry project. Her goal is to write a poem for every member of her extended family (children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, even children of second cousins). Each poem starts with the first letter of that family member’s first name.

 

Jean is also in the midst of helping her son Robin with the editing of the entries in a logbook that has been housed in a miner’s cabin located on Elk Mountain just below Brough Lake near Barkerville.   The cabin was given to Jean’s late husband Mac Grady during the period of time that they lived in Wells, by the miners who were responsible for its construction. The log book entries document a significant period of time and a way of life associated with the mining history of the Cariboo.

 

Like her father, Jean has been personally involved with groups and projects closely associated with local Cariboo history.   Jean is a long-standing member of the Friends of the Quesnel Museum and Archives. Jean has been a very active member of the Friends of Barkerville since that group was established in 1985. Jean’s second husband, the late Bill Speare was Provincial MLA for the Cariboo and spearheaded the centennial project to have Barkerville established as Barkerville Heritage Park by the provincial government in 1958.   Jean states that she was very pleased when this took place.

Jean is also an accomplished painter. Jean states that she doesn’t consider herself to be a “real painter”, but acknowledges that she has painted with different mediums including watercolour, pastel, and pen and ink. Jean has painted some local landscapes. She has joined her daughter, Heather Keis in two shows at the Quesnel Art Gallery, and modestly adds “Heather is the real painter.“ Jean’s late husband Bill Speare was also a well known and very accomplished local artist, Jean is no stranger to the world of art and of artists.

Jeffrey Dinsdale,

January, 2018

 

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Hiking and Paddling In The Bowron

INTRODUCTION

This essay takes a look at the history of trail development and hiking in Bowron Lake Provincial Park and specifically in that part of the Park that is referred to as the Backcountry, the Bowron Lake Canoe Chain or the Circuit.  Should more hiking options be encouraged inside this wilderness canoeing destination that for the sake of this discussion I will often refer to simply as ‘the Bowron’?

 

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SOME HISTORY

In August 1826 HBC fur trader William Connolly, returning from Astoria to Fort St. James with trade goods speaks with First Nations people on the Fraser River at the mouth of the Cottonwood River, just upstream from the site of present-day Quesnel,. These people confirmed that “the numerous body of Indians who usually inhabit [the Fraser River] had retreated from the banks of the river towards Bear [Bowron] Lake and the sources of Quesnel’s River….to both those places salmon ascends and they will I hope be able to provide the means of subsistence for the ensuring winter”.

 

HBC Governor George Simpson’s 1828 report on First Nations of this area makes reference to the Nazkotin people of the Dakelh (Carrier) First Nation that is today centred on Reserve lands at Nazko, west of Quesnel B.C. These are most likely the same people referred to by William Connolly in his 1826 journal report. Simpson’s report definitely places these people as at least seasonal residents of the Bowron Lake area (at this point in time, Bowron Lake was known as Bear Lake).

 

The primary mode of transportation for these First Nations people was on foot. While the Dakelh also used dugout Cottonwood canoes, it would seem reasonable that these people hiked to, from and into the Bowron over well established trails. There would be no reason to suggest that their ancestors had not been doing the same thing for centuries before them.

 

Hiking was a hallmark of the 1850’s Cariboo Gold Rush. Some called it prospecting, but whatever it was called it was done on foot. Reading reports in local newspapers of the mid and late 19th and early 20th centuries (the Barkerville Cariboo Sentinel and the Quesnel Cariboo Observer), is like reading stories about an unfolding road trip. In the relentless search for gold, the prospectors moved further and further afield from what seemed to be the motherlode at Williams Creek and Barkerville,

 

Reports were sent back of trails leading to new creeks that showed signs of gold. There were descriptions of huge lakes and of unknown rivers. Slowly a description of the lay of the land unfolded. This is how reports of the Bowron slowly made their way back to Barkerville, sparking more and more exploration, all of it on foot.

 

The earliest non-First Nations explorers inside the Bowron were actually the hunters, fishers and trappers. Among them were the Swamp Angel Neil Wilson and fellow trapper Kenneth McLeod, making their way down a creek that was to become known as Antler Creek, finding that it flowed into a large lake that was to become Bear Lake and later named Bowron Lake. Very close to the spot where Antler Creek enters Bowron Lake, a medium sized river, originally the Bear River and now the lower Bowron River, flows to the northwest, eventually joining the Fraser River. Another access into the Bowron involved travelling upstream on what was called the Swamp River (now the Cariboo River). Soon prospectors had hiked and paddled the full circuit of what we now call the Bowron Chain.

 

They didn’t limit their exploration to the Bowron itself. To the north and east they discovered a well established First Nations route following a river that was to become known as the Goat River, that took them to the foot of huge Mount Robson, to the headwaters of the Fraser River and to a pass that would lead them to the east (Tête Jaune Pass). Many people have hiked and ridden horseback over the Goat River Trail, a route that took them right into the heart of what is now known as Bowron Lake Provincial Park. In 1933, Cliff Kopas and his new bride Ruth celebrated their honeymoon by riding horseback from central Alberta to the Pacific ocean at Bella Coola, in part over the Goat River Trail and through what was to become Bowron Lake Provincial Park. Their journey is documented in Cliff’s book Packhorses to the Pacific. This route (in slightly modified form) is still actively used today and is promoted and maintained by the Fraser River Headwater Alliance which is based in Dunster B.C.

 

During the winter of 1924/25, Thomas McCabe, a University of California ornithologist/professor and a part time resident at Indianpoint Lake in the Bowron undertook a journey around the Bowron on snowshoes. Pulling a bicycle wheel that acted as an odometer, he completed the very first detailed map of the Bowron Chain.   This map shows that trappers and hunters had built cabins all around the Chain.  It also shows some of the trails that had been developed and were being traversed throughout the Bowron.
The map shows the Goat River Trail running through what is now Bowron Lake Provincial Park.   A substantial trail running from the location of the present-day Visitors’ Centre runs roughly along the first present day portage trail towards present day Kibbee Lake (at that point in time both present day Kibbee and Thompson Lakes were shown as being one lake called Beaver Lake). The trail branches in a northeasterly direction just before reaching present day Kibbee lake and circles around present-day Thompson Lake, past the Thompson brothers’ Pine Marten ‘ranch’. The trail continues east and crosses Indianpoint Creek just where this creek exits from Indianpoint Lake, This is the site of the McCabe’s (Thomas and his wife Elinor) luxurious two storey log home, complete with stone fireplace. There is unsubstantiated but recurring speculation that part of this route was a corduroy road and that it was possible to drive a Model T Ford from Bowron Lake to this point on the Bowron Chain. This trail then follows the northern shore of Indianpoint Lake, then the northern shore of the west arm of Isaac Lake to Wolverine Bay. Trapline cabins existed throughout this route, some connected by this trail network. At Wolverine Bay the trail turns north and after a steep climb soon enters Goat River country and the trail leading to the Fraser River, Mount Robson and the Tête Jaune Pass.

 

McCabe’s map also shows a reasonably well developed roadway following the Bowron River flowing out of Bowron Lake and heading north west towards the Fraser River. A number of early-day Bowron Lake residents chose to live along the Bowron River. To the west, the roadway on McCabe’s map connects with Barkerville (Wells had not yet been developed).

 

In the early decades of the 20th century, the area now known as Bowron Lake Provincial Park became well known as a big game hunter’s paradise. Several established big game hunters/outfitters with names like Kibbee, Wendle, Cochran, Thompson, deWitte Reed along with many others, guided wealthy (largely American) hunters, both by boat and on foot throughout this area where moose, bears, caribou and goats were plentiful. Each of these outfitters established remote camps with cabins as well as rugged trail networks throughout what is now the Bowron Chain.

 

It soon became evident that overhunting was a threat and several of the established residents, including environmentalists like the McCabes, government officials like B.C. Fish Commissioner J.P. Babcock and even the big game outfitters themselves joined forces and lobbied the government to establish the area located within the Bowron’s quadrangle of lakes as a wildlife preserve where there would be no hunting and trapping. This initiative was successful and in 1928 a 240 square mile wildlife preserve officially known as the Barkerville (not Bowron) Game Reserve was established.

 

Hunting and trapping still continued outside the quadrangle, (one of the established big game outfitters Wolverine Mountain Outfitters is still based at Kruger Lake). Until establishment of Bowron Lake Provincial Park in 1961, these outfitters continued to use and establish trails in the area outside the Game Reserve, trails that were used on foot and horseback. Once the Provincial Park was established, compensation was negotiated and paid to those with ‘assets’ and tenure that existed within the boundaries of the new Bowron Lake Provincial Park, and hunting and trapping within the Park was no longer permitted. When the boundaries of Bowron Lake Provincial Park were expanded in 2002 however, those with existing tenure within this expanded area were permitted to continue existing hunting, trapping and guiding operations within the expanded Park boundaries.

 

Wells was established as a major hard rock gold mining centre in the 1930’s. At its peak the population swelled to 5,000 individuals. This huge influx of people marked the start of what could be called the Bowron’s ‘Wells era’. The Bowron was still not a provincial park, the interior of the quadrangle was a Game Reserve. The well paid miners (an anomaly during the Great Depression) looked to the Bowron as a place for leisure and recreation, a paradise located right on their doorstep.

 

The establishment of the Wells Rod and Reel Club facilitated the construction of a number of cabins around the Chain. Several of these were built by log builder Harold Rask, a few of his cabins are still standing around the Bowron, including the present day shelter cabins at Lynx Creek and on the Upper Bowron River. In what was a precursor to the present-day network of portage trails on the Bowron, and to facilitate travel around the Bowron, the Rod and Reel Club placed motor boats for the use of club members, at both ends of access trails running between lakes.

 

In 1958, the Ministry of Forests encouraged the Wells miners to construct portage trails (utilizing wheeled ore carts travelling on wooden tracks) between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes and also between Skoi and Babcock Lakes. This was actually an upgrade of the original ‘railroad’ that had been built in the 1930’s by Forest Service officers Jim Kew and Sid Susag. Further, also in 1958, the government agreed that the Wells miners could dynamite a canal between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes which they felt would be useful to gain access in the event of a forest fire in the Game Reserve. It seems that the canal was actually a bit of a failure. While it did see some use, the loose sandy soil led to significant sloughing and eventually it was abandoned.

 

A retreat for the Wells miners and their families was Grizzly Lake, now known as Unna Lake, along with adjacent Rum Lake.   Here the miners built what they called ‘shake shelters’ consisting of a wooden framework made of locally harvested pine or spruce. These frameworks were then covered with cedar shakes cut from the huge cedar trees harvested from the north shore of nearby Sandy Lake. A good shake roof completed the construction.

 

One of the favourite pastimes for these Wells residents was hiking in the many mountains that surrounded the lakes located in the western part of the Bowron.   One of these Wells shake-shelter dwellers was Jean Speare, now in her 90’s and a resident of Quesnel. In her classic 1983 book Bowron Chain of Lakes , Jean describes the Chain leaving Lanezi Lake and heading west….”On the inside shore of the lake, just past the cliff where a man in passing painted his name and the date, a trail commences which takes one into the high alpine meadows below the peak of Kaza.” [Note: This now-fading inscription is actually carved into the rock and reads “Morris Ohio 1926 Reed” which this writer believes is the testament of an American hunter named Morris from Ohio who was being guided by Floyd deWitte Reed (who is turn was working for Frank Kibbee) in 1926, two years before the area was declared a Game Reserve. The inscription is on the inside of the Bowron quadrangle which in 1928 would place that area inside the Game Reserve and was located fairly close to the location of a small outpost cabin which appears as belonging to outfitter Frank Kibbee on McCabe’s 1925 map].

 

Another of these shake shelter people and the man responsible for naming Rum Lake (with its infamous Ram’s Pasture), was the late George Gilbert. In his very entertaining book Kicked by a Dead Moose, George describes many alpine hikes into the mountains located east of Isaac Lake. A particularly interesting hike follows the old access trail developed by McLeary Lake trapper Freddie Becker into the headwaters of the Cariboo River where he had a line cabin on his trapline.

 

The Bowron as we now know it began to take shape in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s.   This was a period of significant provincial park development in the province of British Columbia, largely driven by the demand for more recreational opportunities due to the construction of major roadways and the surge of interest in car camping and sight seeing. Ironically, and at essentially the same time (1961), the BC government liquidated 98% of the 2.4 million acre Hamber Provincial Park, turning this huge area over to logging and dam construction with the related creation of the huge Kinbasket reservoir. Many believe that the creation of Bowron Lake Provincial Park (only 1/10th the size of Hamber Park) was one way that the government hoped the population would overlook the significant loss of provincial parkland that was the result of the demise of virtually all of Hamber Provincial Park.

 

For a thirty year period during this time-frame, the Parks Branch maintained Youth Crews in various provincial parks. Former members of The Bowron Youth Crew recount building trails, posting trail signage and generally working on Park infrastructure and maintenance. One trail was specifically developed from the group campsite at Wolverine Bay to link with the Goat River trail that ran high above the Wolverine Bay campsite. This was the period of time when Parks were developed and maintained by Parks employees as opposed to contractors. Throughout many of B.C.’s provincial parks, bunk houses with staffed kitchens were established to allow Parks employees to actually reside on site. It is theorized that conflict between established adult Park employees and summer Youth Crew workers led to the abandonment of the Youth Crew program.

 

During the late 1960’s and early 70’s, permanent campsites with ‘amenities’ such as tent pads, bear caches, fire rings and outhouses were developed around the Bowron. These early campsites were somewhat rustic and have all since been significantly upgraded, along with the establishment of four dedicated cooking shelters. As this area became an established Provincial Park following 1961, those with private property interests within the established Park boundaries had these interests expropriated, compensation was negotiated and paid. Before the Bowron became a Provincial Park, a number of residential lots had been developed in the Park’s Forecountry, along the south, west and northern shoreline of Bowron Lake. In turn a number of summer cabins, year-round residences and three lodges had been built on these properties.  As B.C. Parks assumed full control, they destroyed the built infrastructure that was in place in the Backcountry that did not ‘fit’ with their planning for the Park. A number of the then existing trapping cabins were burned, most of them probably quite derelict, but some worth maintaining. Unfortunately the provenance of these structures has not been well documented.

 

This is also when the series of portage ‘routes’ that had been developed by the Wells Rod and Reel Club were upgraded, as well as the construction of a few hiking trails such as the (now overgrown) Wolverine Bay connector with the Goat River Trail mentioned above.

 

Today, outside of the established portage trails, the only developed hiking trails that are inside the Bowron consist of the well-defined trail from the south end of Unna Lake to a lookout overlooking Cariboo Falls on the Cariboo River. This trail was first established in the 1930’s by George Gilbert, and its popularity simply guaranteed that it would remain well defined and well used. The devastation of the 1980’s/90’s Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic has dictated that for safety reasons all of the dead pine trees in this area be cut down. As new growth is evident, this area is a late summer blueberry picker’s paradise. A second trail runs from the south shore of Sandy Lake uphill through the spectacular Interior Rainforest to small Hunter Lake, an excellent fishing lake. A third (and newer) interpretive trail called the Osprey Trail runs in the Foreshore area of the Park, from the registration office along the eastern shore of Bowron Lake to the mouth of Kibbee Creek.

 

It should not be overlooked however that the established portage trails are in fact also hiking trails. Paddlers recognize that portaging is an integral part of the paddling trip. Famous paddler Bill Mason reportedly once said that “anyone who says that they enjoy portaging is either crazy or a liar”. However portaging should be a positive part of the whole paddling experience. Breaking up the actual on-the-water paddling experience with on-the-portage trail hiking experiences offers the complete ‘package’. Many paddlers will purposely take two or more trips to complete a particular portage, just so they can enjoy the experience of the surrounding flora and fauna. On the Bowron this is particularly true as the route travels through four very distinct biogeoclimatic zones, including the world’s only inland rain forest or the Interior Cedar Hemlock Zone.

 

Planning for the Bowron since it became a Provincial Park would seem to have discouraged rather than consistently encouraged the development of back country hiking opportunities. This doesn’t seem to be a Parks-wide policy however. Many Provincial Parks in British Columbia are touted for their wonderful and challenging backcountry hiking trails and panoramic viewscapes, and hiking is encouraged; but despite it’s mountain grandeur, not in the Bowron. None of the hiking/climbing routes utilized by early day Bowron ‘mountaineers’ are promoted for use. The Wolverine Bay trail linking with the Goat River Trail is now overgrown and is not indicated on present-day maps.

 

The Trans Canada Trail (now known simply as The Great Trail), is very well known and was officially completed in 2017 with significant fanfare. What is not as well known is that in 1969 an idea to create a ‘footpath’ across Canada was born. The National Trail Association of Canada was created, (now known as Hike Canada). A country-wide initiative to develop a second cross Canada hiking trail, a project known as the National Hiking Trail/Sentière Nationale was initiated.

 

In 1998 Hike Canada approached the Federation of Mountain clubs of BC to search out a route across B.C. and by 2000, a rough route was proposed from Bella Coola across to the Rockies where it would link up with the trail in Banff National Park. This route consisted of several existing heritage trails including the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail (more commonly referred to as one of the Grease Trails), the 1868 Collins Overland Telegraph Trail (that ran from New Westminister through Quesnel before construction was halted near present day Kispiox following the successful laying of the Transatlantic Cable), the 1861 Gold Rush Pack Trail (running from Keithley Creek/Likely to Barkerville, really the ‘back door’ to Barkerville), and the Goat River Trail which originally ran in part through what is now Bowron Lake Provincial Park, linking Barkerville with Tête Jaune Pass.

 

Since 2000, a great deal of work has been done to develop and upgrade trails across the whole province of British Columbia. This work has been undertaken by various groups such as the Parks and Wilderness Society and the previously mentioned Fraser River Headwaters Alliance. In addition, local governments have endorsed the project, including Courtenay, Cumberland, Squamish, Quesnel, and Wells; and by the regional districts of Metro Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, and Cariboo; and by BC Parks through Cypress, Shannon Falls and Squamish Chief Provincial Parks. National Hiking Trail/Sentière Nationale trail markers were posted throughout these communities and areas.

 

About this time some of these National Hiking Trail/Sentière National trail markers appeared along Antler Creek, along the hiking trail running from the Park registration centre towards Kibbee Lake and branching off this trail turning northward just before the present day portage trail reaches Kibbee Lake and following the trail marked on McCabe’s 1925 map, past the site of the Thompson brothers’ Pine Marten ‘ranch’, turning east along the north shorelines of Thompson, Indianpoint and Isaac Lakes, eventually reaching the route of the trail that had been cleared from Wolverine Bay to connect with the Goat River Trail, essentially the route marked on McCabe’s 1925 map.

 

These trail markers appeared without any announcement, although this writer has since spoken with individuals who were aware of the fact that these trail makers were being erected. Similarly, they all disappeared without any public announcement; there would appear to be no question that the trail markers were removed by BC Parks, who had determined that they did not want the National Hiking Trail passing through Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

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PARK MANAGEMENT PLAN

Since the area which includes the Bowron became Bowron Lake Provincial Park in 1961, there have been some important developments and changes that have had a significant impact on the Bowron.   It will be helpful for this discussion to get a number of these points on the table. It will be particularly helpful to look at those routes/trails that would allow individuals to gain access to Bowron Lake Provincial Park in places other than established and “official” points of access.

 

These discussion points are listed below, but first it is of primary importance to acknowledge that following opportunities for public input, a very comprehensive Park Management Plan was adopted in 2002. The need to update this plan is now probably past due, however the existing Plan is comprehensive. This Plan actually refers to the three separate but certainly geographically connected parks, Bowron Lake Provincial Park, Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park and Cariboo River Provincial Park.

 

The following is extracted from the Official Park Management Plan, (with changed format.)  Note: Full information about the Management Plan is available on the very detailed Bowron Lake Provincial Park website http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/bowron_lk/

“1. Objectives

  • To manage the Bowron Lake canoe circuit as a safe, wilderness-oriented canoeing experience.
  • To provide a destination, 6 – 10 day canoeing opportunity for intermediate canoeists and kayakers.
  • To accommodate a 1 – 3 day canoeing opportunity for regional and local users.
  • To minimize the impact of visitors on the natural values and wildlife of the park.
  • To accommodate a minimal level of winter activities in the park.
  • To maintain a level of infrastructure on the canoe circuit consistent with a wilderness experience.
  1. Trail Development
  • Maintain the existing portage trails to the current standards.
  • Do not develop destination trails around the Bowron Lake canoe circuit or to the interior of the park.
  • The Wolverine/Goat River trail re-enters Bowron Lake Park north of Kibbee Lake near Thompson Lake. The old corduroy road may be upgraded to a passable trail. It is expected this trail will join the portage somewhere between the Registration Center and Kibbee Lake. Use of this trail will be managed very carefully to ensure no damage occurs to the sensitive ecosystems in the area. The trail will be closed if impacts are demonstrated.
  • Permit the development of short trails to specific unique natural or cultural features around the Circuit.
  1. The Recreation Concept for Bowron Lake Park is:
  • Focused on maintaining the wilderness nature of the canoe circuit.
  • Daily use numbers will remain at status quo or be reduced slightly in order to minimize impacts on wildlife, facilities and other users.
  • Facilities will be maintained and restored, with no new facilities constructed (with the exception of those related to safety and managing bear-human interactions).
  • Winter use of the circuit will be permitted, with the circuit cabins made available for winter users.
  • Small bypass trails may be marked which would enable areas of unsafe ice during the winter to be avoided.

4 . The actual use of the backcountry of Bowron will:

  • Change very little from status quo.
  • No new long trails would be constructed into the interior or periphery of the park, although
  • Short interpretive trails to specific features (e.g. waterfalls or heritage cabins) will be considered.
  • Bowron Lake itself would become more welcoming to local and regional users through the development of a small day use area, improved interpretation and signage, and the construction of one or more short interpretive trails.

5 . The Wolverine addition to Bowron will:

  • Provide the access through the park to the Robson Valley for a summer hiking and horse trail and a potential winter snowmobile trail (Goat River Trail).
  • No connections between this trail and the Bowron canoe circuit will be permitted.
  • This potential snowmobile corridor will be the only motorized recreation allowed in this park.”

POINTS FOR DISCUSSION

Point #1 The Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit was established and developed as a wilderness paddling destination, which it truly is. It is very important that the Bowron remains as such. Right from the outset it was clearly stated by BC Parks that the Bowron was a paddling destination for those with at least intermediate level paddling skills. In the early years after the establishment of the Park (1960’s) however, it was still possible for canoeists, at least on the West Side of the Chain, to use motors on their canoes. This is no longer the case, motors are only permissible on Bowron lake itself, the Bowron is now essentially a true wilderness paddling destination that is unique in the world.

 

Over the years some compromises have been made to make the Bowron more accessible to a larger number of paddlers. Probably the most important and basic development was the establishment of dedicated strategically located campsites connected by a series of portage ‘trails’ (both land and water).   This meant that the heavy use areas were contained or concentrated, thus protecting the Bowron from damage caused by haphazard camping. One of the most significant subsequent developments was the upgrading of the portage trails to enable the use of ‘wheels’ (canoe and kayak carts).

 

The establishment of four larger multi-campsite camping or staging areas (Wolverine Bay, South end of Isaac Lake, Turner Creek and Pat’s Point),

complete with cooking shelters and radio telephones was also an important strategic decision to afford those lesser experienced paddlers or those wanting a longer more leisurely paddling experience, an opportunity to rest and regroup.

 

The fact that nasty weather emergency shelter cabins have also been preserved and maintained around the Chain is also a good decision, these are well used in both summer and winter. Unfortunately the decision as to just which shelter cabins should be preserved has not been well thought through. Aging and deteriorating cabins (70+ years old) have been preserved while much newer potential shelter cabins (40 years old) have been cut up and burned, and questions about the provenance of these buildings remain.

 

Point #2  In the year 2000, the size of Bowron Lake Provincial Park was increased with the addition of land adjacent to Wolverine Bay on Isaac Lake, the huge Betty Wendle Creek valley that runs into Isaac Lake from the east and the addition of the area surrounding the headwaters of the Upper Cariboo River.

 

These extensions to Bowron Lake Provincial Park were also complemented by the creation of additional Provincial Parks that border on Bowron Lake Provincial Park, including Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park to the south which essentially ‘connects’ Bowron Lake Provincial Park with Wells Gray Provincial Park. Cariboo River Provincial Park to the south west, a Provincial Park running along the middle Cariboo River and serving as a winter moose preserve was also established.  The end result is that Bowron Lake Provincial Park is now part of a huge area of connected Class “A” Provincial Parks, offering significantly increased protection for the Chain from any threats of unauthorized incursion, and providing significant protected wildlife habitat.

 

Point #3 In the early and mid 1980’s, the forest on the northern and western borders of Bowron Lake Provincial Park experienced a major Spruce Budworm infestation. This led to the creation of what was then referred to as “the largest clearcut in B.C.”, others said that “the clearcut was visible from space”. Not only diseased trees were harvested, but also healthy ones, in order to create a ‘buffer zone’ around the infected area. Harvesting took place right up to the borders of the Park, leaving a significant network of logging roads and other forms of development along the western and northern Park boundaries. A clearcut was clearly visible from the Wolverine Bay campsite at the elbow of Isaac Lake.

 

These logging roads essentially offer unprecedented opportunities for access into the Park, particularly in the winter, when snowmobile travel over frozen, snow covered ground and marshland is relatively easy when compared with summer travel over wetlands and through bush. A similar situation exists on the southern boundary of Bowron Lake Provincial Park, again due to substantial logging, this time in the Cunningham Pass area. Clear cuts are visible from Pat’s Point on Spectacle Lakes, and one logging road makes it very possible to gain access to Hunter Lake which is connected by hiking trail with Sandy Lake.

The so-called ‘Bowron Clearcut” was only the beginning. Since the 1980’s, logging to the north and south of Bowron Lake Provincial Park has not abated and there are now a number of large clearcut areas. This logging is managed and planned, and silvaculture is an active and ongoing part of this plan.  However the ‘tree farms’ will not replace the old growth forests which have never been logged, and are home to lichens, plants and animals that could otherwise not exist.

One of the biggest concerns about the ongoing clearcutting is the negative impact on wildlife habitat. At the same time this makes the protected areas within the three Parks (Bowron, Cariboo Mountains and Cariboo River) that much more valuable.

 

Point #4 There has been pressure from snowmobilers to gain access via the Goat River Trail to Bowron Lake Provincial Park which would in turn give them access from the north east, to the Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park that lies south of Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

 

To date there has been strong resistance to allowing snowmobiles access to Bowron Lake Provincial Park. Signs at the Park entrance indicate that fines will be levied if snowmobilers are caught within Park boundaries. Just over the Cariboo mountains to the north east of Bowron Lake Provincial Park are the Robson Valley communities of Valemont (located on highway #5) and McBride located on highway #16, where snowmobiling is a winter economic ‘bread and butter’ activity. Numerous trails have been developed into those mountains from the east, but so far none that would offer snowmobile access to Bowron Lake Provincial Park, even the Goat River Trail route which would be very isolated, dangerous and avalanche prone during the winter.

 

(Note: Management Plans for the development of trails on the east and south sides of the Cariboo Mountains have been developed and they do consider the fact that access into Bowron Lake Provincial Park is not allowed). At the same time, when the Wolverine addition was made to Bowron Lake Provincial Park in 2000, existing rights-of-way were honoured. Parts of the existing Goat River Trail does pass through what is now Provincial Park land, even though the trailhead has been moved to Littlefield Creek Road, which is outside the Park boundary. Should snowmobiles somehow manage to use this Goat River Trail right-of-way for winter travel, the Park Management Plan makes it very clear that no access to the Bowron (canoe route) would be permitted.)

 

Point #5 There are significant hazards, risks and liabilities associated with hiking and other forms of ‘trail travel’, either non motorized or motorized.

 

Hiking, especially alone, can be hazardous, this is particularly true in mountainous terrain. Accidents happen, hikers become lost, this raises the whole issue of search, rescue and if necessary evacuation. Even at the present time there are occasions when paddlers on the Bowron must be ‘rescued’ and evacuated, but these occasions are actually quite rare. If a mishap occurs somewhere on the paddling circuit when the Park is officially open, there are provisions for emergency communication, with two way radios (not cel phones) strategically located around the Chain. Further, Park Staff and contractors patrol the lakes and portages, there are four ‘ranger cabins’ located around the Chain that may/may not be staffed. Were someone to become injured/stranded/lost in an area that was away from the actual canoeing circuit however, it would be very difficult to communicate the need for assistance in any kind of timely manner.

 

Point #6 The Bowron is officially ‘open’ from May 15th to September 30th. That means that during this period, the Park is being monitored by Provincial Park Rangers, contract maintenance staff are in place throughout the Park, the safety two way radios are being monitored and individuals and groups wishing to paddle the paddling circuit must register, book a time when they will depart, and pay a fee. There is a heavy demand during this May – September period, the numbers of paddlers allowed on the Chain each day is restricted in order to ensure that there are no bottlenecks on the Chain. It is assumed that most paddlers will complete their journey around the Chain in 5+ days however the scheduling allows for parties to take up to 10 days for the journey.

 

What would be the impact on scheduling the use of the Park if unauthorized access was not monitored/restricted? The wilderness canoeing experience would no-doubt be ruined.

 

Point #7 Everyone assumes that there will always be lots of wildlife to see during any trip around the Bowron. Generally this is the case, although Woodland Caribou numbers have fallen dramatically, and sightings are rare. Informal observation over the past few years would suggest that this is also true for moose numbers. It is well known that the decline in numbers of Woodland Caribou is due to habitat loss associated with increased logging, other resource extraction activities, and increased predation, which is also associated with increased habitat loss. Multiple studies confirm that Woodland Caribou are threatened throughout Alberta and British Columbia, indeed across all of Canada.

 

Anecdotal personal observation would also suggest that there have been changes in the numbers of birds that are resident in the Bowron, particularly the numbers of nesting Canada Geese.

Over the years the Bowron has supported a healthy grizzly bear population. The Upper Bowron River and the Cariboo River are salmon spawning rivers, providing significant feed for these bears in the fall during the spawning season. This food source prepares these bears for winter hibernation. British Columbia’s program for managing its province-wide grizzly bear population has not worked. It is loss of habitat that is the animal’s biggest threat.  It is logging, mining and oil and gas activity and an expansion of resource roads that increase opportunities for illegal hunting and human-bear conflicts. The very recent and very welcome provincial government decision to ban all grizzly bear hunting in the province, combined with the fact that resource extraction is not permitted within the boundaries of Class ‘A’ Provincial Parks will bode well for a continued healthy grizzly bear population in Bowron Lake Provincial Park (and Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park).

 

Point #7 There does seem to be an increase in the numbers of individuals/groups travelling around the Bowron when the Park is not closed to this activity but is not actually ‘officially’ open. Experienced paddlers are looking for ‘new experiences’ on the Bowron, and these come with different climatic/weather conditions. Shoulder season (April to early May and October,November) use of the Bowron is increasing. Climate change may be a factor and if so, the very definition of ‘shoulder season’ may change. Also, there are increasing (but still very small) numbers of individuals travelling in the Bowron during the winter months when the lakes are frozen. These folks tend to be very experienced and well-equipped outdoors people who have prepared careful plans for their trips.

 

Winter travel is on skis, snowshoes, using sled dogs (which of course are all tethered in harness, not running loose) and on foot. Some adventurers are even combining foot travel while pulling canoes loaded onto small sleds. Areas of the Bowron do remain ice free all winter. The name Swan Lake reflects the fact that Trumpeter Swans overwinter on that lake which remains open in the winter. The Cariboo River flows right through Sandy Lake, parts of which remain ice free all winter.

 

Winter travel on the Bowron is not easy, the conditions are always very fickle, one of the biggest concerns is overflow that plays havoc with skis and snowshoes, and also the presence of open water. On occasion, unusually deep snow is also an issue. While a small number of determined winter explorers do complete the whole circuit, it is much more common for adventurers to complete ‘out and back’ journeys, travelling either clockwise on the circuit starting at the Visitor’s Centre or counter-clockwise on the West Side. One of the advantages of this approach is that usually the out-going trail is still in place to make the return journey much easier. Hard core adventurers are even travelling in the winter across the interior of the Bowron. It is on all of these trips that the emergency shelter cabins really do prove their value.

 

Point #8   Bowron Lake Provincial Park is actually divided into both the Frontcountry, which consists of a 26 site serviced campground adjacent to the Park Visitors Centre as well as the Backcountry which comprises the overwhelming majority of the Park and is the area where the actual Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is located. In recent years, significant developments/improvements in the Frontcountry have been made, including upgrading the campground and the creation of the Osprey hiking trail out and back from the Visitor’s Centre/Frontcountry Campground along the northeast shore of Bowron Lake to the mouth of Kibbee Creek. Going back to the development of the current (2002) Park Management Plan, there has also been expressed interest in developing day hike trails starting from the Forecountry campground.

 

There is talk of the Park acquiring even more of the private land along the shoreline of Bowron Lake to facilitate the creation of a more complete car camping experience for families. Given the proximity to Barkerville, the combination of the Barkerville Heritage Park experience along with the Foreshore camping experience of Bowron Lake Provincial Park could prove be a major family attraction.

 

There are a number of private dwellings located on the north, west and southern shores of Bowron Lake. Three lodges located on Bowron Lake offer canoe rentals, retail sales, various forms of rental accommodation and even a Bowron Lake Historical Museum. Motor boats are permitted on Bowron Lake itself.

 

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 TO HIKE OR NOT TO HIKE

All of this background information finally gets us to a place where we must look at those factors that will have a bearing on whether or not (1) increased hiking opportunities within the boundaries of the Bowron are needed, are a good thing and whether or not they should be encouraged. It is also time to consider (2) whether or not restricting access to Bowron Lake Provincial Park is advisable. As I researched this essay, my understanding of the issue certainly improved and my personal position on this matter became very clear.

 

I have said that the Bowron is unique in the world. This uniqueness is due to its configuration, it’s accessibility, its cultural history, it’s geography, it’s four bioclimatic zones, it’s built infrastructure, the quality of the paddling experience and the existing hiking opportunities.

 

When discussing whether or not the development of hiking trails in the Bowron’s Backcountry could/should be a focus, it is paramount to consider if such a development would in any way undermine the primary goal which is to maintain the Bowron as a wilderness paddling destination. While several other Provincial Parks are touted for their hiking opportunities, the Bowron is promoted because of its paddling opportunities. Various media articles have touted the paddling merits of the Bowron. It is known as being one of the “top ten” paddling destinations in the world.

 

The Bowron offers a 116 kilometre circle route that allows paddlers to both start and finish their journey at exactly at the same place. A route that follows a series of 11 major lakes along with parts of three major rivers as well as smaller lakes, creeks and developed portage trails, all in the shape of a quadrangle make this possible. There is no need for a time consuming and often complicated shuttle. Paddling ‘circle routes’ are always popular, none are better than the Bowron.

 

Those of us who have experienced this incredible ‘place’ would heartily agree. You don’t paddle on the Bowron or around the Bowron but rather you paddle into the Bowron. The Bowron has a way of enveloping you. When paddling in the Bowron it is like being royalty in your own private preserve. The Bowron is unique for a host of reasons, one of these is the feeling of pristine isolation that is experienced in this special place. I believe that the ongoing goal for management of the Bowron must be to maintain the richness of this wilderness paddling experience.

 

(1) As for the development of additional hiking trails within Bowron Lake Provincial Park, there may be justification in developing at least one day hiking trail (Sugarloaf Mountain or Devils Club Mountain have been suggested) in the Forecountry area of the Park. The main portage trail running between the Registration Office and Kibbee Lake is also a very special out and back day hike. This could prove to be yet another attraction for those ‘car campers’ wishing to spend time in the Forecountry campground or at one of the commercial campsites located on Bowron Lake.

There should be no development/promotion of additional hiking/climbing routes in the Backcountry, specifically around the Canoe Circuit. The existing portage trail network is in itself an excellent hiking route. The decision to upgrade the portage trails to facilitate the use of wheeled carts has no-doubt enabled thousands of paddlers to complete a trip around the circuit, who would not have been able to do so without the use of wheeled carts. Even the most hard-core of grizzled canoe trippers would probably accept that this ‘concession’ does not detract from the wilderness aspect of the Bowron paddling experience. If they do object, there is nothing stopping them from simply carrying their canoe or kayak and all their gear over all of the portages.

 

The developed trails into Cariboo Falls and Hunter Lake are safe hiking routes that offer a positive hiking experience with very specific destinations. There may be room for the development and promotion of a small number of additional, safe, ‘out and back’ hiking trails that would offer access to cultural or geographic points of interest.   These would require a safe place to beach canoes or kayaks at the trailhead.   One possible short hiking trail is located at the ‘elbow’ of Isaac Lake on the inside of the Circuit. This trail has actually been signed in the past and runs a short distance into a picturesque tiered waterfall.

 

The former hiking trail connecting Wolverine Bay with the Goat River Trail should remain in a completely deactivated state.

 

(2) There should continue to be strict control over access into Bowron Lake Provincial Park. At this point there is only one formal access point, the Bowron Lake Road running from Wells/Barkerville and entering the Forecountry of the Park at the site of the main parking lot and Visitor’s Centre.

 

Park officials were wise to insist that the Goat River Trail does not pass through that part of the Park known as the Backcountry Canoe Circuit and that the Trailhead remain outside the Park on the Littlefield Creek Road. The reality is that this route, for anything other than travel on foot or horseback, would be a very difficult and costly one to develop and safely maintain. In the winter, all travel, either on foot or motorized would be extremely dangerous due to avalanche hazard. In the past this route has actually been touted as a possible direct all weather roadway between McBride B.C. and Bowron Lake/Wells/Barkerville, but there is very little support for this proposal. During the days of the ‘Bowron Clearcut’ a direct route in the form of a logging road (Bowron River Road) was developed between Wells/Barkerville/ Bowron Lake and Purden Lake on highway #16, but this route has since been deactivated by removing one of the major bridges on this roadway.

 

It was the right decision to ensure that The National Hiking Trail/ Sentière Nationale does not pass through the Park. There are other routes for this hiking trail that are outside the Park boundaries.

 

Winter snowmobile access to the Park must be restricted. Monitoring this will be difficult due to the very nature of snowmobile travel, the recent history of the creation of access points due to forestry operations on the Park boundaries, and the fact that winter supervision by Parks staff is minimal. The present system of posting ‘warning’ signs/notices regarding financial penalties for offenders seems anaemic, but it is difficult to know what other practical control measures could be put in place. Winter travel within the Park by well-prepared individuals using skis, snowshoes, sleds, dog teams and on foot should not be discouraged, but access should be restricted to the portage trail system entering the Park through the main access point at the Visitor’s Centre or for those choosing to traverse the West Side of the Circuit, gaining access at the boat launch area located between Becker’s Resort and Bowron Lake Lodge on Bowron Lake. In the winter, there is no guarantee that these access points will be ploughed.

 

Jeffrey Dinsdale

December 27, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bowron Umiak–Thanksgiving 2017

The children passed the time playing with small stuffed replicas of the animals that are part of their everyday world, cuddling one of the puppies, playing string games or just sleeping. When they became hungry, their mothers cut off a piece of caribou meat for them to chew on. The sled dogs curled up wherever there was room, and occasionally there would be growling sounds as old enemies eyed each other across the four foot width of the umiak.

Slowly the large watercraft was making its way along the shoreline., the fickle October weather, with alternating rain, sleet and snowfall along with biting winds was a clear signal that it was now the time to make this annual pilgrimage.   Signs of freezing and winter were evident, the dwindling hours of daylight were just one more indication that this journey was necessary.

The 30 foot long craft consisted of an ingenious framework made of driftwood and animal bone, all skilfully pegged together and covered by the hides of 8 square flipper seals, sewn together by the women who were now rowing this heavy vessel. The bedlam associated with this umiak crammed with children, sled dogs, heavy stone quilliqs, driftwood tent poles and caribou hides to cover tent frames…..all items that this small group of families would require to survive the pending winter, was palpable. However this annual move from the summer caribou hunting grounds to the winter sealing waters was also well organized. They were carrying only what was immediately necessary, the winter hunting and trapping tools consisting of the heavy komatik, dog harness and seal hunting and fur trapping gear would be right where they had stashed them when they made this journey in reverse last spring.The women worked hard rowing this heavy load. Occasionally, if the wind co-operated, it was possible to raise a sail. The men were paddling their kayaks, loaded with their personal hunting tools, looking very much like outriders as this little flotilla made its way towards their winter destination.

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Our umiak has a name….Wannabe. This 26 foot voyageur canoe was now heavily loaded, large drybags rose above the gunnels. It carried much of the necessary equipment and supplies to support a group of three families plus friends over an October long weekend, at what has become a gathering place for celebrating Thanksgiving.   Actually, we loaded up three canoes, the 26 ft. Wannabe, the 20ft. Mackenzie and a 17 foot tandem with 9 adults and 7 children, all of the camping gear, the Big Easy turkey cooker along with a 10 lb. propane bottle that actually weighed 26 pounds and of course the 16 lb. turkey.

Our Saturday destination was Pat’s Point, located right at the bridge of ‘the spectacles’ (Spectacle Lakes) on the West Side of the Bowron Chain. Our drive to the put-in on Bowron Lake on Saturday morning, started out in Quesnel with a grey sky, some drizzle and as we gained elevation, by the time we reached Troll Ski Resort it had become a heavy snowfall. We stopped to use the washrooms and the children took the opportunity to build a life-sized snowman.  I didn’t have my snow tires on the truck so using 4 wheel drive and keeping speed under 80 kph got us safely to Wells where the snow was letting up….there is a marked loss of elevation between Wells and Bowron and by the time we got to the put-in there was no trace of snow on the ground however the tops of the surrounding hills had an icing sugar coating that suggested snow had been falling overnight. The threatening sky strongly indicated that it would be a good idea to put on rain gear before hitting the water.

We put-in at about 12:00 noon. It did rain off and on. we stopped for a 1 hour lunch break at the Pavich cabin on the Bowron River and arrived at Pat’s Point about 5:00 p.m.  We were thrilled to meet up with more friends, four adults and one grandson who had also paddled out that morning, they must have passed by us while we were at the cabin. Our immediate task was to get tents up before darkness (and heavy rain) fell, then to set up house inside the Pat’s Point cooking shelter and to prepare supper.  As the weekend progressed, eventually the whole shelter was closed in with tarpaulins and we were quite cozy inside.  Sunday saw two more friends arrive…our group was complete, 15 adults and 8 children…a total of 23 eager campers.

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The umiak was slowly making its way to the winter sealing grounds. At the end of an exhausting day, the leader indicated that they go to shore and camp for the night. It had been a long and cold journey. Fortunately their caribou hide clothing kept them both warm and dry, but as it rained, these garments became heavier and less comfortable. The children too were wearing caribou hide clothing and seemed to be amazingly warm. There were two infants in this group, and throughout the day each slept soundly in a small pouch located at the back of their mother’s amauti. One was just a newborn and this child was kept warm and dry as its mother was able to move the child to her breast, without having to expose it to the cold wind and rain.

Setting up camp for the night was a priority, particularly as the days were becoming shorter and shorter. The driftwood poles were erected in a manner that provided a framework over which the caribou hides were quickly draped and then secured with large rocks around their outer edge, offering a dry place to keep warm and for sleeping. More dry caribou hides were placed on the cold ground and the quilliq was brought into the tent and skilfully lit to provide heat for warmth and to boil water for both cooking and making tea. There were small dwarf willow trees growing in the area, but the conditions were too wet to easily build a fire using these green twigs. The problem sled dogs were tied to rocks to prevent their looting and fighting. It was the dogs’ lucky day, there was food, each dog was thrown a fish and remnants of a caribou stomach and intestines. Once ready for the night, it was time for everyone to eat, pieces of raw fish and the last of the caribou along with lots of hot tea laced with sugar. These food staples had been traded from the Reveillon Frères trading post located four days travel from where they had spent the summer and where they had taken last winter’s catch of silver fox pelts.

As the parents were pre-occupied with all of the tasks associated with making camp, the children amused themselves. Some were playing with miniature versions of their parents’ everyday tools and utensils, toys their parents had made for them. With these they acted out hunting expeditions in imitation of their parents. It was wonderful to see these children so happy and content.

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Sunday proved to be a pleasant day, we had a fair bit of sunshine although it was down vest and maybe even down jacket weather. The children played and laughed, there were scavenger hunts and treasure hunts and lots of exploring. The parents had wisely packed both cold weather and wet weather clothing so the children were quite comfortable. These outfits were very important to ensure that the children enjoyed themselves. Toaster Suits and Newtsuits, essentially winter snowsuits as well as child-sized waterproof versions of adult coveralls. Some of the children had cold hands and wore mittens however most of them seemed to be quite comfortable with bare hands.  During the day the adults enjoyed visiting and ‘catching up’, collecting and splitting firewood, watching and playing with the children, resting, sharing stories about past trips on the Bowron and of course getting ready for supper which was to be served at 5:00 p.m. precisely.

It was a wonderful turkey dinner, hauling out the Big Easy was definitely worthwhile.  We started with apples at 4:00 p.m., about 6 different kinds; then we moved on to the roast turkey, complete with stuffing and gravy, mashed potatoes and three other vegetables, cranberry sauce made from wild cranberries and at least 5 different deserts which included pumpkin cheesecake, carrot cake, muffins and of course more than one pumpkin pie, all served with whipped cream.  We set up the cooking shelter with the tables in a semi-circle, there were table cloths and centre pieces…it was very special and everyone, children and adults, enjoyed the feast.

We knew that another 8 adults were on their way to also spend the night at Pat’s Point…this was a group of very fit friends who annually try to paddle the Chain faster than they did the year before, although they admit that they might be slowing down just a bit. When they arrived, they were on schedule to complete the circuit in 3 days and as coincidence would have it, they pulled in exactly when the meal was ready. While not actually part of our party, we were friends with several members of this group. They were wet from the rain, talked about some adventures on the Cariboo River and were anxious to get settled for the night.  It was getting dark and they went to set up their tents and to make their own supper.  Visiting took place later in the evening around a campfire ring outside the cooking shelter and underneath a giant tarpaulin that reflected the heat from the fire ring back on to those gathered underneath it. In the darkness, it was impossible to know that it was a cold and rainy October night.

Ours was a fabulous meal and everyone was truly thankful, not just for this great dinner, but for the opportunity of sharing this experience together in this very special place.  We were especially thrilled to see just how much the children were enjoying themselves…there was no crying, no whining, just lots of running and chasing and laughing.

Just after 8:00 p.m., the rain started in earnest…and it continued hard all night…but we all remained quite dry.  I was impressed with just what experienced campers and very good paddlers the members of our group proved to be….everyone was well prepared.  A young woman from the Netherlands is living with one of the families and working  as an au pair….she is very eager to do all things ‘Canadian’ and was thrilled to be part of our camping trip. Her host family saw to it that she had the right clothing and gear and while she had never done anything quite like this before, she survived the cool nights and the snow and rain with a smile on her face…she was obviously loving it.  She wanted to experience everything from splitting firewood with the axe, tending the fires and setting up her own tent (with a little help) She interacted closely with all of the children, who all obviously felt very comfortable with her.  There were four little girls as part of the entourage and before too long, she was brushing and braiding their hair, I believe that both she and the children loved the experience.

Monday morning the 8 ‘racers’ joined us in the shelter for breakfast, it was a time to visit, but by 8:00 a.m. they were off.  Some of our group left about 9:30 a.m., the rest of us finally got under way around 11:00 a.m…..it rained most of the day.

Our outbound trip was both relaxing and challenging. The first ‘leg’ of the trip took us to the campsite at Birch Bay (the Birches) where we stopped for 1.5 hours.  We didn’t want this trip to end, and for some members of this group, this is a particularly special place. About 10 years ago a family group along with friends made a trip to the Birches to plant a very special tree in memory of a much loved infant who very sadly died just three weeks after birth. Each time we stop here we visit the tree, it is a dwarf birch that will never grow to be very large but which will continue to flourish. We were thrilled to see it thriving! In the midst of the golden backdrop of autumn birch leaves, this tree had not yet lost any of its dark green foliage. Over the years we have come to learn that ‘the Bowron’ holds many special memories for families and that there are memorials of different types in place around the whole circuit.

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The journey to the sealing grounds took five days, the heavily loaded umiak was slow but dependable. Everyone rejoiced when the hill upon which the rock cairn that held winter supplies and upon which the komatik was placed came into view. This was going to be home for the winter, and soon a small community would develop.  The umiak would be placed upside down on some rocks and would serve as a shelter for valued possessions. Already there had been some snowfall, but not yet enough for building a warm igloo, the caribou hide tents would be home for a few more weeks. This area was very close to a polynya, an area of water that stays open throughout the arctic winter. The polynya is very attractive to arctic sea mammals which in turn attracts polar bears, making winter hunting that much easier. The Inuit are a hunter gathering people, such a lifestyle necessitates that they are nomads, but for the next 6 months this place will be home.

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The paddle homeward on the Upper Bowron river is always fun. The downstream current is a welcome helpmate, and we made good time. It is a challenge for paddlers to try and navigate the twists and turns in this river just by leaning at the corners….easier said than done. When we reached Bowron Lake it became quite evident that the high river banks had been shielding us from the all-too-common east wind that blows down the lake. At least it was at our back, but it was also creating some pretty big waves. We were in the tandem canoe and speeded up to join the big voyageur that looked very much like a cross between a container ship and a dormitory as it cut through the swells. I asked if there was any interest in trying to put up a sail (which I had with me) and was greeted by some parents placing their fingers up to their lips. The reason soon became obvious, of the five children in the Wannabe, all of them were sound asleep. The two year old was sleeping on his mother’s knee, and still she didn’t miss a paddle stroke, not unlike her sisters rowing the loaded umiak.

We didn’t hoist a sail but rather made our way towards the right hand (northern) shore, cutting diagonally across the swells with the wind blowing over our left shoulders. We kept fairly close together, it was exciting, everyone knew just what their job was. Soon we were close enough to shore that the wind was no longer an issue, we rafted up to talk and then the wind seemed to disappear, offering an opportunity to cross the lake and make straight for the take-out.   We were back to our vehicles  by about 4:00 p.m. and were home in Quesnel just before 6:00 p.m.  As luck would have it, we drove home just ahead of another (really big) snowfall and for us the roads remained dry.

Bro’s on Bowron 2016

BRO’S ON BOWRON 2016

Twenty one consecutive years and always on this same May holiday weekend, Queen Victoria’s birthday. That’s how long and when members of our group have been paddling around the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit together. Oh there have been a couple of years that we didn’t make it all the way around, always getting stopped by the still-frozen Isaac Lake, but those years we managed to have a great time on the parts of the Chain that we could paddle.

We did some figuring and over those 21 years there have been just under 90 different men (and one woman) who have been part of this group. This year we even gave ourselves a name: Bro’s On Bowron. We wanted to celebrate not just the Bowron, but also our accomplishment … after all, 21 years is something to celebrate (actually we thought we were celebrating 20 years but then one of the smarter group members did the math and it was 21 years: 1996 – 2016).

The core members of the group are, or used to be, from Central BC – the Quesnel area. Fellows have come from all over Canada though to be part of this annual ritual, and not just Canada, but Europe, Africa and Australia too. Fathers and sons, brothers, high school buddies, guys from work, mill workers, forest- ers, doctors, retailers, students, engineers, paramedics, counsellors, teachers, retirees, administrators, carpenters, log builders, cowboys, ranchers, electricians and a few dead beats. Since things have started, three members of this group have passed away.

It used to take us under 4 days to complete the Circuit; now it takes the better part of 5. In the ‘old’ days we would hit Wolverine Bay on the first night, the end
of Isaac on night #2, Pat’s Point at the end of day #3 and we’d be on the road home by 2:00 pm on day 4 … but as I said, that was in the ‘old’ days. Now we take it a little slower, it just might have something to do with our age. This year the ages of the group members ranged from 30 to 79. But age really is meaningless on this trip, everyone helps each other, the portages are communal affairs, and on the water everyone looks out for each other. The closeness that is part of this group is one of the things that makes this trip so spe- cial. But that’s not to say that those who are just a bit older don’t feel more than just a bit of personal pride knowing that they can still cut it. And then of course there is the great equalizer: Vitamin I. Every evening and in the morning the call goes out from the pushers in the group, “does anyone need any Ibuprophen?”

Our destination for the first night was a string of three separate, yet loosely connected campsites located at Kruger Bay on Indianpoint Lake. One of the advan- tages of paddling this early in the season is that there are relatively few people/groups out on the Chain. This means that there just isn’t the same type of competition for campsites that exists during the ‘high’ season. We essentially have the reassurance that we are able to camp pretty much where we want.

As trips around the Chain go, we had a pretty pain- less start. For the first time in 21 years, we were not required to watch the orientation video. Could it be that most of us have it memorized? There were two other small groups starting with us, but it wasn’t long before we were all strung out along the first portage trail leading to Kibbee Lake, the spot where the boats meet the water for the first time and the site of a true comedy of errors … if only Kibbee Lake could talk, but I’ll have to share what happened.

One of the other groups consisting of three jovial young fellows using a rented canoe and kayak, confid- ed that they hadn’t paddled a canoe or kayak before.  This was to be their baptism, and indeed it was. When the kayaker recovered after he overturned on his first attempt to get into the kayak, one of our group offered to give him a quick lesson on just how it was done; he gladly accepted. The other two fellows in the canoe were carving a zig-zag route across little Kibbee Lake, often paddling on the same side of the canoe, with both paddlers changing sides almost with every stroke. The Park brochure says the Bowron is a wilderness paddling destination “for the intermediate and experienced level paddler”. A friend once told me that he could tell if two paddlers were in love, just by the way they paddled together. These two were not in love and they were in for a long, long trip. We saw them paddling past several hours later after we had established our first night’s camp. The next morning we had a chat and they reassured us that “we have worked out our problems.” We didn’t see them again.

Isaac Lake is actually a height of land or divide on the Chain. This means that the first three portages are up- hill, and this is also the part of the trip where loads are the heaviest. The famous paddler Bill Mason report- edly said that “anyone who says they enjoy portages is either crazy or a liar”. After this year’s trip I am pre- pared to stand up and officially state that I don’t enjoy portages. This year it was a grunt, despite the fact that my partner and I really did try to lighten our load and we used wheels with our very lightweight canoe.

That first night’s campsite, like all the others to follow, was great! There were 15 of us, paddling in 8 boats and sleeping in 10 tents. When the camp was set up
it looked, and was, fabulous. A large tarp was set up over a fire ring, we used chairs, PFD’s, seat pads and tree stumps to make ourselves comfortable. The tarp was a precaution in the event of rain, and it had the added advantage of reflecting heat from the campfire back down on to the group … we were very comfort- able. We were in bed by 9:30 pm, up by 5:30 and on the water as early as 7:30, but always by 8:30. This was a group of experienced canoe trippers, but even with all of our experience, we were able to learn from one another on this trip.

Why do we do this trip every year, always feeling at the end that we can’t wait to do it again? There are, of course, very personal reasons that are unique to each individual. But there are also shared reasons.

For virtually everyone there is the love of Wilderness Canoe Tripping in an incredible setting that is unique in the world. What’s not to like about this place! This is paddler’s heaven with snowcapped mountains and glaciers, lakes and rivers, waterfalls and streams, some are crystal clear while others are laden with glacial silt that scrubs the bottom of your canoe. Four different biogeoclimatic zones unfold before your eyes as you silently glide from one to the next and all of this with an infrastructure of campsites and portage trails, bear caches, tent pads, fire rings and outhouses, emergency shelter cabins and cooking shelters that both protect the environment and make the camping experience safe and attainable.

We are one with the wildlife that is all around us. Over the 21 years we have come to look for the same birds in the same places. This year the Harlequin ducks weren’t in the swift moving water on the Isaac River at the Chute. We all wondered why; they are always there. We only saw two moose this year, but then again this is when the cows are calving and they like to do that in secret. There was one bear eating on an early- greening avalanche chute on one of the mountains on Isaac Lake. Over the 21 years there seem to be fewer and fewer geese, but they were nesting as we went through this year and they only took flight when we got too close to their nests. We have come to appreci- ate that the water levels play a big part in determining the successes for the nesting waterfowl. If the ducks and geese build their nests and lay their eggs while the water is still rising, there is a chance that they will get flooded out and the chicks won’t hatch.

This year there was a very early spring, we saw rela- tively little snow on the mountains, the avalanche chutes were completely devoid of any ice or snow, it seemed that the water levels may have already peaked. We didn’t see the migrating ducks that in the past have been ‘rafting’ in large numbers on the bigger lakes, but then again this year the season was so advanced that it is possible that they had already passed through. There were the solitary pairs of loons on each lake, we saw resident mallards, buffleheads, mergansers and grebes, osprey and eagles. The song birds, particularly the warblers, were everywhere. There were very few swallows and we understand that this is one species where throughout the country, numbers have dropped precipitously.

There is something special about being part of this group of men. Many are year-round friends, living in the same community, but as others join the group for this paddle, a connection soon develops. Maybe it’s all about the fact that men tend to be task oriented and they look at canoeing the Chain as being a proj- ect. The fact is that the group very quickly gels: some of the best times are rafting up all of the canoes and kayaks in the middle of the lake and just laying back, talking and eating someone else’s Costco-sized cashew and almond trail mix as well as their chocolate covered jujubes.

This trip we had a campfire every night and we spent a couple of hours after the supper dishes were done, just sitting together and talking. Sure, we relate in a ‘guy’ kind of way with the expected put-downs and jibes that you come to expect from men who were socialized by their fathers, but it’s not malicious or hurtful and certainly not personal. There is a genuine feeling of caring about and for each other. There is lots of fun, constant laughter. Sexist talk simply isn’t part of the dialogue. There is the feeling that the oth- ers have got your back, that they will keep you safe and if needed, will have answers if there’s a problem.

Everyone likes this place, we want to keep it special. We have become somewhat protective; stewardship has become important to us. There is lots of talk about the history associated with the Bowron. The group shares a surprising amount of knowledge about the special places, the various cabins, the pioneers who played a role in the evolution of this place. We talk and speculate about just what it was like for First Na- tions people to be in this place during the fall Sockeye salmon run and just how and where they stored the fish that would keep them alive throughout the win- ter, about where and just how they lived. The names associated with many of the lakes and landmarks … Kibbee, Isaac, Babcock, McLeary (or is it McLary), Turner, Thompson, Wendle, Pavich, Reed, Cochrane, McCabe, all trigger conversation.

Our second night we camped just past Betty Wendle Creek which is a bit south of Lynx Creek on Isaac Lake. We found an old kettle half buried in a mossy patch of ground; it looked like something from the 1940’s or 50’s. Of course we speculated about its origins and its age, we set it up on display on top of the bear cache. Someone remembered a passage from George Gilbert’s book Kicked by a Dead Moose where George talks about building his own personal cabin at a spot south of Betty Wendle Creek at a place that he called Silvertip Point. Was this that place? The cabin was burned to the ground by the Park officials when Bowron was made a Provincial Park in the 1960’s. Actually, George hired a log builder named Erik Rask to do the bulk of the work on his cabin. Erik built a number of cabins on the Chain for the Wells Rod and Reel club. The Lynx Creek cabin is Erik’s work and so is the cabin on the Bowron River.

The Bowron is so peaceful and relaxing. You can paddle for long stretches without even wanting to talk to your paddling partner, you are so absorbed by the shoreline, the reflections on the water and by the hyp- notic rhythmic movement and sounds associated with a simple stroke of the paddle. You feel like you are be- ing absorbed by the Bowron, especially as you become surrounded by the breathtaking mountains that line Isaac and Lanezi lakes. I like to think that I am going into the Bowron rather than simply going around the Bowron Chain.

At the same time it can be exciting and challenging. As we leave the Cariboo River and enter Lanezi Lake, a strong headwind hits us in the face. We should have expected it, this is not uncommon as afternoon unfolds. We’re heading for Turner Creek, we have to keep the bow of the boat at just the right angle to the very large waves and rogue rollers that the wind is whipping up, we keep fairly close together for safety reasons and as close to the shoreline as the angle we need to paddle will allow. Muscles start aching, even screaming, it’s hard to find a comfortable way to sit. But boy is this fun! Not only just fun, this is the adrenalin adventure that we have thought about for the many months throughout the year when we can’t paddle. Yes, it is a personal test that reaffirms that reassuring feeling of self reliance.

So rock me momma like a wagon wheel

Rock me momma any way you feel …

Rock me momma like the wind and the rain

Rock me momma like a south bound train

Hey momma rock me

Why have I just written the chorus of the song Wagon Wheel, made famous by the group Old Crow Medicine Show? The reality is, since this trip ended, I haven’t been able to get that tune out of my head.

On our third night, we camped at Turner Creek where there is a closed-in shelter. We had been meeting up with two young couples as we leap-frogged our way around the Chain. They had actually started their trip a day after us and were making very good time. When we arrived and ruined the neighbourhood, they chose to camp across the creek and we were alone and had the shelter as a home base. That night, after supper was over with, one of our group brought out his gui- tar, something that he had been treating like crystal as he made his way over the very rough Isaac River por- tages. We enjoyed the concert, it was something special and for us, unique. It was also at this time that I first heard the song Wagon Wheel. It’s a song about a fellow who is hitch-hiking his way from the cold weather of New England down the Atlantic Seaboard; his destina- tion is Raleigh North Carolina where he hopes to “see (his) baby tonight” and to take his place playing banjo in an old time string band. Just like the momma waves we had just paddled on Lanezi, there was something carefree about the melody and words. It struck me that this is yet another reason why we have made this trip on this weekend for the past twenty-one years. It’s a freeing break, not from reality but from routine … paddling can do that for you.

My consistent experience with Lanezi Lake has been that paddling west in the early morning, the aquama- rine silt laden water is like glass, and this year was no exception. Lanezi Lake used to be called Long Lake; it is indeed long and narrow with glacier topped moun- tains on both sides. The west end of the lake is guard- ed by Mount Ishpa and Mount Kaza, the two highest peaks on the Chain.

Three years ago our group experienced what could easily have been its first tragedy, right on this lake. To- day as we paddled past the spot in question, everyone’s mind was no-doubt on that experience. It was May of 2014, one of those years when Isaac Lake didn’t thaw until early June. We were aware of this and so our group decided to paddle out on the Chain’s West Side and set up camp at Sandy Lake. On the third day we decided to break into small groups, each group was going to pursue its own adventure. One group de- cided to look for the cedar forests that we knew wer on the northern shore at the N.E. end of Sandy Lake. A second group was going to circumnavigate Sandy Lake and then take the short hike on the trail from Sandy Lake’s southern shore into Hunter Lake. A third group decided that they would paddle eastward into Lanezi Lake, with Turner Creek as a destination. One member of this group was visiting from Ontario and his friends wanted him to see as much of the Chain as possible.

As this third group entered Lanezi Lake they hugged the steep, rocky, northern shore. It was a year when the avalanche chutes that ran down the steep moun- tainsides did have ice and snow in them and they paddled in close in order to get some good photos. They stopped to take the photo in front of one of these chutes just as they heard a sound as a huge piece of ice broke away and crashed into the lake in front of them. One of the canoes was sitting bow first, at right angles to the resulting wave, the other, the one with the photographer was sitting broadside. There was an initial wave of water, the canoe facing right into
the wave handled it well, the canoe that was sitting broadside began to rock and was at risk of capsizing. Then the huge piece of ice surfaced and there was a second tsunami-like wave which completely scuttled the broadside canoe, both men were in the freezing water, the canoe was full of water, there was gear everywhere. The second canoe remained upright, even when the second wave hit. Very quickly the paddlers in this second canoe swung into action and initiated and directed a canoe-over-canoe rescue of the capsized boat and paddlers. Once the men were safely back into their boat they made a beeline for a nearby campsite, one of only 4 on the whole lake. Very quickly a fire was blazing, hypothermia was avoided, dry clothing was found and these men eventually made it back to our campsite at Sandy Lake looking shaken and with a frightening story to share. This was one of those situa- tions where the men in this group really did have each others’ backs. The emotional support that was offered and accepted was very, very real.

Our destination for night #4 was Pat’s Point on Spec- tacle Lakes. (By the way, if you are interested in Bowron trivia, there is only one Spectacle Lake but it has always been pluralized and spelled with an ‘s’ on the end of Lake(s). Why is this?) It was en route to Pat’s Point that we experienced the only rain of our trip, about four hours of pretty steady drizzle. We arrived to find other parties at the main campground. This time it was our group that left the shelter for the two young couples who had obliged us at Turner Creek the night before and we paddled down to the group campsite at the end of the bay. Did I say group campsite? I meant to write GREAT group campsite! This was the best camp yet, it was like it was custom-made for us. Lots of room for our 10 tents, the tarp went up over the fire ring, we found some dry firewood and we were ex- cited, tonight was special … it was appy night.

Picture a group of unshaven, unwashed men bathed in 4 days worth of campfire smoke getting ready to have a party. We had initially wanted to have some kind of pot luck supper on our last night, someone suggested a Mexican theme. But there wasn’t consensus on this idea and the end result was we agreed that everyone would bring an appetizer to share with the group before we each prepared supper. I didn’t say anything at the time, but pictured an array of things like moose sausage and boxes of Tim Bits … how wrong I was. First a 17 foot canoe with a relatively flat bottom was overturned, brushed off and stabilized to form a table. Almost immediately the whole surface was covered with appetizers … some of them were even hot ap- petizers. This group of men had outdone themselves; they did take this seriously. There was sausage served with hot garlic sauce, corned moosemeat, ‘paddlers’ nachos’ with pringles potato chips replacing the usual corn chips, hot grilled halloumi cheese, gouda cheese with cranberries, salami with pickled asparagus, tradi- tional nachos with salsa, two types of smoked salmon, one with pepper jelly, crackers and guacamole, even a made-from-a mix cheesecake with a chocolate sauce.

Needless to say, after eating these appetizers there really wasn’t any room left for supper, but there was time for music and once again we gathered around the fire ring under the tarp, just to listen to music and to enjoy the last night of our trip. But we also had visitors.

It turns out that ours isn’t the only group that has journeyed out to the Bowron Chain on the May  long weekend. A group of women from Wells have also had a tradition of travelling out to Pat’s Point to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday, but their efforts had languished over the past few years. Four women had planned to paddle out together this year, unfortunately two of the group had last minute commitments elsewhere, however the remaining two ladies made the trip. These women are friends of many of our group members and when they heard that we were camped just down the beach, they came to visit. Talk about two roses amongst a bunch of thorns – they arrived wearing clean clothes with well scrubbed faces, each carrying a wine glass, filled with red wine. They also arrived bearing at least half of an incredible choco- late cheesecake which was very quickly devoured by members of our group who ate with their fingers and wiped their mouths with their shirt sleeves.

Next morning we were on the water by 7:30 am; it was pristine. It’s about a four hour trip to the take-out at the Park dock, the paddling was great. The journey down Spectacle Lakes and then Swan Lake, which empties into the meandering upper Bowron River seems to be somewhat ‘sheltered’, is always relaxing, and is often the part of the trip where canoes paddle close together to facilitate a running conversation. (Once we get out of the Bowron Marsh however, if there is a headwind on Bowron Lake, that’s another story.) This is a great place to see wildlife and we weren’t disappointed. We stopped at the campsite we call The Birches, where there is a special memorial tree that looks out over all of the passing canoes and kayaks, the tree is located in the exact spot where two moose had been standing as we approached. The near-empty bag of Costco trail mix was passed around one last time, in another two hours we would be on our way home.

This journey is not quite over. If all goes well, look for the film/movie/video/ working title Bro’s On Bowron which hopefully will be in some kind of finished state by the late Spring of 2017.

 

Darius Rucker sings Wagon Wheel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvKyBcCDOB4

 

THANKSGIVING 2015

THE OCCASION

Thanksgiving weekend, October 10 – 12, 2015. No doubt everyone had their own personal reasons for wanting to be in this place at this time, it was after all, a time to give thanks. Reflecting upon the past 12 months gave this writer reasons to be especially grateful…..but the official reason for this gathering was to share a turkey dinner on Sunday October 11th at 5:00 p.m. precisely.

THE GROUP

We were an interesting mix, both friends and strangers, it was a shared interest in wilderness paddling that brought us together.   Two kayakers, one solo canoeist and eight paddlers in tandem canoes. All but one of us had been to this place before, some many times, and at all times of the year. The chatter never stopped, talk of past trips both here and elsewhere, comments about gear, observations about the weather. There was no politics, no gossip, lots of good natured joking and laughter….it was all refreshingly positive.

A shared outdoors adventure like this one both deepens established relationships  and initiates new friendships.   Working together on shared tasks towards a common goal contributes to this process. Dealing with the unexpected, looking out for one another, helping in any way possible very quickly turned this “interesting mix” of adults into a true group.

THE TRIP

We didn’t all travel to this spot together.

Some had left on Saturday, thinking that it would be an idyllic 4 -5 hour paddle, put- in at 10:00 a.m., arrive by 3:00 p.m., set up camp, have supper, visit around the wood heater and then hit the hay. But mother nature does have a way of changing things, in this case it was in the form of a formidable and relentless headwind. The 4 – 5 hour paddle only got these two tandem canoes about 2/3 of the way to their destination. Fortunately there are lots of beautiful camping spots and there was lots of time until Sunday at 5:00 p.m. precisely, so these four paddlers set up camp right where they were, had a great supper, lit a fire in the fire pit and then made a beeline for their tents at about 8:00 p.m. when the skies opened and the rains came down in a big way, for much of the night.

One kayaker was on his 19th trip to this spot, he was paddling solo and taking the long way. This fellow was a very experienced paddler, he had stories to share about his experiences on rivers that most of us had only dreamed or read about. At the start of this adventure he was friends with only one other member of this group; by the end he had kindled 9 new friendships. He put-in on the Wednesday and had a good trip, arriving on the Saturday, he had met no-one else en route. He commented that the water was high, that there was a strong current in the river. We all felt he deserved a medal for he had committed some of his precious cargo space to two bottles of wine and a can of cranberry sauce as his contribution for the meal.

One couple in a tandem canoe and another solo kayaker left at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, taking the short 4-5 hour route to the take-out. It was a glorious autumn day. It was definitely warm fleece and nylon windbreaker weather, but there was sunshine and it even occasionally offered just a little warmth. This group made good time, despite the remnants of the previous day’s headwinds…..it really wasn’t bad at all….in fact in was fantastic! They arrived at the final destination about an hour after the folks who had camped out on the Saturday night. As they approached the take-out, from a distance it looked like there were a string of Buddhist prayer flags blowing in the breeze but as this group drew closer, it was clear that it was a colourful mix of flys, tents, and groundsheets, hanging from clotheslines and drying in the substantial wind.

Another fellow had also taken the long route, he had no schedule apart from the fact that his goal was to get to this place by Sunday at 5:00 p.m. precisely for Thanksgiving turkey. He had meandered, occasionally even retracing some of the route he had just paddled, but then paddling on the opposite side of the lake, just to see something different. He had done this trip several times before. It was his way of unwinding after a very busy summer tourist season working as a street actor at Barkerville. He had arrived on Saturday night.

The final couple also put-in on Sunday morning, but from a different spot than the other Sunday paddlers. They also experienced the glorious Sunday fall weather and when they rounded the point leading to the campsite about 3:00 p.m., our group was complete.

THE SEASON

The season seemed to be advanced, more so than past trips taken at this same time of year. The leaves were totally gone from the birch and other deciduous trees. In the past the birch especially provided a glorious golden backdrop for the green coniferous trees. We saw no moose…..none. In the past we took moose sightings for granted. On some trips it was obvious that we had arrived during the rutting season, but this was not the case this year. We saw the last of the Canada Geese getting ready to head south along with a few lingering ducks. The song birds had certainly left although some raptors were sailing in the wind currents overhead. Those who took the long route said that they had seen otters. The weather was above freezing and there was no snow.

We all agreed that “everything has been early this year.” This indeed did seem to be the case. A group had paddled out to this spot in April, the ice was completely gone from the lakes, there was no snow remaining on the ground, not even in the shady areas, this was very unusual. In April the migrating birds already seemed to have passed through on their journey northward. No-one had ever before travelled out to this spot on the water in April and even then it was agreed that “everything has been early this year.”

THE MEAL

Turkey with all the trimmings, it rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?   This was a fantastic meal by almost any standard. As a wilderness-heated-and-cooked-on-the-wood- heater-meal, it was off the scale. Even as a big city fancy restaurant meal it would have rated right up there. It was a fabulous group effort.

On Sunday October 11th at almost 5:00 p.m. precisely we began the feast.

The appetizers were a nicely flavoured Swedish meatball….there were lots of them, it would have been possible to fill up completely on the appetizers alone. Those responsible for the appetizers acted as gracious hosts and hostesses, circulating throughout the cook shelter to ensure that everyone was getting their share. There were even appys on the table throughout the main course.

The actual seating arrangements consisted of two park picnic tables drawn together, bright red Dollarama plastic table cloths gave the two tables a nice look of continuity and cleanliness. On an adjacent table, the food was laid out smorgasbord style in an array of various camping pots, pot lids and dishes, with assorted serving spoons, forks and spatulas.

Did I mention that there was turkey?   The turkey had been pre-cooked and sliced, there was both white and dark meat. It was re-heated in a dutch oven over charcoal briquettes and was served at its sizzling perfection from a mélange of fire blackened pots and tin foil. , The turkey was made complete with a made-from-scratch stuffing, lots of gravy and a delicious cranberry sauce.   The new potatoes were cooked in situ over the wood heater, in a large frying pan along with baby carrots. It was all eyes on the pan as slowly these vegetables reached that point of succulence. Another very special vegetable was prepared on the spot, mouths watered as yet another master chef prepared a large pot of shredded savoy cabbage garnished with olive oil, garlic, chili pepper and sea salt. In addition to these cooked vegetables, there was a very substantial green salad served with or without feta cheese and with a salad dressing. The meal was complemented with a selection of fine hearty breads and was topped off with home made pumpkin pie (the pie filling had been mixed with a hint of ginger) and whipped cream…..and always there were the Swedish meatballs and of course the white wine that had made it to this feast via the long route in the hatch of a sea kayak.

THE PLACE

There are actually two contiguous lakes on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit that are shown on early maps simply as Spectacle Lakes. More modern maps refer to both lakes as though they were one…..Spectacle Lake. If you imagine these two lakes as actually being a pair of spectacles, then Pat’s Point is located right at the “bridge” of these spectacles.  It is a beautiful sandy point of land that is often referred to as “the Riviera of the Bowron”.

 

Even on this trip the question of just how this point received its name came up. This point of land was not named on Thomas McCabe’s 1925 map of the Bowron Chain which would suggest that the name is most likely a fairly recent one. It has been suggested that it was named after Pat McKenna, who apparently had early title to this spectacular jewel, before this area was gazetted as a Park on June 29, 1961.

In the 1950’s and early 60’s two families, the Pavich’s and the Halverssons (who are related by marriage) had a very real presence on what is now known as the West Side of the Bowron Chain. Paul Pavich and Eugene Krause purchased land from Joe Wendle and with the help of log builder Erik Rask, they were responsible for the construction of the log cabin located on the bank of the Upper Bowron River which today serves as a Park shelter cabin. While this cabin was under construction, the workers lived in the nearby 1926 Wendle cabin , which today teeters precariously over the eroded river bank. While it isn’t immediately evident to paddlers, these cabins are actually located on an island, which is now known as Pavich Island.

In the late 1950’s, Vinse Halversson and Sid Dannhauer (who were brothers-in-law) purchased the area now known as Pat’s Point and with their families they constructed a frame cottage that today is the shelter cabin located right on the point adjacent to the main campground. As plans unfolded for the development of the Park after 1961, most of the private property lying within the Park was expropriated and this cabin served as accommodation for “government workers” and as the Ranger Cabin or administrative centre for the West Side of the Park.

This changed in 1980 following the completion of a brand new Ranger cabin located across the water from the main Pat’s Point campsite. This Ranger cabin was constructed by Bowron Lake pioneers Frank and Tim Cushman. Together they harvested the large building logs right on site and using muscle provided by their draft horses, this significant building, that was really much more than just a “cabin” emerged from the very land upon which it stood. This was only 35 years ago, and now this building, which was the newest log structure on the Chain is gone, having been cut up for firewood, with no attempt having been made to even document its provenance.

If only the trees and the sandy beaches could talk, they would tell us of the use of this area by First Nations people going back hundreds of years. They would tell us tales of the early trappers, among them were Kenneth McLeod, Neil Wilson (Swamp Angel), Jason Moxley, Marius Anderson and Fred Becker. They would reflect on the names associated with the era of the big game hunters, names like Joe Wendle, Frank Kibbe, Floyd DeWitte Reed and Dean Cochran. They would make mention of the pioneer naturalists who were drawn to this area, Thomas and Elinor McCabe, J.P. Babcock, Chief Justice Hunter and Joe and Betty Wendle.   These were the people who advocated for the establishment of what was known as the Barkerville Game Preserve in 1926, (which actually protected all of the land that was inside the chain of lakes).   They would tell us of the heady days when Wells was a booming hardrock mining town and on the weekends these miners, many of whom were members of the Wells Rod and Reel Club, would flock out to “the Bowron” for fishing and relaxation,. They would whisk past Pat’s Point in their motorboats en route to their enclave of rustic shake shelters located on Unna Lake. With time they actually established a crude wooden “railroad” over the portage trails between Spectacle Lakes and Babcock Lake, and with government encouragement, they even blasted a canal between Spectacle Lake and Skoi Lake. With names like Gilbert, McKelvie, Motherwell and Grady, these families are still active members of the communities of Wells and Quesnel.

This past Thanksgiving, we felt like privileged royalty, alone in our own private preserve, heirs to all that has gone before us in this very special and truly unique place.

 

 

Trip Report/Comments May 14 – 18, 2015

Bowron Lake Trip
May 14 – 18, 2015
Trip Report/Comments

INTRODUCTION
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.
POSITIVES
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.

SUGGESTIONS
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.

Jeffrey Dinsdale
jdinsdale@xplornet.ca

 

DINTY MOORE MEMORIAL BENCH

The following memorial/obituary written by Samantha Agtarap is taken from the Globe and Mail…as your trip around the Chain takes you to the final campsite at Sandy Lake’s western end, there is a beautifully situated memorial bench placed to face the setting sun and overlooking the lake and Mount Tinsdale.  The bench was placed in memory of Dinty Moore.  Who was this person?  Reading the following will clearly explain just why this memorial couldn’t have been placed in a better location.

Family man, master canoeist, skilled woodworker, explorer. Born June 1, 1921, in Burnaby, B.C.; died Dec. 16, 2013, in Merritt, B.C., of old age, aged 92.

William Moore, the sixth of seven children, was nicknamed Dinty by his older siblings after a can of Dinty Moore beef stew. The name stuck throughout his life, and to many he was known only as Dinty.

He grew up on the shores of Deer Lake in Burnaby, B.C., on a farm in a house that is now known as the Hart House Restaurant. Burnaby was mainly farmland then, and he would tell his grandchildren stories of childhood adventures such as riding his horse, Pal, or hiking up Burnaby Mountain to ski down on planks of wood.

As a young boy, Dinty was attempting to rescue his airplane from a tree when he fell and injured his right eye. He never regained full sight in that eye and his grandchildren knew the perils of running and jumping with sticks.

In 1945, he saw his future wife, Joan Sievenpiper, walking by the house he was roofing; he whistled at her, then walked her home. She was on her way to her family’s summer home on the south side of Deer Lake. That started a cross-lake courtship by canoe. He would joke that you could see the grooves in the lake from his canoe crossing it so often.

Dinty and Joan married in 1946. As a wedding gift, her father gave them a piece of waterfront land on Deer Lake. They built their home themselves and filled it with four adventurous girls. Their door was always open and their home was often filled with friends, relatives – and wild animals rescued by their daughters.

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. Perhaps his coolest adventure, at least to his grandkids, was his role as a stunt double for Oliver Reed in the 1966 movie The Trap, canoeing rapids on the Thompson, Fraser and Chilliwack rivers.

Dinty and Joan were founding members of the Dogwood Canoe Club in Burnaby. He wanted to share his love of canoeing and the outdoors, and taught canoeing basics and safety. He also kept watch over Deer Lake, winter and summer, even performing the occasional rescue.

He taught his grandchildren to paddle a canoe, and where to find the best blueberries, huckleberries and crayfish. He showed us where the beavers lived and how to watch them quietly. He also taught us how to use tools safely, along with slingshots and BB guns.

A talented woodworker, he built canoes and furniture in his spare time. He designed a rowing attachment for the beautiful Chestnut canoes he sold. He made racing oars from yellow cedar. He made many beds, toys and bookcases for his children and grandchildren (one great-granddaughter sleeps in the bed he made for her mother).

Dinty was never ever one to sit still long. After he closed Moore Sales, a canoe and outdoor equipment store, and retired, he put his inventive mind to work for the B.C. Arthritis Society, making gadgets and modifications for everyday items to help people with arthritis.

He enjoyed word puzzles, fires in the fireplace, his workshop, curling and cribbage (he was a cut-throat crib player). He loved life, and nature, and nurtured that love in his children and grandchildren. Every canoe we paddle will carry him with it.

Samantha Agtarap is one of Dinty’s eight grandchildren.

BRO’S ON THE BOWRON 2015

 

Ten fellows, average age 55, all experienced paddlers, the 19th year in a row that members of this group have paddled the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit on this same Victoria Day weekend. Four tandem canoes, one solo canoe and one kayak. Most had paddled on the Chain multiple times, for one it was a brand new experience.

May 2015, a very early spring, the Chain had opened (as in being ice free) at least 4 weeks earlier than in recent memory. There was virtually no snow on the ground, the trails and campgrounds were nice and dry. Much of the birdlife that would normally be present on the Chain at this time of year had already passed through….heading north.
Gorgeous short sleeves and shorts weather, cool at nights. In five days, just one great hour-long rain downpour, to keep us paddlers honest.

The Chain was busy, there seem to be more “shoulder season” paddlers. Was the early spring the drawing card or are paddlers simply looking for a “different” type of paddling experience? A group of Italians, a couple training for the 750 km. Yukon River Quest race taking place in a month, two old buddies from Seattle fulfilling a bucket list dream
dating back to 1985, two young fellows looking very fit and lean who weren’t too interested in visiting and talking, they “had to be back at work on Tuesday”.

We used to do the Circuit in four days, now we take the better part of
five. Can we blame this on global warming or does it have something to do with age?

This was a great group to travel with. Safety was always the priority, we chose to follow the shorelines, not only because they are the most visually interesting but also, given the very cold water, dry land would be much closer for a self rescue in the event of a capsize. We had no problems.

This was the first time that we didn’t run the Chute at the end of Isaac;…there was a wicked strainer blocking about 7/8th of the way across the river, right at the Roller Coaster. We were concerned about the safety of less experienced paddlers who might not know to scout downstream for hazards, so phoned in our concerns from the new emergency radiophone located on the Cariboo River. We learned later that they got the message, even though we couldn’t really hear anyone at our end of the “line“.

We were broken down into 5 cooking groups, lots of pasta, everything from hard core meat and potatoes with lots of veggies to instant meals with fancy names, eaten right out of the bag. There was lots of sharing, especially the appies and the treats. We drank gallons of water, the five litre gravity water filter bag was a godsend. The support that this paddler received from the others was definitely welcomed and appreciated.

The new Park Operator had his crews out early, even before the official season opening. They had done a good job of clearing the portage trails, the winter had been hard on trees. Some campsites had blowdown that had already been bucked into firewood blocks — nice! We noticed that a new canoe rest had already been constructed on the portage trail to Kibbee Lake to replace a derelict one .

The canoeing was better than special. This old paddler had never gone solo before, it turned out to be all and more than I had ever hoped for. Day three, I left the campsite located just past Betty Wendle on Isaac Lake an hour before everyone else. I knew the others would catch up with me before too long. The water was like glass, at times there was a slight tail wind, the sun was shining and the reflections of the snow-capped mountains on the lake water appeared like an arrow pointing my way. I was floating, not on the water but rather in a manner that seemed to be three feet above the water. It was very emotional, the rhythm of the song Un Canadien Errant perfectly matched the cadence of my paddle strokes but rather than feeling “lost” as the words of this song suggest, I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be.
We left McCleary Lake and paddled the Cariboo River in mid afternoon, being careful to keep to the inside on the corners to avoid the log jams and strainers that tend to be located on the outside of the corners. The river dramatically opens up to Lanezi Lake, almost without warning. “WOW” erupted from behind me, “WOW” I heard it again…..I mentioned that one of our group was paddling the Chain for the first time and he couldn’t contain himself when he saw the incredible beauty spread out before us. I believe that we all felt it, the panorama is absolutely breathtaking, the snow-capped mountains and the aquamarine silt laden water.

There were signs of moose everywhere…that’s a good thing, but we didn’t see any of them, perhaps the cows were secreted away giving birth to their calves….that’s also a good thing. At the end of Lanezi Lake, just at the entrance to the Cariboo River leading to Sandy Lake and high up on a rock outcrop there is a carving…. “Reed Morris Ohio 1926”. 1928 was the year that the “inside” of the Chain became a game preserve, eliminating any big game hunting. Floyd DeWitte Reed was a partner of big game outfitter Frank Kibbe. Just around the corner from this rock carving, on Sandy lake is the site of a cabin that is indicated on Thomas McCabe’s 1925 map of the Chain as “belonging to Reed, formerly belonging to Kibbe”. Is it possible that Morris was just one last American hunter from Ohio, guided by Floyd Reed on one last big game hunt, a year before this area became a game preserve?

What’s not to like about this trip! The Bowron is a Wilderness Canoeing Paradise, it would be a sad, sad shame to see anything happen that would compromise this place which is truly unique in the world. Those of us who consider the Bowron to be in our own back yard and who choose to paddle these waters in the summer and to ski, snowshoe and travel by dog team over these same waters in the winter have a vested interest in the Bowron and a willingness to keep it special.
UN CANADIEN ERRANT

Un Canadien Errant (A wandering Canadian,)
Banni de ses foyers, (banned from his hearths,)
Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
Des pays etrangers. (in foreign lands.)
Parcourait en pleurant (travelled while crying)
Des pays etrangers. (in foreign lands.)

Un jour, triste et pensif, (One day, sad and pensive,)
Assis au bord des flots, (sitting by the flowing waters,)
Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)
Au courant fugitif (to the fleeing current)
Il adressa ces mots: (he addressed these words:)

“Si tu vois mon pays, (If you see my country,)
Mon pays malheureux, (my unhappy country,)
Va dire a mes amis (go tell my friends)
Que je me souviens d’eux. (that I remember them.)
Va dire a mes amis (go tell my friends)
Que je me souviens d’eux. (that I remember them.)

O jours si pleins d’appas, (O days so full of charms,)
Vous etes disparus… (you have vanished…)
Et ma patrie, helas! (And my native land, alas!)
Je ne la verrai plus. (I will see it no more.)
Et ma patrie, helas! (And my native land, alas!)
Je ne la verrai plus. (I will see it no more.)

FOREST FIRE C10067 ISAAC LAKE/HUCKEY CREEK

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 http://www.bcwildfire.ca is also a source of regularly updated information regarding the current wild fire situation in British Columbia.

Jeffrey Dinsdale
July 24, 2014