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.

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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.

 

 

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.)

MUSHING ON THE BOWRON CHAIN

Friday, April 06, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAKING IT BACK SAFELY

It was on a 5 day, May, shoulder season Bowron Chain trip. Winter was taking its own sweet time to leave the area and some of the lakes were still frozen. For this reason our group chose to travel on the West Side of the Chain where we knew the lakes were open. This made for a relaxed trip and the opportunity to do some exploring.

On Day Three we decided not to break camp at Sandy Lake and we divided into three smaller groups. Four of the fellows wanted to circumnavigate all of Sandy Lake and hike into Hunter Lake in the process. Two of the fellows wanted to explore Sandy Lake’s north shore in search of the big cedar trees that are part of the legendary Interior Rain Forest that runs through the heart of central British Columbia. The remaining four wanted to paddle to Turner Creek on Lanezi Lake where we had been told the campground was still covered in deep snow. One of these fellows was visiting from Ontario and we all wanted him to see the majestic snow-covered mountains that rim Lanezi Lake.

There was no real pressure to get anywhere, it was just going to be a relaxing day. The weather was overcast, it started to drizzle rain about 10:30 in the morning.

The fellows paddling into Lanezi felt a fairly strong tailwind as soon as they left the narrows that lie between Mount Kaza and Mount Ishpa, right at the western entrance to Lanezi Lake. The persistant drizzle and the thought of paddling back into what would then be a headwind caused them to think about turning back, but they decided that they really did want to get to Turner Creek. Even if it was deep in snow, the new shelter would be a great place to warm up and have lunch before the return trip.

There are several very dramatic avalanche chutes on Lanezi. These fill up with snow during the winter and in the early spring the snow comes sliding and crashing down into the lake. During a big snow year like this one had been, these chutes take on the appearance of mini glaciers, the snow has compacted into ice, reflecting a full spectrum of glacial colours….a photographer’s dream.

At one particularly beautiful chute the two canoes stopped and the bow paddler in each canoe took out his camera. The canoes side by side, one a little ahead of the other, were parallel to the very steep rock face, about 15 metres out from shore. Just as one of the fellows “clicked” his I Phone there was a cracking sound and a huge portion of the ice face broke off. The crash sent out a large wave of water and the canoes nearly capsized. Immediately both canoes tried to turn away from the oncoming wave, the more nimble Prospector designed with some rocker was successful while the longer and flatter Tripper, designed for speedy lake travel but not for quick turning was hit broadside by a second wave and was flipped…..both men in that canoe were in the freezing water.

While they had survived the initial wave that was the result of the ice hitting the water, it would seem that as the huge “iceberg” hit the lake, sank and then started rising, it displaced a huge amount of water. As it rose it produced yet another wave like a mini tsunami, as the water rushed to fill the void left by the rising ice. This is the wave that sent the two paddlers into the water.

It took about seven minutes. There was an initial impulse to try and make it to shore…but there was no shore, just a steep rock face and besides at that temperature as one of the men stated, “your legs don’t work very well”. Our group had talked about rescues earlier during the trip and of the importance of staying with your boat. The fellows in the Prospector started the canoe-over-canoe rescue procedure, the stern paddler was the most experienced and he took control, guiding everyone in the process. The Tripper was emptied of water, soon both of the drenched paddlers were back in their canoe and the floating gear was gathered from the lake. The only real casualty was the propane stove, which made it to the bottom of the lake….even the I Phone that was in the paddlers hand when the ice face broke away was saved. They made a bee-line for a nearby campsite and within minutes had a fire going, using the emergency fire starter that they carried with them. All of their gear had been in dry bags and they had extra clothing with them. Soon everyone was in dry clothes and drinking a hot drink….the immediate crisis had been addressed and everyone was safe!

What are the chances of something like this happening? How often do ice faces calve off chunks of ice with canoes 15 metres away? The fact is it did happen, and this is just one example of the kind of accidents that all paddlers may face. Fortunately this is also an example of experienced paddlers who were prepared to deal with such a situation. There were two canoes paddling together, they understood and had practiced rescue procedures, they were wearing PFD’s, they were prepared to deal with the effects of hypothermia, even in glacial conditions. But, should they have been paddling further out from the shore? Should they have stopped their canoes in front of the avalanche chute to take that photo?

The Park Use Plan for Bowron Lake Provincial Park states that the Bowron Chain was established/developed to provide “a wilderness paddling experience for the intermediate level paddler”. It is wilderness, and it is necessary that those who undertake a trip on the Chain have the knowledge and the skills that come with experience and training. It is no place for inexperienced and ill-equipped paddlers and it is important that Park managers and planners keep this in mind as they make decisions that might entice inexperienced paddlers to travel the Circuit.

As evening approached, the three groups came together to share their day’s experiences. Needless to say, there was lots to talk about. It was heartening to see these men reach out to comfort each other in the midst of what was truly a frightening and traumatic experience. The group of two did find the giant cedar trees of the Interior Rain Forest and one group of four made it around Sandy Lake and into Hunter Lake while the other group of four never did make it to Turner Creek….but they did make it back safely.

 

Around the Bowron May 2013

AROUND THE BOWRON….MAY 2013

I must admit, I personally have not kept track of the number of times that a group of friends, largely from Quesnel, have made the journey around the Bowron Chain of Lakes on the May long weekend. Members of this group informed me however that 2013 marked year 17 of this annual odyssey. That’s hard to believe, some of the fellows on this year’s trip weren’t even born 17 years ago. It truly has been 17 great years, with 17 years worth of memories and stories to tell.

In some ways, the 2013 trip was a totally new journey for me. Many of the same friends were along for the trip, and of course the lakes and the trails hadn’t moved. Lately however I have been searching out information about the cultural history of the Bowron, and on this trip I found myself looking at familiar sights from a totally different perspective. As the Chain unfolded around me, I tried to insert myself into each location, but back in time. If anything, this made a normally great experience even better.

For about the 25th time I sat in the Park registration office and watched the mandatory orientation video. My mind wandered a bit, especially during the part where the paddler is instructed to place his/her garbage bag on the end of their paddle and wave it in the air if they are in distress. But I was also thinking about the fact that in many ways the information about portage trails, campsites, cook shelters, outhouses and the volunteer creel census was all so new and recent. The building we were sitting in was relatively new, certainly the person giving us the orientation was very new. Up until 50 years earlier the portage trail running past the registration office and all of the other infrastructure in the video didn’t even exist.

The present day registration centre is located on the north shore of Bowron Lake, possibly on the very land that was the site of a year round First Nations settlement. It is clearly documented by HBC traders that First Nations fishers and hunters made seasonal trips between the Fraser River in the Quesnel area and the Bowron however it is also documented that evidence of pit houses existed along Bowron Lake’s north shore, particularly at the mouth of what is now called Kibbee Creek. This can only mean that there was also year-round First Nations habitation in this area.

It is stated that in 1964 there was a large land slippage in this area and some have postulated that this may have coincided with that year’s Anchorage Alaska earthquake. There is certainly evidence when paddling along the Bowron Lake shoreline of a significant land slide which has reportedly obliterated any evidence of the pit houses, which unfortunately had not been carbon dated.

Frank Kibbee arrived at the Bowron in 1912 and he built his first home approximately below the present-day site of Bear River Mercantile, right where the Bowron river flows out of Bowron lake. When digging his garden, he uncovered evidence of a First Nations burial site, this would certainly suggest year-round occupation of this area that could go back as much as 2000 years. When you think of it, this location had all that was needed for year-round habitation, in particular an annual run of salmon to ensure a winter food supply.

The Bowron became a provincial park in 1961. That year the park was gazetted and some private lands within the park were purchased by the government. Actually the area that lies within the lakes had been established as the Bowron Lake Game Reserve in 1926. Prior to this date, this area was a big game hunters and trappers free-for-all. Today the Bowron Lakes is a wildlife mecca, on our journey this year we came within a few feet of browsing moose, we saw several black bears. At the turn of the 20th century, hunting big game was a popular rich man’s sport and those who pursued this pastime had a lot of success in the Bowron. Prior to the establishment of the Game Reserve they were assisted in their pursuits by big game hunting guides like Frank Kibbee, Roy and Norman Thompson, Floyd
DeWitte Reed, Dean Cochran and Joe and Betty Wendle. But there was concern about the scale of the hunting in this area and it is interesting to note that the push to create the Game Reserve was spearheaded by some of these very same people as well as by J.P. Babcock the B.C. Fish Commissioner at the time, Chief Justice Hunter of the B.C. Supreme Court and Thomas and Elinor McCabe, an intriguing couple who were truly naturalists and environmentalists years ahead of their time. If these names seem familiar, it is because virtually every one of them is commemorated on some landmark within or adjacent to the Park.

As for early day (pre 1926) trapping in this area, there were a significant number of trappers running traplines throughout the Chain. After 1926 their activities were government regulated and of course after 1961 there was no trapping within the Park. Beginning with a few disaffected gold miners who found that the Cariboo Gold Rush was not to their liking, trappers included the ethereal Swamp Angel. Just who was he? His surname was Wilson, his given name was Neil or was it Richard or possibly Mathew (my vote is for Neil). He lived along the lower Swamp River hence the name Swamp Angel. The Swamp River is today’s Cariboo River, the lower river is that section just above and below the Cariboo Falls, the upper Swamp River is the section upstream from Lanezi Lake running right to the headwaters above McLeary Lake. On this trip around the Chain I took a critical look at this river and the fact is, much of the land adjacent to it is in fact a marsh or a swamp.

The Swamp Angel’s trapping partner was another gold stampeder named Ken McLeod and an early-day contemporary was George Isaac who was a gold miner. Prior to 1926 they were joined throughout the Chain by other trappers including Harold Mason, Jason Moxley, Eric Woltortin, Marius Andersen, George Turner, James Duffy, J. Brierly and Mr. McLary. The location of each man’s trapline has been documented but if their cabins were still standing, in some cases they would now be close to 150 years old. Needless to say, these rustic structures are all gone but one, and that is the 97 year old Joe Wendle cabin built on the banks of the Upper Bowron River in 1926. As we paddled by this cabin on this trip, it was clear that the cabin has been severely undermined and is in danger of sliding into the river.

The earliest land access road/trail into the Park ran north initially following the Bowron River and then branching more easterly to Thompson Lake and then running to Indianpoint Lake The trail crossed Indianpoint Creek where it flows out of Indianpoint Lake at the site of the beautiful McCabe home. This trail continued to run in a northeasterly direction just north of Indianpoint Lake (with a branch running to Kruger Lake) and north of the west arm of Isaac Lake to Wolverine Bay where it then turned northward, eventually connecting with the Goat River Trail. Parts of this early access route were apparently even fit for automobile travel by the 1920‘s, certainly pack horses and even horses and wagons used it.

We hauled our gear over the “modern” portage trails, I’ve formed a close love-hate relationship with them over the years. Just about 100 metres before Kibbee Lake there is a nondescript trail branching off from the portage trail to the left. About 25 metres down this trail we found a small marker tacked to a tree which stated Sentier Pedestre — National Hiking Trail. This trail, which is not to be confused with the Trans Canada Trail, is part of a nation wide network of hiking trails that has been under development for the past 30 years by a group now known as Hike Canada, which is represented in British Columbia by Hike BC. This trail would link up with the old access route to Indianpoint Lake and beyond, eventually connecting with the present-day Kruger Lake road, then running past Littlefield Creek before linking up with the Goat River Trail.

When we got to Kibbee Lake it became obvious that the early day pioneers were right, Kibbee Lake and Thompson Lake are not two separate lakes, they are actually just one lake with an ancient beaver dam constructed to make it look like there are two lakes. In the early days the single lake was in fact called Beaver Lake and Kibbee Creek was Beaver Creek.

Our little group of six had left later in the day than the other members of the larger group We decided to complete the second portage to Indianpoint Lake where we camped right at the end of the portage. With binoculars we could see the others camped a few campsites ahead at Kruger Bay. We had left a canoe at Kibbee Lake because very early the next morning, the last member of our group who had to work on Day 1, was going to drive out to the registration centre and hike to Kibbee Lake where he would be met by the canoe….this arrangement worked out fine, and by 8:00 a.m. on Day 2, the (now) seven members of our little group were all together in our east-facing campsite and enjoying breakfast and a beautiful sunrise over Indianpoint Lake.

Once we were on the water we made a side trip to visit the site of the McCabe home located overlooking Indianpoint Creek at the point that it flows out of the lake. Elinor
Bolles McCabe had pre-empted 135 acres in the 1920’s and she and her husband built a two story log structure with a dirt basement, using huge logs harvested on site. It is said that the logs were so large that Thomas McCabe constructed beautiful drawers that actually slid in and out of the logs and that this is where he kept his supplies for banding birds. It is said that the railing of the stairway leading to the second floor was a work of art, each of the balusters and spindles being hand carved, the bottom of each was a depiction of a local or native tree while the top was a carving of the head of one of the local mammals. This home had french doors, it is said that books filled the shelves that lined the walls. All that remains of the home today is the stone and brick fireplace and various bits of debris slowly decaying in the soil. This is one of the structures that was burned to the ground after the creation of the Park, but there are conflicting stories about just who actually started the fire.   The local flora is gradually reclaiming the site but there is still evidence of the McCabe flower gardens . I have often thought that this would be a great spot for an archaeological dig.

We paddled on, the morning was sunny and warm. At the other end of Indianpoint Lake, just before entering the marsh that leads to a small lagoon, stands the cabin that was part of Frank Cushman’s registered guiding area which was actually headquartered at Kruger Lake to the north, home of his Wolverine Mountain Outfitters. This is one of the cabins that was not burned down by parks officials, in the 60’s it would have been pretty new., and was actually built by the previous owner of the guiding area.  The fact is, it was not the first cabin to be located on this inviting site, at least three early-day trappers had cabins in this area and one of them stood on the same little knoll where the Cushman cabin stands today.

We made the portage over to Isaac Lake, relieved that the portaging was finished for at least 24 hours. I always look towards the “elbow” of Isaac and Wolverine Bay in awe, probably because of the splendid backdrop that Wolverine Mountain provides. At this time of year the slide areas show up green against the white snowy backdrop. I was told that grizzly bears congregate in these areas in the spring because of the tasty plants that mature early because the darker slide areas collect the sun. Wolverine Bay was a busy place in the past, at various times trappers Kenneth McLeod, J. Brierly, Eric Woltortin , Slim Good and Alf Brown and until 1965 Ole Nelson all trapped in this area. There seemed to be a tendency for these men to run their traplines along the various creeks that flowed into the lake. This was the case for Jason Moxley who had a trapline along what was first known as Moose Creek and then Cottonwood Creek before it became known as Moxley Creek, located just around the corner on the east shore at the beginning of the long arm of Isaac Lake. We rafted up and ate our lunch right at the elbow…huge delicious sandwiches on a bun big enough to choke a horse.

Our little group spent the night at the Lynx Creek campsite, we didn’t really know for sure where the other members of our larger group were camping that night but we had a hunch that they were a few campsites ahead of us on the other side of Betty Wendle Creek and as it turned out we were right.

The Lynx Creek campsite is the spawning ground for what has become a local urban (rural) myth.  About 20 years ago a young German, a medical intern from Seattle was paddling the Chain with his girlfriend. They were camped at Lynx Creek when they were attacked by a black bear and depending on what bit of gossip you believe, the young intern lost a good part of his posterior in the attack. His girlfriend safely barricaded her severely injured boyfriend inside the Lynx Creek cabin while she paddled their tandem canoe solo in the middle of the night back to the ranger cabin at Wolverine Bay. A helipad was hastily constructed by the rangers, a helicopter flew in, the injured German was treated at GRB in Quesnel before his mates flew in and took him back to their hospital in Seattle for convalescence. This could have been the end of the story if it wasn’t for Cariboo Observer Editor the late Gerry MacDonald who wrote a great story about this incident…so great that it was published in the Reader’s Digest, and this is where the urban myth comes in. It is stated among locals that this young German intern’s wife was still in Germany and it was only by chance that she read the Reader’s Digest article about her husband on the Bowron Chain….you can take it from there.

The cabin at Lynx Creek has a little different provenance than many on the Chain, it was built in the late 1950’s by a local log builder and gold miner (he also built the cabin on the Bowron River) named Erik Rask. He was commissioned to build the Lynx Creek cabin by the Wells Rod and Reel Club. The 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s was really the Wells era on the Bowron and the Rod and Reel Club at one time had 9 cabins located throughout the Chain. They actually perfected a type of pre-fabricated structure that could be brought in disassembled on a motor boat and then assembled in situ.

Our group made it to the end of Isaac in a pelting rain storm around noon on Day 3. Our friends travelling a few hours ahead of us had seen us coming down the lake and they made sure that the stove in the new shelter was still burning when they left to complete the Isaac River portage. The heat from the stove was wonderful, we stripped off our wet rain gear and stood around the heater enjoying a cup of hot soup along with our bean,rice, cucumber, tomato and avocado sandwich wraps, hot chocolate and french press coffee. What a group of intrepid troopers!

We did the portage, first the chute which had actually disappeared in what is truly a high water year for the Chain. Then the roller coaster where we were buzzed by confused harlequin ducks. We then slogged through knee deep snow on the portage trails, eventually rafting up in the middle of McLeary Lake….or should it be McLary Lake. There is good reason to believe that McLeary is a typo. We looked over at Fred Becker’s cabin (did you know that there are two Fred Beckers who figure in the history of the Bowron?), noting that before him, trappers Jason Moxley and Floyd De Witte Reed had cabins in this same spot. We also speculated, as we do on every trip, that there just had to be a trail that ran from McLeary Lake to Isaac Lake along the east side of the Isaac River. The sky was darkening and we still had about two hours travel to get to our night’s campsite so we turned our canoes down the Upper Swamp River towards Long (Lanezi) Lake. It was great to be travelling with a current…watch out for the sweepers.

Because of the steep mountains that come right down to the shore line, it can be very difficult to find a decent camping spot on Lanezi. We stopped at the first campsite to put on rain gear it was a spot that was totally saturated and which features a round plastic neo-Star Wars outhouse with no roof, giving it a hot tub look. We figured that the high water table must make it impossible to dig a hole for a traditional kybo and this space crapsule which was located at the top of a small rise overlooking the lake seemed like a good substitute.

Within half an hour we reached Turner Creek on Lanezi Lake, this has to be my most favourite spot on the Chain. To quote Jean Speare from her booklet Bowron Chain of Lakes –Place Names and People “…in a broad bay to the right, Turner Creek boils down out of the interior mountains to fan its clear water out into the milky waters of the lake. Turner Creek was named for George Turner, early game warden and a member of the B.C. Provincial Police”. There is a beautiful new fir timber frame shelter at Turner Creek, complete with doors and plexiglass windows….and inside there is a heater and it is both dry and warm.

This is where we finally met up with the rest of our larger group, they said that they had been less than an hour ahead of us but this was the first that we had seen of them in two days. By the time everyone had arrived at this campsite there were 17 wet paddlers seeking to set up their tents, dry out their gear, cook their supper, kick back, visit and relax, 15 in our group plus two fellows from Vancouver who had left a bit before us. It turned out to be a great evening, lots of inflated talk (i.e. B.S.), mostly about the Bowron, of past trips in all seasons — spring, summer, autumn as well as winter expeditions. It was indeed a unique group of contented paddlers that sat back and enjoyed that memorable evening together.

We all got away early on Day 4. I always look for the carving in the rocky outcrop at the end of Lanezi Lake…Morris – Reed Ohio 1926. Who was this man? What was he doing in that spot in 1926?. Just around the corner we soon entered Sandy Lake. I looked along the lake’s northern shore and there it was, the cedar forest that I had been reading about and which I had never really noticed on previous trips, the place where all of the early day lodges and cabins built around the Chain obtained the cedar for their shake roofs. To quote Dave Jorgenson, “500 km from the coast the rainforest reappears behind Wells. Besides being unique in the world, a repository for rare species of plants and animals, and being the most biologically productive forest in the world….it’s also unbelievably beautiful”.

We had lunch at Sandy Lake and then took off to conquer the last (and probably the best) major portage, the one along Babcock Creek. This creek used to be called Three Mile Creek and the lake that it drains used to be called Three Mile Lake (now Babcock Lake). This is the part of the Chain where the Wells Rod and Reel Club really made its mark. Picture a bunch of hard rock miners at the end of a Friday day shift all leaving the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine with nothing on their minds but fishing out on the West Side of the Bowron Chain. The car is packed and ready to go the 18 miles from Wells to Bowron Lake. It is 1950, there are no motor restrictions on the Chain and some of the families, the McKelvies, the Gradys, the Motherwells, the Gilberts have built rough cabins or shelters that they refer to as “shake shelters” out at Grizzly Lake, what we now call Unna Lake. George Gilbert has also built a shelter on a little lake that he christened Rum Lake, where he and his chums would go to drink rum. These camps have colourful names like The Knot Hole and The Ram’s Pasture.

The Wells Rod and Reel Club had boats with motors located throughout the Chain for the use of club members. To facilitate the portaging of motor boats, the club was responsible for rebuilding and maintaining a little “railway” that ran from Spectacle Lake to Skoi Lake (also known at various times as Tenas and Little Lake) with a second line running from Skoi Lake to Babcock Lake. The original wooden tracks had actually been installed by James Kew and Sid Susag in the ’30’s but this was upgraded by the Wells Rod and Reel Club with squared timber “rails” and a moving platform made from a rejigged ore cart obtained from the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine.

And if this wasn’t enough, in 1958 the Forest Service invited the Wells Rod and Reel Club to improve access to the Park as a precaution in the event of a forest fire. To accomplish this, a channel (as in canal) was blasted (as in dynamite) between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes.  The sloughing sandy soil made it difficult to keep the canal open, but this was used until the Bowron became a park in the 60’s. The current discussion about the maintenance of the ‘rough’  portage trails in the Park seems pretty tame when compared with laying tracks and blasting canals in the old days. This is a great story and it appears complete with photos in George Gilbert’s memoir Kicked By A Dead Moose.

By the time we arrived at these portages, railway tracks or not, we had this portaging thing down to a science, it took us no time to get over them and on to Spectacle Lake, just about an hour and a half’s paddle to Pat’s Point, the “Riviera of the Bowron”.

Who was the Pat that Pat’s Point is named after, was it Pat McKenna? This beautiful piece of property was once owned by Harold Mason, an electrician who was responsible for “electrifying” Barkerville. The creek that flows into the Cariboo River from river right just before Babcock Creek is named after him, today it is known as Harold Creek, it used to be called Mason Creek. The cabin at Pat’s Point was built by the families of Vinse Halverson and Sid Dannhauer, brothers -in-law who purchased the property in the late 1950’s. The families camped out at Pat’s Point for a whole summer while they built the cabin. Each evening, Vinse Halverson would tow a barge load of building materials behind his motor boat as he commuted after a day working at his Wells Barkerville Sawmill. For years after the establishment of the Park, this cabin served as accommodation for Park staff before the ranger cabin now located across the bay was built. This explains why this cabin wasn’t burned down when the Bowron became a park.

Our group had a great evening and night at Pat’s Point. We had two teenagers with us, and they added a refreshing dimension to our time around the fire ring. With the boys’ example and encouragement it was Smores all around as this group of old fart paddlers let their hair down and joined in the fun. Before long we were all teenagers again, some of the fellows had even jumped into the lake for a swim. We had a great supper, while we were a large group we cooked in smaller groupings so it was fun to compare meals and to sample what others were eating. One of the fellows from Vancouver offered a trout that he had caught in Spectacle Lake and this was cooked over an open fire.

We anticipated getting to the take out in the mid afternoon so were on the water early on Day 5. There is an island in the middle of this section of Spectacle Lake, we paddled to the right of it. Now generally known Maternity Island (because the moose apparently favour giving birth on the safety of the island) and Deadman’s Island. I have read the identical and very compelling account of just how this latter name came to be applied to this island in three different sources however none can be considered to be a primary source of information so it is very difficult to know for certain just what may have transpired on that island in the past. The account I have read is related to the tragedy of the small pox epidemic that essentially decimated the First Nations people living at Bowron (then called Bear) Lake in the 1880’s. There is certainly a need for much more archaeological work in this area with the hope that this could spread some more light onto the history of First Nations people on the Bowron.

In the late 50’s Paul Pavich purchased the property on the Bowron River (where both the Bowron River cabin and the 1926 Joe Wendle cabin are located) from Joe Wendle. Paul and Eugene Krause were partners on this purchase and the plan was to build two cabins however only one (the Pavich cabin) was finished. This cabin was built by Erik Rask, the same fellow who built the Lynx Creek cabin for the Wells Rod and Reel Club. Everyone stayed in the 1926 Joe Wendle cabin while the new Pavich cabin was under construction. Volunteers helped to fall and peel the trees for the cabin itself, the shakes were cut from the huge cedar trees on the north shore of Sandy Lake and transported to the building site by barge. I have been told that when the cabin was finished there was an “official” house warming and many people made the trip out to the cabin from Wells for what was apparently a great party that people still talk about over 50 years later.

We visited Birch Bay (The Birches) located in Swan Lake, just to spend some time at this special campsite.  We then took the ‘back door’ towards the upper Bowron River.  There is often confusion when paddlers talk about another island called Pavich Island, confusing it with Deadman’s/Maternity Island.  The Pavich Bowron River cabin is actually located on an island, and this is Pavich Island.  It is possible to paddle all the way around that little island by taking this ‘back door’ route to connect with the Bowron River.

Due to the high water levels we were fighting a strong current where water from the river “spilled” into the lake until we made the turn into the river itself and started silently and quickly moving downstream. The moose were just standing there looking at us as we glided by. We had favourable winds on Bowron Lake and made good time down the right shore. As it turned out we were the first paddlers to complete the circuit in 2013.….hurray! There was a nice new floating dock at the take out which made the process of offloading the gear and getting the canoes ready for the portage up to the parking lot that much easier.