Bro’s On Bowron 2019

Bro’s on Bowron….2019

The third portage on the Bowron Chain, starts from a quiet sheltered lagoon at the end of Indianpoint Lake, and rises  over a rough rocky trail to the height of land, then levels out about  half a kilometre from Isaac Lake.  This is the point where all the water from the Chain starts running into the Quesnel River watershed.   We know that once we complete this trail there will be no more portages for about 24 hours.

Once on Isaac Lake, the amazing Inland Temperate Rainforest stretches before us, running north and south the length of this large, remote, cold and very beautiful 45 kilometre long lake, then well beyond into the northern parts of the States of Washington, Idaho and Montana.  Mount Cochrane and Wolverine Mountain loom in front of us.  To our left at Wolverine Bay are signs of the creek that links with the Goat River Trail which runs to the Fraser River.   There once was an actual foot trail running beside the creek, built by Youth Crews in the 1960’s during the Bowron’s early days as a Provincial Park.  When the Park boundaries were extended into this area in 1970, a firm decision was made to prevent all access to the Park other than through the main Park entrance. Now this trail is grown over, but there is a revival of interest in the  Goat River trail, which now does have a trailhead not far from the main entrance to the Park.

I had been anxious to see, feel and to just be absorbed by the Inland Temperate Rainforest once again, especially since recently reading the beautifully illustrated book Caribou Rainforest—From Heartbreak to Hope, by David Moskowitz. He writes about  “The Caribou Rainforest: A Forest Like No Other” of which the Inland Temperate Rainforest running through this part of the  Cariboo Mountains and the area known as the  Quesnel Highlands, is but a small part.   This book clearly shows how all of B.C.’s Mountain Caribou  including the very small local Quesnel Highlands population, are threatened with extirpation.

I have never seen a caribou inside the Chain, only footprints on a sandy beach right at Isaac Lake’s ‘elbow’.  Only one member of our 2019 group, which collectively have  paddled the Circuit  just over 200 times has ever seen caribou inside the Park, two animals once swam across Isaac Lake in front of his canoe.  It is hard to believe that this area, which was named (but misspelled by the early hunters, trappers and gold miners)  the Cariboo because of the preponderance of these animals, is now almost devoid of them.




Twenty four.  That’s how many consecutive years this group of men has paddled the Bowron Canoe Chain, and always on this same May long weekend.   Over the years we have adopted the moniker ‘Bro’s’, as in ‘Bro’s on Bowron’.   Of the group who will paddle the Chain in 2019, some have  made it on every trip, some are newbies.  For the very first time there are three generations of the same family taking part. Members of the group range in age from 28 to 82,  Since the start, over a hundred different men have been part of this group, this year there are 17 of us.  Every man genuinely wants to be here, together.  This is an exceptional group of experienced wilderness paddlers .

Each year we have been among the first to complete the Circuit, some years we are the first. It’s always like launching off into a new and wild frontier, the whole place is ours to explore and enjoy, and finding campsites isn’t a problem.  In actual fact the Park Contractors had been around before us and had cut out those winter blowdowns that were blocking  portage trails or which may have come down in some campsites.  But they are only a few days ahead of us, and there has not been  time for them to cut firewood in the woodlots.  We have learned to pick up any dry firewood  as we approach planned camping spots.  This year there were nine canoes, we generally travelled together, there was usually enough room for a night’s worth of  firewood spread among the canoes.

The conditions were great, thankfully not the almost continual rain that had been in the forecast.   This is no-doubt one of the reasons why we made exceptional time during this year’s trip. We were on the water for part of five days, set up camp for four nights and were on the road home by mid afternoon on the fifth day.  Day four was a wet one, we wore rain gear almost  all day, but that day we had the benefit of both the Turner Creek (in the morning) and the Pats Point (in the evening) cooking shelters.  There were virtually no winds, certainly no headwinds. The conditions on Lanezi Lake were excellent, the proverbial ‘as smooth as glass’.

We had all arrived in good time for the check-in at the Park Registration Centre.  The Park contractor knew we were coming and actually had most of the paperwork ready for us to complete.  We all watched the orientation video at 9:00 a.m. precisely (only one fellow had not seen it before, some of us had seen it in its various incarnations 24 times, and yes the video still shows that if you get into trouble you should put your orange garbage bag over the end of  your paddle and wave it in the air).

The portage trails were generally in good condition.  There was a bit of snow and water to deal with, but it didn’t slow us down.  Trail #2 from Kibbee to Indianpoint was significantly upgraded last fall and it is in very good shape.  All but one fellow were paddling tandem, and the guy  paddling solo had a heavy load in a 16 foot canoe so others gave him a bit of a boost by occasionally  paddling tandem with him in his canoe or offering to paddle his canoe solo while  he paddled tandem with someone else.

Without exception we were on the water by 7:30 each morning.  As suggested previously, everyone had good canoe tripping skills and things like meal preparation and making and breaking camp went without a hitch. Fellows tended to cook in groups of two or four, meals were generally of the ‘two pot’ variety, easy to cook or heat up on a single burner stove.  That’s not to say however that the meals weren’t full of  flavour and the smell of curry containing spices like coriander, ginger and especially cumin wafted through the cooking shelters.  One father and son readily shared their Hungry Man’s Chicken Pie and light fluffy bannock with all takers.  There was also lots of sharing of the goodies that had been prepared by the wife back home (did I just write that?).

We found that we had time to do some extra things like paddle into Unna Lake for lunch and a relaxing time to take some photos.  From the late 1930’s to the early 1960’s, Unna Lake was the centre of the action on the Bowron during what I call the ‘Wells Era’ of the Bowron.  Gold miners from Wells, during the haydays of both the Cariboo Gold Quartz and the Island Mountain mines would travel out to Unna Lake after work, a place where they had established a small community of what they called ‘shake shelters’, and here they would spend days off and weekends when weather permitted.  There is another very small lake connected to Unna Lake by a small waterway.  One of those Wells miners, George Gilbert, got the idea to build a shelter on this lake. It was a ‘guys only’ hangout, these places were known in the day as ‘ram’s pastures’.  This little lake is now known as Rum Lake.  You can guess what these fellows were doing when they were ‘hanging out’ there.

In those days travel on the Bowron was by motor boat, the Bowron did not become a Park until 1961. The Wells Rod and Reel Club was a dominant force in the ‘shaping’ of the Bowron during this period, building cabins throughout the Chain, placing motorboats at the portage headwaters, maintaining a small wooden-tracked ‘railroad’ consisting of one ore car, on the portages between Spectacle, Skoi and Babcock Lakes and even (at the request of the government for fire safety purposes), dynamiting a canal that ran between Spectacle and Skoi Lakes.  All of these amenities for the use of the Rod and Reel Club members.

Most of our group also took the time to hike into the site of the McCabe homestead that overlooks Indianpoint Creek.  Thomas and Elinor McCabe were Americans although interestingly, Thomas, who was a biology professor had a very close affinity with both Canada and the Bowron.  He fought as a member of the Canadian army during WWI, he experienced tragedy on Canada’s Peace River when his first wife drowned on their honeymoon.  His second wife Elinor laid claim to land at Indianpoint Lake as a homestead, eventually obtaining title, she did the same thing regarding 100 acres on the south shore of Bowron Lake.  The McCabes built homes in both locations.  The Indianpoint home was a two storey log structure with a massive stone fireplace and french doors overlooking  Indianpoint Creek.  It is said that the walls were lined with books and that the logs were so large, McCabe had drawers built into them, a place where Thomas kept his ornithology  supplies. The ballusters supporting the stair railing leading to the second level were said to have the heads of the large Bowron Lake mammals carved into them.

Both Thomas and Elinor were keenly interested in the wildlife and natural beauty of the Bowron. They were instrumental in lobbying (along with others) to create what was initially termed the Barkerville Game Reserve in 1925.  Thomas completed the first detailed map of  the Chain that same year.   At some point their visits to the Bowron became less frequent (their primary residence was in Berkley California where Thomas was teaching at the university) and in 1934 they stopped coming all together.  Today only that stone fireplace remains, along with some scattered debris.  I have often thought that this would be an excellent practicum site for a group of archaeological students to come and rediscover just what life was like on the Bowron during the 1920’s and 30’s.

It is amazing how being out with a group on the Bowron always triggers almost endless talk about what else……?  Other trips on the Bowron.   All of the old experiences from journeys past are rehashed. There is talk regarding Bowron history including debates about whether it is McLeary or McLary Lake, and whether or not the Park should make a special effort to stabilize and safeguard the 1926 Joe Wendle Cabin that is in danger of sliding into the Upper Bowron River.  Talk of Bowron geography…. are Thompson and Kibbee really two separate lakes or just one? Just where does Spectacle Lakes end and Swan Lake begin?  We also talk about contemporary issues like….did they build the new Ranger cabins as duplexes to segregate men and women or Park Rangers and Park Contractors, or are they really planning on renting out cabin space for wealthy would-be voyageurs who don’t like camping?

We were encouraged to see significantly more bird and animal life this trip than we did last year.  We saw lots and lots of moose sign. At every stop the  red osier dogwood bushes (which one forester in the group informed us is like ‘moose ice cream’) had been well chewed and there were moose droppings everywhere.  We saw three moose, including one obliging cow along the Upper Bowron River who provided lots of head-on as well as side profile views for all of the photographers. The beavers were there, as well as the eagles.  The harlequin ducks in the  Isaac River Chute were gorgeous.  We learned that they actually migrate from the coast to the fast moving waters of this part of the Isaac River to nest and raise their young.  We saw one swan and several geese, while last year we had seen none. There were ducks (too distant to identify) rafting up on the lakes, possibly resting and in transit further north. We saw grebes, mergansers and loons (all diving birds), there were buffleheads and mallards.

Perhaps the most encouraging sighting was of the swallows at Pat’s Point.  Up until recently they had always been plentiful at that spot but  in recent years their numbers have plummeted, last year there were none.  Song birds seemed to be everywhere, there were definitely warblers, it would have been great to have some more knowledgeable birders along to help identify the ‘little birds’ that were in all of the bushes at our campsites.  While we didn’t see or hear them, we did hear from others about a grizzly bear as well as howling wolves.

It was distressing to see many if not most of the cedar trees with brown rather than green foliage (needles?).  Recent news releases from the Coast have talked about dying yellow cedar trees due to summer drought along with extreme cold winter weather episodes which has damaged the shallow root systems that are typical of cedar trees.  The cedars in the Inland Temperate Rainforest however are red cedars.  The foresters in our group (and there were four of them) felt that this discolouration was not a serious problem and that these trees would regain their green foliage with the help of some good rainfall.

Maybe it was because we paddled together, and because we tended to follow the shorelines of the lakes,  this trip seemed to be more relaxing than most.  There is something almost hypnotic about watching the shoreline pass by as your canoe moves swiftly and silently through the calm water.  This also gave lots of opportunity to ‘visit’  and to swap stories with each other as we moved along together; the time seemed to go by quickly.

We are always in awe of the beauty of this place.  The deeper that we travel ‘into’ the heart of the Chain, the more spectacular it becomes. It is difficult for those of us who live in Quesnel, just a 1.5 hour drive away, to fully appreciate that this spectacular world renowned beauty is right on our doorstep.  This year the water levels were reasonably high, but definitely not as high as last year.  The campsites were not flooded, there was very little ice and snow in the chutes along both Isaac and Lanezi Lakes.  There was however lots of snow higher in the mountains and perhaps the melt and the runoff was just starting,  high water in the Cariboo/Quesnel Rivers is usually at the end of June.

We came to the chute at the end of Isaac Lake.  We did stop to grab a snack, to admire the Harlequin Ducks and to scout the water, but relatively quickly we were all in our boats ready to paddle.  This is the first time that every canoe in our group chose to paddle through the chute rather than to use the portage trail.  Ours was the first canoe and we eddied out just below the chute, taking the position as one of the safety boats.  We were in excellent position to watch as each canoe passed through the chute without hesitation.  It was thrilling to look downstream as all nine boats were navigating the Roller Coaster section of the river as if in formation, en route to the take-out for the next portage.

Two members of our group had been at this very spot just two months earlier.  During a brutal cold snap in March, they had decided that they were going to walk around the Chain using  winter boots and snowshoes rather than skis, and pulling two small pulkas with their gear.  The extreme cold meant that there would be little chance of having to deal with the dreaded overflow that  can often sabotage winter trips on the Chain.   When they cleared the Isaac River portage trails and got to  McLeary/McLary Lake however, they found the Cariboo River wide open. While it would be possible for them to bushwack along the  river shore having to contend with deep snow in the process, they came up with another plan. It should be mentioned that these fellows were not strangers to the Bowron in the winter, they had completed this trip before and on that occasion they had pulled a canoe on a small sled, a canoe that they used when there was any open water.

So, in March of this year, one of them remembered that on a trip around the Chain the previous fall he had seen a damaged canoe beside the Isaac River portage trail.  Despite five feet of snow they found the canoe, ‘shovelled’ it out with their snowshoes, and while the canoe was definitely damaged, it looked like it just might float; amazingly there was even a paddle in the canoe. They found a second usable paddle and were successful in paddling down the Cariboo River to a point just before Lanezi Lake where they  cached the canoe and were able to once again resume their trek on snowshoes.  As we went zooming down the Cariboo River on this trip, they stopped to look for the canoe they had cached in March.  Without the snow, the lay of the land had changed significantly and after a quick but unsuccessful hunt, they decided to carry on with the rest of us.  We made a bee-line for Turner Creek campsite on Lanezi Lake and for once there was no headwind.

The final four hour paddle from Pat’s Point to the takeout is never boring  On this trip the conditions were exceptional and the paddling was generally quite relaxing, with one exception.  As we approached Swan Lake (which no-doubt received its name because Trumpeter Swans overwinter here due to the fact that there is moving water passing through this area on a year-round basis) we decided to exit the lakes by what I call the ‘back door’.  We stopped at the campsite known as the Birches and then paddled around the back side of Pavich Island and through a narrow channel that connects the lakes with the Upper Bowron River.  As we approached the river we had to fight  a very strong current as high water from the river was not only flowing into the Bowron Slough and eventually into Bowron Lake, but also flowing into the narrow channel in which we found ourselves.

Once again we had a ‘ring side’ seat as we pulled into an eddy on ‘channel left’ to sit and wait and watch.  The experienced paddlers hugged the eddies on the right side of the channel, inching their way forward in the quiet water, using all of the  ‘black water’ in the eddy before quickly cutting across the current to the quiet water on the other side of the channel.  They made it look effortless.  Once into the swiftly running waters of the Upper Bowron river it was a float as we relaxed and took in the scenery, including that very photogenic moose.

This is a very, very special area.  The longest sockeye salmon run in North America passes right through these waters every fall.  This would have been a logical place for First Nations to establish a fishery. No-doubt drying racks were erected along the shore line and clear evidence of ‘cache pits’ have also been found in this area.  These holes were dug into the river bank, lined with birch bark and then filled with fish before being covered with more bark and soil.  They would keep the   fish from spoiling for up to a year.  The Upper Bowron River might also be called a ‘mystery river’ with stories of mysterious caves and grizzly bears.  It is officially off-limits to Bowron travellers because of the fact that the salmon do travel to the headwaters of the river to spawn and to die, and this does attract grizzly bears.  With the recent moratorium on grizzly bear sport hunting, there may be reason to believe that grizzly numbers will only increase.  As for the caves, they also exist and have been the site of some of the very few archaeological assessments that have ever taken place in the Bowron. The findings of these assessments were not significant.

Because of the high water we abandoned the posted markers of the river channel itself and paddled into the heart of the large Bowron Slough, something that is only possible at this time of year.  We had entered a very special world, waterfowl were everywhere and it was clear sailing into Bowron Lake itself.

We hugged the right hand shore, stopping at one of the very few sandy spots on this side of the lake where a few of the fellows took one last swim.  It was a short paddle to the take-out at the end of the lake, then up the steep hill to our waiting vehicles. Men don’t often hug each other, unless they happen to be on a Stanley Cup winning hockey team or when they make that impossible golf shot.   Now the secret is out…..they also hug one another at the end of a canoe trip like this one.










Three Little Boys, Three Dogs and Three Generations…Kibbee Lake and Back

Three Little Boys, Three Dogs and Three Generations…Kibbee Lake and Back


I’ve travelled to and from Kibbee Lake many times, in summer and winter.  Kibbee is part of the Bowron Chain of Lakes, a world class canoeing destination located  in the Cariboo Mountains in British Columbia’s Central Interior.  Campsite #1 along with a small shelter cabin is located at Kibbee, which is at the end of a 2.4 km. portage trail beginning at the Bowron Lake Provincial Park headquarters.


Kibbee now appears on maps as a separate lake from it’s neighbour, Thompson Lake although originally the two lakes together were known as Beaver Lake   If you look closely it appears that the two lakes are actually just separated by a very large and very old beaver dam.  Kibbee Lake, along with the creek draining it and running into Bowron Lake is named after Frank Kibbee, a larger-than-life Bowron trapper, big game outfitter and the Bowron Game Reserve’s first game warden.  Thompson Lake is named after_Roy and Norman Thompson, brothers and WWI veterans who established a marten and fisher fur farm on a high bench overlooking  the lake.  They also ran a trapline to the north and east of their homestead.


The week of March 25, 2019.  We were in the midst of  a hot weather deluge that had impacted all of western and northern North America in an extreme way.  Temperatures of +15C  during the day, barely freezing at night  triggered talk of global warming.  While this warmth, which was coming on the heels of a somewhat miserable winter was somehow welcome, it was also putting an end to many end-of-winter plans.  Sled dog races were being drastically modified, ice castles were melting, northern winter ice roads were disappearing.


My son Tyler and I had first discussed making a trip out on the Chain about two weeks earlier, at the tail end of a real (-30C) cold snap.  “This is really the time we should be going, especially if we were interested in making it around the Chain” he said, “but we can’t do that now because of commitments.  Would you be interested in a day trip, just going out to Kibbee and back during the Spring Break, I’ll ski and you take a dog team, the three boys could ride with you?”  Tyler had planted the seed.


In fact  as Tyler and I were having this talk, a couple of friends had just set out to hike around the Chain.  Using snowshoes they completed the 120 km. trip in 7 days with very few problems.   From tracks left in the snow they knew they weren’t the first ones to tackle the Chain this winter, in fact they met two fellows who had turned around at Lynx Creek on Isaac Lake and were heading back to the trailhead.  Our friends camped in  shelter cabins and cook shelters.  It stayed cold, the temperature during the nights stayed below -20C.  When they reached the Cariboo River there was open water. They remembered a damaged canoe they had passed on the bank of the Isaac River and so retrieved it and miraculously also  came up with two usable paddles.  Despite a large split in the canoe, it floated.  They paddled down the Cariboo River to a point just before Lanezi Lake where it was possible to once again start snowshoeing.  They spent the night in the ‘chalet’ at Turner Creek.  After a good sleep they completed a marathon hike the next day all the way to Pat’s Point where they stayed in the shelter cabin that had been built in the 1960’s by  brothers-in-law Vince Halverson and Sid Dannhauer and their families.  They made it back to their vehicle the next day, following a trail through the Bowron Slough left by a skier who had travelled out to the Paul Pavich Bowron River cabin and back.


I kept thinking about the possible trip out to Kibbee Lake.  I really wanted to make this trip for several reasons.  It would be a first for my grandsons (aged 3, 6 and 8)  and I.  Before this I had never taken them more than a few hundred metres in a dog sled. It would also be a wonderful experience to share with my son, one of the finest outdoorsmen that I know.  I also knew, although I didn’t really want to think about it, that after raising and running sled dogs for 47 years, this just might be my very last opportunity to run them.  My kennel was down to 5 dogs, all about the same age.   One of them, Tulugak, was the last remaining dog that I had bred and raised. The other four, Wells, Gray, Ace and Cela were all dogs I had acquired from other mushers.   At age 8+ years, as far as working dogs go, they were now close to being past their prime.


It hadn’t been a great winter at all.  It all started during the summer when my incredible lead dog Pitsiark had a recurrence of cancer and was humanely euthanized.  She was most of my team, a once-in-a-lifetime dog, a totally reliable gee haw leader, she always wanted to go, she commanded the respect of all of the other dogs, she had an amazing temperament…oh how I miss her.


I ran the remaining dogs a fair bit in the fall, using the ATV, which gives me quite a bit of control over the team.  I had always run Ace double lead with Pitsi and hoped that he might step up to the plate as a single leader.  It turned out that he is a pretty decent  lead dog, but not if he is leading on his own.  He knows his commands, he is eager to run, but if  up front on his own he likes to sniff every bit of animal scat and to pee on every tree.  This never happened when he was running with Pitsiark, she wouldn’t tolerate it.  My only option with the dogs that I had to work with was to run Tulugak with Ace.  Tulu had never run lead before, for her whole mushing life she had run swing, directly behind her sister Pitsi, a position where her movement was restricted not just by the fact that Pitsiark would not tolerate it if  Tulugak didn’t keep her line tight, but her movements were also restricted by both the tugline and the neckline that fastened her to the main gangline.  It turned out that she had also learned all of the commands, and knows them well, she is also a pretty athletic agile dog.  I thought (with fingers crossed) that she and Ace just might make a great pair.  But Tulugak has always had a chip on her shoulder, and she likes to fight.


My dogs are Canadian Inuit Dogs.  I could go on for pages about these incredible animals, saying nothing but wonderful things in the process.  These dogs are not a breed, they are what is known as an aboriginal landrace.  Like all landraces, the Inuit dog evolved in a particular environment (the Arctic, which happens to be one of the harshest environments on the planet) and in the process adapted in a manner that enables them to survive in this environment.  Their thick double coat, their incredibly compact and tough feet, their voracious appetites, their ability to work for long periods on very little food,  essentially their ability to thrive in an environment that allows only the fittest to survive.  With humans these dogs display an even,  warm temperament.  With each other, particularly between dogs of the same sex, often the gloves are off and the fight is on.  The reason for this is pretty basic.  If these dogs could talk it would sound something like “….if  I am dominant over you, then I will stand a better chance of getting  my fair portion and maybe even all of the food.  More importantly I will also stand a better chance of passing on my blood lines to the next generation.  In other words I will survive.”


It became obvious in the fall when running the dogs with the ATV that Tulu was going to be a problem. She saw the only other female in the kennel as her competition and she became her target, poor Cela.  I very quickly realized that as long as Tulu had the freedom of being the lead dog, she could and would run anywhere she wished, even if it meant turning around and heading right into the middle of the dog team where Cela was running.  Ace would try valiantly to keep her on track and to keep the lead dog lines tight, but if  Tulu chose to pick a fight, and if I didn’t see it coming in time to intervene, the end was often chaos.  This wasn’t much fun and things got even worse once I switched to running the dogs on the sled in deep snow where I had even less  control over the team if and when Tulu chose not to listen.


I wasn’t running my dogs as much as I would like, I found that even the thought of a possible dog fight triggered my anxiety.  Like I said, it hadn’t been a great winter at all so when Tyler suggested the trip out to Kibbee, Lake my first response was to apologize and to state that I didn’t think that it would be possible.  I couldn’t believe that these words were actually coming out of  my mouth.    I realize now that I had become really affected by Tulu’s fighting.  Also at the time, three of the dogs experienced potentially life threatening problems.  Within a three week period,  Gray developed a huge abscess on his jaw that required minor surgery and medication.   Ace developed  Masticatory Myositis which was the cause of a condition known as Trismus or the inability of poor Ace to open his mouth and which required special feeding and treatment with an anti inflammatory drug.   As if this wasn’t enough, Tulugak  developed gastric torsion that required emergency but successful treatment.


Throughout all of this I kept thinking about  the reasons that I would like to go on this little trip to Kibbee Lake and became determined to do my part to make it happen  A few days later I let Tyler know that I would like to see the trip to Kibbee  take place and that I would like to be part of it.



Historically Inuit families only maintained a very small number of dogs and there was good reason for this.  Both the dogs and the Inuit ate almost exactly the same thing, meat and essentially every part of the animal whether a marine mammal like a seal, walrus or even a whale or a land mammal like a caribou, muskox or bear and of course both humans and dogs eat fish.  The Inuit were hunter gatherers.  Obtaining food for survival was their priority.  If it came down to having enough food for his family or for his dogs, the Inuk hunter would of course feed his family and himself first.  It also meant that two or possibly three dogs was the maximum number that one Inuk hunter with a family could support.


As hunter-gatherers, the Inuit were nomads, they had to move with the seasons, following the migration patterns of the wild animals in order to be able to hunt successfully, in order to survive.  Moving for the Inuit family meant loading everything they owned and needed for that particular season on to the komatik (sled) and together, along with their two or three sled dogs the hunter and his wife and possibly the older children would pull the komatik to the spot where they knew they would find food.   The younger children as well as the elders would ride on the komatik along with the  caribou skins that were required for shelter, the hunting  and cooking tools,  and possibly a little food.  There was no real concept of travelling fast or of reaching a pre-determined destination in a specific period of time.  If the season made pulling a komatik impossible, the Inuit Dogs became pack animals and carried about a third of their body weight on their backs.  Wherever the Inuk hunter found himself with his family and with their belongings, was the place that they all called home. Everything they needed to survive was right there with them.  This was to change.


There are many classic images of an Inuk on a large komatik  being pulled by 10 – 15 gorgeous Inuit Dogs harnessed in a fan hitch, travelling over the sea ice, often with an iceberg as a backdrop.  These images are actually of very recent origin, probably beginning with the 1940’s.  This is the era when the traditional life of the Inuit began to change dramatically, and not necessarily for the better.  This is the period when the trapping economy exploded, particularly the demand for white (Arctic) fox pelts.  This was the period when the fur trade reached its zenith and trading posts run by large trading companies like the Hudson’s Bay Company or Reveillon Frères as well as by  independent traders, sprang up throughout the North.  This was also the beginning of the period when Inuit were enticed/forced to move into settlements, it was the beginning of the end of the Inuit hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and as time has sadly shown, it was ultimately the beginning of the demise of the Inuit Dog.


In order to trap more furs, the Inuit had to travel over much longer traplines and this required more and more dogs.  The furs in turn were traded at the trading post for processed food, canned goods, flour, sugar, coffee and tea, jam and honey, pasta, oatmeal, and rice.  The Inuit hunter spent more and more time trapping and less time hunting.  More of the wild game that he did hunt was used to feed the bigger dog team while his family’s diet became more and more dependent on the food available from the trading post.




For the Kibbee trip I decided to use only  three dogs, Tulugak, Wells and Gray.  I will never forget the first hook-up for these three.  We were at the trailhead at Bowron, because of the anticipated narrow trail I planned to run the dogs in single file with Tulu in lead, then big red Wells followed by Gray (who is grey). [ By the way, can you guess just which provincial park in British Columbia I obtained Wells and Gray from?] The dogs were hooked into the single file gangline and Tulu immediately turned around and made her way to the back of the team while Tyler and I stood back and watched.  She was looking for a fight but there was no-one to fight with. That strong survival instinct was still present but there was no reason for her to beat up either Wells or Gray who could one day be the father of her puppies and would therefore ensure that her bloodline would continue.  She sniffed the two males and they sniffed back and soon she took her place at the front of the team and that was that.  The dogs were great and I felt very relieved!


The plan was to make a dry run without any children out to Kibbee and back on the Monday, just to see if the trip was do-able, and if so we would  do the real thing with the kids on the Wednesday.  Folks had obviously been skiing and snowshoeing out to Kibbee over the winter so there was a somewhat narrow trail with a solid base.  The dogs in single file had no problems, Tyler set a wicked pace skiing in front of the team.  We ‘pulled the hook’ at about 10:30 a.m., the day was starting to get warm but it had frozen that night so we weren’t really sinking in. The sun was shining brightly, it was a lovely day, soon we abandoned hat and gloves.  At the end of the portage trail, at the spot where in the summer you put the canoe into the water for the very  first time, there is a little drop-off onto the lake.  There were several trails out on the lake to choose from, there was none of the dreaded overflow that is the nemesis of so many groups that try to ski around the Chain in the winter, the dogs did really well, it was bright, warm and very pleasant.


We made it to Campsite #1 and the cabin very quickly.  I staked out the dogs in some trees and we just sat in the sun on a wooden bench that was almost buried in snow, we soaked in the warmth as we ate our lunch and watched as a butterfly came to land on the handlebar of the dog sled.  There was no question that in two days we would travel out with the children.




Everyone  was excited in anticipation of  this adventure.  Nana made a lunch fit for Hannibal’s army.  The dogs knew the drill, having just completed the trip two days earlier. I chose to use a bit shorter sled than I had used on Monday,  the narrow trail made it very difficult to turn a longer sled in the middle of the trail. We chose to move the starting time ahead by an hour to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures.  It had rained since Monday and we feared that the trail might have softened significantly.


Our local ski hill, Troll Resort, is located on the way to Bowron Lake.  This winter, the owners experimented with a small trailer park (complete with two tiny homes) for  regular skiers who would like to park their mobile homes at the resort for the winter. My son had access to an unused school bus and had arranged for it to be part of this winter auto court.  As it was Spring Break for the children, they had gone skiing on Tuesday and spending the night in the bus was part of the adventure. I met them at the bus at 8:00 a.m. sharp.  There was a lot of excitement in the air.


We arrived at the Bowron trailhead by 9:00 a.m.  It was warmer than we had hoped and the trail had definitely softened over the past two days. We  knew the routine, I got the dogs and sled ready while Tyler got the kids ready.  For the children it was snowsuits all around.  These incredible pieces of  childrens’ winter clothing were  irreplaceable when it came to a child’s active winter lifestyle.  But they are also well named…toaster suits.


I let Tyler organize just where the kids should go.  We started off with  3 year old Garnet and 6 year old Eli in the sled, with 8 year old Logan riding on the left hand runner, with me on the right hand runner.  The kids in the sled were sitting on a foamy, Logan and I were able to pedal with our ‘outside’ leg, the one that wasn’t standing on the runner. Tyler was equipped with his back country skis and skins and he skied in front of the dog sled.  The dogs were great!


All right, Let’s go! It was slow going but we were moving well.  Logan caught on to the pedalling right away.  I was working hard, the shorter sled didn’t have the same kind of floatation on the soft snow as the longer sled would have.  I generally whistle to the dogs to encourage them to move along and soon there were four different whistling sounds floating through the air coming from each of the four riders on the sled.  The trick was to stay in the middle of the trail, where the hard pack was.  The dogs did fine, running in single file they were each able to pick their way right down the middle of the packed trail.  The loaded sled on the other hand was another story. If it veered to one side of the trail it almost immediately was grabbed by the soft snow which in turn caused the sled to veer right off the trail, often into a tree well.  It was a lot of effort to get it back on to the trail.  Soon Logan chose to run behind the sled, he was fantastic.  Eli and Garnet encouraged the dogs along, and soon I heard this three year old high pitched voice imitating mine….”alright pups let’s go, let’s go”.


The toaster suits soon became ‘roaster suits’….it was getting hot.  “I’m sweating, it’s too hot, how much longer, can’t we go faster – I want to go faster, let’s go pups, when are we going to be there, this is the longest hike ever”.  The two oldest boys took turns walking behind and riding on the sled.  They were careful to make sure their little brother was o.k.  It is primarily an uphill journey from the start to Kibbee Lake…in hindsight, it actually was going really well.


When we got to the lake, of course the trail was perfectly flat.  To heck with following the safety of the shoreline, let’s take the shortest route over the ice.  The sled moved smoothly, there was no suggestion of danger, but as each set of human and canine feet (along with the sled and ski runners) passed over the route, the overflow became more and more evident.  The dogs loved it, the pulling was easy, the overflow was not a problem for their feet and I suspect it was also cooler for them as well.


I didn’t really have to give the dogs much thought, they were doing their job and doing it well. “let’s go pups”.  Tulugak was wonderful, last Monday and today were the very first times that she had ever run single lead without any hint that she was going to fight.  I’m not saying for one minute that she is as great a sled dog as her late sister Pitsiark, but she was sure doing well today. As for the provincial park brothers, they were steady and powerful.  That image of the Inuit family with mother and father ‘in harness’ along with the two or three family Inuit dogs, all pulling the heavily loaded komatik to new hunting grounds flashed through my mind.  Was this really what it must have been like?  These were the same dogs, these would be the same spring conditions, but I’m not sure if those toaster suits were anything like the caribou skin clothing that the Inuit children of 70+ years ago would have been wearing.


Before too long we were at campsite #1, Kibbee Lake.  The children became quite excited when they saw the orange #1 marker sign.  Both Logan and Eli had been to this place before. For Logan it was in the winter, he was just a few months old and his parents had made  an overnight trip out to this spot on skis.  He was also here when he was two  years old, on that occasion his parents completed an epic 14 day canoe trip around the Chain when in addition to Logan, little Eli was also in the canoe.  The plan for that trip was simple, you paddled when the children were sleeping and stopped when they were awake and needed attention.  The canoe that was being used  at that time was a big 20 footer, complete with a covered nursery and a jolly jumper (to be used on dry land only).


Today the dogs were staked out in the same place as Monday, the children sat on the same bench that Tyler and I had used two days earlier.  They stripped down to their ‘fuzzies’, taking off those roaster suits. The sun was warm, the sandwiches were delicious (Nana had made each boy’s favourite) along with some treats and juice and once again the butterfly landed on the handlebar of the sled.  We had brought a special gift, a pair of hand dipped candles and these were placed inside the cabin, hopefully for someone to use.


After about an hour it was time to start the return journey.   Everything was done in reverse.  On the lake the overflow had now filled our incoming tracks, the going was good but the conditions were now quite wet.  All three boys were riding comfortably in the sled, the dogs were working really well. Once off the lake there was a longish initial uphill and things slowed down. As the trail got softer it became more and more difficult to steer the sled which seemed to be continually drawn into tree wells.  Logan helped out by hiking behind the sled until we reached the height of land.  On the predominant downhill sections everyone was riding and we made great time.  Before we knew it we were back at the truck, but not before one more little adventure.


Just after passing the Park Registration Centre Tyler called back “skiers ahead”.  Sure enough,  three or four men (it all happened in a blur) were heading toward us.  They were on skis, each was pulling a fully loaded pulka. We exchanged greetings as we passed, almost without stopping.  They were on their way around the whole Chain, we shared information about the conditions we had experienced, mentioned about our friends who had completed the circuit a few weeks earlier, said “Good Luck” and as both groups moved on we silently wished them well. (Note:  I later learned that this group was from Kamloops and that they did indeed successfully make it around the Chain….good for them!)


Once back to the truck the children were feeling cold and they stripped out of  their wet clothes.  We turned on the engine and heater and  essentially transformed the truck into a sauna.  It took about a half hour to load the equipment into the dog trailer and the dogs into their dog boxes and to be on our way,  just as raindrops appeared on the windshield.


Pat’s Point Thanksgiving 2018

Pat’s Point Thanksgiving….2018


At the put-in there was no question that we should wear rain gear,  the forecast had been for “overcast with some rain” and  I guess it was right, for a fine mist was looking more and more like real rain.  Looking east down the expanse of Bowron Lake, there was a clear line on the mountains, marking the elevation where precipitation was falling as snow.


We were the last to put in for the annual Thanksgiving rendezvous at Pat’s Point, it was 9:30 a.m. If all went well, we knew that the trip out to Spectacle Lakes would take just under 4 hours. We had earlier made the journey in mid-June along with two other couples and were familiar with the route and just what to expect.  We were anticipating meeting  up with about 11 other folks, who during the week had been making their way to Pat’s Point via various routes and at various times.  Most had left yesterday (Saturday), one person had left on Thursday and was going to paddle the whole Bowron Lake Circuit.  The plans were to sit down together for turkey dinner tonight at 5:00 p.m. precisely.


Almost alone,  smoke was rising from the chimneys of two or three of the cabins that line the first part of Bowron Lake’s southern shore,  we were staying close  just to be safe.  Three canoes came into focus heading for the take-out and hugging the northern shore, we learned later that they had spent the night in the old Pavich cabin on the Bowron River.


On entering the Upper Bowron River we were surprised by the number of waterfowl.  When I had paddled this way in May as part of  the annual Bro’s on Bowron trip I was alarmed by the complete lack of most ducks and geese, but they were there today.  The geese were rafting up in the Bowron Slough, probably in family groupings and getting ready to migrate south.  We saw quite a few mallards which we hadn’t  seen at all in May.  The highlight was three Trumpeter Swans, but no doubt they were planning on spending the winter, possibly at nearby Swan Lake.  As we paddled the meandering Upper Bowron River, I was thinking that just three weeks earlier Sockeye Salmon were making their way up to the headwaters of this very stream, to lay their eggs and to die, completing both their life cycle and the longest Sockeye migratory journey in North America.


When I had paddled the Chain in May, the water level was the highest that I had ever seen.  I felt then that this was the reason that the ducks and geese were avoiding this place, that they weren’t ready to build their nests, only to have them flooded and destroyed.  Now the water level was quite low, quite a contrast.  Still, we were able to find the deeper channels and made good progress without getting grounded.


I love paddling, it’s something about the resistance as I pull the paddle through the water.  I am always amazed that a slight twist of the wrist, a sweeping stroke or a pry can completely and almost instantly alter the direction in which we are paddling.  I love the hypnotic, relaxing quality of the cadence, starting with arms and then back and shoulders and soon the whole body.  The start of each stroke is an opportunity for yet another unique experience, sometimes dictated by the wind or a bend in the river, but most often simply an attempt to make the perfect  splash-free silent entry followed by the powerful pull to the hip with the slight correction if needed and then the feathered aerodynamic return for yet another knife sharp entry.  The bow paddler sets the cadence, in our case about 40 strokes a minute.  My wife and I have paddled thousands of kilometres together and when all goes well, it is very special.


I guess you could call it typical fall weather, it certainly looked like late fall.  We were past the bright orange and yellow backdrop of  changing leaves, they were now almost all on the ground. The sun was not able to make it through the clouds so it was ‘grey’, but still relatively warm.  The light rain came and went, I was glad  to be wearing rain gear, especially  my warm rubber boots with the felt liners.  Let it rain if it wants to, I’m ready for it.


A group of three boats approached us, we recognized the smiling faces and stopped for a 5 minute chat. We got caught up on the ‘who’s where and when did they arrive’ chat.  Our friends  were like us, they had just wanted to experience this place in all of its moods and seasons.  Also like us, this past summer their paddling had been curtailed by the forest fires and heavy smoke, and they were anxious to simply get out on the water.  They had camped out for a couple of nights further down Spectacle Lakes and now were heading home to enjoy a family Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.


There’s a big sandspit reaching well out into the middle of the lake, located right at the ‘bridge’ of Spectacle Lakes, and seeming to get larger and longer with each passing year. This year the children in our group had placed a ‘decorated’ tree branch right at the end of the spit, telling us to keep well into the centre of the lake before making the turn to the sheltered and very hospitable port of  Pat’s Point. It did take us about four hours to make the trip and when we arrived, there were smiling faces, seven other adults and four children, our group totalled 13 as the 14thpaddler, the one who was paddling the whole Circuit had arrived a day earlier than planned and had decided to head on home, rather than spending a whole day just waiting for others to arrive.  When I heard this, I remembered that just before entering the Bowron Slough I had seen what I thought was a kayak making for the take-out, paddling far to my left.


Everyone was settled in and they had been busy.  There was a good supply of firewood, it had been gathered from near and far, I added our meagre contribution, about 8 pieces of premium birch brought from home.   Everyone else had already spent at least one night at the campsite, we quickly set up our tent, anxious to outsmart any pending rainfall.  It was thrilling to hear the sound of the children’s voices as they happily played Hide & Seek and other games together.  The adults welcomed the opportunity to visit. Almost always in these situations the talk turns to paddling, of previous trips or experiences at this place and other important canoeing topics like the relative merits of kevlar vs. carbon fibre.  Today we spoke of this year’s summer travels, adventures and misadventures.


Around three o’clock the talk turned to turkey roasting and other meal preparation matters.  Once again we had the Big Easy turkey roaster with us.  Propane fired, infra-red heat (not oil bath),  five minutes per pound (and we had a 16 pounder).  Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, so too did our turkey dinner start taking shape.  The children had made up some colourful table centrepieces, there was even a table cloth and at 5:00 p.m. precisely, (while there was still daylight) and standing together, we took a moment to acknowledge that we truly did have lots to be thankful for, then we all sat down in the Pat’s Point shelter to a Thanksgiving feast.

There was a delicious bean and back bacon soup entrée, made from scratch.  Once the turkey was done, juices and fat were used to complete the delicious gravy.  There was stuffing, carrots, mashed potatoes, yams, green salad, dinner buns.  Dessert offered a choice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream or pumpkin cheesecake….or both.


The socializing continued into the post meal cleanup and the darkness.  It’s amazing just how good the conversation gets while you are doing the dishes by headlamp.  It was getting cooler and a favoured spot became the campfire at the front of the shelter.  The children quite spontaneously shared a play that they had been rehearsing throughout the day for an appreciative audience, and then they disappeared.  They had been running and hiding continually since our arrival, they seemed to fall asleep without a hint of protest.


I had been looking forward to going to bed.  I love my sleeping bag, it has always kept me warm, it is extra long and roomy and the combination of this bag and my thermarest sleeping pad always make for a great night’s sleep.  It was literally ‘lights out’ as soon as my head hit the pillow, and I think that my wife wasn’t too far behind me in falling asleep.  I slept soundly for almost 9 hours and felt refreshed when it seemed like time to get up.


The hardest part of my morning routine in a tent is putting on boots or shoes without getting my socks wet. I think we should practice at home putting on  and doing up our boots while sitting flat on the floor.  Once that task is accomplished and I am able to move around outside the tent in a more-or-less upright position, everything gets easier.  It was time for coffee and porridge, along with some fruit and yogurt and of course some leftover cheesecake from last night’s feast.   One by one the gas stoves started hissing, coffee was ready, adults and children with sleepy eyes made their appearance, soon there was lots of chatter and the day was under way.  But there was no rush and in a relaxed manner and over the next couple of hours camp was broken, everything and everyone found its place in a canoe in preparation for the trip to the take out.


We put as much of the firewood as possible under cover, swept out the cooking shelter,  returned the heavy picnic table that someone had moved  from the shelter back under the shelter roof, checked and double checked for any forgotten items, and by about 10:00 o’clock we were under way.


The paddle back along the Spectacle Lake shoreline always seems relaxing.  Today we visited back and forth, there was lots to talk about.  We paddled past  the spot that Bowron pioneers referred to as the Rock Bluff, a beautiful limestone rock face on our right.  We questioned yet again whether the island in the middle of the lake was called Maternity Island, or was it Deadman’s Island….and why?  At what point does Spectacle Lakes become Swan Lake? For that matter, why is it Spectacle Lakes when there is really only one lake? Why do the Park maps have Pavich Island labelled incorrectly?  Is the Joe Wendle cabin located high on the shore of  the Upper Bowron River worth saving, and if so who is going to keep it from sliding into the river?


As soon as we left the sheltered calm of the Upper Bowron River and entered Bowron Lake, the wind from the southwest hit us along with large swells.  The sensible thing to do was to head for the relative calm of the shadow of the northern shore.  It was a task to keep from being hit broadside by the waves and I relied on my favourite,beautiful, cherry wood, ottertail, feels like a natural extension of my body, Lolk paddle, to accomplish the task. This is the paddle that hangs in the place of honour in the living room, it was the first precious item that I placed in my vehicle  after being placed on Evacuation Alert during this year’s forest fires.  This is the paddle, that after one last powerful stroke snapped in half and fell out of my hands. I let out a short mournful cry, I was stunned, yet instinctively reached for  the spare paddle, a lumbering, heavy, broad-bladed, synthetic club  that was strategically located by my feet. The journey,  like life itself must go on.


Everyone handled the wind on the lake with no problem.  The big voyageur canoe, which carried 8 people along with the Big Easy moved along beautifully, the paddlers clearly had a system.  The children in the canoe were laughing and playing and were having a wonderful time, and I hope a great adventure that they will take with them through life.  When we reached the point where we had to cross over to the southern shore and our take-out, it was like we had an on-off switch.  The wind almost disappeared and the canoes paddled the last 15 minutes smoothly and safely.


I enjoy the take-out as the place where everyone struggles to ‘reset’ their brain from holiday/camping/paddling mode to getting back to the real world mode.  Before long all of the gear was packed into vehicles, canoes were on roof racks or trailers, good-byes and hugs were shared and it was homeward journey time, just as it really started to rain.  We would be home for supper, for at least two of our group it would be another turkey dinner.






Three Couples And The Bowron… A Trip On The West Side



How many ways are there to paddle into and to enjoy the Bowron?  We thought we would try something a little different.


Three couples who hadn’t been together for a while, just wanted to go canoeing and to spend some time together.  Our main interest was to set up a camp in a comfortable spot, to eat lots of good food, and to spend some time reading, talking and visiting with each other and maybe with any other paddlers that we might meet along the way. We chose a trip on the Bowron’s West Side, destination Pat’s Point, we lucked out.


Planning for this trip had been ongoing for a couple of months.  As departure day drew closer, we started watching the weather forecasts closely.  Red ‘ADVISORY’ warnings started appearing on Weather Network postings, all mentioning the possibility of “thunderstorms” during the three days planned for our trip.  Thunderstorms bring lightning and everyone was silently aware of the fact that the anniversary of the start of last summer’s devastating forest fires was approaching.   It was no accident that we were planning a (short) paddling trip that would only take us about 75 kilometres from our home.


We were the only ones to watch the noon showing of the Park orientation video, the information was helpful for everyone.  We also learned that there were a lot of paddlers out on the Circuit and  that there was a dead moose somewhere on Spectacle Lakes that wolves had been seen feeding.


The Wannabe is our 26 ft. voyageur canoe.  Despite its size and weight, six paddlers makes for smooth going on water like the West Side of the Chain to Pat’s Point where there are no portages and especially this year with extra high water levels.  It made sense to put-in at the public access located between Becker’s and Bowron Lake lodges.  It didn’t take long and we were ready to go.  It’s always so good to get on the water, which despite the thunderstorm warnings was actually as smooth as silk.


Preparez – En Avant!”   I’m always amazed by the fact that something as small as a wooden canoe paddle can propel a large canoe so easily.  I love the feeling of the paddle pulling against the water,  and once up to full speed, paddling seems effortless. Watching the bow cutting through the still water and judging our speed as we move along the shoreline or quickly pass by debris on the water can be mesmerizing.  I like to see how quietly I can make each stroke, guiding my paddle into and out of the water without making either a ripple or a sound, entering the water at a perfect right angle with my top hand at the same level as my eyes, pulling the paddle back  to the hip using strong back and stomach muscles to do all the work, and silently pulling the blade back out of the water before feathering it forward for another stroke.


When I’m the gouvernail in the stern I may use a ‘J’ stroke to keep the canoe on course or possibly a draw, which is a power stroke to accomplish the same thing.  The pry stokes are reserved for difficult situations because while they are great for tight turns, they tend to slow the canoe down. I sometimes switch to a longer paddle which offers more leverage and power when the wind, the current or the waves make the going just a little more difficult.  Of course all of this is done in concert with the avant paddling in the bow.


Bowron Lake is 7 kilometres long.  We stayed to the right, wondering if our friend might happen to be at her cabin about half way down the lake.  If there were signs that she was at home we would stop for a visit.  The conversation turned to the history of this part of the Chain, how Elinor McCabe had obtained title to 60 acres along this south shore, that this title had been passed on to Roy McKitrick who subdivided this parcel into 20 lots and that many of these lots now had cabins on them. This all happened well before the Bowron became a Park in 1961 and no attempt was made by the Park to expropriate this private property and so it remains today that there are privately owned parcels of land within the Park on Bowron Lake itself.


The dark thunderclouds seemed to come from nowhere.  They appeared over the south shore hills, at first it was difficult to tell just what direction they were moving but the significant wind was building and it was clearly blowing from behind, those clouds were heading our way.  The sky grew darker and darker, as we looked around, sheets of rain could be seen pouring down some distance ahead of us over the Bowron Slough or Wetlands.  While the sky was growing darker, the wind at our backs was actually getting stronger like a good friend and pushing us along against the current as we entered the upper Bowron River.  Still there was no rain; then we heard the rumbling thunder. My thoughts turned to lightning and forest fires, I then felt just a very light rainfall amidst the building wind, the darkening sky, and the now continuous thunder.


We decided to take cover and doubled our efforts to get to the Pavich shelter cabin that is located on the Upper Bowron River.  It was a welcome site, no one else was there; we knew that at the very least it would keep us dry, which it did.  It was a good spot to have our prepared lunch.


While this cabin is most certainly located on the upper Bowron River, it is actually located on an island named Pavich Island.   Paul Pavich purchased the property on which the cabin was built in the late 50’s from Joe Wendle. It is interesting to note that this Pavich cabin is located just a short distance upstream from the Wendle cabin which was built by Joe and Betty Wendle as part of an outpost fishing camp in 1926 making it the oldest extant structure on the Bowron Chain.


Paul Pavich and Eugene Krause were partners in the purchase of the property on which the Pavich cabin now stands; original plans were to build two cabins however the Pavich cabin was the only one that was finished.    A Barkerville-based log builder, Eric Rask, was responsible for most of the log work however the whole family was involved in the construction and everyone actually stayed in the little Wendle cabin while construction was taking place. Others involved in the construction were Mike Mahon, George Gilbert and whoever could be coerced to help out with falling trees, peeling logs or splitting cedar shakes (which were made from the huge cedar trees that were to be found north of Spectacle Lakes, across from Pat’s Point).  The shakes were transported on a barge that had been built in Wells, this same barge was used to haul building materials up from Wells to the property.  Bowron pioneers still talk about the memorable party that took place to celebrate the completion of this cabin.


This cabin is now almost 60 years old.    Bowron Lake Provincial Park was established in 1961.  After the Park purchased the Pavich property in 1963, the cabin was used by Park staff as the new Park infrastructure was being developed.  Eventually this cabin became part of the network of shelter cabins that exist around the Chain and shelter is exactly what it was providing for us. Maintenance and upgrades have taken place over the years with the goal being to ensure that the roof doesn’t leak and that it is possible to keep the cabin warm with the help of a safe wood heater and chimney. Essentially a port in a storm.  Upkeep must be ongoing and as we looked around we saw where a few upgrades were definitely necessary if this cabin is to remain weather proof.


Speaking of upkeep, as we were paddling upstream on the Upper Bowron River past the 1926 Wendle cabin we noticed that earlier attempts to stabilize the high sandy riverbank upon which this cabin sits are starting to fail and this cabin is precariously close to sliding into the river.  This cabin is 92 years old and is very ‘frail’.  Any attempts to move and to stabilize this cabin would require the advice and possibly the hands-on help of an expert.   The Bowron/Barkerville/Wells region is definitely an area where this expertise does exist and there is certainly room to move this cabin away from the eroding riverbank.  It is important that this very significant part of Bowron history be preserved, not just physically but also by documenting this building’s provenance through the preparation of a Statement of Significance.


The journey into the Bowron Wetlands along the meandering upper Bowron River is a challenge for a  voyageur canoe.  The bow and stern paddler must work together, especially when travelling against the noticeable current.  We were careful to follow the fluorescent orange markers, it would be easy to become dead-ended as the very high water made short cuts look appealing.  Normally this is the part of the trip where songbirds are everywhere, but something has happened this year.  There were very few warblers, no blackbirds and virtually none of the usual geese and ducks.  Our theory was that the high water had kept the geese and ducks away as it would be very difficult for them to build nests that would not be susceptible to flooding, but where were the songbirds?  We wondered if it might not be time to ask the Park to have biologists look at the status of both birds and large mammals in the Park, for there were absolutely no sightings of moose or any other large mammals during our trip as well.


We were measuring the history of this area in decades but it is impossible to spend time at this spot without thinking in terms of centuries when contemplating what this area looked like when First Nations fishers were present along this riverbank.  It seems pretty clear that the First Nation that inhabited the Bowron was the Dakelh  (also known by the names Carrier and  Takuli).  The first contact with these people was documented by Alexander Mackenzie in 1793.  Mackenzie was quickly followed by Northwest Company fur traders, and after 1821 by HBC traders.  In their early reports they speak of these people and refer to them as the Ndazko or Nazkotin.


It was a late summer day in August 1826.  Chief Factor William Connolly, HBC trader, was travelling north on the Fraser River, his destination was Fort St. James on Stuart Lake.  Connolly was completing the annual five month round trip resupply journey from Fort St. James located in the heart of New Caledonia to Fort George, located  at Pacific Ocean tidewater at the mouth of the Columbia River (not to be confused with Fort George/Prince George in New Caledonia).

Connolly had stopped to speak with a group of First Nations camped at the spot where the present day Cottonwood River flows into the Fraser, this spot is located on the Fraser River about fifteen kilometres upstream from the location of the present day City of Quesnel and the mouth of the Quesnel River.

Connolly notes in his journal that “the natives confirm that the numerous body of Indians who usually inhabit (the Fraser River) had retreated from the banks of the river towards Bear (Bowron) Lake and the sources of Quesnel’s River, but (spoken like a true fur trader) whether they have done anything in the fur way is not known. To both those places (the Quesnel River and Bear Lake) salmon ascends and they will I hope be able to provide the means of subsistence for the ensuing winter.”

Connolly obviously knew about the Bear (Bowron) River, which flows out of Bear (Bowron) Lake into the Fraser River.  It isn’t clear if he also knew about the Upper Bowron River that flows into Bowron Lake from the northeast.  The Upper Bowron River is the longest migration run for Sockeye salmon in North America.  This would be a logical spot for First Nations fishers to net their winter’s food supply.  I picture drying racks along the shore right where the Pavich cabin now stands, large fish-catching weirs  and conical fish traps in the river and fishers along the shore line with their long handled dip nets.  The presence of  fish cache pits has been documented in this area.  Called k’unsai in Carrier,  these pits are described by author Elizabeth Furniss in the book Dakelh Keyoh: The Southern Carrier in Earlier Times. “ They were about a metre wide and were lined with spruce bark.  Once the pit was filled with fish, it was covered with bark and earth.  A fire was built on top of the pit in order to dry the ground out, which helped prevent the fish from becoming mouldy.  The fish could be stored in this way for months”.

There is no documented history regarding whether or not First Nations overwintered in this exact area, there is a need for archaeological assessments.  However, the First Nations presence in the Bowron most likely goes back thousands of years.   Why wouldn’t it?  This area has everything that a migratory, subsistence, hunter gathering people would need.  What is known is that First Nations presence ended in the 1860’s with the smallpox epidemic that decimated First Nations throughout the whole region.

There are at least three ways of moving by water from the Upper Bowron River and the Bowron Wetlands into Swan Lake.  When we were ready to move on we decided to paddle upstream from the cabin on the Upper Bowron, knowing that in a few hundred metres there was a stream entering the river from river left.  Paddling up this stream enabled us to circumnavigate Pavich Island, taking us into Swan Lake.  The little stream had quite a current, but fairly quickly this current dissipated as the stream widened to become the lake.  We passed Birch Bay on our left and then made the turn out of Swan Lake into Spectacle Lakes.


We were three hours into our trip, had waited out the rain in the shelter of the Pavich cabin and the conditions were now looking good to move on, we were about an hour from our destination. This last part of our trip took us left of Maternity Island, past the imposing Rock Bluff and before we knew it we were making the wide turn around the ever-growing sand bar to our take out in front of the Pat’s Point cook shelter.  To our surprise, we were all alone…we had the place to ourselves.


Our first task was to set up tents while the weather was clear.  We hoped that there would be no rain, but getting the tents up now would ensure that we would have a warm, dry night’s sleep. We also moved into the cook shelter to set up our ‘kitchen’, which was no mean feat.  Travelling in a voyageur canoe means that you don’t really have to worry too much if you end up bringing along the kitchen sink.  We were cognizant that others would no-doubt be arriving and we limited our ‘footprint’ to one corner of the shelter.  Because we would be staying at this spot for the better part of two days, we scanned the area for firewood and were reasonably successful.  Eventually we paddled over to the woodlot located at the group campsite across the bay and came back with all the wood we needed.  Our desire was to keep the wood stove going and to always have a big pot of hot water available for anyone and everyone to use.


I lied when I said we were all alone.  We very quickly realized that we were sharing this spot with millions of buzzing, annoying, intruding, biting, relentless mosquitoes.  Long pants and long sleeves with shoes and socks were the norm, along with lots of ‘bug dope’, neck scarves and hats.  Why so many bugs?  Was it the high water?  Was it the weather during the month of June?  The bugs had not been noticeable when we were on the water, but getting away from them when on land was impossible.


There is also a present-day shelter cabin at Pat’s Point.  This cabin was constructed around 1959 by Vince Halverson and his brother-in-law Sid Dannhauer.  Sid had acquired the property just before construction started and Vince provided all of the building materials.  Vince was the owner of the Wells-Barkerville Sawmill and while both families had moved out to Pat’s Point and lived in tents during construction of the cabin, Vince commuted back and forth to his mill each working day, bringing the building materials to Pat’s Point in the evening, dragging all the lumber from Bowron Lake behind his 14 foot boat which was powered by a 35 horsepower Evinrude motor.  Sid travelled out to Pat’s Point on weekends, his job in Wells kept him in town during the week.  The property was taken over by the Park around 1964 the cabin was used by government workers for years while the Park infrastructure was being developed.


One other couple joined us on that first day and night at Pat’s Point,. They were from Shawnigan Lake, she had paddled the Chain 30 years earlier and had always thought that she would like to do it once again, stating that she wasn’t disappointed.  This couple had lots of time and we visited over the two days they remained at Pat’s Point, they weren’t in a hurry to get home. They chose to camp right on the point in front of the 59 year old Halverson/Dannhauer cabin.  Like the Pavich cabin, it is now maintained to provide a roof and a source of heat in the event of extreme weather.  It is also home to a number of mice.  This couple came to the cook shelter to prepare their meals.


Every meal was special. We had lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, fresh milk, literally all the trimmings.  No Starbucks Via-instant coffee-like substance for us….we had a big bag of freshly ground dark roast along with the French Press, and it got lots of use.  Having room for ‘stuff’ is one benefit of travelling with 6 people in a canoe that has seating for 10.  In fact we took one of the bench seats out of the canoe to make more room for all of our gear and supplies.


That first night we were all in bed by 9:00 p.m.  Entering our large roomy tents with their exquisite nylon screens was like entering a hidden paradise.   Try as they may, the mosquitoes could not get in and could only noisily express their frustration from the outside of the screens.  It was a great sleep, 10 hours of really good rest.  I did hear the Barred Owl’s ‘Who Cooks For You” during the night, and others heard the wolves howling from down the lake, no-doubt circling around the moose carcass we had learned about when registering.


The place is beautiful and has often been referred to as the ‘Riviera of the Bowron’ with its sandy beaches and opportunities for excellent swimming. In 1925, Thomas McCabe completed the first known map of what became known as the Bowron Game Reserve. He hiked around the Chain in the winter pulling a bicycle wheel that served as an odometer.  En route he documented the presence of cabins along with the names of both past and present occupants, trap lines and other natural geological as well as man-made features around the Chain.  McCabe made no special notations about the site of present day Pat’s Point.


About 30 metres from the cook shelter, hidden deep in the forest is an old (but recently stabilized) trap line cabin.  This small flat-roofed log building is only about 7 feet square, just a simple overnight structure with a pole sleeping platform along with the remains of an airtight heater. Who was the trapper that built this cabin?  Who was the Pat of Pat’s Point fame?  When enquiring about the history of this spot, the name Pat McKenna comes up…there is a need for some more research.


Pat’s Point is a popular and logical destination for West Side paddlers like us.  It is quite doable to establish a base camp and then to make a very interesting unburdened trip over three portages to Unna Lake.   A short hiking trail leads to a viewpoint overlooking the breathtaking Cariboo River falls, all of this with lots of time to return to Pat’s Point on the same day.  This is also a logical point for full circuit paddlers to stop and regroup before their final four or five hour push to the take-out at the end of Bowron Lake.  As well as the main campsite, which boasts the cook shelter, shelter cabin along with several outhouses, bear caches and at least ten tent pads; there are also two separate self-contained group campsites at this location.  One of these is directly across the water from the cook shelter area while the other is located down the beach at the end of the bay in a wonderfully secluded spot.


Day two started off with real porridge, not that gruelly instant stuff that comes in a brown envelope and that you mix with tepid water.  Our porridge was a mixture of steel cut oats, rolled oats, hemp hearts and Red River Cereal.  As it was brought to a rolling boil in a real pot, dried cranberries and cherries were added and it was served with fresh milk, brown sugar, maple syrup and yogurt.  This was man food, camping food; real sustenance!  There was also toast with butter and wild huckleberry jam, all washed down with a few mugs of dark roast (“Intense & Smokey”) freshly squeezed in the French Press.  Oh, and the oranges, I can’t forget the oranges.


It was now time to start our day’s activities.  We sat and swatted mosquitoes, read, chatted, went for walks along the sandy shoreline, checked out the wildflowers with the help of a guidebook, identified the birds that we did see and speculated about the birds that should have been there but weren’t.  The six of us have been very close friends for over 40 years so there was talk about children and grandchildren and jobs and retirement and moves and health and deaths and adventures, of future plans and past experiences together.  We didn’t talk about politics except in a joking manner.  We all share a deep love of the outdoors and talked about gardens and good food and stewardship and  husbandry. Some of us napped, others kept the wood fire going, we all were doing exactly what we had been looking forward to doing.


As the day unfolded so did the weather and the landscape.  Every time I look down Spectacle Lakes from the doorway of the cook shelter, the lyrics (albeit heavily abridged) of Jane Morgan’s With Open Arms start running through my mind, …..

               “And when (the) boat comes in, I run to (him/her/them) with open arms”  

And the canoes and kayaks did start coming.  We had spoken with one of the Park contractors that morning and he said that he had tried to find the moose carcass but hadn’t had any luck. He also told us that there were lots and lots of people camped at Sandy Lake and beyond and that we should expect company.


The bulk of the paddlers arrived close to noon, just as the heavy rain started.  Eight young women from the Island, all good friends (two of them sisters) were on their third annual adventure trip together…a different spot every year. They knew what they were doing and very quickly got all of their needed gear up into the shelter.  They were organized in cooking groups of two and were determined to have a hot lunch.  Their timing had been perfect; the shelter was alive with activity.  Then another young couple arrived, as well as our friends from the day before who had camped  down at the point last night.  The sound of single burner gas stoves filled the air, there were at least seven different meals being prepared all at the same time.  Other canoes and kayaks simply paddled through; still others went to the group site across the water from the cook shelter.  All this while the rain was pouring down.


We were preparing our own lunch (wraps with lemon squares for dessert) and visiting with everyone, all at the same time.  The rest of the paddlers were at least 35 years younger than we were and we loved their energy, it was infectious, this is exactly what we had hoped would happen.


The rain started to let up, just as everyone was getting ready to move on. The group of 8 had to finish that day and we were able to give them some tips on the quickest way to get through to Bowron Lake.  They were heading for Becker’s Lodge and we told them to look for the “red roofs on the left” for their take-out and that  would save them a lot of time. When this group was about to leave, the three women in our group went up to them and gave them a special gift of Whitewater granola bars.   They graciously accepted and were heard to say as they were getting underway…”what nice old people”.  One couple were in no hurry, they had a few more days and wanted to paddle to somewhere on the Chain that night.  We looked at the map and suggested that they try the campsite at Birch Bay.  The next morning as we were on our way out we stopped at Birch Bay and saw that their campfire fire ring was still warm.


The canoes and kayaks continued to pass by all afternoon; the Chain was busy.  No one else stopped, a few boats did pull in at the group campsite across the way. The rain had stopped and we resumed our same old hectic schedule of mosquito slapping.  Supper was shepherd’s pie cooked in the Dutch oven over charcoal briquettes, with more delicious squares for dessert.  We were appreciating June’s extended hours of daylight, but were ready for bed by about 9:00 p.m.


It was another great sleep.  We all seemed to get moving at about the same time and took it easy breaking camp, making sure that we stopped for breakfast.  This time it was fantastic enhanced Rotary pancakes, cooked by an experienced pro.  They came complete with fresh strawberries (from the garden), butter, maple syrup and yogurt, all washed down with some of that real coffee.


We were on the water by 10:30, I was the avant, the paddler in the bow.  My job was to set the pace for the mangeurs de lard behind me.  Real voyageurs would be paddling at least 50 strokes a minute, we were probably paddling just under 30, but we were moving.  The gouvernail paddling in the stern was my long time paddling buddy and he handled the canoe perfectly, we have been down many long rivers together.  We were making great time and could easily have overtaken the canoes and kayaks that had left ahead of us.  We chose to break up the trip with a special stop at Birch Bay, a campsite that we refer to as the Birches.  This is the spot where approximately 10 years earlier, a group of family and friends gathered and planted a dwarf weeping birch memorial tree.


We moved on and once again the wind was at our back.  We got caught in the strong current that drains from Swan Lake into the Bowron River and we were really moving.  Our gouvernail told us when to lean left or right as we negotiated the tight corners on the Upper Bowron River, this time moving with the current.  This technique, which exposes more of the canoe’s rounded hull to the current, made steering strokes almost unnecessary.  Soon we entered Bowron Lake itself, still with the wind at our backs. We chose to have lunch, something that is quite easy to do in a voyageur canoe, especially when the wind is pushing you in the right direction.  We ate and rested for at least a half hour, visiting and laughing and secretly feeling quite proud of our accomplishments during this trip.  We too were heading for the red roofs and when we got there the wind was blowing strongly, making the loading of the canoe onto the trailer, the hardest part of the whole trip.


The Bowron is about 30 kilometres from Wells and we had 5:00 p.m. reservations at the Pooley Street Café, where they make what they call “Scratch Food”.  The meal was truly special; we will be going back.   We were home by 8:00 p.m. and in bed at our usual 9:00 p.m., this time sans mosquitoes.


Jeffrey Dinsdale

June 2018





Bro’s On Bowron 2018

Bro’s On Bowron May 2018


It came right down to the wire.  First there was the report that two fellows who had hoped to make an early May trip around the Chain got stopped by big ice on Isaac Lake and had to back track to their put-in.  Then there were the encouraging aerial photos showing  completely open  and ice free Kibbee and Indianpoint Lakes, followed by another pilot’s personal report that he had flown over ice on Isaac Lake.  Our trip was slated to start on May 17th.   On the 14thwe got word that the Park maintenance crew had made their way on the East Side of the Chain as far as Wolverine Bay on Isaac Lake and that the West Side was also completely open.   We also learned that the Park maintenance crew was going to work their way north  from McLeary Lake to Isaac Lake using the old portage trail on the east side of the Isaac River, to get a look at the ice situation at the south end of Isaac Lake. On the 15thwe got the word and it was almost incomprehensibe.  “The end of the lake and the Isaac River are solid, jumbled ice from shore to shore”. How could this be?


My partner and I agreed that we were going to show up at the put-in on the 17thand if  Isaac was still blocked we would content ourselves with paddling on the West Side, possibly as far as Turner Creek on Lanezi Lake.  Others in our group were determined to make it all the way around the Chain and were simply going to take a chance that by the time they reached the bottom of Isaac Lake it would be open.  If they were successful we could all meet up at Turner Creek and finish the Circuit together.   A very experienced alumnus of  the Bro’s who has spent a fair bit of time paddling amidst the glacial ice of  Alsek Lake in the Yukon and Alaska pointed out that  the ice on Isaac Lake had probably broken up, was melting and that the wind had simply blown it all down to the south end of the lake and it was now slowly making its way out of the lake and down the Isaac River,  That is  why both the end of the lake and the river were “solid ice from shore to shore”.


The Bowron Chain is in Quesnel’s back yard, it is only a historic 90 minute drive from our homes to the put-in.  On the 17thwe all arrived at the Registration Centre early enough to catch the 9:00 a.m. premiere screening of the new orientation video.  Many of us had seen the old one at least 20 times, this new one was informative, entertaining and it came in stereo too as Park worker Corrine’s friendly big black dog Vita joined us for the showing and barked loudly every time a bear appeared on the screen. Unfortunately, this ‘new’ video (which is actually dated 2015) contains no mention at all of  the First Nations history associated with the Bowron.  Along with the video came the welcome news  from Corrine that “you are good to go,  the end of Isaac Lake, the Chute and the river are all clear of ice”. My partner and I changed our plans on the spot, we were going to paddle the Circuit.


There we were, 19 men about to start on the 23rdAnnual Bro’s on Bowron trip around the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit.  We have always made this trip over the Victoria Day long weekend.  In all those years we have certainly seen varied conditions but on only two occasions were we stopped by the ice, and in retrospect, if we hadn’t been such wimps,  on one of those occasions we could have made it around the Chain.


Our larger group was actually comprised of a number of smaller groups.  There was one bunch of five who cooked and camped together and seven pairs,  each paddling together in a tandem canoe.  Being the very first of the season to go out on the Chain means that there is no congestion and that finding campsites is not a problem, we can essentially camp wherever it works.  But we were not alone, leaving at the same time were one other group of four and at least four other couples in tandem canoes.  This didn’t include those that were choosing to travel on the West Side of the Chain.  Our experience tells us that there are an ever-increasing number of paddlers choosing to make this trip in the shoulder seasons, in both early May and late October.


A father, mother and their adult daughter visiting from the Netherlands had been camping at Bowron Lake Lodge and we invited them to come and watch the orientation video with us.  They loved everything about the experience,  there was lots of action as 30+ paddlers were busily packing and getting ready for  their trip. They enjoyed the video which instilled dreams of maybe paddling the Chain themselves one day. My partner and I played the old age card and enlisted their help on the first portage to Kibbee Lake.   It didn’t take much to convince them that they could hike that first portage to Kibbee Lake with us, and  “why not carry some of our gear while you are at it.”


As soon as we put in on Kibbee Lake we knew that the water level was higher than we had ever experienced it in the past.  That heavier than normal snowpack was definitely melting; high water would prove to be the hallmark of our whole trip.  Whenever I am sitting in my canoe on Kibbee Lake and taking those first few paddle strokes of the journey I always have the same feeling, this is my happy place!   I can feel the pleasure that comes with entering into this special world called the Bowron.  Occasionally I  use visualization as a form of relaxation, and it is the vista that  was there present before me at the start of this trip, that I always visualize.


The trip across Kibbee doesn’t take too long, but already our group was spread out and we were essentially on our own.  We knew where we were heading, to a string of three separate but connected campsites on Indianpoint Lake just past Kruger Bay.  There would be lots of room for our group at that spot.  but first we had to conquer the second portage running from Kibbee Lake to Indianpoint.  Where were those Dutch helpers when we needed them?


There is a knack to packing correctly for a trip like this one, and that knack seemed to have eluded us.  Let’s just say that we had lots of ‘stuff‘ with us, stuff that we didn’t really need.  A lot of the extra weight  was actually food, but there was also the 10 pound three man/four season tent that was probably a bit of overkill.  Throw in the two nylon tarps complete with ropes and extra heavy spikes for staking them down, and the extra clothing that I now know was superfluous.  Our repair kit was probably suitable for repairing the Queen Mary, and why did we need two first aid kits?  We did the Indianpoint portage in stages, leaving our loaded canoe (on wheels) at the halfway point and going back to Kibbee Lake for our extra gear and to have lunch.


As we were eating a delicious lunch of wraps with a filling made in situ comprised of tomato, black beans and avocado, the Park maintenance crew arrived and began raking the campsite where we were sitting.  Bowron Lake Provincial Park has to be the best raked park in all of B.C.  They raked everything, the tent pads, the area around the fire pit, the trail to the outhouse, even parts of the portage trail. All too soon we donned the heavy packs (actually one of them was the food barrel from hell) and we were on our way over the (raked) trail.  We got to the spot where we had left the canoe and it was gone.  Oh no, I had been hoping to dump the lead infused food barrel into the canoe and to exchange it for something just a tad lighter.  When we staggered into the little clearing at the end of this portage, many of our group members were having their lunch and we were able to thank the two youngest members of our group,  two young pups in their mid 20’s, for their help with the canoe.


Now that I mention our group, just who were we?  All of the group either lives in Quesnel or has  a pretty close Quesnel connection.  The eldest was 81, the youngest was 28.  There was one father and son who knew the Chain very well however each chose to paddle with friends who were first timers.  Four were paddling the Chain for the very first time, three of the group had paddled the Chain over 30 times, the rest had many trips around the Circuit under their belts.  There were nine canoes and one ocean kayak, some of the canoes were brand new beauties, there were no klunkers.  Needless to say there was a lot of paddling experience represented by the members of this group.  Decisions were generally made by consensus, but we all knew who the best and most knowledgeable paddlers were if we needed to make a difficult decision.


We all put in on Indianpoint Lake within about 5 -10 minutes of each other, into a pretty strong cross  wind blowing over our left shoulder.  We kept fairly close together until we were in the shadow of the left shoreline, where the wind was not a factor.  It was just under an hour’s paddle to that night’s campsite, we arrived around 3:00 p.m. The campsites were on a fairly high ridge so the high water level didn’t really have an impact on the landing or the campsites themselves.  There was plenty of time to just relax before setting up camp and making supper. The weather had been great, pretty warm for this time of year but it was still most comfortable wearing a polar fleece or nylon jacket.


Everyone was a pretty experienced camper.  Soon all the tents were up, the bedding was spread out, canoes were brought up to the campsites and stowed for the night, everything that needed to stay dry found a place under cover.  A fire was started in the fire ring, the rich guys brought out their $150.00 collapsible chairs and the rest of us sat on stumps.  Each little group did their own cooking and most of the efforts were pretty impressive.  We warmed up pre-cooked chicken with roasted vegetables along with dessert, easy to prepare and it tasted great; best of all, eating it should lighten our food barrel by at least two pounds.


Visiting and talking around the campfire always seems to be one of the best times of the day.  We were a pretty diverse group with backgrounds ranging from medicine to forestry, social work, nursing, engineering, mill work, small business ownership, administration, auto mechanics, electronics, we even had a poor man’s financial advisor in the group.  His advice to everyone, no matter the topic was to “send them a bill”, and then he wanted to send the rest of us a bill for this advice.  Over half of our group were actually retired, which meant that we were having trouble remembering just  what day of the week it was.  We had to establish some parameters for our discussion topics. It soon became quite evident that if this was going to be a relaxing and enjoyable trip, politics had to be completely off limits.


After a good night with no rain, we were on the water early, before 8:00 o’clock.  We paddled into the lagoon at the end of Indianpoint Lake and took out in the mud that always seems to be at that spot.  This was rubber boot country.  Soon the canoes were up on the wheels and  on the trail and this third and very rough ankle breaker portage that would take us to Isaac Lake was commenced.  It was shorter than the first two which was a relief.  We were also able to complete the portage in one trip but were somewhat shocked when we arrived at Isaac Lake.


The first three portages on the Circuit are all uphill, but somewhere near the end of this third portage we reached the height of land.  Up to that point, all of the water is flowing northwest, eventually emptying into Bowron Lake which is drained by the Bowron River which in turn flows north east into the Fraser River about 40 kilometres east of Prince George.  Once we cross that height of land, all of the water is flowing west and southwest into Isaac Lake, down the Isaac River which flows into the Cariboo River which joins the Quesnel River at Quesnel Forks which in turn flows into the Fraser River at Quesnel.  There was a huge amount of water flowing into Isaac Lake, the usual put-in at the end of the portage was under deep water, we put in well before the usual spot and once on the lake we could see the impact of the high water.   Campsites were compromised, with no beaches or shorelines and  water right up to the tent pads.  Some of the low-lying ones were completely under water.  Usual sandbars and beaches were well submerged. We were getting into the magnificent Cariaboo Mountain country and all of the mountains were snow covered and melting.  But it was a beautiful day, with spectacular reflections of the panoramic mountains filling the lake all around us.


There are two arms to Isaac Lake that are roughly at a 90 degree angle.  Our immediate destination was to get to the ‘elbow’ where we would make a  few decisions. Just where would we have lunch and what side of the lake would we paddle on when making the turn to travel down the longest arm that would take us to the end of the lake?  As we headed towards the elbow, both snow covered Wolverine Mountain and Mount Cochrane were spectacular in the bright sunshine.  There was no wind, the water was like glass, we paddled together with lots of bantering back and forth.


When we got to the ‘elbow’ we could see the Ranger cabin and the cooking shelter in the campsite at Wolverine Bay to our left.  At this point we rafted up for a talk before we started to paddle down Isaac Lake’s longer arm.  Part of our group wanted to stop on the right hand shore of the long arm to hike in and see an impressive waterfall that is virtually hidden in the bushes, they would also have lunch at that spot.  The same group wanted to spend the night in the group campsite that is on the right hand side about 2/3 of the way down this arm.  The rest of  us wanted to stay to the left and to camp at campsite #24 which is  just past  the spot where Betty Wendle Valley  enters Isaac Lake and which is almost directly across from the spot where the others would be camping at the group campsite.   For those of us who were part of this latter group, our first desire was to get across the arm and to have lunch at a campsite that was directly in front of us.


After lunch we paddled down the east side of the lake, we could see the other canoes across the arm from us.  We got to Lynx Creek campsite and took a break.  A huge tree had blown down in the campsite and had come close to destroying the bridge that crosses the creek and which makes this campsite usable.  This was the site of the famous bear mauling, that took place almost 24 years ago, when a young German medical student  who had been studying in Seattle, was attacked by a black bear while sleeping in his tent along with his girlfriend.   At this point in the narrative the facts become a bit hazy, because this story has been told so many times by so many people who didn’t know what they were talking about.  The bare facts of  the outcome are:  the fellow survived, a team from the hospital where he was working in Seattle flew  to Quesnel to escort him back to their hospital, Jerry MacDonald, the then editor of the Quesnel Cariboo Observer wrote up the story which was actually published in the Canadian issue of Reader’s Digest.


Our group  had a discussion about the fact that  campsite #24, which was the next campsite we would be coming to was probably at least partially under water.  It was decided that two canoes (four fellows) would stay and camp here  at Lynx Creek.  They would meet us in the morning and we would paddle to the end of the lake together. We made it to campsite #24 and indeed the water was lapping at the rims of the tent pads, there was no foreshore, but there was room for all of us with a bit of creative tent placement.  About two hours after we arrived, a father and son from Victoria paddled up to the campsite and we were able to invite them to join us, there was one good spot left and they ended up having a comfortable night.  We could see the rest of our group right across the lake from us as they had reached their destination at the group campsite.  From then on, the three different campsites kept in communication using smoke signals.


We had a good night, I always seem to sleep better on a thermarest.  Our tent had a few advantages over the smaller (and much lighter) 1 man versions that many of the others were using.  Being a four season tent, by closing  the zippers judiciously, the tent remained really warm at night with good ventilation, and the temperatures did drop after the sun went down.  Another advantage was the tremendous amount of storage space that we had at our disposal. Virtually everything we owned was kept safely under cover and it was easily accessible.  Sleeping on this trip was not a problem.


George Gilbert grew up in Wells, he worked for the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine and he was a key figure during what I call the ‘Wells Era’ of Bowron Lake, a period that started in the 1940’s and lasted until the Bowron was made a Park in 1961.  George, who passed away in 2008 wrote a book called Kicked By A Dead Moose in which he documents many of his Bowron Lake exploits.  In the late 1950’s, George wanted to build a cabin between Betty Wendle Creek and the lower end of  Isaac lake. He picked out a spot “about four miles from Betty Wendle” that he called Silvertip Point and arranged for Erik Rask to build him a log cabin at that spot.  I have often wondered if campsite #24 wasn’t actually the site of Silvertip Point.  Two years ago I rooted around the campsite and found a large old aluminum kettle, which suggested to me that someone had set up house there.  George’s cabin was “burned by the Parks pyromaniacs” after the Bowron Chain became an integral part of Bowron Lake Provincial Park, which was created in 1961.  When the cabin was standing, for some reason George buried a large glass jar filled with coins at Silvertip Point.  In  August, 1997, George’s large extended family made a pilgrimage journey around the Chain.  They called  this trip of a lifetime the Gilbert Odyssey.  When they reached Silvertip Point, George took out a metal detector and searched diligently for the large jar of coins…..without success.  The lost treasure of Silvertip Point is still buried there, waiting to be found.


The two canoes from Lynx Creek  joined us early after breakfast and led the way as we journeyed towards the mouth of the Isaac River at the end of the lake.  We could see that the rest of our group (across the lake) were on the move as well.  When we all met up at the end of the lake, we had an informative discussion.  The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but when there are tall mountains involved, it isn’t always easy to state just where  the early morning sun’s warming rays are going to land.  We learned that they don’t land on the group campsite that is located across the lake from campsite #24.  We also learned that in that shady spot, the snow doesn’t melt as quickly as it does in more open areas and that not every tent pad becomes snow free this early in the season.  But the group of five intrepid paddlers that had camped at the group campsite remained stoic when we were finally able to talk with them about their night.  They simply said it was “alright”.


The next part of the journey down to the end of the lake had to be one of the most peaceful and beautiful parts of the whole trip, especially early in the morning with no wind to speak of and water as smooth as silk.  Yesterday we had been paddling by old avalanche chutes that were filled with snow and ice., and there were more of these today.  There clearly had been avalanches this year, something that we have not seen for a few years.  This is also the part of the Chain where  thundering waterfalls are tumbling down the western shore of the lake.   All of the boats were on the water working their way to the mouth of the Isaac River.  This is the area that only 6 days earlier had been “solid ice from shore to shore”.


There were reminders that all was not totally idyllic.  As we approached the end of the lake, up high on the mountains to our right was evidence of recent forest fires.  These had burned the previous summer, amidst the unprecedented  number of fires that had overwhelmed and devastated much of central British Columbia.  All of us were impacted emotionally  and some physically by these fires.  Our community of Quesnel was  at the heart of the massive attempts to fight  them, our airport had been converted into a major fire fighting hub, our community hosted hundreds of evacuees, friends that lived to the west of our community were all ordered to evacuate their properties.  When the fires also broke out at this point on the Chain, an emergency evacuation of paddlers then on the Chain was successfully initiated by Parks staff and the whole Chain (indeed all access to the B.C. backcountry) was shut down for weeks.


The Chute on Isaac River is always a topic of discussion.  This year, with the very high water, it was a flush and all but one of the canoes chose to paddle through the chute.  Before paddling through however we took time to rest and eat and to watch the Harlequin Ducks that were swimming in the chute’s fast water. Seeing these ducks was a pleasant surprise,  partly because they are so beautiful but also because we had seen very little birdlife of any type on this trip.  There had been a few diving ducks (grebes and mergansers), very few geese,  a couple of loons, only one or two raptors and virtually no song birds.  We saw no mallards or buffleheads or any of the ducks that usually ‘flock’ to this area. There were no ducks of any kind resting in large schools on the lakes.  We speculated about high water being the reason for so few waterfowl, possibly they were unable to build nests until they knew that the water was retreating from the nesting sites.  Nothing is as upsetting as viewing a nest full of eggs that has been inundated by flood water.


The portage trails below Isaac Lake were snow covered in spots.  This tends to be the part of the Chain that is both cooler and very shaded.  This is the result of the dense forest cover provided by the Interior Rainforest that runs through the heart of Bowron Lake Provincial Park.  There were no real problems getting the canoes over or through the snow.  After paddling through the Chute and the Roller Coaster, there is a mandatory take-out on river left,  at the start of the terrifying part of the Isaac River known as the Cascades.  This year it was absolutely raging and it was comforting to be able to portage around the Cascades section of  the river.  At the end of this portage the canoes re-enter the river for a short paddle before another take-out and portage on river right, just above the Isaac River falls.  There are actually two portage trail routes on this section of the Isaac River, the one on river right that we were going to take and one on river left.  The river left trail is seldom used and runs right from McLeary Lake to  the spot where the canoes re-enter the water after the Cascades.


Like a well oiled machine our group, which was now travelling all together made it over the last portage to McLeary Lake where we regrouped and then zipped along a Cariboo River that was really humming.  This was the highest that I have ever seen this river, it was wide and there didn’t seem to be many obstacles.  Still, we all followed the lead boat’s route carefully, and there was a designated sweep boat.  The only potential problem would be getting caught on a snag sticking out from shore, especially on a corner, so we stayed towards the centre of the river.  The views along this section of river offer spectacular panoramas of snow covered mountains on both sides of the river. Before long  we were deposited by the river into Lanezi Lake, which also offers spectacular viewscapes.  There was no wind and I must say I did not miss the usual headwind that is a feature of this lake.  We pointed the bows of our boats toward Turner Creek, my most favourite spot on the whole Chain.  Lanezi Lake, which is a Carrier or Dakelh word that means long, was formerly called simply Long Lake.  It is long and narrow and the water is silty with a green tinge.  You can hear the glacial  silt scraping on the bottom of your canoe.


Turner Creek features a fully enclosed shelter with a few tent pads, but we were not the first to arrive and so our  group chose to set up house in the adjacent group campsite.  There was lots of room and we were very comfortable.  The water level was high, but the campsites on this lake were even higher, so flooding was not an  issue.  It was fun watching our encampment take shape.  We had put the tents away a little wet that morning so the first order of service was to dry out the tent fly and the footprint.  We had lots of time and there was a jovial atmosphere throughout the camp.  It was almost as though this campsite had been tailor made for us.


After supper we did something that as a group we have never done before.  It was suggested that  we gather around the campfire and simply talk about a job or jobs that we used to have. There was a bit of risk associated with this suggestion because men have a way of communicating with each other in a way that is often very different than the way that women communicate when they sit together.  Men tend to be a bit confrontational.  A typical lead-off comment for men might be “your’e still not driving that piece of s— are you?”  A typical lead-off comment for women might be ”do you have any children” or possibly “your hair looks great.”  This time around it was a bit different for the guys. First off we were actually sitting in a circle around the campfire as a group, we weren’t squaring off or glaring.  The discussion was actually lots of fun as we all poked fun at ourselves.  We heard about serving nine years in the army fixing tanks, a mindless job loading and delivering cases of Coca Cola,  a job teaching English to a group of Finnish and Francophone loggers in a Northern Ontario logging camp, installing communications devices at the top of oil rigs, all the while being petrified of heights….it was a great time, and we ended wanting to repeat this experience.


Lanezi was smooth, if there was any wind it was a tail wind.  There was ice in the avalanche chutes and there was a sombre moment as we passed the spot where some falling ice capsized one of our group’s canoes in 2014. We talked once again about the great rescue that had probably saved lives at that time.  The two responsible for that successful rescue were paddling just ahead of us, we wondered what was going through their minds.  (Many of us on this trip had been practising canoe-over-canoe rescues in the local swimming pool for a couple of weeks leading up to this trip).


North Vancouver has its famous lions ‘guarding’ the North Shore Mountains.  The Bowron has Mount Ishpa  (formerly Pyramid Mountain) and Mount Kaza (formerly Needlepoint Mountain) guarding the western entrance to the interior of the Bowron Chain.  We passed these mountains as we left Lanezi Lake and began the  transition from the Cariboo Mountains to the  Quesnel Highlands topography.


It is sometimes difficult to appreciate that as we paddle Lanezi and then Sandy Lakes that the Cariboo River is actually flowing through these lakes and helping us along.  This was particularly true this year with the high water.  The Cariboo River was originally called Swamp River and there are  Bowron pioneers alive today who still use that name when referring to this river.  The name came from Neil ‘Swampy’ Wilson who was probably the first full time white trapper resident in the Bowron, going back to the late 1800’s.  He tended to focus his trapping efforts along this river.


We entered Sandy Lake which is  very shallow and a lake that becomes quite dangerous if there is a heavy wind. Today there was little or no wind but it looked like a large open sea, we weren’t going to get grounded on any shallow spots this time around.  We did stop for a break at one of the campsites.  The campers this year will all have waterfront properties with a great view.  The water was lapping at the tent pads in each of the three campgrounds on this lake, the beautiful sandy beaches that give this lake its name were nowhere to be seen.


At the end of Sandy Lake we once again entered the river and before we knew it we took a right hand turn and were making our way upstream on Babcock Creek to the start of  what is clearly the best portage on the whole Chain. Four members of our group chose to take a channel that leaves the river on river left and which enters Unna Lake. From this lake it is possible to hike a beautiful trail (especially in the fall when the blueberries are ripe) that leads to a viewpoint overlooking the Cariboo Falls.  Those who took this side trip reported that it was spectacular. The massive amount of water going over the falls caused the spray to splash  right up to the viewpoint where everyone was standing.


While no-one went to them this year, on a short trail that branches off from the trail  leading to the falls are two small lakes known as Rete and Jean Lakes.  These lakes were named by George Gilbert in the 1940’s.  This was a time when the miners from Wells would head out to Unna Lake on the weekend in their motorboats where they had established a small summer community consisting of dwellings that they referred to as shake shelters.  George named the two little lakes after Rete (Rita) McKelvie and Jean (Grady) Speare, these names appear on the older maps and once again, there are Bowron pioneers still alive that refer to these lakes by these names.  At this point in time the British Columbia Geographical Names office is considering an application to have these lakes officiallynamed Rete Lake and Jean Lake.  Jean Speare, who wrote the invaluable guidebook Bowron Chain of Lakes  Place Names and Peopleis still very much alive at age 97 and remains a wonderful source of information about Bowron history.


This part of the Chain has been heavily impacted by the Mountain Pine Beetle, but one of the foresters in our group noted that looking around today, it would be difficult to know it. Not that the new growth has taken over, it is that  the dead trees  are no longer noticeable and anyone looking at the view scape would not know what it looked like 20 years ago.


We crossed Babcock Lake, another shallow body of water that can be dangerous if there is a big wind, but we had no wind to contend with.  We then took one of the two ‘deactivated’ portages that run from Babcock to Skoi and then from Skoi to Spectacle Lakes.  I say deactivated because these short portages used to be like little railways, with (originally) logs and then squared timbers for rails and modified ore carts with steel wheels running on these little tramways.  This infrastructure pre-dates the Park which was established in 1961 and it was a boon for the Wells miners who would leave work on a Friday afternoon, hop into their motorized canoes and boats on their way to Unna (they called it Grizzly) Lake.  When they got to the portage they would simply lift the loaded canoe, motor and all onto the ore cart and wheel it to the next lake.


We got to Spectacle Lakes with a big sigh of relief, this marked the end of the portaging for this trip. One of Bowron’s anomalies is the fact that Spectacle Lakes is plural, but there is really only one lake.  The wind had found us as we were putting in. My partner and I took a safe line but the five adventurers who were  portaging with us were going  to put up a sail and sail to that night’s campsite at Pat’s Point.  They had quite a construction project under way when we left but as we looked back we saw a huge blue sail along with a much smaller one that was being used by the kayak.  We all made it to Pat’s Point safely, the sailors were ecstatic, they had a lot of fun.   Some of our group decided to camp at the main campsite where the shelter is available. The rest of  the  group  which was travelling just a bit behind us headed to the group campsite further down the shore and decided to camp there.  They explained later that they were just too tired to fight the wind in order to get to the main campsite.


We had all assumed that the main campsite would be quite full.  It is a prime destination for those paddling on the West Side of the Chain, and the number of paddlers leaving for the West Side when we were starting seemed to suggest that there would be quite a few takers for this place. What we found was a deserted but extremely well raked campsite,  we had the place to ourselves.  One other couple joined us about two hours later.  The strong wind continued to blow, we dried out our tent and then put up the blue sail as a wind block in the doorway of the cook shelter.  It worked very well.  We set up camp and then laid claim to a spot on one of the tables in the shelter and started cooking supper.  Soon there were eight different meals underway.  The fellow who had arrived later was from Victoria and we all were captivated by the smells coming from his stir fry.  The guy was a gourmet cook and he made it all look quite effortless. Our supper on the other hand did not rank in the gourmet category but was tasty never the less.


We were all quite tired and hit the sack without another round of sharing stories like we had the night before.  We had a bit of rain overnight but as we knew we would be home by late afternoon to dry things out, we really didn’t worry too much about a wet tent.  We put in nice and early next morning after a big bowl of fortifying oatmeal (actually a combination of steel cut oats, oatmeal flakes, Red River Cereal and Hemp Hearts) served with yogurt and coffee and we were underway, the second canoe to put in.


It is a four hour paddle to the take out, the conditions were great.  I love this paddle, we go past the spot known to the pioneers as ‘Rock Bluff’ on Spectacle Lakes, past Deadman’s or Maternity Island on our left and into Swan Lake.  We stopped at the campsite known as the Birches to visit Kayla’s tree.  It was heart warming to find that even with the high water it was safe and the leaves had opened.  It was an emotional grandfather who reached  out to touch it and a just-as-emotional paddling partner who was privileged to share in this moment.  We stayed to the extreme left as we left Swan Lake and entered the Bowron Slough.  We didn’t realize that had we visited  Pavich Island and the Bowron River we would have met with two other members of the Bro’s Alumni who had travelled out the night before to meet up with us as we were finishing our journey.  They had camped at the cabin on the Upper Bowron River.


The Bowron Slough was almost surreal.  I had never seen it with such high water.  We could paddle almost anywhere but we tried to follow the orange markers to avoid getting dead ended.  There was a whole new forest we had never seen before but this time all of the trees were black and dead and sticking up out of the new lake that had been formed by the high water.  Of course these dead trees had always been there, but it took this new backdrop for us to see them as a forest.  There was a bit of a wind blowing  from our left and we took a conservative line, heading for the right hand shore of Bowron Lake.  Before long we were at the take-out, it was about noon, we were the second canoe from our group to arrive and we made a point of getting all of our gear up the short hill to the parking area and out of the way of everyone else.  Before long everyone was there, the fifteen of us who four and a half days earlier had taken off just a few hundred metres from this point where we were now standing.


It was another good one with a great bunch of companions.  Thank you everyone for making it possible.

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.


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.


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.


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… 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.


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.


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

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

Bro’s on Bowron 2016


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.

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Darius Rucker sings Wagon Wheel: