Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Big Silver and sub-zero paddling

There are a few things I always wear and carry while kayaking. They include the basics (boat/PFD/spray deck/paddle/helmet/nose plugs/float bags) and extend to some safety items depending on difficulty and who is involved (webbing/pin kit/throwbag(s)/extra nose plugs/rope/ear plugs/breakdown paddle (like a spare tire)/first aid kit). For expedition or multi-day trips and steep creeking which I haven't done yet there are a few other things you'd want to have to which I'll get into more once I've had some experience.

For sub-zero paddling there are additional considerations, which have become all the more evident the two times I can really point out where it's become a real issue (not for myself) in my short paddling career thus far. In the winter it can get cold, I've paddled in -6 Celsius temps (and the water felt waaaaaay colder)...to the point you get out and the buckles and zippers on your PFD and equipment have a good layer of ice frozen on them and are impossible to easily open or take off. This is probably not safe and I wouldn't want to do anything exploratory or risky in sub-zero temperatures as the consequences of problems become dire indeed.

Some extra kit I have started wearing since it got around and below 0 degrees are a dry-top full time, fleece top, dry pants, fleece long underwear, wool socks, gortex socks, fleece cap w/ear guards, pogies, and an extra set of neoprene gloves in case of a rescue situation or anything where I won't be holding my paddle and don't want my hands to freeze. I wear this in addition to my wetsuit/surf top and neoprene booties I normally wear in warm weather to this point. Even with all this gear it can get cold and I often will keep paddling in current to keep warm. I highly recommend a drysuit and fleece undergarment...actually at any point, especially in the winter, though they can be expensive..I've managed to this point and for the foreseeable future to find something that works in it's place.

I also always carry, separate from my kit and especially for trips into wilderness, dry clothes (nothing will warm you up when you're cold and wet like getting into something dry, also good to hit a pub or something afterwards), water, warm gloves I can work with and a toque and jacket, just in case. I also always have some basic items like a blanket and sleeping bag permanently in my Jeep as well as towels.

Ever since the whole Independent Power Producer Run of River issue came to my attention (I'll have a whole section/hopefully not rant on this later..) Big Silver Creek has been the one place in it's crosshairs (of MANY) that has really beckoned my attention, between the amazing trip reports on Fraservalleywhitewater.com, Liquidlore.com, Bellinghamwhitewater and others this place looks amazing! ..and is somewhat close to home (compared to most other places someone could live!).

It was finally in early November when a group of us finally assembled to descend upon the river. Merick, Kiah, Matt and myself headed up the long/harsh winter drive along Harrison Lake to the large creek. We had visions of attempting some crazy class IV/IV+ drops, our first waterfalls (there are 7 or so on the length of the river ranging from 10-40 feet tall including one that would be a good first falls in my and other peoples estimations), and running a few of the famous canyons before the place is pilfered by the greedy Independent Power Producers.

Things got off to a bad start, it was windy sometimes with blowing snow, around -1 to -4 degrees, the roads were icy, it was not an ideal time to be exploring and pushing our limits. Three of us had creekboats, one still had a smaller river runner not ideal for some of the things we wanted to push (nothing wrong with portaging!). We got up to the forest service road heading to the river and Merick's car couldn't make the hill, it was too icy. Being persistent as we were we piled all the gear, boats and people into my Jeep and headed up, this meant we no longer had a shuttle...so whatever we were to run we'd have to hike/run/whatever back to the Jeep at the end! ..and adventure right! This would be the least of our problems.

By the time we finally got to the river after seeing Cogburn Creek (another nice looking future easier creek to run!) it was much later in the day than we wanted to be. First mission, check things out...we hiked down a very steep, slippery bank and explored 'Divided we Falls' waterfall, including the unrunnable sieve about 150 yards downstream. What a beautiful waterfall, it seemed clean and flushing, had a few good lines, not a horrible lead in with a pool above and seemed perfectly runnable to finish off a canyony section of the river. It took us a long time to check it out as it was no easy task to get down there (I don't think we were in a rush to get into our boats with the temps!).

Finally, after exploring upstream quite a bit (to where it looks like they intend to place the run-of-river diversion head) we headed down below to the regular put-in for Claudia's 'upper run' in her guidebook (Whitewater in Southwest BC, the local river sub class IV bible). We got in and were freezing...after a fairly short float to an awesome looking, challenging class IV ish rapid leading into a canyon section that looked good to run at the level if slightly low, we got out to scout. A member of our group didn't bring any hand protection, no pogies or gloves, and my extra gloves (which have since been replaced with better, beefier ones) didn't cut it for him. His hands were frozen, especially with the wind, he couldn't go on and got out to do the hike back to The Jeep. We looked at the rapid and thought about it for a long time. We decided to err on the side of caution and get out. It was cold, very cold, we lost our best boater, running the drop meant somewhat committing into a canyon section. If things went wrong it would not be good. We headed up the bank to the road and Merick and I started racing back to the Jeep. This would be our shortest, least productive expedition, weather conspired against us, and it just didn't work out that day, but that's ok.

Though I wish we'd got to run more I'd still deem the expedition a success for 2 simple reasons. Number one, we got to check out an area that not many people get to, a beautiful place worth exploring and that to truly encourage the government to stop it's destruction we need to use and appreciate. We got to scout quite a bit so that when we do go back in warmer weather we'll have a quicker time getting our bearings and heading where we need to go/knowing what we need to do.

The number one reason I'd call the trip a success is because of Clear Creek Hotsprings (a natural, harnessed hotspring, this ain't no Radium!). After our failed attempt at running the river we headed up to the hotsprings (about an hour drive, need a good 4x4), we only found them because of some people we ran into on the way, and it was about -10, dark and near 6 PM when we got up there, but they were amazing, we spent a good hour + there before driving down and unwinding with a delicious meal at Jack's(?) in Agassiz. Like most of the paddling daytrips I've gone on, by the time I got home it was near midnight and I was wiped out. ...waaay better than sitting on the couch watching TV any day of the week!

My coldest paddling day (-6 or so)

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Cap

The Capilano River. Maybe the most popular river overall in and around Vancouver, even people who've never been to Vancouver have heard of the famous suspension bridge and make it one of their big stops on a visit to the city (if only they knew the Lynn Creek suspension bridge is right down the road, free, and nicer with the falls and hiking in my opinion!). Capilano River is dammed at the head, providing energy I believe to the city, while the nearby Seymour river provides the drinking water (I could be wrong). What most people don't realize (I never did before I started kayaking) is that you can kayak down from the weir at the base of the dam to the ocean. It's not a long run, so if you're coming from out of town you might want it to be at a good play level (3.5ish?) or a decently challenging level (5 or higher in my opinion). It's also a good idea to perhaps combine it with the Lynn Creek run or lap it (do 2 runs)..in order to quench your boating thirst.

Thankfully an online gauge is provided by the Vancouver Kayak Club via the 'Cap Cam', boy would one of these be welcome on rivers like The Lynn, Seymour, Chehalis, Norrish, Big Silver...one could go on I suppose!

It was the evening after our adventures in Washington on The Nooksack when Klade called me up and invited me to join on the Cap the next morning. Sunday morning arrived, we couldn't check the level online for some reason, but I headed into the carpool meeting in Abbotsford anyway, there I met Marvin, Klade and we later headed in with Jeff. We now knew the level was at 5.5 and dropping.

Looking at the put in I thought it was crazy, the level was just over 5, there was a giant wavetrain after a 4 foot seal launch into the pool downstream of the weir. My heart pounding I threw myself into the froth, it should be said, it's interesting getting into the Cap at Capilano Park where there are so many interested tourists watching you, you feel like you're putting on a real show.

Meanwhile back on the river, I'd missed the first eddy, barely got in the second and had rolled 3 times on the eddy lines already...before the first rapid. Sitting in the final eddy before 'House Rock'(the first rapid, a huge rock on river left) all I could see was a massive blow of water off the cliff on river right that would shoot you right toward house rock, which had a massive pillow builtup and exploding all around it, it didn't look passable on the left (usually an easy line at low levels as I understand). It was by far the messiest 'room' I'd enter up to this point. There were people all over the bridges and rocks fishing or just watching us go at the rapid, people that two minutes ago had been clapping as I'd struggled to make a simple eddy thinking I was putting on some kind of show!

I headed into the exploding water and got blown maybe 10 feet left, didn't manage to ferry right and started rising up against the right side of house rock, plunging down the side of the rock I barely managed to stay upright, then got toppled by the following hole, rolled up and saw Jeff swimming beside my boat. We got into the eddy after the rapid and rescued Jeff and his things.

Next up was a big rooster tail and a bunch of headwalls. The rest of the run was a bit beefy, still seemed low despite being at a reasonable level, there were some small play features, but not as prominent as I hear there are at lowel levels. Basically after the mess that was house rock the rest of the run felt easy by comparison, especially with my senses heightened from that first drop. The scenery of the run was amazing, with little waterfalls everywhere and of course the suspension bridge, something to be said for passing under and seeing so many flashes going off up there so high as people take what I'm sure are such bad pictures!

We finished the run but we weren't done, Marvin and Klade didn't come all this way to do a short run, they wanted to do it again, and I wanted another crack at House Rock...Jeff sat the second one out needing to get home. This time the level had come down a bit to around 4.5 or so. House rock didn't look any different to me, and the same thing happened. Only this time I got slowly scooped up onto the pillow on the front of the rock, and as I sat at an angle parallel with the water, sculling myself up (creating steady buoyancy with your paddle) I got slowly dragged around the right of the rock until I fell right into the hole behind it upside down.

5 rolls through the following holes and my first time actually being T-rescued later I was in the eddy and hadn't swam, which I was very happy about! Again the rest of the run seemed even easier at the lower level...and I left being quite satisfied with my performance, but can't wait for the next round against House Rock...hopefully at an even higher level!

 Klade and I chilling below one of the many small waterfalls
Klade seal launching into the pool below the weir

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nooksack North Fork and Horseshoe Bend

After my defeat at Mamquam I had to turn down a trip invite for the first time..my knuckles were badly beat up from my swims and I couldn't make it to The Upper Seymour the next day. However next weekend, pogies (mittens around your paddle that your hands slip into) in hand, I would be venturing out again...this time into the most technical section of river I've done even until now.

Whitewater is like snow in a way I find...there are straight up sections where you just go...and there are some technical parts where there is only a single runnable line, lots of rocks and holes and you have to make a series of maneuvers to stay on your line such as jet ferrying or boofing, or simply lining up your momentum and direction on the approach. The more technical aspects come into play moreso with what's called creeking, descending steep creeks that require portaging, lots of scouting, and must make moves is probably the most difficult and risky kind of kayaking people can do, and it's my goal to become proficient at this.

The best way to practice for creeking and develop your skills is to seek the advice of the best kayakers you can find and watch to see how they do things as they descend the river. The other thing you need to do is practice yourself! If you can find what you consider difficult whitewater, practice your moves, ferry across holes, get your duffek down, dropping into eddies and hanging out there with aerated water surrounding you, eddy turns into strong currents, ferry across the river using series of features, holes, waves, rocks. Boof everything, try to hit boofs one after the other and link all these moves together, each time hitting bigger boofs and more difficult ferry lines! That is how you prepare yourself to take on more difficult whitewater where things like this MUST be performed. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms in here, they're all available on Wikipedia if you're not afraid to do some research!

Now the Nooksack is in Washington near Mount Baker, geographically about half hour south of Chilliwack, but because of the border crossing location in Sumas it turns into an hour plus journey! The water was low, very low, 600 cfs or so, which is considered the bare minimum runnable level.

After leaving a vehicle at the takeout we parked at Douglas Fir Campground and quickly discovered a trail leading upstream of the bridge...we followed this trail for some time (most of us, some stayed behind at or near the bridge as we had a varied group this time, for the first time I wasn't the least skilled kayaker, despite being the least experienced), after going for awhile and crossing a large tributary bed we started to hit some very challenging rapids, we were scouting as we went. I suppose you might be able to follow this all the way to Nooksack Falls? At least the town of Glacier anyway..

We finally got to a large rapid deciding if we were to venture more upriver we'd need creekboats instead of the smaller, less buoyant playboats we all had..there was one big rapid before the main run we were going to do. Kiah and I were the only ones who ran it..thankfully with 7 boaters total there was lots of safety around since I was definitely in over my head on this one.

That first rapid was a real challenge for me, it was a big drop with wood wedged in the top right of the lip after which all the water squeezed into a small, churning channel which led straight into a big rock, which you could go right of, or more difficultly go left of. The height of the drops and froth of the confluence at the bottom really made it intimidating to me. I watched Kiah get in and warm up a bit, then run it without much difficulty, he is a better boater than me and had a much bigger boat as well. I got in and warmed up a bit, doing some rolls, eddy turns, stretching and ferrying, it's always fun when the first drop of the day is the largest! I headed into the drop of my line from the start, I was too far right! I managed to skid across the log and fall into the froth at the bottom, the hole immediately after flipped me, I rolled up and into the big rock at the bottom only to flip over again..I knew all I had to do was wait it out and I felt my boat slowly turn then run down the rapid as my head dented on some rocks then rolled up in the pool at the bottom. I'd done it, mostly upside down, but for my level at the time I was happy, everybody clapping in disbelief and happy that I didn't swim!

The next stretch to finish off Horseshoe Bend was a series of rocks with pourovers between them where moves had to be made in quick succession to stay on the often only line possible down the stretch at this water level. Hopping down there was the most fun I can remember having in a kayak, it was so challenging, I missed one ferry and got pinned up on a rock with my bow in the air, it took a bit but I managed to wiggle myself off only to get flipped over in the hole just after, I rolled up half against a rock and unable to breathe with the water rushing into my face resulting in a brief swim. We would finish off the last leg of Horseshoe Bend with less difficulty as we met up with the other members of our crew and avoided the almost river wide log near the end by going far left.

The class 3 section after the Douglas Fir Bridge was fun and seemed easy after Horseshoe Bend, going through a very scenic little canyon. It was a bit shallow however, even the next day friends of ours would kayak the same stretch at more than double the water because of rainfall!

I wish we'd taken out at the next bridge, as the last 5 km or so was a long float through shallow gravel beds and trees, but now we know...

This is a definitely a run I can't wait to get back to at the level I'm at now and maybe with a creek boat so I can hit more of the difficult rapids upstream of where we put in...maybe in the Spring! Like the Chehalis, this river is largely water reactive, so it's flows can often be very sporadic, keep your eyes on the skies!

 Scouting the first rapid, wish I had a better picture of this
 This is one of the more open areas

 Marvin finishing off the first section
 Kiah making it look easy
 Some of the typical boogie in the low water Bend
 Eddy hopping at it's finest, with nice big eddies

 The long float home...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It was the day after my first off Chilliwack run on Chehalis where I had no difficulty, not even a roll, I felt on top of the world, hadn't swam in about a month, it was September 29th, 2010 and I would learn a lesson this day...

The Mamquam is a far away river, by my standards so far, it's up just east of Squamish, about 2.5 hours from my place. I got the call from Merick that morning and headed into Vancouver to meet most of the same crew from The Chehalis the day before plus a few Vancouver Kayak Clubbers that I'd never met before, in all there was a good size crew with 7 of us on the trip..and as usual, I was by far the least experienced paddler, but today by far not the least confident.

We got to the takeout around 11 and scouted the more difficult 'Middle Mamquam' from the road 300 feet up, I was really looking forward to this part, it looked amazing from up so high you could tell it was big water (compared to what I'd seen) after the Skookum Creek confluence. The gauge read 45-50 at the bridge, we left a car at the bridge end of the 'Upper' and a car at the dam end of the 'Middle'.

Luckily I brought The Jeep today as it was the only thing that could make it the last 2 km to the put in, we ended up running two shuttles to get all the paddlers/boats/gear to the old washed out bridge put in, which looked mean as the entire river narrowed to about 12 feet across at this point! I remember Amy, our most experienced paddler saying to me 'aren't you scared?' as I was getting myself pumped up for the put in, and I said 'Not at all, just excited'...of course I was a bit scared, I was just trying to be the confident paddler. On the same note, when everyone was being asked about their rolls mine was 'fairly bulletproof', and it had been lately, this would not be the case at points this day.

Now, it should be explained, I have a crutch about me, if you could call it that. When I'm paddling with paddlers who I perceive as much better than myself at any one time, I am a much more conservative paddler, modest, and I seem to make more mistakes and not be as sure of abilities. When I paddle with people I don't know or people who I perceive as not as skilled as myself or who think I'm better than I actually might be, I seem to paddle more reckless, hit everything, show off a bit and be confident and try to lead on the river, I really pride myself on my river reading and line picking skills.

I remember at the beginning of the run, we had our order set up, with good paddlers up front to scout, myself and Gun, the two least experienced, in the rear surrounded by Amy and Tom. Gun was following my line, and I was hitting everything difficult I could find, I turned around and told him what I was doing, and it might not be a great idea to follow my line if he was on the safe side. I remember wanting to be up front with the guys I'd paddled with on Chehalis, and feeling we were being ultra conservative..oh how I would be proven wrong.

It was all working out great and we were having a great day with one small swim up until maybe the last third of the run, when I hit a big hole I was recommended to avoid, didn't roll up and swam into a rock in the middle of the river, my boat was a ways downstream. After a quick throw rope, pendulum rescue I had 2 choices, hike up and over a 300 ish foot canyon wall and back down to my boat...or swim down the same wall through some class 3 boulder garden. I hiked, it was horrible, soft, wet logs and wood, devils club in my hand that would last a couple weeks, there were a few points where I had to cross a crevasse where I could see down to the river below it...all 300 feet below. In hindsight it would have been smarter to swim I think. After the half hour trek I finally got down to my boat, and the guys with their long wait were cold and I'm sure not impressed though they didn't show it (maybe they felt more sorry about my hike?). Another rapid and my boat might've been lost they thought.

Either way, we got on our way and a couple rapids down encountered what I think was the most difficult rapid on the run, I'd say a class 4 double drop with messy lead in. I flipped and rolled after the first drop and landed the second larger one after a backwards blind run down...but I made it, I think our scouting team waiting in the eddy below were more relieved than I was! I was still a bit shaken from my swim (my boating always seems to suffer immediately after a swim or bad roll).

A short time later I would hit a little rock, get flipped and swim again! This time due to shallow water more than anything, either way I ended up doing the worse swim I've done through some big waves and rapids, struggling to breathe, and once again had a little trek to my boat...that I overshot and then had to hike back to!

Needless to say, by the end of the LONG run (took us about 5 hours all in all to this point) it was starting to get dark, we were cold, my hands were freezing (pre pogie era, pogies are like whitewater mittens, and glacial fed, lakeless river, lakes allow water to heat up a bit). We just passed Skookum Creeks confluence and your could tell the massively increased volume, for some reason Skookum seemed to be pumping, must've been the big rains the night before, the gauge now read 35.

It was rapidly getting dark and colder, Matt had to leave, but 4 of the seven of us including myself decided to run the much more difficult Middle section from the bridge to the dam, only about 2 km, but a rabid canyon with much higher water than the previous run. Merick, Tom, Ryan from up North and myself ran it. To this day, this is one of the more difficult things I've ran, at the time it was BY FAR the most difficult thing I'd hit. There were big, unavoidable, multi-directional crashing holes and drops, pourovers you had to dig out of or boof well (I don't think at the time I knew how to boof or what it meant?). I remember it being like what I imagine the 2 rapids leading up to and beyond 'Godzilla' on Chilliwack Canyon being at 1.6 or 1.7 but for 2 km. Though it was nice to have lots of water and no shallow rocks.

Despite the minor beat down and lessons I received, because of my success at the difficult middle section, I consider this run and overall success. But I learned a valuable lesson, not to get comfortable. Gun videoed the entire run as well, number 18 has the largest rapid. Unfortunately as you'll find in 2D video, it doesn't capture any of the gravity or size of whitewater, everything looks easy to me in video.

Our entire run on youtube HD in sections

Running shuttle
 Middle Mamquam from 300 feet up or so

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Chehalis

It was time to expand my horizons. It was late September and I was feeling good about my boating, I hadn't swam in about a month, and for the first time I was able to be a support/rescue boater on easier runs. The problem is to this point, 2 solid months boating, maybe 10 or 15 runs through Tamihi but I hadn't been on any other rivers...and there are lots of rivers out there  of similar difficulty or easier than Slesse down on The Chilliwack.

That Friday I decided to take the plunge, I noticed on The Vancouver Kayak Club (VKC) board that a few people were doing a run down the Chehalis on Saturday, so after checking the difficulty in Claudia's guidebook(Class III) I said I was in. We met Saturday morning at the takeout and the level was low, very low...probably a good thing for my first time as if there's one thing I was used to dealing with, it was low level induced exposed rocks. So we set off on the shuttle, this time it was myself and 4 people I had never boated with which was also a first for some time...and as usual I was by far the least experienced paddler :)

There are 2 options when it comes to putting in on The Chehalis, you can either start on Statlu Creek on or upstream of the bridge (gets more difficult as you go more upstream, and punishingly low water most of the time), or you can do a bit of a hike in to the Chehalis itself upstream of the confluence with Statlu (and apparently run some of the best rapids). There is also from what I've heard the option of going lake down through some good class 5, but that has been blocked with wood for some years, not that I was near a skill level to attempt that either! We were going to hike in, it seems the logging roads have really changed the dynamic of the area since the guidebook was written...and none of us had a GPS to confirm the coordinates, so we found the best looking option in line with the guidebook and went for it. We hiked forever, seemed like a good 40 minutes of hiking with our boats and gear through swamp, dense forest, devils club (The worst.), it was a good bushwhack. Finally we found running water! We used rope to get our boats down a steep canyon embankment (didn't remember reading about this for the put-in)...and finally got on the river, dead tired. We got on, did a few rolls, everyone was asking me about my level and comfort factor, then cringing at the thought of multiple rescues in a canyon (though pool drop which means rapids are followed by calm pools, and with some eddies at this low level). I don't think anyone has a break-down spare paddle either, which later I would learn is a great idea in a canyon.

We got going, the first 6 or 7 rapids were incredibly bony (rocky) and I thought fairly difficult, but we did them alright and then, ta-da, came to the confluence with The Chehalis. It was clear we'd actually put on in the lower canyon area of Statlu Creek at this point, we got way off track on our hike in, so we all had a good laugh and decided we'd never try the hike in again!

What an amazing river, the water is crystal clear green, and through much of the run you are in a steep walled (maybe 300-500 foot), wider box canyon and you are fairly committed, especially after the confluence with Boulder Creek it would be very difficult to get out for any reason. There is one really nice and more difficult rapid called Landslide which was formed by a landslide in 2002, I paddle with someone who was on the river (upstream) when this actually took place, that had to be an experience! There is maybe 2 more rapids that are more difficult, the rest of the run isn't too bad. I do remember 'Go right or die' rapid my first time, I ran straight head on into the rock you had to go right of, got turned around and went backwards down the hole on the left! I was a bit worried at the time, but made it through no problem (is it weird that I often have an easier time when I run things backwards!?). There was one more rapid which was incredibly difficult, and involved a few manoeuvrings around rocks and had holes coming at you from all directions (this would get quite hard at higher water). Towards the end there is a really cool place with a MASSIVE log jammed along the entire width of the river that is actually large enough to seal launch off of!

In the end we finished the run with no carnage (I was surprisingly actually the only one of us who ran it clean without using a roll!). Since then I've done The Chehalis 2 or 3 other times, once at a good water level, once with a beginner (like myself the first time) in tow, and each time putting in on Statlu higher and higher upstream of the bridge. It's got to be one of the most scenic and favorite rivers of mine! ...and so close to home! Overall it was a great second river experience.

My undoing would be the next day on the Mamquam...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Water Levels

Everybody has looked at a river that looks like it's crazy flooding thinking 'wow, that's insane!', then maybe come back another day and seen it low and tame and thought wow, what a difference! After looking at my post yesterday, it came to me that people who read it might have no idea what '1.4' means as a water level...I don't mean just non-paddlers, but people who gauge other rivers as well, as saying 'it's at 1.4' is pretty specific to The Chilliwack as well. I remember being a non-paddler looking up 'whitewater kayaking' on Wikipedia and having no idea what half the terms meant or how paddlers could even remember the names of all the different strokes, water levels were the same thing, they meant nothing to me until I actually needed to understand them! So today's entry might seem a bit like a boring math or science lesson...

The Chilliwack has it's own specific gauge reading (as do many rivers), and it reads in meters of height (1.2 is low, 1.5 is medium, 1.7 is high). 'High water' also depends who you ask, for example, to a beginner paddler or someone who's only paddled a level below 1 m, 1.5 m could seem like very high water. To an experience paddler, high water wouldn't be until it gets over 2 m. There are also more than one gauge, typically the gauge you hear referred to is in Chilliwack Canyon, there's also one at Vedder Bridge and one in Slesse Creek. Water volume obviously builds up downstream as tributaries join the main flow. As a correlation for what I've done so far on the Chilliwack, I consider 1-1.3 low (lower than 1 is painfully low), 1.3-1.6 medium, 1.7 plus high.

To correlate the height ratings on the Chilliwack with other rivers we need to establish a common measuring level since actual height of a river doesn't necessarily have anything to do with power (they can be really wide or narrow), the common denominator is cms (cubic meters per second of water, in the USA they use feet "cfs" which you've have to correct for as well), this is the amount of water displacing a cubic meter of area each second. The Chilliwack at low flow for example, is maybe around 12-20 cms, at medium is around 20-40 cms, and at high flows is obviously higher. A big water river like The Thompson can be up around 600 cms.

It's a different experience getting on the same river at different water levels. Low water is slower moving, has less of a pumping, pushing, grabbing feel to it. Rocks are largely exposed, as are big eddies, eddy lines are small and unobtrusive, holes are small and not as sticky (won't hold your boat or a swimmer as easily). If there are swims it's usually fairly easy to gather swimmers and gear and get them into an eddy.

High water pushes you down the river really fast, you have less time to think and make decisions, there are less eddies to stop in and gather yourself and consider what to do or scout, making you more committed to your run and individual lines. Many rocks and features get flushed out, but where there were rocks there could now be holes, and at really high levels big rocks can become massive river wide holes. Eddy lines can get high and hard to cross, whirlpools form. To me the water feels like it's constantly piling up on your boat and pulling you under, and this seems to directly relate to what kind of boat you have...a more buoyant, less edgy boat will have less trouble while smaller playboats with lots of edges will have a much more difficult time.

The first time I tried a tiny playboat not even as long as I am tall was in The Chilliwack when it was over 2 m, and it was pretty crazy...the one big advantage is that you don't have to worry as much about being able to roll as often nothing will stop you...also you have to worry about massive logs rolling downriver which act like icebergs and pop up when you least expect them...but that's a whole other tangent! I can't wait to get on something big like the Thompson, it'll be a blast!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


If you've ever been up The Chilliwack River Valley and you're not a kayaker, you've probably noticed Tamihi rapid and the slalom course there, upstream of the first bridge over the river heading to Chilliwack Lake. Tamihi rapid is a class IV ish rapid sitting in a class III run, and is probably the most difficult rapid on the Chilliwack to negotiate, especially at high water...though I'm sure this can be debated.

When I started kayaking, it was the most visible goal...to run Tamihi..before I even knew of the canyon or what it was, I knew about Tamihi. I would go there regularly just to scout it and check things out, having I'm sure no idea what I was looking at or for ironically. I would watch kayakers go through and make it look easy, I would watch the slalom boaters run up and downstream on it making that look easy..it was obvious, this was the next step.

In late August/early September I finally started combat rolling with regularity (it's so nice to know it's not an automatic swim when you flip under!)..and this would turn out to be a very good thing. Up to this point all I had done regularly was the beginner run, I had two Slesse - Tamihi runs under my belt, and hadn't been below Tamihi to the Raft Ranch. During my only pre-Tamihi run downstream of Allison Pools I can remember having a tough time with the big boulders at high water through The Fang and Trailer Park...but ended up negotiating them no problem really. We spent forever that day scouting Tamihi, I really wanted to do it...but Bob wasn't game so it would have to wait for another day... I would spend a lot of time playing at Microwave above Tamihi as well, just learning to ferry and ride choppy on the fly style wave shoulders.

Finally on September 10th it was time. A bunch of us put on after work above Trailer Park (Tanner, Kim, Dave, Ken, Brett and myself I believe). Tanner was the experienced guy with us, after making it through Trailer Park with a roll and another roll shortly after I was off to a rough start. We got out at Tamihi and scouted, some guys were going right, some were going left. I watched Tanner run it straight on the left with Kim following, she rolled twice but made it. I got in my boat intending to follow the same line...my heart pumping as I plunged into the big first few drops grabbing at the water below with my paddle while the water on top tried to pull my boat back into the holes...the level was around 1.1 or 1.2...I ended up rolling twice the same places Kim had, but it was the best feeling I ever had being in the eddy by the bridge, my whole body just vibrating!

I would do Tamihi my second time a couple days later with Kay and Kiah at 1.4 and it was a very different experience...Kay was in front of me sideways telling me to lean forward and paddle, each of the three biggest drops I hit direct with almost no speed and my boat started backtracking up into the hole until my stern got dragged down, Kay was going crazy...I paddled out and for good measure told them I was messing around and trying to see what would happen and test my limits...true or not. Tamihi would give me one more big scare at 1.6, but now I'm pretty good with it, ironically it's just a couple weeks ago I finally tried the easy line right to left down the middle...and have finally started to play around with the Roman Bath drop in it, I've also finally been able to assist in some rescues there too, it's always a good feeling knowing you're confident enough with a rapid to help others and not be depended on for survival!

Over the next month I would take every opportunity to run Tamihi I could in preparation for my inevitable first run in with The Canyon...I felt with Tamihi behind me I could finally start exploring other rivers with confidence and running the class IV stuff out there...

 A tame looking Tamihi, and me paddling just above Tamihi finding my line
Running microwave

Friday, December 17, 2010

Getting started, message boards and my swimmin' hole

I was lucky in my initial whitewater experience, I had a great support ensemble starting out. I had people that were always willing to hit up the beginner run on the Chilliwack (Hans, Tracy and Bob). People that were willing to take me on my first runs down things like Raft Ranch and Slesse (Curtis, Rob, Dave, Ryan, Wes). These people were all instrumental in my development, and I'm sure enjoyed watching me swim while pushing my limits as far as I deemed necessary and they deemed sane.

7 Days a week I was out on the river in The Medievil, honing my skills, developing technique on the beginner run, these runs were instrumental in my development from inexperienced beginner to confident beginner willing to take on things more difficult than at the time I could imagine. I would spend each day on that run and/or surfing the wave at Osborne, trying to hang on to the wave or working on my roll in the river. I was never a person with the priviledge of learning in the pool until later on, but I think this benefited me, as I got to enjoy the splendor of Cultus Lake and the experience that comes with it, not that the comfy pool is a bad thing!

My first run down Raft Ranch (the step up from the beginner run) came in late July following Curtis' line through the mess wide eyed and at a decent water level as I remember it (could be wrong :). I remember being separated from the group at one point, with Curtis staring at me and saying as I got back, thankfully not flipping as I had no roll at the time, 'stay on my tail Adam, and lean forward, be aggressive!'...I would hear these words echoed to this day everytime I paddle with him, and the only time I need to hear them it seems, is with him!

It was one week later, in early August, I did my first run with Curtis and Rob from Slesse Creek down to Allison Pools..at a decent water level again, this would be my first experience with decent class 3 drops, headwalls, whirlpools, big holes and their evasion. I went in wide eyed that day, it was bad weather, my first time using a dry top and horrible...but I had a great time, swam twice but didn't even care...

I learned in those couple months from late July to mid September to become comfortable on the water in my old school boat, start to push my limits, and that if you didn't swim, you were way too within your comfort zone. Of course that last statement could always be argued with, as some people prefer never to swim (I can't disagree!)...but it happens, and you'll have a much better time if you can just take it, swallow your pride and move on instead of dwell on it!

Wilson Road rapid became my bane, my swimmin' hole...I must've swam there 10+ times, and I still rolled there after getting my combat roll down! Every time we came to that rapid (the hardest one on the run unless you hit The Hallucinator hole)...I tensed up and had a bad feeling, I knew once I conquered that I'd be ready for the next level.

I used the message boards to my advantage, started finding other paddlers, and making my non-paddling time into paddling time! This has to be the best resource beginner paddlers fail to use, there are always people out there willing to teach!

I also learned the basics of what I needed to move to the next level, beyond the basics...into a world of class 3 and up, with the right gear, my river rescue training, and the right people, the sky became the limit....

Fraser Valley White Water

Vancouver Kayak Club

Kayak West

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A bad idea..

It had been about two weeks since I took the beginner course, and I had yet to paddle in my boat, which was much more edgy and harder to control than the one I learned on in the course. Naturally this led to a great idea! I was tanning out in my yard one day after work...and I got a call, someone had seen my post on one of the local boards looking for a paddler to show me the ropes a bit...

When I first met Sam at the put in I found out he was a high school age man who, despite being a decent beginner paddler, hadn't paddled for awhile...and was in an unfamiliar playboat, not his usual larger rig. I was an absolute water virgin. we were on one of the easiest runs of the Chilliwack that could be considered whitewater even (I realize at this point!). There was a bit of a rapid, a hole with a bit of a wavetrain under the bridge..which to me at the time looked huge, though I thought I'd have no trouble.

Now a bit of backstory on the river. The Chilliwack, when it reached what is now the Vedder Bridge used to flow north to the Fraser River along the current Chilliwack River Road. In place of all that is Chilliwack/Abbotsford/Sumas was a gigantic seasonal, shallow lake called Sumas Lake. In 1922 the lake was drained with Sumas Drainage Canal and Vedder River/Canal created, allowing for all the exposed land which is now the three cities and then some of agricultural area. Chilliwack River now turns in Vedder River after Vedder Bridge and when it curves north and becomes a canal it is Vedder Canal until it meets the Fraser River. Now you know!

Looking at the river I thought 'this'll be easy, all I have to do is ferry across and avoid the rapid'...well we put in and I managed a roll (first one in my boat, I'd also been the only one on my course to manage a roll). Sam went ahead and passed the rapid no problem.

As for me...as soon as I got in the current my hips were shaking side to side, I had no idea what to expect from or how to handle my boat and it's heavy edges. I barely managed to turn into the rapid and in the hole flipped right over, luckily I grabbed a rock on the side and pulled myself up, and Sam had rescued my gear downstream, his first rescue. I had no way of getting back to the road that I could see except through someones yard...well I got caught, and got a strip torn off me, rightfully so. I apologized to the man and went on my way, crossed the bridge and down to my boat. I deftly completed the rest of the run to Lickman Road with my eyes wide and shaking.

This was my start into kayaking. I would complete one more run with a guy I met named Bob before doing an actual beginner run with lots of experienced kayakers and Kaye(The Purple Hayes instructor). On this second run with Bob we went from Osborne Road to Teskey Rock avoiding all the hazards on the river, and I didn't have much difficulty. This would be the lead up to my learning and would mimic much of my steep learning curve.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It was April when I found out I was being posted to Chilliwack, BC from Cold Lake, AB. Having grown up just outside Edmonton, AB (Fort Saskatewan) and spending all my life in Alberta not near the mountains it's understandable I'd never been close with water or watersports up to this point. My parents didn't have a lakelot and I never spent time with people who did growing up really. As people who know me will tell you, I hate water.

Just prior to moving out here I'd seen a show on TV (or maybe it was a Molson Canadian commercial) featuring whitewater kayaking and didn't give it much thought. Once I got here I'd had an inkling, and once I'd done the rafting down the canyon it was a full fledged driving force. I had to kayak. This was the time while I'm still relatively young and in the prime place, living beside one of the best, if not THE best, rivers to learn on in the ultimate Canadian area and climate for whitewater kayaking.

I started my search one night casually thinking I'd buy a kayak, found one from an older dude who lived down the road from me, and by that night had a 1998 model Dagger Medievil riverrunner with a skirt, 90 degree offset paddle (which I've never used), and cheapo helmet (that ended up lasting me a good couple months). As quickly as I could I took some lessons through Purple Hayes School of Kayaking (if I hadn't been lazy I could have done this in late August instead of mid July!), got the last of my gear at Western Canoe and Kayaking along with some helpful (though I didn't realize/understand it at the time advice) and was ready to go!

Western Canoe and Kayak

Purple Hayes School of Kayaking 


That's what I thought to myself...I'd been in the raft with some cohorts from work for about 10 minutes, my first time in a raft...first time in a small boat in water really. I looked at the safety kayaker beside us floating on the turbulent and though I don't know for sure, but based on it being late June, I imagine high and turbulent water of the Chilliwack Canyon. That looks easy enough, 'look at him, he's just floatin' along, taking it easy!'..I can do that I thought. It was the same big bald dude who gave the safety briefing that almost stopped me from going! ..holes, logs, foot entrapment, all kinds of terms and dangers I'd never even heard of or expected in anything I'd ever done besides maybe running clear into one on the slopes. Some of us joked he should've been the new Sergeant Major the way he could convey fear into words.

The ironic part was that I barely had time to look up the entire trip, between following the commands of the raft leader and paddling my gears clean off, yet I thought it'd be easy to go down the most difficult part of the river as one person in a boat not much bigger than me. At the time I had no concept of things such as boyancy, surface area, reading and how they might relate to navigating the water.

It took a couple months, but I would end up doing it..and these are some of my stories from along the way and afterwards.

My goal with this blog is to convey some of the feeling associated with being a new paddler, someone who has never been in a real boat or around much water for that matter, and how he can try to take control and master the unknown. Each day I'll be adding at least one post from my paddling adventures, maybe more. Hopefully I can get some people interested who've never considered navigating whitewater. At the very least it would be nice to draw some attention to issues that affect whitewater kayakers in the modern world...and believe me there are more than a few as we'll see in the coming months.

Stay tuned...

Chilliwack River Rafting