Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Coquihalla Canyon

Coquihalla Canyon is a little known gem of the Fraser Valley that falls downstream of the classic class III section of the same river, it has my vote as most underrated run in the area. The usual run starts just after the end of the Othello tunnels and goes into Hope, where we usually takeout at the old 'Rambo' bridge, now replaced, parts of the original Rambo 'First Blood' movie were filmed in and around Hope including the Othello tunnels area and the old bridge, removed in 2011.

The Othello tunnels have some history of their own, a series of old train tunnels and interconnecting walkways through the deepest part of the canyon, they are extremely scenic and were constructed as part of the Kettle Valley Railway which connected Hope to Osoyoos through the Okanagan back in the early half of the century. The railway was deactivated back in the 1960's but much of the original grade and right of way remain, parts of which have been turned into a bike path and a scenic trestle section spanning 14 km of trestles near Kelowna (Myrna section).

The Othello tunnels is now a provincial park with much of the history preserved and catalogued. Unfortunately as of 2012 the tunnels are now mostly blocked as their condition has started to potentially become unstable, though at the time of this writing they are completely intact. To get to the run you must either make your way through the tunnels (about 800 m) or come in from the other end (Kettle Valley Road in Hope) which turns into a path along the old rail grade about 2 km until you'd reach the other end of the tunnels. Following that is a short and steep scramble descent to the river at the first little pullout style area downstream of the last tunnel.

Below the tunnels themselves in the meat of the canyon lie some gnarly rapids that I've heard have been run once or twice, and definitely look more runnable at some levels than others (I can't remember which ones exactly). You can scout these easily from the tunnel bridges, though from about 300 feet or more up. There is a large amount of blast rock and some rebar and I-beams down there, probably from the tunnel/trestle contruction and at least one larger rapid that prevents most from going where a large amount of water goes under rocks. Rescue would be next to impossible to set up in this area as well, but I wouldn't call it unrunnable by any stretch, there are a lot of issues to deal with. Another option is to put in for the last couple tunnel rapids by going to river level more upstream of the regular takeout or hiking upstream at river level.

The run itself is comprised of about 7 or 8 big water feeling class III+ and IV rapids through some amazing canyons largely comprised of flatwater pools. There is a chance for wood choking up at parts, as was the case for the first canyon this last time, as well as the left channel of the last rapid. Portaging in there is not too difficult however, just inconvenient. Scouting is also fairly easy as long as you get out to do it before committing to each rapid. I've run it around 50 cms and think that's a good level, though it has been run down to 30 cms I think it can easily handle more water than 50 cms as well. There is an online gauge here.

There is a crux rapid in the run, actually the third rapid if your doing the normal run which is longer and has more moves than the rest and finishes with a big flushing dynamic hole into another canyon.

There is a bit of a runout through wavy class II flatwater with some boulders through town to the takeout, this bit is lined with rocky beaches that local houses back onto and you'll often find people hanging out surprised to see anyone coming down the river!

I didn't take many pictures Friday with it being later on already, they are below, but you can check out these Fraser Valley Whitewater trip reports for more and video:

Walking through the Othello tunnels

Nearly riverwide wood causing annoying portage of the first pinch

Kiah checking out the pinch at the end of the crux rapid

Alexander Creek comes in from high above under the highway (3 and 5 at this point)

Nice dusk shot near the end of the canyons

Channel wide wood in the left channel of the last rapid

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