Thursday, June 19, 2014

Similkameen Canyon

For years I've heard stories about the Similkameen River Canyon from both Claudia's South Mainland BC Guidebook and class III boaters and canoeists of it being a great and fun canyon with great surf waves, unmatched scenery and history at levels up to 50 cumecs. Everytime I went to the Ashnola or travelled East on Highway 3, after traversing the pass from the Skagit headwaters drainage you come into the Similkameen headwaters drainage to see Similkameen Falls and Copper Creek with it's waterfall under the highway. Starting here you'd run along a deep valley that also had a large mining operation (Copper Mountain Mine) and you'd rejoin the water in Princeton. I've always wondered what it's really like in there, the Similkameen Canyon.

Up until a few years ago I'd only heard of it at low water, but in 2011 Ryan Bayes and Sandra Ramsey ran it at 105 cumecs and said it was great big water class IV. Ryan said it got considerably more difficult at 135 cumecs. Dan Bentley, Tristan Oluper and Ralph from Germany also said it was great at 90 cumecs. There is a considerable amount of flatwater in there which the higher levels made more palatable as well, it's highly adviseable to do the run in warm sunny weather for this reason. Scott McBride, Tony Sloane and others ran it at 65 cumecs and also said it was good fun.

Unfortunately now this exact stretch of water is threatened (as it has been in the past as various times) by a Fortis BC proposal to dam the canyon which would inundate basically the entire stretch of whitewater. Not only would this be tragic in that the world would lose this amazing canyon not to mention the environmental impact, there is also the fact that the benefactors would not be the people of BC (as they would were it a BC Hydro proposed dam), but instead simply the shareholders of Fortis BC.

Finally at the tail end of the informal Ashnola River Whitewater Festival a group of 7 of us decided to venture into the canyon at 90 cumecs.

We put in at the bridge over the Similkameen on Copper Creek Road as it was later in the day for a long run with a long shuttle (that you can skip part of if you have the room and are coming from the East side of the run) and not wanting to mess around with Copper Falls or Similkameen Falls, though you could tie either of these into the run to start off with a bang.

The action gets underway fairly soon, around the first one or two corners the first canyon begins. It's all read and run for those skilled enough to be in here at these levels with big holes, haystacks and headwalls that create big boils and eddy lines. After a quick blast there is a bit of a break before the action ramps up again and all too soon you're out of the first canyon and into a stretch of flatwater. This first canyon reminded me a lot of Nahatlatch canyon at equivalent water levels.

Next begins the second canyon, which is longer, more constricted and more continuous with more difficult moves. This canyon has very different geology from the first as well as going under/through/around the mine. Where it constricts at the mine and goes around a few bends was definitely the highlight of the run in my eyes. You get nearly vertical canyon walls and a 20-30 foot wide river, machinery and equipment around, conveyor belts going over the river transporting ore from one side to the processing plant on the other, the remains of the old Similkameen Valley Railway (a branch of the Kettle Valley Railway) preserved as old trestles at the top of the canyon. Eventually you will also pass the tailings ponds contained as a giant earthen dam. At some points you'll also notice bad smells coming from the water, I'd mind the water quality after passing the mine. All of this is happening as you're facing what I considered the most difficult whitewater of the run!

Once through this stretch and some more flats you'll arrive at a nice beach with a really good, friendly surf wave. This is a great place to relax and catch some surf. I understand people used to take out around here but that access isn't readily available anymore, you can also takeout on river right but then you get the choice of either a half hour drive that under certain circumstances only certain vehicles can do or a half hour paddle out through flats to Princeton where we took out by the A&W/Chevron. The last stretch of flats (8-12 km or so) actually isn't bad as there are some waves, small rapids and decent boofs adorning the river.

The entire run took us 3.5 hours I think, which wasn't bad at all, I'd definitely do it again and highly recommend it. I'm glad I got in there before I move away and with the potential for elimination of navigation on this stretch of water with the proposed dam.

Exiting the 2nd canyon and most difficult whitewater. Picture Ryan Bayes.

1 comment:

  1. The second canyon has a tight (25 ft?) pinch that apparently tends to collect wood. The canyon is somewhat continuous at high flows there, so it is good to eddy hop as possible. At 90 cms last week we just barely had to duck under a log on RL, while RR the log was almost at water level above a hole.