An Awesome Trip: Rafting Chilco Lake to Yale, BC Part One

The water hits my back and shoulder with such force that I am pushed from my seat, and if I had not been holding on to the rope that ran behind my calves, I would have been catapulted out of the raft. After an initial “Aaarrrrr!” as the water cascades over me, I laugh for joy. That was the best one yet. I find my self half sitting, half squatting, with my arms between my legs, and one foot braced against the opposite side of the raft. No way to get back on the seat; we’re not out of the rapids yet, and the water keeps coming. It’s just another day on the Chilco, Chilcotin and Fraser Rivers. I’m not even sure which rapids these are because, aside from the unforgettable names of White Mile and Hell’s Gate, they are all part of a succession of drenching episodes.

The trip is called “Best of BC,” and thanks to Neil Hartling, owner of Canadian River Expeditions (CRE)–Nahanni River Adventures, it ran this September after a hiatus of several years. Chilko Lake to Yale, BC is one heck of a lot of river to travel, and you can’t do it all in the same raft. The small, oared rafts that CRE uses elsewhere can’t cope with the monster rapids of the Fraser, so we had to switch halfway to large powered rafts. Three companies came together to provide the trip (CRE, Fraser River Raft Expeditions and Big Canyon Rafting), and two sets of guides took us on an eleven-day journey where thrills flowed hand in hand with fascinating history, cultural contact and beautiful scenery.

In addition to the working guides, plus Neil and his partner Ester, there were four guests and four extra guides who were simply enjoying a chance to do part of the trip. In all, we had four rafts and two tiny kayaks, which in my innocence, I assumed would be used only in calm water. In fact, the only reason a kayaker would ride a raft is a prolonged lack of white water; these two headed into every turbulence they could find. One kayaker was a professional photographer who would race ahead, go on shore and clamber up to a convenient perch to capture our little rafts being tossed about in the rapids.

A day-to-day account would make this post into a book. I can give only a sampling of what we saw, did and experienced.

(Some photos were supplied by Neil Hartling and are marked NH)

PRELIMINARIES

Before the big day: Neil tells us what to expect

Before the big day: Neil tells us what to expect

I hope we gave the bellhop a good tip

I hope we gave the bellhop a good tip

Neil on the plane.

Neil on the plane.

Our Twin Otter lands.

Our Twin Otter lands.

Organizing the gear.

Organizing the gear.

Is this a typical lunch? Oh yes!

Is this a typical lunch? Oh yes!

Launched! Head guide Tyler at the oars.

Launched! Head guide Tyler Dinsdale (owner of Big Canyon Rafting) at the oars.

THE NITTY GRITTY: RAPIDS IN A SMALL RAFT

The River

The River  NH

My raft. That's me in the front, Tyler at the oars.

My raft. That’s me in the front, Tyler at the oars. NH

Here we go!

Here we go!  NH

P1070418

No turning back.  NH

P1070421

Who cares if we get wet?  NH

P1070424

We’re not through yet. NH

P1070426

Where are the kayaks?  NH

Who's having more fun?

Who’s having more fun?

THE CALMER SIDE OF RAFTING

Although it did seem at times as if our world consisted entirely of rapids, that certainly was not the case. Quiet water, friendly weather and beautiful scenery predominated.

Rafts and kayak

Rafts and kayak  NH

Enjoying life

Enjoying life. That’s me on the right.  NH

Time for a nap

Time for a nap

Or go for a swim!

Or a swim!

SCENERY ON THE CHILCO AND CHILCOTIN

It would be hard to match the variety of scenery we passed through, from the narrow confines of the Chilco to the majesty of the Fraser. Blessed with mostly sunny skies, we discovered aspects of British Columbia that we never knew existed, all of it interesting, much of it beautiful.

Blue waters of the Chilco, so clear that one day we saw red salmon swimming under out rafts.

Blue waters of the Chilco, so clear that one day we saw red salmon swimming under out rafts.

We were witness to the damage wrought by the pine bark beetle and wildfires throughout out trip, but many trees still survive, and despite the sadness we felt on seeing the dead and blackened snags, infestations and fires are part of a self-correcting natural process, at least in the long term.

Devastation. NH

Devastation. NH

Pity the poor Chilco. It’s a big, crystal-clear river that turns all grey and loses its name when invaded by the smaller Chilcotin.

The cloudy water of the Chilcotin, where it joins the Chilco.

The cloudy water of the Chilcotin, where it joins the Chilco.

In contrast to the northern rivers I have rafted, these rivers pass through inhabited lands, so we sometimes saw bridges, buildings and roads, although we remained in the wilderness.

Signs of civilization.

Signs of civilization.

We passed through a number of lands belonging to First Nations people and were able to watch men and women using nets to catch fish from platforms that were often suspended in perilous places.

Fishing platform

Fishing platform  NH

On the first days of the trip we saw bald eagles and other raptors at almost every turn. Since they were either soaring overhead or perched high in a tree, they resisted efforts to photograph them from a moving raft, but because it was September, other birds were gathering in flocks prior to migrating. We were treated to two groups of American white pelicans, enormous birds with a nine-foot wing span.

American white pelicans. NH

American white pelicans. NH

Symphony of wings. NH

Symphony of wings. NH

The sheer variety of scenery was amazing. We went from forests to deserts to deep, rocky canyons, constantly told by the guides to take a good look at what we’re passing through because we wouldn’t see it again.

Hoodoos in the interior of BC? There's sage brush too.

Hoodoos in the interior of BC? There’s sage brush too.

And deep, dark canyons.

And deep, dark canyons.

And some things just too weird to explain.

Smiley face?

Smiley face?

LIFE ON LAND

I like to say that I sleep as well in a tent as in a five-star hotel, maybe better. CRE provides tents, but I prefer to bring my own.

My green palace.

My green palace.

When we ran the White Mile, everything got wet. I also learned that a wet suit is great when you are in the water, but not remotely warm when you’re sitting in a raft, in the wind, after being dumped on.

Drying out.

Drying out.

Neil has a thing about food: it has to be good. The weather may be foul, the river may not cooperate, you may hate your fellow travellers, but YOU WILL EAT WELL!

Appetizers

Appetizers

On many of the northern rivers, campfires are not possible, but BC has an ample supply of wood.

Neil at work.

Neil at work.

Relaxing at the end of the day.

Relaxing at the end of the day.

Some of the best river views came from the shore.

Chilco

Chilco

Frosty morning on the Chilcotin.

Frosty morning on the Chilcotin.

The weather was generally very good, but we did have one layover day in the rain.

Rainy day relaxation. NH

Rainy day relaxation. NH

And then, at last, we reach the mighty Fraser and change rafts and guides. Part Two will cover our trip down the Fraser.

We leave our little oared rafts for the large powered ones.

We leave our little oared rafts for the large powered ones.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s