Monday, August 12, 2013

The Upper Stikine River - Paddling the Sacred Headwaters

Dropping my camera in Cheakamus Lake made me give the blog a bit of a break, however with a new camera purchase on the horizon and a great trip to the Upper Stikine River this summer its high time for a new post.

The Stikine (Great) River is one of British Columbia's last truly wild rivers. It runs more than 600km from its headwaters in the Spatzizi Plateau to the Pacific Ocean in Alaska. The river is split in two by a canyon of Class 5 whitewater that has only been run by a handful of professional kayakers. The headwaters of the Stikine and two other rivers  was recently an area of great environmental interest as Shell planned hundreds of methane gas exploration wells in this previously pristine watershed. An agreement between First Nations, the provincial government and Shell has protected the area from development for now.

This trip exceeded all of our expectations; the headwaters were certainly a highlight, however the river was spectacular every day. It is amazing how few people paddle this river, our pilot seemed to think that there would only be one other group flying in this year! We ran every rapid except for Fountain Rapids. The river might have been even more fun as a whitewater trip if the water was a little bit higher. The one disappointment would have to be the wildlife, we expected to see more than the one moose, bear and caribou; apparently other times of year are better as a lot of the animals are up in the alpine in the summer, however, one can't help but wonder with prevalence of hunting camps in the area if over - hunting could be a cause of this.
First night in paradise

On this trip we were paddling the Upper Stikine from its headwaters at Tuaton Lake to where it intersects with Highway 37 just before the Grand Canyon. The trip would span nearly 300km almost all of which would be on moving water up to Class 3+ rapids. This trip was selected because of the quality of the whitewater, the access to great hikes and the chances for wildlife sightings. We went as a group of eight people, two of whoom were very experienced in whitewater and the rest had considerable outdoors experience although not necessarily on river trips. The meeting place was the Red Goat Lodge on beautiful Eddontenajon Lake along the Cassiar Highway, there are certainly some characters at Red Goat Lodge, the service was a bit suspect but the boats seemed to  float (choose carefully), and some of the spray skirts fit after getting them wet and a little persuasion.

Flight In
Eight people and four canoes including two weeks worth of food and gear equals three very full flights in on a beaver. To get two canoes on one of the flights we had to ensure that we had a 16ft canoe and a 17ft canoe, with the seats and thwart taken out of the 17ft canoe so that the shorter one could 'nest inside of it. At this point the vintage of the canoes made us concerned about being able to put the seats back together and having to sit on the floor of the canoe for the rest of the trip. The first flight was a wee bit overweight and the pilot had to take the long way around because he couldn't gain enough elevation to get over the mountain passes going the direct route. All in all it took us until early evening to get everyone to camp.

Menu Highlights
One of the best parts of the this trip was the food, being a canoe trip with limited portages, weight was not really an issue and we brought a full double burner coleman stove, a cast iron dutch oven and a propane tank. Here were some of my favourite creations;

- French toast with fried banana spread
- Mushroom Risotto
- Fresh Trout
- Sweet and Spicy Moroccan Stew
- Thai Curry
- Smoked Oysters and Salmon with Lemon and Cream Cheese

A quick day by day summary of the trip is as follows:

Day 1 : Fly In with Rick
- ~ One hour flight through untouched wilderness, simply gorgeous.
- thunderstorm in the distance at night lighting up clouds to the north

Day 2 - Hiking near drop off spot Tuaton Lake and paddle halfway down Laslui Lake
- Amazing views once up on ridge but about 1.5 hours of bushwhacking to get to the alpine. We could have hiked for hours but wanted to get on the water
- Swimming in much warmer water than expected
- Discarded antlers everywhere
- Paddle through scream connecting two lakes, see juvenile caribou
- Camp at great windy and bug free campsite on the shore of Laslui lake catching trout every other cast.
- More lightning in the distance

Alpine perfection, ridge above float plane drop and campsite location

Calm waters of Tuaton Lake 
Campsite number two on Laslui Lake, great breeze kept the bugs away
Pauly, the man, the myth the legend. Fish, were not difficult to catch. 
Day 3: Fountain Rapids Portage - Chapea Rapids Run
- Fountain rapids portage trail in great shape, no bugs
- Chapea Rapids can be scouted on river left.
- One boat without spray deck dumped in Chapea Rapids, it took us awhile to run them with various changes in people in each boat and the dumped boat.
- Regretted buying a shorty wetsuit at this point as I had to stand in knee deep water to keep the awful bugs from biting my legs.
- Northern Lights!
Some Class 1 rapids before Fountain and Chapea
830pm arrival at camp, stays light late!
Day 4: Long Day on the River to Mosquito City
- On the river all day and covered 50km + to make up for some of our shorter days earlier in the trip.
- Whitewater off and on but moving water most of the time.
- We aimed for a highly recommended campsite in our guidebook just past the confluence of the Stikine and the Chukachida the campsite turned out to be nice, but certainly not nice enough to plan around in fact we opted to camp on a gravel bar near by in hopes of fewer bugs (no luck). There were some great campsites on gravel bars in the last 10km before this one that we would have taken had we'd known better.
- The bugs got really really bad, the worst of the trip by a long shot - this was the only time that bug nets came out. You could slap someone on the back and kill twenty mosquitoes at a time.

Mosquito City

Day 5: To Spatzizi River Confluence
- I felt sick, others didnt. Great campsite at the confluence with next to no bugs which was as great reprieve for everyone.
- Great rainbow over the Spatzizi Plateau
- Big fire at night.
- Neat looking burns on the way here, intermittent on the riverside for the rest of the trip.
- Moose crossing
Setting up camp another great gravel bar
Day 6 - Day 10

- River continued to build from the addition of other creeks, continued great mountain views.
- All camping on gravel bars along the river.
- Bugs nearly non existent for the rest of the way, unsure if it was because the topography was not as swampy or the drop in elevation that helped us.
- Jewel Rapids and Begarley Canyon were enjoyable but nothing to worry about at this water level.
One hour of rain for the whole trip

Chef Lani Serving up a feast

Beginning of Jewel Rapids
Day 11
- A final float down the Upper Stikine River to the Cassiar Highway where we hitchhiked back to the Red Goat Lodge to pick up our cars. There are not a lot of cars on the highway so be prepared to wait if you take this route.
Note spray decks highly recommended - fit better when wet
The group in front of the ~18 maps that we covered on the trip 

1 comment:

  1. One hour flight in, about 12 days on the river and ended at the highway?

    How was the hiking? If we were to use inflatable kayaks and a small raft would that flotilla be good for this river?