Monday, 28 November 2016

Bowron Lakes - Solo, Sept. 2016

The Bowron Lakes, consistently named as one of the top 10 canoe trips to paddle in Canada - and since we're now residents of beautiful British Columbia 😎 I headed out on a September solo trip to see for myself! The Bowron Lake Provincial Park is a 150,000 ha. wilderness park in the Cariboo Mountain Region of BC and the canoe circuit consists of 10 lakes, numerous creeks and rivers and 8 connecting portages. There are several outfitters located near the park office offering canoe, kayak and equipment rentals. The park only allows 50 paddlers/day to enter the circuit daily with 46 spots reservable and 4 kept for walk-ups. 

Most folks use a canoe or kayak cart to facilitate portaging their gear in the park along the well-developed trails. There are some size and weight restrictions on cart use and there is always the option to carry all your gear in the more traditional manner. As I was solo this trip I opted to rent a kayak and cart to get around the 116.4 km circuit (10.8 km portages) Prior to heading out on the circuit all paddlers must watch a 15 minute video on the park’s history, rules of conduct and bear safety. Once this is completed the canoeists go through a quick weigh in of their gear while the kayaks (not weighed) can hit the first port – 2.4 km!

As seems the norm these days for my paddling adventures, the weather tended to the wet side of the equation in that it rained every day I was on the circuit, a lot of rain in fact! 

Day1 - I rented a kayak and cart from Dick and Sandy Philips of Bear River Mercantile and Dick had moved it over to the park earlier in the morning and after I had eaten and packed up he gave me a ride over to the park. I left my vehicle parked on their property as I would be finishing the trip at their landing. I checked in with the park office and received a map and a tag for the kayak and while i was waiting around to view the mandatory video I packed the boat and moved it up the first portage trail. Of course this was all done in the rain! Video completed I and my fellow kayakers headed off to the Kibbee Lake, while the canoeists had their gear weighed.
Weigh in station
 The first portage is 2.4 km long but definitely not what I'm used to, it's cleared and graveled in most sections to facilitate the use of canoe/kayak carts!
Ready to go
The cart has a bit of a learning curve to it - it will tip over if you're not careful on corners, if it drops off the trail or hits a pothole on an angle 😳 all of which I manage to accomplish several times! Kibbee Lake appears and I walk the kayak right into the water and then undo the buckles and lift it off the cart. The cart is bungee corded onto the rear deck and off I head. Did I mention it was raining? 

Kibbee Lake - there be mountains in those clouds

Of the 46 folks headed out onto the circuit this morning I'm now out front of most everyone. It's a short 2.4 km paddle to the next "portage" where I reverse the procedure to load the kayak back onto the cart. This port is only 2 km leading to Indianpoint Lake although the trail is wetter and has more muddy potholed areas to navigate the cart through. I stop for lunch before shoving off and the sun pokes in and out of the clouds and I catch glimpses of the mountains around the lake. 

Indianpoint Lake - clouds beginning to lift 
Blue sky!
The park is set up with designated campsites, some are group sites for larger groups and the remainder have designated tent spots, so you can expect to share your campsite with fellow paddlers. Each site has a pit toilet, fire ring(s) and bear caches for storing food. Since the park installed the food caches they haven't had to destroy any problem bears in the park. It's a 6.4 km paddle down Indianpoint Lake to the next portage which has a 2 tent pad campsite and I plan to spend the night there. The lake narrows down into a marshy area and the sun makes a welcome appearance.

Sun and snow! The peak is about 4000' higher than the lake.
I arrive at the site and quickly unload the kayak and set up my tarps, kitchen and hammock, first as I can see more rain headed my way. I manage to get everything set before it begins to rain in earnest and a couple arrive to take the other pad for the night. 

Tent pad not required 😜
Day2 - The day dawned with a light shower and the promise of more throughout the day. I packed up and headed off the 1.6 km to Isaac Lake.

Time to load and go. I used 2 large Ikea bags to haul the many small stuff sacks and gear to and from the kayak when loading/unloading,
Isaac Lake - first view
Isaac Lake is about 38 km long consisting of 2 arms. My camp mates had left earlier than me but I soon caught up to them close to where the west arm of the lake heads south. The weather was mostly overcast periods of rain broken up by a few periods of mixed cloud and sun. It rained every night I was on the circuit and most of the non-precipitation times were late morning to early afternoon. I headed down the east shore of Isaac Lake taking a few photos and checking out the campsites along the way. I came around a corner and ran into some rock statuary on the shore at one of the campsites. As it was lunch time I pulled in to take a break and eat. There 7 old cabins and 4 larger picnic shelters scattered around the circuit complete with wood stoves. There are designated wood lots around the circuit for folks to gather wood that has been felled and bucked into blocks by the rangers, bring an axe and/or saw to process it into burnable wood! Folks can sleep in the cabins and use the stoves and shelters to dry out on a shared basis. 

Rock art
Cabin and bear cache to the left. This site also had 2 tent pads.

Interior, I'd bet that mice would be an ongoing source of noise all night long!

I didn't see many folks on day 2 as trippers get spread out. I picked a 5 pad site for the evening about 1/2 way down Isaac lake and ended up sharing the campsite with 2 couples from the USA and a couple from Germany. 

Evening - looking north on Isaac Lake

Mt Faulkner in the clouds and mist.
Day 3 - Well, last evening around the fire ended with rain finally driving everyone off to their beds! Morning promised another day of the same weather as we all packed up to head off. It turned out to be a fair bit colder this day than previous and after 3 days of damp and wet it was definitely good to get paddling and warm the muscles.

One of many waterfalls along the way
I planned to head to the end of Isaac lake and stay at the large site where the Isaac River flowed out of the lake. As I headed south more and more canoes and kayaks appeared, it seemed that more folks had the same idea! The site had 6 tent pads plus a group site for another 5-6 and one of the large shelters. It is also just before the only "moving water/rapids" on the circuit and a natural place for folks to stop and play and congregate.  This was one of the new shelters constructed on the circuit consisting of a large timber frame half wall roofed structure with a large wood stove and picnic tables. These structures have many lines strung through the rafters to facilitate drying! There were 23 folks in camp here busily drying out clothing and equipment however the next day was supposed to be mostly sunny and I decided to get out early to enjoy the day.This was the busiest site I stayed at during the trip.

Night falls over Isaac Lake

Day 4 - Sunshine, oh yeah! I packed up early and was the first one out of camp in the morning, portaging past the cascades and falls on the Isaac River to McLeary Lake. The sun felt good and although there were still some clouds and cloudy periods you could see all the landscapes and mountains today. 

Isaac River

McLeary Lake

Traffic sign where McLeary Lake meets the Cariboo River!

The Cariboo River runs much quicker with the added volume of snow melt from the glaciers on the surrounding mountains. The water is the milky green that you get from the sediments washing down from the heights and I move along quickly dodging the odd shallows and some of the many sweepers and deadheads that have been flushed down the river - I can imagine what it looks like in full flood during the spring freshet. I pass a couple of paddlers trying their luck fishing along the way. 

Cariboo River entering from the left
Fishermen trying their luck
Love that colour!

 The scenery is truly awe inspiring as you cruise down the river, there are snow-capped mountains on all sides and with the changing weather the colours change constantly as clouds come and go etc. 

Cariboo River
Hanging glacier
Mowdish Range
Lanezi Lake opens up
Ishpa Mtn.
Kaza Mtn.

I had left camp before 08:00 and it wasn't till around 3:00 pm that another rain system snuck up behind me with the wind kicking up and the rain coming down 😕 Oh well, I put my rain jacket on once again and headed for a campsite about 3/4 of the way down Lanezi Lake for the night. This was a single pad campsite with a nice view and of course it rained while I set up camp and then it proceeded to rain off and on for the rest of the night.

Late evening the couple that I had spent the 1st night in the same campsite back on Indianpoint Lake paddled up and spent the night on the small beach at the site. Any port in a storm when it's getting to the end of daylight hours!

After the rain - Lanezi Lake campsite view
Lanezi Lake - campsite view from the "front porch"
"Thunder throne" - most campsites had outhouses but.....
Day 5 - Well, it was still raining when I awoke and for the life of me I just couldn't spring into action and instead I just lazed in my hammock till the rain let up! The rain was beginning to wear a little thin and I decided to push as long as the weather stayed reasonable in an effort to get close to the end of the circuit and to have a short last day. So, I ate and packed up and pulled out my 2nd of 3 rain jackets and hit the water around 9:30.

Campsite 36 Lanezi Lake selfie
Last look back at Lanezi Lake

The skies spit now and again but the rain held off for 12 km till I hit the 1.2 km Babcock Creek portage. Of course it rained after I had peeled off my paddling jacket and was about 200 metres into the port and promptly quit when I hit the other end! C'est la vie. A quick crossing of Babcock Lake and 2 quick portages into/out of Skoi Lake and I was on Spectacle Lake in some intermittent sunny periods 😀 I stopped for bite to eat and proceeded with the intention of traveling to Swan Lake for the night.

Devil's Club Mtn. - from north end of Spectacle Lk. Mountain is a few km from the end of the route!
I was making good time when I happened to glance back over my shoulder and yes there was another large rain event chasing me down the lake! I headed for the nearest campsite and quickly hung my tarps and managed to get everything set and/or under cover before the rain hit around 4:00. These rain cells had the look of some serious weather in them and after supper I made sure to secure all my gear and the kayak. Sure enough around 10:30 or so the wind began to howl and the skies opened up - best nights sleep of the whole trip 😉

Final night's camp
Here comes the rain - again!

Devil's Club Mtn between rain showers

It was still precipitating in the morning and I again lazed a wee bit till it seemed to let up. I was packed and on the water at the crack of 10:00 and with about 18km to go and raining. I pulled out my last dry rain jacket and started for the end. The rain started to ease off to occasional showers and I made good time arriving back at the outfitters at 1:30 leaving me enough time to drive the 8 hrs or so home. 

Time to go
Bowron River marsh before the lake proper
Almost done - Bowron Lake

Of course I did drive through some showers but there was more sun than rain a welcome sight.

On the road home
 So, although the weather was pretty soggy most of the time, I would do this trip again in a heartbeat! The scenery was truly gob smackingly beautiful and varied around the circuit from the Cariboo Mtns on the east and south sides to the more rounded Quesnel Highlands of the west side. One thing I noticed with the weather was how it affected the colour of the landscape. Next time I will take a little more time (I had planned on 9 nights for this trip but why be wet for that long!) use a canoe and hopefully hit some more sunny periods. Cheers.

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