Wednesday, 3 June 2015

In the midst of yet another kayak-fueled summer, I am still finding reeling with the after-effects of the 2014 paddling season. Many new rivers and experiences, but the best came from having the opportunity to paddle three spectacular rivers of Northern BC, back-to-back-to-back, all in a 10day stretch of epic proportions. The Giltoyees, the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, and the Upper Chlore. As a paddler based in the Northwest, to be able to kayak rivers of this caliber, day after day after day, is a luxury not shared with the rest of the planet. It is hard to describe the emotions one gets when paddling thru such remote, challenging, and spectacular river canyons. Now as spring has waned and we are full into a new season, I keep finding myself slipping into daydreams of the last one. More specifically, the claimed Triple Crown of Terrace, BC.

It all started with a phone call from King Louis. “Well…” he said. “Allie is planning a Heli trip up into the Giltoyees River. There is only room for 5, but it’s already all booked up.'"
“Shit!” I thought. “Who is gonna go?”.
“Ya man, its going to be Me, Ali, Jason, Benny, and…… You. I hope that’s fine I put your name in.”
With a few weeks of wrapping up business with Kitgoro Kayaking on Haida Gwaii, I ferried over to the mainland to meet up with the boys in Terrace. We had a few days of boating some of the classic Terrace creeks before starting our Giltoyees mission. Ali was the man with the plan as he had wanted to do this river since I first met him. Along with Ben Seeberger, Louis Bissonnette, myself, and local legend Jason Cathers who had done the river once before, we were all pretty amped up.

When it comes to remote BC wilderness whitewater, the Giltoyees is hard to beat. Located in the heart of the Northern BC Coastal Mountains, the river is strictly Heli access and is a 3-4 day paddle from top to bottom before it dumps into the Douglas Channel. Home to a large annual salmon run, the Giltoyees also boasts enormous Old-Growth forest stands and the usual list of wildlife suspects (Grizzly Bears being our biggest concern).

After a late night at Ali's prepping gear, we reconvened at White River Helicopters in Terrace the next morning to begin the trip. To save on chopper fuel, Ben Pittman did us all a major solid by shuttling our boats and gear to a predetermined drop point where the chopper could grab them after dropping us off at the put-in. I had never been in a helicopter and after a quick rock\paper\scissors match I got to sit up front. When we took off, we flew down the Skeena River for a ways before turning left and flying right up and over the Coastal Mountain Range. When we were waiting for the chopper in Terrace we were baking in the sunshine, so to fly over massive glacier covered mountain ranges that day was insane. We had it all arranged with a jet-boat operator out of Kitimat to pick us up in 4 days, so it was a crazy feeling to be dropped off on a pristine stretch of river knowing that you have 4days of raw remote whitewater between you and home. There was one moment of near disaster when the chopper was just about to drop us off on a sandbar and we spotted a school of salmon swimming around in an eddy. We knew that at some point in the next few days we were to expect a 100ft waterfall so to see salmon at the put-in didn’t make sense as fish can’t fly. Turns out the pilot almost dropped us off near the end of the river which would have turned our 4day whitewater trip into a 1day flatwater float. Crisis averted. The good thing about that was we got to Heli scout the entire run as the pilot flew us along the canyon to the top of the river.
The whitewater on the Giltoyees consisted of a bunch of fun slides and a couple of boofy waterfalls mixed in with some manky-ass shit. This run had been done a few times before, but with varying water levels in past trips we think that we may have lay claim to a few first runs of some of the rapids. Jason had been on the first crew to do the river, and he was full of good info on the run. Here's the link to his first trip: 

Although the whitewater in there is fun, the scenery definitely stole the show. From the put-in to the estuary where the river meets the ocean, you paddle (and portage) through the most ultra-classic untouched BC wilderness rainforest. In an area of big bears, salmon, moose, etc, a person feels pretty darn small. The camp spots we chose each night on the river were stunning, and I remember waking up one morning and seeing three different glaciers all from my sleeping pad. After spending our last night at the Giltoyees estuary (with a few beers borrowed from some Albertan fisherman), we were picked up by our jet-boat driver. On our way back to Kitimat we had the chance to stop off at Jessie Falls, a waterfall/rapid that I have been eager to have a peek at for a while now. The water level seemed fine, Louis and myself felt it was good to go and both came out smiling at the bottom.

Giltoyees photo credits: Ben Seeberger and Ali Marshall
Immediately after that , while still on the jetboat en route to Kitimat, we got the the message from Adrian Kiernan that the Stikine was good to go and everyone was already at the put-in near Dease Lake waiting for us. Ohhh Man we were stoked. Once off the jet-boat, we had a quick meal, drove to Terrace for some food shopping, and then Louis and myself headed straight out and drove all night to the mighty Stikine! We arrived at the river around 330am, crashed in the car for a few hours before waking, gearing up and putting on the river under the legendary highway bridge. Energy was ultra high that morning. I remember rolling up to Entrance Falls at the beginning of the Canyon and the sky opened up, and we were pounded on with heavy downpour rains and a full-on thunder storm. Talk about ominous… And it lived up to the hype.
photo: Whitebox Magazine
Slated as the ‘Mount Everest’ of whitewater kayaking, the Stikine is not something to roll into lightly. Physical prep and training are of course necessary, however I found the mental prep was the toughest. Prior to the trip, hearing and reading accounts of people paddling (or attempting to paddle) through this spectacular canyon is enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Having heard the legends for years, the feeling of being amongst it in the bottom of a 1000ft shear walled canyon with the only exit being must-run class 5 is a bit of a mind-trip. Pass Fail, Wasson’s Hole, Site Zed, The Hole that Ate Chicago, Garden of the Gods I and II, are just some of the rapids that I have heard stories about for years. One of the best moments was sitting on a rock above the crux of Site Zed at our first night camp. Seeing the Beast with my own eyes for the first time is a moment I won’t soon forget. To top that off, we got to watch Nouria Newman stomp the shit out of Site Zed the next day, being the first female to paddle the entire section of the Stikine Canyon. Yowza. Nouria’s descent:

I think it was Jeff West who said it the best:
“The Stikine makes other rivers seem two dimensional. I had always thought of water flowing downstream, side to side and sometimes upstream. Additionally, on this river the water is constantly exploding upward and sucking down. It felt like a giant roller coaster and monster trampoline combined. Waves would throw you into the air. Seams would pull you into deep mystery moves. The crashing diagonals were the painful part. These waves are so massive that when you hit them it knocks the breath out of you.”

After paddling this section of whitewater, those words now make a bit more sense. With a background in kayak surfing and creeking across the Northwest, I’d like to think I've taken my share of beatings. This was of a different sort. As we made our way down the canyon I had the vision of riding on the back of a beast as it charged around trying everything it could to knock you down and throw you off. The waves that hit you were heavy and angry. The random eruptions of water made it difficult at times to anticipate where the river would take you, blurring the line between water and air, control and abandon. The last major rapid on the Stikine, and definitely one of the most memorable for me, was V-Drive. The river was a bit low when we put-on which made some rapids easier, but others chaotic (V-drive especially). The river was at a level which allowed us to scout V-drive from river left, and after a look, Mathieu, Louis and Sam strapped in and ran it as a train. And then the rapid ran a train on them...

At one point I was looking at three boats upside-down getting blasted along the canyon wall on river left. There was probably a 4ft surge up and down and it was startling to see your buds getting proper smashed with nothing you can do to help but watch. After seeing that, it was a long and lonely walk up to the eddy above the rapid but I was fortunate enough to not hit the wall at the bottom of the rapid, and Kristof threw some epic freestyle in there, possibly unintentionally!!  (
After finishing our three day trip through the canyon, I felt great but learned the lesson of how truly tiny one can feel when matched against the mental, physical, and spiritual power of the Stikine. I’m thankful to have done this with such a solid group, but in the end, when you pull out of an eddy on the Stikine you are pretty much on your own in there.

After the Stikine, the crew drove back to Terrace and spent an evening at King Louis’s to celebrate our descent. The next morning after some discussion, we packed up and drove to Smithers where we chartered a Turbine Otter float plane from Alpine Lake Air(for $130ish each) and that evening found ourselves flying over the Bulkley Mountain Ranges to be dropped off at Bernie Lake near the headwaters of the Chlore River. After landing on the lake and a few hours of class II paddling, we made camp on a sandbar near the entrance to the grand canyon of the Chlore. The following day consisted of 10+km of BC ClassIV-V in a deep remote canyon. The best part about the Chlore Canyon is the continuous nature of the whitewater. Soon after entering into the canyon, I had lost count of the rapids as each blended into one another again and again and again! Going straight from big water on the Stikine to a more technical style creeking on the Chlore was quite the contrast. The entrance drop to the canyon is easily scoutable from river left and once you drop over the ledge you are pretty much committed until you reach the Flinstone section of the Chlore, an accessable day run from Terrace via 30km of gravel road. We had mediumish flows in there, and we all agreed that the run is 100% worth it. Don’t forget your elbow pads.

In the Northwest we are fortunate to have a lifetime of remote unexplored rivers out there, but this goes to show what can be accomplished in as short as 10 days. For the Giltoyees we had a 2 BC boys, a Quebecois, a German and an Englishman. Our Stikine and Chlore crew boasted 2 Canadians, a couple of Frenchers, a Tasmanian, New Zealander, and an Austrian. Word is out, come on up!

Some footage from these three rivers, and a few other shots from around Terrace and the Northwest BC during 2014 season!: