Path of the Paddle: Canoeing Bowron Lakes

At first glance, my notebook tells a rather negative tale of wind and rain and mud-sucking portages. A closer look suggests that canoeing the twelve lake, 116.4 kilometre (72 mile) Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit might just be for the birds.

Did I mention I like birds?

The world-renowned canoe circuit is home to loons, osprey, bald eagles, kingfishers, common mergansers, harlequin ducks, nuthatches, woodpeckers, warblers, chickadees, white-throated sparrows – the list goes on. There are also black bears, moose and mink in this rugged wilderness area. It is situated on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range, about 120 km (75 mi) east of Quesnel, B.C.

Getting Set to Paddle

Rather than hauling boats from Alberta, we rented from Bear River Mercantile. It is perfectly situated at the head of the Bowron River for our takeout at the end of the circuit.

Sandy and Dick own the business and are knowledgable outfitters. They are also keepers of history. The mercantile is also a museum, devoted to the history of Wells, Barkerville and the Bowron Lake area. It has a diverse collection of artifacts, as well as an impressive collection of old Bowron Lake photographs.

A Touch of History

During the heydays of the gold rush, Bowron Lake supplied fish to feed hungry miners. Bowron Lake was named after John Bowron, the first Gold Commissioner in nearby Barkerville. In the early 1900s, locals trapped and guided to make a living. Frank Kibbee was one of the first settlers to build a home on the shores of Bowron Lake in 1907. Other families began farming along the Bowron River. Lodges were built around the lake.

Old cabin/shelter on McCleary Lake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

By the early 1920s, there was growing concern for the health of wildlife populations in the region. A 620 square kilometre (240 square mile) wildlife sanctuary was established. The protected area increased in size over the years and eventually became the 139,700 hectare Bowron Lakes Provincial Park in 1961.

The Path of the Paddle

Weighing in! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We sat through the park staff orientation talk about weather, safety, leave no trace ethics and then set about sorting gear for the weigh in. Only 27 kilograms (60 lbs) of gear is allowed in the canoes on portages in order to keep the trails in somewhat good shape. Anything else goes on your back.

The canoe circuit runs counter-clockwise in a roughly rectangular shape. It starts with Kibble Lake and goes onto Indianpoint, Isaac, McCleary, Lanezi, Sandy, Unna, Babcock, Skoi, Spectacle, Swan before ending on Bowron Lake. Beyond the lakes, the circuit includes about 10 kilometres (6 mi) of portages and a short paddle down the swift Cariboo River.

Setting Off

It’s uphill right off the get go – and we push, pull and find our rhythm on our way to Kibbee. Loons are everywhere – nesting, calling, fishing, flying. A short paddle, another portage, a little help to a young family of canoe trippers to manouver their load up and over a bridge and we’re back in the water on Indianpoint Lake.

Campsite on Indianpoint Lake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

It’s a short paddle to our first campsite – in time for Happy Hour, dinner, a couple of card games and a crackling fire. We head tuck into sleeping bags listening to one final song from a Swainson’s Thrush before darkness descends.

The next five nights and six days would find us alternately setting up and taking down rain tarps. It would find us drifting by thundering waterfalls, grunting as we pull the boats through another portage, and uttering sighs of content as we sit by the evening fire listening to the call of the loons.

Common Loons on Isaac Lake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We angled for trout and kokanee, caught glimpses of mink cavorting on the shoreline, discovered bear tracks, and saw osprey dive into the lake.

Nothing beat the experience of watching a kingfisher play whack-a-mole with its catch, hearing a mother moose and her calf stroll by our campsite in shallow waters just offshore and counting the endless parade of young mergansers tagging along behind mom.

The Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit is an ultimate wilderness experience.

If You Go:

Additional information about the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit can be found on the BC Parks site.

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What a Rush: Barkerville, B.C.

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Most people have heard of the California ‘49ers. Many know of the Klondike stampeders heading up to the Yukon in 1898. But what about the gold fever surrounding Barkerville, British Columbia? It lies smack dab in the middle of the western gold rush timeline.

Barkerville

Connecting to the Past

I have three reasons for having a soft spot for the Cariboo gold rush story. One, because I lived in the Cariboo as a child.

Two, because my grandpa – William Hill – worked the old slag heaps in Barkerville, searching for overlooked gold in the 1930s. He also searched for gold in the nearby abandoned mining town of Quesnelle Forks in 1940s.

Wedding photo
Married at The Forks (Photo: Dave Blanchard)

And because, three, we chose that abandoned mining town, at the junction of the Cariboo and Quesnel Rivers, as the site of our wedding.

Since we were driving by Barkerville – on our way to paddle the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit – with friends who had never heard of Barkerville’s epic tale, we just had to make a little detour and show it off.

Billy’s Story

William ‘Billy’ Barker was a working-class English prospector. He started in the California goldfields in the mid-1800s. As the gold played out, Barker joined the thousands of other miners who headed north to what is now British Columbia.

The goldseekers followed the Fraser River inland in search of rich ore. Eventually, Billy and many other miners found their way to Cariboo.

William ‘Dutch Bill’ Dietz made the first strike. William’s Creek – which runs through Barkerville – is named after him. A town grew up around the strike. It was called Richfield. Billy Barker tried his luck a little further downstream of Richfield.

On August 17, 1862, Billy and his seven partners found gold at 52 feet. Billy’s mine-shaft was the deepest around. In just two days, the miners pulled out over 1700 grams (60 ounces) of gold.

The rush was on.                      

Most of the gold was found during the first five years of Cariboo gold rush. William’s Creek and two of its tributaries produced $30,000,000 of gold between 1861 and 1898.

Barkerville became the heart of the Cariboo when a 650-kilometre (404-mile) wagon road from Yale, B.C. was built to haul gear in and gold out of the goldfields. It was finished in 1865. Barkerville was the final stop along the road.

Historic wagon rides
The end of the Cariboo wagon road. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Barkerville Today

Barkerville is the largest living-history museum in western North America.

Today, the tourist attraction features over 100 restored buildings.

There are stagecoach rides, live theatre, old-fashioned photo studios and guided tours.

Watch for costumed interpreters roaming the streets, playing the roles of historic characters.

Barkerville: By the Numbers

  • 1868 – The town is destroyed by fire and quickly rebuilt
  • 1894 – The town’s namesake dies a pauper in Victoria, B.C.
  • 1924 – Barkerville is designated a Canadian National Historic Site
  • 107 – Heritage buildings
  • 62 – Replica buildings
  • 1958 – Barkerville is declared a Provincial Heritage Property
  • 50,000-60,000 – Number of annual visitors today

Finally, if you go:

Barkerville is located in central British Columbia, about 85 kilometres (53 miles) east of Quesnel, at the edge of the Cariboo Mountains.

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Hiking the Chilkoot Trail: Historic Gear Checklists

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Posted in one of the cooking shelters at Sheep Camp, we found a sheet of paper with historic packing list suggestions for men and women planning to hike the Chilkoot Trail through Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon.

Read the lists below and – after you research to learn that oakum is tarred fibre used to plug cracks, that mackinaw is a water-repellent woolen cloth and you stop laughing at the fact that women were advised to bring both house and knitted slippers – you will appreciate why the Chilkoot Trail became the world’s longest museum of discarded gear!

Gear for Men – as listed by Pierre Berton in his book, Klondike, p. 245

  • Three suits of heavy underwear
  • A mackinaw suit
  • Two pairs of mackinaw trousers
  • A heavy rubber-lined coat
  •  A dozen pairs of wool socks
  • Half a dozen pairs of mittens
  • Two over shirts
  • Two pairs of snag-proof rubber boots
  • Two pairs of shoes
  • Two pairs of blankets
  • Four towels
  • Two pairs of overall
  • A suit of oilskin clothing
  • Five yards of mosquito netting

Groceries:

  • 400 lbs flour
  • 50 lbs cornmeal
  • 50 lbs oatmeal
  • 35 lbs rice
  • 100 lbs beans
  • 40 lbs candles
  • 100 lbs granulated sugar
  • 8 lbs baking powder
  • 200 lbs bacon
  • 2 lbs soda
  • 36 yeast cakes
  • 15 lbs salt
  • 1 lb pepper
  • ½ lb mustard
  • ¼ lb ginger
  • 25 lbs evaporated apples
  • 25 lbs evaporated peaches
  • 25 lbs evaporated apricots
  • 25 lbs fish
  • 10 lbs pitted plums
  • 50 lbs evaporated onions
  • 50 lbs evaporated potatoes
  • 24 lbs coffee
  • 5 lbs tea
  • 4 dozen tins condensed milk
  • 5 bars laundry soap
  • 60 boxes matches
  • 15 lbs soup vegetables
  • 25 cans butter

In addition, one must bring these items: steel stove, gold pan, three nest of granite buckets, a cup, plate, knife, fork, two spoons, two frying pans, coffeepot, pick, hand saw, whipsaw, whetstone, hatchet, two shovels, three files, draw-knife, axe, three chisels, twenty pounds of nails, butcher knife, hammer, compass, jackplane, square, Yukon sled, two hundred feet of rope, fifteen pounds of pitch, ten pounds of oakum, and a canvas tent.

Our gang geared up at the bottom of the pass. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Gear for Women – as suggested by Annie Hall Strong in The Skagway News on December 31, 1897

  • 1 pair house slippers
  • 1 pair knitted slippers
  • 1 pair heavy-soled walking shoes
  • 1 pair arctics
  • 1 pair felt boots
  • 1 pair German socks
  • 1 pair heavy gum boots
  • 3 heavy all-wool stockings
  • 3 pair summer stockings
  • 2 pair summer stockings
  • Moccasins can be purchased here of the Indians. The tall bicycle shoe with extra sole would make an excellent walking shoe. In the way of wearing apparel, a woman can comfortably get along with:
  • 1 good dress
  • 1 suit heavy Mackinaw, waist and bloomers
  • 1 summer suit
  • 3 short skirts of heavy duck or denim, to wear over bloomers
  • 3 suits winter underwear
  • 3 suits summer underwear
  • 1 chamois undervest
  • 1 long sack nightdress, make of eiderdown or flannel
  • 1 cotton nightdress
  • 2 pair arctic mittens
  • 1 pair heavy wool gloves
  • 1 cap
  • 1 arctic hood
  • 1 hat with brim broad enough to hold the mosquito-netting away from the face
  • 1 summer dress
  • 3 aprons
  • 2 wrappers
  • 2 shirtwaists
  • some sort of gloves for summer wear; to protect hands from mosquitoes

Bedding:

  • 1 piece of canvas, 5 ft x 14 ft
  • 1 rubber blanket
  • 2 pair, better 4 pair, all wool blankets
  • 1 feather pillow
  •  A ready-sewed tick will be very nice to have, for it can be filled with dried moss and makes a good pioneer mattress.

“An old miner would no doubt laugh me to scorn for suggesting a little satchel or handbag, but the comfort derived from the hundred and one little extras a woman can deftly stow away in it will doubly repay the bother of carrying it.” – Annie Hall Strong

Yup, I always take a little handbag… of course mine is called a backpack.

What’s the most favorite piece of gear on your backpacking checklist?

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Exploring the Past at Mount Robson Provincial Park

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

It’s Canada’s 150th in 2017. What better time to celebrate our country’s past than now?

British Columbia’s Mount Robson is a blast to my past.

Whitehorn Ranger Cabin, Mt. Robson Provincial Park.

Many years ago – who’s counting? –  I spent a summer working on a youth crew in Mount Robson Provincial Park, B.C.. We did a little trail work and hiked a lot. We sang along with the soundtrack from “Grease“, packed external frame packs badly, jogged down for morning polar bear dips in Moose Lake and became park advocates and history buffs.

What’s in a Name?

Mount Robson Provincial Park is the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system (formed two years after Strathcona Provincial Park). The park was named for the peak. Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres (12,972 feet).

Until the arrival of European trappers and explorers, the peak was known as “Yuh-hai-has-kun” or the “Mountain of the Spiral Road”  –  a name given to it by the Texqakallt, the earliest known inhabitants of the upper reaches of the Fraser River. The named refers to the mountain’s many layered appearance.

How it came to be named “Mount Robson” is a little vague.  In the earlier part of the 19th century, the North West Company sent hunters and trappers into this same area. One of these people was Colin Robertson, who worked for both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Robertson camped near the peak in about 1815. This spot became the campsite for subsequent hunting parties and the peak was named – or sort of named – after him.

Fur trader George McDougall is credited with the first written reference in his journal. He called the peak “Mt. Robinson” in his journal in 1827. Explorers crossing the Yellowhead Pass in 1863 referred to the peak in their journals as “Robson” and “Robson’s” Peak.

Climb On!

The first attempt to climb Mount Robson was in 1907, but it wasn’t until 1913 that W.W. Foster, and Albert H. McCarthy summited the peak with their guide, Conrad Kain.

More than just a big peak waiting to be conquered, Mount Robson Provincial Park is the headwaters of the mighty Fraser River. It borders the renowned Jasper National Park. Mount Robson Provincial Park is more than 100 years old. It was established on March 11, 1913. The park was designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.

History – you don’t always have to hike too far to find it, even in this relatively “young” country.

What is your favourite Canadian historic hike?

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A Writer, A Club, and a Hut

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

One of our favourite Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) Huts is the Elizabeth Parker Hut – a little log cabin in a pristine meadow near Lake O’Hara, British Columbia.

IMG_7072
Elizabeth Parker Hut. (Photo: B. Kopp)

A Jewel of a Hut

With an unsurpassed setting, piles of the white stuff, and stellar night skies – Elizabeth Parker Hut stands out as a jewel in the crown of ACC Huts.

The hut was originally built in 1919 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and taken over by the Alpine Club in early 1930s.

So who was Elizabeth Parker?

She was an outspoken journalist working for the Manitoba Free Press (now Winnipeg Free Press) in the early 1900s.

Arthur Wheeler wrote a letter to the newspaper in 1905 promoting the idea of a Canadian chapter of the American Alpine Club. When this letter crossed Elizabeth Parker’s desk, she lambasted him for his “lack of patriotism.”

Wheeler said that his original plan was a truly Canadian club, but he couldn’t drum up enough support for the idea. He wondered if she might help him achieve that goal.

With Mrs. Parker’s indomitable writing skills and the Manitoba Free Press behind the plan, the Alpine Club of Canada received the support it needed.

The ACC was established in March of 1906.

The club showed their appreciation for Elizabeth Parker’s work by naming this hut after her in 1931.

A faded photo tacked on the wall of EP's hut, showing the lady of the day with the other founding members of the ACC.
A  photo tacked on the wall of EP’s hut. Elizabeth is front, and almost center, of founding ACC members.

If You Go:
Whether you’re a writer seeking inspiration, a skier looking for an overnight getaway, or a family wanting to spend some quality time together, Elizabeth Parker Hut is a must-visit.

It’s a 12 km ski (one way) to the hut in winter months. Reservations and permits are required for overnight stays at the Elizabeth Parker Hut. Visit the ACC webpage for further details.

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