Bowron Provincial Park
British Columbia, Canada
September 1996

In February 1996 it was proposed that our annual Canoe Trip be something different. Off the beaten path so to speak. Not the usual but beautiful BWCA, Quetico or Algonquin. We considered Bowron, Earl Gray, Spatsizi in BC, John Day in Oregon, Rio Grande in Texas, Green River in Utah, Missouri in Montana, Allagash in Maine, North Platt in Wyoming and the Yukon in Alaska. The decision to go for Bowron Park in Central British Columbia came quickly. It was remote and offered scenery we had not encountered before. It also enjoyed a worldwide reputation as one of the premiere canoe circuits in the world.

We hope the following gives you some idea of what Bowron is like and what an outstanding canoeing trek. This web site was initially prepared in 1997 and the photos are pre-digital era. So please bear with us. Pun intended.

This trip was going to require special logistics. Getting ourselves and our gear to Bowron was a challenge. We flew to Seattle and rented two cars and drove north to Bowron. We would not likely do that today. Fly direct to Quesnel in BC and it’s a short drive to the Park. We wasted a great deal of time driving.

Yes, Quesnel 700 miles north of Seattle.

The lucky few who made the trek. We sat for a group commemorative photograph at a small campsite on Indianpoint Lake after a hard day's trekking. Ric of Cincy, OH -- Sneed of Katy, TX -- Rob of Pittsburgh, PA -- Dave of Bristol, England – Dean of Laguna Hills, CA -- Dave Cincy, OH

On September 8th, after driving what seemed like an eternity all over wilderness BC, we finally arrive at the outfitters beside Bowron Lake. We had dinner at his café and nested up in one of his larger cabins. We sorted our food, gear and equipment until we were tired and went to bed. We were scheduled for an 8:30am departure. We were told to be there early as we were required to watch the "Bears Are Us" video. Obviously intended to be the highlight of the morning's regulations briefing. So after a great night’s sleep the outfitter gathered us up and dumped us in the parking lot next to the pack weighing scale. Which was next to the ominous warning sign explaining what the authorities would do to your children if you put more than 62 pounds in your canoe while portaging same on wheels.

We attended the obligatory training class which qualified us for entry into the Park. This introduction to regulation overload was at the Ranger Station at the starting point. With great duty we attended the video presentation and training session. The "Bears Are Us" video made us realize we did not come prepared to deal with the bears. We had no whistles or bells. We did however have two cans of pepper spray. Our greatest bear defense was we did NOT have any of the fair sex with us. Interestingly enough, the overly ambitious regulators and instructors did not dwell on the impact of the fair sex in the woods and their unique ability to attract bears. If you do not know why, ask a bear.

A large bore shotgun (sans pellets) would have been a fine bear deterrent but we found out early in the planning of this trek that Americans are not allowed to bare weapons in Canada. Only guns are allowed to bare Canadians in Canada. Or was that bears allowed guns, or was it Indians, bears, rangers and guides. So there we stood. Awaiting the starting whistle. We looked like members of the Lewis and Clark expedition awaiting for Native Americans to show up and carry our gear.

However it must be noted in this journal that there was a pause in our lives as we waited patiently at the starting point. The starting whistle from the Ranger is your signal to start trucking down the trail.

We should not complain. If the place was wide open to the public I can only imagine the congestion on the trail and the destruction of the campsites. It was cozy as it was and we were at times stumbling over other campers. But that's the price we are required to pay to preserve such a beautiful place. If we had our way, the number of visitors allowed would be divided by 10.

The start of the 2.4 km portage to Kibbee Lake was there in front of us. We could stand on it. We could walk down the trail a few feet and look down the long menacing trail. We could not start. It was not 8:30am. There was a group in front of us that had the 8:00am slot. We stood there impatiently and took silly pictures of ourselves being impatient. Suddenly it was 8:30am. Our time had come. We charged down the trail. The people in front of us had disappeared. Maybe the bears had made a meal of them early.

Trek 9.9.96 to 9.16.96 ---- Its 8:30am…. GO!

1st DAY Starting Point - Portage to Kibbee Lake and on to Indian Point Lake

If you wondered how far you portaged or paddled (in case you are not metric), that's about 72 miles.


Campsite #6.


Map showing the starting point and the two long portages. The campsite on Indianpoint Lake was OK but with several camps next to each other it seemed overly crowded. The elevation on Indianpoint Lake was about 960 meters (3,100 ft) Indianpoint Mt. was 2400 meters.

Canoes - We got canoes! The end of the 1st portage. Did it feel good to put that canoe down? Get a load of the bear cache in the background. Ladder and aluminum cladding up the tree.

It was sunny and warm. Great weather to start the trek. No wind. The start of this trek was a long portage of 2.4 km from the ranger station to Kibbee Lake. The trail was wide and smooth. The trail started out with a graceful uphill grade. It became a bit steeper. This quickly turned into a climb up what seemed like the backside of Mt. Everest for us old guys carrying packs and canoes.

Much to our dismay, the trail continued to run uphill for much of the way. It is a tough way to start a trip. By the time we got to the end of that first portage we were tired. We then had to return and get the canoe. We were making two trips on the portage trails. All others were making one trip. They had wheels on their canoes making ruts. They carried their packs and towed their canoes on wheels.

But we were tough men and could make two trips on the portage trails. And besides, we were not making any ruts. Lesson learned. We should have taken wheels.

Kibbee Lake was a small lake. It was a short 2.4 km paddle across to the next portage..We hit the water and paddled hard for the far shore. Paddling 2.4 km is easy. That 1st portage wore us down. We should have slowed down and fished Kibbee Lake. We later learned it was a fishing hot spot. If you plan to do any fishing do not skip this lake. But in hindsight, we did not have the proper gear or lures to fish any of the lakes in Bowron. We learned much later that the method that works is to use is trolling with deep diving lures. We mean deep like down to 18 ft.

The second portage, between Kibbee and Indian Point Lakes is 2.4 km and similar in character to the first portage. We were worn out by the time we completed this portage. Indian Point Lake is 6.4 km long. We camped halfway down the lake in site #6. It is a nice spot with plenty of room.

The Dave & Sneed Team silhouetted against early morning fog. Indianpoint Lake.

Indianpoint Lake

2nd DAY ----- Indianpoint Lake Camp site #6 to Isaac Lake site # 19

I believe this is Indianpoint Lake early morning as the fog was lifting.



Indianpoint Lake early morning fog drifting away.


Jaws (aka Rob) stands guard over two untied canoes. It's early morning on Indianpoint Lake. Our second morning on the trek.

Sunny and warm. The portage from Indianpoint Lake to Isaac Lake is 1.6 km and similar to the first two portages. Isaac Lake was as calm as it could be. No wind. It was a weird scene. A huge dead calm lake. There was not a ripple on the water the entire day. The sun was hot and we got sunburned as we paddled a third of the way down the lake to stay at site # 19.

The right hook in Isaac Lake.


Lunch break on Isaac Lake

Site # 19 is a small unimproved site with a nice creek for obtaining clear water. The temperature of the creek water was about 45F and provided good cold water for making powdered drink mixes such as Kool Aid. We tried fishing but were unsuccessful. We had a big birthday party for Sgt Maj Ric that night in camp.

Isaac Lake - Put in point at the end of the Indianpoint Lake portage.

Nearing the BIG right turn in Isaac Lake with 2,056 meter high Wolverine Mountain in the background.

Rob sorts gear while Ric quietly watches Dean assume the "fall overboard position".

On day two we discovered a Red Squirrel swimming in the middle of Isaac Lake. When we got close, he scrambled up the back end of one canoe, climbed up the back of the person sitting in the rear seat of same canoe, then climbed up on his head, looked around and dived back into the lake.

The typical Tent. No drips, no leaks & no creeks. And lots of room. Isaac Lake Camp #19


3rd DAY ---- Isaac Lake site # 19 to Isaac Lake site #24.

Again sunny and warm. No wind. Isaac Lake was again as calm as it could be. There was not a ripple on the water the entire day.

Isaac Lake was as smooth as glass. Very unusual we were told. Note fish striking the surface.

After turning the corner of Isaac Lake we could see the snowcapped Cariboo Mountains in the distance.

Sneed & Dean following the current on calm Isaac Lake.

This was our 3rd night. We stayed at campsite # 24 on Isaac Lake

The sun was hot and we got more sunburn as we paddled to site #24.

Site # 24 is a small but nice site among some large trees. There is a beautiful creek running beside the site for drinking water. We placed our tents on the large gravel beach. The stars were magnificent with the clear sky. We tried fishing again but were unsuccessful. We did get some hits at the out fall of the creek. We did see several large fish in the water.

 

This campsite, #24, was where we had a strange encounter. We had been set up for a couple of hours when along came another group of 4 people. They decided to camp at the same site and made no bones about plopping down in the middle of us. There was no “may we join you”. We were not accustomed to this sort of thing in the Eastern parks. With no other parties seen that day and with several other sites nearby we questioned why they felt it was necessary to make the site cramped.


Well heck, they looked big enough to take the flies.

4th DAY Isaac Lake site #24 to McLeary Lake site # 31. Sunny and warm. No wind.

Isaac Lake was calm again and we made good time to the end of the lake. The big left turn at the end of the lake followed immediately by the big right turn produced what is commonly referred to as the Chute. The first canoe made it through the Chute OK. As did the third canoe. The second canoe paused for bathing as they flipped and washed in the current. ?

We continued down the river after reestablishing the 2nd canoe's seaworthiness. The run down the rapids was fun especially with other campers running along the shore line screaming "They are gonna run it!"

We gave them a thrill. We had fully loaded canoes. The best advice is to stay to the left at the start of the chute and avoid the heavy waves on the right at the initial start, then cut hard right before becoming part of the embankment dead ahead. We have no pictures here either. I wonder why.

The Chute at the end of Isaac Lake.

The waterfalls and rapids were impressive to say the least. Interestingly enough we do not have any still pictures of these impressive water falls. The portage was not a piece of cake either. The water drained into McCleary Lake which in turn drained into the Cariboo River. The Cariboo River was glacier runoff and thus was very cold (45F) and very silt laden. The water in Isaac was clear but the next 25 miles were gray and silty.

 

Isaac River below the Chute. This was after we recomposed ourselves after unscheduled bathing in the river.

The portage along the Isaac River was good but not as smooth as the previous ones. There were some areas that required better footing. The trail was also steep in spots and the scenery along the falls was spectacular. There are side trails that go down to the falls and are worth the time and effort.

Sneed . Dave . Dean . Dave . Ric . Rob

The First of Several Drying Out Phases of The Trip

This is Campsite Cabin #31 on McCleary lake. A beautiful lake at the end of the rush of water out of Isaac lake.

We called it an early day and used the old trapper cabin on McLeary Lake to camp that night to dry out some gear that got wet coming down the river. We won't comment on how the gear got wet except to say that making a right turn too soon as one enters the Chute will fill your canoe with lots of water.

The shelter (cabin) is very small with a wood stove. Sites for tents are limited to about 2 or 3, provided it is a small tent. There is a small creek for obtaining clean water.

McLeary Lake

We tried fishing in McLeary Lake along the path cut through the lake by the river. We saw a number of large fish but could not get any in the canoe. We did get to see a Bald Eagle snatch a fish out of the lake. The next morning we were invaded by a flock of Canadian Geese that landed on the lake.

Sneed & Ric continuing to sort gear at the trappers cabin on McCleary Lake. The doorway was only 5 ft high. A real brow bumper. It was a nice place to hide out and dry out.


Rob Rushofsky's Classic Photo. The Caribou River - Bowron 1996

This pix was taken as we started down the river out of McCleary lake. Note the current. We sailed down the river with no problem. It was a quick ride to Lanezi Lake.

Lanezi Lake is just below 3,000 ft elevation. The mountains on both sides rise to over 8,000 ft. There were snowcapped peaks on both sides of us.

5th DAY McLeary Lake site # 31 to Sandy Lake site # 39

The morning was cloudy and by mid afternoon it began to rain. The float and paddle down the Cariboo River was interesting and fast. We covered the 5.2 km in one hour by paddling and allowing the current to help. It is an easy paddle with no major rapids or currents. The water changes from clear to cloudy once you enter the Cariboo River. This is the result of heavy run off from the glaciers upstream.

Lanezi Lake was flat and still. The majesty of the mountains coming down to the lake shore is unequaled. We paddled the entire length in about 3.5 hours. It started raining fairly hard about 2/3 down the lake. We continued on down the Cariboo River into Sandy Lake and made camp at site # 39.

Sandy Lake – Sneed & Dean returning from a water run up shore.

We covered 26 km (16 miles) this day. McCleary to Sandy. We were sore as a result. The rain stopped as we made camp and the sun came out and dried us out after we hung out everything on clotheslines. Site # 39 is a large, well-prepared campsite. There is a large sandy beach with scattered pines. A great place to dry out if you have wet gear. It started raining again about dark and continued on and off all night.

Sandy Lake

DAY 6 Sandy Lake site # 39 to Spectacle Lake site # 48.

It was raining in the morning as we broke camp. In the late afternoon it got sunny but turned cold, windy and rainy by evening.

We continued from Sandy Lake down the Cariboo River in the rain. With the rain we decided to skip the side trip to Cariboo Falls. The bag drag, as we call it, up Babcock Creek was cold and wet to say the least. The beavers have done an admirable job of making this creek almost impassable. This is a portage nowadays. They eliminated the bag drag. The two short portages between Babcock Lake and Spectacle Lake were just that. Short and sweet. We saw several large fish in Spectacle Lake but could not catch anything.

The rain finally lifted late in the afternoon and we made our way to the shelter at site # 48. This site is large, very nice and well-improved. The shelter is large and has a stove. We did have to do some surgery on the stove flue as it was choked up with creosote and had a broken flue damper. Those coming behind us will no longer have the problem of smoke in the cabin when you open the door of the stove. We made good use of the shelter as it was raining and turning cold. We got a good fire going and dried out the usual wet stuff. We made good use of the table in the shelter to hone our card playing skills. That evening a heavy storm blew through with high winds and hail. The next morning we could see fresh snow on the mountain tops.

DAY 7 Spectacle Lake site # 48 to Bowron River site # 53

 

It was raining when we got up that morning. It was also windy and cold. It rained all night and continued through the day. Not a nice day to be out on a lake. Despite much whining from all we made our way down the remainder of Spectacle Lake into the Bowron River and ended up in the shelter at site # 53. This site is at the end of the circuit and I don't believe it sees much use. It was unimproved and an uninspiring site. The shelter was large and had a good wood stove. It provided a welcomed haven from the weather to dry out and warm up. The rain continued and put a damper on any fishing we might have had planned.

Dean feeding the Canadian Jay aka Camp Robber. These birds know no fear. This is Campsite Cabin #53.
We stayed overnight in the shelter and enjoyed its warmth.

Bowron River with a touch of Snow Campsite Number 57
Photo by Evan Williams

DAY 8 Bowron River site # 53 to Outfitters on North end of Bowron Lake.
After a tough weather day before we now had a nice day for the last day out.

We proceeded to paddle up the Bowron River for some fishing and maybe see a bear. But alas, the Rangers had posted the river and they knew best so we turned around and headed back.

Bears Only past this point. We were not allowed by the Rangers to go up the Bowron River to fish because the salmon run had attracted too many bears. We saw many dead and redolent salmon along the river.

Jaws shows us how to catch salmon. It was ripe also.

Sorry guys. No bears today.


Bowron Lake. The last lake.

Dean & Sneed foreground with Dave and Dave behind. The last lake. Bowron Lake.
So we left Bowron Park and headed to Prince George where we checked into a motel and got cleaned up. The next day we drove toward Jasper in Alberta. From there we turned south and drove toward Lake Louise across the backbone of the Canadian Rockies and back to Seattle.

 

Ric & Sneed - Organizers extraordinary

We do thank you for your support. For without your support, patience and occasional forgiving we would not be able to have these great treks into Mother's Wilderness.

For what it is worth to those planning a trip to Bowron.
Use the canoe dollies (wheels). They will save your back.
You can carry 60 pounds (27kg) in the canoe while it is on the dolly.
Travel light but use the canoe to carry as much as possible.
Use a pump or a drip filter to make drinking water.
Try and camp near a creek. This water is cleaner and easier to filter.
Take a large nylon tarp (12 ft x 12 ft) ((3m x 3m)) to create a shelter over your cooking area.
Take about 30 meters of light nylon cord to use as a clothes line to help dry out things that get wet.
You will need a stout but short ax to break up the fire wood, when you can find fire wood. It is scarce.
If you plan to fish, keep in mind that you must use single barbless hooks.
And deep diving trolling lures.
We truly enjoyed Bowron. Bowron is a beautiful canoe or kayak circuit. The scenery is breathtaking, especially in September when fresh snow appears on the mountain peaks. We as a group have been canoeing together for over 15 years and this trip provided scenery unlike any we have ever experienced. There are differences in Bowron which became apparent to us as the result of our extensive experience in other canoe areas such as Boundary Waters in Minnesota and Quetico in SW Ontario. Not to be taken as criticism, but as observations. Because there is only one circuit in Bowron, the concentration of people is distracting. This results in crowded portage trails, congestion and doubling up on camp sites. These are things that we are not accustomed to having in other areas. If we were asked, we would recommend an increase in camp sites, with no increase in the number of people permitted to enter on a daily basis. We do recommend Bowron to the experienced canoeist and outdoor type people. For what it is worth, if you are a first time canoeist, you will not find a more beautiful place to experience the wilderness and BC scenery, however we would suggest you start with the short route trip up Bowron Lake to Unna Lake and back. Don't underestimate the need to learn the feel of your canoe from a couple of full days of paddling piled high with gear. Isaac and Lanezi Lakes are not the places to learn how to handle one foot high white cap waves and a 20 mile per hour wind.

 


E-mail responded to with pleasure

stadams64@aol.com

Similar trip down the Spatsizi River in BC

Similar trip down the Green River in Utah