Spatsizi River Trip Report

This is the report of a canoe trip taken down the Spatsizi and Stikine Rivers
Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park
British Columbia
August 1998

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The green spot is The Spatsizi Wilderness Park. We flew to Vancouver and then to Smithers.
We drove the 500km from Smithers to the park.

Landing in Smithers and trying to figure out how all this gear will fit in two cars.

The mountain view across the road from the Smithers airport.

A few small Black Bears feasting on clover en route between Smithers and Tatogga Lodge.

With mother and other brother.

A few good mountains on the road to Tatogga Lodge.

Colin on road from Tatogga

We took a break during the 500 km drive up the gravel road to Tatogga Lodge.
Colin, Sneed, John, Rob, Dave, Aaron, Dean, Paul & Tom

Dave and Colin, our two Brits get close to Alaska.

The intrepid schemer and later day wilderness junkie.


The starting point. The Tatogga Lodge.

A special thanks to Bunty, Hal and Stan at The Tatogga Lodge for making our trip a success.

THE TATOGGA LODGE PHONE NUMBER and FAX No. is 250-234-3526.

For those planning a similar trip, I recommend the Jennifer Voss book detailing the Spatsizi and Stikine. This book is available at http://www.rmbooks.com/books/vossti.htm

Day 1 - Saturday, August 1st
Tatogga Lodge to Spatsizi River
Camp at the end of the portage. Kilometer 0 Elevation 3,940ft.

The day began with the 100km three-hour drive up the BC Railroad grade to the start of the 5km portage to the Spatsizi River. We were 9 guys squeezed into two extended cab pick-ups, along with drivers Hal and Stan, 4 canoes and what seemed like enough equipment to sustain us on the trek for a month. Stan commented that he had had people with more gear than us, but could not remember when. The drive to the portage took us to the tree line and above 4,600ft elevation. The weather was perfect, clear and cool.

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On the road to the Portage - Sneed, Dean, Colin, John, Rob, Tom, Aaron, Dave, Paul

Dean smiles for Aaron's camera. Another pee break en route from Tatogga Lodge to the start of the 3 km portage down to the Spatsizi River.

 


Did we have too much gear? Maybe. But we got it all down to the river.

Map shows location of Tatogga Lodge on the road between Dease Lake and Smithers.
And the start of the 5km portage from the old railroad grade down to the Spatsizi River.

Colin takes a break from dragging the canoe down the portage.

We had collected a variety of wheels for portaging the loaded canoes. After several incidences of unplanned collapsing, we figured out how to make one troublesome design work long enough to survive the portage trail. The trail itself was in good shape. Although there were several places where wheels were less than practical, they were well worth the investment. Even with time spent repairing wheels, it only took us about two and a half-hours to do the portage.

Dave welcomes Tom, Rob & Dean to the end of the 5 km portage.
5 km in 3 hours. Not bad for a bunch of old men and too much gear.

It's lunch break time at the end of the portage.

The camping area at the end of the portage, at the confluence of the Spatsizi River and Didene Creek, was a level and grassy area, ideal for camping. The elevation at this point was 3,940ft according to Rob’s Global Positioning System device. We arrived at the end of the portage sooner than expected and took advantage of this spare time to try some fishing, relaxing and sorting out our gear for the paddle down the river. We had no luck fishing.

Tom initiated his R&D project for repairing cedar strip canoes using spruce gum.

Day 2 - Sunday August 2nd
Kilometer 0 to Kilometer 40
Camp at the base of Redgoat Mountain on a gravel bar.
Camp at Elevation 3,600ft.

The temperature at 6am when most of us rolled out of the sleeping bags was -2.5°C (28°F). There was frost everywhere and frozen unmentionables hanging on the drying line. There was however a gratifying side effect. The ground was littered with millions of tiny frozen corpses of biting insects.

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Spatsizi River Km 0 Looking South

There was not a cloud in the sky as the big yellow sun struggled up over The Skeena Mountains. It was going to be a beautiful day to start our trek down the river.

We had a big breakfast of eggs and bacon. It took a while for us to get our act together this beautiful morning, especially those that delayed exiting their tent until 8am.

Spatsizi River Km 0 Looking North. That's John on the shore and Rob in the distance. There are fish in this river.

Rob and his fly rod testing the will of the fish.

We broke camp at 9:30am and waded across Didene Creek to launch our canoes in the small and shallow Spatsizi River. It was essentially a “bag drag” and canoe lining exercise for several kilometers. When we did find some water under our canoes, we became so overly excited that we immediately dumped one canoe twice in the raging shallows and lazy S-curves as a sacrifice to the river gods. This did not work. The river was not amused and reaped vengeance on us with more shallow water, vicious S-curves, sweepers, hidden rivers, muddy banks and disguised campsites.

 

Paul loads the Big Canoe the first morning on the river.

Colin prepares to challenge the river.

River KM 12

A clear, freshwater stream running into the Spatsizi river is a welcome spot to replenish our fresh water supply.

Lunch break. It looks like a bright sunny day.

Paul gives the fish a quiz. Do you like my lure?

River KM 50

We stopped for lunch at a small clear creek coming in from the right, at approximately Kilometer 10. There was a small but nice place to pitch a couple of tents here. We tried some fishing at this spot with no luck. Later in the afternoon we found a small clear creek coming in from the left (Kilometer 15) and cast a streamer in the out fall. We quickly caught a three pound Dolly Varden (char) and four 2lb Grayling which provided us with a nice fish dinner.

The River near Km 15

We intended to camp at Buckinghorse Creek (Kilometer 26) this first night on the river, but managed to overshoot this creek as we failed to recognize it for what it was and failed navigation 101 by misreading the position on the GPS unit. We paddled on and found a suitable spot on a gravel bar with a wonderful view of Redgoat Mountain. Redgoat Mountain is approximately 6,000ft in elevation.

We were tired after our 40km paddle this day. The river had not picked up any speed and it took us about 8 hours of paddling and lining to cover this 40km. We were also slowed several times by the necessity to recover certain floating debris and restow it.

 

The Redgoat gravel bar, near the mouth of Will Creek, upstream river left, was a nice campsite but we learned that we needed to be more attentive to our fresh water supply. Those traveling the Spatsizi would be well advised to keep several gallons of fresh water with them. The majority of the spaces available for camping do not have clear water creeks near by.

Red Goat Mountain - Quiet Camp at Sunrise. Camp at Elevation 3,600ft.

Now we know what Santa does in August.

Red Goat Mountain with full sun from the East.

Redgoat Mountain at Sunrise

With the sun rising and casting a bright light on Redgoat Mountain, the morning view of the mountain was spectacular. Despite concentrated scanning of the slopes, we failed to see any goats.

 

Aaron and Dean were there at Red Goat also.

After bumping and grinding down 40km of Spatsizi’s finest rocks,
Tom continued with his cedar strip canoe repairs using spruce gum.

Dave Mitchell looks for the channel markers

Bowen striking a couple of river poses.

I would be remiss in my duties as Editeur if I were to gloss over several events of this first day. Let's see. Colin and Dave took a bath twice and some gear was lost to the water. Aaron & Dean proved that one small insignificant sweeper lying at a small lazy S curve at Kilometer 24 can ruin your day. This sweeper made a valiant attempt to reduce the world’s population of lawyers. Alas, the river was neither deep enough nor fast enough and the sun was shining brightly.

Day 3 - Monday August 3rd
Kilometer 40 to Kilometer 63
Camp at Cache Creek

 

The Big Boat in calm water.

John fishing Mink Creek

Having made our first day of paddling a marathon, we left ourselves with only 23km to paddle this day, which turned out to be a blessing as we were tired and found several great places to rest up and fish along the way to Cache Creek. We took our time going down the river and made our first stop at kilometer 53 where a small stream dumped into the Spatsizi. It was not clear but it was OK for boiling to make soup.

 

Lunch time and kitchen ware confusion

We feasted on chicken noodle soup and enjoyed the warm sun. After lunch we paddled about 500m and found a fair size clear creek, which we thought, was Mink Creek, coming in from the left. We fished here for about 30 minutes but with no success. We paddled on for another 1000m and found the real Mink Creek at kilometer 54.5. This was a beautiful clear creek that looked about as fishy as they come. We spent about an hour here but caught only one immature Grayling. This creek outlet is also an excellent campsite.

 

Mink Creek The water coming down Mink Creek was crystal clear.

A bigger picture of Mink Creek. This was a beautiful camping spot. We should have stayed here.
After seeing what happened at Cache Creek, I bet the fishing here at Mink would have been outstanding.

Mink Creek as it blends into the main channel of the Spatsizi River. Note the crystal clear water of Mink Creek in the foreground.

The river was finally starting to pick up some volume and speed as we moved north. We proceeded on down to Cache Creek and pitched camp on the left side of the creek about 4pm because another party had occupied the site on the right. This was a nice smallish campsite. Cache Creek was clear and cold. It provided some excellent fishing. After our usual dinner of freeze dried crap, (actually some great tasting Polynesian Chicken) just about everybody started fishing and within 45 minutes we had landed five large Dolly Varden ranging from 3.5 pounds to 4.5 pounds. This fishing frenzy was started quite nonchalantly by one of our party asking one of those more versed in fishing lore to help him set up his rod. “Thank you.” “Now, which lure do I use?” “Thank you.” “Now show me how to cast.” “Thank you.” “Now show me where to cast.” ------- “Jeez, is that a fish on the line?”

Tom then conducted fish cleaning and fillet lessons. Tom’s handiwork was much admired and the request for his services was in great demand by those who did not like handling slimy slippery fish. Thus, those fish not prepared by Tom looked like they had been cleaned and prepared using blunt driftwood. So we had Tom’s excellent fish puppies and other’s fish smushies. In addition to conducting filleting seminars, Tom continued to perfect his canoe repair techniques using spruce gum.

Fishing was good. Presentation could be better!

This picture was published in Kanawa, Summer 2000.

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Spatsizi at Cache Creek. A great shot by John

Cache Creek can be seen flowing into the Spatsizi River.
The fish were hiding in the cloudy portion of the river and were striking lures tracking the clear water.


Tom and one of his many catches.

John counts how many thousand mosquitoes there are in the tent.

Paul cooks breakfast. Fish maybe? Yep!

Day 4 Tuesday August 4th
Kilometer 63 to Kilometer 105
Camp on an island past Diamond Creek
Camp at Elevation 3,200ft.

After a morning feast of fresh fish and blueberry pancakes, we were really stuffed. We broke camp around 9am and started down river, anticipating the confluence of the Spatsizi and Stikine Rivers, particularly to see if the Stikine was as clear and clean as advertised.

Dave and Dean

There was a slight threat of showers. The clouds were moving in. Rain gear at the ready.

We intended to make 35km this day and camp at the confluence of the Spatsizi and Stikine Rivers. The river was picking up some speed and we went ashore for lunch about 1.5km past Hyland Post at 12:30pm. We covered these 25km with an average speed on the river of 7.15km per hour. This included a brief 30-minute stop to try fishing at the Dawson River. No luck. After lunch we continued on and stopped at the Ross River to wet the lines again. Duplicate luck. Wrong time of day, I suppose.

Below Ross River the Spatsizi picked up speed and we quickly found the confluence with the Stikine, an amazing place. The large stream of clear water runs parallel with the cloudy Spatsizi for many kilometers downstream. The pace of the river quickened noticeably. We decided not to camp at the confluence because the available camping area was very large and exposed. It was still early in the day and we had 46km planned for the next day, so we kept moving and headed for the campsites located on the islands past Upper Stikine Lodge. The first few sites were very rocky and unsuitable, so we pushed on and found a good campsite on a large sandbar on the left at approximately Kilometer 105.

Some of the Nine. John, Tom, Rob, Dean, Paul, Sneed, and Dave
Standing ashore at the confluence of the Spatsizi and Stikine Rivers.

The big canoe takes a break.

Is it supposed to do that?

We were at camp fairly early. While there was sunshine we did a bit of bathing.
We did erect the tarp at this site and found use for it. The rain clouds came and went the rest of the day but were nothing serious.
We had beans and canned ham for dinner. We all agreed that we had hit the low point on the culinary curve very early in the trip.
There seemed to be a consensus that it would be great to be back to that wonderful freeze dried crap tomorrow.

Day 5 - Wednesday August 5th
Kilometer 105 to Kilometer 144
Camp at Pitman River
Camp at Elevation 3,000ft.

A wet day standing in the rain with your feet in really cold water.

This morning we awoke to heavy clouds and intermittent rain causing a delay in getting started as the rain was depressing. This was the day we would tackle Jewel Rapids so we all made an extra effort to lash down the gear in the canoes and tie on the PFDs. We also had 39km to travel to get to our next planned campsite at the confluence of the Pitman River.

The rain increased and gave us a good washing as we sailed down the river at a speed of at least 9km per hour. We encountered several stretches of riffles. These minor rapids produced standing waves in the 12-inch category. We took on some water and had to put our bailing skills to the test.

Colin, Aaron and Dave savor the warm sun.

We encountered a young bull moose swimming across the river at approximately kilometer 158.

The run to Jewel Rapids did not take very long. We stopped to survey them before proceeding. The prospect of two kilometers of large boulders and rushing current was taxing to the mind. We pondered for a while and watched as two rubber rafts glided past slowly and maneuvered easily through the boulders. We let the rafts get out of sight and decided to have a go at it. We sailed through the rapids without the slightest problem. The distance through the rapids was considerably less than the advertised 2km, possibly caused by the increased levels of adrenaline. We took on a bit of water but less than we had encountered earlier that day in the riffles. In retrospect, the rapids proved less taxing than the heavy riffles and S turns we encountered later in the trip.

Tom and Rob with the cedar strip canoe continue undaunted down the river of rocks.

The sun made periodic appearances as we steamed on down the river at a good clip. We made the Pitman River by 3pm, covering the 39km in about 4.5 hours of paddling at an average speed of 8.5 kilometers per hour.

We set up camp in the woods slightly upstream on the left bank of the Pitman River on what would have been an island during high water. This camp was in the trees and offered level but close quarters and no gravel or sand. It was a good camp. The sun and rain played alternately for our pleasure. We erected the tarp between two large trees as a precaution and did our cooking under same.

There is that Big Lead Canoe again.

This camp was comfortable and gave us a good night's rest. Behind the camp, where the high water trace split the island from the steep hill of the mainland, we found the largest concentration of moose tracks and worn trails that we had seen anywhere on the trip. We were definitely in downtown moose city.

Cooking breakfast at Pitman River campsite.

The Pitman is a large clear river and looked fishy as hell. The fishing spirits were not with us this day. We were skunked. We learned later that we should have attempted to forge upstream to try the fishing. There are reports of 10 pound Dolly Varden up this river.

Tom smeared some more boiling hot spruce gum on his canoe. One member of our party left his Tagamet in the car. Bad move!

Day 6 - Thursday August 6th
Kilometer 144 to Kilometer 165
Camp at Indian Hunting Camp
Camp at Elevation 2,850ft

This was to be a short day. A run of 21km to the Kehlechoa River, a mere 2.5 hours based on the speed of the river.

We awoke to a slight rain and dark skies. We cooked up two pounds of bacon and made scrambled eggs from freeze dried powder. There are those of us that professed they learned to like oatmeal during this trip. There was no real hurry as we did not have far to go.

We pushed off about 9:30am and glided past Shreiber Canyon - not much to see so we kept going. The river widened and separated into many streams. We encountered several of many Actively Slumping Slopes. The river was also moving more rapidly. One canoe became separated along this part of the river and the lead canoe decided to pull over and wait for the missing boat to catch up. We built a fire on a gravel bar to warm the air.

 

I do not recall where this is exactly or why we stopped. Maybe a lunch break.

The other canoe finally showed and we pushed on. We started encountering some heavy riffles and large 18-inch standing waves. The riffles finally extracted their tribute on the cedar strip canoe and it was swamped. It took some effort to get the floating gear and occupants ashore on a gravel bar particularly because Tom was still attempting to swim while clutching the wheels and hanging on to the canoe while Rob was attempting to walk ashore with the swamped canoe and its sea anchor in three feet of water! We built the second fire of the hour and dried out the two canoeists and some of their gear. We also used this time to do a hot soup lunch. It was enjoyed by all except one sick puppy that I am told slept through the entire festivities.

 

Camp at the native hunting camp

Regaining our composure and dignity, we glided down the river in search of the Kehlechoa River. This area was heavy with Actively Slumping Slopes. When we made it to the vicinity of the Kehlechoa River we noticed a native hunting camp site in the woods on the left side of the river at approximately kilometer 192.5. We investigated and found this to be an excellent place to camp and did so. There was also a small stream and spring back in the woods that provided clear water. This camp had a small table to cook on, a nice log to sit on and a fire pit.

 

The Cook's work is never done.

There were a lot of drying lines hanging in this camp. The sick puppy got sicker and did his best to spread his misery to all those with whom he came in contact. This did not keep Tom from rebuilding his canoe with more boiling hot spruce gum.

Not sure what Dean has in mind.

We had some more disgusting freeze dried drivel and went to bed after all walked through Mother Nature's rock garden. There are some of us who have definitely altered the course of nature through rock removal.

Camp at native hunt camp

Not sure what Dean has in mind.

We had some more disgusting freeze dried drivel and went to bed after all walked through Mother Nature's rock garden. There are some of us who have definitely altered the course of nature through rock removal.

Day 7 - Friday August 7th
Kilometer 165 to Kilometer 200
Camp at McBride River
Camp at Elevation 2,600ft

This morning offered less threat of precipitation. We broke camp and headed down river. The ever present massive Actively Slumping Slopes completely disguised the Kehlechoa River from our view. The ride to McBride River was uneventful with only a few slight showers to disturb a beautiful day. By this time we had dropped over 1,300 ft. since starting on the river. We covered the 35km to McBride in less than 4 hours. We had lunch there and casually set up camp. This site is an excellent place to camp and we believe this was the best camp on the river. In fact there are several very good camping spots at this location. We found a neat way to erect our tarp.

 

Camp at McBride River

The mountains above this camp at the mouth of the McBride River are impressive. Mt. Sister Mary was the dominant of the three peaks at roughly 6,000ft elevation.

The good weather and time on our hands gave us plenty of opportunity to break out the fishing equipment. We were successful in several locations. Challenging the bush and hiking upstream proved rewarding. John was particularly rewarded as he landed a four pound Dolly Varden with a fly rod and streamer in a back water about 600 meters up river. We had one interesting fishing event. John was fly-fishing with an egg sucking leech. He hooked and lost a Dolly Varden when his leader separated. Thirty minutes later, Colin, using a spinner, caught and landed the same fish with the fly and leader still in its mouth.

Colin and the double caught Dolly

 

John and his prize found several hundred meters up stream at McBride River Camp

Two canoes tied up ashore at McBride River Camp

Confluence McBride and Stikine Rivers

Others in our team developed more rock collecting techniques.
Tom found a boulder the size of a soccer ball covered with petroglyphs, one of which resembled an eagle.
Aaron wisely decided not to add it to his growing rock collection.

And you thought we were coordinated. Not a chance.

Resting for a group pix at McBride. Aaron, Sneed, Colin, Rob, John, Tom, Dean, Paul & Dave

I mixed a batch of mud bug (crawfish) gumbo for the guys.
Some did not trust me. Thought they were eating a science fair experiment.

Later that evening, a black bear was observed exiting the river directly across from our camp.

Colin fixes a spot of tea.


The latest in bear cache technology.

Tom's cedar canoe getting a rest from the pounding.

Panorama of McBride Camp. A great camp!

Day 8 - Saturday August 8th
Kilometer 200 to Kilometer 227
Camp at Beggerlay Canyon
Camp at elevation 2,400ft

Beggerlay Canyon - flowing to west

The 27 km run to Beggerlay Canyon was quick. We left McBride by 9am and were at the portage around Beggerlay by noon. We portaged our gear and one canoe with a little spruce gum and duct tape on its hull. The other three canoes and their riders tested the canyon's currents. Let's say that most of them made it. Not many will be able to tell his grandchildren about the day he had to swim through the raging waters of Beggerlay Canyon to rescue his runaway canoe. Nor others of their daring speed in paddling their canoe through the raging canyon to rescue the empty runaway canoe. The video camera man carried the day as these stories will never be myth.

 

 

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Rescue Team One - John and Paul were successful in paddling the rapids in the canyon.
Now they await to retrieve any debris that may float by as the other teams try and duplicate the feat.

Colin and Dave decide to swim the canyon in lieu of paddling canoe. It did not start out that way.

Canyon looking up stream

Canyon looking down stream.

One of the small streams feeding into the Stikine River at the Canyon.

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Tom the Master conducting class.

The campsite at Beggerlay is wedged in the rocks above the rushing river. It is scenic, sandy, beautiful, and exhilarating. We erected the tarp at the trails end between the two large trees and used the rock outcropping as a low table. There are large Dolly Varden in the swirling pool below the camp site. Tom hooked and landed a 4 pound Dolly Varden using a fly rod.

That, Gents, is dinner!

Tom truly mastered canoe leak repair techniques.


Day 9 - Sunday August 9th
Kilometer 227 to Kilometer 253
Take out on Highway 37
Elevation 2,200ft

The next morning, amid intermittent rain showers, we breakfasted on instant oatmeal, strong coffee, hot cocoa and Dolly Varden fish puppies. A fight broke out over the remaining puppies. For those of you with a trail side culinary interest, Chef Jacques L’Trail’s recipe for Dolly Varden Fish Puppies can be had for a price. Please contact L'Editeur at the e-mail address below regarding finance arrangements and loan guarantees. You will not be disappointed in the taste and simplicity of this method of cooking your catch. And besides, we have to repay the loan we took out to finance this trip. Not to mention that one of us has three kids in University this fall.

The last leg of our paddling experience was 27 km long and lasted less than 3 hours. The standing waves and S bend at 236km were a challenge, and by far the roughest water we saw on the trip. We all completed this section with only a bit of water in the bottoms of our canoes. The experiences of the last 7 days had been well learned. One more black bear was spotted on the left bank near an old burn during this last run.

We landed at the take out point by the Rt. 37 bridge at 11:15am. Hal and Stan from Tatogga lodge were there to pick us up and take us back to some hot showers and real food.


Aaron, Dave, Dean, Rob, Tom, John
Paul, Colin, Sneed

We covered the 253km on the river in 7 nights and 8 days. My special thanks to Paul. There is no better River Runner. Thanks for getting us through the wet parts.

We were a diverse group to say the least. Three Canadians representing BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia; two British fellows, one from Bristol, UK and the other from Texas; and four Americans from California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Our professions were equally diverse. Two education leaders, (one retired), one retired naval commander, two lawyers, one medical doctor and three engineers. The trip was in the planning for 18 months. By contrast the 8 days flew by at the speed of light. We enjoyed it and maybe one day we will tackle the entire Stikine starting at Tuaton Lake

 

Rob, Paul & Tom ...The Three Guys From Up North

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Tom expresses his gratitude for the cedar strip canoe's survival.

Sneed & Colin .....Two Texans
A Displaced Virginian and a Displaced Brit

A couple of Virginia Gentlemen .... Sneed & John

Hal & Stan. Hal owned the Tatogga Lodge and Stan was one of his guides/helpers.


Thanks Guys, Great Trip!

Tom has published an article about this trip in the Canadian Canoeing and Kayaking Magazine, Kanawa, the summer 2000 issue

E-mail responded to with pleasure

stadams64@aol.com

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