Roadtrip North

After our second awesome week at Skookumchuck Narrows we head back to Vancouver on the 9th of July. Ralf comes along and decides to also come and visit the great Slave-River with us.

Great weather on the BC Ferries on our way back to Vancouver.

In Vancouver there are so many Asia-restaurants where they serve hand-dragged noodels!

After two days of city life in Vancouver we head back into the wild of Canada. This time we head to the Nahatlatch, a great river in the side valley of the rather big Fraser valley, near Boston Bar in British Columbia. We get there in the afternoon and still head out for a quick afternoon-run on the middle part of the Nahatlatch (WW 3-4), the stretch between the second lake and the canyon.

On the next day we want to paddle the canyon, which at medium waterlevels is rated a solid class IV run. As we`ve heard from the local rafters that we`re having a quite high waterlevel at the moment, Maria is not so attracted to the canyon-run and we first run the middle part again and after that Ralf and me head into the canyon. We paddle the first two rapids and get out in the canyon to scout the third one. And we find a nearly river-wide hole which requires you to make a good line to avoid it on river right as there is another hole above it on river right which you also want to avoid. Ralf decides it is not his cup of tea for today as we don`t know what awaits us below. So we carry our boats out of the canyon. Although I have to say that scouting and portaging in BC can be as scary or even more scary than paddling narly stuff in BC! A lot of “push and pull” with your boat! :-)

As we are driving out of the valley we drive past another car loaded with creekboats and Ralf knows one of the paddlers, Niceto Yalan Quintana, with whom he paddled on another BC river a few weeks ago. That group wants to run the middle part and only Nice wants also to run the canyon after that and is still looking for a fellow paddler to come along. So for sure I spontaneously say I´m in and drive back to the putin at the lake.

Nice knows the run and says that he so far has always punched the big hole and got through it. I´m not really convinced and rather stick with my plan to avoid both holes and cut from left to hard right. When approaching the rapid, i.e. the huge hole and I see Nice getting stuck in the hole in front of me, I´m glad I stuck to my plan and miss the hole nicely. I wait in the next eddy downstream for Nice to come out of the hole and that he does. He said, he didn´t have had such a long fight in a hole for a long time! :-)
The rest of the canyon goes smooth and without any further delays and we are at the takeout in maybe 20 minutes after putting in.
After hearing the epic story of Nice battling it out in the hole and the run being more of a easier class V bigwater run, Ralf and Maria were very happy that they did not paddle the canyon earlier that day.

On the next day we head further north in the direction of the Clearwater River, at Clearwater BC, the big tributary of the Thompson River. In town you can read the level of the river below the bridge, which shows 7 when we get there. Our kayak-guide (“Whitewater in Southwest British Columbia” by Claudia Schwab) says that you have a high waterlevel when you reach 4! So we want to scout some of the rapids, e.g. the rapid “The Wall”. But what we end up seeing is the famous “Kettle”, which is a class V or VI depending on the waterlevel, definitely a VI at the moment.

So we want to get some more information about the river at this level and check out the local raft-company and there we meet Florian, a German raftguide who has immigrated into Canada with his parents around 15 years back. And Florian wants to run the lower part of the river (“Below the Kettle”) later that day with a few other raft- and kayak-guides and would take us along. Sweet as! As it is really hot (around 30 degrees centigrade) we go to the local beach at the lake to cool of and to top it off we ate one gallon of icecream! A few hours later we meet the locals and we put in just below the Kettle. The run is a lot of fun with the Wall as the highlight rapid.
After the run Florian shows us a small hidden camp-site just on the cliffs above the Pink Mountain. The feature below Pink Mountain is a great surf-wave at lower water but at the moment it is just washed out. We quickly fire up a bonfire to get some smoke going to scare away the huge amounts of mosquitoes lingering around us and start cooking some great dinner!

On the next morning we start driving towards the Jasper national-park, with a spectacular stop at Mount Robson, with 3,954 m the highest point in the Canadian Rockies.

Shortly after we passed through Jasper, still in the middle of the national-park, we encounter a traffic-jam on an otherwise very calm highway. As we get closer we can spot the reason for the turmoil: a black bear lying on the meadow next to the road! The bear is paying no attention to all the tourists getting out of their car and making photos…

After a few pics we head on, but already after a few kilometers we witness the same thing. Another bear? No, it is a huge caribou with an immense horns!

The rest of the route through the Jasper nationalpark is nearly without anymore animal sightings but we enjoy the unbelievable spectacular nature in the biggest nationalpark (over 10,000 km²) of the Canadian Rockies.

We keep on driving until Grand Prarie and once more enjoy the comfort of a McDonalds parking-lot for the night. In Grand Prarie we make our final big grocery shopping as from now on every mile you drive further north the more expensive everything gets. Shortly after we´ve hit the highway again, we come to a freshly chipped part of the road, where a passing truck catapults a stone against our window on the drivers side. BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM, a sound like somebody fireing a gun next to your ear and the window shatters in your lap and face… Besides the close-to-a-heart-attack shock, no damage is done to us physically, but we suddenly did not have any window anymore on the drivers side of our car.

So we turn around towards Grand Prarie and try to find a car workshop which is also open on sundays. Just shortly before Grand Prarie we see a junkyard with towing service and disturb a very nice older Canadian guy in his sunday-afternoon gardening. Unfortunately he does not have any suitable window and knows of no other close-by workshop or junkyard which would have one. But he is very kind and gives us a solid plastic foil with which we can tape our window close. Thanks Ducttape! It is hot and noisy in the car, as we don´t have a AC and now can`t open both windows but at least the bugs and the rain stay outside! :-)

We keep on driving until we reach the boarder of the Northwest Territories, where we park and camp straight at the tourist information cabin alongside the highway, as it is already really late in the night. But the last 50 kilometers until that point are really spooky, as the air is really smoky and kind of yellowish and it smells the whole time like somebody is having a big barbecue. Sometimes we even see flames coming out of the ground and we presume that we are driving through a vast area of subterranean fire!

The camp at the tourist information in the middle of nowhere, instead of somewhere in one of the small villages we have passed, proves to be not such a good idea, as the area is loaded with mosquitoes and every time somebody opens the door briefly there are hundreds of new mosquitoes in the van. So sleep does not come easyly this night without mosquito-net!

On the next morning we go into the tourist information-centre and get a map of the Northwest Territories (NWT), as a few other flyers (kayaking at the slave and one about the soon to be happening Slave Paddlefest which is really a tourist attraction around here) and with the two employees of the centre we watch a promotion-video about paddling on the Slave by Leif and John :-)
After hitting the road again the next leg to Hay River drags on forever, but we have a spectacular stopover at the Alexandria Falls!

In the rather industrial appearing backwater Hay River we go for a short internet-stop (tip: libraries always have internet, even for non members and even wireless, i.e. we`ve never had a different experience). The last three hours of driving to Fort Smith go through the Wood Buffalo national park and we don`t have to wait to see some bisons. And we are lucky, as we not only see some lonely buffalo but whole herds with some pups as well!

As we finally arrive in Fort Smith (2,500 inhabitants), we cannot quite decipher Leifs handpainted map. So we stop by the local touris-information office and get ourselves a city map, as well as the directions to the “Yellow house”, the house where all the crazy kayakers live, i.e. John and Gen, as well as Adam and Hillary :-)

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