It is day four of our holiday, with two days driving up from Vancouver to Cache Creek, past the Eocene insect and plant site at McAbee, the well-bedded Permian limestone near Marble Canyon and onto Bowron Provincial Park, a geologic gem near the gold rush town of Barkerville.
The initial draw for me, given that collecting in a provincial park is forbidden and all collecting close at hand outside the park appears to amount to a handful of crushed crinoid bits and a few conodonts, was the gorgeous natural scenery and a broad range of species extant.
It was also the proposition of padding the Bowron Canoe Circuit, a 149,207-hectare geologic wonderland, where a fortuitous combination of plate tectonics and glacial erosion have carved an unusual 116-kilometre near-continuous rectangular circuit of lakes, streams and rivers bound on all sides by snowcapped mountains.
From all descriptions, something like heaven.
The east and south sides of the route are bound by the imposing white peaks of the Cariboo Mountains, the northern boundary of the Interior wet belt, rising up across the Rocky Mountain Trench, and the Isaac Formation, the oldest of seven formations that make up the Cariboo Group (Struik, 1988).
Some 270 million-plus years ago, had one wanted to buy waterfront property in what is now British Columbia, you’d be looking somewhere between Prince George and the Alberta border. The rest of the province had yet to arrive but would be made up of over twenty major terranes from around the Pacific.
With tectonic shifting, these rocks drifted north-eastward, riding their continental plate, until they collided with and joined the Cordillera in what is now British Columbia. Continued pressure and volcanic activity helped create the tremendous slopes of the Cariboo Range we see today with repeated bouts of glaciation during the Pleistocene carving their final shape.
We brace our way into a headwind along the east side of the fjord-like Isaac Lake. Paddling in time to the wind, I soak up the view of this vast, deep green, ocean-like expanse that runs L-shape for nearly 38 kilometres, forming nearly half of the total circuit.
The rock we paddle past is primarily calcareous phyllite, limestone and quartzite, typical of the type locality for this group and considered upper Proterozoic (Young, 1969), the time in our geologic history between the first algae and the first multicellular animals.
It is striking how much this lake fits exactly how you might picture pristine wilderness paddling in your mind’s eye. No powerboats, no city hum, just pure silence, broken only by the sound of my paddle pulling through the water and the occasional burst of glee from one of the park’s many songbirds.
This year, Philip Torrens, Leanne Sylvest, and I were making our trek in low profile, Kevlar style.
One single & one double kayak would be our faithful companions and mode of transport. They would also be briefly conscripted into service as a bear shield later in the trip. Versatile those kayaks.
The area is home to a variety of plant life. Large sections of the forest floor are carpeted in the green and white of dogwood, a prolific ground cover we are lucky enough to see in full bloom. Moss, mushrooms and small wild grown on every available surface.
Yellow Lilies line pathways and float in the cold, clear lake water. Somewhere I read a suggestion to bring a bathing suit to the park, but at the moment, I cannot imagine lowering anything more than my paddle into these icy waters. To reach the west side of the paddling route, we must first face several kilometres portaging muddy trails to meet up with the Isaac River and then paddle rapids to grade two.
At the launch site, we meet up with two fellow kayakers, Adele and Mary of Victoria, and take advantage of their preceding us to watch the path they choose through the rapids. It has been raining in the area for forty plus days, so the water they run is high and fast. Hot on their heels, our short, thrilling ride along the Isaac River, is a flurry of paddle spray and playing around amid all the stumps, silt and conglomerate.
From here we can see several moose, large, lumbering, peaceful animals, the largest members of the deer family, feeding on the grass-like sedge on the far shore.
The next morning, we paddle leisurely down the slower, silt-laden Cariboo River, avoiding the occasional deadhead, and make our way into the milky, glacier-fed Lanezi Lake. Like most mountainous areas, Bowron makes its own weather system and it appears you get everything in a 24-hour period.
In fact, whatever weather you are enjoying seems to change 40 minutes later; good for rain, bad for sun. Wisps of cloud that seemed light and airy only hours early have become dark. Careful to hug the shore, we are ready for a quick escape from lightning as thundershowers break.
Paddling in the rain, I notice bits of mica in the water, playing in the light and the rock change here to greywacke, argillite, phyllite and schist. Past Lanezi, we continue onto Sandy Lake, where old-growth cedars line the south-facing slopes to our left and grey limestone, shale and dolostone line the shore. Mottled in with the rock, we sneak up on very convincing stumps posing as large mammals.
Picking up the Cariboo River again, we follow it as it flows into Babcock Lake, an area edged with Lower Cambrian limestone, shale and argillite. At the time these rocks were laid down, the Earth was seeing our earliest relatives, the first chordates entering the geologic scene.
|Mamma Moose, Baby Moose... Grizzly!
Leanne remarks that she can see a moose a little ways off and that it appeared to be heading our way.
Yes, heading our way quickly with her calf in tow. I lift my lens to immortalize the moment and we three realized they were headed our way in double time because they were being chased by a grizzly bear — at top speed.
A full-grown moose can run up to fifty-five kilometres per hour, more or less neck and neck with the speed of a Grizzly. They are also strong swimmers. Had she been alone, Mamma moose would likely have tried to outswim the bear.
From where we stand we can see the water turned to white foam at their feet as they fly towards us.
We freeze bear spray in hand.
The Grizzly, caught up in the froth of running and thrill of the kill, doesn’t notice the deke, hits the brakes at the boats and stands up, confused. Her eyes give her away.
This was not what she had planned and the whole moose-suddenly-transformed-into-human thing is giving her pause. Her head tilts back as she gets a good smell of us.
Suddenly, a crack in the woods catches her attention. Her head snaps around and she drops back on all fours, beginning her chase anew. Somewhere there is a terrified mother moose and calf hoping the distance gained is enough to keep them from being lunch. Both moose got away with the unwitting distraction we provided.
The Lakes are at an elevation of over 900 m (3000 ft) and both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. Both bear families descend from a common ancestor, Ursavus, a bear-dog the size of a raccoon who lived more than 20 million years ago. Seems an implausible lineage having just met one of the larger descendants.
While we had grumbled only hours earlier about how tired we were feeling, we now feel quite motivated and do the next two portages and lakes in good time. Aside from the gripping fear that another bear encounter is imminent, we enjoy the park-like setting, careful to scan the stands of birch trees for dark shapes now posing as stumps. Fortunately, the only wildlife we see are a few wily chipmunks, various reticent warblers and some equally shy spruce grouse.
The wind favours us now as we paddle Skoi and Spectacle Lake, even giving us a chance to use the sails we’ve rigged to add an extra knot of oomph to our efforts. Reaching the golden land of safety-in-numbers, we leap from our kayaks, happy to see the smiling faces of Mary and Adele. Making it here is doubly thrilling because it means I’m sleeping indoors tonight and I can tell the bear story with adrenaline still pumping through my veins. Tonight is all about camaraderie and the warmth of a campfire.
Gobbling down Philip’s famous pizza, Leanne impresses everyone further by telling of his adventures in the arctic and surviving a polar bear attack. This is our first starlit night without rain, a luxury everyone comments on, but quietly, not wanting to jinx it. We share a good laugh at the expense of the local common loons — both Homeo sapien sapien and Gavia immer.
|Common Loon / Gavia immer
Their cool demeanour by day is reduced to surprisingly loud, maniacal hoots and yelps with undignified flapping and flailing by night.
It seems hardly possible that these awful noises could be coming from the same birds and that this has been going for nearly 65 million years, since the end of the age of dinosaurs, as loons are one of the oldest bird families in the fossil record.
A guitar is pulled out to liven the quiet night while small offerings, sacred and scare this late in our journey, are passed around. Tonight is a celebration that we have all, both separately and together, made our way around this immense mountain-edged circuit.
Know before you go
BC Parks Bowron Lake Circuit Link: https://bcparks.ca/reserve/bowron-lake/
- Reservations may be booked up to 2 days prior to the departure date.
- All canoe circuit users must attend a mandatory orientation session (9:00 am or 12:00 noon) and visitors must report to the registration centre by the specified time.
- Visitors who have not attended their mandatory orientation session are considered no-shows. No-shows’ reservations will be given to first-come, first-served visitors. No refunds are granted for no-shows.
- Bowron Lake canoe circuit paddlers are responsible for bringing or renting their own equipment (personal flotation devices, paddles, vessels etc). Reservation transactions only include your reservation charges and user (camping) fees and do not include equipment rental. Visitors must familiarize themselves with the mandatory equipment required to paddle the circuit.
- Reservations are not transferable. Any reservation owners or holders found to be transferring or selling their reservations to another party, risk the chance that their reservation may be cancelled without a refund. If a customer can no longer use their reservation, they are encouraged to cancel their reservation so that any unused User Fees that are not forfeited as a penalty, can be automatically refunded to the credit card that was used to make the original reservation. Only the person whose name is on the reservation has access to change or cancel a reservation.
- At least one of the reservation holders ("Occupant" or "Optional Authorized Person") must be present upon arrival and during the stay. Identification may be required to keep the reservation valid.
- Reservations for the Bowron Lake canoe circuit are based on a non-refundable per vessel charge of $18.00 (plus tax) in addition to user fees ($60.00 per person for the full canoe circuit and $30.00 per person for the West Side). There is a limit of three (3) people per vessel.
- Accepted payment types include Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Visa Debit, and Mastercard Debit.
- Changes to a reservation can be made for a charge of $6.00 (plus tax), provided that space is available. No changes are permitted 28 days or less before the departure date.
- Cancellations are subject to a $6.00 (plus tax) per cancellation charge.
- Refunds – If a trip is cancelled more than 28 days before the departure date, customers receive a full refund less cancellation and non-refundable reservation charges. If cancellations are made with 28 or less days notice, no refunds apply. Transaction (reservation, change, cancellation) charges are non-refundable.
- Visitors who have not attended the mandatory orientation session they registered for are considered no-shows. No-shows' reservations will be given to first-come, first-served visitors. No refunds are granted for no-shows.