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Team Petty Adventure: British Columbia 2016

Published on 9/13/2016
By Kanako Iwata-Eng

Captain Bill Petty took the Team (Doug, Larry, Lora, and me) to his favorite destination, British Columbia.

On August 4, Bill, Larry, and I hit the road and boated the Class 3 section of the Coquihalla. I had run it with more water in the spring of last year, but it felt much steeper this time, as all features were more exposed.

On August 5, Doug and Lora caught up with us near the Grand Forks, and we ran two sections of the Granby. This river has series of boulder gardens to zigzag down, but I wish we had more water. Bill promised to plan a club trip to return when there is more water.
Next morning, we drove east to the Salmo. On the way, mom and cub bears crossed the road in front of Larry’s car. The Salmo was also lower than two years ago when I first ran it. We had 3 portages: The first one was a picket fence with pinning danger and an ugly pour over. The second was a weir with strong recirculation, and the third was Bart’s. The usual sneak line at river right was shallow; the left chute had logs. Lora and I took a long time to decide whether to run the center chute but finally decided not to, as we couldn’t see the other side of the boulder. Lora saw the ugly pinning potential at the bottom of the chute after the portage, and we were happy we walked.

The following day, as the planned Wild Horse Creek was too low, we ran the Bull from the Sulphur Creek to the Bridge. There was a short canyon with a big drop with a log, which we portaged. Otherwise, this river is easy Class 2+. Afterward, Lora went to the salt lick near the campsite and saw a moose.

As it had rained hard for a while the previous night, we skipped the Lower Bull and headed to the Quinn Creek, a small tributary of the Bull. The campsite at the Quinn/Bull confluence was where my car had been crashed by a tree two years before, but there was no trace now. Unfortunately, the Quinn was not high enough, so we drove a long dirt road to the White. A moose that was on the road tried to run away but stayed on the road instead of going into the bush. It ran about a mile at 20 mph in front of Bill’s truck. When Bill sped up to pass it, it finally jumped into the bush. Lora stopped and heard the poor animal panting hard in the bush.

The White had a low, but still good flow. There are many Class 2-3 rapids with constant gradient. We scouted the only Class 4 rapid, then each of us chose lines and executed them. During the shuttle at the end, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep. We soaked in the nearby Lussier hot springs that evening.

We decided the Lussier was runnable, and that is what we did on August 9. This was my favorite river two years before. Unfortunately this time, there were six portages, a few of which cut otherwise nice and long rapids in the middle.

A couple of canoeist friends had been in the area two weeks earlier and told us the Lower White was the best. After 25 years of visiting British Columbia, Bill had not run the section. We started from the camp at 6:30 a.m. to shuttle and paddle this 20-mile section. With the rain the previous night, the water was higher than the day we ran the Upper White. It started with flat braided channels but soon went into the canyon. The canyon walls were often greenish, probably due to copper. There were many surf waves, but as we had to cover the long mileage, we didn’t stay long. At one place, there were hoodoos with black tops – Lora said they were like graduation hats. Expecting a couple more hours to go, we were disappointed to see our cars around the corner after not spending much time at the last nice play wave. With the good flow, we had run 20 miles in five hours. After we took out, it started pouring – Bill said this was the rainiest B.C. trip ever.

Next was the Palliser. The Upper Palliser was harder and more fun, but it required a mile hike-in. As Doug’s boat had cracked earlier, Bill chose the Lower Palliser, so Doug didn’t have to drag his boat. We had to look for the put-in and climb down a cliff, and the first corner was an exciting narrow chute which one boat can barely go through. That was the excitement of the day, and the rest was pretty flat, though the scenery was beautiful, and there were some low river-wide ledges creating surf waves.

Doug left in the morning, so the rest of us went to the Upper Palliser. To our very nice surprise, there was a car bridge where there used to be only a pedestrian bridge – we didn’t have to hike a mile to the put-in. The run started with some Class 2 rapids, but we soon were facing the canyon. We scouted the first drop. Bill and Larry decided to portage over the boulders. Being more adventurous, Lora and I always took longer to decide, but finally decided not to run it without knowing what was downstream. However, we dared to launch in the boil right below the drop, while the boys were going over the boulders. It turned out that ours was much easier spot to launch as Bill and Larry had to seal launch from a steep and slippery surface. Larry went down first and signaled us there was a barely submerged river-wide log. Between the canyon walls, there was no escape, but we all managed to jump over it. Soon, the canyon widened, and another bigger river-wide log appeared, with barely enough room to go under it on river right. We went up the hill to scout below the log. The section where we could go under the log had ugly rocks. We made a five-foot portage over small logs stuck against the big log, so we could go under the big log without hitting rocks. The finale was a Class 3+ rapid with the current pushing the boat toward the right wall near the end. This run was quite exciting. During the shuttle, Bill and I, and after dinner, Lora and Larry, went to look at the top section of the Palliser. It was steep and narrow, about eight feet wide at places and choked with logs. Bill boasted he had jumped across it when he was young (and very dumb).

As Bill got tired, Lora and I were to lead the last day’s trip. We could have run the Upper Palliser again, but I chose the unknown Vermillion to test our leadership skills – and the result was a miserable failure. Lora and I went down to the river and flagged the take-out. It was a small clear river. From the overheard conversation between Bill and someone who asked for a direction to the Kootenay River, I learned that river we flagged was the Kootenay River. What I didn’t know was that we flagged the wrong river. After lunch, Bill dropped us at the put-in. It was supposed to be an easy two- to three-hour float. We saw a herd of mountain goats on the cliff next to the highway and got excited, but the water was flat almost all the way. There was one nice long Class 3 rapid in the canyon. After that, the huge braided flood plain continued. I knew the river would merge into the Kootenay, the biggest river in the area all rivers pour into. One thing I didn’t know was that the Kootenay was the small river (tributary) merging into the Vermillion, yet it takes the name. I was looking for the bigger river the Vermillion would merge into and didn’t see it. We had paddled over four hours now, and we were uncertain. Turning a corner, we saw Bill’s truck at the roadside where the river is closest to the highway. It was a few miles below our take-out. Earlier, drinking his second beer, Bill walked down to the river from the take-out parking lot. He immediately noticed we flagged the wrong river. Lora and I hadn’t completely read the guidebook, but it said the take-out was further down where the small Kooteney merges into the big Vermillion. Bill went back to the truck, made a sign, “Kanako, take out here,” and hung it at the correct take-out, however, he couldn’t wait there because there were fresh bear footprints. Worrying we may not see the sign (and we didn’t), he dumped the remaining beer (he emphasized this multiple times, so we would recognize his hardship) and drove back and forth between the parking lot and the roadside location we could see from the river until we finally showed up. I felt terrible about my total failure, but Bill assured me that it was a good lesson without any consequence.

Though the trip was shorter than originally planned, I enjoyed what we had – beautiful rivers, exciting whitewater, majestic mountains, hot days and cold nights, wildlife, and great friendship. Thank you, Bill, for leading B.C. trips all these years!
Team Petty: BC 2016
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Team Petty: BC 2016

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