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Vancouver Island Whitewater Road Trip

Published on 5/12/2017

By Kanako Iwata-Eng

Jennie, Bill, and I packed Jennie’s van “Morris” and left for the Vancouver Island on Thursday, April 13 to join the Vancouver Kayak Club’s annual trip to the island. Despite the holiday weekend (Easter Monday is a federal holiday in Canada), the 10:45 p.m. ferry was fairly empty. We checked in a hotel a little after 1 a.m., went to bed by 2 a.m. and got ready for the four-day weekend.

On the sunny Friday, 12 kayakers, all from the mainland, ran the Nanaimo River. This was a wide river with a good volume. With many low wide ledges creating surf waves, the first half of the river reminded me of the Highwood River in Alberta that I ran in 2015. There were some bends with a steep drop making a intimidating hole at the bottom, too. Our fearless trip leader Ray, the surf master, went in every single big hole. 


Near the end, there was a short canyon with a constricted drop with a house rock in the middle. We got out on the river left and scouted the drop. Per Ray, the ordinary line is the right side of the house rock. When Bill ran this last time, the water was too low to run the left. This time, however, the right line looked wild, particularly the ugly holes below if you don’t ferry to the left quickly enough. The left side of the house rock seemed to have a violent boil but was straightforward. Two new boaters portaged, but the rest ran the left with no mishaps.

After dinner, nine of us drove to the town of Campbell River to stay in a motel. On Saturday, another kayaker from Vancouver and three local boaters (one kayaker, two canoeists) joined us and drove to Sayward to run the White River. Despite the boring name and the blunt description in the guidebook, the White turned out to be everyone’s favorite. We had to scramble down to the put-in, though nothing like the Middle Matheny put-in. It started with several fun Class II rapids made with many low wide ledges like the day before. The water was crystal clear, but with the light and the rocks, it looked Jolly Rancher Green.

Soon we got to the beautiful canyon. The canoeists were the most familiar with the river. Paul with the longer canoe skillfully stood up in his boat to scout and led the group. One of the rapids in the canyon was long, steep, and technical. Following experienced boaters, I entered the rapid between boulders. At this level, the water wasn’t pushy, and there were many eddies where most of us waited while the canoeists and Bill went down all the way. A newer boater swam but self-rescued to the shore before going into the biggest drop at the end, while her boat ran the drop by itself. The boaters waiting below successfully caught it, and the owner scrambled down and enjoyed the rest of the run. We stayed in a motel in Sayward that night, and some of us enjoyed dancing and singing with a live band.


On Sunday, after checking out the motel’s 12-day- old baby goats, we headed to Woss to run the Nimpkish River. We put in at the remains of an old bridge, which made a big wave hole. One experienced boater swam right there. There were many Class II boulder gardens before we got to the river-wide ledge. We scouted the ledge from the river left. The ledge was not straight. The highest part was about five feet, and the lowest was about two feet. I thought about boofing off a rock in the center right but chickened out and ran the two-foot part in the right. After more Class II rapids, we arrived at the house rock rapid we scouted this from the bridge when we shuttled. An easy portage was obvious in the river left. I looked to the left of house rock as some people ran it successfully and a few people portaged easily. I decided to play safe and walked, but I regret I didn’t run those two rapids. Maybe next time.

The canoeists and three kayakers went home, and seven of us drove to the Gold River. There was a shorter scenic dirt road option and a longer highway option. Those in Morris the van went on the scenic route, which Bill found the next morning, caused a flat tire. The front lady at the motel and the car mechanic worked so fast that we didn’t have to delay the departure. With Bill not feeling well and playing the shuttle bunny, six of us ran the Middle Gold.

This section was a nice Class II+ with some surf waves. As there was nothing difficult, I was carefree going down around the last bend. From far behind, I saw other people go down outside the bend and through the big hole, though I usually would stay inside the bends. When I saw a wide hole in front of me, I knew it was too late to go around and had to go into the hole. I almost went through, but the hole sucked me back in. I side-surfed for a moment and flipped. As soon as I rolled up and relaxed, I went into the next hole sideways, though it wasn’t big enough to flip me.

We drove to Campbell River and had dinner (many of us had Oyster Burger … yum) before saying good-bye and driving off to the ferries. It was a long way with a pricey ferry ride, but it was worthwhile to boat the remote, scenic, exciting rivers with crazy Canadians! I look forward to next Easter.

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