By Kanako Iwata-Eng
In the late August, while Washington rivers are trickling, thumping glacier rivers in British Columbia start to calm down. I drove for 10 hours to join the Vancouver Whitewater Club’s Chilko River trip over the Labor (or Labour, as Canadians spell) Day weekend.
We camped at the Chilko-Taseko Junction Recreation Site, our take-out and camp site. It is where the Taseko River pours bluish white water into the green water of the Chilko. Even in the Google Maps, you can see the magnificent view. (52°00'29.7"N 123°40'42.7"W)
The 25 km drive on the dirt road took us over an hour. Before the trip, I was told only large 4WD trucks can make it, but in the current dry conditions, a 2WD pickup truck and mid-size SUVs could make it over ruts and one dry creek crossing. I don’t mean the shuttle was easy, though. During the shuttle after dark, my roof rack hit an overhanging branch and blew off. Ray, out of habit, pulled off the road when someone had to relieve himself, even though there was absolutely no traffic on that remote road after dark. He drove on a sharp twig and got a flat tire. He had got a flat tire three weeks before on the same road.
The run starts easily with some Class 2 and 3 rapids, but the current was fast. Adam who ran this a couple of times last month led the group on the first day. Everyone else was first timers. The first named rapid is the hardest one, “Bidwell”. We scouted it from the river left. This is a classic example of “NPR” – No Problem from the Road. This scout wasn’t from the road, but the rapid looked very simple. All you have to do was to stay in the middle and turn right as soon as you can. The reality was, however, when you want to turn right, all water was pushing you to the left where a pile of rocks creating scary ledges and ugly holes. A long story short, all 3 times I ran the Bidwell this weekend, I ended up in the left one way or another, and swam twice. Even if you successfully turn right, there was a big V wave coming at you near the end. On the second and third days, Ray and Ben flipped there. Ben swam, and Ray needed 3 attempts before rolling up.
We soon got to the next named rapid, the White Mile. The 1994 movie, “White Mile”, was loosely based on the 1987 rafting accident. Canadians call the raft-flipping hole, SODA: Smell of Dead Americans. At this level, it was a huge wave train, very intimidating, chaotic and fast, but I didn’t get into the SODA or other holes.
The last named rapid, “Eagle’s Talon” (aka “Eagle’s Claw”) was short and easy. Even after all the named rapids, there were some more huge waves, one of which caused Troy to swim on the second day.
This section of the Chilko is a pretty big river. I would say it is about the size of the Middle Sauk. However, it has a short narrow canyon. It was very beautiful but so swirly that I couldn’t take good pictures.
The Chilko is a long way from Seattle. The shuttle is long and hard even in the dry conditions and would be brutal in the rain. Yet, it is worth the trouble because we don’t have anything like it – a glacier river running big in the summer with 90 feet/mile gradient. I will go back next year.