Fifteen months had past since the team put on in Revelstoke, British Columbia in March of 2009. Since then Keel and I had each made it to the Ocean. Keel managing in September to return to the source with his dad to complete the upper section as well. On June 2nd, 2010, I headed north to complete the Columbia River source to sea.
With only 12 days off to drive 18+ hrs to Revelstoke (take-out), hitch-hike 200 miles to the source with boat and gear, paddle 320 miles from Canal Flats to Revelstoke with two dam portages, and drive 18+ hours to make it back to work by Monday the 14th, it was going to be a push to say the least.
Loading up in Arcata, CA I had more or less everything I needed for the trip besides a boat. For the upper stretch I decided bringing a sea kayak would be the way to go since time was going to a factor. Finalizing all the details I could I headed out of Arcata with a creekboat on my roof and not really much of a plan on how to get a hold of a sea kayak last minute.
Arriving in Hood River, OR 8 hours later I met up with Lana Young and Ryan Scott. Luckily, I was able to get a hold of a “rec-touring” boat from a paddling shop in town (Kayak Shed). Happy to have something besides a cracked creeker for the trip I loaded up and began the final push to the border. Driving most of the night I made it to the Canada/USA border around 9am. Without much hassle I was across the border and still making my way north to Revelstoke.
Picking up a hitch-hiker roughly an hour from Revelstoke he told me how he had been hitching his way all over North America since 1971! He then tried to convince me to let him borrow my car and in return he would help with the shuttle. As tempting as it was, the headache of having another car stolen out weighed the benefits. Shortly after I dropped him off near Hwy 1 in Revelstoke and started figuring out how I was going to start hitch-hiking myself.
Stopping in at the “Park & Recreation” Office, the Tourism Office, and then finally the Canadian Royal Mounted Police station, I was beginning to lose hope of finding a safe place to leave my car. Luckily the woman at the front desk of the police station said I could leave the car in front of the station and she’d keep an eye on it for me. Fortunate to have a place to leave the vehicle I gave her my emergency contact info, just in case I wasn’t back around the time I was planning.
Taking advantage of the full day ahead of me I loaded up the sea kayak and prepped it to make sure I had everything I would need for the trip. Once fully loaded I walked around town hoping to find a ride to Canal Flat with all my gear. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on my side so once it became dark I headed to “The Last Drop” for a beer and a bite to eat.
That night I crashed in my car in front of the police station. Early in the morning I threw the fully loaded sea-kayak on my shoulder and began carrying the boat with all my gear to the Trans-Canadian Highway to begin hitch-hiking to the source. After about 5 minutes of carrying the boat I realized the weight of the boat and gear was going to be a major issue. Taking about an hour of carrying/dragging/kicking I made it to the on-ramp for the freeway.
Waiting roughly an hour or so, it wasn’t long before a car pulled over and picked me up and drove me all the way to Golden. Covering nearly half the distance I needed to go I was excited to be well on the way.
After 7 rides and 9 hours I was at the source of the Columbia River!
After eating a quick Mountain House meal I loaded everything into the sea-kayak and pushed off into Columbia Lake. Now all there was left to do was paddle ~ 320 miles, survive the mysterious rapids just outside Golden, portage Mica Dam and Revelstoke Dam along the way, load up in Revelstoke and head home. Oh and enjoy and document the trip of course. To be honest though the only thing I could think about was bears and how I really was out on my own for this one.
As night began to fall the difficulty of navigating the shallow, grassy, eastern end of Lake Windermere became a brutal nightmare. Not being able to see I had no idea if the area I was paddling in was going to end in an impassable jumble of grass. Having to back up, turn around, change directions became increasingly frustrating. After hours of crossing back and forth in the same location I located where slightly more water happened to be flowing over the grass and continued on to the deeper water of the lake.
Tried and exhausted from the full day I began looking for a campsite around 2am. Not finding much but private property and rocks I found a floating dock and took comfort on at least having high-ground if a bear were to swim out to get me in the middle of the night.
That night I camped on a beach near the town of Spillimacheen. It rained all night, it was right about then that I wished I had brought a tent with me.
The next morning I woke up early, drained my gear as best I could, and loaded up. Pressing hard I wanted to make it to Golden before dark.
Just past the bridge the Columbia goes into a “gorge” there’s a few class II’s & a few III’s but nothing too difficult. That said if something were to go wrong here or you got in there at high water, this section could be pretty consequential.
Not having the patience to deal with it, I paddled into the gorge just as the sun began to set. Having no idea of flow, difficulty, and not bothering to put on my drysuit or strap anything in; I was as lucky as I was careless. The rapids were mellow yet something about being entirely alone running class III in a rec boat with nothing strapped in to really give you that “class V feeling”. Below the gorge the Columbia begins its next stretch “The Columbia Reach” of Kimbasket Lake.
Kimbasket is by far one of the most frightening lakes I have ever been on. The wind is known for kicking up suddenly and if you are in the wrong spot on the lake your are either being pushed completely across the lake or slammed into the rocks that line the shore. The only warning the police officer in Revelstoke gave me was, “if the wind picks up, get off the lake.” As I approached the lake, this is exactly what happened. Roughly a 1/2 mile from where the reach opens up into the lake, a hurricane force wind slammed me from behind and immediately started pushing the Columbia into roller form, heading out into the middle of the lake. As soon as the jet force of wind hit I pulled over and waited for the wind to subside. Roughly, an hour or so later the wind let up and I was able to get back in the boat and start making the turn around the lake.
Once around the bend the Columbia is blocked by Mica dam. Not knowing much of the portage route I began working my gear to the top of the hill. Within two trips I was able to get everything to the top of the dam.
Mica Dam – Revelstoke – Coming Soon!