After reaching the top of Mica Dam the reality of how difficult the portage was going to be had yet to set in. Looking at the map at the dam it didn’t look like it would be too far to a bridge downriver where I may be able to put-in. Breaking my gear into two piles I began portaging everything but my boat, sleeping bag, stove, and some food. The hope was to be able to get the first load down to where I could access the river, stash my stuff, and then run back up to the top to get the rest of the gear. Not long after departing the sun had completely set. Mindlessly walking down the road I realized I had forgotten my water bottle at the top of the dam and began drinking from random creeks that were going underneath the highway. After about an hour or two I started to realize just how long the portage was going to be.
Luckily, out of nowhere a sort of extended Dodge Charger pulled over and picked me up. The woman’s name was Angie and she was with her friend Pauly coming back from the Mica Dam area. Having seen no cars the entire time I was there I could not believe my luck that this woman was not only willing to pick me up but also had the ability to put down her backseats and slide the rec boat in through the rear hatchback door. After driving back up to the top of the dam, loading in the boat and the rest of the gear, we headed off back down river to try to find a way around the dam. The nearest place to safely put back in appeared to be the town of Mica Creek, roughly five miles downriver. Angie and Pauly waved goodbye and continued on to Revelstoke. That night, tired from the rain, I took shelter underneath a random sort of construction building.
It was nice to be able to layout gear and be dry in the morning. I woke up early and packed up before anyone came around asking what exactly I was doing sleeping in their wood yard. As I turned and walked away from the structure I noticed a title on the roof – BC Hydro Maintenance Yard. All I could do is laugh and continue heading back down to the river.
Not sure exactly but for some reason I figured it wouldn’t be a problem to paddle the remaining 140km (~87miles) of flat water in a day. The whole time I was paddling I went as hard as I could, stopping only momentarily for lunch. I ended up not even bothering to filter water and just fill up “on the fly” by some of the creeks coming into the Columbia.
About an hour before sunset I came across a few fishermen who told me I still had about 20-30 miles or so left to go. Broken and exhausted I paddled on for a few more miles and found a place to camp just before dark. In my continuing fear of coming across bears, especially since I was now closing in on Revelstoke, I picked possibly one of the most dangerous places on the river to camp. The site was basically a small flat area of gravel which was up against an undercut cliff. For defensive purposes it allowed me the option to escape from any attacker (bear) and at the same time hear or see anything before it got to me. The only issue was that if the dam fluctuated its release I could wake up in the middle of the night with all my gear floating away, and my body jammed against an undercut cliff. Not caring to worry about the consequences and not really having many options, I cooked dinner and went to sleep.
The next morning I was almost shocked to see that the water had not come up at all. Quickly loading my gear I started out early wanting to reach Revelstoke Dam before dark. Mentally and physically, I was exhausted from the day before. Pushing as hard as I could it was a major let down to not make it as far as I had hoped. The resulting effect was having nearly no energy left to paddle the final day to Revelstoke.
After paddling much of the morning I began running into issues just before noon and then into the early afternoon. The wind had picked up and was now pushing directly up river. Having dealt with the Columbia upriver current action before, this was nothing new. But some reason being so close to completion it was almost too much to handle. Pulling over ~8 miles from the Dam, I was done. I wasn’t at the furthest boat ramp but I had no interest in paddling another stroke on the Columbia while battling an upriver current and wind. Stopping for a while I considered putting back on, something about quitting early just wouldn’t sit right with me. That and there was a large sign that read “DO NOT STOP” which I couldn’t brush off. The sign was an out of season avalanche warning sign but the affects were still the same. I decided the best thing to do would be to stash all my gear, hitchhike into Revelstoke, get my car, and head back to where I left everything. Once I had my car I was able to unload all the gear I wouldn’t need for the next few miles: Sleeping bag, extra food, layers, etc. The reduced weight was immediately noticeable and I went roughly another 3 miles or so till I reached Martha Creek Provincial Park. It wasn’t the absolute furthest boat ramp (there was one 3 miles downriver) but it was the perfect one for me to take out at.
After pulling my gear up on shore I made my way back to highway to hitchhike back up to my car. Driving back down to the Martha Creek take-out I felt relieved to have made it back to Revelstoke without any mishaps, emergencies, or anything else. It was just a really nice week to paddle downriver.
After taking some time to sit back and enjoy having made it to Revelstoke. I loaded up my car and headed home. A major thanks to everyone who made this possible. The Columbia is a truly amazing river. If you ever have the chance, put-in and see where it takes you.
-Words & Photos – Paul Gamache