Posted by: Columbia River | December 29, 2010

Revelstoke – Castlegar

Cold was an understatement.

Cold was an understatement.

Figuring there would be somewhat of an ice factor I’m not sure any of us really realized just how cold it was going to be. Laughing at how ridiculous it was to be launching for a 1,200 mile flatwater expedition in the freezing cold of British Columbia in March, the team was in good spirits.

We had driven up the night before from Seattle, WA. Leif Kirchoff was a huge help getting us to put-in. Having an enormous truck we were able to all load into one vehicle, gear and all. With the help of Leif and Lana Young, the team consisting of Ryan Scott, Keel Brightman, and myself found ourselves in Revelstoke, excited, anxious, and ready to go. After a quick bite to eat, we said goodbye to Lana and Leif and headed off for a journey down the Columbia River.

Cooking breakfast and heading out.

Cooking breakfast and heading out.

I pushed off ahead as Ryan and Keel finished loading everything into their sea kayaks. One of the nice things about the cataraft is the fact that I could pack as I go which means less time pulling over and more time on the water heading downriver.


Dealing with the slush of Upper Arrow Lake.

Dealing with the slush of Upper Arrow Lake.

Eventually, it began getting late and not having seen Keel or Ryan since put-in, it seemed like a good idea to touch base with them before nightfall. Looking for a place to pull over it was obvious that setting up camp was going to be dangerous. After about twenty minutes of looking for an area to camp Keel and Ryan caught up. Keel, being the lightest in weight between the three of us, volunteered to get out first and make sure he could cross the ice surrounding the shore.

Once he was to shore we tied off the boats, set up camp, had dinner, and called it a night. The next morning we got up early and headed out.

First night campsite.  Early day two.

First night campsite. Early day two.

Day two lunch.

Day two lunch.

After paddling most of the morning we pulled over and had a quick bite to eat. The group was doing well, cold but doing well.

That night we camped on a nice snow mound. Keel took it upon himself to make up dinner and did a great job.

Camp day two.

Camp day two.

There was a strong fog on the river the next morning but as long as you kept the shore to your right you could keep everything straight.

Fog early on day three.

Fog early on day three.

Ryan taking a break on the cataraft.

Ryan taking a break on the cataraft.

After lunch Ryan & Keel made good time heading downriver (actually a lake) and were soon out of sight. Eventually, I caught up to them at a beach where they had laid out some gear to dry.

Taking a break to dry out gear.

Taking a break to dry out gear.

We decided to camp a few hours later. Finding a flat spot was somewhat difficult but we eventually found one slightly up a hillside. There were random remnants of the mining / logging past scattered about the ground; chains, wheels, etc.

Climbing to our campsite.

Climbing to our campsite.

Day three campsite from the river.

Day three campsite from the river.

The next day the weather finally broke and it became sunny and absolutely wonderful for the first time since we entered Canada a few days earlier. Stopping near the town of Nakusp we enjoyed the sunshine and wondered where exactly we were on the map.

Sunny Nakusp

Sunny Nakusp

Ryan & Keel figuring out where exactly we are.

Ryan & Keel figuring out where exactly we are.


Hoping to get more miles under us we were stopped around five or six that evening due to wind. While we sat a power boat came up on us warning about the wind and how dangerous the river can get when the wind kicks up. He worked for BC Hydro who own Keenleyside Dam on the Columbia. He was pretty spot on about how everything worked and joked about California owing British Columbia several million dollars for back energy. We went to sleep early and woke up around 5am to try and make better time heading downriver.

Around 9am we were stopped again due to the wind and had to pull over and wait. Eventually, we were able to head downriver only to be stopped shortly after when the wind picked up again.

Shut down by the wind.

Shut down by the wind.

Keel fishing

Keel fishing


By mid-afternoon the wind finally died down and we were able to get on our way. Ryan and I were making good time heading downriver, we had figured out a system where I could cam strap into Ryan’s sea kayak. In a way it allowed me to draft off him and get a small pull between strokes to keep up my speed. After clearing a good distance we pulled over and waited for Keel. Keel showed up about thirty minutes later immediately yelling about his dry bags. The system he was using wasn’t working and he didn’t have enough dry bags to keep everything he had in his boat dry. After changing out the bags for him and pumping his water he began going off on Ryan and I for not putting the dry food back into his dry bags. We asked him where he wanted us to put the gear, after receiving no answer we put the food where it would be visible.

Helping Ryan sort Keel's wet food.

Helping Ryan sort Keels wet food.

That about sealed the deal on Ryan leaving.

Sadly, Ryan and Keel decided to share a tent. After five days together they had enough of it. Shortly after Keel’s panic attack about the dry bags Ryan announced he was leaving the trip, got in his boat, and headed for the nearest town a couple miles down river. I left the beach shortly after Ryan and paddled downriver to try to keep him from quitting the expedition. Not long after leaving I headed back up to where Keel was and tried to figure out what he planned to do. To be honest I was pretty pissed at him for causing a shit storm and not too happy to have Ryan out. That and having to listen to Keel complain for the rest of the time out there was not something I had signed up for. Figuring out what his plan was, I headed back downriver with him to catch up to Ryan. We reached the town of Fauquier around 1am. It was brutally cold outside. Not having the energy to setup a tent I pulled out a few dry bags, made a shelter behind them and the cataraft, covered myself in a tarp, and went to sleep. I froze to my pad and sleeping bag several times but managed to make it through the night.

The next morning I was hoping Ryan had changed his mind about leaving. He hadn’t. Right about then I went off on Keel for being a pain in the ass. For some reason Keel felt as though he needed to tell Ryan and I what to do and over the last few days and had snapped at Ryan several times for ridiculous things.

Six days in. Ryan was out and for all I cared, Keel might as well be as well. I loaded up and headed out. I had everything I needed for a solo trip and to be honest figured I would be a lot happier just being able to paddle and enjoy the amazing trip we were on.

Day 6

Day 6

After paddling all day I pulled over at a nice beach and set up camp. Keel was still somewhere behind me and I was somewhat surprised he hadn’t passed me during the day. Just before dark he caught up. I made it clear I really had no interest in continuing down together. After mentioning he was welcome to camp at the beach if he needed to he headed downriver looking for a place of his own.

Nice campsite on Day 6.

Nice campsite on Day 6.

The wind came early and strong the next morning. By mid-afternoon the conditions had slightly improved and I put on hoping to make some distance downriver.  An hour or so later the wind changed directions and I began making really good time surfing the rollers. I paddled most of the night since I hadn’t really done anything all day but sit and watch the river move upriver.

Paddling into the night.

Paddling into the night.

Navigational Beacon.

Navigational Beacon.

Finding a nice beach that night I feel asleep and woke up to beautiful sunny weather.

Camp morning of Day 7.

Camp morning of Day 7.

I was hoping to reach Keenleyside Dam the night before but seemed to still be some distance off. Several hours after leaving the beach I arrived at the dam. The operator told me Keel had been there just ten minutes earlier. Glad he had made it to the dam I waited for the locks to realign so I could pass through.

Keenleyside Dam, British Columbia, Canada.

Keenleyside Dam, British Columbia, Canada.

Once the chambers were filled I paddled into the lock and tied a loose loop around a buoy which was secured into the wall of the lock.



Terrible noises came from all directions, then the water began to drop and eventually the downriver lock opened. One dam down, eleven to go, plus two more up top. The nice thing about the dam though was there was a good outflow which made a huge difference in making time downriver. Additionally, this was one of only three free flowing sections of the Columbia (the source, Keenleyside – US border, and Hanford Reach). For the past seven days there had been nothing but flat water and ice, now there was finally some current. Not long after leaving Keenleyside I made it to Castlegar.

Karl from Castlegar.

Karl from Castlegar.

-Words and photos – Paul Gamache

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