Many dream of completing it. Few actually do complete it.
It was a beautiful early September morning when we set out to start our adventure to paddle the Bowron Lakes Chain in northern British Columbia. The 2-½ hour drive from Prince George on the previous day had been quite uneventful. There were however no spaces available so we had to camp on the provincial campground for the night.
After our indoctrination we portaged from the warden station to Kibbee Lake. This is actually the longest portage on the entire circuit. We launched our kayaks for the short paddle through a swampy Kibbee Lake to the next portage to Indian Point Lake. The rented portaging carts worked quite well and we arrived at Indian Point Lake in no time at all. With the portaging carts safely secured to our kayaks we set out for another, somewhat longer paddling portion of the circuit on Indian Point Lake. The landscape started to become more interesting at this point: from the swampy Kibbee Lake to more mountainous landscapes. Another short portage through some scrubby looking black spruce trees finally brought us to the beginning of Isaac Lake, the longest paddle portion of the circuit. It was a hot and hazy afternoon but the promise of spectacular landscapes appeared through the haze. Once again the portaging carts were fastened to the kayaks and we started to proceed along the north arm of Isaac Lake. The water surface was reminiscent of a mirror. The only fleeting ripples came from our kayaks as they sliced quietly through the calm waters of Isaac Lake, only interrupted by the occasional splashing of water from the paddles when they did not part the still water at the optimal angle. And so we arrived at Wolverine Creek Campground, our destination for the day. We set up camp for the night and had some dinner prepared on a camp stove in a frying pan. After an evening sitting at a campfire we retired to our tent, only to be awakened by a fierce thunderstorm blowing through. It passed without incident and we woke to a beautiful misty morning.
After breakfast we stowed our gear in our boats and set out on the next leg of our journey, the east arm of Isaac Lake. Again the water was as smooth as a mirror and it remained like that for the rest of the day. Last nights thunderstorm had triggered a small forest fire which smoldered high up on one of the mountains, its smoke rising vertically into the calm September air. Our attempt to catch some fish along the way was unfortunately not successful and after a good day’s worth of paddling, which took us past some breathtaking scenery, we arrived at our next destination, the south end of Isaac Lake. We caught a glimpse of “the Chute”, a short stretch of fairly rough water, where Isaac Lake empties into the Isaac River. Opposite the Chute we found an axe embedded in a log. It must have been there some time because the handle was rotten and about to disintegrate. We set up camp for the night, which passed uneventful.
The next morning, after studying the Chute once more, we decided to portage the short stretch of water rather than try to navigate it. Along the trail we came across a moose cow and her calf. After we gave the animals ample room and made our presence known they disappeared into the thicket and we continued on our way. We launched our kayaks into the navigable portion of Isaac River, only to extract them a short while later to portage our boats around Isaac Falls. Initially the trail rose through the interior rain forest only to plunge down deep to the next boat launch at McLeary Lake. After a short paddle through some nice scenery we reached the swift waters of the Cariboo River. The river was littered with driftwood, snags and deadheads and on its shores rested the remnants of several canoes, a stark reminder what could happen if no attention was paid to where one was going. After about an hour’s travel we reached the silt-laden waters of Lanezi Lake. Again the water was like a mirror and paddling was easy. The beautiful scenery unfolded in all its splendid grandeur. Toward the end of Lanezi Lake we spotted another forest fire burning on top of another mountain. The flames were working their way up the mountain amongst the trees and were no threat to anybody down at water level. Early in the afternoon we arrived at the point where Lanezi Lake turns into Sandy Lake. After a short rest we traversed Sandy Lake and found ourselves again following the Cariboo River for a short stretch to Unna Lake. We set up camp for the night and were treated to the full moon rising from behind the mountain.
Next morning’s sunrise was beautiful as well. After breakfast we broke camp, stowed everything in our boats and had a short paddle to the far end of Unna Lake. We found the trailhead, which, after a short hike, led us to the spectacular Cariboo Falls. After our return to Unna Lake we headed north and several short portages led us to Babcock, Skoi and Spectacle Lakes, which turn eventually into Swan Lake. The landscapes now were somewhat less spectacular and consisted of some rolling hills on either side of the horizon. We set up camp at the north end of Swan Lake and spent the night there.
The next morning we spotted some moose across Bowron Creek. After enjoying the morning for a while we once again broke camp and set out on the last leg of our journey. The lazy waters of Bowron Creek snaked their way through a protected waterfowl sanctuary, laden with a great variety of waterfowl. The highlight of the day were some juvenile bald eagles who just had recently left their parent’s nests and were trying their wings in the gentle breeze. Bowron Creek turned into Bowron Lake and after an uneventful paddle we reached civilization again. The weather had cooperated beautifully with the exception of the thunderstorm of the first night. Needless to say we returned to Prince George with smiles on our faces.
For me it had been the second time to complete the circuit and the story from my first attempt, when I completed the circuit by myself, had been quite different right from the onset. While the weather started out quite nice it turned progressively worse. Halfway along the portage from Isaac to McLeary Lake my portaging cart broke and from that point on I depended on the kindness of strangers to manage the portages (at this point I would like to thank all the people who helped me along the way. I am truly very grateful for your help). Due to these circumstances I did not make it to Unna Lake or Cariboo Falls. The last day was a miserable, rainy day with blustery wind. I decided to use the skirt with my kayak and dressed weather appropriate. The paddle on Bowron Creek had been uneventful until I reached Boron Lake. I should have paid more attention to my surroundings and found myself in some large swells with three-foot whitecaps. Then I noticed some canoeists who were waiting out the storm on the shore. For me it was too late. Turning the kayak around was not an option and for fear of capsizing I kept going. Waves crashed over the bow and stern of my kayak. I assessed my situation and spotted a sandy beach across the lake. I trimmed my kayaks rudder and arrived there after the longest hour and a quarter of my entire life. Two gentlemen, who had been watching me from the onset, greeted me with a large cup of tea. Thank you again. After waiting out the storm the weather cleared enough that I could finish my journey later that afternoon.
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