Quintessentially Canadian, genuinely peaceful and well a good way to get tennis elbow—canoeing. I had never done a canoe trip and with other plans thwarted by wet weather, Hillary and I decided to do a paddling trip. The famous Bowron Lakes circuit isn't an option for the spontaneous type, but we stumbled across the Nation Lakes north west of Fort St James. A 120km enchainment of four lakes and wild Northern BC landscapes seemed to bid well for an adventure.
On the net we found a local, Doug French, who would shuttle us to the top of the first lake and keep the truck at his lodge on the last lake. Hurriedly we packed food and gear for 5 days and 4 nights and bolted from Revelstoke. We spent the night in Prince George checking out the scene there at the Shooters Bar and headed up to Fart Stained Jeans, as a friend from up that way refers to Fort St James, to meet Doug the next morning.
We met Doug, tied his rental canoe on my truck and headed off on the 2 hours of logging roads to the top of Tsayta Lake. Doug filled us on the tires one needs to drive these roads, on the state of Fort St James and threw in some info on the trip for good measure. We put in, waved good bye to Doug and sat down for some lunch only to realize before we had even started that we had left the knife in the truck. Good start.
We pushed off and set our sites down the lakes, fish tailing with a variety of technique lacking strokes, only to find our rythym and make camp on an island 10kms later. After all the driving we decided on an easy afternoon. Thing was, we didn't have watch either so it could have been dinner time and we would have been none the wiser.
A little uneducated on the finer points of canoeing, we were a little concerened at how much ground, or water we were going to be able to cover. A friend had loosely mentioned that 5km/hr was a reasonable pace, but we had only a map printed of the net and no clock by which to pace ourselves. We decided that we would put in a big day the next day and try and get ahead considering we had over 100kms to go and 4 days to do it in.
Day 2 had us eager and confident of making across the second lake, Indata and onto the third, Tchentlo. With ~11km of rivers connecting each lake we figured the moving water would whisk us along quite nicely. Much to our dissappointment, the first river had 3 portages around log jams, that while they were short, were a nuisance. To make matters slower, it seemed we could paddle faster on the still lakes than we could on the flowing rivers.
We prevailed on the first connector and paddled, swam and ate our way down Indata rather effortlessly. We decided to cook dinner early and paddle on some more after tea to hopefully make Tchentlo which is what we did. Just as the sun set we popped out on Tchentlo to the beautiful colors of the fading day and the crashing of a black bear on the shore not 50m away. For this reason canoes are an incredible mode of transport for spotting wildlife. They are silent and smooth, so much so we paddles up alongside a beaver the previous dusk to within 15m before it cared to feel threatened. The bear slpashed around on the shore, curios and and indifferent to our fatigued presence before wondering off.
The first two of the Nation Lakes fall within a provincial park, while the last two don't. All along the entire route are numerous campsites managed by Forestry and Parks. Camping is permitted anyway and there are dozens of long, sandy beaches for swimming, stopping or camping. We found orselves a nice beach in the dying light and fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
Tchentlo is the biggest lake of the four and between the two downloaded maps we had, we figured it was between 37 and 45km long. It was going to be another big day. Canoeing it has to be said is a monotonous pursuit. Sure the landscape was beautiful, but it never changed. The hills are rolling, but not mountainous and the coors are spectacular, but sadly so becasue of the pine beetle invasion that turns the dying and dead trees various shades of red giving the illusion that the evergreens are shedding their foliage as a deciduous does in the Fall. The early morning and evening light brought the place to life, but otherwise the days were just stroke after stroke after stroke. Put it this way, we probably won't be embarking on asuch a long journey in a canoe anytime soon.
We managed to paddle the entire length of Tchentlo in a reason time and found the nicest camp of the trip in a sheltered laggon at the end of the lake. A sweeping sandy beach, blueberry bushes and morning sun made for a splendid place to rest up.
Now I consider myself a not too urban individual, but being in Northern BC where everybody is a logger wearing lumber just flannels and steel toed boots with a moose rack mounted above their door I felt more than a little metropolitan slicing up tofu to add to dinner. Not 50ft away rainbow trout are jumping out of the water gorging themselves on the bugs, and here we were eating tofu. Having decided to save some money on fishing licences and rods being the fisher than I'm not, I couldn't help but second gess that decision right there and then. The one consolation was that in three days we hadn't seen a single other group let alone fly toting, fillet knife sporting fishers how would really make us feel like we weren't from around these parts.
Day 4 on Chuchi Lake saw us pretty much ready to have to paddle anymore. I fell fast asleep on the beach at lunch and was woken but by the wind to find Hillry similarly prone on the sand beside me drooling in a deep sleep. We loaded up angain and pushed of for our lsat camp in a bid to get closer to our destination and have an easy final day. The weather was blowing in things looked ominous, but thankfully the wind was at our backs. Quite literally over paddling, Hillary launched he jacket on a paddle and together we sailed 5 or more kilometers down the lake and got off at another nice campsite.
The weather had turned cold by now and with the fly on the tent we nestled in for an afternoon reading books and sleeping some more. It rained heavily throughout the night but cleared by the morning and granted us smooth passage to Doug's lodge at the end of the lake.
The trip, in the aftermath was thoroughly enjoyable, but still al ittle too much paddling with not enough diversity. It was amazing to see only one other group the entire week and we barely saw a cutblock from the water which is quite amazing considering how much land has been and continues to be clear cut in that part of the world. For anyone considering the trip, it would be well worth taking more days to complete the trip in order to allow more down time which with absolutely no one around is a real joy. Otherwise any of the lakes can be paddled in a shorter version with put-ins and take-outs on all but Tchentlo Lake.
Doug French at www.nationlakes.com is the man to arrange a shuttle with and get the current information on logjams and portages.
All in a great trip in apart of the world I might not normally be inclined to explore.