Two Brits, One Canoe, Some White Water and A Lot of Canadians.
On the 22nd of June 2018 a travelling British couple turned up to a free camping spot they had seen online near Manning Provincial Park. Little did they know they had just arrived at the same camping spot for a nearby canoe clubs annual river trip.
It wasn’t long before the Canoeist made their presence known to the couple. In quick succession 3 members approached the couple, separately and the conversations went a little like this…
1st Canoer ‘ you’re not with the canoe club are you?’
1st Canoer ‘are you staying here tonight?’
Couple ‘Yeah we think so, we are going to go hiking in the provincial park’
1st Canoer ‘that’s good, well just so you know I’m expecting between 6 to 12 people to arrive later.’
Skip to Canoeist 2 about 5 min later.
Canoer 2 ‘You aren’t with the canoe club are you?’
Couple ‘No,we are going hiking in the area’
Canoer 2 ‘well you should know we are expecting between 10 to 20 people to arrive later’
Skip to Canoeist 3 another 5 min later
Canoer 3 ‘so your not with the canoe club’
Couple ‘ No, we’ve heard your expecting quite a few of you’
Canoer 3 ‘Yes, I think we are expecting up to 30 people to arrive later’
If these three people the couple spoke to had been British, then the couple might have suspected that this was a typically British attempt to subtly, politely and in-effectively, tell the couple to bugger off.
This was clearly not the case as Carey, Dave and Rosa made the us feel very welcome and introduced us to more members as they arrived and invited us to join everyone at the fire. The result of this sociable evening chatting around the fire was that we ended up joining in with a river trip the next day. Carey was happy enough with Matts demonstration of a J-stroke that he lent us his boat and cobbled together enough kit for us to safely join in.
The Similkameen from Princeton to Bromley Rock
23rd June, 2018
Trip leader : Mike
Those being lead: Pam, Eric, Dave, Katie and Matt
I suspect Mike wasn’t best pleased with Carey for dumping two people he had only met a few hours ago, let alone never seen in a canoe, into his care for the day. Mike would have well been within his rights to say no but he allowed us to come along and make up the numbers so the trip could go ahead.
The convoy of vehicles set off for Princeton with Mike leading the way at warp factor 9 (if you don’t understand this reference you need to watch Star Trek). Sadly Christoff the Chrysler can only manage warp factor 2 on a good day. At the put in boats were unloaded and the shuttle was organised, some time later we launched into the river.
River signals were covered once the group was back together. It turns out that North American paddling signals are very different to British. For instance bouncing your paddle up and down sideways looks a lot like the UK signal for ‘Pile on down’, over here it means get into an eddy before you die. The faster someone moves the paddle up and down the more urgent it is for you to get off the river, in the UK that would mean ‘paddle faster at the rapid, it’s going to be a fun ride’.
Matt and I were a little apprehensive about paddling Careys Canoe, this was not alleviated by Mike stating ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen that canoe on the water, I wonder if it still floats’ and then working out that the boat is older than us. Mike then made us launch first to check we weren’t lying about our paddling skills and Carey hadn’t lied about the boats floating capability.
Happly no one had been trying to commit suicide or murder.
Everyone successfully launched onto the river and off we went. The section of river we were on was a class 1 with a potential class 2 rapid at the end. We had launched at 11.30 am so in wasn’t long before lunch was on the mind, particularly for Pam and Dave who had left home at 4.30 am that morning. After about an hour of paddling the hunger became too much and we found a beautiful spot to snaffle our food.
Please note the next section of this account may have been embellished for entertainment purposes. Overall the majority of the rapids were very simple to run and the group had a pleasant time paddling. There were 2 occasions in my memory where this changed so I will focus on these.
We were coming towards what seemed like another rapid similar to all the others. Mike and Pam were in the lead, Matt and I in the middle, Eric and Dave at the rear. Mike and Pam went through the rapid taking a good line, breaking through the waves like the ships in the Antarctic break through ice, ploughing straight through. We were not in Mikes canoe version of a tank and so our experience was very different. The waves in this rapid must have been at least 4x bigger than anything so far. Waves came from every direction, at least 10 ft tall, we paddled hard and managed somehow to keep our hands on our paddles and not grab the gunnels, it was a harrowing few moments but we made it through the right way up but having taken on some water. Dave and Eric were not so fortunate. . .
As we came to calmer water I decided to look back and see how the final boat was getting on. It was a sight I will never forget. Erics shiney green, only for display purposes (his words) canoe being tossed up and down through the waves. Dave was valiantly trying to steer a good course while Eric paddled like a mad-man through the gigantic waves. I didn’t see the exact moment the canoe went over because I had to blink. Next thing I saw was Dave and Eric in the water with the green hulled canoe upside down.
I called to Mike’s boat and everyone went to their action stations. Matt and I headed to shore because we felt we were too full of water to mount an on the water rescue. Matt grabbed the throwline and threw as hard as he could to reach the swimmers. Matt has never paddled outside the UK before, the rivers are much much much narrower in the UK. His depth perception failed him in that moment as he tried to throw a 20 meter line, across a 60 meter wide river, to people who were clearly slap bang in the middle of it. Matt is used to 20 meters getting to the other side of the river.
This epic failure of an attempt at rescue spurred Dave and Eric into swimming a bit harder for the shore. Further downstream Mike and Pam waited in an eddy and continued to encourage the brave survivors to swim. Eric and Dave made it to shore safe and sound, the only casualty was Daves’ water bottle which had decided it had had enough and wanted to go solo for the rest of the river.
The next event of interest was the final rapid on the river. Everyone but Matt and I had inspected this when they had done the shuttle, so there was a consensus on what the line through this rapid would be. Mike stopped us all a few kilometers from the rapid and chatted us through the line. Right of centre, the line was right of centre, it was also decided that Matt and I would run this rapid first.
Imagine my confusion then when Eric and Dave paddled passed us as we approached the rapid at a speed we couldn’t hope to match, let alone overtake them back. Then our further confusion as Dave and Eric went hard river left down the rapid, not right of centre. Perhaps this wasn’t the final rapid we thought. Matt and I started to follow their line but I quickly realised we weren’t going fast enough to make it. So we very quickly changed tactic and headed right of centre and followed a wave chain to the end of the rapid, this time we had anticipated the huge waves better and didn’t take on any water.
Mike and Pam didn’t have the same good fortune as the first 2 boats. By the time we had exited the rapid and looked back events had already unfolded, so the exact details are were not witnessed but it is understood that their canoe struck a submerged rock while taking the river left line. This caused their canoe to tip hugely and take on vast amounts of water. Mike and Pam fought to keep their canoe up-right and got themselves to the left bank, there they were able to bail out their canoe and continue on.
It turns out this was the final rapid and very soon the get out beach was on our right. It was an excellent journey in good weather and good company. We even managed to recover Dave’s water bottle.
We were invited to join them for a second day on the water but sadly Matt and I needed to make our way towards Squamish and the arrival of our good friend Helen.
This encounter of such a friendly and welcoming group of people will likely become on of our best memories of travelling in Canada.