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Bowron Lakes Expedition

 

Pygmies not only sell boats. We go adventuring in them!

 

We Pygmies use our Wineglass Wherry (WGW) regularly, spring through fall. We load her with crab nets and clam rakes and row off in search of bouillabaisse ingredients. John Lockwood, Freida Fenn, and daughter Freya Fennwood crew the boat. Frequently, 3 or 4 friends come along to help spot and scoop up crab.
In August 1995, we went farther afield. We took 4 weeks to do a 206 mile camping trip in our Wineglass Wherry. We headed north into British Columbia, Canada. Our ancient 1977 VW camper van carried us 500 miles north of the U.S. border to the edge of the Caribou Mountains. The first leg of our trip was the magnificent Bowron Lakes Provincial Park. (The 2nd leg was a 130 mile run down the Red Deer River in Alberta, hunting for dinosaur fossils, but that's another story.)

The Bowron Lake Chain
Eleven Lakes lie within the 121,600 hectares of the Park. Portages total only 8 km if you have the skill to run the upper section of the Isaac River--otherwise, it's 9.6 km. of portages connecting the lakes. It’s a 76 mile (115 k.) row around the rectangular-shaped circuit. The first half of the trip is framed in mountains, heavy timber and long vistas. The last part of the chain abounds in wetlands.

The Circuit
We started the circuit with a 1.5 mile portage right out of the parking lot. That was the last sight of tourists. Then we rolled the boat to 1.5 mile long Kibbee Lake, set in fir covered hills. Another one mile portage the next day put us into 4 mile Indian Point Lake. We spent a leisurely 3 days fishing, then wheeled another one mile portage to 19 mile long Lake Isaac.
Lake Isaac carves the eastern perimeter of the park. She's the longest in the waterway. To each side of Isaac, the Caribou Mountains rise abruptly, flanked with western red cedar, spruce and Douglas fir. This is the eastern terminus of a temperate rain forest. The tree line ends about 500 feet above the water level. Snow lingers in the ravines. Friendly winds at our back, swept us each day towards the campground at the end of the lake. We camped in a downpour. Friendly German camp mates handed us coffee through the tent flap when we awoke next morning.

Next came a simple portage through a magical mushroom forest, a brief stretch on the Isaac River, and then we pulled out again for the trip's most difficult and steep portage around a large waterfall. We set up camp at the Isaac River's inflow into a small lake. Glaciers hang on sheer walls at this southeast corner of the park, forming a cirque around McCleary Lake. Nice fishing on this shallow blue-green jewel, on her way to becoming a wetland in another 500+ years.
In a downpour, we lucked out finding an empty trapper's cabin. A dandy wood stove and a pile of dry firewood enabled us to "sauna" and then plunge into the lake. Later that day, John and Freya got caught out fishing in the Wherry. A terrific hail storm with 40 mph winds swept over the ridge, and pummeled them onto shore. Hail splash enshrouded them in mist. The weather cleared within an hour to reveal fresh snow on the ridges, just above us.
The next day, leaving McCleary, we rowed a good 6 mile stretch down the Caribou River. The water flowed grey, opaque with glacial silt. We kept an eye out for "boiling water" indicating submerged logs. We pulled into Lake Lanezi out of a rain as cold as October, into August sunshine. Next came a bit of river, and then a side trip into Una Lake. She sits amid lodge pole pine in the driest section of the park. The lake formed 10,000 years ago when a huge, submerged chunk of glacier was silted over in the river valley. As it eventually melted, the ground sank, leaving Lake Una.

After 2 days of hiking and berry picking at Una, we "lined" or pulled the Wherry up a shallow creek into Babcock Lake, the first of 3 lakes with short portages, ending at the Bowron River. We camped by a grizzly warning sign, on the edge of a huge marsh. This last third of the chain is lower country with extensive wetlands and marshes where we saw moose, osprey, golden eagles, bald eagles, sea gulls, Canadian geese, and several varieties of duck in the marshes and backwaters. The Bowron cuts oxbows through an immense wetland for 3 miles, then opens up to Bowron Lake and a morning's row back to the parking lot.
The entire lake chain forms a large rectangle with a mountain range in the middle and on the east and south sides. The great variety of scenery, wildlife, and ecological type is what distinguishes the Bowron circuit.

Portages.
Wide, sturdy gravel trails enable canoeists and kayakers an easy method of going overland between lakes. Strap a pair of wheels under the center of a boat and roll on! We double-glassed the exterior of our WGW (recommended for heavy use), so she weighs in at 96 lbs. We put another 150 lbs. of gear inside for our 15 day voyage. I pulled the bow, John pushed the stern and Freya whistled and scouted the trail. Park rangers said they’d never seen a fixed seat row boat on the circuit before.
Light and Comfortable.
Most boats similar to the WGW’s lines would weigh 250 lbs. or more—too much to cart. Canoeists most commonly paddle the circuit. We saw 5 kayakers. (John has paddled the circuit twice before, in Pygmy kayaks.) We loved the speed and comfort of the wherry. John and I rowed in tandem. We passed every canoe near us. A classic pulling boat, like the Wineglass, designed specifically for rowing, has four eight foot oars and two backs pulling! A light hull and four oars can beat two canoe paddlers any day. And even with gear and food for 15 days, we had plenty of room to move around, snooze, and fish. Seven and-a half year-old Freya could stand, kneel, lay down—everything but run. One of the great joys of the trip was to row for a couple of hours in the morning and then lie down across the bottom of the boat to eat lunch and nap in the sunshine.

Fish and Fowl and Mammals.

Outside magazine names the Bowron Lake Chain as one of the 10 superlative fresh water trips in the world. One reason is the abundance of wildlife. Multiple loon pairs yodel and sing on every lake. Moose feed, unafraid of paddlers silently flowing by. The Park allows motor boats on only 1 of the 11 lakes. Rainbow trout, Kokanee and Dolly Varden easily reach 22". Gargantuan Rainbow trout, up to 25 lbs. feed in the depths of Lake Isaac. Pristine water, careful size minimums and maximums, and a limit of 1 fish per license per day keep the fish abundant. A strong salmon run fills the Bowron River each August. The stream flows from the inside of the lake chain into the head of Bowron Lake. Beaver (once trapped to extinction here) again heavily populate the river.
Large mammals have right-of-way in the bush. We rowed within 15 yards of a feeding cow moose before she pulled her head above water to be seen. Lake algae attracted an immense bull with velvet wrack our third morning out.
Black bear and grizzly live in the Park. We always used the 12' high food caches at the camp sites, and saw no bear, just droppings. Park guidelines require the burning of any garbage, or packing it out in sealed plastic. Campers follow the regulations and bears generally stay away from humans.

Stalking the Wild Mushroom.
We took 15days to enjoy a trip which many people do in 7 to 10 days. This gave us time to mushroom hunt. With our i.d. books and John’s 25 years of experience, we kept a constant eye out for the fungi family. Silently walking over 8" thick mats of moss, we saw a mushroom every 3 feet. The wettest summer in 25 years gave us an abundance of Gypsy mushrooms, Delicious Lactarius, Boletus Edulis, and a delicious golden cap bolete we had never before tasted. Our best menus included Rainbow trout sauted with wild mushrooms, a side of rice, a cup of ramen soup and finished with a cup of cocoa ala Kaluah. Don’t forget a bowl of hot, wild huckleberry sauce! After an easy 10 mile row, such food confirmed we were in Paradise, even in the rain! It rained every day. We also saw and blessed the sun, if only briefly, each day.

Gearing Up.

This country requires a good collection of longjohns, polypropylene, wool, and rain gear. You’ll likely need it all. One pair of shorts will do. Other essential gear: a tent with excellent rain fly, a waterproof ground cloth, a water filter, an axe, a 16' x 20' tarp with abundant line for a dry outside cooking and sitting space, firestarter, and waterproof bags of food and clothing. We used 5 liter mylar bags from boxed wine or juice (the "on tap" kind) to store rice, cocoa, dehydrated beans, etc. It was fun to see what other folks packed, as well. Next trip, we're taking squeeze tubes of hazelnut butter, and tubes of tomato paste to convert tortillas into pizzas.

Great People.
People come from all over the world to paddle these lakes. Three nights out of 15 we had camp sites to ourselves. What's lost in privacy, you'll gain in friendships made around camp fires. We estimated that 2 out of 4 people on the circuit came from Europe! Folks who like to get into the back country are all looking for the same thing--quiet, time to watch wildlife, and time to enjoy using your body. Everyone we met revered this paradise of wilderness.
So consider taking a Wineglass Wherry on a great water adventure. We plan to take her down the Green River in Utah, come Spring. Go row! Where all roads end, the real adventures begin!

--by Freida Fenn and John Lockwood

 

 

 

 

 

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