July 29th, 2016
During a short visit to the Squamish Adventure Centre (in search of free wifi), I (Nick) noticed a sign reading "Squamish: the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada." It's true, there is a lot more to do here than just climb. In particular, I was interested in the world-famous local rivers.
My friend Seamus is living in Victoria this summer. Daniel and I paid him a visit already during our camper van search. Seamus and I began whitewater kayaking together 3 years ago in Newfoundland. With the grace of my fellow Choss Boys, I planned for him to live with us in the van for a weekend, creating an opportunity to get on the rapids.
We figured out, thanks to the help of a local kayak guide named Don, that our best (and cheapest) option for kayaking was to rent equipment from MEC and seek knowledgeable locals to help pick rivers that suit our abilities. So, with plans laid, and reservations made, I set out for MEC in downtown Vancouver on the busy Friday evening of the August long weekend.
Driving the van into the city to pick up the rentals from MEC was the beginning of my adventure. Limited blindspot visibility, tight parking spots, fast drivers, and a perplexing vehicle height limit on MEC's open roof parking area made the rental pick-up a white knuckle experience. The van pulled through unscathed, but, devastatingly, our french press was smashed in the process. I continued on to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal to find Seamus sitting on the sidewalk with his mountain bike.
"Oh! you brought your mountain bike with you too?" I said hesitantly.
"Yeah, I guess I forgot to tell you..."
The van soon became a very crowded space.
July 30th, 2016
Our task in the morning was to figure out which rivers we could paddle. Thanks to an online guidebook, Seamus and I could access detailed information about all the local rivers.
To our dismay, we quickly realized that almost all of the rivers within a 100 kilometer radius were running at class V due to high glacial melt rates. It didn't look like there was much possibility for a low-impact warm up in the area.
After our beautiful climb on Star Chek the week past, I had a bit of an idea what the Cheakamus river near the climb looked like: difficult, but not utterly beyond our level. Seamus and I decided on a section of the river close to the highway with stretches of easy paddling to escape before dropping into a terrifying looking canyon. We loaded up the boats, and had the van to ourselves thanks to Daniel and Erik making a crack-of-dawn push for the Squamish Buttress. Excited and nervous, we arrived at the put-in area, and scoped out the rapids.
The section we chose to run turned out to be fantastic! The rapids went from pushy boogie water into big, flowing waves, with just enough eddies in between for Seamus and I to catch a break. However, we took a while to conquer our hesitation about running the lower rapids. This last section involved several challenging rapids, one right after the other with no time to slow down and regain composure. The water was thundering!
We approached the section for the first time and decided we needed more time to prepare before committing to such an intimidating line. So we returned to the easier upper sections, and felt our confidence beginning to grow.
It was still a mental struggle, despite the improved warm up:
After making it down to the top of the final rapids, we pull out to scout themfrom the other side of the river. Finally, we know the line well and can feel ourselves primed for the challenge. I ask Seamus, "do you want to lead the way?" Without hesitation, he says casually, "sure thing buddy." We are set, and I anticipate the feeling of the powerful water tearing my tiny kayak downstream already.
Getting in our boats takes time, and I feel my heart racing. Preparing to paddle a scary rapid always peaks my nerves. We exchange a quick smile, and without hesitation, Seamus peels out of the eddy.
In the midst of the rapids, I can feel time passing slowly. Everything is happening fast, but my mind is absolutely racing from the adrenaline. Ahead of me, I see Seamus every two or three seconds in between towering waves. Crashing through the first big wave, I am temporarily blinded by a face full of foamy turquoise water. There is just enough time to spot my opening below, so I paddle as hard as possible to thread the narrow gap between two rocks.
The water roars around me and I can just barely see Seamus going over the final rapid... He looks like he is going too far to one side (surely enough, he missed our planned line and was pulled into a large boil of water). His boat flips, and I see him make a quick roll just before focusing back on my own line. I paddle hard to the right and just barely reach the smooth tongue of water that pulls me to safety.
As we shimmied out of our boats, neither of us could stop beaming. What a feeling! In a strange place, with water we've never paddled, in a completely unknown river, Seamus and I managed to have a thrilling afternoon.
That evening, Seamus made great use of his mountain bike in the local BMX park, and as Daniel and Erik returned we all shared our adventures.
July 31st, 2016
Since Seamus and I were still unsure about rivers we could paddle in the area, we had reached out to Don the previous evening to ask his advice. To our elation, he put us in touch with a Whistler local named Al who was looking for people to paddle that night. He offered to take us on a river called the Birkenhead, two hours North in Pemberton. Thankful for the opportunity to paddle with an experienced local, we planned to drive up in the evening for a run with Al.
In the morning, Don called to let us know he would join us, and even drive us with our kayaks from his house in Whistler straight to the start of the river. Brilliant luck! We grabbed two half cases of locally brewed craft beer, as thanks, and headed towards Whistler.
Don's house is marked by an old whitewater boat strapped to a tree, hard for two kayakers to miss. We were greeted by a man with curly grey hair and an easy smile; Don. On the drive to Pemberton, he told us stories from his adventurous past, and inspired Seamus and I to continue pursuing the outdoor sports we love.
At the river, we met Al, a tall, chilled out man with dark hair and abundant tattoos, and a wiry, energetic Aussie named Shaun ("not 'Shane' dammit!"). The five of us created a great dynamic; Seamus and I felt at ease with two experienced local paddlers, and the novice Australian kayaker brought constant excitement.
The Birkenhead turned out to be a cruise, well within our paddling ability, and much less pushy than the Cheakamus river the previous day. The easy run was abound with fun, rolling waves, smooth surfing waves, and easy eddies. Heron flew overhead and waterfalls gurgled in from tiny brooks as we negotiated our way through lush forest and stratified sandy banks. A scenic delight at the end of the weekend.
August 1st, 2016
Daniel, Seamus, and I venture into Vancouver to return the kayaks. The forecast for Squamish is rain, so we plan to travel to Nanimo with Seamus, then venture West to Tofino with Erik, and our new friend Kate, to surf. We quickly return the kayaking gear to MEC, engorge ourselves with an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, and lumber back to the van to catch the ferry.
On the peaceful ferry ride, we reflect on a weekend spent sampling some of the Sea-to-Sky Corridor's natural wonders. I feel thankful to have enjoyed the beautiful rivers, but I've had my fill, and I'm ready for a change of scene. Look out for a blog post about Tofino coming up soon.
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
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