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Tahtsa Lake to Prince George

Ah, the dreaded portage from Kemano to Tahtsa Lake! I figure there will be roughly 125 portages during my expedition. The first one just happens to be 51 kilometers, starting at sea level and peaking out at nearly 3300 at a mountain pass along the Coast Mountains. This is what will enable me to put together a route that will take me from the British Columbia coast and up and over the mountains of BC.

Well it is good to be back on the water once again, the 51 kilometer portage now behind me…thankfully! Once paddling on Tahtsa Lake, I was again right where I most wanted to be…ikn a canoe, paddling all the way across Canada. The scenery here on Tahtsa Lake was just incredible. A beautiful lake surrounded by majestic mountains and not another person to be seen. Tahtsa Lake is part of the vast Nechako reservoir system however and unfortunately it was not fully logged in the areas to be flooded. This resulted in many, many dead trees still in the water and numerous barely submerged logheads. Despite this though, it was still a beautiful lake and I thoroughly enjoyed paddling it. My first night’s camp was on a nice gravel beach, littered with driftwood. I had a great camp and relaxed after supper with a couple cups of coffee while reading until the sun went down.

The following morning, I was back on the water, finishing off the main part of the lake and heading into “Tahtsa Reach”, essentially a second lake connected by lowlands that, at high water levels, are under water. This time of year was perfect as the water was high. Tahtsa Reach was nice but the main portion of the lake was the true gem. Next came Ootsa Lake, a much bigger lake, subject to heavy winds and big conditions. Luck was with me though and for the 125 kilometer portion of Ootsa Lake that I paddled, I had great conditions. A nice little tailwind and following seas of about 3 feet at most.

TahtsaLakelookingbackIt got tougher when it came time to portage over to Skins Lake, the headwaters of the Cheslatta River. The portage to Skins Lake took about an hour and I was able to use the cart for most of it. Paddling Skins Lake was nice, a beautiful little lake with very pretty, rocky islands. Finally on the Cheslatta River, time to see how the Clipper canoe handles the whitewater. It has handled the coastal and lake paddling with ease so far, so much so that I can barely wait to get it out into bigger conditions on Lake Winnipeg and Lake Superior in the months to come. The first set of rapids was no problem. The next set though had a couple of significant, rocky drops…time to portage. This portage was a bushwhack all the way. Only a couple hundred meters but it took an hour and a half and 4 trips to shuttle everything through…and along the way I had a black bear drop by to say hello…luckily after exchanging pleasantries, he was on his way and I was on mine, no damage done!

Back on the river after the second portage of the day, I paddled for all of about 250 meters before it was once again time to portage, this time it was a much longer portage, done along the riverbank on river left around a long set of major rapids with a couple of waterfalls of 8 or 10 feet with a some nasty holes and boulders awaiting at the bottom…not where I want to end up! Back on the water again, I paddled the next couple of hours without incident although I did manage to bang a few rocks in the river, nearly splitting a couple of them in two! Luckily the canoe faired well along here. With the amount of weight I’m carrying, the canoe was not extremely manoeuvrable in the rapids and I had to pick my line early and get it lined up in advance whenever possible. Slowly however, I found my river skills gradually coming back to me, particularly the river reading aspect. It had been awhile since I’ve run any amount of whitewater. I spent the night camped on a nice gravel bar island in the middle of the river a couple hundred meters above the next major set of rapids which I will have to portage tomorrow morning.

When I arrived at the rapids the next day, I took out on river right and scouted out the rapids and portage trail…oh…there is no trail! Major bushwacking was going to be how the next few hours would be spent as I shuttled my gear and canoe along over the course of three trips as I leapfrogged along, one load at a time.Dense underbrush, thorn bushes, downed trees and all…this portage “‘had it all” so to speak! Four hours later I was rappelling my gear down over a 50 foot drop to the river bank down below, just beyond a rather large waterfall. A quick lunch beside the river and I was back on the water again. The rest of the Cheslatta River was a nice paddle with only minor class 2 rapids, all easily run in the Clipper Sea 1 canoe. Soon I was out on open water, paddling along on Cheslatta Lake where I found a beautiful campsite about a third of the way down tghe lake where I had a very relaxed supper and enjoyed sitting around a small campfire, watching the sun go down, once in awhile gazing down the lake, wondering what lay around the next corner.Just hours since I took out earlier today, alreadyI can barely weight to hit the water again tomorrow morning!

Well….Life Is Good! Nothing like waking up on a beautiful lake to a nice sunny sky complete with a light tailwind! Back on the water, I paddled the rest of Cheslatta Lake, passing a huge moose along the way in addition to several deer. Next came a black bear along the bank of the lake which I watched for 15 minutes as I made my way past the point where it was casually feeding. After Cheslatta Lake came Murray Lake then a short stretch of the Cheslatta River again leading up to Cheslatta Falls. Huge whitewater here along with a 2 kilometer portage, culminating in a steep descent back down to the river at the confluence of the Cheslatta and Nechako Rivers. This took about 3 and a half hours in total and included great views of the river and some old ruins from the Carrier Indians, shallow depressions in the ground upon which they would build their temporary homes. I camped at the bottom of the portage trail along the bank of the Nechako River which I’ll be paddling all the way into Prince George over the next four days and 290 kilometers. Once again, the weather was perfect. I’ve had a grand total of one day of rain so far during the entire first 14 days of the expedition! Not bad at all ‘eh?

The Nechako river started out fast and exciting, numerous class 2 rapids, all easily run, a great river, very scenic and fun to paddle. A couple hours into the day, I came to a cabin on river right with a few folks out on the veranda. Bert Irvine, his wife and their son Mark. I pulled up on the dock, we started talking and I ended up joining them on the veranda for a nice break. They’re the first people I’ve seen in 9 days! I had a beer with Mark and Bert then we all went inside for sandwiches on homemade bread, homemade cookies and hot coffee. Best of all was the friendly chat, catching up on the news, getting an update of the NHL playoffs etc. Bert has run a hunting and fishing guiding business here for nearly 50 years and was a wealth of local knowledge, I greatly enjoyed the 2 hour break in I spent with these fine people, things like this are what will make this a great trip. It is not just about the paddling and seeing the lakes, rivers etc. It is also about meeting interesting people along the way and learning more about the areas I am lucky enough to be paddling through as I retrace Canada’s ancient trade routes. I ended up paddling 68 kilometers today despite some lengthy breaks and a late morning start.Along the way I also saw numerous eagles, 2 moose and there more back bears.Set up camp in a farmers field around 8:00 PM, 16 and a half kilometers upriver from the Fort Fraser bridge. What a day! I’m having the time of my life!

Two days later I had the first real headwinds of the trip….as in HUGE headwinds, very frustrating at times! I only managed 55 kilometers this day despite putting in some long hours. Tonights camp was on a small island in the middle of a big bend in the river, just past Finmore. Throughout the night the wind howled relentlessly and I heard several trees come crashing to the ground all through the night, giving in to the merciless winds. Originally I’d hoped to be in Prince George by Saturday May 22nd but with the winds, still howling when I got up in the morning and nearly a hundred kilometers to go, I was resigned to it taking an extra day to make it to Prince George where I’d be taking a break with my friends Ian and Debbie Chadwick, a couple of awesome marathon canoe racers and truly awesome people! I got back on the river and was making slow but steady progress as I approached the first of 4 sets of rapids marked on the map. I’d already paddled numerous sets of rapids along this river, none of which were marked on the maps….I figured that the ones that ARE marked may mean portages for me in my heavily laden canoe! I scouted the first rapid from river left and saw an easy line of river right, just past the small island dividing the river into 2 channels. Back in the canoe, I ferried across the swift water, lined up and ran the canoe down the deep V in the river and through the ensuing wave train. The Clipper canoe cruised right through, shedding the waves like they were nothing! Nice! The next rapid, a few hundred meters further downriver, looked doable as well with lots of eddies in case I saw something I didn’t like. I easily paddled right through, again on river right. Not a problem, 2 down, 2 to go! Once again ,the next two rapids were no problem either, just a bit of manoeuvring to get lined up for my run, a few adjustments along the way and I was through! Making better progress than I expected despite the winds, I soon found myself only 30 kilometers or so from Prince George so I decided to just push on, finally arriving in the city and paddling right PAST my planned takeout at Cottonwood Park where I’d get picked up. I’d mistakenly thought I had to enter the Fraser and paddle upriver a kilometer or so first. WRONG! Back down the Fraser and back UP the Nechako a couple kilometers against some fast, strong currents, I finally arrived at 10:00 PM, ending a 13 hour day! When Debbie arrived to pick me up, we loaded my gear into the truck and headed to their home just outside of the city where I was treated to a late midnight supper of pasta and salmon and a much needed shower. Exhausted from the days 95 kilometers of canoeing, I was asleep just before my head hit the pillow.

Tomorrow will be a day off as I get ready for the next portion of the trip, 60 kilometers of paddling UPRIVER on the mighty Fraser River followed by the gruelling 13 kilometer Giscome Portage, a famous portage trail linking the Fraser and Peace River systems….crossing the Arctic Divide and entering the Arctic watershed, leaving the Pacific watershed portion of the trip behind me. More on that later in the next update.

Cheers…Joe O’Blenis