It is well known in Canada that you will not see a moose if you are looking for it. My vision of the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit in British Colombia as a place where moose swim alongside your paddle and grizzlies forage for berries proved slightly romanticized. Even though Mom, Ken, Tyler, and I were the ones collecting the blueberries, this place still felt wild. We heard the spooky wailing cries of a wolf across Unna Lake, softened somewhat by the distant roar of the 11-meter Cariboo Falls.
Our first lake looked like a tiny speck on the map, but it felt much bigger while we adjusted our shoulders to their new repetitive motion for the next seven days. False promontories teased our muscles, though they also provided plenty of conversation as we debated the correct pronunciation of “promontory.”
The drizzle started before we parked the cars, and by the time we pushed open the door to the first cabin, the rain had created kiddie pools on the tent platforms. That night I marked out a potential trip plan for us on the map, basing it purely on reasonable distances between shelters. The old trapper cabin from the 1930s was a dark, cramped, mouse-ridden paradise in a storm, and we felt supremely grateful to be able to dry ourselves and our gear in it.
Day Three the sun shined on waterfalls and frigid turquoise water as we paddled slowly but steadily across the 37 km Isaac Lake. Everyone’s moods brightened with the better weather, and bald eagles and ospreys soared over our canoes.
We met our first pair of people while scoping a little rapid called The Chute. “Oh yeah, we’ve been watching people eat it all day. All I can say is that rock at the end has a lot of paint on it. But if you guys are experienced I’m sure you’ll be fine.” (Mom had done some white water canoeing thirty years ago, Ken and I had been on mostly flat-water canoe trips, and Tyler had never been in a canoe, but after three days of paddling we figured we were “experienced”).
Mr. Doomsday turned this class 1 rapid into a waterfall, but we did it anyway and nailed it! The increase in speed left us excited for another hip-checking portage through mud and over ruts and roots. By that point we were more efficient at hoisting the canoes to one side, sliding the wheels under them, adjusting for balance, and cinching down the straps to make sure a big ditch didn’t swallow the wheels.
That night we opted to camp at a corner of land where the river rushed into McLeary Lake. The clear weather held, and not a drop of rain spit into our fire that night or the following day. The food bags finally felt lighter, and our internal timers for the nine-minute Mountain House dinner packets could have rivaled the atomic clock.
As the number of days increased, so did the amount of clothing we wore or had readily accessible while paddling: thermal top and bottom, fleece, down jacket, rain jacket and pants, and beanie. A light layer of new snow dusted the mountaintops surrounding us, and when the wind blew it carried tidings of fall. Clumps of yellow deciduous trees looked like autumn highlights in a green maiden’s hair. Fires filled our evenings every night, either in a cabin furnace or in a pit. Wet wood often needed the Ken Chen method in order to light: dousing it in gasoline and jumping back before singing your eyebrows like the Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator.
The fifth night Ken gave me a lesson in swinging his pack axe that he’d owned since boy scouts. The fifty four year old handle shattered when I brought it down hard, but not accurately. It spent the rest of the trip unused and wrapped in shiny black duck tape to await surgery in Ken’s shop.
Fortunately the axe was the only thing that did not make it intact. After screaming down the final lake with white cap waves threatening to topple us, we all ended the trip feeling sore and satisfied. One man paddling the circuit for the sixth time told us how lucky we were despite the weather to avoid the summer throngs of people and mosquitoes.
While the views were spectacular, the best part of the trip was laughing and being with three people I love. I must admit though, the sponge bath with hot water on Day 4 was a close second. By the way, promontory is pronounced [prom–uh n-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee].