Friday, October 28, 2011

The Homathko: Dubious at Best

My season got a late start this year. With a broken rib in May and a full season of work, my kayaking was mostly local until September when a couple spare weeks allowed me to road trip up to B.C. I presented the idea to Xavier Engel who optimistically informed me that he would go and that we would undoubtably boat around Whistler for exactly two days at which point the Homathko river would drop to a runnable flow. Xavier never lies! The prophecy delivered, and our third day in Canada found us heading north with some trepidation as the river dropped nearer to a runnable flow.

                                                   Hector Darbymaclellan guiding us down Tatlow creek near Whistler

As we neared the put in it became apparent that cold weather was working in our favor and the run was in; if a little bit high. What could possibly go wrong? In the town of Tatla Lake we were greeted with some local skepticism - the result of several kayaker evacs from the canyon in past years - however that did not lessen our optimism as we neared the put in.

The Crew: From left Chris Gragtmans, Pete Lodge, Xavier Engle, Louis Geltman, Ric Moxon and I

Day 1: One of the factors that makes the Homathko such a classic expedition is the fact that you run the river from source to sea. The trip starts with a paddle across Tatloyoka lake to the outlet where the Homathko river begins with a few hundred cfs. Over the course of four days you cut through the B.C. coastal range, running six canyons (and portaging one) before ending at the Bute inlet on a flow of over 20,000 cfs! On our first day we battled bitter headwinds across the lake. Once on the river the flow seemed to increase continually as glacier charged side streams made their contribution to the Homathko River. We camped on a huge sandy beach just above the start of the Great Canyon and the whitewater.

Morning at camp 1

Day 2: Shortly below camp the walls started to tighten and the gradient escalated as we paddled into the Great Canyon. Most of the morning we worked our way through high quality boulder gardens which had a fun big water feel and were all runnable.

Louis Geltman the rally master. Louis found out we were going on the
Homathko about three hours after he should have left Hood River OR!

Louis again. Somewhere in the Great Canyon.

Chris Gragtmans in yet another classic rapid with no name.

The highlight of the day came shortly after the exit of the Great Canyon when the river dropped into the shallow but committing mini-gorge known as Birthday Canyon. Amazingly polished and fluted rock frames this beautiful rapid, which ends in the entire Homathko river going through a slot about six feet wide.

Pete Lodge in the entrance to Birthday Canyon

Chris Gragtmans fighting the boils above the slot

Ric Moxon above the crux

Unfortunately we did not get to enjoy the high of Birthday Canyon for long. Shortly below we came upon the the large tributary on the left that marks the start of an arduous portage. Several hours later we got in our boats at the foot of the canyon and paddled a short ways down to camp at the confluence with Mosley Creek just as darkness fell.

Day 3: Day 3 picked up fast. With the added flow of Mosely Creek the Homathko was starting to get a big water feel. After several miles of spicy read and run we got to the first of the three Tragedy Canyons. This canyon was fairly short and easy although a little bit intimidating. The second Tragedy had an unrunnable log in the entrance forcing a portage of the first bit. Paddling down to a midway scout point we had no idea what was to come! Several big rapids led to a point where the river dropped into a massive river wide hole!! After much deliberation we decided to go for it and like sadistic little ducks we paddled in a neat line into the massive, walled in hydraulic! It let us all through and the adrenaline high from this rapid (which we called Dubious at Best) carried us through the final Tragedy and the intimidating - but mellow - Waddington Canyon. From here the walls opened and the cliffs gave way to views of ice fields and peaks in the distance. Several fun, but far less intimidating rapids led us to our final camp

Day 4:  The last day consisted of a mellow float through a beautiful valley topped with glaciers.  After several hours we began to smell the ocean, and even saw seals swimming up from the Bute Inlet.  Shortly after we arrived at Homathko camp.  Upon arrival we were immediatly offered coffee and hot showers by our friendly hosts, and we spent a pleasant several hours conversing with chuck, the owner of the camp, while we awaited the plane. 

Xavier and Louis framed by Bute Mountain near Homathko Camp

Chuck enthusiastically showed us the entire camp including a hydro-electric generator and a thirty-foot power boat all built by hand.  Unfortunately our time here was short and before long the plane showed up.  What ensued was the best shuttle ever!

Chris, Xavier and I excited about our shuttle rig

Saying farewell to the beautiful Homathko


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