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"Canoeing the Bowron Lakes."
Jamie Ross
For Travel Writers' Tales

We paddle slowly along the meandering course of the Bowron River, slipping silently through the marshland. Around every bend new life emerges from the smoky river surface; beavers diving with a slap of their tail, mergansers scurrying to safety, blackbirds squawking from cattail perch and common snipes swooping with whistling wings. Then this huge apparition appears, silhouetted in dawn's light. An enormous head rises from the river, water cascading from dished antlers. A bull moose stands belly deep in the sedge, its body glistening in the soft morning glow. It is the defining moment of our six day Bowron Lake canoe trip, on the last day, when we had scrambled from our comfortable bedrolls in the dark, searching for magical early morning sights. We were rewarded - fifteen moose in all, in the first hour of daylight.

Still, the whole trip has been charming. Each of the circuit's lakes has its own personality - Skoi Lake is enchanting but short, hardly long enough to get a paddle wet, while Isaac Lake, dark and sombre, seems to go on forever. Lanezi is a murky leaden grey and Rum a tiny sheltered gem bordered by wide beaches. Abundant wildlife and rich flora are set amidst a backdrop of azure lakes, cascading waterfalls and high glaciated peaks. Exciting rapids and chutes contrast lazy river drifting. Even the weather is unpredictable and dramatic.

Here in BC's Central Interior, a talented designer has laid out the consummate canoe circuit. Nowhere else would you find a route so perfect, a 116 kilometre chain of eleven lakes, seven portages, rivers and white-water that, without repetition of any part of the route, returns the canoeist to the point of origin. The route takes from 6 to 10 days to complete - although the record for the loop is an inane 11 hours, by a pair of focussed speed-paddlers who, I assume, did not take the time to enjoy their surroundings.

We are not in a hurry. Our journey begins with a 2.4 kilometre portage from the Park Registration Centre to Kibbee Lake and a leisurely paddle across Kibbee to our first camp site. Our next two days are spent paddling down 38 kilometre Isaac Lake. The park was created in 1961, and by 1965 it seemed remarkable that 150 canoes per year were using the circuit. The park has now reached its capacity, and a limit of 50 canoeists per day has been set. Though the Bowron has a reputation as a busy summer circuit, we saw only one other canoe in the first three days of our September trip.

The Isaac River begins where Isaac Lake empties through a narrow channel. We set camp and then did some practice runs through the wild chute. On the fourth day it was an enjoyable run down the Cariboo River, running eight kilometres of chutes and rapids. We paddled up Lenezi Lake to a camp at Turner Creek, halfway up the north shore, arriving just in time to put up our tents and overhead tarp before a gale hit.

On the next morning, we hugged the north shore and paddled below the steep south-facing slopes. Flowers and lichens cling to the 400 million year old rock outcrops. West of here, the vegetation changes, from the darker cedar and hemlock forests in the wet, western slopes of the Cariboo Mountains, to the lodgepole pine and Douglas fir prominent in the circuit's western lakes. The mountains are gradually left behind, replaced by low marshland.

Our fourth night is spent on Rum Lake, which has the warmest water and the best swimming on the circuit. A trail off Unna Lake leads to the roaring, 24 metre high Cariboo Falls. In the late 1950's, BC Hydro debated harnessing the hydro-electric power of this magnificent cascade, but decided, in the end, that the torrent was too remote to make such a venture economically viable.

On the fifth day we paddled north up Babcock, Skoi and Spectacle Lakes. There were more canoeists now, as many have the time to canoe only the western lakes. Our final camp was on the Bowron River at the fringe of the massive Bowron Marsh, site of our magnificent moose sighting. The big bull moose posed for some time, and then we paddled off, leaving him in peace. We complete our trip, dawdling over Bowron Lake. It is a civilized trip, well-used, well-maintained and very organized - but still, the wilderness you reach is spectacular and unpredictable.


Trip Planner:

Trip Length and Difficulty ... Plan on 6 to 10 days to cover the 116 kilometre chain of lakes. The route is well mapped and features good signage, and the portages and camp sites are well maintained. Still, canoeists should have some wilderness experience. On the bigger lakes, sudden winds and storms can make things interesting. Firewood is available on route. Steel bear cache boxes allow canoeists to keep the food locked safely away.

Getting there ... Take Highway 26 from Quesnel to Barkerville, then follow the signs to the park. 28 kilometres further along a well-graded road. A twenty-five site campground is located near the Registration Centre.

Reservations ...Call the Super Natural BC Reservations 1-800-435-5622.

Photos by Jamie Ross

1 - Author Resting on Isaac Lake
2 - Running the chute
3 - Camp on Rum Lake
4 - Wheeling across a portage
5 - Practicing in the Chute
6 - Riverside Tent
7 - Moose in the Bowron Marsh

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