Monday, September 8, 2014

Canoeing the Bowron Lake Circuit

Late in his life my father-in-law, Don Brown, got hooked on canoeing. His favorite trip became the Bowron Lake Circuit in central British Columbia. He paddled the 72 mile circuit three times, his last when he was a rugged 71 years old. He left a legacy of photos, tattered maps and stories and always encouraged us to make the trip.

Our chance came in August of 2014 when, with the encouragement of four travel mates, we packed cars with way more food and gear than we needed and headed for the Canadian Border to try our hand or, in this case, paddle, the Bowron Lake Circuit.
Don Brown would have been pleased.


What is the Bowron Lake Circuit?
Tucked against the western slopes of British Columbia’s Cariboo Mountains the Bowron Lake Circuit is the cornerstone of the 370,000 acre Bowron Lake Provincial Park. It is unique because a paddler can, using portages and rivers, connect ten lakes in a circular pattern that permits a trip to start and finish at the same place in Bowron Lake. To facilitate paddling the circuit, park personnel maintain the portages—after a fashion—and over fifty campsites, each equipped with fire rings, surprisingly nice pit toilets and, importantly, bear caches.
No Motors Allowed: The circuit is open to any human powered vessel. We, and the majority of those we observed, used canoes of all materials and sizes but we also encountered a fair number of kayaks on the trip. For simplicity I will refer to all vessels as canoes or boats. My apologies to the kayakers.
To manage the crowds the parks service employs a reservation system and controls the number of paddlers who start the circuit on any day. The day we departed, for example, 23 paddlers left in the morning and 23 in the afternoon. The “metering” system seemed effective and we didn’t encounter any congestion on the trip.
While staunch traditionalists might choose to carry their canoes on their shoulders for the seven miles of portages, most visitors employ wheeled carts that strap under the boats and roll over the portages. To minimize damage to the trails a 60 pound gear weight limit is imposed and all boat gear is weighed before departure by park personnel. There are a few exceptions to the weight rule but generally what doesn’t go in the boats must be carried on the paddler’s backs.

Planning the trip
During the dark days of winter Dee and Sally hosted Jerry and Linda and Kathy and I for a planning dinner. Sally decorated the table with a canoe/camping theme and even found some appropriate “Canoe” wine. All of us had some canoe experience but only Dee had an impressive canoeing resume. He had actually paddled the Bowron Circuit with his son three decades previous. He became our titular leader and, from the start, insured everything went well. He jumped on his assignment.
·       He secured a departure date with Bowron Lake Parks.
·       He reserved a Becker’s Lodge cabin for the day before we departed and the evening we returned.
·       He researched and then reserved three Clipper "Tripper" canoes with carrying carts through Becker's Lodge.
·       He even prepared a “trip binder” with maps and information for each couple.
A registered travel agent could not have done better.
As the August departure day approached the workload was divided with the men handling the hardware—tents, stoves, axes and other “gear”—and the women organizing the food.
Decisions were made that we would question the first two days of the trip. Weight was sacrificed for comfort and cuisine. When the hardware was assembled we had three comfortable tents, big tarps, a solid Coleman stove and two smaller ones, fuel for each, good chairs for camp seating and other gear that, a pound at a time, began to add up.
The ladies did as well with the food and drink. Though they went through it all, tossing boxes and containers in favor of storage bags, in the end we departed with 20 pounds of food and drink per person or 120 pounds total.
Finally departure day arrived, food and gear was loaded and we headed north. Like good Seattle area residents the three parties in three vehicles met at a Starbucks for one last coffee drink before heading for the border. Carpooling was considered but rejected since no one had a car large enough for even four people and gear and, in the end, each couple had different plans for their return trip.
No matter how you measure the distance, it’s about a 12 hour drive from Seattle to Bowron Lake, assuming a decent border crossing. To make the day more pleasant Linda suggested, and we all agreed, that we stay overnight in One Hundred Mile House, a town about eight hours from Seattle and four from the lake. (Yes, there is a town by that name which dates back to a 19th century gold rush which sent miners through the area on their way north.) The friendly little town served its purpose and provided me with a chance to introduce my travel companions to the Canadian icon, Tim Horton’s Donuts.
Steve, Jerry, Linda, Sally and Dee at the  Betty Wendle cabin.
Bowron Lake from the Betty Wendle cabin.
The following day we arrived at Becker’s Lodge, on the shores of the lake and moved into the Betty Wendle House, one of the rental cabins. The trip was about to begin.

Departure Day and the Portages from Hell
After settling into the cabin each couple began sorting and piling up their gear. The piles were enormous and frightening. Kathy and I had been concerned about the total weight of our “kit” and, when we were together, we found the other couples had the same fears. They were justified! But we couldn’t find much to toss out.
In the end, we each trimmed a little and made a few sacrifices. But it was clear we could not avoid one simple fact. We had too much stuff for a single portage. Using a suitcase scale we identified the 60 pounds that could go in each of the canoes and meet the park requirements. Then we packed six backpacks with as much as they would hold or, in some cases, as much as we could carry. There was still gear left over.
Luckily, or not I suppose, Dee had brought two extra packs and Jerry one. The solution was clear, but not pleasant. The men would have to double portage until we had reduced the food load to a tolerable level. That meant we would stash three extra packs in a bear cache at the start of each portage. Then we would each carry a pack as we pushed and pulled the canoes to the next lake. There we would dump our gear and send the men back for the three extra packs. The math was simple. For the men, a 1.5 mile portage would now be a 4.5 mile portage—over, back and over again.
A typical bear cache on the circuit.
Departure day dawned sunny and warm. Since we were officially scheduled for an afternoon departure with our canoes, a plan was concocted to speed our first portage. Before our orientation the men would take the extra packs to the other end of the first portage and store them in a bear cache. That would save the time involved in an over and back trip that afternoon. Off we went.
A word about bear caches: We were warned repeatedly to be on the lookout for bears and to use the bear caches for food storage. In the “old” days a bear cache would consist of a platform in a tree for food storage or some means to hang food out of a bears reach. Now there are metal bear caches at all the campsites and at both ends of the portages. They are essentially 4 foot metal cubes with “bear proof” doors. We made use of them at all the campsites. We found they were also good for mice, chipmunks and ravens which are all very curious and clever when it comes to food theft. One sly chipmunk nibbled into the breakfast raisins in the middle of the day while we were sitting around camp.
Ready for the first portage. Note, the trail is ascending!

Linda and Jerry on the trail.
Upon our return we loaded up the rest of the gear in Dee’s truck and deposited it at the trailhead by the park scales. Returning to Becker’s we picked up the canoes and were driven to join our gear. The weigh-in was tense. The ranger’s scale seemed a bit off and it looked as if our camp chairs or some other vital piece of gear would have to be left but the ranger was generous and allowed us to be a pound or two over the max. I guess she just wanted to insure our “old” group was comfortable so they didn’t have to come out and rescue us later in the week.
Boats loaded and wheeled carts mounted we parked the canoes at the trailhead and joined our fellow afternoon departures for our orientation video and briefing. Then, duly frightened about bears and rapids, we attacked our first portage.
Or, should I say, it attacked us. I had envisioned pine needle covered paths meandering through the woods from lake to lake. Instead we encountered roots, rocks and ruts that tossed the canoes up and down and over and back. Pulling the canoes, up and down hills was like leading an unbroken horse. If you pulled left it yanked right. If you stood too close, the canoe would bang you in the hip. The “pusher,” in back, didn’t fare much better and had to be on constant lookout for roots and rocks that they couldn’t see but that could cause a tumble.
Ready to begin the first paddle

          After 1.5 miles on the portage, Kibbee Lake was a welcome sight. But, after a short paddle we were off again on portage #2, to Indianpoint Lake. This portage, though a bit shorter, seemed more rugged than the first. Along the way we passed a party with a handmade, wooden kayak in their group. The bumpy path and, perhaps overloading, had broken the back of the kayak. We helped carry some of their gear to the end of the portage and gave thanks that we were not in that group. (The kayak owner actually had a repair kit along and was hard at work reinforcing the damaged boat when we paddled off into Indianpoint Lake. We never saw them again.)
The relief at reaching the portage end was short lived. We still had to return to the start and recover the three extra backpacks that we’d left in the bear cache at the start of portage #2. While the roundtrip was about 2.5 miles, at least we didn’t have to wrestle a bucking canoe on the way back. We were grateful for that.
Policing The Portage: I’ve been asked, why we didn’t just sneak the extra backpacks into the canoes as soon as we left the park office. I confess, we were tempted. Later in the trip, when the food supply had been reduced in weight, we did push the canoe load limit a bit and managed to avoid the double portage on the last few days. But we played by the rules for several reasons.
1. We were advised that rangers could spot check the boats for loading and impose fines for weight violations. As it turned out we didn’t see a ranger during our trip.
            2. The weight rules were there to protect the trails from overuse and abuse. The trails were bad enough as they were and we didn’t see a reason to make them any worse.
            3. There was a risk of damaging a canoe or the wheeled carts if the boats were too heavy. We didn’t need that complication.
The end of portage #2 with a schnapps glow.
The ladies seemed happy to see us return with the extra packs. Later it was rumored that some of their happiness was induced by a bottle of peach schnapps they’d discovered while we were schlepping over the portage.

Linda and Jerry
          By now it was well past a respectable dinner time so we launched onto Indianpoint Lake in search of a campsite. Sites 4 and 5 were occupied, though one group told us to come back if we became desperate. But site 6, a large site, was available and soon we were lugging gear from the beach to establish our first camp on the Bowron Circuit.
The next day presented us with portage #3. At just one mile it was the shortest of the first three but made up for its length by offering more and bigger bumps. Launching into 24 mile long Isaac Lake meant we’d put the worst of the portages (we thought) behind us and were now in the biggest lake of the circuit. We rewarded ourselves with a short paddle and early stop at camp #12.
After setting up camp Mother Nature showed us what she could do to the paddling conditions with a little southwest wind. In just a few minutes the wind filled in across what had been a glassy calm lake and covered the surface with whitecaps and small rollers. We were pleased to be spectators, sitting on the shore. It also confirmed Dee’s previous suggestion that we paddle near the shore so we could take out quickly if conditions changed unexpectedly.

The Changing Scene

We spent three lazy nights on Isaac Lake. Following the night at camp 12 we moved down to camp 21a and then camp 25.
Cocktail hour at camp 12

The beach at 21a was a mucky sand, covered with lots of woody debris and the campsite itself felt damp. We expected bugs but didn’t experience an unusual flying onslaught. A short walk took us to a gravelly point that was much better for swimming and generally cooling off.
Ready for the night time rain at camp 25
Camp 25 offered an excellent beach and camp area. A short walk behind the camp revealed a classic old, moss covered pit toilet that was more for picture taking than for use. It did remind us of how advanced the facilities were compared to the “olden days.”
Our time on a clear mountain lake, surrounded by high peaks, reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, was ending and we were about to face new conditions—rain, rivers and murky waters.
We left camp 25 in a lazy drizzle, left over from overnight storms. A short paddle brought us to the end of Isaac Lake and the start of the Isaac River. There we faced two choices.
1.     Plunge down a short stretch of challenging white water and then portage around the unnavigable “Cascades” or
2.     Skip the “plunge” and portage around both the white water and the “Cascades.”
Portage around the Cascades.
In either case, the first portage would be followed by a short paddle on the river and then a portage around the Isaac River Falls.
You could say we whimped out. While we might have handled the initial white water, none of
Lunch and a pause to fish before entering the Isaac River.
 us thought the risk was worth the effort so we started our portage at the head of the river. Our start was delayed a short time by the presence of a relatively new shelter, complete with a toasty wood stove, stoked by two bedraggled looking guys who had camped nearby, waiting for better weather. After a brief warm up and before we grew too comfortable we loaded up and began portage #4.
The portage was slightly less abusive than the previous three but the predominately downhill pitch was made slippery by the rain. We spotted our first and only moose grazing along the river during this portage. Having lightened our food packs over the past four days of eating we were able to eliminate the double portage by overloading our backpacks and fudging a little on the 60# weight limit in the canoes.
After a riverbank snack we removed the wheels for a short run on the river to the next portage. During this short passage we were surprised to find an unanticipated white water drop in the river that looked very formidable from the seats of the canoes. Before dropping into the cascade we eddied out of the current and the guys scouted ahead.
What looked ominous from upriver proved to be a short drop to calmer waters. Our guide, Dee, made the ride look easy and he was quickly followed by the other two boats without incident.
Struggling down the trail near Isaac Falls.
Large yellow signs identified the end of the river run and the start of the lower portage and warned of the dangers of going too far. Thirty foot high Isaacs Falls awaited any unwary paddler who ignored the signs and survived the extensive log jams that crowded the river. This portage introduced a new challenge, steep descents. Near the end of the portage the trail became steep and exceedingly difficult. Putting two “brake” people on the rear and one in front of the canoes, all the boats and crews were brought down safely but not without a bit of sweating, groaning and grumbling.
 After a brief stop at the McLeary Lake trapper cabin (camp 31) we headed for our first encounter with the Cariboo River. As the parks guide says: “Caution. Navigating the silt-laden waters of the Cariboo River requires care and attention. Canoeists must remain alert for sweepers, deadheads and other hazards at all times.”
Dee had warned us that the Cariboo would get our attention quickly. Suddenly, there it was, swirling in from our left and sweeping the canoes toward a rock wall on the right bank. We could not out-paddle it. With some relief I noted that Dee’s lead boat had been thrust broadside toward the wall before being shot safely downriver. Clearly the river was making a point. The following boats received similar treatment.
Adding to the eerie atmosphere were wispy low clouds that eddied across the river reducing and then restoring visibility as we passed. At times Dee’s lead boat disappeared into the clouds and then returned as a ghost-like apparition in the distance.
The Cariboo was wide, maybe 40 yards, and seemed fast, maybe 5 miles per hour. There was no “white” water, just a lot of fast moving milky water. Heeding the Parks Canada cautions, we focused on spotting sweepers (fallen trees sticking out in the water to catch unwary boats) and deadheads (logs and rocks just below the surface intent on tipping us into the murky water.)
The need for vigilance was reinforced when we passed the marooned wreck of a large yellow canoe which had been destroyed when caught on a sweeper a few weeks before.
As I paddled I wondered what any of us could do to assist a canoe in distress since the current would send us down river before we could render aid. I felt a modest degree of comfort when we saw an emergency phone located on the river bank as the river slowed and spread into Lanezi Lake.
Excess Caution? Experienced paddlers might read this description and conclude the author is a whimp on the water. The author replies: guilty as charged! The author prefers to paddle when in control and felt very out of control on the river. Exhilarating? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Preferred mode of travel? No.
It was dinner time when we reached Lanezi Lake. While we preferred to camp alone we headed to camp 34, lured by the prospect of a warm shelter where we could dry some of our wet clothing. After days of camping alone, the beach looked like Coney Island on a holiday with boats and people scattered around. A group camp, 33, is located on the east shore of Turner Creek and camp 34 is on the west. The creek is actually formidable, effectively separating the two camps. Once we settled in we discovered there were only two parties staying in the camp 34, one of 7 people and the other of 5,
There was room in the toasty shelter for all to eat and hooks for wet clothing. What the camp lacked in privacy it made up for in warmth.

Heading for Bowron Lake Again
The next morning we were greeted with the promise of better weather as we broke camp and packed the boats. I think the “old folks” in our group impressed the younger folks in the other groups with our packing efficiency and speedy departure. (They were also impressed with the blueberry muffins I made on our “Outback Oven.”)
After the blue skies, clear water and sheer beauty of Isaac Lake the gray skies and murky water of Lanezi Lake were a disappointment. In fairness, we may not have seen it at its best.
After a moderate paddle we reached the end of Lanezi and once again entered a stretch of the Cariboo River, wider and slower than the previous section. Exiting the river into Sandy Lake we spotted a beautiful stretch of sun drenched, sandy beach just a brief paddle away. Though it was short of noon we decided to claim the sandy expanse and soon the beach of camp 38 was covered with damp sleeping bags and assorted other gear that would benefit from a good dose of sunshine.
Drying out at camp 38.

Camp 38: Note the furniture typical of the campsites.
My father-in-law’s 1977 trip notes suggest he camped on the same “nice sunny beach.”
Carrying the silt from the Cariboo River both Lanezi and Sandy Lakes were clouded enough to play havoc with my new gravity water filter. Fortunately camp 38 was a 50 yard walk from a clear stream which provided better water for filtering and for our Sun Showers. Once the shower water was warm several of us enjoyed forest showers—50 meters from the shore per park regulations.
Camp 38 was so attractive that it lured two more groups of six and two people to its sandy shore. Spread out along the beach the groups could coexist with no sense of crowding.
The next morning, with dry gear, except for the dew soaked tents, we packed the canoes and left our sandy oasis. The days schedule included a downstream paddle, two upstream paddles and three portages.
Leaving Sandy Lake we once again found ourselves on a slow meandering section of the Cariboo River. The skies and water were gray and the river banks green and low. We expected to spot moose at every turn but none appeared. After a time the river made a sharp left turn and we were faced with a choice—head to the Babcock portage or continue on the Cariboo about ¾ of a mile downstream and slip into Unna Lake.
Dee remembered Unna Lake from his previous trip and encouraged us to go on. We succumbed to his wise counsel and soon slipped through a reed lined channel into Unna Lake and its small sister lake, Rum. The water seemed warmer than previous lakes and, though connected to the Cariboo by the short passage, the water was clear, not murky.
A trail to the 75 foot high Cariboo Falls awaited us at the south end of Unna so we beached the boats, left Kathy to watch for bears and headed for the falls. After climbing a steep path from the water edge the trail meandered through a disease ravaged forest that was pretty in its own way. The good thing about the lack of tree cover was the abundance of wild blueberries growing on the forest floor. I thought we might find bears enjoying the tasty berries but, once again, no wildlife.
A word about bears: We didn’t see any but that doesn’t mean they were not there. Bear sightings are common in the park and the frequency varies with the season. We did see one campsite with a warning sign saying “Warning: Nuisance Bear in Area.” We went to the next available campsite
Cariboo Falls was most impressive. The slow moving, meandering river we had just paddled turned into a roaring, foaming canoe crusher and plunged down the canyon. When we returned to the canoes, exited Unna Lake and began paddling back up the Cariboo River the vision of the cascading, angry water, just a mile downstream, was vivid. I’m sure I dug deeper and stroked harder as a result and the calm entrance to lazy Babcock Creek was most welcome.
As we unloaded the canoes for the first of three short portages the rain, which had threatened all day, began to fall. The portages, up to Babcock Lake, Babcock Lake to Skoi Lake and Skoi Lake to Spectacle Lake, were short and benign compared to the first day portages. Sections were actually covered with pine needles! But each still followed the same pattern. Unload the boats, raise them up to strap on the wheeled cart, hoist on the backpacks, traverse the portage and then reverse the process and paddle off. Benevolently the last portage was so short you could almost see the end from the beginning.
Drying and relaxing at camp 45.
At the end of the last portage Camp 44 beckoned. Though Don Brown’s 1977 notes suggested this was “a good camp for sunsets” we elected to gamble and press on. We were glad we did.
Though it was late in the day we were delighted to see camp 45, with its “very nice sandy beach” vacant and waiting for our arrival. As a welcome, the rain stopped and we were able to set up camp and rig our kitchen area tarp without the drizzle. The rain never returned.

View from the "facility," camp 45.
The campsite encouraged exercise since the pit toilet was located about 75 yards away on a small knoll. Apparently the builders needed high ground to get above the water table and the nearby knoll was the only choice. The “facility” was reached via a beach front trail that crossed three wooden footbridges before climbing the knoll. Trail users were rewarded with a brand new facility and wonderful view down the lake.
Before we began the circuit Dee had teased us with the allure of a two night stay in one campground if we made good time. This was our last opportunity. We could stay two nights at camp 45 and have a 13 mile paddle the last day or we could split the distance and move further north for our last night on the circuit. Sitting on our sunny, sandy beach the next morning the vote wasn’t even close. We stayed!
Our layover day was consumed by reading, fishing and exploring the waters near our camp.
Our final morning was like the previous eight; fold, stuff, pack and carry. We now approached the work with a practiced hand and 115 less pounds of food and drink.
The last days paddle offered an ever changing scene which is the hallmark of the southwest side of the circuit. The water was shallow in places and much of our route was through what we envisioned as “moose country.” Alas, once again, no moose. The Bowron River offered a decent current through a low grassy delta area before pushing us into the Bowron Lake for the last leg of our journey.
Like horses returning to their familiar stable, we churned up the four mile lake against a moderate headwind with the red metal roofs of Becker’s Lodge beckoning in the distance.
I viewed the “Becker's Landing, Welcome Back” sign on the beach with mixed emotion. It was nice to be back and the prospect of a warm shower alluring but, on the other hand, the adventure with good friends was over, not likely to be repeated.
The Aftermath
We cleaned and turned our canoes over to the lodge staff, retrieved our cars and made our way back to our starting point, the Betty Wendle cabin.
As is often the case on a camping trip, there were campfire times when we would discuss what we most wanted to eat or drink upon our return. For food the choices varied. But the drink of choice was beer. We traipsed to the lodge office to settle accounts and find if he sold beer.
The lodge owner was a character, in a good way, with a flippant sense of humor. Since our group could give as well as he gave, we got along with him and were not offended by some of his comments. (A check of his Trip Advisor reviews will reveal that some guests didn’t appreciate his sense of humor.) But this time he went over the top.
“Oh yes,” he replied to our beer inquiry. “We have good German and Czech beer down at the store. Ice cold…the best.”
Dee, Jerry and I headed for the store, run by his wife, with visions of cold beer dancing in our heads.
“We’re here for beer,” we announced upon arrival.
“Oh, we have no beer,” was her response. “I don’t know where you can get beer around here. Maybe in Wells (16 miles away via a dirt road.)”
The owner had duped us, the rascal. Parched we mumbled our way back to the cabin to pass on the bad news and plot revenge.
Warm showers awaited and revenge was quickly forgotten.
Later, gathered around the big dinner table in the Betty Wendle cabin we all agreed, it had been a wonderful, memory filled eight nights on the circuit. We had survived, none-the-worse for wear. The next day we would go different directions forever bonded by the memory of those days and nights, far from the noise and news of the big cities. It had been hard work, at times, but none of us would trade a moment of the time.
Thanks to Don Brown for inspiring us and to Dee for leading us into the great Canadian wilderness.
Postscript and Reflections
Home from the trip I had time to reflect on our time on the Bowron Circuit and a number of thoughtlets crossed my mind. Here they are, in no particular order.

Silence: The circuit is free from outside noises. When calm you can hear voices down or across the lake. The forest is silent. There are no jet noises or contrails marring the sky. The silence is beautiful and rare. Calling loons was the primary lake sound. They are a very impressive and beautiful bird.
The leader, Dee and Sally.

Linda and Jerry

Jerry, Dee and Steve

The Group: The six travelers were very compatible. Everyone settled into roles and assumed responsibilities for the success of the trip. In addition to flawless planning, Dee was always thinking a few days ahead—where we should be by a certain day, what camps might be best and so on. He was great at kitchen “design” as we arranged the odds and ends of benches, logs and flat spaces into a usable form before doing our best to cover the area with one of his jumbo tarps. Kathy had packed the food bags and always found what was needed for each meal. Kathy, Linda and Sally all shared parts of the cooking assignment with kibitzing and help from their spouses. Many hands were involved with the meal cleanup. Mornings Linda would unlimber her battery powered foamer to deliver impressive lattes made with powdered milk and coffee. Everyone was involved “making” water but, with my new gravity water filter, I become the water boy until the murky Cariboo waters plugged it up. Then Dee applied his “old” filter to the water task. Jerry was the wood gatherer and fire starter. Everyone was ready to eat or depart on time. We were never waiting for anyone. All in all, a good group of travelers.
The ladies were paddling animals. They’d sit in the front of the boats and paddle away without complaint. Everyone seemed content with their paddle partner as they should be since all have been married for nearly 50 years!
Electronics: We were disconnected. Cell phones were left in the cars. (There is no cell service anyway!) A few Kindles made the trip but they had no connection to the outside world. We had no idea what is happening in the news but assumed the conflicts in the world would continue with or without our connection.
The Weight: The canoes and packs were heavy but we sure enjoyed the things we brought. The Coleman Stove was wonderful for cooking. The camp chairs were most comfortable in the evenings. The food and drink, all 120# of it, resulted in some fabulous meals. We paid a price for all the gear at the portage but the rewards were significant.
However, Two Suggestions for an Enhanced Portage Experience:
                        1. Don’t take so much stuff and/or
                        2. Take a scout troop along to portage your gear.
Kathy preparing to board.
Wildlife: Kathy and I are salt water sea kayak veterans, used to skies, beaches and waters teaming with wildlife. For us, the Bowron Circuit was strangely void of wildlife. We had our one moose. Yea. No bears were sighted which, in many respects was a good thing. I’m not fond of bears. But, other than some loons, kingfishers and seagulls we didn’t see much. Our fishermen came up empty. Whether that was from a lack of fish or some other cause is open to debate.
Barter on the Circuit: As we sorted through gear, prior to the start of the paddle, there was a question as to whether we really needed 12 rolls of toilet tissue. While it was light, it was bulky. Dee drew upon his previous trip experience and recommended we take all the rolls so we had something to “barter” if necessary. Running low on stove fuel, on his previous trip, he had bartered TP for fuel to the benefit of both parties. We took all 12 rolls.
Questions and Answers We’ve Heard from Others Considering a Trip on the Circuit
Q: When is the best time to go for crowds, weather and bugs:
Dee makes do after leaving tripod home to save weight.
A: When planning the trip I voted for September. I assumed the crowds would be smaller, weather acceptable and bugs less of an issue. Dee, our leader, promoted the August date so he would not miss any fall football games—he is a rabid fan. August turned out to be just fine.
As for the crowds, the parks metering system mitigates the impact of the crowds by spreading paddlers out across the park. We never felt “crowded” except the one rainy day we opted to stay where there was a new shelter that offered warmth and a dry place to eat. We shared the area with two groups of five and seven, respectively. It wasn’t a preferred arrangement, crowd wise, but it worked just fine.
From what we’ve been told, you can get rain any time of the year and you’d best prepare for it. It was interesting to note that, in the instructional video we viewed before leaving the park office, it was wet or raining in every scene. While we had two rainy days and two very rainy nights (think fire hose turned on the tent type rain) sunny days predominated. The first few days the temperatures were in the 80’s F and most other dates in the 60’s or 70’s. However, the last morning in camp the air had a decided chill to it and the morning we left Becker’s, August 20th, the car thermometer registered 37 degrees. Bowron Lake is at 3000 feet so fall temperatures could be cool.
We prepared for a swarm of mountain bugs with long sleeves, bug spray and head nets. At our orientation park personnel told us bugs were not an issue at that time and they proved to be correct. We all returned with a bite or two but nothing like we had anticipated. Since moisture, temperatures and other factors impact the bug populations our experience is no guarantee. But I would suspect that later in the season, when it’s cooler, the bugs would be less of a threat.
Q: Did you pack a lot of freeze dried foods?
A: No, but perhaps we should have. Here is a copy of the meal plan which was the basis for the food shopping. In total, our food and drink load started out at 120 pounds. We paid a price at the portages for our culinary extravagance.
            Oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts, granola, chocolate chips, milk
            Pancakes with butter and syrup
            Coffee with foamed powdered milk, mocha/cocoa
            Muffins ala Steve
Morning & afternoon snacks: Trail mix, Dried fruit, Power bars, Jerky, Thermos’ with cocoa or soup
            Peanut butter & jam/honey in sandwich thins or tortillas
            Tuna sandwiches/tortillas with mustard, apples, celery
            Dried fruit, Salami on crackers, Cheese, Soups
Happy hour:             Vino, crackers & cheese, nuts
1)       Boboli’s with sauce & pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, cheeses
2)       Tortellini with pesto/marinara sauce with cheese with peppers.
3)       Red rice and beans with cheese, seasonings in tortillas
4)       Couscous with veggies, salmon and spices
5)       Ramen with chicken, veggies, and spices
6)       Mac’n cheese with Spam
7)       Tuna Helper with pasta or Rice-a-Roni
            8) Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, stuffing, potatoes with veggies and gravy
Sweets for lunch & dinner & whenever: Chocolate, Puddings, S’Mores 
Q: What sort of footwear did you take?
A: I took hiking shoes for the portages, Teva/Keen style sandals for the canoes and Croc slip-on sandals for around the camp.
The hiking shoes worked well. A good shoe with support is a must for the portages to reduce the risk of slip or injury.
The Teva/Keen style sandals were an issue for everyone. Sand and gravel would get under the straps and cause “raw” spots. I gave up on them after a few days and switched to the Crocs for both canoeing and the camp site.
The Crocs were great—easy on and off and, since they are rubber, there is a chance they will actually dry. The web straps on the Teva’s took a long time to dry.
We all paddled with wet feet because you couldn’t launch without getting your feet wet. That was fine for our warm August days. During cooler weather rubber boots and dry feet might have been nice but no one in our group took boots nor seemed to regret not having them.
Q: What if all the camps were full?
A: The park map indicates how many “tent sites” there are at each camp. The tent sites were typically square pads surrounded by a log barrier. We found several sites where there simply wasn’t a flat place to set up a tent except for the “official pads.” But in most cases you could squeeze in another tent or two in even the smallest camps.
As a rule, if someone occupied a camp before us, we would move on to the next site. However, if it had been late in the day, we would have had no qualms about going ashore and seeing if we could find a place to set up.
In one instance a father and son arrived at our camp as darkness settled in. He reported that the occupants of a previous camp site had refused to let them share the camp. We welcomed them and shared our s’mores with the son.
Q: Do you have to be in super condition?
A: No, but being in fair condition helps. As indicated, the portages were a lot of work. Some level of conditioning would ease the pain.
None of us had done extensive hiking or paddling to prepare for the trip. On a scale one to ten, with one being a couch potato and ten a tri-athlete, we were likely all five plus. There were a few achy muscles from time to time but everyone hung in, popped a few Advil and persevered. 
Q: What did you do with your trash?
A: We carried it with us. There is no place to leave trash along the way. We were able to burn paper products and would toss other items in the fire to burn off the food residue. But, before we left camp, we would fish the foil and cans out of the fire pit and bag them.
Our food shopping crew did a good job selecting packaging that was easy to handle and dispose of—tuna in foil pouches as opposed to cans, for example.

The Old Style Loo
A New Style Loo
The View from the Newest Loo, Camp 45