I was far from lost, I just didn’t know where the trail was…
The following is a blog post from Nikki Rekman. She is amazing. A week previous to this trip I put an ask out to see if anyone was interested in paddling from Hope to Vancouver. I had no boat or paddling gear and my requests to friends in the area were not working out. Nikki answered the call without knowing me and did a spectacular job forming a dream team canoe trip in short time. It was a wonderful gift to meet Nikki and the team the morning after my toughest and most uncomfortable day of skiing across BC. I'm forever grateful to her and everyone who joined for the lovely paddle to Vancouver. Here's Nikki!:
Mark and I had discussed doing a winter paddling trip down the Fraser River this year but we never expected the impetus would be a guy, we had never met, circumnavigating the planet without the use of a motor.
When life and the paddling community comes together - cool stuff happens and being a part of the Fraser River leg of the Routes of Change expedition was no exception.
On a dark, cool morning in late January a group of paddlers, who didn’t all know each other, headed out from Chilliwack, BC. We had arranged to meet, Canadian explorer and adventurer, Markus Pukonen at a pre-arranged put-in on the Fraser River.
What were we thinking?
We were thinking, “Let’s have an adventure!”
As we were loading up our Clipper canoes (thanks to Western Canoeing and Kayaking in Abbotsford, BC) we see a tall, blond haired guy with skis on his back, walking towards us and our piles of gear, it’s Markus and the adventure is about to begin. He had recently skied from Kelowna to Hope to begin the next leg of his expedition.
After the obligatory pre-trip photo, we were off.
Our first day we logged 57 km and were forced off the water due to crazy-winds, just downstream from Island 22 near Chilliwack, BC. The wind was so strong, that this would be the only time of the trip that SUP paddler, Jason Bennett would be found sitting down! We had hoped to make it past Chilliwack on day 1 but alas the weather had other plans for us.
Camp #1 ended up being very comfortable and we were able to enjoy our evening without wind and rain to spend a little time around the campfire. That was about the only dry spell on the trip.
Day two was also wet and cool but our crew was well-dressed and comfortable in our Kokatat gear (can’t imagine doing any kind of paddling trip at this time of year without a drysuit! Thanks, Kokatat). It was another long day, 56 km bringing us to Derby Reach Regional Park in Langley, BC. The Fraser River is tidal below Mission, BC so our current had slowed significantly, from the Hope to Chilliwack section of the river and so far the tides had been in our favour.
Camp #2 ended up being quite decadent given the wet weather as we hijacked the kitchen shelter and set up ALL of our gear, including our tents to have a dry night’s sleep. We were a bit nervous about getting kicked out of the park (it’s closed after dark) but we were tired, cold and hungry and we had arrived by canoe and SUP board – what were they going to do? Thankfully, the park ranger never showed up.
Our 3rd and final day was surprise, wet and cool but the change in scenery was different than what most of us were used to on trips and kept things interesting. The lower section of the Fraser River is very industrial and of course, goes right through New Westminster, North Richmond and South Vancouver. We saw a fair bit of commercial traffic and paddling underneath all the bridges was very cool.
There were a few things that struck me about this trip, #1 it was amazing how competent and cohesive our small group of 7 paddlers was given that we didn’t really know each other before the trip. We really left the trip having made new friends and #2 how unexplored the Fraser River is by paddlers and #3 and possibly the most important, how one person’s dream (Markus’ dream to circumnavigate the planet) brought a group of like-minded people together for an amazing paddling adventure! THANK YOU, Markus!
Our goal was to help get Marcus to Vancouver and after 44 km on day 3 the sun came out (seriously, that’s how it happened) and greeted us just below the Arthur Laing Bridge at Fraser River Park.
We did it and we had a blast being a part of the Routes of Change expedition.
If you have a chance to join Markus at some point in his journey, do it, you won’t regret it.
Gallery Photos above : Peter Brennan
Paddlers: Markus Pukonen, Jason Bennett, Christina Chowaniec, Nikki Rekman, Mark Klein, Peter Brennan and Laura Demers.
Special thanks to our shuttle drivers, Len Zilkowsky and Monica Demers, to the folks that met us en route with hot beverages and timbits – Lynne Smith and Marlin Bayes from Clipper Canoes and the friends and family that welcomed us at the end of our journey to help us pack up and get Markus on his way again, this time via bicycle. We could not have done it without you!
Gear generously supplied by Kokatat and Clipper Canoes.
What ski setup do you use to get from Canmore to Vancouver over several mountain ranges and across valleys that might not have snow?
I’ve heard it all now: alpine touring, BC cross country, telemark, long and narrow, wide and light, tech, NNN, 75mm, wax, waxless, skins, etc. and on and on.
Thankfully I’m in Canmore surrounded by a wealth of world class athletes and explorers to help me figure out what to do. Unfortunately, there are not many people who embark on this specific type of endurance trip so it has been very interesting trying to find the gear that makes the most sense for a journey of this kind.
On my planned route from Canmore to Vancouver there will be valleys without snow, so I will most likely need to walk long distances on the boots that I choose. This fact rules out an alpine touring (AT) setup as alpine boots are all made of rigid plastic (some are super light and comfy to walk in but for long distances and tons of abuse, it’s a bit risky). I considered going with a backcountry cross country setup with a NNN or SNS binding since the boots are light and comfortable to walk in, but then the bindings aren’t the most reliable option and walking on the pin in the front of the boot is just asking for problems.
Luckily for me, on this journey so far, I seem to have a way of stumbling upon the right people exactly when I need them. Soon after I arrived, I found myself at dinner with a few Olympian cross country skiers, their family, and friends. Between the group, we had some good discussion about which setup would be best for my purposes. When we came to no final agreement, they mentioned I should look up Don Gardner for his input, as he had skied across BC and to Disneyland (or something awesome like that).
A few days later I found myself having tea with the legend himself. Many folks may have never heard of Don Gardner or the epic trips he has taken. He tends to avoid the attention and publicity that most modern day explorers seek out in order to bring value to their sponsors or boost their egos. Among many other amazing things, Don has skied across BC twice. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to help me figure out what I was doing.
Unsurprisingly, Don is a big fan of travelling as light-weight as possible. He didn’t have to convince me; I was all ears. His stories about sleeping in tree wells and relying on fires to cook sounded like just the inspiration I needed. He showed me how to convert my skis into giant snowshoes if I were to find myself in a bind and unable to make forward progress (the trick involves two big sticks bowed in an arc with a couple of cross sticks and some duck tape). He even gave me a saw for harvesting fire wood.
I searched Canmore for the ideal setup based on Don’s recommendations, but what I was looking for was nowhere to be found in town. However, Switching Gears, the sports consignment store in town, was super helpful and even hooked me up with some socks. Valhalla Pure was also very kind and donated a much needed merino mid-layer.
In the end, good old trustworthy MEC came through with some much-needed expedition support and I was able to find my ideal setup: Rossignol BC 110 Positrack waxless skis with Voile 3-pin telemark bindings and Alpina Alaska leather boots.
The skis are wide enough to give me some float while breaking trail in the early season snow and are perfect for the rolling terrain that I will cross. I will also carry skins as the fish scales can’t handle everything. The bindings are proven and if the 3-pin fails or breaks I will still be able to ski with the cables. The boots are stiff enough and high enough to power a turn or two but are also comfy enough to walk long distances with. Or so I hope!
Thanks to everyone who helped me out and I’ll catch you on the other side.