For Wayne Emde of Vernon, B.C. and Jack Greenhalgh of Kelowna, a near disaster on the Cariboo River, part of the Bowron Lake circuit in central B.C. introduced them to the skill and generosity of members of the Glacier Raft Company last week.
“We had spent four wonderful days on the circuit under near perfect conditions,” said Emde. “We paddled Jack’s beautiful cedar-strip canoe under clear blue skies, over lake surfaces so calm they reflected the tree-covered hills. At night, we listened to the haunting cries of loons, the hoots of nearby owls and howls of distant wolves.”
On the fourth day, everything changed.
“We were paddling down the Cariboo River, which was running full and fast. We had been warned to stay close to the middle of the channel to avoid deadheads, sweepers and rocks. About a kilometre down, we spotted some turbulence in the middle of the river, but we thought we had enough room to get past it. Suddenly, we were pulled sideways. The canoe hit an underwater snag which tossed the bow upwards and sideways, dumping us and our gear into the freezing river.”
They managed to swim the canoe to a sandbar, but apart from their paddles and one dry bag, everything either sank or was swept downstream. An inspection of the canoe revealed a loonie-sized hole punched through the bottom near the front.
It was late in the day, and they knew they were the last paddlers on the river. They were wet, cold and shaken by the experience.
“We can’t stay here,” Greenhalgh said, so they stuffed a sock in the hole, loaded the one bag in the canoe and headed downstream, where they found another dry bag hung up on branches. Crossing the river, they worked their way back upstream and retrieved it. At least they both had sleeping bags and dry clothes.
Twice on their way down the river they were forced to find a place to land and dump the water from the canoe.
“We knew we had to make it to a group campsite on Lake Lanezi,” Emde said. “It was about five or six kilometres away, the sun was going down, the winds had picked up and the waves were getting higher. But, we could see some smoke from the campfires and we paddled for that.”
When they finally reached the campsite, with water sloshing in the bottom of the canoe, their luck changed.
The campsite was full, mostly with a group of white water rafters from Golden, members of the Glacier Raft Company who were on their annual end-of-season trip. “They took us in, warmed us by their fire. They fed us from their pot of chili and served us hot chocolate and wine. One member of the group, Isaac Kamink, had a fibreglass repair kit with him because he was using a canoe that he had already mended in three places, and he, Evan Pitman, Ryan and Ron Johannesen immediately set about repairing the hole. Another member of the raft crew, David James, moved into his daughter’s tent and gave us his for the night. Other paddlers in the area, including Antonia de Haan, a Vancouver based paddler whom we had met on the first day, brought us food.”
Once he was fed and warmed, Greenhalgh told the group that they had no way of thanking them except for some music. Sitting beside the fire, he took out his harmonica and began to play Summertime. One of the rafters looked up in amazement. “This is the first time that I’ve heard someone actually play one of those.” More tunes by the long-time harmonica player followed.
The next morning, after checking that the canoe patch was going to hold, they posed for a group photo and prepared to leave. Another member of the rafting crew, Mel Stolz, walked over and offered to say a prayer for the two revived paddlers, asking that a blanket of protection and comfort be spread over them and that they would journey safely to the end.
Antonia de Haan offered to partner with them the rest of the way. She offered her tent because she had a sleeping bag with built-in ribbing as well as a tarp. “I also always pack more food that I can use. Just in case,” she said. In addition, she filtered water and cooked for them for the next three days.
Three more days of paddling and portaging brought them back to the beginning of the 116-kilometre circuit.
“It was almost a disaster for us,”Emde said. “We lost most of our gear, but it turned into a wonderful example of the generosity of strangers. We owe so much to Ryan Johannesen and the members of the Glacier Raft Company for taking us in and helping us to continue our trip.”