Big Smoky multiday 2009

In mid September 2009 Jean from Grand Cache, Lothar from Smithers, Mark from Golden, and I (Jason from Terrace) did a 5 day self support kayak trip on the Big Smoky River.  Our team had done four other trips together in Northwest BC over the years.  These include, the headwaters of the Nass, Sustut into the Skeena, Muckaboo into the Nass, and Bell Irving into the Nass.  The trips were all super fun with laughs had by all.  This time however we decided it was time to do a trip in Jean’s neck of the woods.  Jean a long time resident of Grand Cache  had dreamt about doing the trip for years.  As a beginner kayaker in 1986 Jean met a group of canoeiests in Grand Cache that had just finished the Big Smoky.  The group was nice enough to give Jean a copy of their trip report which sat in Jean’s desk for the next 20 plus years waiting for the right time and crew to take on the adventure.  Jean sent us each a copy and we were all super stoked about the trip. The goal was to eat as many mokies on the smoky as possible!  The trip would start with a heli from the gravel pit near the Upper Fraser kayak run to the border of Mount Robsin BC Provincial Park and Jasper National Park.  We would then walk a few minutes over the continental divide into Jasper National Park and our put in Adolphus Lake.  Out of Adolphus Lake flows the first trickle of water that is the Big Smoky River.   The goal was to kayak, drag and portage almost due north to Grand Cache, Alberta a distance of 112 KM. 

The group met in the late afternoon at the service station at the base of Mount Robson.  The plan was a warm up run on the Upper Fraser that evening.  The rest of the crew had done it many times but it was my first time on it so I was very excited to paddle it after all I had seen and heard about it.  The level was an easy low level so we were able to read and run it all quickly.  We all portaged Overlander falls and continued on with the short lower section to the campground.  We all flipped at Terminator and Jean and Mark had a nice tea party in the recirculating left eddy below Terminator but we all came out smiling.  That night we camped and loaded ourselves with carbohydrates and protein(beer and mokys) to ready for the trip. 

The next morning we met our heli at the gravel pit and prepared for flight.  The flight cost was extremely reasonable at just over $200 per person.  Talk to Paulette at Yellowhead Helicopter for the lowdown.  For this price the heli slung our boats on the first trip and took our group of four on the second trip.  If you like tremendous amounts of exercise another option is to hike the trail with your boats up the Robson river, past Kinney and Berg Lakes, past numerous waterfalls and Mt. Robson itself.  The hike in option would be 22 Km with over 750 meters in elevation gain and probably take two to three days.  It would be spectacular for sure but we chose the chopper.  The chopper ride in was incredibaly scenic and worth every penny.  In a matter of minutes we were dropped off and the heli was gone, time to start the mission.  We walked a few minutes and crossed the continental divide, also the park boundary between BCs Mt Robsin Provincial Park and Jasper National Park.  For those that don’t know every river west of the continental divide flows to the Pacific and everything east of the continental divide flows to the Arctic or Atlantic Ocean.  This is the first river I have paddled that eventually finishes in the Arctic Ocean. 

jason crossing the divide, jean shortly behind with camera

 

dragging kayak to Adolphus Lake
We walked about 400 meters or so to get to our starting point Adolphus Lake.  Here we would paddle across the lake to the start of the Big Smoky river.
Jason and Mark paddling across Adolphus Lake
The start of the Big Smoky was of course not very big at all and we spent the first half of the day walking in this small volume creek in a beutiful setting.
Mark taking it all in
Don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way

 A couple of hours in we portaged our first drop which was a 30 foot tight major small volume waterfall.  As with all of the portaging we did on this trip there was a pack trail to help us get around.  Very conveniant and something I’m not used to living in Northwest BC.  In the afternoon a stream from Coleman Glacier joined the Smoky and we were finally able to paddle in our boats.  Five KMs or so of paddling in very flat braided river and we came to a small canyon.  The entrance unfortunately had some wood but we put in below paddled some boogy water finishing with a nice little boofing ledge. 

Jason boofing in the first runnable canyon

Shortly after this canyon we set up camp for the night.  Wow, what a camp with awesome views and a nice sunset. 

first camp l to r Mark, Jean, Jason
Jason and Mark setting off from camp start of Day 2

Day two, in the  late morning we came across a nice boulder garden section that kind of reminded me of Kitnawakwa back home.  It was short but fun.  At around noon we came across the next canyon.  It was between a kilometer or two long.  The entrance falls was tight but doable, unfortanately just downstream there was a very nasty slot that hammered off the right wall then had most of the water pushed below the huge slab shelf rock on the left.  Lothar was thinking it would go but upon a closer look realized the consequences were to much for missing this very fine line.  As with what we found with many of the canyons on the run if you had to portage one rapid, often you had to portage many rapids to portage that one.  This was the case here and we portaged the top half of the canyon but finished the class 3 runout of the canyon. 

entrance falls of canyon

The next canyon we reached in midafternoon in had a walking bridge over the canyon.  The top drops looked great, ledgy and challenging but as the canyon narrowed each drop progessively got tighter and tighter, more and more powerful.  We decided to walk the whole whitewater section and put in the flatwater section of the canyon down below which was super tight and really cool.  Here is an assortment of pics of the canyon. 

 

    

  

 

 

Mark, holding my megarocker
Jean Jason finishing this tight canyon

After the canyon we took a break and snacked on some berries in the woods.  We continued with some braided flat water, after a few hours we could see we were dropping into another canyon.  As it was getting late we called it a day.  We set up camp and soon we had a powerful rain storm, the only one of our trip.  The next morning however we woke to blue skys and were ready for battle. 

ready for battle start of day 3

We started the day with a scout of the next canyon.  It was the usual recurring theme of the trip.  Most of the canyon was tight and slotty with lots of undercuts but runnable, unfortunately one section was just to tight undercut and risky for anyone to probe.  Because of this we had to portage the top 2\3s of the canyon as it was not possible to walk that one drop.  We put in after the crux and paddled the last class 3 runout of the canyon. 

entrance to first canyon day 3
first canyon day 3
first can day 3

After the canyon we were back in flat water.  Finally though, the flat water was not so braided and moving at a good clip.  The weather was warm and the scenary was awesome.  Loving it.  Shortly before lunch we could start to hear a deep roar.  We floated around a couple of more corners and the river dropped off the face of the earth. 

looking upstream of the big one
I wonder whats making the roar around the next corner?
roughly 50 feet high
I’ll go if you go Mark
awesome views upstream of the waterfall as well

 

power lunch stop

We continued on for another hour or so before our next horizon line.  Wow this one was a huge rapid, I think it was totally runnable but boy was it big.  Started out very spread out with different channels each with its one character.   River right was a powerful fast moving river punching holes and large waves.  The middle was a bony slide and the left had about 4 or 5 ledges in a row from 6 to 10 feet.  The river dropped and funneled for a couple of hundred feet or so into a massive volume 30 + foot sloping waterfall.  After the waterfall the river again dropped over a couple of smaller but powerful sticky looking ledges.  The 30+ foot waterfall looked like it was flushing especially on the left.  There was definitely a line boofing the ledges in the left channel, then melting the 30 footer before again boofing the bottom ledges but it was a way bigger rapid than I had ever run.  The high end video boaters of the world would have loved this one though. 

funnelling down
the 30 + foot monster crux
looking back upstream at the funnel
the last sticky ledges with the big 30 in the background

 

same rapid looking upstream but from in the eddy on river right

After this portage we put back in for some of the best whitewater of the trip.  Some friendly fast 3 + wavetrains with the occasional hole to avoid.  Unfortunately though we were shortly back to flatwater. 

In the late afternoon, early evening we reached the next and what we thought was the last canyon.  The entrance looked tough, class five but runnable.  Lothar liked the hole punch on the left.  I liked the steep slide on the right.  Mark and Jean liked that you could walk it and put in right below it.  We continued to scout the rest of the canyon on river left.  The large volume river continued to descend steeply through some more class four + rapids.  Everything again was locked in with no eddies and no portage, Mark and Jean were soon out.  Lothar and I were still contemplating.  We reached the end of the canyon, we were probably looking 150 feet down at the last rapid.  Again no eddies, fast lead in dropping over what looked like a big sticky ledge.  How big was the ledge, 15 feet we guessed best line was river left but we couldn’t see downstream, was it undercut on the left wall below it, not sure.  Lothar decided to many what ifs and was out.  I still wanted to run it.  We started back up to the top of the canyon, I lost my nerve along the way.  Pushing evening time, running the canyon solo in the middle of no where through powerful but shallow rapids to the end ledge which looked big and sticky.  I decided it wasn’t wise to run it.  After the portage on the right we reached the last ledge.  From river level we realized the ledge wasn’t sticky at all and wasn’t 15 feet but 8 feet.  Lothar said it best, we found our inner P**sy today!  Oh well next time.  

looking down at the entrance rapid of pussy canyon
arg we should have ran this!
Jean and Mark ready for the fun runout to the canyon.

Another great class three runout in an awesome canyon to finish a large calorie burning day three. 

another sweet camp spot for night 3

We woke relaxed and ready to chill for the last two days floats.  Looking at the trip report from the canoeist in the 80s we assumed that we had portaged and paddled all the canyons.  We set off day four at different times because of this.  I believe I left camp second or third and floated for about an hour when I heard the unmistakable roar of whitewater ahead.  I noticed other members of the crew were already out of their boats scouting.  It was a 25 or 30 foot very large volume waterfall.  As the waterfall was narrower there was way more power behind this falls than Overlander falls on the Fraser which we walked the day before our trip.  There were lines down it, melt on the left, boof in the middle a bony bump on the right but every line had a few challenges in either the lead in or the bottom and it was powerful!  Unfortunately again there was no way around it and downstream was another  powerful class 5 rapid with a very challenging eddie to get into before, to scout or walk the rapid.  We again decided to walk these two rapids in the upper canyon and run the lower class 3 runout of the canyon.  The portage proved to be the most difficult of the trip.  A trail to follow but a hot day and a fairly steep climb up and around this large canyon section.  We roped our boat down to the river after the 3 big drops.  Some pics of the last canyon. 

entry falls of last canyon big smoky

 

drop two last canyon
drop 2

We actually found that we could run the third class 5 drop if we wanted as we roped our boats down but it looked powerful and shallow, not my favorite combo so we put in just below it. 

drop 3 “p and s” powerful and shallow

The rest of the canyon was fun and pretty, the rest of the day was cruising to the confluence of the Jackpine River.  Jean and Lothar had great stories of their high water June descent of this gem years ago.  A wonderful flight in that might have been on the shady side of legal.  Awesome scenery before the river fell off a huge plateu dropping falls and slides one after another bigger and bigger with each drop.  They walked them all but on day two were treated to one of the best days of continues high water class four creeking they have ever had .  Creme da la Creme as they put it.  And there is a trail to get you to just that class four section.  I would love to do it in the future.   

Last camp at the Jackpine\\Big Smoky confluence
mouth of the Jackpine, Sept low water

Day 5 was a 37 KM flatwater float to Grand Cache.  A hot day and some nice Alberta like scenary a nice finish to the trip.  Pics of Day 5 

 

Jean, definitely the man of day five
beers and the takeout!

Jean arranged for his head chef(sorry forgot your name but thank you) to come pick us up and had cold beers ready as well, awesome!  That night we were treated by Jean, who owns the best hotel in Grand Cache and probably one of the best, well run hotels I’ve stayed at, the Grand Cache hotel.   Jean treated us to an awesome dinner, drinks and a great room for the night.  Thanks again Jean 

Many thanks to Lothar for sharing all his pics with me.  I’ll buy a camera one of these days. 

The big smoky was a great trip and I would do it again for sure.  The scenery was amazing and it was nice to paddle such a different river than I have experienced in the past.  Looking back though I think that going in early August would have been a better choice.  I think that much more whitewater could have been run much safer with more water.  At September flows the upper canyons were tight and slotty with undercuts everywhere.  At higher flows I think a lot of drops would open up and have less consequences in them.  Many of the lower larger canyon drops were very powerful and very shallow at this flow.  Higher flows would make them bigger still but safer as well.  Higher water would have made the first two days more enjoyable as well as some of the braided flat was really bumpy.  Be aware this trip has very little class 4 most of it was class 3 or class 5 and up. 

 Who would like this trip, anyone really who has basic class 3 river experience.  All of the canyons had trails so there was no worries for portaging.  Class 5+ paddlers looking to run the nar and get some great video would like it as well.  There was lots of big runnable stuff.  We had fun and accomplished our mission, eating many mokies on the smoky with good friends!

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