Book Review — Dangerous River

February 5th, 2013

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I finished Dangerous River by R.M. Patterson less than half an hour ago. As I read the last twenty pages or so, I savoured every word, wishing it could be a little longer, but feeling the end approaching with every paragraph. Spring was descending on the Nahanni River, which would bring the story full circle. It will be difficult to summarize Patterson’s incredible 270-page adventure, but I will try.

R. M. Patterson weaves a beautiful tapestry as he tells the story of his two excursions into the Nahanni country of the Northwest Territories. He went the first time in the summer of 1927, as a man with minimal wilderness experience but more than enough heart. He knew little of the country, but as he travelled North, through Fort Smith and Fort Resolution, he heard more and more legends about the First Nations people of the area — he called them “Indians” — and tales of lost prospectors, unsolvable mysteries, hidden gold mines, betrayal and murder. In the book, he recounts these legends at length, which gives a great background for the adventures to come.

And what adventures he has! His journey starts in northern Alberta, but he picks it up as he poles upstream on the Liard River, headed for the mouth of the South Nahanni river and the Nahanni Butte. He meets up with Albert Faille (pronounced “fay-lee,” a legend unto himself), and ends up travelling with him. The two of them make it up the South Nahanni river to the Flat River confluence, where Faille and he part ways. Patterson continues, working ingenious and risky methods upstream against the current, until he gets all the way to the base of Virginia Falls where he plays in the ripples and eddies, in the mist. It is incredible how well he travels completely on his own, and he isn’t exactly spartan about it:

“I defy anybody to better that breakfast menu, or to bring to it a better appetite: porridge, sheep liver and bacon, bannock, butter, marmalade and tea, topped off with a bowl of raspberries and cream. And the porridge, let me explain, was no invalid dish, nor would it ever figure on the diet sheet of a slimming movie star: porridge as developed by me on the Nahanni consisted of a mixture of rolled oats and whole wheat, and into this was thrown a little salt, a large pat of butter and a handful of seedless raisins. The finished product was served in a large bowl: on top of the porridge a thin slice of cheese was spread, and the dish was topped with a pouring of dried milk to the consistency of cream and a liberal sprinkling of brown sugar. It will be easily understood that this porridge lays a good foundation for a good breakfast to follow.” (page 69)

As you can see, Patterson’s writing style is descriptive and poetic, and I enjoyed the early 1900′s tone of the book. He manages to capture the magnificence of the scenery and breath-taking moments. In reading Dangerous River, I was reminded what it means to be alive, to explore, and to thrive in those incredible moments you experience when you are alone in the wilderness with the sun beating down on you, with only the birds for company… when you round the curve in a river to see cliffs you’ve never seen before… when you see an amazing sunrise or sunset, and you’re the only human around to witness it…

“I was heading east into the sun which was climbing into the sky above the Lower Canyon: as it rose it touched with fire and lit, one by one, the cottonwoods along the river and the clumps and belts of golden aspen poplar on the benches and the mountain slopes, till the valley shone with the flaring magnificence of the trees. The air was clear and keen like a fine dry wine, and the deep blue shadows of early morning filled the clefts and canyons of the hills…” (page 149)

In May of the following year, 1928, he returns to the Nahanni country with his friend, Gordon Matthews and a team of dogs. Through record-breaking flood levels, they work a three-canoe rig with small kicker upstream, although on the very first day going up the Nahanni, the kicker falls to disaster (a submerged deadhead). They continue on manually, ferrying above churning rapids, tracking in waist-high water, and surviving more than a few close calls. The author, however, knows when to call it quits and wait for the river to fall a little, or when to change techniques or simply accept that the risk is too high and a portage is necessary. He and Gordon make it up to Deadmen Valley where they establish a camp, complete with cabin, cache, traplines and hunting grounds.

The story continues as autumn descends and they work through the transition to frozen winter. They travel extensively around the valley — by canoe until there is too much ice running, on foot and later using dog sleds. There are many stories within this book, but I will just mention one: in late December, Gordon makes a trip to Fort Simpson with the dogs. He has to turn back once due to open water, so back at the cabin, they rig up a nested sled to hold a canoe, which then holds the smaller dog sled, and he switches to the canoe where the open water is. Suddenly, a wind comes up, the dogs get scared and all go to one side so the canoe capsizes! Luckily, they are near shore and he manages to save most of his gear; all the dogs swim to shore and he lights a huge bonfire from driftwood nearby to fend off hypothermia. He eventually arrives in Fort Simpson but is held up there due to major blizzards. When he doesn’t return on time, Patterson goes looking for him on foot, and through countless trials — which I won’t go into… I don’t want to give away all the suspense of the book! — he walks all the way to Fort Simpson where they are happily reunited. They return to their cabin later and continue to thrive through the winter and spring in the beautiful Deadmen Valley.

I’m afraid this review simply cannot do justice to the journey that Patterson was on! Although it was full of struggles and trials, much of it was borne happily, it seemed, and only in the truly miserable circumstances did he complain. As in all our lives, times of ease and joy balanced out the challenges and hardships; he truly seemed to know how to thrive in any circumstance. Patterson’s experiences in Dangerous River cover it all — hunting, trapping, wilderness living, dogsledding, canoeing and survival. I highly recommend this book!

On Amazon.ca | On Amazon.com

Book Review – The Last River

January 25th, 2013

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I find it hard to blog about summer things when I’m caught in winter’s icy grip, however, I thought I might do a couple of book reviews. I recently read Todd Balf’s book The Last River — the Tragic Race for Shangri-La.

The book tells the tale of four men (plus their support team) bent on paddling, or at least seeing and portaging, the most remote parts of the Yarlung Tsangpo river in the remotest parts of Tibetan China. It is among the Himalayas, in that part of the world where the borders of India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet all meet. Like Everest, which is in the neighbourhood, the physical challenges the Tsangpo presents are beyond what one will find in other parts of the world: the steepest gorges in the world, the wildest rapids. The Tsangpo is a big volume river in one of the most difficult-to-access places on the planet.

Balf starts out giving a great historical overview of British explorers who began their attempts to chart the river in the 1860′s – 1920′s, when India was a long, unwieldy arm of the British empire where men campaigned for money to go on African safaris and it was normal to bring exotic species back to your sponsors or country as samples. One explorer, Francis Kingdon-Ward was even moderately successful in the Tsangpo gorge, but a gap of at least five miles of river remained completely unknown to the western world, and it was that section in particular that this modern group of intrepid explorers wanted to see, and if possible, paddle. There were early rumours of a 150-foot waterfall in the area — not hard to imagine on a river that drops 10,000 feet in a hundred-plus miles, although the rumour turned out to be caused by an error in translation. The area is mountainous, to say the least, and those early explorers believed that Shangri-La — a paradise of indescribable beauty — was hidden among its valleys and lush vegetation.

Jump forward to 1998. Months of planning and fundraising go by and the team’s logistical expert even gets his hands on satellite pictures of the area. A massive hydraulic (waterfall) is visible, perhaps a 100-foot fall after all, and at least two other significant drops are crammed into a paperclip-shaped bend. The guys will definitely be portaging at times, but the team hopes to paddle as much water as they can. Portaging in this gorge isn’t just picking up your canoe and walking; it is intense hiking and even full-blown rope-assisted rock climbing. When the team finally gets to the river, they see a writhing beast, well overflowing its banks in high flood stage. Their first dip in nearly ends in tragedy, as one paddler gets dislodged from his kayak and almost can’t perform the essential and, for these guys, easy, roll manoeuvre. Ultimately, the group’s intense risk-taking on the turbulent river take one man’s life, and the remainder of the book is about decisions, big-signature-funded expeditions and a discussion of the legacy of that man. (I’ll keep the man’s identity a secret, in accordance with the back cover write-up of the book.)

On the whole, the book is a comprehensive look at the expedition, covering every angle and many details, including a significant look at the sport and culture of whitewater kayaking. Why do people take risks? Is it acceptable to take such risks when you have a wife to widow and children to orphan? On the other hand, should one have to give up one’s passions for safety and security? Must you climb “the Everest” before you? What affects a paddler’s decisions, as he or she scouts and paddles the water, or chooses to portage? Is there undue pressure put on paddlers by their funders to “make it happen?” Todd Balf’s treatment and discussion of these issues is sensitive and multi-faceted — making for an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

You can find The Last River on Amazon here: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

2012 in Review

December 31st, 2012

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Happy New Year! As we look back on 2012, we wanted to share some things that we’re very pleased about and some things we are looking forward to in 2013.

York Boat Expedition

Crew of the York Boat Expedition on Peace River, Canada
Hooray for another successful York Boat expedition! Along with Jae Penner of Peace Valley Woodcraft and everyone at GeoTourism Canada, we are so pleased with how the trip went this year. Stay tuned for plans for 2013! We are working with all the partners and past crew members to formulate the best plan for offering both long and short trips on the boat. It is such an amazing experience, we are looking forward to sharing it with more people. If you are interested in being a partner, please contact us without delay!

Canoe Camps

We once again offered several successful canoe camps, including a very special one for the students of the tiny country school, Dr. Mary Jackson School. The students and principal were such a joy to work with! Thanks so much for making that canoe camp so rewarding! This canoe camp was actually “Paddle the Peace Junior” (read more about Paddle the Peace below).

Memorable Trips


The three-day trip with the Junior Forest Rangers of Sustainable Resources Development was once again, a very memorable trip. We thoroughly appreciated each young man’s positive attitude and the excellent leadership displayed by the two staff, Mike and Rob. You guys are such great examples (and also very cool)! :)

Paddle the Peace

We once again partnered with the County of Northern Lights, Northern Sunrise County, the Town of Peace River, GeoTourism Canada, Mighty Peace Tourist Association, the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation to offer Paddle the Peace in Peace River, AB. Weather for the day was perfect and we all agreed that the August date worked better than the June date we had tried in 2011 (it was cancelled that year due to high water levels). Flow North offered canoe lessons for adults — which were completely sold-out — as well as helping with the safety briefing and other logistics on the day of the event. We’d really like to thank Teresa Tupper from the County of Northern Lights for all her hard work!

Presentations

Teresa was pleased to do a 1+ hour presentation at the Peace River Museum and Archives this year. She spoke about her solo paddling, sublime experiences on the river, and how surviving a thunderstorm outdoors with no shelter changed her life. Everyone in attendance thoroughly enjoyed her slides and storytelling.

Teresa and Cheryll also gave a presentation to two lively grade two classes from Florence Macdougall School in High Level. The kids loved seeing pictures of the York boat and touching the HBC coat, but I think what they remember most is the taste of bannock and dried moose meat they got to try!

In 2013…

As mentioned, we are working on the exact details of our York boat offerings for 2013. We know you need to plan in advance, so we’ll be releasing the plan soon!

We will once again be offering trip guiding to interested groups — please contact us well in advance so we can discuss where you would like to go and what we can do to make your trip extra-special.

We are still happy to offer our drop-off and pick-up service for those paddling long distances. :) Making use of your vehicle is the most economical way, but even if we use ours, it’s not as expensive as you might think. Contact us for more info!

Best wishes for 2013 and beyond!

Expect High Water Levels on the Peace River

July 14th, 2012

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You can expect the Peace River to be running unusually high this year. You can thank BC Hydro for releasing water from the Williston Reservoir, due to higher than normal snow melt in the mountains and rainfall in BC. You can read the original press release below, and check out those numbers! Those are some serious water flows. With the river running high, be extra careful when you get in or out of your boat, make sure you camp nice and high off the water, and as always, respect the river.

Here is the latest river level chart for the Peace River at the town of Peace River.

You can check the latest river levels and other important current info on our Current Conditions page.

The following is from BC Hydro’s Press Release:

Spill scheduled at W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon Dams

June 29th, 2012

June 25, 2012

Hudson’s Hope – The first prolonged release of water in a decade is scheduled to start Tuesday, June 26 from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon Dam near Hudson’s Hope. The two facilities will continue to generate power during this time.

The spill may continue, uninterrupted, until mid-August, dependent upon inflows into Williston Reservoir. BC Hydro’s Peace River facilities are designed to spill; it is considered to be a normal operation during the infrequent periods of excess inflows and water supply.

By spilling earlier, before Williston Reservoir is full, BC Hydro can release a smaller volume of water, minimizing the likelihood of a larger spill later on in the season. A spill of this size is not expected to cause flooding. Communities downstream of Peace Canyon Dam have been notified and should the spill operation change, BC Hydro will continue to keep communities informed. A similar spill was last observed in 2002.

The spill is a result of BC Hydro’s need to manage high system reservoir levels brought on by higher than average snowpacks and recent rainfall throughout the B.C. Interior. The inflow forecast for Williston is currently 125 per cent of normal for the remaining runoff season.

BC Hydro is expected to spill between 570 and 1,415 cubic metres per second (m³/s), (20,000 to 50,000 cubic feet per second) of water at both dams. Including the water used by the generating units, total discharge downstream of Peace Canyon Dam is expected to be between 2,150 and 3,000 m3/s (75,000 and 105,000 cfs). By comparison, the maximum normal discharge from Peace Canyon Dam is 1,982 m3/s.

BC Hydro may change the total downstream discharge, or end the spill without notice. For everyone’s safety, the public is reminded that they must stay well away from the spillway structures of either facility and may not stop on the W.A.C. Bennett Dam crest road to view the spill. Safe locations for public viewing of the spills are at the W.A.C. Bennett Dam Visitor Centre, or the Peace Canyon Dam Visitor Centre. Both facilities are open daily except Tuesdays through the Labour Day weekend.

Original post located at:

http://www.el.bchydro.com/mediabulletins/bulletin/system_facilities/spill_scheduled_at_wac_bennett_and_peace_canyon_dams

News for June

June 19th, 2012

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Another successful York Boat trip is concluded! I am so pleased to have been a part of it again this year, and once again, it was a fantastic experience. Rowing is such a nice way to travel the Peace River and sailing is even better! Pictures to come!

If you are interested in participating in a York boat trip, you’re in luck! There are still two spots available on a three-day trip in July. Although much shorter than the one we just completed, I am sure it will prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Contact Jason at GeoTourism Canada for more details. Act now to get one of those last spots!

Canoe Lessons for Adults: Flow North will be offering some adult canoe lessons through Chinchaga Adult Learning. So far, we have a full day of lessons planned for Saturday, July 28. Lessons will run from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm and cost $50 per person. Call 780-926-5625 to sign up!

Canoe Camp for Kids: In partnership with the town of High Level, we are once again offering a two-day Canoe Camp for kids aged 10 – 15. It is a day camp (kids go home at the end of the day) which takes place at Footner Lake, with all transportation provided. Contact the town at 780-926-2201 to sign your child up for this camp. There are limited spots, so call soon!

Trips this summer: Many people ask us what trips we have planned this summer! Well, we don’t operate like other outfitters – we don’t schedule a bunch of trips and then make you plan your schedule around us. If you want to go on a trip and you have a group of 4 or more people, give us a call and we’ll talk about what you have in mind! If you have a group that is interested in just going for a day, you can also have a Canoe Party.

York Boat Expedition 2012

June 8th, 2012

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The York boat expedition for 2012 is underway! Flow North is not as fully-involved as last year, but we are still very excited to see the boat in the water. GeoTourism Canada is recreating the expedition we did last year, from Fort Dunvegan to Fort Vermilion, on the Peace River. And I, Teresa (Flow North’s owner/operator) will be on it!
Because of a canoe camp we did for the Dr. Mary Jackson School from Keg River a few days ago, I couldn’t do the whole trip, but I am joining them at Notikewin Provincial Park for the second half of the trip.
This is a wonderful, unique boat! So, if you would like to come see it and chat with the crew, here are your options:
- Notikewin Provincial Park today (June 8) or tomorrow (June 9) morning
- Tompkins Landing/La Crete Ferry Campground on Monday, June 11 (aprx 3 pm on)
- Wall’s Landing on June 12, afternoon/evening (ask someone from LaCrete for directions)
- Fort Vermilion on Friday, June 15, afternoon
Sorry we can’t give more exact times for our arrivals, but it’s hard to say exactly when we will arrive and I hate to promise something we can’t deliver on.
Hope to see you there!

Note: Contact us if you are interested in having a Canoe camp (2 days of canoe lessons) for a group you lead. We are also doing some adult canoe education, open to the public: Sat, July 28 near High Level and Sat, Aug 18 in conjunction with Paddle the Peace in Peace River, AB.

Teresa was the faithful captain of the trip. She started out as manager of the project and graduated to captain. She was able to keep the crew in line (which was easy) and got to make all the big decisions (which was hard).

Survival Gear – Food and Water

March 12th, 2012

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- – - Part 3 in the Survival Gear Series – - –

Referring to our safety and survival gear list, let’s have a look at these two items:
- survival rations or protein bars
- extra water purification tablets

Let’s jump down to the food and water components: “survival rations or protein bars.” Basically, you should have food with you to provide needed calories while you wait to be found or facilitate your own rescue in some other way (such as walk out). Good survival food
- keeps for a long time
- provides lots of calories
- doesn’t take up too much space
- doesn’t create a lot of garbage (a good principal for all food for trips)
- isn’t overly smelly

This last one might not be obvious, but around here, if you were stuck in the bush overnight and cracked open a can of tuna or sardines to snack on, you’d likely become a snack for the wolves (or in summer, the bears)! Take something that isn’t quite so appealing to the wildlife. A good source of calories, although not particularly tasty, is bacon grease or butter. After all, the Voyageurs lived on pemmican, which is 50% fat and 50% dried meat and berries (when they didn’t have fresh meat or berries to eat).

As for water, it is very important not to become dehydrated while waiting for help to arrive. If you’re on a canoe or kayak trip, there’s bound to be water nearby, but do not drink untreated water from anywhere beavers or ducks swim. Beaver fever, properly known as giardia, is very serious — it will feel like the worst flu you’ve ever had. There is a slight risk of salmonella from water ducks swim in. For these reasons, make sure to bring some water treatment capsules in a waterproof container with you. We like Aquatabs) from MEC. They are super-easy to use. Simply add one tablet to a 1-litre water bottle (double it for particularly dirty/cloudy water) and let it sit for a half hour. If you have a mechanical water filter, it must be rated down to one micron in size and be properly maintained. You can also boil water to kill giardia — one minute of a full, rolling boil (2 minutes at altitudes above 2,000 m) — and then let the water cool.

Download our free Comprehensive Trip Packing List.

Survival Gear – Fire Starters

March 8th, 2012

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- – - Part 2 in the Survival Gear Series – - –

Referring to our safety and survival gear list:
- first aid kit
- extra band-aids
- first aid book
- signaling mirror
- matches in waterproof container
- fire starter sticks
- survival rations or protein bars
- extra water purification tablets
- reflective emergency blanket
- packet of salt
- cutting wire, pocket chainsaw, or folding survival saw
- multi-tool
- small bug spray bottle

Let’s look at the fifth and sixth items on that list: “matches in a waterproof container” and “fire starter sticks.” Basically, what you need to bring is some reliable method for starting a fire — creating a spark or flame — in a variety of conditions. Although starting a fire is not the first priority in survival situations — first is making or finding shelter — it is very high on the list of priorities. (You need to determine where your shelter will be before making a fire near it.) Fire can bring needed warmth, help you dry out wet clothing, help to signal search-and-rescue aircraft, keep wildlife away, and provide mental comfort as well.

Matches are one standard way of making fire, but there are other options:
- a lighter in a waterproof container (make sure it is full)
- strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container
- flint and knife
- magnesium bar, flint and knife

Whatever method you use, make sure you are familiar with its function. Many waterproof matches will only work when struck against a special material that is on the side of the box — if you take the matches out to put them in a waterproof container, make sure you put a few pieces of the box material in as well. A bar of magnesium may seem like a good idea, since magnesium burns hot and bright, but if it takes half an hour to shave enough of it to start a fire, you could get awfully cold in that time if you are wet.

Once you have a spark or small flame, the next crucial step is getting the flame to keep burning. Obviously, you are going to look for tinder — anything fine and dry in the environment around you — but if tinder is hard to find, it is ideal to bring some with you. Dryer lint burns very easily, and if soaked in petroleum jelly, it will burn for longer. Some people swear by steel wool. Birch bark is nature’s tinder, so gather small pieces in areas where it is abundant — ALWAYS from the ground, not from living trees. In an area with evergreens, the small, dry twigs that grow on the trunk will stay dry in even the heaviest rain. This is also a great place to make a shelter — just prop up some additional wood, boughs or a tarp on the windy side.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, we refer you to another of “Cryptic Cricket’s” videos, this one on magnesium fire starters.

Using a Magnesium Fire Starter and Steel

The next survival article will be on food and water, so stay tuned.

Download our free Comprehensive Trip Packing List.

Survival Gear

March 5th, 2012

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Survival gear is essential for a multi-day outing, but it is only as good as the brains behind it. That is to say, if you don’t know how to use the gear you’ve bought, it might as well be play-doh.

From our Comprehensive Trip Packing List, here is a suggested list of safety and survival gear:
- first aid kit
- extra band-aids
- first aid book
- signaling mirror
- matches in waterproof container
- fire starter sticks
- survival rations or protein bars
- extra water purification tablets
- reflective emergency blanket
- packet of salt
- cutting wire, pocket chainsaw, or folding survival saw
- multi-tool
- small bug spray bottle
(Please see the whole list for the big picture of what to pack.)

Some items are pretty straightforward, like the extra band-aids, but take a closer look and you may realize that you don’t know how to use all the gear. Could you quickly look up what do to for a sprained ankle in your first aid book? Do you know how to use a signaling mirror? Do those waterproof matches need a special strike material?

Even simple-to-use items like fire starter sticks have best techniques for use. Take some time this winter or spring to try out every piece of survival equipment you have. Make sure you can easily use each one; you may discover short-cuts or tricks for the best or easiest way to use your gear. You may also want to try magnesium instead of matches or a custom fire starting material instead of the store-bought kind. The key is to do this in a non-emergency environment and get really good at using your gear so that in a survival situation, it’s that much easier to keep your cool.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be expanding on this survival list, giving you some tips and suggestions on what to keep in mind when choosing gear and how to use it. For now, we refer you to a great video on how to use a signaling mirror.

Using a Signaling Mirror

Alberta Paddling Symposium

March 1st, 2012

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Mark your calendars! June 29 – July 2 is the Alberta Paddling Symposium!

For all things paddling, plan to go to the Paddling Symposium in Rocky Mountain House this year! There will be clinics on all aspects of canoeing, kayaking and even a chance to try stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding. It sounds like a ton of fun and the organizers have some really great activities in mind. It’s quite affordable too!

Please see the Paddle Alberta site for more information.