If you are into kayaking and you haven’t heard of British Columbia in Canada, then I am sorry to say but you might live under a rock! If you are like me you have probably dreamed of one day going to BC. British Columbia is located on the western end of Canada – a place filled with breathtaking mountain ranges, huge lush green forests, and loads of wildlife. I am going to tell you about two of my favourite rivers where I spent a considerable amount of my time while living in Canada this past summer. For more of what BC has to offer, head over to www.liquidlore.com for one of the best and up to date whitewater guides that you can find.
The Cheakamus River
The Cheakamus is a ten-minute drive south of the ski resort town of Whistler and would be considered the local classic. Like most rivers in BC, the Cheak is reliant on snowmelt to keep it flowing, often with them being high in the spring and then dropping out in the early summer. However, due to it flowing from a large lake it becomes a true summertime classic, as it is one of the few rivers that you could paddle every day through the summer. There are three sections of great whitewater that feel very different from each other. This is a river that keeps on giving!
At the start of the season when the flows are high you are pretty limited to paddling the upper section, known as the Upper Cheak. At high flows, this section is a class V roller coaster, loaded with contentious, big launching waves and holes to dodge from the put-in to the take-out (it literally is one big long rapid). However, as the flows start to drop the Upper moves into a nice class IV creek with technical rapids to zig and zag your way through. In my opinion, the best part about the Upper Cheak is when flows start to come down and the famous put-in waterfall becomes open and ready for you to fly off. The waterfall option gets even better when you put in a few hundred meters upstream, to run a super fun entrance rapid into the waterfall. Once flows start to drop the Upper Cheak moves into the friendly summer class IV classic and the next section below begins to open up.
Balls to the Walls is the next section on the Cheakamus River – with an almost completely different style to the Upper Cheak. The first rapid on Balls to the Walls (or Balls for short) is another classic BC waterfall that is perfect for all kinds of downriver freestyle: freewheels, kick-flips, cobra flips, you name it, it’s probably been done. Some years BC locals hold a huck fest event on Balls Falls. After the falls and a portage around a few spectacular river-wide log jams, the river then takes you through some scenic gorges and quickly starts to become tight and boxed in. I would say Balls is a step up from the Upper especially at higher flows, but as it drops it becomes a super nice and relaxing run. It became my favourite after-work mission when the Upper became too low for me to want to paddle. Balls is a relatively short section of whitewater like the Upper but is a rather long stretch from put-in to take-out. What is often a really got combo is to put in for the Upper Cheak and take out at the end of Balls.
The third section to follow is Daisy Lake and once again this section changes from the two above! I did not become as familiar with Daisy Lake as I did with Upper and Balls. Daisy is the last section to come in on the river at the end of the summer, as you really do not want to have more water going down there than you need to – it is a tight boxed-in canyon with sieves and undercuts that are best to avoid. It is still a really cool section that has an expedition type feel to it. You get your crew and if it’s the first time of the season you slowly make your way down the long section while having to get out and scout some rapids. The rapids are technical and there are lots of really fun moves to make as you go down.
I spent a lot of time this summer on the Cheakamus river paddling and playing with all the different variations of flows and I had a blast every time. The time that I had the most fun while on this river was during a record-breaking heatwave that Canada went through at the start of summer. The Upper Cheak went from its relatively normal flows of 40-60 cubic metres to 100+ and stayed there for about a week! It had been roughly four years since the last time the river had been close to these flows, so we made sure to not waste this opportunity and to take full advantage of this gift that global warming had just given us.
The Callaghan is a classic Canadian run to say the least! This run speaks to the hearts of many who have had the chance to paddle it and should definitely be on your hit list of rivers when travelling in BC. It doesn’t take long for one to fall in love with this river and once you go flying off its famous twenty-footer and skip out at the bottom you will understand. The river is about twenty minutes south of Whistler, another ten minutes down the road from the Cheakamus making it easy to paddle two rivers in one day.
The way the Callaghan starts off is with three ultra gem waterfalls. The first being a 6ft ledge into a super nice rapid that has you boofing over two holes. This is followed by a fifteen-foot waterfall into a fast run out rapid which is then quickly followed by the iconic Callaghan twenty footer. If you can nail the boof coming off the twenty-footer and land perfectly, it truly is money! After the waterfalls, you float down a number of pretty fun rapids, some more tricky than others. One of them being ODB which stands for Old Dirty Bastard. ODB is a funny rapid that definitely stands true to its name. It consists of two holes in close proximity to one another, which sees even the best paddler getting spun out or back looped on a regular basis. Luckily these holes like to spit you out in one piece!
The best time of the season to catch the Callaghan is in the months of May through to August in a normal season and can possibly be caught earlier if you are lucky. This run is also very dependent on rain which can often bring it back up in the Fall, long after it had dropped out due to lack of snowmelt. This year saw us with a depressingly short season on the Callaghan due to the heatwave that hit Canada. This climatic event broke the previous heat record by ten degrees and saw the end to a lot of the snowpack left behind from the winter. Unlike the Cheakamus, the Callaghan doesn’t have a lake to help keep it flowing during the summer months. So be sure to make the most of this gem whenever you get the chance!
British Columbia is a huge place with so much to offer for those in search of whitewater. It is beautiful. Literally on a daily basis, I would find my breath taken away by the mountains and the views. However, what makes this place truly special are the people and in particular the whitewater community. These people are some of the most kind and welcoming people that you might find in the world of whitewater. The camaraderie that they extended to someone who was travelling alone made such a huge difference to my overall experience. British Columbia is a dream come true for anyone who wants to challenge themselves and progress their kayaking skills and at the same time also offers a rich experience in a truly magical place.