Bowron Lake Provincial Park is one of those hidden gems in our province that the majority of yoga-pant-wearing tribal-band-tattooed weekend warriors have yet to discover. Somehow it still draws thousands of people every year from all across the world. The park is east of Quesnel, is closest to the small town of Wells, and is roughly 500km from Vancouver. The main attraction is the 116km long canoe circuit that’s comprised of 13 lakes. It typically is completed in 6 to 10 days. The roughly 150,000 hectares are filled with spectacular scenery and majestic wildlife. I would strongly suggest anyone who enjoys paddling visits once in their lifetime.
Kibbee and Indianpoint are the first two lakes of the circuit and they aren’t anything too amazing. Both are within the edges of the Quesnel highlands and are rather shallow lakes surrounded by low rolling hills.
Moving between lakes means portaging: leaving only 60lbs of gear in the canoe, sticking it on two small wheels and pushing/pulling it while carrying the remaining gear on your back. It’s not the easiest or most fun thing to do. The second portage of the trip between Kibbee and Indianpoint is along a neverending uphill trail dotted with huge roots, rocks, and craters. In total, the portages of the circuit account for about 11km.
The third beast of a lake is Isaac measuring 38km in length, and is considerably deeper than any other lake in the circuit. It’s Isaac that rendered me hypothermic at a younger age during a previous trip around the chain. Tall mountains on either side can funnel strong winds and make paddling hard work and a very cold experience when combined with heavy rain.
After a short but painful portage from Isaac comes McLeary, which I consider paradise. After the nearly 40km of Isaac, 1.2km long McLeary is a sight for tired eyes. Situated along the north edge of McLeary is Becker’s Cabin, an old trapper’s cabin, that if necessary can provide refuge from the elements. The entire north shore of the lake is covered by marshes that are often frequented by moose. During our evening spent on McLeary a moose decided to eat its dinner two hundred metres from our tent. At the east end, where McLeary empties into the Caribou river, the crystal clear water suddenly becomes murky and grey.
The Caribou River can prove challenging and dangerous. The fast moving silted water hides sandbars just below the surface, and deadheads that bob up and down momentarily hiding themselves under water only to jump up at the last second. Along the 5km of river, there were two wrecked canoes from this summer: one impaled and wrapped around a deadhead, the second appeared to be split in half high above the water’s edge. The river banks were littered with gear, likely from others who dumped and were unable to retrieve everything.
The Caribou River empties into a rather unique lake, Lanezi, that is filled with green silted water and flanked on both sides by steep mountains covered with avalanche gullies carving their way to the water’s edge. The reflections of the towering mountains on either side are stunning, provided there’s no wind – just imagine standing on your head and not knowing which way was up.
From here onward most of the lakes have a similar appearance; relatively shallow, coarse sandy beaches, with the occasional marsh, and of course they all differ in size. In order, they are: Sandy, Unna, Babcock, Skoi, Spectacle, Swan, and finally Bowron. The last few lakes may have all appeared the same as they were masked by torrential rains. On the fourth day, lunch was spent in a shelter on the edge of Spectacle, where the horrendous rains drove ten other boats to the same shelter.
One of the more interesting moments of the trip was encountering an eagle sitting on a log overhanging the water. The eagle appeared very wet, but at the same time was very relaxed and allowed us to come very close. This provided a great opportunity to photograph this soaking wet eagle. However, in the rush to grab the camera I made two very amateur mistakes. The first mistake was not removing the circular polarizer from the lens. These filters eat four stops of light, and as a result it was a struggle to get shutter speeds fast enough to properly freeze the eagle’s movements. Mistake two was not engaging the image stabilization of the lens. This would have made hand holding the lens with slow shutter speeds much easier. As the sign at work says, “Make new mistakes tomorrow”.
So, the wet eagle could be considered one of the more interesting moments of the trip. However, the funniest moment came during the 1000km road trip while ordering at a Tim Hortons and proceed as follows:
Papa Fish – “We’d also like a dozen donut holes please”
Cashier Girl – “donut holes?”
Me – “Donut holes are Timbits”
Papa Fish – “Okay then, we’d like a dozen Timbits”
Cashier Girl – “Timbits come in packs of 10, 20, or 60”
Papa Fish – “We’ll taken a dozen”
Cashier Girl – “10, 20, or 60”
Papa Fish – “$10.20… okay here’s $20”
Me -” Timbits aren’t sold by the dozen. We want 10″
Papa Fish – “Got it, we’ll have ten Timbits”
All parties involved spoke perfect English, yet the generation gap between Papa Fish and the young woman at the till made communication harder than admitting you used to watch MTV’s The Hills.
Overall this trip was outstanding. Papa Fish and I were able to enjoy three days of gorgeous sunshine and little wind. Although the fourth and final day was filled with insanely heavy rains that required the canoe be bailed out on a few instances, it still wasn’t enough to ruin the experience. As not every encounter was photographed and highlighted here, we saw countless common mergansers, a few sandhill cranes, a playful family of river otters, many musically enchanting great northern loons, ospreys on almost every lake, eagles – one very closely – and a few munching moose.
Combine the abundant wildlife with the breathtaking scenery and you’ll have more than enough to keep your mind off of the 116km of paddling. If you enjoy the outdoors, have access to a canoe, and don’t mind roughing it for a few days, I would totally recommend completing this circuit of lakes.
Similar to the previous post, the following are a handful of photos taken during this 4 day trip that are accompanied by a few blurbs.