Diggin`for kayaking gold - the Grand Canyon of the Stikine

Making my way up to the Stikine was always on my radar when I started this trip in July. Due to the relativly low snowpack in northern BC, I knew that if I`m lucky levels would drop fast enough for me to have a chance to have a go up north in August with warm weather and blue skys... 
Wanting to do this run for a long time this summer gave me the chance to finally realise a river that I was chasing for quite some time.

Finally made it north

When I arrived in Whistler I knew that if the weather would stay stable, the river would probably drop into my desired range (320 to 380 cm3) the next week or so. I had already contacted some groups who were planning to drive up north, so I was pretty confident to find a solid crew that I could join. I started my drive in the desire to meet up with Adrian Kiernan and Billy Thibault in Prince George. Thankfully this worked out, because after blowing (another) tire on my way up, I was driving on my spare for almost 300km and was kind of scared getting stranded in the middle of nowhere fighting bears and missing out on my chance. So luckily the guys picked me up in Prince George and I continued my way up in Rob Murphys truck.

Adrian Kiernan, Rob Murphy, myself, Billy Thibault

We reached the put in bridge the next afternoon, and after listening to all the scary bonfire stories of the guys that had just completed the mission through the gorge, I went to bed pretty nervous but ready to go. The plan was to start the next day and either have a two or a three day descent into the canyon depending on who would be in the group.

put in, as calm as it gets

In the morning Adrian decided to wait another day, so our crew consisted Billy Thibault, Rob Murphy, Hector Darby Maclellan, Louis Bissonnette and myself planning to be in the gorge for two nights and three days. Hector had completed a mission from the source of the Stikine (hiking for almost 70km into the sacred headwaters) and will be the first person to complete a full descent of the Stikine River. Billy and Louis had done the run in 2014, so we had some first hand knowledge in our group.

the crew and the sign (the new one) - (standing up) Louis Bissonnette, Rob Murphy, (in the front) Billy Thibault, Hector Darby Maclellan, myself               photo: Adrian Kiernan

So we started day one at noon, paddling the easy lead in for the first hour, until the canyon walls began closing in and everybody had their last piss before Entry Falls. We choose not to scout the rapid, it takes a lot of time and everybody knew the line from countless videos and pictures. It was here, I felt the power of this river for the first time, entering the ferry a little too far to the right and getting stuck inbetween two currents for a little time.

I didn`t take any pictures the first day, it was raining a little and we ran most rapids without scouting. Everybody portaged Pass or Fail, since failing isn`t an option these days with wood in the failslot and the "sneakline" not looking too beautiful either. Wasson`s was next with half the group going right and the other half choosing the left line. A couple of rapids later we had made it to Site Zet and with nobody wanting to run it, portaged our boats in the afternoon to have less work the next day.

I felt really good after day one, having completed some big rapids with good lines, and really liking the whitewater in the gorge. In Camp one the weather cleared and we had a nice sunny evening enjoying sausages and the fire. 

Day two started with a big traverse into the lower part of Site Z. A good way to wake up in the morning...

Billy scouting the exit of Site Zet

scary morning ferry - Louis

into the wild - Louis

Hector following Louis into day two

the lower part of Site Zet is a pretty big rapid by itself, hard to imagine how tired you come into this after completing the top

Day two has the most whitewater, a lot of which is runnable out of the boat, but there are some big holes (like the Cunt Hole we all crashed into - and came out of thankfully, thanks again Louis ;) !!) and big rapids, the Wall One for example, a must run rapid that is not really scoutable.

On this section I had my second bad encounter with the power of this river, getting stuck in a random eddyline/hole and getting pushed into the canyonwall. Unable to roll I took a swim in the river definitely nobody wants to swim in. Thankfully I got straight into the middle of the current and away from boils and walls and Rob had me on his boat right away. No big rapids downstream, the guys got my boat out quickly and after a little climb we could continue the ride to complete day two. A stupid mistake and big reminder to never loose concentration and feel too self secure out there.

After my experience I wasn`t not as confident as I was after day one, especially as day three contains the biggest rapids of the run. It is fun how crucial the mindgame is in kayaking, especially on a big run like the Stikine. Playing your thoughts and getting back into the game is a fun little adventure in itself, a great way to take teaching lessons for kayaking and life in general.

Wolftrack Camp - an awesome retreat in the canyon

Rob, Louis and Billy enjoing a beautiful evening

Day three is the shortest but very intense. It starts with Garden of Gods II, the longest rapid of the gorge, and as the canyonwalls get steeper, the whitewater becomes huge. Wall II, Scissors, the Hole That Ate Chicago and V Drive are pretty much stacked up after each other and form a big bang finish to this awesome gorge.

Aniol starting into his last day of Stikine power for this year

Louis and Billy leading Garden of Gods II

Rob charging into the hole

Louis and Hector in the Wall II

Billy and Louis scouting THAC, with Louis eventually running it and Billy watching

I was definetly very tense through this stretch of the river, but also enjoyed the great whitewater and awesome scenery. After V Drive the whole pressure just dropped of and I felt very relieved and painfully happy.

V Drive - we all ran it together since nobody really wanted to stay behind to take pictures

There are some rapids after, most famously the Tanzilla, where the whole river compresses through a thin slot and marks the end of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.

After our paddle out (be aware, there are some holes left), that by the way is stunning and amazingly beautiful with eagles hunting and goats chillin`, we went to Telegraph Creek, a unique little village, to get food and celebrate our successful descent on one of the most desirable runs in the whitewater world.

deserved it

my favourit pic - same way we entered V Drive - chaos into perfect line       photos: Miranda

Again I want to especially thank the crew Billy Thibault, Louis Bissonnette, Hector Darby Maclellan and Rob Murphy for the fun, mostly safe and awesome time on this river and Miranda for driving our shuttle. 

We had a level slowly rising between 320 and 350 cm3 with warm weather and only a bit of rain. Perfect conditions to spend time in the canyon. I can only imagine how painful times can be in later months with cold nights and maybe some more rain. Weather forecasts, the gauge and lots of beta certainly changed a lot of things approaching this gorge. But still this river remains a very serious and powerful challenge and should never be taken lightly. Amazing how this sport keeps evolving, with people lapping the gorge, multiple runs of Site Zet, new time records set and close calls beeing survived.

good by!!! see ya next time!

For me personally this trip was the epidome of twenty years in whitewater, a combination of the power, the rugged nature and beauty of this great gorge. An intiminating but awesome and very special place to be at. Scary, challenging and very beautiful at the same time and so relieving after completing the mission. In my eyes this trip had everything what kayaking is about, everything I`m in love with since I started paddling as a small kid, everything i could ask for.