advice to a complete novice !

greetings to all & any reading this.

I have some complete beginners questions - any responses gratefully recieved.

myself self & partner are planning an extended trip from the UK to B.C. this summer, & mean to do some long distance canoeing.

so far have purchased Wainwright’s “canoe trips B.C.” & read bits & pieces on various websites.

have undertaken very short kayak trips on 3-4 of occasions in the past.

no prior experience of canoeing whasoever, but planning on going on a 1 day course & then a 3 day easy river trip in the UK before coming out.

we’re hoping to do the Bowron lakes circuit when we arrive in B.C & follow it up with a more remote trip susbsquently.

we’re planning on using one 2 man canoe.

can anyone answer the following questions:

  1. does this plan sound hopelessly unrealistic ? i’m concerned that there are some “intermediate” river stretches on the Bowron circuit & that our beginner status won’t be enough to deal with it. would we be best off starting off doing a trip that was 100% grade I ? or am i being unecessarily cautious ?

  2. i’ve read that for safety’s sake when going into wilderness you shd have a minimum of 3 canoes: is going with just one (in our case) asking for trouble ? or on a popular circuit such as Bowron is it a justifiably low risk.

  3. is righting capsized canadian canoe very difficult, & consequently having a capsize(esp in a wilderness area) a very bad idea ?

    once again, many thanks for any suggestions.

Hello and Welcome!
First I’m not sure how many people read the wilderness message board, so if you don’t get a lot of responces try posting under the general help. I’m sure a lot of folks will want to chime in on this. I’m not familiar with the area you’re talking about so I can’t comment on that. I encourage you to do as much research as you can and make sure you have a realistic idea of what you’re getting yourselves into. Having three canoes is a great idea, but so is bringing along a few helicopters and I don’t know any paddlers that do that. If it’s just going to be the two of you you should be fine as long as you stay alert and aware of your surroundings, don’t attempt things that are questionabbly out of your skill area, pack the correct gear and again, know what you’re likely to encounter, before you encounter it. And of course wear your life jacket! Good luck, have fun, and post again! Scott

be prepared

– Last Updated: Jan-06-09 9:16 PM EST –

You might want to consider bringing a basic canoe repair kit appropriate to the type of canoe you are using, and also bring 2 extra paddles. We have taken a number of remote wilderness trips, and last summer we chipped in for the "Spot! Satellite Messenger" which gave us peace of mind in case of emergencies and allowed us to send "we're O.K." messages along with location information to our loved ones. well worth the investment in my opinion.

Not too familiar with the Bowron area, but as far as righting a capsized canoe, it all depends on the situation. A heavily loaded expedition
canoe will be difficult to right without bringing it to shore. Also, be sure to SECURE your gear to the canoe, or else it will float away and be lost. There is lots of great advice on this forum, and also lots of videos on the web showing different canoe techniques. You should be fine on your trip as long as you plan well and use your head.

Lots of info on the Bowron

also on the forums there.


– Last Updated: Jan-07-09 11:42 AM EST –

I did the Bowron in late Sept of 2005. I posted that trip report on this website at:
My responses to your questions are.
1. Your plan is not unrealistic. You won't be the only beginners out there on the circuit. But I would also advise you to do your trip in summer when surface waters are warmer. By mid-Sept, snow and cold are real possibilities, and that could become a real threat to beginners. There are two spots on the route that might be considered intermediate river travel depending upon water flow. a. The Isaac River leading out of Isaac Lake is a small creek that has good flow and class 2 rapids, but you can opt to take a 1.6 kilometer portage instead. But even if you take the portage, you will have one chute with standing waves to go through where you launch at the end of the portage. Make the 90 turn to the right and as you approach the chute stay to the left side to run through. b. The Cariboo River is large, fast, and powerful. It is also full of sweepers and deadheads from avalanches in the watershed. The ranger will advise staying in the middle of the Cariboo, but I'm going to advise you to stay on the inside bend when you approach a blind turn. Do an eddy in before you make the turn and scout ahead from shore. To negotiate the Cariboo I recommend you at least need to be able to do an "eddy in", "peel out" and ferrying maneuvers.

2. If you do the Bowron during the summer months, you will see many canoes during each day. You won't be the only ones out there, and you won't be the only group from Europe.

3. In your pre-trip practice / instruction be sure to experience capsizing the canoe and get some pointers on self rescue. Figure out how you would get a capsized canoe and gear to shore. Just be prepared - it could happen from being out when the wind kicks up on these long inter-mountain lakes or from obstacles in the river.
I still have a bunch of webshot photos posted of this trip to scroll through at:
Bowron is a spectacular trip. Go for it!

dry bags

– Last Updated: Jan-23-09 10:57 PM EST –

be sure to buy or rent enough of them to put all your stuff in

I’ve not done this circut yet but it’s supposed to be fantastic. Hope you have a great time.

Another canoe route that is very good but somewhat less well known is the Powell River circut on the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver.

I did the Bowron twice.
You don’t have to be a great paddler but you do need to use common sense. Don’t wear cotton. Chances are you going to get rain and you’ll never dry out with cotton. I don’t know how many novice paddlers I seen drying out their clothes in the cabins because they brought cotton with them.

Stay close to shore. The water is very cold and a swim won’t be a pleasant experience. I doubt if you can get back into the canoe if you dump it since you’ll have it loaded with gear. If you’re close to shore you could probably right the canoe and bail out enough water to tow it to shore. You won’t want to spend too much time in the water trying to get back into the canoe. Also, even being close to shore doesn’t mean you can get on shore because there might be cliffs etc. so always keep that in mind.

If you take a swim you’ll need to get into warm clothes in a short time so make sure you have some extra clothes handy and in a waterproof bag.

Unless you practice self rescue I wouldn’t count on it. I tried it with my canoe in a pool and wasn’t too successful in ideal conditions let alone wearing heavy cloths in cold water with a loaded canoe. Also, if you dump in a lake it’s probably because of rough conditions so that will make self rescue even more difficult.

Watch the weather and don’t get caught on a lake when the wind picks up or you might be swimming instead of paddling. Unless you’re skilled enough to quarter the waves they will quickly be over the gunwales.

The cabins have mice in them so sleeping in one can be a challenge unless you don’t mind mice crawling over you at night. I erected my tent in them when possible and only used them when raining.

For some reason many people who do the circuit seem to think of it as a race. They hurry over the portages and quickly load their canoes and paddle off instead of taking it easy and enjoying the scenery.

I’m sure you’re going to very happy with your experience on the Bowron. It’ll be an adventure that you’ll remember the rest of your life.

Canoeing Bowron Lks-Western Canada

Don’t be afraid of doing the Bowron Lks. canoe route. There are excellent maps, information, and even guides that will give you pointers for your trip. I have a lady teacher friend who canoed the route with her husband and two your daughters a few years back. The trip is a good introduction to Western Canada with camping sites bear proofed with wires and food staches. Be sure to secure a trip permit well in advance of your trip as they limit the number of people per day on the route.

Once you have obtained your baptism you should be ready to try more risky and difficult canoe trips. I solo canoe all over the west in a 16’ canoe. When your party has only one canoe you have to be sure to take precautions against a dumping or accident. Make sure all your gear is secured in the bottom of the canoe and you have a spare paddle for each paddler unless you are the same size. Always wear your life jacket while on the water. Have a small survival kit attached to your jacket in case you dump and get seperated from your canoe. Wear a dry suit or semi dry suit on rivers or large lakes in the west. The water is alway below 55 degrees in the lakes and rivers. Most rivers are running straight out of glaciers and as low as 34-38 degrees. You only have minutes to get out of the water if you don’t have on a dry or wet suit in these conditions. Always scout river sections with Class III or higher rapids. Line your canoe around these stretches since you don’t have experience on your side. On the big lakes stay close in to the shore line and paddle early in the mornings before the winds come up. Flat water can give way to three to four foot waves within minutes on these waters. Don’t be scared away. Just use caution and common sense in what you attempt. Seek local knowledge of the waters you paddle.

Happy Paddling!


Getting Started!

With some practice and preparation you can do the Bowran Lakes Circuit with one canoe. The fact that you have no experience is not in your favor for doing week long wilderness trips in remote areas like those that exist in British Columbia. The rule of thumb when traveling rivers or big lakes in Western North America is there is no substitute for experience on multi day trips. B.C. conditions are very unforgiving of major mistakes in judgement. I would feel more comfortable for your safety if you joined a guided trip since it would be your first time out here in the west.

Water conditions in British Columbia are severe. You can expect all major rivers and lakes to be “cold” water experiences. Any dumping of your loaded canoe in a big lake at any major distance from shore could present a major life threatening situation since water temps are usually in the 50 degree or colder range. If you are backcountry on a river of Class III or higher it is best to portage around the rapids or line your canoe down the rapids. Remember, you can’t afford to destroy your canoe in any wilderness area of B.C. Trying to bushwack out of the backcountry is not something to take lightly. The terrain and undergrowth are major challenges. In some areas making two miles in a day is about maximum off river.

being marooned is not a happy prospect. Weather in BC is unpredictable even in mid summer. Five days of clear weather is about max and rain, sleet, and snow are all possible, even in mid summer.

Plan to paddle early in the day out here. By noon the winds almost always come up on big lakes and wave action gets higher. Prevailing winds are usually from the Northwest in summer good weather. When bad weather comes in the winds switch around from the southwest or south. Air temps range in the 50-70s during the days, and 20-40’s during the nights.

If you plan to paddle out west you will need a semi dry suit or Gore tex parka and pants and quick drying polypro or moreno wool wear. A pair of neopreme mukluk boots, and good paddling gloves are needed. Hats very with individuals, but I wear merino wool balaclava in cold conditions, and a sun hat with neck cloth in hot conditions. Sunglasses and Deet Spray and head net are musts out here. No see ums will eat you alive in most areas during May through mid August.

Be sure you try out lots of types of paddles before you buy one. Always bring a spare paddle on any wilderness trip. Make sure you have dry bags or dry packs for “all” your gear, and be sure to tie it down in the canoe when paddling.

Buy a good PFD Personal Floatation Devise (Life Jacket). Make sure it allows arm movement and is easy to adjust.

I paddle solo on all my trips out here, but I also have 50+ years of experience on the water, backpacking and climbing all over the Coast Range, Cascades, Rocky Mountains, and Puget Sound and Pacific Coast Waters as far north as Vancouver Island. The major things you need to do for any trip out here are:

l. Talk to people who are locals and find out

what conditions, dangers, and the weather are

like when you plan to be in the area.

2. Based on that information pick your equipment


3. Know the maps of the area. Have a good idea

of which way watersheds run, what direction

will get you to civilization the fastest.

4. Leave a detailed trip plan with a responsible

person, and be sure to secure and check in with

the local rangers in the area.

5. When in doubt, get out. Look the situation

over, and don’t be drawn into foolish actions

to meet deadlines on traveling on the water.

If the rapids appear too big portage around

them. If the water is too rough on a big lake,

go to shore and wait it out. Most problems

occur because people are in a hurry.

6. Be mentally prepared. Always think ahead and

know your limitations and those of your


Wish you the best in your paddling years ahead. There are amazing places to see here in the Western U.S. and Canada. Enjoy your stay!

Happy Paddling!


advice to a complete beginner
Thank you very much for your advice. You raise several issues that were nagging at my brain.

Do you (or indeed anyone else) have any thoughts on Personal Locator Beacons ? (Not something to rely on, as obviously you should take all necessary precautions to avoid such situations, as per your posting).

That said, they seem like a good idea (if a little “unromantic”), particuarly for a beginner.

I can buy the “McMurdo Fast Find 210” PLB for approx £230 sterling in the UK. No idea what that would equate to in canadian $$$. Maybe cheaper to purchase in B.C. ?

Or is it cheaper to rent one (i understand you can rent them) for several weeks (approx 4) ?

Finally, do you know how easy it might be to - once at Bowron - find other paddlers who are amenable to doing the route with us ?

Once again, thank you for the advice. My equipment list grows ever longer.


PLB not needed in Bowron
Bowron has a series of radio phones set up about every 20 miles out on the circuit trail that are there for folks to call for help if someone really needs it. They are basically located at each corner of this square route. A call would trigger an evacuation drill by park staff, and the park has power boats docked on every lake for such occasions. I think they’ve gone through this routine a time or two before. So you can save your money this time. Bowron is a place where you really don’t need to be able to self rescue if you get hurt or have a medical situation happen, you just need to get to the nearest phone or have someone else get to the phone and call.

The routine at Bowron is every day X number of paddlers are released from the gate and everyone travels in the same direction on the circuit. Chances are real good that other paddlers from your orientation group are going to be in the same campsite with you at the end of the day, day after day. We ended up staying with the same folks for 3 nights when we did the circuit. Since there aren’t that many choices for lodging or restaurants in the area for your pre-trip staging, it is likely you will cross paths with other paddlers permitted to go into Bowron on the same day you enter. Strike up a conversation, and you never know maybe it will lead travel companions.

take a look at this
little video of our trip a few years ago. Wonderful trip (we only did the west side, which might be an option for you if you’re worried about whitewater), and I would go back in a heartbeat.