River paddling in northern B.C.

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 18-25, 1996
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River paddling in northern B.C.

River paddling in northern B.C.
Question: I am going on a 10-day canoe trip in northern British Columbia in mid-August, and while I have lots of open-water canoe experience, I have next to no river experience. My trip is down the Stuart and Nechako rivers and includes a number of Class II and III rapids. What do these designations mean?

Andrew Douglas Ficzycz
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Since both of the rivers feature mainly Class I rapids, with several Class IIs and one Class III drop thrown in for a little excitement, your scant river experience shouldn't be much of a problem.

Officially, Class II means frequent rapids that aren't too challenging, with very few or almost no obstructions.

On Class III water, you'll need to be prepared for large, irregular waves--sometimes four feet in height--and frequent rapids. You'll also need to be able to maneuver the boat around obstacles like oversized rocks and half-submerged logs. Don't lose any sleep about this last part, though, since with all your open-water expertise, you're probably pretty adept at canoe handling and will be able to make the jump from flatwater to not-so-flatwater without much difficulty--especially if you're going as part of a guided trip. If you're not, plan on familiarizing yourself with the river well in advance so that you know what's coming around each bend.

Here's a quick rundown: You'll brave your first Class II on the lower Stuart about three miles above Stuart Lake; it's just a mini-canyon with a small chute. Then, farther down, about two miles above the confluence with the Nechako you'll have another Class II to negotiate: mostly a few big boulders and ledges. The Nechako itself has about three Class II canyons, with tight turns and boulders, but the only rapid of real interest you'll encounter is the Ill Pierre, a Class III famous for its big hydraulics and potentially hair-raising S-turns.

Keep in mind also that schlepping 10 days worth of equipment along with you will make your canoe considerably less maneuverable around the big boulders. But the good news is that you're never too far from civilization. Both rivers run through wide-open farmland, with occasional glimpses of the highway.

For a guided trip or additional information on the Stuart and Nechako rivers, call Northern Sun Tours at 604-847-4349. They run multiday canoe trips down the decidedly more backwoodsy Spatizi and Stikine rivers.

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