7 days in the rain-soaked wilderness: A Canadian canoe adventure

February 17, 2023

We slide the canoes off of their wheels and into the reedy, still waters of Kibbee Lake. It’s our first paddle of the seven-day journey that we’re about to undertake. We’ve already experienced torrential downpours while getting our rentals and gear sorted at the entrance to Bowron Lake Provincial Park and a quick, 15-minute portage gets us ready to embrace and accept what our lives could look like for the next week. But the rain has magically stopped. For now.

We expected this. After all, we’ve been actively preparing for this journey for six months (seven, if you count from the date when we originally signed up for the circuit). That preparation time included buying fresh, new, head-to-toe raingear; drying all of our meals and vacuum sealing them for packing efficiency; deciding how far we’d need to get each day and which camps we would be staying at; and making sure all of our bags had rain covers as well. We’ve also been tracking the weather forecast over the past week: 15-25mm of rain and thundershowers expected for each of the next seven days. We expected this.

We’re already learning that weather affects everything and we can only prepare for the weather if we know what’s coming. This first lesson is an easy one: here comes the rain again.

At this point, we’re just happy to be starting the circuit with fresh paddling arms, a happy group of four friends, and nothing but Caribou Wilderness lakes ahead of us. A Canadian’s dream. We breeze through the calm waters of Kibbee Lake, admiring the low-lying, soaking clouds passing through the trees as we start our second portage to Indianpoint Lake: our first real challenge.

The rain manages to hold off while we set out again into the new, significantly larger, body of water. Only this time, the waters are far from calm. Starting late in the day had put us at a disadvantage against the rising winds that come down from the mountains and wick the water in one particular direction—against us. We push through, paddling fiercely against the wind and waves to reach the other side of the bay. Our ideal paddling conditions are disappearing and the only goal is to reach the shoreline so we can maintain speed and preserve our energy.

IMG 0458

Breaktime. We stop at an empty camp along the north shore of Indianpoint and pick out a couple of granola bars to fuel up. It’s a nice little spot right on the water and seems like a great place for four people to camp, but we have ambitions to reach the third lake so we can get a jump-start on tomorrow. This is also where we have our first lesson in immediate weather forecasting (or “skywatching” as we like to call it). We’re already learning that weather affects everything and we can only prepare for the weather if we know what’s coming. This first lesson is an easy one: here comes the rain again.

Jumping into our boats this time, we button up all of our rain gear and cover our supplies that are nestled in the middle of the canoe. Everyone is silent in the rain other than that sound of raindrops hitting the water and droplets sliding down our waterproof outer layers. The only thing on our minds is to push through to the portage. The rain hits harder than we thought it would. Thunder and lightning begin to build as we reach the end of the lake—never a good sign to be on the water as an active thunderstorm rages above you. So, we load up the canoes onto the portage wheels and continue on foot.

IMG 8233

This is where we get soaked. If ever there is a time on this multi-day paddle where you forget everything you learned in training, this portage would be the spot. The rain-soaked, mud-filled, puddle-covered goat trail brings us to our knees as we push our vessels over hidden roots and deep ruts. Thunder, lightning, downpouring rain, and a collective will to survive here resemble something I’ve only ever seen in a war movie. But we push on, reaching a dilapidated campsite on the boggy edge of Isaac lake. The breaktime campsite is looking pretty good to us right about now—but there’s no turning back.

Frantically setting up tarps, tents, and hanging up clothes, we do our best to keep the rest of our belongings dry. At this point, though, only our sleeping bags and the clothes deep in our backpacks are safe. We make a quick meal of rehydrated beef with rice and make a game plan for day two.

It rains through the night and well into the next morning.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be dry again.”

“I can’t believe we signed up for seven days of this.”

“A cabin is our only hope at this point.”

We are soggy and drenched to the bone and that’s the extent of our conversations on this saturated morning. Last night, we decided that getting an early start to the day would be in our best interest, since cabins are first-come first-serve, and we would need to reach one if we have any shot of making it through the circuit.

The seven-kilometre paddle at 7:00 a.m. seems endless and we try our best to stay positive. Halfway to the cabin, the rain finally stops and as we arrive, a couple from Germany is loading up their kayak to head out. We couldn’t have arrived at a better time—it’s a classic handoff. The cabin looks quite small and derelict, but to us it is an absolute haven: a dry place where we can start a fire and prepare for the rest of the journey. We take the day to relax and recharge. The sun is even breaking through and we enjoy a sunset on the edge of the lake while the water evaporates from our soggy belongings inside the cabin.

For the rest of the circuit, rain comes in and out, but we don’t experience the same caliber as that first day. That initial leg of the journey was a test of our physical and mental abilities, as well as a testament to what we can overcome when we have a goal in mind. In the end, though, we learned that you can prepare for anything and still be unprepared for what actually happens.

Before they left, the German couple explained their training process and asked us which lakes or circuits we had paddled to prepare for the big journey. To which we confidently replied, “None. We’re Canadian.”

You may also like to read