Canadian Canoe Routes

The river from Pemberton to Harrison Lake: is it navigable?
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Author:  Tom H [ April 12th, 2008, 11:59 pm ]
Post subject:  The river from Pemberton to Harrison Lake: is it navigable?

That river that flows from, I think it's called Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton, all the way to the north end of Harrison Lake, is it navigable?

The google earth imagery is low rez for much of the run and you can't really tell if there's nasty rapids or not.

What a cool trip to start at that lake by Pemberton, go down the river into Harrison Lake, then into the Fraser and back to the Vancouver conurbation all the way from Pemberton. Has anybody heard of anyone doing this river into Harrison Lake?

Where could one get more info about it?

Author:  yarnellboat [ April 14th, 2008, 12:07 am ]
Post subject: 

Yes, it's navigable. No, I have never heard of anyone doing the trip - but I'm not sure if that's because of the river or the lake. Tough assingment for 1 canoe.

The Lillooet is a big, fast, cold river. Between the last lake on the Lillooet (below Pemberton) and Harrison, there are couple of spots with significant rapids and pushy, confused currents, some can be seen from the road on the river-left side of that river. One drop near the community of St. Agnes Well (aka Skookumchuck) would be portage for most whitewater people most of the time.

You should be able to find descriptions of the river in guidebooks like the old Betty Pratt-Johnson or maybe the new Claudia Schwab. There might be some old threads here too?

I've been meaning to paddle that section (there's hotsprings!), but never have.


Author:  miker [ April 14th, 2008, 8:02 pm ]
Post subject: 

Yes, it can be done. It was a long time ago when I did it, and my memory is a bit hazy. We did it in the fall at a lowish water level, starting below Lillooet and exiting at the last bridge before Harrison lake. If I remember, there were only 2 major spots to watch out for. One was were two channels come back together around an island with some tricky mixing of the currents. You can play there if your up to it, or just keep going with some momentum and watch your balance. The second was Skookumchuck rapids. When we did it, it was realitively straight forward with some big waves.
It is a large volume river, with that large volume feel to it, unpredictable boils etc, and if you are not used to it, can be a bit unsettling. At higher water levels more so.

The hot springs are nice, but very popular. Try to go off season or midweek. I have been there a couple of times and met no one but that is unusual judging from well used the site is. There is another hot spring near the take out. At that time the road up to it was washed out and accessible by sturdy 4 wheel drive only. We hiked in and found a mess of a site and only tepid water, turned around and went back. Mind you, that was all some 25 years ago.

Author:  carpathian [ June 14th, 2008, 2:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Lillooet River from Meager Creek to...

Here is a quick summary of our ill fated attempt on the Lillooet River,
June 7, 2008

As we got out of the trucks at the Meager Creek bridge, I could here the roar of the river. According to the Backcountry Map Book, this section should be 8 hours of fast, deep water. It should be carry our two canoes 32 kilometers southeast, to the Upper Lillooet bridge.

We were hoping that the majority of the volume of water would be split up into smaller, braided channels that we could cleanly navigate in open canoes. From the bridge, however, all of the river was one, as we could see several taller standing waves interspersed with consistent smaller waves. We figured that we could just steer around the taller waves and make it around a few corners to where it would hopefully calm down.

At 11am we launched. Sam, Calita and their dog Cody were in the first canoe. Jamie, my self and my dog Po were in the second canoe. About 10 seconds into our float I had to start bailing. At 20 seconds I had to paddle furiously then at 30 seconds I had to bail again, now at a frenzied pace. At 40 seconds the gunnels started to go under as I watched Po start to swim in my lap. From 45 to 60 seconds I was swimming with one arm, with all of my might as my other hand is gripped around Po’s collar and scruff. We crashed and swam together through a train of standing waves as the whole river made an obvious drop. I could see Sam and Calita already on shore as I struggled the last 10 ft, dog in hand.

At first I was stunned at how quickly things turned sour. Canoe #1 pitch poled off to the horizon as Jamie was still in the water struggling with freeing his dry bag from the submerged cross bar. In the meanwhile Cody the dog was on the other side of the river as we watched him jump back in to join us. I raced 200meters down the boulder-strewn sandbar at pace with the current as I yelled to Jamie “The dog! The dog!” as Cody made it to shore.

Luckily we were only 1 kilometer from the trucks so we sprinted upstream, then drove 5k downstream, parked, ran through the woods and then huge, open sandbar. I could see the tops of waves in the hazy distance. We hit the river and ran downstream another kilometer. There was our boat, pinned upside down on the bottom, on the other side of three deep, fast, cold channels.

I was responsible for the borrowed boat so I had to navigate, claw and swim my way across the river. I got to the boat after some real Navy Seal maneuvering! As I began prying her loose from the suction and weight of the water, I realized that the river had beaten her badly. No seats, no gunnels, no throw-bag, no paddles, just a floppy fiberglass hull. I hiked upstream and pushed into the torrent and free-styled through a wave train that carried me across to the other shore as Jamie tossed me a line made of tie-downs tied together and a stick for weight. The line came up just short as I speed crawled from the intact stern to the fractured bow and into the water with bow in one hand and now the rope in the other as I swung like a pendulum to shore.

For Sammy’s boat we decided to search upstream to where the first shallow braids might catch a canoe. We found it about 2 kilometers upstream from our boat. It was stuck in a similar scenario except with deeper and faster currents.

Jamie took to the lead and committed to powerful forward strokes to get across the main channel. This boat was equally as mangled with gunnels and seats hanging limp and broken. This canoe was constructed out of plastic and it began to ‘taco’ because the gunnels were part of the structure apparently. Because of this ‘taco’ effect and its accompanying extreme instability, Jamie decided to swim across with a line in his hand connected to the canoe trailing downstream from him.

He came whizzing by me and my out reached stick. Sammy again had to use our jimmy rigged safety line and hauled Jamie to the shore. But the boat slipped from his grasp and began running down stream again as I had to sprint along the shore another 100meters and wade out into waist deep water to finally salvage our lost vessel. The time was 4pm.

We made our way to the trucks to sit in the sun, drink a couple of warm beers and reflect on potential lessons learned.

Author:  Tom H [ June 14th, 2008, 3:29 pm ]
Post subject: 

Wow --- I'm glad the only damage was to the canoes.

Where exactly is Meager Creek? Do you have Lat/Long coords? Or can you say just roughly how far downstream from the lake it is? That is, from the second lake downstream from the larger lake 9 miles east of Pemberton?

I'm not even sure of the names of these lakes, but the bigger (more northern) one has it's north end roughly nine miles east of Pemberton, then there's a narrows, and another smaller lake, then the river to northern Harrison Lake starts at the south end of the smaller, more southern lake.

Is the Meager Creek bridge where the river starts at the south end of the smaller, second lake?

Many years ago I heard a highly experienced whitewater guy say that you simply CANNOT just blithely go ahead and canoe down a river you're not familiar with, you absolutely HAVE TO scout it out ahead of time, even if that means hours of nasty bushwacking through nightmarishly thick undergrowth. At the time, being young and invincible, I dismissed this as overly cautious, old-guy bullshit. However, after hearing about whitewater death after whitewater death in which the common denominator was that unexpected hazards were seen too late to avoid them --- usually strainers, log-jams, etc, but sometimes just plain old waterfalls and very steep drops, I'm beginning to think maybe the old-guy was right.

I wanted to do this stretch of river from the second, smaller lake ( south of the lake that's 9 miles east of Pemberton) to northern Harrison Lake, but haven't been able to get accurate info, and what little info I HAVE been able to get leads me to believe that only highly experienced whitewater kayakers need apply. Your post confirms this. Perhaps when at lower flow rates in late summer the river might be more navigable.

Thanks for posting.

I'm glad the pooches were ok ...


Will you guys be taking another run at it? If you do, please keep us informed.

By the way, do you have any pictures? I for one would sure be interested in seeing them, and I bet a lot of the other members of would be, too.


Author:  yarnellboat [ June 14th, 2008, 4:12 pm ]
Post subject: 


Meager Cr. is up the valley from Pemberton, not between the lakes below Pemberton. By most accounts, guidebooks, etc. these sections can be canoed. The river above Meager Cr. is more for ww specialists. I haven't paddled any of it, but I've been meaning to.

As you mention, A LOT about the character of these rivers has to do with what the logjams are like (which can vary from season to season), and how high the river is flowing. My recollection of the descriptions of the river from Meager Cr. to the next bridge crossing lower in the valley by the Hurley FSR is that it's a class II float with braided channels the the potential for wood, so decent moving-water skills are required to deal with channel selection & wood avoidance.

Sounds like the river must've beeen high. Although, I thought the Lillooet peaks later in the summer. Not sure. Anyway, what I think doesn't matter, obviously it was high, or otherwise different than these boats expected.

Most guidebooks should say more about water levels are normally considered runnable for whom.


Glad you're all OK, too bad about the boats. Did the boats have floatation (air bags) and were you wearing wetsuits? If not, you could probably add those to the lessons learned. Be careful walking/crossing channels to rescue the boats etc. - standing up in moving water can be very dangerous! Anyway, it worked out, more-or-less, and you probably even had a fun adventure, just not one that you'd want to repeat!

If you're in the lower mainland (or wherever really) and are interested in paddling with a club, check out the Beaver Canoe Club, it's a great way to learn whitewater canoeing. We're about to head to Princeton and Merritt for some great rivers.

We also go up and paddle rivers like the Mamquam, Cheakamus, Squamish and others, check it out...

Cheers, PY

p.s. Thanks for sharing the report, always good to see more posts on BC ww canoeing!

Author:  SGrant [ June 14th, 2008, 5:31 pm ]
Post subject: 

A km or two east of Pemberton, on the road to Mt. Currie, there is a major concrete river bridge. On the Pemberton side of it, on the south side of the road, there's a river rafting operation. They probably would be a good source of information about the rivers in the area.

I stand to be corrected, but I think carpathian was talking about starting at the bridge across the Lillooet immediately west of the confluence with where Meagre Creek comes in from the south. This is 20-some km west of Pemberton. Trying to come down the Lillooet from farther up the river from there would involve going through Keyhole Falls. Which would not be a good thing to do.

Author:  carpathian [ June 14th, 2008, 5:37 pm ]
Post subject:  canoe 101

Yeah we were like 25k up the Meadows then another 40k up logging road west of pemberton. I knew the lower river was fairly smooth and easy going and the upper reaches were too treacherous. We were aiming for the middle section that might be enjoyable braided channels with channel choices etc.

From what we found in the canoe rescues was that we would have gone down any number of times anyway. Serious waves traines (3-4ft) like 6-7 in a row. Deep and fast. But nothing like the section you want to do down south of the lake.

Last fall we were working out there everyday near Baptiste and down to Harrison. I first had the idea to float and there are roads on both sides all the way. I saw lots of DEEPer FASTer water with mean looking waves in the turns.

Just last night I was talking to this girl who said she blindly attempted the lower bit and had epic as I described.

It would be awesome to make it from way up high all the way to Vancouver.

As far as the boat goes I am buying the owner a new one and rebuilding this one for myself. I have this alpine ski company on the go and it is the same building materials, epoxy and fiberglass. I am thinking higher bow feature with like viking bow sprit or something. Take some of those kiddie fun noodle foam toys and attach to gunnels for flotation etc.

Author:  yarnellboat [ June 14th, 2008, 7:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

I like the image of canoe with a big dragon-head prow and pink foam around the edges!

Carpathian, what kind of canoe is it? If it was a chaubby, shallow, clumsy-shaped "cottage" boat, it might have been half your problem - not all canoe hulls are created equal, and many have no business at all being on wavy rivers! Might want to check in to that before you go too far with the repairs. If you're interested in doing more rivers, you really might as well get a decent river boat and some air bags.

Just like skis, different materials and dimmensions have different uses - maybe you were trying ski steep pow on x-country skis?


Author:  carpathian [ June 17th, 2008, 9:55 pm ]
Post subject:  ski = canoe

The ski analogy was something we laughed about later. We basically tried to drop in on a gnarly mountain, all together, on avy slope, on pinner tele gear etc, etc. and were surprised when it all went wrong.

I am still kind of baffled at how we moved forward like lemmings. I'd like to think that I have a fair amount of 'outdoor experience' if not 'canoe sinking experience'. Lesson: never let your guard down.

As far as boat design goes, we were sitting pretty low from the get go. Two guys at 190lb each and dog and stuff. It was all ill fated from get go.

I don't know how far I can stretch the specs and still be safe/useable. Raise the gunnels a couple of inches, more foam/air bags might do the trick.

We might try the section again in borrowed raft or something in the meanwhile. Are rafts cool here? Are canoists like telemarkers?

If you want to check some of this skiing stuff you can go here: You can follow links to videos etc.

I actually got into ski building as result of being 'forced' into working on my dad's wooden boat projects as a kid. $3/hr to power sand and epoxy while he was at work! But I guess I learned something.

Author:  SGrant [ June 18th, 2008, 12:10 am ]
Post subject: 

We might try the section again in borrowed raft or something in the meanwhile. Are rafts cool here? Are canoists like telemarkers?

I have some strongly held opinions about telemarking, but I need a more clear understanding of what you meant before reacting.

I got the distance information wrong in my post. As you said, it's 20+km from Pemberton to the end of the paved road, then another 20km+ to the Meagre Creek bridge. We used to go ski mountaineering all over that area, which we referred to as The Magic Kingdom.

Author:  yarnellboat [ June 18th, 2008, 12:55 am ]
Post subject: 

I definitely find there is a suspicious amount of overlap between telemarkers and those who paddle ww in open canoes. But I'm not sure if that answers your question.

Some canoeing/telemarking friends of mine took a raft down the Capilano last week. But you don't see many private rafts or inflatables around here like you do south of the border.

If the hull's not good for rivers, you probably won't salvage it by adding here & pinching there etc. But, if you got the material, the skills and the gumption, you might as well try (me though, I'd just go straight to getting a proper ww canoe).


Author:  GuyThaLizard [ November 25th, 2008, 2:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: GPS Hot-Springs / kayaking BC Canada tracks/routes

miker wrote:

The hot springs are nice, but very popular. Try to go off season or midweek. ....

I have a list of GPS locations hot-springs in BC (about 50 of them) if anyone is interested. Many/most are secluded wild hot springs. FREE of charge and for the taking. Located on my network. What I am doing is building a database of hot-springs in BC canada and area. Posting GPS coordinates, photos, tracks/routes, and info of all the hot-springs in the area. For anyone to download. There is about 110 members at this time and still growing and the information database is also growing daily.

I also am a kayaker and have a kayak site for the Okanagan Valley with GPS tracks and routes, photos and info of all my kayak travels in the Okanagan Valley. This site is also FREE and downloads of GPX tracks are free.

I do not have any financial gain from these sites and do not ask or require donations, these sites are a hobby of mine and I just like to share.

So hope to see you there too.


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