Canadian Canoe Routes

Dease River 2019
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Author:  Stencil [ September 5th, 2019, 6:29 am ]
Post subject:  Dease River 2019

Pretty songs and pretty places/ Places that I’ve never seen.
Townes Van Zandt Buckskin Stallion Blues

The Dease river had been on my to do list for some time but in the summer of 2018 my plans were thwarted by the severe fire season in which much of BC was smoke and flame. The small village of Lower Post where the Dease ends escaped by the thinnest of margins as fire burned all around it and destroyed structures in the town itself.
The year of 2019 I felt would be different. After two blazing hot summers in a row we were due for a return to wetter and milder conditions. I turned out to be right, which surprised me for predicting weather is a fools’ game. Some people call it luck --- I prefer to think of it as chance.
I arrived in Dease Lake in early August having driven up from southeast B.C. passing through the foulness that is Prince George and on through the more scenic country to the west.
At Kitwanga the road runs north through miles of mountain scenery and rich forests of spruce and poplar till you pass over the divide and onto the arctic slope. Overloaded logging trucks played chicken with tourists in RV’s and there were wrecks and jack-strawed loads of logs along the wayside.
Accommodation in Dease Lake is limited but I found the Lions campground south of town to be all I needed. It is a well-maintained collection of campsites bordered by a small stream whose rushing waters help to soften the noise of the adjacent highway to the west.
I visited the government services office first thing in the morning and the good people there soon put me touch with someone who would drive me to the put-in and then pick me up in Lower Post in ten days time. A few hours later I was all alone on the lake heading north into a building wind. I hugged the eastern shore for the shelter it provided and in a short time was at the outlet of the lake and on to the river itself.
And what a beautiful river it was --- a small fast flowing stream of clear water running over a smooth bed of gravel and sand. There were fish schooling in the current and tracks of wolf and moose on the gravel bars and a forest of dark spruce and willow understory along the banks.
After a few hours of blissed-out paddling I became aware that a storm was brewing somewhere to the south. It was only three and I was loath to stop but for once prudence won the upper hand and I pulled in at a gravelled beach and set up. The wind came on suddenly roaring in the trees. There was a sharp pinging sound as a tent peg pulled and rattled across the bar and a stuff sack took flight and landed in the water. I retrieved it and worked at bolting things down. A strong carrion smell on the wind was mildly concerning and with all the wolf tracks and scat around I reasoned they had killed a moose somewhere in the vicinity. I don’t like camping near a kill but the storm was kicking in and I had little choice.
I reclined in the tent and listened to the rain rattling off the fly. I was reading Ken Drydens’ “The Game,” a book about his experiences as a goalie for the Canadiens during the glory days of the seventies. I found it as compelling as it had been when I first read it almost forty years ago.
In the morning the mosquitoes appeared to be overjoyed by the climactic conditions and celebrated by joining me for breakfast. Mosquitoes have supposedly been responsible for the deaths of billions of humans through the transmission of disease and though I would not normally wish a malarial death on anyone I make exception for quaders and jet-boaters. They deserve a holiday in Equatorial Guinea sans prophylaxis.
I headed out and right around the corner I found a large spruce almost blocking the river. It had fallen in the storm. Had it hit the boat ---- matchsticks and a quick leap into eternity for the old bastard paddling it.
The river wound on past the occasional cabin and marshes where moose stood watching my passing. By mid-day I was travelling through a chain of small lakes. I visited R.M. Pattersons’ sick camp where he cured himself of ague with oranges and aspirin but it was nothing but a willow thicket all these years later and I paddled on across the shallow and reedy Pinetree Lake attended by the cries of terns to the first marked rapids on the river.
The river narrowed and flowed through some ledges and boulders with strong current but the passage was open and presented no problem. Sometime later as I drifted through a riffle a lynx came out onto a fallen tree and gazed steadily at me. We watched each other at a short distance until it turned and disappeared into the bush as silently as it had come.
It was now late afternoon and as I rounded a bend at the Cottonwood confluence I saw and heard the rapids just downstream. There was a line of boulders and white-water across the river. I didn’t like what I saw and being tired and thirsty I ferried up the Cottonwood a short distance and made camp on an old river terrace in the cool of the trees. The four-o-clock hate was brewing again and I hurried to set up the tent but it proved to be a false alarm as the storm blew by missing me. Walking the stony bar of the Cottonwood I came to a deep hole where I reasoned fish must live and on casting a lure a fine fat --- and tasty looking --- fish followed the spoon raising my hopes for dinner but I did not catch it or any of its companions.
A big mountain dominated the view opposite camp and some inner compulsion told me to have a look with the binoculars. I did and saw three goats sky-lined on the ridge a few kilometres away. I went to bed and read Dryden and tried not to think about the rapids waiting just downstream.
When morning came I was up early and well-fed by seven. I took time to tie down the gear and ready the boat in case things went sideways. I paddled down the Cottonwood and put to shore on the Dease where I walked down to view the rapid. There was a clear chute left of centre that ended in some waves then a calm patch and a second set that blocked the river on the left. The sun was right in my face. I had read somewhere that one should never run a rapid into the rising sun. Well, I don’t like running rapids when I am tired and out of sorts --- but now was the time. I bumped down a sneak line on the left and lined just a short distance past a large rock then jumped in and went easily across to river right and through the second set in almost calm water. The third set soon appeared and I eddied out and looked at it and ran the middle. I noticed once again that rapids look much worse from upstream than from below.
I could see rain coming in over the mountains to the west so I made shore and pulled on the rubber clothing and jungled up in a stand of young poplar to wait out the shower. It lasted for half an hour or so and as I pulled away into the stream I encountered a band of fragrance so sweet and subtle I stopped paddling and tested the air again. In a few seconds it was gone. It had something to do with the rain on the poplar and I knew immediately I would never smell anything like it again.
I went on in a mood of wonder and contentment. A pileated woodpecker called from the forest and a beaver gnawed willow on a gravel bar. There were eagles perched in the big trees and then an osprey with a fish in its’ talons and a female merganser with young.
The river widened and slowed with big meanders and long sandbars on the inside bends. I pulled in at a bar with some gravel patches as I do not like camping on pure sand if I can avoid it. The sandbar made for good walking and I strolled from end to end for a few hundred metres taking in the tracks of the various animals that had passed by the way. It rained again but I was in the tent and it leaketh not.
Day four dawned calm and fair. As I dipped water for tea I saw a small coyote looking at me from a drift-log on the bar some distance away. It faded into the bush and I ate, loaded the boat and paddled out on the first long meander of the day. After a time the river narrowed and gained speed and there were outcrops and slabs of limestone running down into the water. Stone Island rapids appeared but all I encountered was some fast water. Drifting in the current my attention was drawn by a frenzied quacking and a flock of mergansers spooked from the shore and I saw a large grey wolf had made a run at them and missed. Not five minutes later I came upon a black bear feeding on cranberries.
I made camp on a pine bench a stiff carry up from the river on an outside bend. There was a good view down on things which was just as well as I like a good view. An old trail marked by ancient blazes ran along the scarp the trees eroding away into the void. A black bear swam the river and entered the forest. I had a small drink of rum and watched the river pass.
Everything was slowing down. My movements about camp became studied and efficient. All the senses became more acute. A black hornet lit on my finger and tried the callus with its’ mandibles. I brushed it away and told it to go forth and feed --- on mosquitoes.
I get a little static from people when they learn I go on canoe trips alone. They tell me it is irresponsible and dangerous but of course I can’t agree. Humans as a species are prone to accident and death. They trip and stumble and fall. They cut themselves and suffer infection. They drop dead from stroke and aneurism and heart attack. They choke to death on food. By canoeing alone the odds of these unpleasant happenings actually occurring are statistically reduced. I used to participate in a sport that had a death rate approaching the suicidal. Canoeing by comparison seems tame. And I am the most timid of paddlers. Even the sound of white-water gets my pulse rate going. The Dease was the perfect river for me --- murmuring quietly as it wound its’ way to the arctic sea.
I was at the boat in the morning when I looked up and saw a moose wading the river upstream. It was a classic scene --- the river bending along a gravel bar and the great beast framed by the sky and the dark forest all around lit by the first light of a rising sun.
I went on past cut banks where swallows nested in holes excavated in the soft sand foraging out over the river with small ecstatic cries. Flocks of finches fed noisily in tops of the trees. Some were crossbills. They are medium-sized finches whose beaks are crossed just as you would cross your fingers. They use the adaptation to extract seeds from conifer cones. I found their presence comforting as the warblers and other little songsters had largely gone quiet with the end of the nesting season.
I was heading down to the north end of the Horse Ranch Range, an isolate highland lying out on the Liard plain. It was here that R.M. Patterson had hiked into the alpine in search of caribou with murderous intent and had a hard struggle with bush and wet weather. I stopped to look for his “big spruce” camp but it was lost to erosion by the river. Further on I found the marked trail heading east into the Horse Ranch Range. It is just downstream, or north, of a small creek entering from the east. There is a large pile of stones from an old fire ring and a blazed pine with an arrow chainsawed into the trunk.
The trail as it begins passes through a forest of aspen parkland mixed with spruce and shrubs of soopolallie. Bears had been feeding on the berries so I sang out as is the standard practice to let them know I was traveling through their territory. I climbed along an open hillside and on through a mature forest of spruce passing by fens and bogs the trail becoming difficult to follow infested as it was by blowdown and alder. I caught brief glimpses of the alpine through breaks in the canopy but the trail was running obliquely to the northeast and what with the bugs, the heat, the lateness of the day and my own aged decrepitude it was apparent that I would not be gaining the promised land on this day. I turned back and reached the river where the boat and gear lay stashed on a muddy bar littered with goose shit. I ate and drank, loaded the boat and went to a camp on a river terrace adjacent to a huge cut-bank. I was tired dehydrated and wasted. I sat in the shade of a tree reading Thesigers’ Arabian Sands and his tales of extreme suffering and asceticism put my own small miseries in stark perspective.
The next day all was well and as I paddled along I saw a dark bumbling little creature making its way along the cobbles of the riverside. It was a young porcupine traveling on to somewhere. There were beaver swimming in the river and one climbed out onto the bank and marked a willow with scent while emitting a low grunting noise.
The river changed again. It narrowed and quickened running past outcrops of rock and cliff faces hanging above the water. An otter emerged from the river and humped off into the bush. Four young mallard sheltered for protection in a rock cavity where the cliff met the water. I climbed a steep slope and looked out over the forested plain. Terraces of glacial debris broke the horizon the mountains receding in the distance and all above a wide sky with white cumulous towering in the air.
I paddled on. A black bear swam the river before me and feasted on soopolallie berries as I drifted by. Looking for a camp I was surprized by the four o’clock hate as a blast of wind blew the map case into the water. I fished it out and immediately heard the crash of a falling tree. This was a common event. Whenever the wind came up there was the noise of trees coming down a reminder to place your camp with care or risk becoming something resembling a bug-splatter.
After a few investigations I found a good camp on the east bank. There were tamarack trees growing amongst the spruce and boreal chickadees calling and good flat needled ground to camp on. The trees I noted were young and sturdy even if the observer was not. It began to rain in a hard downpour and I rested in the tent reading of the trials of old Thesiger in the distant sands of the desert.
In the morning a cool mist lay above the water and the rising sun shone through it all. I saw a moose with a calf browsing on willow and I endeavoured to drift up on them but as I closed the distance the cow moved off out of sight the calf staring at me and then following her into the tall shrub. The mist lifted and a small flock of geese flew silently up river and the beavers pursued their endless labours in the poplar and cottonwood groves of the riverside.
I sang for a while. Goodnight Irene. Jonny We Hardly Knew Ye. Other old favourites --- my taste runs to the melancholic. Singing is often an antisocial behaviour when inflicted on your companions --- or so I’ve been told --- another good reason to be on your own. I thought about canoes and canoeing. I have never found any manmade thing that suits me like a canoe. I am as comfortable in my boat as in any armchair at home. Put your paddle in the water and move it. Even a loaded tripping canoe will respond to the lightest touch. Pull a canoe up on a bank and it looks like it always belonged there. Flip it over with its spine in the air and its form is revealed as beautiful. Canoes look good even on top of cars and trucks --- no small accomplishment indeed.
As I came down the last few kilometers on the Dease the forest was burnt up to the banks and over the hills on both sides. There were patches of green timber and in one of these was as good and open a campsite as you could wish for but the witless fool at the helm passed it by and continued on through some wide curving corners and wound up on a gravel bar across from a high bank that was actively eroding spilling rocks and debris into the river. I had to carry the gear some distance into the shade of a few surviving trees and once there I found the place infested by ants. I had a drink and sat and read and brushed the ants off. It was my last camp and as always I felt a little disgruntled. Tomorrow I would face the last and hardest rapids of the trip. I can’t say I was looking forward to the prospect but comforted myself with the thought that if I were to draw my last breath at least it wouldn’t be in Prince George.
I was away early with the gear lashed and the hatches battened. The burn became more extensive and the forest was destroyed and fallen all along the river. At Four Mile I landed and walked through the burn to view the rapid. Snags were falling spontaneously as I passed through. I looked down at the wide expanse of the river and saw the left-hand line to be a fast chute filled with waves and holes and reefs and stoppers. It looked horrible. I figured you would need balls of steel and shit for brains to run it at the present water level. Being only half-qualified I looked across river where the current was slower flowing over numerous small boulders and I felt there was a line there that matched me and my abilities. It went well. I bumped through some low water sustaining one small bruise on the hull along with some scraping and I shallowed-out and lined a short distance and was through.
I climbed in and paddled on to Two Mile. I scouted from river right and it was easier to carry thirty metres across a small bar than to cross over and set up for the rapid. Ten minutes later I was done. I continued on and the expanse of the Liard came into sight with Lower Post on the far shore. I paddled and then waded up the channel behind the island at the confluence dragging the boat through the shallows. A fierce wind was blowing down the Liard and I broke out the double blade and began the upstream ferry. There was a moment when I thought the wind would win and carry me off to who knows where but a little desperate windmilling got me through and I ended up on the bank just upstream from an old church.
Another trip in the bag. I thought about all the work and expense and considered if it was worth it. Anything worth doing requires effort and sacrifice. You can sit by the stove and stare out the window. You can dream about places you’ve been or would like to see. And sometimes, you just have to set your hair on fire and break some f---ing dishes.

Guide book. Northern British Columbia Canoe Trips by Laurel Archer.
A good and thorough guide that instructs without being pedantic. Excellent on history and ecology of the area.

Reading. Trail to the Interior by R M Patterson.
History and anecdote featuring the Dease River and Cassiar country from a popular writer of the 50’s and 60’s.

Shuttle. I used Ron 250-771-5017 in Dease Lake. Excellent service at a reasonable price. He dropped me off at Sawmill Point and when I arrived a few days early he drove down on short notice to Lower Post and picked me up. There is no cell service in Lower Post as of 2019.

The River.
This might have been the most scenic river I have paddled. It changes constantly. If you have any interest in geomorphology the Dease provides a textbook.
The rapids were moderate at the low water levels I experienced. You could line or wade or run. This is not a river for novices. Sweepers, logjams and boulder obstacles are frequent. The two lower rapids Four Mile and Two Mile are burnt out. Scouting Four Mile from the west will become problematic as the snags fall and restrict access.
Wildlife viewing was superb. I saw bears everyday but one. Moose were common and I saw wolf and lynx as well. Beavers were everywhere. Otter and muskrat. Birdwatching was good but lacking in variety given the lateness of the season.

My thanks to BlueNoser90 and emorris24 both MYCCR members who answered my query re: logistics.

Before I left I visited an old canoeist who had met Albert Faille of Nahanni fame. He asked Faille about Patterson. “Biggest moocher ever.” Was Failles’ reply. I got a good chuckle out of that.

Pictures here. ... se%20River

Author:  Krusty [ September 5th, 2019, 10:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dease River 2019

That's a really enjoyable read. And pictures. Well done.

I'm so envious it hurts.

Author:  elGuapo [ September 6th, 2019, 4:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dease River 2019

Thank you Stencil, love your trip reports.

Author:  Stencil [ September 7th, 2019, 7:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dease River 2019

Krusty. el Guapo.
So many rivers so little time.
Best of luck on your adventures.

Author:  cheryl [ September 8th, 2019, 9:51 am ]
Post subject:  !

Really enjoyed to story, and I like the little details that made it sound like we were sitting around a campfire having a discussion...

Author:  jmc [ September 8th, 2019, 10:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Dease River 2019

Yes, an enjoyable read. Thanks for posting.


Author:  R.Bill [ June 11th, 2020, 12:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dease River 2019

Hi, thank you for the detailed trip report. I just finished reading your vivid description of the Dease with my morning coffee. Currently I’m sitting on my deck in the sunshine, map in hand following the Dease squiggly blue line with my finger. As a family we are planning to paddle it in early August. We are even more excited about our own adventure through this spectacular area after reading your post. Once again many thanks for the time you put into this trip report. It has already helped in our own trip preparation.

Paddle on my friend,

Author:  Stencil [ June 15th, 2020, 5:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dease River 2019

Thanks Bill,
Have a great trip.
And please let us know how it went.

Author:  pborek [ August 3rd, 2020, 4:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dease River 2019

The Dease is one of my favourite river trips. My kids claimed it as "their river" 15 years ago, with Bug's Pike Hole and Hedgie's fossil wall still in our family lexicon. Thank you, Stencil, for the gentle wander down a beautiful waterway.

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