ROAM’s experience is legendary. Over the last 3 decades we have appeared in numerous publications, including: Travel & Leisure, Outside, Men’s Journal, Departures, National Geographic, Beautiful BC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Globe & Mail, Harpers, Harpers and Queens, The Robb Report, SELF, Canoe & Kayak, Bon Appetit, Northwest Palate, Marie Claire and many more…
- FEATURED NEWS STORY: TRAVEL + LEISURE
by: Elizabeth Gilbert April 2006
THE WHITE STUFF
Rosemary-scented leg of lamb. Subtle Pinot Noirs. Sunset massages beside British Columbia’s Chilko Lake. If this is what you call adventure, says Elizabeth Gilbert, sign her up. Wait-did someone mention Class Five white-water rapids?
Fact of life: We hear what we want to hear. So When I first-heard about this multisport adventure vacation in the Canadian wilderness, which included such exciting pursuits as kayaking, horseback riding, fly-fishing, white-water rafting, and heli-hiking, as well as relaxing spa activities, all I really heard was the word spa.
And quite honestly, that’s why I wanted to go. Because spa, of course, is one of those magic modern consumer words like organic, carb-free, liberty-words that, it seems, any American will pay any price for these days. Yes, I thought, I would very much like to go and spend a week draped in terry cloth, sampling an array of green-tea facials, freshwater-kelp pedicures, and aromatherapy steam baths at a lovely spa, which rhymes with ahhh.
I kind of forgot about all the other challenges I would be expected to face on this wilderness vacation, and I particularly neglected to consider the realities of Class Five white-water rafting down British Columbia’s riotous, whiplash-inducing Chilko River. Which doesn’t rhyme with any-thing, mind you, except, perhaps, I’m gonna die!
Brian McCutcheon invented this trip, and he began taking groups of sixteen last year, Canadian, rugged, friendly (or maybe that’s all redundant), Brian comes from a long line of wilderness experts. In 1985 he founded Rivers and Oceans (though it’s now called ROAM, for Rivers Oceans & Mountains), a B.C. and California-based adventure-travel company dedicated to guiding the curious and the brave through some of the most exciting topography in the world. To date he has successfully led about a million people through white water adventures without killing anyone. Or at least that’s the number I made up, in order to reassure myself as we careened downstream through the Chilko rapids.
First, a little geographical background. Chilko Lake, which adjoins the Chilko River, is some-thing you could never find in the overdeveloped United States: a 55-mile-long, 1,000-foot-deep, clear-as-truth miracle of glacial runoff, buried deep in the mountains that we call the Cascades and the Canadians call the Coastal Range. The only building near this place is the lodge, right at the juncture of Chilko Lake and the Chilko River, which contains the longest stretch of commercially navigable white-water rapids anywhere in North America-as well as trout the size of a Saint Bernard, if you like fishing.
To get here, you must fly in a private plane from Vancouver over wilderness that you cannot see the end of-staggering mountain ranges, eternal glaciers, epic pine forests, mythic water-falls, lakes so pale and blue they look like miniature tropical seas. (Stick a toe in, of course, and the temperature will quickly remind you that you’re in Canada, not the Caribbean.) Chilko Lake is not a very easy place to get to-the descent from the sky toward the tiny landing strip is an exciting game called Do You Really Trust Your Pilot?- but once here, you are dearly spoiled, with a hot tub and a sauna and tennis courts and excellent wines and meals that include lamb, veal, boar, duck, mahi-mahi, and various other choice meats served in delicate reductions. McCutcheon spares himself no culinary inconvenience to please his guests, and has been known to helicopter himself over to a local glacier just to collect the world’s purest ice for cocktails. “You have not lived,” he claims. “Until you’ve tried twenty-five-year-old scotch served over ten-thousand-year-old ice.”
So it’s top-shelf living indeed, which is all very nice. But – lest we forget (and I did forget) – this is also a wilderness adventure. Which I am reminded of when, on the first day, Brian sits us all down and outlines the week’s activities; white-water rafting, horseback riding, kayaking, heli-hiking…etc., etc. Now, I have been an active person in my time, but it’s been a long while. So I start looking around at the other guests on the trip, to gauge how physically prepared they seem for these vigorous endeavors. To tell you the truth, they all seem really, really prepared.
Every ROAM tour is different, of course, with participants ranging from outdoorsy families to energetic retirees, but on this trip, the group is made up of a handful of slim, strong, flat-bellied, professional women in their thirties and forties-women who, I discover after a little interviewing, are all avid runners, hikers, world-class kayakers, championship swimmers, etc. Now very nervous indeed (my recent physical activities include such pursuits as reading, reading in the bathtub, reading in the bathtub with a cup of tea…), I sidle up to the most gentle-looking of these women and ask, “Are you a particularly active person?” Sweetly, she admits that she is not. I exhale with relief. “Although,” she adds, “I do compete in triathlons. But I’m not very good.” How reassuring.
I turn my attention back to Brian, our intrepid guide, who is saying something equally reassuring about the grizzly hear population. “Bears shouldn’t be a problem,” he explains, “because the anatomy of their jaws renders them physiologically incapable of putting your entire skull in their mouths.” After a beat, he concludes. “Seriously, though, worst-case scenario with a bear, just drop down and play dead.” No, worst-case scenario with a bear: Drop down and be dead.
He then tells us that the river we will be rafting this week is categorized as Class Four in dangerousness, with some sections that are Class Five. I’m the only one who asks how many classes there are. “Six,” says Brian. “Gentle moving current is considered Class One. Class Six is Niagara.”
“But maybe the Canadian Class Five isn’t quite as high as the American Class Five?” I ask hopefully. “Given the exchange rate?” Sensing my concern, Brian says, “Don’t worry, you’ll love it. And you’ll be safe.” I don’t believe him. But here’s the thing: it’s gorgeous here. I mean, British Columbia is gorgeous as I have rarely seen gorgeous in all my life. (As Brian says, “After The Lord of the Rings, everyone went all googie over New Zealand’s landscapes, but they’ve got just a tiny fragment down there of what we’ve got up here.”) And I’ve never had the opportunity to try half these activities before – there just aren’t a lot of helicopter-hiking outfits in Philadelphia, you know-so I decide to dive into all of this stuff full force.
Flash forward to six days later; I can barely walk for sore muscles. But, in the very worthy meanwhile, I have:
1. Kayaked across Lake Chilko and floated along its shoreline, watching the silhouettes of the deer shifting through the trees, discovering one of the most meditative forms of movement I’ve ever experienced;
2. Ridden my horse through the forest, galloping from the sparkled light of dense woods to golden open meadows to the surreal world of a burn area and the remnants of a recent spectacular forest fire;
3. Hiked across some of the most remote mountain ridges in North America, where my group was dropped off by a nice man in a helicopter, who flew us to the highest peak and then left us to weave our way along the mountain crest, past downy clouds, noble glaciers, and a dazzling beauty pageant of local wildflowers (a visiting botanist once counted 47 varieties);
4. Practiced meditation every morning and yoga every evening on a floating dock, under the tutelage of Laurie Knox, who is also a Chinese-medicine expert and professional masseuse;
5. Enjoyed a couple of really superb massages;
6. Ate the best food I’ve had in years;
And, of course…
7. Tried my hand at treacherous Class Five white-water rafting.
Before this week, my lifetime career of river running consisted of an inner tube, a floating cooler, and a sun hat. All I could hope was that all the other challenging things I had done in the past would somehow collectively add up to an ability to handle this one (i.e., rowing on the high school crew team + being a diner waitress + living in India = a person ready to face Class Five white water). In the end, though, it was glorious, and of course, Brian was right: I loved it. Nothing I’d worried about actually happened. What did happen was a few extraordinary hours of intensely concentrated thrill. Indeed, it was like a combination of everything difficult I’ve ever done, but it was also a combination of everything wonderful I’ve ever done (i.e., falling in love + riding horses at full gallop + living in India = something like Class Five white water…but only if you do it all in two hours).
The distillation of physical effort is matched only by the eye-grabbing beauty of the canyons you are shooting. As you plow over another thrashing waterfall, a bald eagle is lunging down from the cliffs above your right shoulder and the salmon are spawning beneath you and the bears are too busy fishing along the shores to notice your bullet-like passage. Mouth and lungs fill with water and air. You soar, shout, drive, dive. You are one with the river and your arteries are cleansed by adrenaline and you feel the raging power of nature.
Then – and this is the really pleasant bit – you fly straight back to the lodge in a helicopter and get to sit in a hot tub with a glass of Pinot Noir all evening, slowly digesting the tender, rosemary-scented leg of lamb you have just enjoyed during your delightful sunset-and-conversation-rich dinner. In other words, you engage intimately with some of the planet’s most exhilarating natural wonders in a nearly inaccessible pristine environment without being asked to endure five minutes of physical discomfort; you don’t even have to uncork your own wine bottles, folks – they’ll do it for you! And if there are any purists out there who worry that this is a commodification of the wilderness and an artificially consumer-centric presentation of nature, I’d be happy to discuss this with you. Meet me in the hot tub. Bring your own cocktail. We can talk about it all night, under the brilliance of 10,000 stars.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book is the travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love (Viking).
- FEATURED NEWS STORY: BRITISH COLUMBIA MAGAZINE
by: LARRY PYNN Spring 2007
48 HOURS IN THE KOOTENAYS
“YOU SET THE PACE,” OFFERS MY HIKING GUIDE, BRIAN McCUTCHEON, STRAPPING ON A DAYPACK IN THE PARKING LOT OF KOKANEE GLACIER PROVINCIAL PARK.
I take one last look back at his pickup truck, which we have surrounded with chicken wire to prevent hoodlum porcupines from chewing at the brake lines while we’re away. Then it’s a sharp ascent on a trail bordered by salmonberries, sweet clover, and alder, knifing through forests of fir and cedar en route to Kokanee Lake.
One hour into the hike and I’m already dogging it in the 30 C heat. I am not in the best shape for hiking. I gave it up four years ago after an assignment in the trailless Clendinning Valley near Squamish ended in arthroscopic knee surgery.
“How’s the ticker?” asks McCutcheon, reaching for his satellite emergency phone like a twitchy gunslinger.
Better question: how will it be at day’s end tomorrow?
I signed on with the Nelson-based eco-tourism guru for a six-day multi-sport adventure, an organized way to sample the region’s buffet of recreational opportunities. I was to tag along with a family of five from the United States, but when they cancelled at the last minute, my weeklong exploration became a 48-hour adventure marathon. I’m here to cram as many outdoor activities as I can into just two days, hoping my cortisone-laced, 51-year-old body can hold up.
McCutcheon has guided actor Tom Cruise down the Colorado River, taken DKNY fashion designer Donna Karan on a Yukon raft trip down the Firth River, and fly-fished for coho salmon with business billionaire Jimmy Pattison on British Columbia’s Wakeman River. Now he’s got me, someone who served as a stocky movie extra in Clan of the Cave Bear, whose wardrobe is distinguished by two pairs of jeans and no fewer than 17 black T-shirts.
I may not be rich and famous, but I still have four years to reach the average age and annual income of McCutcheon’s clientele – about 55 and $255,000 US. That’s assuming I survive my two-day outdoor adventure blitz.
There are worse places to die trying than the West Kootenay. The region’s heart is Kootenay Lake, southern British Columbia’s largest natural lake, a landform best described as a giant bow and arrow. The bow extends just over 100 kilometres from the community of Argenta due south to the beginnings of the agriculture- and bird-rich Creston Valley; the arrow is the lake’s West Arm, reaching 30 kilometres to the City of Nelson. Adding geographic drama to the landscape, the Purcell Mountains flank the lake’s east side and the Selkirks the west, both part of the greater Columbia Mountains.
It all points to a wealth of recreational opportunities in Nelson’s backyard. Paddling, rafting, or boating, not just on Kootenay Lake but also the Slocan and Salmo river systems. Recreational fishing for kokanee, a freshwater form of land-locked salmon, and other species. Backcountry hiking in vast parks, scuba diving for shipwrecks, back-road bicycling and motorcycling. And, at days end, soaking in local hot springs such as Nakusp, Ainsworth, and Halcyon.
Despite all it has to offer, Nelson remains a quaint geographic backwater found well off the major highways. Visitors arriving by air generally fly into Castlegar Airport and drive 30 minutes east to Nelson, or land in Spokane, Washington, and make the three-hour drive north.
“You still have to explain where Nelson is,” McCutcheon says. “That’s part of the charm.”
Those who make the journey are not disappointed. New Jersey retiree Jim Devers had ridden no fewer than 154 rivers (24 of them repeats), including waterways as exotic as the Bio Bio in Chile, the Upper Navua in Fiji, and Rio Pacuare in Costa Rica, yet the West Kootenay still wowed him.
“Wonderful trip, spectacular scenery,” he confirms of his multi-sport trip. “I even got introduced to some delicious B.C. wine while in Nelson – such a cool town.”
Nelson’s 10,000 or so residents range from plaid-jacketed loggers and paint-splattered artists to bongo-playing youths and high-tech urban refugees. It’s a politically and culturally diverse community that benefits from good restaurants, a dynamic arts scene (it’s said that you can find live music virtually every night of the week), and a core of restored turn-of-the-century buildings dating back to the town’s mining heydays. All this and wrap-around wilderness, too.
The Gibson Lake trailhead to Kokanee Glacier Park is a 45-minute drive northeast of Nelson and a world away from the city’s cappuccino bars and holistic healers. It is a well-marked route rising more than 1,500 metres; the trail eventually levels off, yielding vistas of treeless ridges strewn with granite boulders spat out during the last ice age.
“We get all three colours of paintbrush – red, yellow, and orange,” McCutcheon says of the luminous alpine plant. “That’s pretty unusual.”
We stop for lunch at the stunningly scenic yet melancholy Kokanee Lake. Michel Trudeau, youngest son of the late Canadian prime minister, Pierre Elliott, drowned here when a snow avalance swept him into the lake in November 1998. He was 23. His body remains submerged in the cold waters, a testament to the savage side of nature. McCutcheon points to the steep route Trudeau was forced to navigate early in the ski season, noting, “the lake froze solid” not long after the young man’s fatal plunge.
McCutcheon normally turns back with his clients at Kokanee Lake but we decide to soldier on, through Kokanee Pass to the new Kokanee Glacier Cabin, built with support from the Trudeau family, and, farther yet, to the original 1896 Slocan Chief Cabin. We see no bears along the way, despite a posted warning from the day before: “Encountered: one grizzly sow and two yearlings between Kalmia Lake and Slocan Chief Cabin.”
Six hours after our hike began, I crawl Gumby-legged into McCutcheon’s truck for the trip back. This is no limousine ride: the truck exudes the residual scent of a skunk that tangled with his dog two nights earlier.
No matter. I dine on coconut Thai prawns at McQ’s North Country Grill in Balfour, a half-hour east of Nelson, before returning to the city for a good night’s sleep in preparation for stage two of my adventure.
McCutcheon picks me up at 9 a.m. and drives to Balfour. There, we launch plastic kayaks at the point where the main body of Kootenay Lake meets the West Arm. The water is calm, clear, and unusually warm, and the mountains are mysteriously veiled by the smoky haze of a nearby forest fire. Three loons fish for juvenile kokanee just 10 metres from us, and an osprey wafts over with a twig for its nest.
Accompanying us is Chris Clarkson, who ran a seasonal eco-tourism company in Belize for eight years before returning to Nelson in 2001 and becoming a partner in McQ’s and Kootenay Lakeview Lodge in Balfour. Paddling alongside the Kootenay Lake ferry – fittingly named the Osprey 2000 – Clarkson motions toward McEwen Point to the north of us. It’s named after his grandfather, Mickey McEwen, a sportsman and conservationist who helped preserve Duck Lake in the Creston Flats.
“I have a photo of him coming back in a small boat,” Clarkson says over the soothing splash of our paddles. “He had four fish over 20 pounds and a big mule deer.”
Thirty minutes later we pass atop a marine buoy that marks the dive site where a Canadian Pacific Railway barge, towed by the steam tug Valhalla, lost part of its load in 1901. Six rail cars loaded with coal lie beneath us at depths as shallow as eight metres.
“You can snorkel it,” Clarkson remarks. “On a good day you can see them for sure.”
Maybe on the next trip. It’s time to depart for Crescent Valley, a 20-minute drive west of Nelson, launch site for a five-kilometre paddle down the Slocan River. This time I’ll be traveling in a four-metre self-bailing inflatable kayak, a forgiving craft that behaves much like a raft in rapids.
The river starts relatively slowly, allowing me time to look into the clear waters for fish and at the homes dotting the wooded shoreline. Our pace picks up as we approach Facchina’s Rapids just above the Kootenay River confluence, the Slocan’s biggest whitewater, rated Class 2 and up. Water levels this day are exceptionally low, which makes for smaller waves but plenty of exposed rocks.
McCutcheon knows I have negotiated Class 3 rapids in a tandem canoe, but rather than provide me with my own craft, he has stuck me in the bow of a kayak skippered by Clarkson. I might as well be a piece of stow gear. Clarkson effortlessly navigates the rapids, then turns back upstream to re-enter the white water while McCutcheon tuants “surf it” from the near distance.
I sense a conspiracy to dunk me. On the last and biggest rapid, the kayak nearly folds in half as we push through the envelope of white water. I lean all the way back and somehow manage to stay on the craft, whereas Clarkson is jettisoned off the side. Yet in the resulting photos, only I end up looking like a flailing fool in the kayak, legs stuck in the air.
It’s classic McCutcheon. The cocky, gregarious entrepreneur is innately mischievous. He once hiked up a mountain with a friend and, reaching the top, asked: “Want a beer?”
“You brought beer up here?” the friend replied incredulously.
At which point McCutcheon reached into the man’s backpack, extracted four beers, and announced: “No, you did.”
I’m not surprised one group of clients tossed him into the Firth River, tent and all. He had wakened them at 2 a.m. on the pretext it was time to rise – an easy dupe in the North’s nightless summer – fed them strong coffee, then returned to bed chuckling.
“My father calls me the world’s poorest millionaire,” says McCutcheon, who owns homes near Kootenay Lake and Crescent Beach, south of Vancouver. “I live the lifestyle of a millionaire – jet setting around and staying in fancy lodges – but I have no money.”
Are you crying for him? Me neither.
Now there is time to dry off during the 45-minute drive north to New Denver in the Slocan Valley. The final leg of our trip will be a mountain bike trip along the 13-kilometre Galena Trail.
The Galena follows a corridor that traces its roots to the mining-era, narrow-gauge Nakusp and Slocan Railway of the 1890s. The route was upgraded for recreation enthusiasts in 1998 and connects with a hiking trail up popular Idaho Peak. The trail proceeds through a leafy canopy of birch, hemlock, and cedar, and features several neatly constructed wooden bridges and precipitous sections marked “Caution, steep drops.”
We are not long into the trip when I discover McCutcheon has given me a mountain bike with no front brakes.
No brakes? Really? Though he feigns disappointment – “I wanted a good wipe-out” – the notorious prankster swears he simply forgot to hook them up.
All systems working again, we proceed to an aluminum cable-car crossing of Carpenter Creek. It’s named after the prospector who discovered silver in 1891 at nearby Sandon, a once-thriving frontier mining town that, today, is an important historic tourist attraction in the region.
The creek is our turnaround point. “From here, it’s a screamer downhill,” McCutcheon says.
The ride back to the trailhead is pure joy. We fly along so fast that the trees bend and shapeshift into elastic cartoon figures. Robins on the ground fly for their lives at our passing, and the width of the trail seems to shrink to a razor’s edge.
It is an exhilarating end to my brief, action-packed visit to the West Kootenay. I should feel sated from my outdoor adventures, ready to let my body rest and recover from the workout. In fact, I am hungry for more. The experience is not an end, only the source of inspiration for adventures to come.
- MEN’S JOURNAL
While the rest of the sea-kayaking world logjams the Pacific Northwest this summer, Kootenay Lake, near the funky arts-and-powder town of Nelson, remains a secret paddler’s paradise. For one thing, the scenery is more dramatic: The 7,000- to 9,000-foot Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges ring this 90-mile lake. And the paddling conditions are ideal: a drier climate, warmer temps (ranging from 70 to 90 degrees in the summer), and no tides to contend with. Outfitter R.O.A.M. takes you kayaking for a few days, and throws in some sailing and fishing on the lake and a bit of Class III-IV whitewater on the Salmo River.
- MEN’S JOURNAL
by: Whitewater Planet April, 2004
The 100 Best Trips on the Planet
CLASSIC TRIP – The first descent of British Columbia’s Klinaklini River was done by a ROAM guide and covered by Men’s Journal. Today it includes glacier hikes, grizzly sightings, and a helicopter portage. Client profile those looking to raft a new river, or who want a bit of pampering.
- USA TODAY TRAVEL
by: Laura Bly August, 2003
Rafting that Stretches the Boundaries
ALONG THE CHILKO RIVER, British Columbia – Fingers clasped high above her tousled red curls, yoga instructor Hannah Johansen leans toward heaven – and a haze of bloodthirsty mosquitoes.
“Imagine a protective egg that will keep the bugs out,” Johansen urges the dubious acolytes gathered around her at a riverside campsite. “Bless them. Invite them to stay away. And remember: Thought creates form.”
Alas, on this second day of a weeklong yoga/spa/whitewater-rafting trip through the heart of British Columbia, the spirit is clearly weaker than winged nasties hungry for flesh. As the sun starts its own stretch through the cottonwoods and lodgepole pines, a background chorus of gurgling water is pierced by the sound of ragged breathing and creaking knees – and the satisfying thwack of hands helping insects reach the next world.
With a new Yoga Journal/Harris Interactive poll showing more than 12% of the U.S. population “very” or “extremely” interested in yoga, the ancient physical and spiritual regimen has evolved far beyond its humble beginnings in India. (One salacious case in point: J. Lo showing off her postures and famous posterior in this summer’s cinematic turkey, Gigli.)
The estimated 15 million Americans who already practice yoga have a dizzying array of options for staying limber on vacation, from spartan, tofu-and-green-tea ashrams to upper-crust Crystal Cruises, which just introduced a shipboard wellness program that melds yoga with tai chi and Pilates.
Among the newest twists is the seemingly oxymoronic pairing of yoga with whitewater rafting, an activity more often associated with sunburned, beer-swilling adrenaline junkies than with centered, sinewy women stretching their way to nirvana.
At least six rafting companies are featuring yoga-themed trips this year, through terrain as diverse as the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho and the tropical highlands of Fiji. They all aim, in instructor Johansen’s words, to take yoga “off the mat” and teach participants to explore an internal landscape while they immerse themselves in an external one.
The yoga/rafting marriage is off to a rocky start, due in part to those entrenched stereotypes. “A lot of women are interested at first, but they’re intimidated when they hear the word â€˜whitewater,’ ” says Lisa Gale of Class VI River Runners. The outfit offered, but wound up canceling, two yoga trips down West Virginia’s Gauley River earlier this summer.
“It seems like a pretty narrow niche,” adds John Abbot, CEO of Yoga Journal. “Yoga and nature certainly go together. But the focus of yoga is inward, and you want a tranquil environment, not whitewater rapids.”
But as our admittedly tiny band of yogis and yoginis (male and female practitioners) discovered on a recent yoga expedition down a 130-mile stretch of Western Canada’s Chilko, Chilcotin and Fraser rivers, oars and oms needn’t be mutually exclusive.
Offered through the popular California-based rafting company O.A.R.S., the trip begins with a flight by small chartered plane to glacier-fed Chilko Lake, one of North America’s largest alpine lakes, and winds through an ecological mosaic incorporating pine-covered mountains, sage-laced, million-acre ranches and sandstone hoodoos more reminiscent of Utah than Canada. The centerpiece is the Chilko River’s Lava Canyon, a 17-mile swath of nearly continuous rapids considered among the world’s most challenging. (The real-life drowning of several American rafters in Lava Canyon provided the inspiration for Alan Alda’s 1994 film The White Mile.)
The promise of serious whitewater, not morning stretches or shoulder rubs around the campfire, prompted suburban New Yorkers Lois Baldwin, 56, and Jim Fogarty, 57, to sign on for our late July departure. But while Fogarty has opted to steer clear of the trip’s yoga/spa component (“my meditation is nature,” explains the former marine biologist), Baldwin is hoping to boost the knowledge she has already gleaned from a handful of yoga classes back home.
She’s joined by Paul Chang, a 50-year-old Jamaican entrepreneur and avid yoga student who had met Johansen at a yoga retreat a few weeks earlier, and 25-year-old Steve Markle, an O.A.R.S. marketing manager and lifelong athlete who’s eager to “develop my feminine side.”
Like Fogarty, I’m more interested in vegging on a riverbank and whooping through top-rated, Class V rapids than in learning the downward facing dog (one of yoga’s most popular asanas, or postures). A veteran of high-octane whitewater on the Colorado and Zambezi rivers, I have nightmares of waking to decaffeinated tea and brown rice instead of strong coffee and bacon – and of being intimidated by a Lycra-clad, perfectly manicured guru.
I’m quickly put at ease by 56-year-old Johansen, an effervescent, self-described “hippie mama” and owner of Alpenglow Adventure Spa in Big Sky, Mont. Trained at the famed Kripalu Center in Lenox, Mass., the longtime yoga teacher and masseuse mixes New Age philosophy with such “only-on-river-trips” vices as a pack of clove cigarettes and flask of Baileys. Irish cream (perfect for spiking that first cup of morning java).
As Johansen continually reminds us during her twice-a-day, 45-minute sessions, the body/soul benefits of yoga extend far beyond the confines of a sweaty studio – including, in my case, a newfound talent for breathing deeply while inflating an air mattress.
And a few of us are grateful to hear that an inability to hold a tree pose for more than a few shaky seconds doesn’t mean failure: “There are all kinds of trees, from saplings to willows to sturdy oaks,” Johansen reassures us from her own unwavering perch beneath a canopy of Douglas firs.
Just as Johansen shatters the “yoga Nazi” stereotype, the river journey itself is both more and less than we’d bargained for.
An already varied landscape is made even more dramatic by the constant threat of wildfires, which have flared through much of British Columbia this summer. We share our first night at the Chilko Lake Lodge with a crew of soot-covered, bone-tired firefighters, and float past stretches of forest still smoldering from a recent blaze.
As our rafts bobble through placid reaches of the Chilko River before hitting Lava Canyon, we marvel at schools of Chinook salmon darting like torpedoes through sun-dappled water so clear and clean we can dip our bottles for refills – and at imperious bald eagles who seem to be leading us ever farther downstream.
By the time we clamber up a steep slope to scout Bidwell, the first set of rapids in Lava Canyon, we know all about “strainers” and “sweepers” – downed trees and branches that can clasp unwitting swimmers in a doomed embrace. We’ve heard river guide Dougie Arnott’s sober reminder that “this is not a Disneyland ride,” and learned how to haul a rapids-tossed rafter back to safety.
But somehow, the sight of all that froth and foam sparks something other than the surge of adrenaline we had expected. Maybe it was the “breath of joy” yoga routines we practiced just before shoving off, or Johansen’s exhortation to imagine the rafts as dancing yellow corks.
As we enter the maelstrom, giggles replace the warrior whoops of rivers past. And between involuntary shrieks when sun-warmed faces meet a 10-foot wall of 40-degree water, we grin like fools – or enlightened gurus glimpsing the Buddha nature of life.
Smiles come easily on shore, too.
Our camping experience is participatory and prosaic as well as pampered, with rafters expected to pitch their own tents and join a conga-like supply line as the guides load and unload the two 18-foot rafts each day. A warm shower is only an occasional luxury, and the small portable toilet – dubbed “the groover” in raft-speak – turns unspeakably nasty by the end of the week.
But 48-year-old river guide and camp chef Rex Myers, a compact bear of a man who wouldn’t be caught dead in Lycra, clearly knows his way around a propane stove. He whips up mouth-watering concoctions that soar far beyond either sprouts and yogurt or burgers and beans, from French toast stuffed with brie and strawberries to steak fajitas washed down with British Columbian pinot noir.
The spa portion of the trip includes such decadent touches as an inflatable footbath, complete with soaking salts and lemon-scented lotion, and a mud facial administered while drifting down the silty Chilcotin River (think African Queen, minus the hippos).
Best of all are Johansen’s twice-weekly massages, delivered in a green-and-white striped tent or under the stars.
We’ve been told the Northern lights are sometimes visible in these pollution-free (if not always smoke-free) skies, and I often lie awake late at night, hoping for a ringside seat at one of nature’s most spectacular performances.
I get my wish in the unlikeliest of settings: A massage table set up just inches from the hypnotically noisy confluence of the Chilcotin River and Big Creek. As Johansen works out the kinks from that day’s paddling session, I gaze toward the northern horizon – and spot a band of white light, pulsing in waves that seem eerily reminiscent of those we’d encountered on an earthly plane.
Thought creates form? I’m a believer.
- CIGAR AFICIONADO
“My wife bought me a rafting trip for my 50th birthday, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” says Bob McGillivray, a dealer in rare stamps from Vancouver. While McGillivray qualifies as a white-water fanatic, his approach is a bit different. He rafts the same river each year, Canada’s Chilko. “It’s big white water, beautiful scenery and usually a great group of people.”
- NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE
by: Steve Jermanok Spring, 1999
The Local Guys
Name any major destination in the world – and the activities you want to do there – and a big-time adventure company has likely planned your trip already. But that’s not the only way to go. The largest companies can’t staff every trip themselves and often pay local guides to pick up the slack. You pay the middleman’s markup. And sometimes a local guide gets a lock on a particular trip so the big guys don’t even bother to compete at all.
Guide Brian McCutcheon has assembled a spine-tingling line up of rafting opportunities down class IV and V drops in British Columbia. His favorite, arguably the most exciting run in North America, is a seven day voyage down the Chilko Chilcotin Fraser river systems in south-central B.C. The roller coaster ride begins after you leave 4000′ high Chilko Lake. From there you’ll drop 3000 feet through a tumultuous blur of lava gorges and narrow chutes, forest and snow capped peaks overhead. The rafts include coolers stuffed with prawns, prime rib, salmon, beer and wine, plus chairs and even a hot water shower…
- SELF MAGAZINE
Going Wild: A group of hard-working urbanites heads out of the office for a week of whtewater, majestic scenery and plumbing-free living.By Sally Wadyka
Because it’s there. That is the easy answer to why people scale treacherous peaks, sky dive from impossible heights and run death defying rapids. The thrill. The adventure. The sense of accomplishment.
Could that explain what possessed a group of fashion executives to forsake comfort, convenience and bustle of their fast paced big city lives for the unknown of the wilderness? The team from DKNY – …
Was unsure what to expect after being dropped off near the head of British Columbia’s Klinaklini river for a seven day, six night journey. They did know that that hey were heading into a place were cell phones would be useless and grizzly bears common place. They also knew they would be the first female clients and only the 3rd group ever to travel the river.
Great Expectations…fears were balanced by hopes of positive experiences, building self confidence, connecting with nature, bonding with other women and gaining personal insights. As Gabby Karan put it “On the river you’re torn away down to essential needs. That really connects you to people on a deeper level.”
Lynn, who ventured out on her first rafting trip six years ago at age 46, looked forward to the renewed sense of wonderment she finds in the wild. “On the river you see things with the eyes of a child, because like a child, you see things for the first time.”
The trip brought together women from different areas of the company, some of whom barely knew each other from the start. ” On a trip like this you connect with people in a week that would normally take you years” said Gabby. You do not have the time to waste on pretense. You have no choice but to be who you really are.”…
- NORTHWEST PALATE
by: Maleia Briggs May/June 1997
An adventurous soul and a culinary aficionado each possess an appetite for the unknown and the unconquered, and needs no prodding to embark upon uncharted territory…food just tastes better in the out of doors.
First erase any pre-conceived images of racing down rapids or spilling into the surf. Sea kayaks are drastically different from whitewater or sport kayaks which require an experienced driver. Paddling a sea kayak can be learned quickly and the calm water and shoreline paddling allow for a great first experience…
Life’s to short to drink bad wine and the same can be said about freeze dried food…if the idea of gourmet kayaking appeals but sounds too adventurous, let McCutcheon and company do the work for you…
- CANOE & KAYAK
by: Larry Rice May, 1997
Larry Rice and his companions head two hundred miles above the arctic circle to Northern Yukon’s Firth River, where ahead awaits wild water, grizzly and polar bears, miles of caribou, the Beaufort Sea and lots to think about…
In every direct there was solemn beauty beyond description. After dinner I strolled off by myself to a tundra-covered ridge about 1000 feet above the valley floor. Except for a few open stands of white spruce and balsam poplar, the Firth is above the tree line, providing easy access up the mountain slopes. Reaching the top I sat down, breathless more from the splendor than from exertion. Below, the land unfolded like a colossal relief map. Lakes and ponds bordered the clear blue-green river. The rolling foothills of the eastern Brooks Range shimmered in the haze free air.
In all this space there was a shred of humanity except for our camp ? tiny blossoms of yellow and blue. Since the National Geographic Society first descended the Firth in 1981, very little visitation has occurred in Ivvavik’s 4,068 square miles ? approximately 100 people each summer. The park warden in Inuvik had commented that we were the second group to run the Firth this year. He added that we would probably be the last?upstream the snow streaked mountains shone through bands of whispy clouds. Downstream, just above an ominous chasm, a black grizzly with golden shoulders ambled across the tundra, pawing through small blueberry shrubs. A pair of puffball cubs skittered at the bruin’s side. We all agreed so far it had been a perfect day ? a day that was far from over?