Day 16 – Aug 20
Well today was the day - Hells Gate and the rapids below. None of us knew what to expect, with Bruce only seeing it in June and not having any real knowledge of the water level, The locals and native fishermen were saying that the river was high.
Our night's sleep was fitful and short, as we awoke at 6am again to get on the river before the wind started up, and the trains were constantly roaring past with their 200+ cars every hour or so.
A breakfast of coffee and cereal fueled our paddling through the first two rapids on the lead up to Hells Gate. These rapids were no problem, although quite swirley and boily. Getting into the last eddy before Hells Gate proved to be rather difficult because of the strong upstream eddy protecting shore, we had to return to the current and then work hard to make the eddy to scout.
Walking along the fish ladder, the river was about 25 below us, so we knew from photo's that it wasn't high at all. Possibly high for late August, but not peak flows. Walking through the outcropping of stores and restaurants that cater to the tourists that descent to the river via the tramway, we did receive a few strange looks from the employees starting their day. When Shaun and I were on the foot bridge spanning the rapid, we were approached by an employee inquiring how we got our kayaks down to the riverbank. I suppose they were wondering if we had used their tram or bridge - possibly making them liable. We assured him that we had paddled downriver and were awaiting our friend to join us who was taking a raft down.
He asked if we were Canadians, and then reminded us that attempting suicide in Canada is illegal. Apparently the rapid only gets kayaked once or twice a year, the last time being in May when a the kayaker got stuck in the river left eddy created by the fish ladder. He was being hyperspun for over a minute, causing some tourists to turn away they were so distraught by the sight. The paddler did manage to make it downriver eventually.
The rapid looked rather straight forward - certainly huge and with great potential for getting destroyed, but the line was pretty obvious. Managing to stay on line and upright without being caught in any of the dynamic features such as monstrous boils, collapsing whirlpools, and violent eddy lines would prove to be the greatest challenge.
We had our lines picked, then as we were going to be unable to eddy out to take pictures or video of our descent, we asked a woman if she would take pictures with a disposable camera we would by and then mail the camera to us. She seemed quite happy to do so.
By this time a crowd had gathered on the walkway, balcony seats for the show of the summer. We started our walk back to the boats, our plan being to follow Bruce in the cataraft so if he flipped, we could get to him quickly to aid in his rescue or to assist in righting the raft.
Slipping off the rocks into the eddy as the raft accelerated into sight, I waited until Bruce had passed me by 20 feet before peeling onto a wave and out into the current. As we roared down the tongue, the observers' barely audible cheers of encouragement on the footbridge so high above our heads, I looked with amazement and admittedly some concern at the size of the exploding waves quickly approaching from the left. Angling my kayak more right with powerful strokes (any less would have been in vain) I avoided the first wave-holes and whirlpools but ended up closer to the raft than common sense would dictate.
At one point I was sucked down a whirlpool as the raft loomed above me. Bruce's quick look at where he was going to plant his oar saved me from being clobbered by the blade. The whirlpool collapsed on me and when my eyes cleared the raft was a safe distance downriver.
As I was negotiating the final few boils I looked for Shaun who was in the middle of his run. All I could see was the nose of his kayak nearly vertical - he had been more left than Bruce or I and was being punished for it. He did make it out of whatever was holding him and as we exited the rapid were rewarded by cheers and applause from above. We loosed our own victory cry and gave each other a thumbs-up.
Our maps and guidebooks stated that we had a number of significant rapids to go, including Little Hell's Gate but we didn't encounter anything worth scouting.
Signs of civilisation were very frequent now as houses dotted the shoreline and beaches either had fishermen or 'No Trespassing' signs posted. We finally found a sandy campsite on a windy bend bordered by 60 feet of forest and the railway.
Day 17 – Aug 21
Slept in until 1pm
Drizzled and rained all day - we floated down the wide and now lazy Fraser towards the misty mountains looming above Hope.
Passing the bridge we eddied out at the campground located downtown.
Hauling all our wet gear up the embankment was significant for me as it was my last time to do so on this adventure. I felt a mix of emotions: joy in that I was heading off to another adventure in only two days, and sadness that I was unable to complete the river with one longtime friend and one new friend.
We supped at a buffet, enjoying the variety and not having to do dishes afterwards. Great conversation continued over deserts at Dairy Queen. Shaun and I followed that up with a few games of pool at the local bowling alley.
Day 18 – Aug 22
Getting up at a reasonable hour so we could have a breakfast and coffee before worring about getting my kayak and gear to the bus station at 11am.
The Hope to Vancouver ticket cost $20 with another$20 for the kayak. Time to Van approx 3 hours.
After gear was loaded, farewells and well-wishings said, I waved goodbye out the window to my good friends and as the bus pulled away my thoughts reflected back on the last two weeks, then forward to the Chilkoot Trail.
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