Over four days in June, I joined my friend Ben Brochu, Ben Scholten and Tim Siemens for a unique trip in Monkman Provincial Park. The plan was to hike the Monkman Pass Memorial Trail into Hugh Lake, climb Paxton Peak and look for caves.
What made our plan a bit different was that we were going to float out in packrafts rather then hiking out. This adds an element of uncertainty to our trip because often there is little to no information available on the water we intend to run. On our last trip together on the Wood River, Ben Brochu and I encountered a number of nearly impassable gorges and completed our planned five day packrafting trip in a mere 11 days.
A packraft is a one man inflatable raft that weighs between five and ten pounds. Early models were developed to paddle rivers in Alaska and were basically a ruggedized version of a pool tool. Ours were updated models with either self bailing floors or spray decks and whitewater skirts similar to a kayaks so they were a lot more capable. I’ve run (and swam) Class III and some Class IV whitewater in mine. Ben Brochu has more experience and has ran the Grand Canyon in his.
For Ben S. and Tim, it was their first time packrafting, but they both had canoing experience. Originally, we were thinking of running the Murray River from Lower Blue Lake, but with all the recent rain, we decided that Monkman Creek would be safer (even with more waterfalls.)
We met at the Visitor Info Centre in Tumbler Ridge at about 4 pm, spent some time getting our gear sorted, were on the trail by 6:30, and arrived at Trot Camp (km 15) with time to set up camp. The next day we hiked to Monkman Lake and stowed our packraft and paddling gear there. From the Lake, the trail climbs steeply up to the plateau and the Monkman Tarns. Hugh Lake would be our base camp for a climb up Paxton Peak.
In the morning Ben B., Ben S., and I headed up toward Paxton Peak. About halfway up the route turned into a scramble over talus and around cliffs with clouds obscuring the route. We relied the GPS topographic map to give us a general idea where to go but midway there seemed to be a band of cliffs around the mountain, so we needed to travel around until we found a passable route. On one tricky spot a handhold gave way and I was left in an awkward position without a good way up or down. Ben S. threw a rope down and I scrambled up with him on belay.
Finally we scrambled up a talus slope and found the summit in the fog. Looking for info about Paxton, Ben S. had stumbled upon and outdoor store in Mississippi of the same name, and excited about our trip and they’d sent us some T-shirts and trail food. It was cold and windy on top, but we quickly took off our jackets for a summit photo then headed down through the fog.
After our mountain climbing adventure it was time for the boat out on Monkman Creek. Ben B. had 26 “drops” listed on his GPS. Obviously some of those were waterfalls (like the Monkman Cascades) but some were navigable rapids. The problem was that would didn’t know which was which until we got there.
We quickly developed a routine. Ben B. would paddle ahead, staying in sight and tracking our progress on his GPS and when he’d spot a drop he’d pull out in an eddy. We’d then scout the falls or rapid, either running it or picking a way around it and portaging our rafts. Sometimes this meant pushing through trees, other times we would form a human chain and pass the rafts down cliff ledges. It was tiring but we got an amazing up close look at the falls. Usually we’d put our rafts back in at the bottom and paddle up close for a good look at the falls and sometimes a bit of fishing. Eventually we made camp at Shire Falls and the Bens did a little fishing while Tim and I hung out around a campfire.
The next day we continued past Brooks, and the Upper and Lower Moore falls. The drops began getting smaller and there were more runnable rapids. At one Class III+/4 chute the water went around a curve and piled up against a rock making a big curved wave. We scouted it and Ben S. wanted to run it even though it was his first packrafting trip. He nailed a perfect line through the water. Ben B. was able to run it as well, but I ran a little too far to the left and got flipped after dropping into the ledge hole. I got my things back together in the flatwater below the rapids and we continued around another drop.
At another bend, there was a rapid that we couldn’t see. Ben S. and I ran ahead to scout it. It looked a bit tricky but doable. Running it involved working around a couple rocks, punching through a wave train and then swinging right where the water piled into a rock wall and created a tricky current in the high water. We told the other two what was ahead and we all wanted to run it. I was in the back and had to fix a strap on my boat so I ran it without being able to see how anyone else was doing. At the end I rounded the corner and the other three were sitting in their rafts all smiles. Everyone had made it through okay.
After that there were no more drops listed so we ran the last few kilometers enjoying the scenery and sunshine. At the confluence with the Murray, we transitioned to hiking mode again and quickly made our way back to the truck. It had been an amazing adventure and, for once, we made it home on time.