This is a guest post:
Story by: Jill Brown
Looking out across the pristine lake, towering mountains I could only see bases of. The low clouds drifted elegantly from peak to peak. I pushed off from shore and my paddle took its first stroke. The bay calm but as I rounded its corner the curves of her shore were now mimicked in the water.
I could feel each wave roll under my Packraft. Finding the hidden mouth to her river I began riding her gentle flow; a calm current winding down a short distance to lower Kathleen Lake. Drizzle and a headwind crossing this second lake, to once again enter the river. Narrow, she twisted and eroded the banks. I now began to experience a tease of what was ahead.
I quickly duck under one, and then another; trees! I laughed, loving the small thrill and I could feel the rivers energy building. Another lake down and short river paddle to the final of the four lakes; marshy, wind, and endless weeds. The small lake was a slow paddle. On the river the trees now littered not just the banks, but also the entirety of the river. DRAW! DRAW! DRAW! Over and over I scooted around each strainer, till finally a wall of white foam. Pulling into shore I can now see the dangers of this river. Blocked by the beastly trees I am forced to portage the boat around the barrier.
Not long after I again find myself reading the river far ahead to another wall and am forced to walk around. Taking a break to contact, via my Inreach, my safety back in Haines Junction. “This river is so fun! You can’t stop paddling! Tree after tree, Class II rapids! It’s easy and challenging all in one. I can’t stop laughing and smiling!” No sooner having the message send and I was at Quill Creek. The river shifting its colours and so too her attitude, a beast arose and quickly I was more up right and present. Boulders now scattered the river. Feeling still confident I carried on. Finally pulling off as a sandy cliff on my left appeared.
Looking down stream nothing seemed more than what it had been the past few kilometers. I knew somewhere ahead lay the falls, but how far? Taking a calm breath I head back out. The sandy cliff slowly lurking closer, now on both sides they were enclosing in on me. As I turned a large right bend, the river pushed into her cliff and all I could see was her frothing mouth. Holes, boulders, strainers, walls now strewn about the river, and nowhere to stop. Breath. I find myself reading the river, each move and, out loud, telling myself what to do next. Another right, a left and I could sense something big ahead. Finally a beach and I ferry over and hop out. My heart pounding, hands shaking, I look around. Cliffs, now smooth rock, polished by a previous life of water and ice. I have to stay calm. I have to do this.
The Inreach beeps. “Careful! I just told someone you were paddling the Kathleen River. It’s Class 3- 5 Rapids in the canyon! Littered with sifters and strainers and boulders! There’s a waterfall!” I look up the river knowing I was already at the falls. Did I just run class 5 rapids in my Packraft, with camera gear, unprepared and alone? Breath. Now below the falls I soak in her beauty. “Hole-Left-Left-Ledge Tree-Right-Breath!” A wave rears up and crashes over me. I laugh and realize I’m without fear. Am I doing this? Ahead a destroyed canoe stands against a tree and I know there is something fierce lurking close. Quickly pulling again into shore I see another waterfall. Portaging up and back down the treed cliffs I can now see her walls opening back up. I am getting close to the end of my journey. Slowly her jagged waters begin to smooth and spread into her low banks. Marsh, trees, sand and dead fall. Finally finding her proper channel through the web of off shoots. I make it to the once again calm currents.
Her deep churning blues now dark and filled with grit. The brown waters slowly carry me towards take out and now it sinks in. My arms exhausted, legs shaking, I become emotional. 48kms later and I pull into the park boat ramp. Walking onto the perfectly manicured grass I drop to my back. I am overwhelmed I can’t believe I just did that! I’m an Idiot! Holy shit! All the thoughts running through my head, if I hadn’t just done that I would have said no way to having paddling skills to paddle the 22kms of class 3-5 rapids. Reading the river beyond anything I ever thought I would. Shaking now with the knowledge sinking in, I smile, but think of how lucky I was. Going in blind to a river. “Hole-Left-Left-Ledge-Tree-Right-Breath.” Replays in my head as we drive away from what looks like a calm unassuming river, to which hides a beautiful beast.