Our New “Catalyst” Canoe Paddle Goes to British Columbia
Professional outdoor adventure photographer, Andrew Strain, takes us into northern British Columbia with our new Catalyst canoe paddle to put it to the test…
Andrew Strain, currently of Whistler, British Columbia, grew up in the northwest corner of BC. Last summer he went north again to try out our new Catalyst canoe paddle.
We caught up with him for a phone interview to hear about his experiences:
BB: Tell us about the area of BC you paddled.
ANDREW: The area I originally wanted to paddle had to change due to weather. Here’s the backstory: Because Bending Branches gives $5 of each Catalyst purchase to American Rivers (a national river advocacy organization), I wanted to do some kind of cross-border river trip. What really drew my attention to it was American Rivers adding the Stikine River to their list of most threatened rivers in America.
Unfortunately, the logistics of paddling the Lower Stikine are complicated with international borders (British Columbia and Alaska). And it ended up raining all summer, which meant high water levels and a faster current. There’s nothing super tech about that stretch of the river, but it would’ve been well beyond my comfort level.
So we decided to paddle some of the lakes along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway instead.
The Stewart-Cassiar Highway, or Highway 37, is one of the main routes that goes north and south in BC, eventually joining the Alaska Highway just across the border in Yukon. It was built in the 70s to access some of the area’s mining.
It’s long and remote—500 or so miles with no cell service. It cuts through a gorgeous expanse of some of the most remote parts of the province. It’s truly pristine wilderness, with beautiful scenery alternating between the mountains and the ocean.
This area is the traditional territory of the Tahltan people. Most of the paddling we did was in their traditional territories.
We flew into Smithers, rented a couple canoes from a local outfitter and connected with the Stewart-Cassiar. The highway runs by a series of lakes with easy put-ins and take-outs. It was essentially a car-hopping canoe trip, eight days total.
You can paddle this area any way you want—hit the lakes as you want to take them. You can paddle for 15 minutes or spend a couple days exploring the bigger lakes.
All the places we paddled were in Provincial Parks, which is a pretty extensive network in BC. You can either stay in lodges along the highway or one of the many campgrounds. The lakes are very vehicle-accessible.
This area of northern BC is the Spatsizi Plateau—an upland plateau that’s the headwaters for a number of massive river systems that drain off in all directions. You can pick and choose which direction you want to go.
BB: Tell us about some of the highlights of your trip.
ANDREW: One of the provincial parks had a short, pretty chill river—the Iskut—that connected two small lakes. There’s a campground at the first lake, and the park service built a portage recently from the second lake back to the highway.
For an experienced flatwater paddler, this section of the Iskut is a great little river. Kinaskan Lake was the first lake, and once leaving the second lake, the Iskut eventually spills over Cascade Falls, a beautiful huge waterfall. There’s a hiking trail to the falls that’s a mile or so, which is well worth the time.
The fishing in that area was unreal! Every cast we were catching a fish—we probably caught 30 fish in a couple hours (catch and release). It was the best rainbow trout fishing I’ve ever had. A great way to spend the afternoon!
Another highlight was a float plane we took to get to a backcountry lodge. Getting to fly over that area, seeing the oxbows and meandering rivers in an alpine environment really gives you a sense of just how remote and pristine this part of the world is. It’s easy to see why it’s a protected area.
There’s a huge amount of mineral wealth there, so there’s pressure from mining interests to explore it. That’s necessary in our modern world, but carving out these vast wilderness areas that are protected for wildlife and the waters is important, too.
It was really special to see these intact wilderness systems from the air.
BB: Any tough challenges you didn't expect?
ANDREW: The biggest one for us on this trip was the weather. Anytime you’re in the mountains or the north—in this case it was both—it can snow anytime of year. But it snowed a foot in August just before we arrived! It melted pretty quick, but the peaks were still covered in fresh snow.
And there were torrential rains. That’s also expected for that area, but it’s not as normal for August.
BB: What advice do you have for others wanting to paddle in this area?
ANDREW: Laurel Archer’s books: Northern BC Canoe Trips Volumes 1 and 2 are so comprehensive! Get the books if you want to paddle up there. Volume 2 covers most of the area we were in.
Take the drive out to the little community of Telegraph Creek. It’s about 100 kilometers off the main highway and not for the faint of heart! The gravel road has major switchbacks going down to the rivers and back up, and you’re driving alongside the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. It’s otherworldly—an incredible landscape.
Telegraph Creek is a historic town that’s like going back in time to the old gold fields. Several of the 1890s buildings are still there. It was the telegraph line to connect the Yukon with the rest of the world during the Klondike Gold Rush. The Telegraph Trail is still faintly visible and goes all the way up to Atlin.
The hospitality is super and they make a great burger at the Riversong Cafe!
To get to the area, either fly into the southern part of the region like we did, or start from the north and fly into Whitehorse (the capital of Yukon).
Once outside those larger communities like Smithers or Whitehorse, you’ll find fuel, essential groceries and a few eateries. There’s car camping and some lodges, but not a whole lot of wifi and zero cell service!
You won’t need permits to paddle beyond the ones needed for the provincial parks.
BB: How did you like the Catalyst?
ANDREW: The Catalyst really started to grow on me over the summer. No two paddles are exactly alike, so the patterning is different on each due to the production process. There’s something really cool about having a paddle that’s one of a kind. The Catalyst really emphasizes that. Its performance was 100% on par with the Java.
(All photos courtesy of Andrew Strain)
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