Home Fitness guide The Ultimate BC Staycation Guide: How to Portage Through Powell River

The Ultimate BC Staycation Guide: How to Portage Through Powell River


Four weekend warriors seek a slice of classic Canadiana in Powell River

I’d love to say I came to the Powell River Canoe Route because it had been on my outdoor bucket list for a long time, but the truth is, I hadn’t been in a canoe since then. I was 12 years old and my connection to Powell River began and ended with ordering their excellent craft beers at the very urban watering holes of Vancouver. And while the even more famous West Coast Trail wasn’t on my bucket list either, it was on my buddy Kevin’s, and he coaxed a bunch of us into jumping aboard his pandemic adventure – including me, despite a good deal of apprehension around worries about my inability to physically carry the amount of Lagavulin needed for the trip.

Neal McLennan

So when British Columbia announced its pandemic ban on regional travel just days before our scheduled departure, the news was received with a mixture of deep grief (Kevin) and private elation (me). But we had already started our half-assed preparatory fitness program and I had also already bought a bunch of brand new gear that I couldn’t return (because I deliberately scraped it off so it didn’t look like a city ​​newbie). So we got together to figure out where in our health region we could still snatch some outdoor immersion — and it was Paul who invented Powell River.

Paul is a canoeist. He makes an annual trip to Algonquin and he freely uses words like portage and J-shot, so we gave him the responsibility of finding a route. Because Paul has also taken it upon himself to build an itinerary, we let some things slide, like his last-minute decision to take an empty plane from Vancouver (travel time: 35 minutes) while the rest of us carried all the necessary equipment. by road (journey time: five very scenic hours). And while I had infinite confidence in Paul’s pack planning, his suggestion to compress the standard five-day timeframe for the itinerary into three “hard” days worried me.

To allay my fears, I contacted Hugh Prichard, director of the Powell Lake Outdoor Learning Center and avid canoeist, to see if he could give Paul’s plan a local look. His extremely diplomatic response included phrases such as “Well, you could do it, but why?” and “Aren’t you interested in enjoying natural beauty?” In the end, we reached a hybrid plan that combined Prichard’s vast experience and Paul’s original idea (at least the canoeing part somewhere). We would arrange to be dropped off a quarter of the way through the traditional five-day route and picked up at the end, four days later. We would do at least one portage a day and camp along the way – since it was mid-June, we wouldn’t have to worry about reservations. If we were lucky, Prichard added, we might not even meet other people at all.

Powell River 4Neal McLennan

The next morning, with minimal fuss, we picked up our rental canoes and pushed out into the glassy waters of Lake Nanton. There really is something quintessentially Canadian about the way the bow of a canoe silently slices through the water. This reverie, however, was frequently interrupted by my stern man, Mac, saying things like, “Neal, we both have to paddle” and (after telling me to paddle hard right only to see me immediately dig left ) are you sure you are not dyslexic? Still, our leisurely route allowed us to skirt around the lake, get a little lost, and find our way back to our first portage well in advance.

The concept of portage has entrenched itself in the Canadian psyche in a way that renders a more descriptive word, such as “carry,” less meaningful. But fortunately, my role in this work was, again, modest. One of Mac’s children had done the same canoe trip the previous summer and bragged about carrying the canoe all by himself. So Mac insisted he do the same, which left me carrying all of our bags – backpacks, front bags, side bags – and sadly trailing behind him like an overloaded Sancho Panza. The hikes were strenuous, but not grueling (that would come later: we had been warned that the final portage of the trip – the 2.4 kilometer trail at Windsor Lake – would test our mettle), and although most of us have good hiking boots, Paul accomplished it all in the same pair of Allbirds he wore on the plane.

Powell River 2Tomas Jirku

The first night we camped at a perfectly secluded site by Lake Dodd…then we fished a little, drank the entire trip Lagavulin and quickly fell asleep. In the morning, and despite a very rainy night, we woke up to warm sunshine with just a little haze on the water – the perfect combo for a Canadian postcard. And, like day one, our second day of paddling was mostly calm, save for the times we gazed up at the towering 6,000-foot Coast Mountains cascading around us directly into the water and one of us sarcastically asked, So, Paul, how does this compare to Algonquin?

The second night brought the double whammy of more rain and no whiskey, so we really understood how the early explorers must have felt. Like, exactly how they would have felt. But enforced abstinence served us well on day three as we closed in on the dreaded Windsor Lake Portage. It turned out to be a steep climb of around 80 meters followed by a descent of 111 meters and, although it was really difficult, it offered the immediate reward of several stunning vistas, the first being the view from Goat Lake, with Overlook Mountain looming over it. The portage’s final reward was the eerie paddle that followed it: navigating through the submerged ancient forest at the start of Lake Powell was very “hour two” from Revelation now…if Colonel Kurtz wore Allbirds. But when we emerged into the vastness of the lake (Powell is by far the largest lake on the circuit) and hit the wall of strong prevailing headwinds, it became clear that the final leg of our paddle was going to be the most difficult. Especially for Mac in the back of the canoe.

Like the winds, we prevailed and spent our last night in a cabin which is also part of the Sunshine Coast Trail. The day’s paddle work had me dreaming of reaching a hand-carved Swiss idyll with a wood-burning stove, but the simple plywood structure – no fire, nothing hand-carved – still offered a nice break. The next morning – our last day on the water – brought the same thing: Lake Powell is huge and, while we were there, very windy, and the abundance of cabins and motorboats made our choice to paddle a quaint feeling. But Mac was up for the challenge, and I even threw some more when it became clear our group was going to run to our last stop. (We won, thank you.) All in all, we made enough time on the final day to squeeze into nine holes, where Paul, no lie, took off his Allbirds for the first time in three days and put a pair of Teva water sandals that he had worn the entire trip.

MORE STAYS: 21 hidden places to hike, bike, paddle and relax in your own backyard