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Kayaking Metropolitan White Water in Vancouver - New York Times

November 24, 2006


Kayaking Metropolitan White Water in Vancouver


DON JAMIESON stepped into his kayak and squeezed his body inside. Now, with body and boat united as
one, he entered the river seal-style, pushing off from a rock and landing with a splash. He ferried across the
current, did a few back-and-forths to warm up, then took off downstream through eddies and surges, headed
for rapids in tree-lined canyons where salmon leap on their own wild river journey.

The amazing thing about what Mr. Jamieson was doing is that it was taking place not in some remote
mountain gorge but within a metropolitan area of more than two million people, just minutes from a
downtown studded by glass skyscrapers and gigantic containerships.

Mr. Jamieson was kayaking the Capilano River, just north of downtown Vancouver, via Stanley Park and the
Lions Gate Bridge.

“It’s a real jewel,” he said. “So close to the city. In 20 minutes you could be on your favorite whitewater run.”

Mr. Jamieson paddles on the Capilano as many as 30 days from fall to spring. He started there 30 years ago
in a 13-foot-2-inch fiberglass kayak that he used for cross training when he played junior and
semiprofessional hockey. Later, while he was working as a firefighter in West Vancouver, where the Capilano
flows, he opened a guiding and outfitting company. Now he uses a 7-foot plastic boat, and relishes the
challenge the Capilano presents.

“It’s just you and the river,” he said.

Vancouver’s North Shore has three waterways for prime winter whitewater kayaking: Lynn Creek and the
Seymour River, on North Vancouver’s east side, and the Capilano. The weather never gets too cold in the
Vancouver area, and the whitewater playgrounds do not freeze in the winter. Some of the best days for
paddling are those when the region gets battered by the “Pineapple Express” — storms originating near
Hawaii that bring heavy rains and relatively warm temperatures. (This month, a succession of Pineapple
Express storms battered the Vancouver area.)

The Capilano’s flow is controlled by the Cleveland Dam, which holds the area’s primary drinking water
reservoir. When it’s full, released water aids the Capilano Salmon Hatchery, an artificial spawning area that
draws salmon returning from the Pacific. At this time of year, whitewater kayakers descend the river while
salmon ascend, spectacularly, toward the hatchery.

Kayakers check the water-level gauge at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery’s weir. If the gauge indicates a depth
of three feet or more, the river is good for kayaking.

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Kayaking Metropolitan White Water in Vancouver - New York Times

When the water is rushing, the Capilano is a Class III kayaking river with a few Class IV sections, which
means it’s fine for intermediate paddlers, but don’t try it if you’re a beginner (the scale runs from I, the
easiest, to VI).

On this day, the river was an ideal four feet high. Mr. Jamieson, protected against the cold water by a dry
top, a life jacket, a neoprene hooded jacket, fleece pants and a splash skirt, playfully warmed up by reversing
directions, bending forward to submerge his bow and rolling in the water.

“You can probably run it in an hour, but we usually take two and a quarter hours,” he said.

The Capilano, which serves as a natural boundary between North and West Vancouver, is named for Joe
Capilano, the great 19th-century chief of the Squamish tribe of the Coast Salish, who led expeditions to
explore area mountains and valleys.

Some of the Capilano’s canyons feature rock faces 200 feet high. A few majestic cedars and Douglas firs
stretch 300 feet skyward. Cable Pool is the nearest landmark under a footbridge connecting the Coho Loop
Trail, part of a system of walkways amid the towering evergreens in the Capilano River Regional Park. A
drop in the river leads to a corner, which reveals House Rock and Dog Leg Pool. It’s the most entertaining
part of the river, Mr. Jamieson said.

The water is clear, just enough to spot salmon going the opposite direction. Blink and you might miss one
leaping. Fishermen often crowd the rocks, hoping to catch their daily limit of four. Some of the Chinook
salmon, which may have been at sea for three years or more, weigh in at 45 pounds.

Paddlers shout or blow whistles before rounding a corner to alert fishermen. Generally, paddlers and anglers
get along.

Besides fishermen, others are after the salmon. Hungry bald eagles perch in the boughs of cedars that tower
above the canyons, following the fish as they ascend. Herons stand guard on rocks, inches away from the
water, waiting to strike. Ospreys and seagulls are also on the prowl.

Capilano Salmon Hatchery’s acting watershed enhancement manager, Reid Schrul, said it could take three
weeks to four months for a fish that’s returned to the river to be ready to spawn in the hatchery. Fishermen
tend to angle for the weaker ones, he said. It could take just a couple of hours, though, for a healthy and
eager fish to make the trip three and three-quarter miles upstream from the river mouth to the hatchery.
Mostly, the faster the river rushes, the better for the fish. If the water is too high, the salmon patiently wait
for it to subside.

“If there’s more flow, they realize there might be a flood coming,” Mr. Schrul said of the salmon, “so they
push as far and as fast upstream as they can go. Mother Nature makes smart critters.”

The first takeout where kayakers exit the river is on the approach to the 450-foot-long, wobbly Capilano
Suspension Bridge, a footbridge and tourist draw 230 dizzying feet above one of the river’s wider chasms.

Those who continue can enjoy Spencer’s Pool and Sandy Point Pools as they yield to the aptly named
Suspense Drop. Then the river settles, with wider channels and generally flatter water. Other takeouts wait
near the Trans-Canada Highway bridge and beside the Park Royal Shopping Center.

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Kayaking Metropolitan White Water in Vancouver - New York Times

Mr. Jamieson said prime time for paddling is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. After 3, the diminished autumn
and winter daylight means kayakers should be off the river. On a busy day there might be 40 people
paddling, often in groups of 4 or 5.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics on the way, the Vancouver area is already famous for adventure sports. But
apart from windsurfing, which needs consistent winds that Mother Nature doesn’t always provide, kayaking
the Capilano is the best option for those seeking some “woo-hoo!” on the water.

“We have the skiing, the world-class mountain biking,” Mr. Jamieson said, “but kayaking is the only
adrenaline-rush water-based sport in Vancouver that you can do.”

He talked about his jewel, the Capilano. “Every day the river’s running,” he said, “you’re out on the river
having fun.”


WHETHER you’re a beginner or an expert, it’s best to watch the Capilano River and the paddlers before
trying a run.

Admission and parking at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery are free. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (4500
Capilano Park Road, North Vancouver; 604-666-1790).

The hatchery is also a good place to start a downstream hike in the Capilano River Regional Park, part of the
Greater Vancouver Regional District (604-224-5739;

The scenic Capilano Suspension Bridge, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. into March, charges 23.95 Canadian dollars
for adults, about $21 at 1.15 Canadian dollars to the U.S dollar (3735 Capilano Road, North Vancouver;

Sea to Sky Kayak Center (3-123 Charles Street, North Vancouver; 604-983-6663;
offers equipment, courses and tours.

Non-Indian anglers 16 and over must buy licenses. Consult tackle shops or the Department of Fisheries and
Oceans (

Motels, bed-and-breakfasts and a campsite are near the river. (Tourism Vancouver, 200 Burrard Street,
Vancouver; 604-683-2000;

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