The ocean refuses no river, the Columbia River refuse no creek, and the creeks refuse no visitor.
“The river is for everyone to share,” said paddling enthusiast Carl Jacks, who is no stranger to the rivers and creeks that flow through the Kootenay crags and canyons.
Although currently located in Vernon at least part time, the paddling fiend gets out exploring the falls, pools and rapids as often as he can between shifts at work here in Nakusp.
“I’m a diehard Kootenay guy,” said Jacks, who grew up in the south Slocan area. His love for outdoor adventures has led to explorations of many local mountains and valleys on foot, bike as well as kayak.
In fact, many of those adventures start with extensive scouting before a boat ever hits the water. Scouting the next stretch of a paddling excursion can take a serious amount time, and a one-hour paddle can mean a three or four hour long trip.
“It’s a slow go process,” Jacks noted. “On runs that are access restricted, sometimes we’ll end upwards of a day scouting and camp out overnight. We’ll show up the next morning with ropes and harness ready to go. That’s usually when canyons are involved. Some we’ve spent three or four years scouting just due to access and time constraints.”
Paddling has trickled into a need to learn about climbing and rope work in order to get a good look at the water and to get the boats in and out of steep access areas. Jacks and his paddling friends have become hobby level climbers, thanks to exploring kayaking potentials in local canyons.
Getting in and out of creeks may be time consuming but for the most part, it’s safe.
“We’ve yet to come to the situation where we’ve left a boat in a canyon,” said Jacks, although there have been close calls. On Labour Day during an adventure up Cooper Creek north of Kaslo, Jacks came close to abandoning a kayak.
“That was a long day,” the paddler recalled. “We had a situation where a buddy swam and left his boat. We found it shortly thereafter.” In order to get the boat out, the friends had pushed it down the canyon until they could get it out of the water.
“Ridiculously we left a bike at the take out, and we had to bike back up in the dark to get the car,” said the kayaker. On that same trip, one friend, Chris (Ryman of Endless Adventure), had his own endless-seeming adventure hiking his way out through tough terrain for hours.
“We were a little naive on that trip,” Jacks chuckled remembering, “It was silent in the car on the way home.”
Putting the time in scouting is key for making a paddling escapade as safe as possible. Safety is a high priority for Jacks now, more than it has been at other points in his past.
“I’ve toned down over the years,” he admitted, compared to when he was beginning and willing to take on challenges that were too big. “I definitely paddled above my head and scared a few people,” Jacks said, attributing part of his dare devilry to the fact that he’s always been a water guy and never had a fear of it.
Part of the difficulty with learning to paddle in the Kootenay is that there are few intermediate rivers or creeks for kayakers who have mastered beginner-level runs.
“It’s hard to get people into it safely. In the Kootenays there’s no middle ground between the beginner level and expert level. There aren’t many rivers to choose from,” he confirmed.
For Jacks, this meant taking on more than was potentially safe in order to increase his skills, something that he recognizes as risky now, but also as what needed to happen to get him to the next level. It also got him out exploring new terrain and developed his confidence.
Guiding a group from Ireland for a few years in a row also boosted Jacks’ confidence in both exploring and guiding.
“They were all about exploring, so we went exploring,” he explained, grateful for the opportunity.
These days, Jacks is cognizant of the inherent risks in creek kayaking (“creeking”), and safety is his first priority, for his sake as well as his fellow paddlers.
“You’re always as strong as your weakest paddler,” he said, “you’re all trying to get down the river together. You’re relying on your skills but you’re also relying on your partners and whether they can be relied on to rescue you. We haven’t had any deaths in a long time, but there definitely have been some near drownings.”
Over the last few years, the creeking scene has grown, but is still small in size as the tide of kayakers taking part ebbs and flows. The rush of charging down canyons has hooked people, but even as the sport is found by some, others leave to new areas or other priorities, like kids, take first place.
Jacks’ life has also changed with the arrival of a baby on the scene, one that he has taken some advantage of, he ruefully admitted.
“I hate to admit it in front of my partner,” he said over the phone from Vernon, “but I maybe took advantage of the fact that it’s bottle and boob for the first year and all I can do is little maintenance things.” This year, he put in over 60 days of paddling between shifts at work.
Creeking is a year-round sport, with water levels being one deciding factor whether a route can be navigated safely. This year’s high water levels meant getting out on previously unapproachable pools.
“This year, we proved some old legends wrong. We got on the hippy hole on the Upper Whatshan,” Jacks said proudly.
His passion for kayaking Kootenay waterways has also cascaded into an increase of awareness about consumption and conservation. Jacks also recognizes, like most of modern life, there is an inherent tension between the two, one example from the paddling world is the increased ability to access rivers and creeks thanks to roads being built, and the attendant destruction that is wrought in the process. Even so, he takes a staunch stance against IPPs.
“The idea of building more and more projects on smaller, more delicate water systems, it’s death by a thousand cuts. It cripples what we have as an intact ecosystem,” said the paddler. “The states is way ahead of us in terms of decommissioning dam sites, which is well ahead of what we do here in Canada. We’re still looking to build dams. It’s old tech. All run of river is is dam diversion and running it down a pipe.”
Jacks has noticed an increase in activity on Independent Power Projects (IPPs), particularly in the Burton area, something that gives him an uneasy feeling.
The dams themselves are just one disturbance among many in the process of putting them in, said Jacks, all of which have consequences that are unknown: “You’ve built the roads, the transmission lines and ruined animal pathways, and fish migration that has been around for millions of years. No one knows what the implications will be.”
Last March, Jacks showed his movie “Deep Runs the Canyon” at the North Valley Mountain Film Festival in New Denver as part of a campaign to increase awareness of IPP developments in the area and showcase the waterways that could be affected by the projects.
This year, the videographer-paddler-climber-explorer hasn’t done any video work at all, but it is something that he hopes to return to once he has more time and upgraded digital equipment.
“Everything computer-wise in my life needs upgrading,” said Jacks. “I’m a very nitpicky, meticulous editor and when your computer crashes in the middle of everything, it’s very frustrating.” Even so, he is hoping to bring a slideshow to the upcoming film festival.