By Kanako Iwata-Eng
Stats: Tuesday, September 29, 2015, Class III+ - IV (V), Medium level flow, 16.5 miles, 9 hours from put-in to take-out, 5 kayakers, 6 swims, 1 broken paddle followed by a 30-minute struggle to assemble a 4-piece paddle, numerous scouting, a few portages including one over a high cliff, and an extremely difficult takeout climbing out the 100 feet sandy cliff.
The Bridge River is three miles out of Lillooet, BC. We were there on Day 4 of our BC trip. Leader Bill Petty and Larry had run this many times over 10 years ago, but never with this much water. For Doug, Chris, and me, this was a new river. We put in at Yalakom River around 10 a.m. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. The scenery was gorgeous. We saw some huge bald eagles enjoying the seasonal salmon feast.
I swam in the first big drop. As I didn’t bother to scout it myself and only heard “a log on the right,” I aimed for the middle of the ledge – right for a big hole. When I rolled up, I saw the log, and went through between a rock and the log. Meanwhile the paddle got stuck somewhere, and I flipped again. With no hand roll, I had to swim. After this, I decided to scout with my own eyes and to practice my hand roll this winter. We got out of the boats and scouted the following few boulder drops and portaged one. Portaging, we saw big bear dropping and footprints. By the time we went through the series of hard drops, everyone but Bill had swam once.
After some easier rapids, short flat water in between, and lunch in the sun, we reached a hard section again. We portaged the worst part of one steep drop and just ran the last part, a short rough drop with flat water below. I flipped and hit my fist on a bottom rock. Though I didn’t feel my paddle hit anything, when I tried to roll, the shaft had broken in half and my right blade had gone. Again, with no hand roll, I had to swim. Doug and Bill kindly helped me assemble my 4-piece paddle, which was cheap and extremely tight. About 30 minutes later, they still couldn’t make the buttons click and couldn’t dissemble it, either. I was happy with whatever at that point. Doug broke the remaining half of my paddle, so it fit my boat. (By the way, this was my second broken paddle in 13 months.) Having a hard time breaking the remaining half, Doug (a big guy) said, “How did you (a little woman) break it!?”
About 3 p.m., we arrived at the Hard Hat Drop, the only Class V rapid. Above the entry section, we got out and scouted. Doug and Larry went first. It took three of us a little longer to decide our lines. When we got to the short flat section above the main drop, Doug wasn’t there, and Larry told us Doug flipped in the eddy and went into the hardest drop upside down by himself. Larry had seen Doug on the shore with his paddle but without his boat. Knowing Doug is OK, the rest of us examined the drop. In the past, Bill always walked in the river left to portage. This time, however, the water was deeper and faster, and we decided to portage over the cliff in the river right. To our relief, while scouting, we saw Doug in his boat.
It took about an hour to portage. I was told to find a trail and took them a little too high in the cliff. (Sorry!) Anyway, five of us were together again in the water. It was still sunny, but the deep canyon was starting to get shady. Wanting to get out of water before the sunset, we paddled hard through flat water and went down drops. Those drops were easier and shorter than ones we had gone through that day but were no Class II. In hurry, though, leading Doug just boat-scouted and we ran them one after another. I was glad when I saw the take-out bridge. Well, for a few minutes, at least.
In the morning, we were checking the take-out possibilities, above and below the bridge, on both shores, and there was no easy way out. We had to go up 130 feet from the river to the road somehow. We chose the river left above the bridge. Strong Doug and Chris each went up on his own. Bill, Larry, and I teamed up, used a rope to pull up the boats. We climbed and pulled boats the sandy cliff by 15 feet and repeated it twice. By then, Doug was on the top and threw his rope to us and pulled up our boats all by himself. Without this sweet man, we would have been hanging in the cliff overnight.
Without much time to rest, we changed, and three people hit the road to get the cars at the put-in. Not long later, it was pitch dark. I was so hungry and exhausted that I felt dizzy. My hands were numb. When Larry asked, “Run this again tomorrow?” we said, “NOOO!!” However, looking back, this beautiful river was exceptional with lots of challenging exciting drops and beautiful settings. At the end of this 9-day 8-river trip, we agreed we liked the Bridge River best despite all the hardship.