© Mason Mashon
Prepare for your next whitewater expedition with advice from Ed Muggridge
Ed Muggridge just completed a 7-day, first descent kayak in British Columbia’s vast Coast Mountain range, here’s what he learnt.
As the events of 2020 restricted international travel, Canadian kayaker Ed Muggridge was forced to stay home and explore his own backyard. After scouring British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, running every waterfall and extreme whitewater section in sight, he set his sights on the vast Coast Mountain range.
Alongside photographer Sandy MacEwan and kayak legend Benny Marr, the trio schemed a first-descent kayak expedition down Filer Creek — a remote river located roughly 250km north of Vancouver. The whitewater looked manageable via satellite imagery, and to their knowledge, no one had ever completed the trip.
In September 2020, the crew travelled up the Sunshine Coast via truck, water taxi, and helicopter, to reach the headwaters of Filer Creek. Through untouched granite gorges, steep whitewater, and thick B.C. bush, the team paddled roughly 50km, over a 7-day stretch — marking Muggridge’s inaugural first descent in the wild Coast Mountain range.
Watch Ed Muggridge and his crew of intrepid kayakers as they traverse the uncharted waters of Filer Creek:
The Filer Creek Expedition
From packing tightly and tactically, to defining fun and learning the importance of preparation, here are Muggridge’s greatest takeaways from his epic expedition.
1. Packing is both an art and a science
Packing for an multi-day expedition is a delicate process. Large-scale missions require a lot of gear, and you’re inevitably carrying a lot of weight — both to and from the final destination.
“A lot of people don’t realize that we descend these rivers with all of our goods stowed away inside our kayaks,” explained Muggridge. “It’s like snowboarding down a mountain with an 80-pound bag on your back… It changes the dynamic, flow, and balance of your kayak.”
An efficient pack begins with a detailed plan. An estimated trip duration will determine how much gear you’ll need; a weather forecast will determine the grade of your gear; and a group size will determine how heavier items can be dispersed. List out what you’ll need, then opt for lighter options. From dehydrated backpacker meals to down sleeping bags, there’s always a more tactical option.
When packing a kayak, ensure that bulk weight is packed low and centred to maximize stability. Lighter and bulkier items like base layers, rain pants, and sleeping bags should be packed far into the bow and stern, whereas heavier items like tents, food, and water should be secured closer to the cockpit. Also, always keep small essentials like water bottles, lighters, and first aid kits within reach of the cockpit in case of emergencies.
2. Expect a lot of type two fun
Anyone involved in expedition-related sports — like climbing, kayaking, hiking, or ski touring — is familiar with the Fun Scale. Every adventure into the outdoors is fun, but there’s a big difference between a 5-hour bush walk and running a world-class rapid.
Type 1 fun consists of moments that are enjoyable from start to finish; moments that you never want to end. For Muggridge, this could be threading the needle down Siphon Falls, or running the Cheakamus River with pristine water levels.
Type 2 fun is a different beast. This type of fun can be miserable and gruelling while it’s happening, but in retrospect, it’s a great character-building experience. Expeditions are a perfect example of type 2 fun, as they’re physically and mentally strenuous, and often provide more work than play.
Muggridge summed the Filer Creek expedition up perfectly: “Some days we’d spend 6-8 hours dragging our heavy kayaks through the thickest B.C. bush I've ever seen — pushing through are blood, sweat, and tears. While other days we’d spend hours descending untouched gorges and canyons, surrounded by beautiful Coast Mountain scenery. It’s not my first choice, but completing the seven-day trip and wrapping up the mission was insanely rewarding… And kind of addicting, in the weirdest of ways. You’re so glad the mission is done, but… You look over at your friends and say, “same time next year?”
3. You can never be too prepared when entering the backcountry
Far-out, backcountry environments are inherently risky and hazardous. There’s no cozy lodges, no bars, and no ski patrol or park rangers. So, venturing into these uncontrolled spaces means claiming full responsibility for finding your route, assessing and managing the terrain, and facilitation an exit-strategy if things don’t go as planned.
This is why preparation is so essential.
Before Muggridge and the crew set out for Filer Creek, they made a detailed trip plan; assessed the river dozens of times via satellite imagery and even did a fly over to scout the surrounding landscapes; arranged water taxis and heli-drops for entry and exit; and packed the essentials. But still, he didn’t feel fully prepared.
“The backcountry is no joke because your life is in your own hands,” said Muggridge. “Moving forward, I’d like to put more focus on ensuring I’m physically and mentally at my best, and ready to take on any challenge.”