20 minutes of off-map kayaking madness, courtesy of Ed Muggridge
A trio of Canadian kayakers battle extreme whitewater and thick British Columbia bush in hopes of achieving a first descent in the Coast Mountains.
British Columbia’s Coast Mountains are home to some of the wildest, most remote rivers in the world. Melting snow from the heavily-glaciated mountain peaks siphons through a system of gorges and canyons en route to the Pacific – generating an abundance of steep whitewater terrain along the way.
Finding a first descent river isn’t hard in the Coast Mountains, explains kayaker Sandy MacEwan, but finding one that’s actually feasible to run is a whole other story. This is due to the landscape's remoteness and high-gradient rivers.
So when MacEwan came across Filer Creek – an untouched, seemingly-manageable river located roughly 250km north of Vancouver – via satellite imagery, he immediately reached out to Canadian kayakers Ed Muggridge and Benny Marr to scheme a first-descent expedition.
Two months later, the heavy-hitting trio packed their kayaks tightly, travelled up the Sunshine Coast, water-taxied into the Toba Inlet and then heli-dropped to the headwaters of their upcoming 50km, seven-day whitewater first descent.
We caught up with Muggridge following his first-ever expedition to find out what went down.
So the helicopter just dropped you at the headwaters of Filer Creek, what’s going through your head?
At that point, there was only one way out, which was down the 50km river. We’d spent months talking and planning, but the feeling of actually being there, watching the helicopter fly away, was one of the wildest, more exposed feelings I’ve felt in my life.
How about the whitewater itself? Is Filer Creek the next best rapid?
It was a classic BC Coast Mountain rapid. There was a lot of fresh rock – moved there by recent landslides – which made the whitewater choppy, unfriendly and definitely not clean. It was scary, powerful whitewater and had nasty features throughout
There were some really solid sections, but its high-exposure and riskiness, as well as its remoteness, removed the option of pushing any boundaries. The whole feel and character of the river put me on edge. With less water, I think I would have run more. But, all in all, the gorges and scenery throughout were beautiful.
The trip seemed like a 30/70 split between kayaking and good old fashioned bushwalking. What are your thoughts on type-two fun?
For me, I’ve never been an avid supporter of type-two fun. I’m all about running big drops with immediate satisfaction and I've never been on any type of gruelling expedition like this before.
Some days we’d spend six to eight hours dragging our heavy kayaks through the thickest BC bush I've ever seen – pushing through our 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, 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?'
What was your favourite moment from the trip?
There was a section of whitewater after Question Mark Canyon that I’ll remember forever. We paddled through a granite gorge, with dozens of waterfalls flowing down over both the sides. It’s not often that someone can say they did a first descent down a crazy granite box canyon in BC.
True backcountry is extremely gnarly and you can never be too prepared. Going into future expeditions, I’d like to put more focus on getting comfortable in exposed settings and ensuring I'm physically and mentally at my best and ready to take on the challenge.