The Sustainable Living Leadership Program: 1,400km down the Fraser River
A Blog Series from an expedition on the Fraser River (scroll down for earlier posts).
Post #9 – August 12, 2015 – by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch – The Not So Slow Return to City Life and Final Reflections
Before you know it, 24 days have sped by are we’ve turned the corner around the UBC peninsula and are facing the uphill suburban sprawl of North Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet and the city scape of Vancouver.
Paddling the lower Fraser, in particular between Mission and the sea, was quite disheartening. The smells of urbanization, industry, and agriculture stood out in stark contrast to the clean air we’d become accustomed to in the headwaters and canyon. In many parts, the riverbanks have lost their riparian zones. Rusty abandoned barges, desolate log sorts, and even an abandoned BC Ferry hug the river banks – a far cry from the cottonwoods and poplars that originally crowded the banks not so long ago. And of course, the miles and miles of log booms – some of them visibly carrying old growth cedars which, I’m told, are from Haida Gwaii – stretch down to the Sea. It was especially disheartening to see because I know of the invisible impacts to those below the surface. Yet, among it all, herons sunned, seals swum, and pockets of bright flowers shone amongst the dreary landscapes.
Something else that really caught our attention on the canoe was the water temperature. The day we were paddling from Hope to Harrison, the River was the temperature of a luke-warm bath! The air was cooler than the water – a very sobering sensation to say the least. I was reminded of the jumping salmon I’d seen and wondered if they were struggling to swim through these warm waters to (hopefully) much cooler streams. I wondered about the sturgeon that inhabit the mainstem of the Fraser and how they were dealing with these warm waters. I imagined the schools of salmon patiently waiting out in the Salish Sea and estuary for cooler waters to flow through the Fraser so they too can begin their journey home. I hope these warming waters galvanize people to action, to push for regulations that help salmon in these challenging times – be it a stop to open-net pen farms, a removal of obstructions that block a salmon’s passage, implementation of only fish-friendly pumps on streams, or a push to government petitioning them to incorporate climate change into environmental assessments to address the much larger future impacts for salmon…like warming waters.
So many answers exist yet so little action is taken. I keep asking myself, why?
As I settle back in to life post-expedition, I wonder how I can best take the lessons and stories given to me by the Fraser River and the people I met along the way. These people are working to build resilient communities and healthier watersheds pushing their elected officials and government representatives to find innovative ways of protecting land and water, caribou and mountain goat, eagles and salmon. Understanding the intimate role salmon play in the health of forests, as they provide much needed fertilizers to an otherwise poor soil regime, helps to bring the connections between the health of our oceans and the health of our forests into much sharper focus. Everything is connected, and my trip down the Fraser highlighted this in many ways. In the headwaters, the River carries rock flour which ends up in the floodplain where some of the best agricultural lands are found. A connection. The River links communities and many Nations. It brings nutrient rich fish upon which thousands of people have depended on for centuries. A connection. Many more connections exist and that’s the beauty and magic of this world.
My hope is you’ve been inspired by this journey to put yourself out there and try something new. Find the creek or river that makes up your watershed and stick your feet in it! If you feel unsafe doing so ask why. If there’s something you can do about it, do it! If you need support, ask for it! Nothing is too big or daunting when worked on with a community of people. I know this because I went on a journey that pushed my limits. Because I had a support system and a group so full of love and generosity, the 25 days on the Fraser while challenging, was also uplifting.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it is this – a strong community of people who work together and help each other rise up, can together be happy and successful.
Thank you for following this journey and thank you to everyone who supported me through it and made this possible.
Stay involved, contact me, and join Watershed Watch’s call for change.
This is for the Salmon, for healthy Waters!
Post #8 – August 6, 2015 – by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch – Glen Valley, Langley
There is so much to write about, I don’t know where to begin. I’m going to try and keep this piece short.
Spending time with the other 6 women – Lota (Surrey), Christine (Kelowna), Andaleeb (Vancouver), Suzanne (Gibson), Maya (Horseshoe Bay) and Amanda (Lillooet) is incredibly rewarding. We are a diverse group and have quickly become family. We cuddle together to watch the stars, share body heat on cold rainy days, get our hair braided and have spirited discussions about patriarchy, colonialism politics and sustainable economies. Our sisterhood spans generations – from 21 to 53 years old – and that in itself brings an incredible range in perspective. Our ideas and energy are sure to endure even after we emerge from this journey and the foundations have been laid for long-term collaboration and support across our intersecting interests and areas of knowledge. I am really looking forward to building on this bond we’ve built!!
Transitioning back into a human landscape has been really eye opening. It started with Lillooet where on our approach we were treated to the many fish-drying racks as the people in the region prepared for the fishing season. Then it was the sudden increase in boat traffic with recreational fishing folk coming and going from the boat launch near where we camped. Nearby vehicles crossed the bridge, and a helicopter came and went. Moving further down the River, trains became a constant companion, sometimes blaring their horns in greeting as we waved madly for their attention. Highway 1 became more prominent in Yale where we said goodbye to our rafts and raft guides Shane and Jake from Fraser River Raft Expeditions.
Shane and Jake really made our Fraser Canyon trip special with stories and expert maneuvering abilities. It was with Shane that we whooshed our way through Hells Gate and the even scarier/exhilarating Sailor Bar Rapids (I felt like a rag doll going through these rapids). They really became part of our family on the River, taking part in our daily opening and closing circles and supporting us where it was needed.
As I was saying, transitioning back to ‘civilization’ is proving to be more stark than I’d expected. From Hope, where we launched back into the Fraser in a voyageur canoe, onwards, the smells of agriculture, industry and human sewage has slowly crept in to replace the fresh mountain breezes we’ve been accustomed to over the past 21 days. Boat traffic has also increased, as has the number of recreational fishers we are seeing along the sand bars and gravel reaches of what is commonly known as the ‘heart of the Fraser’. Wildlife still follow us along the River – which is really good to see. I saw two salmon jump one day, and some of us saw an approximately 7ft sturgeon jump out of the water (although I missed it as I was helping to rescue a fallen paddle). Bank swallows, eagles and turkey vultures are frequent visitors around our canoe, and every now and again a curious seal will pop its head out of the water and follow us for a bit.
On day 21, as we were packing our canoe at Kilby, under a storm, Ernie Victor from the Sto:lo Research and Resource Management Center showed up on the beach in his boat! It was a surprise (I’d extended an invite for him to join us but didn’t think he would be able to) and a treat to hear him speak to us about his work in fisheries management, indigenizing school curriculum, and his belief systems when it comes to understanding what it means to truly live sustainably. It was a great way to start the day with such wise words.
As we paddle in to the final leg of our journey, I’m becoming quite anxious about what awaits me on the other side. The living, learning and caring in this bubble of ours extends all around, and true friendships are being formed between us 7 women and our facilitators Fin, Jackie, Doug and Orden.
I hope we continue to find solace and inspiration in one another.
Post #7 – August 4, 2015 – by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch – The Fraser Canyon
The Canyon is absolutely stunning!! I don’t understand why there isn’t more of an appetite to explore it. There is so much history here, so many epic landscapes constantly shifting that it’s unbelievable that only a handful of people get to glimpse it firsthand. The Fraser Canyon may not be as huge as the Grand Canyon but it’s certainly just as dynamic and full of history. According to Shane, our knowledgeable guide, almost every square inch of this now largely unpopulated canyon was mined for gold. The remnants of this time are etched into the surroundings as we float by. Less obvious are First Nations’ impacts on the land. As Shane advises, using a ‘soft eye’ you can see where old trails trace a ridge or where desirable fishing spots might have been.
I want to share with you a particularly noteworthy lunch stop we made at a place now called North Canyon. The higher slopes used to be a village site. In this region semi-permanent homes called pit houses were built – mostly circular, some large enough to house multiple families. This particular village was one of many that were totally decimated by the small pox epidemic. Not a single survivor remained. It’s a dark of part of Canada’s history but it must be spoken about and remembered. Coming to this village site was incredibly sobering. We were told that because no one survived the dead were not given their funeral rites. It was believed that their spirits lingered, unable to leave or rest. A few years ago a ceremony to honour the dead was performed at the site with the intention of helping the dead rest in peace. The village pit homes, now no more, still carry the indents and curves of the pits, now grown in with bunch grass and sage. At this village site were also some pictographs with a story we can only guess at. The whole area was a historic site unlike any I’ve seen before. Here is some true history only accessible by the River. I can only imagine the hundreds of other places like this, now forgotten, in the Canyon.
The Canyon continues to stun! Around every bend a dramatic view arises each with its own interesting stories. It is hard to believe just 2 weeks ago we were surrounded by evergreens in a lush wetland environment. Now we are surrounded by hardy sage, juniper and tiny cacti that make their presence known with every step.
We camped at Lone Creek for a couple of nights and then headed down to Leon Creek. We are now into Day 17 of our 25 day journey. It’s been total wilderness camping since we left Xat’sull and I’ve really enjoyed it. We overnighted at Leon Creek where Simon Fraser and his crew hung up their canoes and rented horses for an overland journey to Lillooet due to extreme rapids. These rapids we got to enjoy in our rafts. They were mostly Class 3 rapids around the Powerline area. The second set of rapids at Bridge River were Class 5 rapids. Here we had to get out of the rafts and walk along the canyon while our guides skillfully maneuvered through them. All along the edge of the Canyon drying racks were being prepared for the fishing season.
The only other boat traffic we’ve seen from the time we left the headwaters was the ferry-bridge that connects the town of Clinton to the rest of the highway system via Lillooet at Big Bar. The lack of boats on the water contrasts quite strongly with the incredibly busy lower Fraser. I’m not sure I’m prepared to see it yet. Apart from our own swims in the River, we’d not seen anyone else until somewhere near Leon Creek we came across a couple of nudists taking full advantage of the peace and quiet to enjoy the River!
We overnight in Lillooet where we were welcomed by a number of people who brought out a delicious potluck (we made falafels and pakoras). I’ll write more about our visit at Lillooet shortly.
Post #6 – August 3, 2015 - by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch – Williams Lake and Discovering the ‘Might’ of the Fraser
It’s been really difficult to try and express my thoughts and experiences about this trip in words. I’m left wishing I were more artistic and could draw out or sing my feelings! So much is moving inside me. Between camp duties, social time and program time there’s little time left to escape and take time to write. I started writing this blog from the river bank where the Williams Lake River (more like a creek) meets the Fraser River. I end this blog at Lillooet.
We are beginning our second day of rafting through the Fraser Canyon. It’s a very different landscape than the Upper Fraser. Our raft guide, Shane, has been sharing the geological history of the Canyon. He is a masterful storyteller, crafting the ice age and post-glacial periods with such vivid realism you get transported to another world.
Williams Lake River (creek) is situated within an impressive valley! I wish I had pictures to share but really I was too busy being amazed by the sheer magnitude of the valley. I also knew that no picture would be able to do it justice. Its sides are carved out, apparently by an ice jam, revealing glacial till and layers of sand. The plateau above the valley supports cattle grazing lands.
It was wonderful to meet some of the locals from the City of Williams Lake and see all the wonderful advocacy and sustainability projects they are working on. Being a logging and ranching community the city is dependent on intensive resource extraction for its survival. The community leaders I met are advocating for an economy that is not so extractive oriented. With leadership from the Tsilhqot’in Nation and the 2014 Supreme Court ruling win, this region is not only poised for change but also as leaders in good governance practices for the rest of the province.
When we landed at our campsite we were met by Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff. With them we had the opportunity to beach seine for small fish and salmon fry. Within minutes we’ve netted chinook fry, pike minnows, white fish, leopard dace, and shiners. This River is full of life both within and all around, and it’s incredible to see. They shared with us stressor and threats to salmon which included logging, mining, climate change, invasive species, and overfishing. I was taken aback when after talking about all these threats, and the many unknowns, they shared with us that about 70% of returning salmon stocks are slated for commercial harvest and never get to reproduce. That’s a huge number taken from streams and rivers that are never replenished. In the ominous words of the DFO staff person, “this leaves little margin for error” and that is very concerning. Why do we allow these high fishing limits to be set? I feel a deep responsibility to demand better fishing regulations!
On day 2 of rafting, I finally had the opportunity to do what I’ve been wanting to do from the time we started this journey. I jumped in to the Fraser River and swam (floated) with it! Am I ever glad for life jackets! The powerful waters carried me forward and for the first time I truly understood the meaning behind this river being called ‘mighty’. I had to use all my strength to swim slightly upstream and away from eddies. Although I was safe because of the close proximity of the rafts, and my raft mates who’d also jumped in, I did have a brief moment of rising panic. I’ve experienced the might of the Fraser at its calmest and I respect it. Of course I’ll continue to bathe, swim and float the Fraser through this mid-section where the waters are clean and fast flowing.
More to come on the Fraser Canyon in my next post.
Post #5 – August 1, 2015 – by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch – Ancient Forest, Quesnel, Xat’sull
I began writing this blog by a small fire inside a big teepee. I’ve never fallen asleep to the sounds of a crackling fire in such a big, warm structure. We are at the Xat’sull Heritage Village in the territory of the Secwepemc people. This area is also known as Soda Creek.
I’ve had an opportunity to meet some very interesting people doing some very important work in the Interior/Cariboo. Dave Redies, the younger brother to Doug our fearless co-facilitator, is building on his older brother’s legacy of land protection in the Cariboo Range. He was instrumental in finding a piece of very special forest slated for destruction. The kicker is, this forest, an ancient cedar forest, was not to be cut down for its cedar (because they were mostly rotted on the inside) but to make room for a timber plantation!! This old growth stand was considered a waste of forest space that was not adding value to the economy of the province. Recognizing the incredible non-monetary value of this ecosystem Dave and supporters set to work to protect a small portion of a much larger ancient forest ecosystem as an interpretive center – accessible to the public to experience. The giant cedars that make up these forests are truly remarkable! Called Arborvitae in Latin, the cedars mean “tree of life”. They literally support life around them, hold water in their enormous root system and are deeply respected for their many healing properties. The forest underbrush is thick with Devil’s Club, another highly respected plant known for its medicinal properties. It is also known for its very sharp hooks. Bushwhacking your way through thick prickly underbrush cannot be pleasant. Deep gratitude to those working to protect BC’s wild spaces from irresponsible land destruction.
Following our magical tour of the Ancient Forest we went to Quesnel. There, we were welcomed by the Baker Creek Enhancement Society, local community leaders, and Mayor Bob Simpson and his family. Over a healthy potluck dinner (we made a watermelon salad) I got to meet such an array of environmental leaders – from coalition builders who stopped the building of a dam in the Fraser Canyon, to protectors of the Cariboo Mountains, and even an artist/sound healer who uses art to help people build stronger bonds with water. We were treated to an excellent talk by Bob on his vision for Quesnel – a community in flux. The City depends on resource extraction, primarily logging, but is finding itself transitioning with the changing times. It they want to stay relevant, the City needs to make some tough changes and Bob is at the forefront, leading his community. I was captivated by Bob’s ideas on governance versus power and agreed with him that the current political system is skewed towards building power structures rather than fair governance practices. He is changing the way the City does business by moving towards a sustainable agenda and actively participating in the City’s future direction. He is also going beyond the status quo and building deeper relationships with the Secwepemc Nation, within which Quesnel is situated.
I’ve been asking questions and trying to learn a little more about community managed forests in BC as current logging practices are still very destructive. Bob has been working to start a community forest for Quesnel since the 1990s. These forests, if managed carefully with a values-based approach rather than a profit-focused operation can be both viable for commerce and the environment. Quesnel is currently in talks with the BC Chief Forester about the possibilities. Moving towards sustainability in this way Quesnel is beginning to address its own food security, waste issues and implementing anti-idling and pesticide bans.
This place I’m writing from Xat’sull is best described visually so check out the photos below.
Our layover here coincided beautifully with the Secwepemc Nation’s annual Pow Wow. What an amazing opportunity to get even a small glimpse of some of the culture and traditions of the people in this territory. There were vendors selling wares like cowboy hats, bannock burgers and the most ingenious of desserts – soapberry foam or Indian Ice Cream! I’m not a huge soapberry fan but this stuff was amazing! The Pow Wow was more than food of course. There was dancing by men and women with different families leading the singing and drumming. The crowning event was a selection of the Princess of the Year where a young Secwepemc girl is chosen to represent her family and Nation. She is chosen based on dance skills and community involvement. The clouds towered overhead, the sun shone, and people relaxed in lawn chairs and picnic tables enjoying each other’s company and the entertainment.
For the community at Xat’sull, salmon fishing by dip net is very much common practice. As I write this, the Early Stuart run of sockeye salmon are swimming up the Fraser River, passing us and continuing upstream…an invisible migration.
Tomorrow will be our first day on the raft as we embark on the mid-Fraser portion of this expedition. We will be camping in the wilderness – a section of this trip I’ve been really looking forward to! More to come shortly.
Post #4 – July 25, 2015 – by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch – Days 6, 7 and 8 in the Goat River Valley
For the past 2 days and 3 nights we’ve retreated into the Cariboo Mountain Range and the Goat River Valley. It’s a famously wet valley and as I write this, a thunderous storm has swept in and limited our mobility to the tarp over our camp kitchen, our tents and the occasional brave run to the very pretty, very scenic outhouse.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP) includes Fraser River tributaries as well as the mainstem, so we’ve had the opportunity to pause in the Goat River to learn about plans to create a protected area. The Goat River Valley is an interesting region for a number of reasons. The forest is made up largely of a species of spruce called the Engelmann Spruce. We are camped at the end of the logging road and the beginning of the historic Goat River trail head. On one side of the road are two clear cut blocks, on the other, some pretty impressive forest with many generations of spruce – from grandparents down to the babies. The difference is stark. Apart from the two cut blocks, this area has been spared development and has been stewarded by the Fraser Headwaters Alliance. The Goat River is also where fluvial Bull Trout, who usually live in the Fraser River, come to spawn. Sadly I didn’t get to see any trout but I’m told their redds (nests) are huge – roughly 3-4 feet wide. Chinook salmon also spawn in the clear, fast flowing waters of the Goat.
The historic trail that connects the Robson Valley to Barkerville through a pass in the Cariboo Range follows the Goat River. We had the opportunity to hike 9km of the trail with members of the Headwaters Alliance. Surprisingly, the day we hiked, it didn’t rain a drop! Still along the trail – traversed by pack horse in the old days – are the original trail markers now mostly nibbled away by porcupines. The Headwaters Alliance has plans to upgrade and maintain the trail all the way to Barkerville, 50km away.
While breakfasting on pancakes and wild berries, one of the forest stewards walked out of the forest and straight into our camp. He’d walked back 22km from where he and others are trail building. Over breakfast he updated us on the work planned for the year. The work being done is no small feat and the people doing it are incredibly passionate about keeping BC wild, healthy and accessible to the larger population, rather than a select few forestry companies. There is value in these areas more than money can express and it is this inherent value that these people are trying to conserve.
It would be wrong of me to not dedicate some space here to the wild berries I’ve had the absolute privilege of experiencing up here. They are everywhere and they are absolutely delicious!! Hiking these forests you are in no danger of going hungry or thirsty. Wild blueberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, strawberries, bunchberries, watermelon berries and cloudberries are in abundance. You cannot walk two steps without tripping over these delicious morsels. The tiny strawberries, no more than one centimetre, pack a hundred times more flavour than those giant watery strawberries in the grocery stores. As I moved through the forest with a handful of truly organic blueberries I marvelled at the lack of quality in what we are served in the lower mainland – the pesticides, the monocultures, the lack of flavour – and cannot believe how we’ve been sold such poor quality foods. I’m now truly spoilt for berry choice, readjusting to city food is going to be very difficult. Nature shows us how to efficiently grow good, nutrient-rich food, if only we’d stop to learn.
I was surprised and impressed to learn that the Headwaters Alliance gets much of their trail building funds from MEC. This included money for an ingenious cable car pulley across the River that replaced the old, precarious cable bridge that made up the historic trail. This type of support from social enterprises supports long term plans to protect biodynamic areas such as the Goat watershed. The long term plan is to get the Valley recognized as a Provincial Park since it is still fair game for logging. If the stewards are successful in their push, the Goat will join West Twin, Bowron Lakes and Wells Gray as one large connected protected area. It’s an ambitious goal but one that I think is fully attainable. Protecting the Fraser headwaters and the Robson Valley from logging and unsustainable development is important to protecting the entire river system. Only 14% of BC is protected park land and most of this protected area is rock and ice rather than forests or wetlands. Creating protected and/or special management areas is one answer to curbing irresponsible resource extraction. It is also an important way to involve communities – in this area through well managed values based community forests and a serious eco-tourism push.
We’ve now completed canoeing the upper Fraser and experiencing the landscapes, issues, and incredible abundance. Next, we move towards the mid-Fraser starting at Xat’sull near Quesnel and rafting over 9 days down to Yale in the Fraser Canyon.
Post #3 – Launch! – July 21, 2015 – by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch – written from Bearview Camp, banks of the Fraser River, McBride, Robson Valley
Wow! Where do I begin? Life during the Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP) gets more and more intense as the days go by.
After about 2 hours of canoe practice in Yellowhead Lake, we were ready for the Fraser! We put in to the river on July 19th from Tete Jaune. Interesting side note – Tete Jaune is an Anglicized version of the French for “yellow head” which referrers to a blond Metis adventurer who inspired the people who lived in these parts and eventually became a bit of a legend.
We launched in the early afternoon, and were waved off by tourists and locals alike, and paddled 6.5 hours to the farming community of Dunster. There we were greeted by the Culps and their neighbours. This was our first full day of paddling and while it was exhilarating, it was also very tiring. My shoulders back and upper arms felt those strokes! Luckily I had a beautiful view to captivate me and the locals who came along for the day to talk to and learn more about the landscape and stories of the Robson Valley that we were paddling through.
The Culps’ Farm is a stunning place. Stopping here allowed us a chance to connect with people who’ve lived here for about two generations. It used to be a cattle farm and now they farm hay. Sheep, alpaca, chickens, an obnoxious rooster, a goose and peacocks round out the farm family. During our night there, away from the pollution of city lights and smog, I was treated to a dazzling display of stars..
I awoke the next day to the rooster whose crows were tangled in with the not-so-distant sound of rolling thunder and knew we were in for an adventure! Between a rushed breakfast and a rapid tear down of the camp I found some respite in brushing my teeth (yes basic hygiene still happens when camping!) on the tiny porch of the world’s cutest outhouse. Feeling the strong winds whip down the Valley, seeing the thunderstorm approach and hearing the thunder crash is exhilarating beyond words.
The Robson Valley, Rockies on one side and the Cariboo Range on the other is an amazing region. It’s hard to believe that this valley was slated for damming in the 50s/60s. I suppose in the grand scheme of things it must have seemed like the perfect location to put a dam, but with my connection to the Fraser it seems completely unthinkable! The planned dam is why the railway and highways in this area were built up on the bench lands and not down in the valley. Count our lucky stars that it was deemed to not be economically viable to dam this Valley! Paddling through the Valley, its close fate is a sobering reminder of the uncertain future of the Peace Valley with the push for Site C. My wish for this River is that it never be dammed, especially as alternative forms of cleaner, greener energy are proving successful across the world.
The Robson Valley near Tete Jaune is the likely the last place Pacific Chinook spawn in the Fraser’s mainstem. This Valley is home to caribou, moose, black and grizzly bears, to name a few. We saw many frogs braving the large expanse of the River, swimming across and sometimes being picked up by our paddles. On our second paddling day heading down to McBride we stopped on a convenient stretch of beach where Holiday Creek meets the Fraser River. We found prints from many animals. It was the first time I saw a grizzly bear footprint and wow was it huge! In the skies, the bird life thrives. Eagles aerial battle red-tailed hawks while a myriad of small birds from juncos to waxwings busy about attending to their daily chores in the forests and over the Fraser.
This region is rich in diversity and character including its human residents. At the Culps’ farm, we learnt about their family’s pioneering patriarch who answered a land for sale advert in an Oregon newspaper. He packed up his family and headed north in the dead of winter.
There aren’t many youth who stay, let alone return to a land so far from a city but we met an enthusiastic 25 year old keen to contribute to keeping her community alive. I hope people who truly care for the Robson Valley and the Fraser continue to live and take care for their region now and in the future. Even more so, I hope other British Columbians can see and appreciate this beautiful Valley, understand its values and rise up when needed to maintain a healthy ecosystem here and across the province.
Our journey does not just focus on the Fraser mainstem. We have already, and will continue to visit tributaries that feed the Fraser – some of which we’ll be testing for water quality. Using the Streamkeepers methods we will be practicing some citizen science on potentially salmon bearing streams.
Today (July 22) we’ll push off once more for three days in the Goat River, a system in the Cariboo Range that of course feeds in to the Fraser River. Three days in totally wild country. I have already bid farewell to the hot water showers at our current camp site. Wish me luck!
Post #2 – At Mount Robson – July 18, 2015, by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch
Cell phone reception faded away as we approached the Robson Shadows Campground – our home for the next 3 days and the headwaters of the Fraser River. In typical fashion, I’ve over packed – 55L backpack bursting at the seams, a day bag stuffed with snacks including energy bars, backpacker’s crème brûlée and astronaut ice cream, and a bright yellow hard cover waterproof case for tech gadgets. I was weighed down. Following instructions left at the main office, the seven of us made our way through the early morning light to our appointed camp site. Groggy from an interrupted sleep on the bus, we popped up our tents, crawled in and slept till nearly noon.
The first thing I noticed on awakening was the sound of traffic! It’s not exactly the serene sounds of bird chatter that I was expecting. Trains echo through the valley day and night, blessedly without honking their horns. Wheeled traffic zooms down the Yellowhead Highway, engine breaks squealing. It took me all day to get used to this new reality that was the headwaters of the Fraser River. My expectations were being challenged.
It was a cold, drizzly first day but spirits were high. I’m going to be making this journey with 11 incredibly accomplished people from Haida Gwaii, the Sunshine Coast, the Lower Mainland and the Interior. Our facilitators are: Rivershed Society Chair Fin Donnelly, Jacquie Lanthrie, Orden Mack and Doug Radies each of whom have traversed the Fraser between 1 and 12 times! There’s got to be a reason they keep coming back for more!
Day 1 was mostly about getting to know each other. The highlight of the day was meeting the Fraser River. She is teal green up here! A beautiful reminder of all the minerals and fine sands being carried from the foothills of the Rockies down to the nutrient rich floodplains of the lower Fraser – my home.
So much has happened in the past three days. Everyday has been more special than the last with mornings dedicated to some ‘classroom’ work. During these sessions we share our work and life experiences related to water, explore concepts of leadership, what it means to be a good leader and lead campaigns be it for work or personal commitments. Things got intense and emotions ran high. When sharing my own origin story and what brought me to this incredible place, I couldn’t help but get emotional about all the wonderful influences on my life and career.
One story I shared was about my middle school Geography teacher Mrs. Kharwa in Dubai. She brought to life a subject that many find boring, even dull. In rain starved Dubai she’d teach us the water cycle and the basics of watersheds and agriculture through experiential learning. For that I am ever grateful! My casual interest in the earth and its workings was deepened and eventually led to me doing my undergraduate degree in Human and Environmental Geography.
Mount Robson made a majestic appearance on Day 2. Not without awe, I got to experience the grandness of the continental divide from which water flows in to three oceans: Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic. In my mind’s eye the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, sprang before me. Mount Robson wasn’t quite so carved out and chiselled, its sedimentary rocks still hidden.
We finally put the canoe in the water and practiced paddling on Day 3. When we first began in Yellowhead Lake I felt defeated, like I’d made the wrong choice to be part of this trip. I wasn’t physically fit enough. I was not as adventurous as I has hoped. But then I looked over to my partner, a woman in her 50’s, saw both her anxiety and happiness and knew I’d be ok. As a team, paddling together we could make it! And if we could make it here, we could make it anywhere, together or apart, fighting for what we believe in, fighting for life, fighting for a chance to do the right thing.
Tomorrow (July 19) we begin our journey down the Fraser after having spent three days in the headwaters.
Here are some images from the start of Lina’s expedition. (scroll down for earlier posts)
Post #1 – July 16, 2015, by Lina Azeez, Engagement Coordinator at Watershed Watch.
I am about to get in a canoe, joining a 25-day expedition tracing the Fraser River for 1,400 kilometres, from source to sea.
I have never lived in a tent for longer than a weekend, and I wonder if I am unprepared. We will be running the length of the river, from its headwaters at Mount Robson to the mouth of the Salish Sea. Am I overwhelmed? Yes! Am I excited? Absolutely! Quintessentially Canadian are the words that come to mind when I think about this adventure.
Three weeks of paddling and camping along the way might not be everyone’s idea of a good time. To me however, pushing myself to try the extraordinary – something certainly not part of my cultural or ethnic context – is almost a rite of passage. As a fairly new Canadian (13 years) who is also an advocate for salmon and watersheds, I need to understand this mighty river and the land it drains. What better way to understand the land and water than experiencing it the traditional way, in a canoe.
Traversing one-third of British Columbia with an all-female crew is both an honour and a responsibility. Not many people get to witness the Fraser River at its source, to see it move through the landscapes in one unbroken flow. Such a valuable experience cannot be kept to oneself! As such this post is a brief exploration of what I might expect and introduce what we at Watershed Watch and the Rivershed Society, the trip organizers, call the Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP).
The SLLP was first offered 13 years ago. It is a peer-to-peer learning opportunity, immersed in nature’s outdoor classroom. We engage at the watershed level, learning about these landscapes and discovering what solutions might help reduce our impacts. Along with the remote beauty and rich history of the place comes human impacts- on salmon and timber, land-uses such as farming and mining, industrialization and urbanization. Experiencing the Fraser from the water and understanding resource management in this dynamic watershed provides a chance for me and my cohorts to be better equipped to stand up for what’s needed to maintain a liveable, healthy watershed.
As I write this, British Columbia burns with some 200 wildfires. I almost selfishly check the Province’s Wildfire Map tracing the length of the Fraser, hoping against wildfires en-route. I do not feel prepared to see our Province burn.
At the same time, water temperatures in the Fraser River inch closer towards lethal levels for salmon. This makes me wonder, what will I witness of our iconic salmon runs, if anything at all? What will I see, smell and feel this unusually hot summer? Who will I meet and what will they share about the influence of the Fraser on their lives? Will I hear about a government that ignores the needs of far flung communities? The myopic visions of politicians? What will I learn about people’s ways of living? I venture in to a wilder B.C. than I am used to. I go with humility, excitement and a heart and mind open to learning.
My name is Lina, I work for Watershed Watch, and I want to think like a watershed so that we can better protect our salmon and water. Join me on this 1400km journey! Please follow our expedition & keep up with my reports from the Fraser here.
Sustainable Living Leadership Program: July 18 – August 9
Why is Watershed Watch participating in the SLLP?
- WW wants to embrace adventure, support the Rivershed Society in their annual excursion by shedding light on the amazing Fraser & the stressors placed upon the system.
- An opportunity for WW to connect with an audience we do not usually reach
- To make decisions about the value of watersheds
- To excite people about the possibilities of venturing out on to the River
- To galvanize support for a much needed study of the stressors on the Fraser
- To connect people through stories to the Fraser River
- To connect our upcoming Fraser Survey to the River
Why is Lina willing to put herself through 25 days of roughing it on the Fraser River?
- A life goal
- Strong connection to the Fraser River- the way it moves, history, ecology, biology
- A quintessential Canadian adventure
- Being able to better understand the Fraser River allows me to be better at my job, relating my experiences and understands to others as a way to inspire and motivate positive action