Words By: Danny Gariepy
Hundreds of feet below me the narrow canyon walls disappeared into darkness. The only indication that anything was below was the dull roar of the river that lay out of sight. It had just finished raining, and the rocks were slick beneath my feet as I rapelled down. The rain had been an unexpected setback, the original idea was that I would be able to follow the boys progress through the canyon from above with my drone. However, since the weather made flying impossible, we were stuck to patchy-at-best radio communication to make sure that they hadn’t run into any problems. I continued feeding rope through my belay device as I made my way down to the small ledge that gave me the best view of the crux waterfall. The boys had already kayaked down and were scouting the mess of boulders just above the waterfall trying to find a path through the labyrinth of water and rock. Just below them the river poured over a 25-30 ft waterfall which they would have to run, and beyond that, the canyon would swallow them whole.
Birds eye view of crux and Narrowest part of the canyon.
Four years before this, Brandon Willms, a very skilled kayaker from Calgary, had been scanning google earth and imagining the possibilities of paddling some never-before run canyons. That is how he discovered Prattle Creek, a small crack in the earth north of Golden in the Kinbasket Region of British Columbia. Visiting for the first time in 2015 he realised that he had discovered something incredible. The last 7 kms of Prattle Creek plummeted through one of the most stunning canyons you could imagine. Hundreds of feet of vertical limestone that dropped straight into the river below. In some parts of the canyon, the walls were so close together that if you were paddling through below you wouldn't be able to see the sky. Large rapids, impossible to judge the scale of from hundreds of feet above on the canyon rim, wove their way down through the immense walls. Once you put on this river, the only way off would be to paddle out through the bottom.
Prattle Creek was as elusive as it was stunning, if you ran into trouble on this river it would be incredibly difficult to escape from. Because of this, Brandon had to scout every section of the river carefully. Above the rim of the canyon were steep and often slippery slopes, which made the scouting even more difficult. One would have to carefully make their way down the slope to the canyon edge without slipping, lean over the edge and observe the small section of river they could see far below, before carefully making their way back up and traversing over before starting the process again. As unnerving and exhausting as this process was, it was incredibly exciting. The more pieces of river that Brandon saw the more he realized that it would actually be possible to kayak this creek. Typically canyons like this would get choked up with logs, making passage through impossible. However the Prattle canyon was uncharacteristically devoid of logs, or so he thought.
Massive log jam near Revelstoke BC.
It took a few years but in the fall of 2017 Brandon felt with a few more days of scouting the Canyon would be runnable. Brandon, Tim Shaw, Dale Mayell, and myself set out to try and run the canyon for the first time, or in my case film them running it. I had high hopes upon arriving that I would join them on the first descent of this canyon. In my mind I would fearlessly paddle through these high walls, armed with my camera to capture this incredible adventure. That thought stayed with me right up until I got my first glimpse of the massive rapids in the canyon far below me and my heart leaped into my throat. I turned to my companions and stated that, “it would probably be better for the film if I actually stayed and filmed from above and let them check it out first.” I am pretty sure they saw right through that ruse.
Scouting the river far below.
We finished scouting the entire canyon, the only piece left was the crux, the deepest point where the walls are so narrow they are actually overhung. Since the walls were overhung we couldn't see down to the river. We had a little bit of rope with us, not enough to rappel all the way to the bottom of the canyon, but hopefully enough that we would be able to at least see to the bottom. Tim geared up and disappeared over the edge. When he returned he confirmed our fears. There was in fact a small log jam right at the exit of the crux. The worst part is that it wasn't even that bad, if we could get to the logs it would have been easy to cut them out and move them, but unfortunately we did not have enough gear to get down to the bottom and we had to walk away.
We weren't even back on the highway and we were already discussing how we could come back with enough rope and gear to rappel all the way into the canyon and cut out all of the logs. That brought us to this past fall.
I finished the rappel down to my filming ledge, my sole companion was a spindly tree that clung for dear life to the side of the cliff. I clipped a sling around the tree and hung my backpack from it, I needed to set up my camera quickly as the paddlers below me were already starting to figure out how they wanted to run the crux waterfall. I finished set up and even with my 200mm lens they looked like they were a long way away. Grabbing my radio I informed them that I was in position. The timing was perfect, a few moments later Bryce ran the waterfall and disappeared into the darkness below, I could just make out enough to see that he was okay and I radioed the others to inform them. One by one I watched through the viewfinder of my camera as the boys dropped into the canyon and disappeared. From my vantage point I couldn't hear much but when I watched their helmet cams back later the moment was filled with cheers and whoops as they entered one of the most stunning canyons any of them had ever seen.
Bryce dropping the seal Launch above the crux waterfall.
This was an adventure four years in the making, it was the perfect embodiment of a dream becoming a reality. Lots of people have ideas, and they talk about those ideas but never actually act on them. The effort it can take to turn an idea into reality is immense, and can easily deter one from pursuing that dream. It was such a privilege to watch this dream of Brandon's become a reality. More than that however, it was incredibly inspiring. No matter what obstacles were in his path he forged through, and found ways to overcome. It shows that when you get the right group of people together and are willing to put in the effort, almost anything is possible.
The Gates, the last big walls on Prattle Creek before it runs into Kinbasket Lake.