Squamish to Vancouver Bikeraft
One thing I love about packrafts are how they allow me to explore familiar areas of the Pacific Northwest in new ways, seeing mountains, rivers and entire areas from an entirely new perspective.
Last weekend was one of those trips, a bike-rafting trip from Squamish, down the Indian River FSR to Indian Arm and the Indian River estuary.
I started from my house in east Vancouver, rode downtown and caught the sea bus to North Van. From there, I hooked up with a ride to Squamish using something called Pop Rideshare, an online ridesharing forum where you can pay a few bucks to hop in a car with someone headed up to Squamish, Whistler and any number of other destinations. It's something in between Uber and the Craigslist rideshare board.
I arrived in Squamish by mid morning, caffeinated and set off shortly before 11:00 up the Mamquam River FSR. After a couple kilometers, I turned off onto the spur for the Indian River FSR and started climbing.
For about 12 kilometers, the road climbed steadily, following the Stawamus River drainage behind the chief. Most was rideable, but there were long, steep sections of loose rock that forced me to hike-a-bike. Around the eight kilometer mark, the road starts to open up, with amazing views of the backsides of Mount Habrich and Sky Pilot.
Shortly after I lunch, I crested the pass at the Indian River FSR's highest point, looked back at the snowcapped peaks visible towards Whistler, then pointed down and started the long, flowing descent towards Indian Arm.
The road flew by, mostly smooth gravel with the occasional rockier section and water bar. Around an hour into the descent, I stopped to check out a series of cascading waterfalls in the narrow canyon section of Indian River.
Shortly after that, the river flattens out, and after a few scouts, decided to transition to raft where the river appeared to get wide and deep enough to paddle continuously.
For the next four hours, I hopped in and out of my boat, portaging over gravel beds and log jams, bottoming out in shallow water and walking into what started to look more and more like a salmon graveyard. The seasonal salmon run was near it's end, and so hundreds of fish that had swam up the river to spawn were dead or dying in the stream. The smell on the river was something like a sushi restaurant's dumpster on a hot July day.
I cursed my decision to switch to the raft as I portaged the fourth massive log jam of the past few hours, standing up to waist in the river, five dead salmon near my feet, pushing my bike and raft up onto the logs blocking my path.
The closer I got to the ocean, the more salmon I saw. Thankfully, many of these were still alive, and the rotting fish smell gave way to a more oceanic scent. Any time my bright yellow raft came near a group, twenty to fifty salmon would splash wildly, bumping the boat, jumping from the river and searching for deeper water.
Around 6:30 p.m. past a pair of bridges over the Indian River, I finally made it into deep enough water to paddle continuously. Before long, I was in one of the lushest, greenest estuaries I have ever seen. There were hundreds of birds, thousands of salmon and at least 20 curious seals surrounding my raft as I floated the final couple kilometers of tidal estuary, emerging into Indian Arm just as the sun was setting. The view was amazing, but the encroaching darkness was troubling. I decided to try and make it to Granite Falls, a kayak-accessible provincial park campground nearby. I pulled out my headlamp, pointed south and fumbled into an exhausted cadence, covering the last few kilometers in the dark.
The campground was crowded with late summer visitors, so I found a corner, set up camp, ate dinner and passed out.
The next morning I woke up with the sun, brewed coffee and reset my boat for the long, flatwater paddle to Vancouver. Setting up the boat, I dealt with the inevitable "where did you come from?" and "is that a bike" questions before pushing off and paddling out.
Rather than paddle all the way to Deep Cover, some 20+ km to my south, I hugged eastern shore of Indian arm and made my way over around 8 kilometers of ocean, passing seals and jellyfish, to Buntzen Bay, a tiny community near the old BC Hydro powerhouse visible on the water.
The group of houses had a creepy, ghost-town vibe and I didn't feel like lingering. I quickly transitioned back to the bike on the small, rocky beach and started up a narrow lane towards where my map indicated a dirt road might be.
The road started rough and steep, climbing from the ocean shore up onto a high bluff. From there, it was a short traverse to the well graded Powerhouse Road, then a quick two kilometers to the Northern Beach of Buntzen Lake.
I rode around the lake, linking together moderate mountain trails and sections of dirt road up to the small community of Anmore. From there, it was a fast descent down to Ioco Road, then a quick ride into Port Moody for celebratory beers at Twin Sails.
Some notes on this route:
- The river level was way too low for where I put in. If you're doing this trip at a similar time of year, I'd suggest riding all the way down to at least the bridges over Indian River, lower if you can.
- At a higher level, this would be a fun Class II/III gravel bed/pool drop river to run. There is a LOT of wood so you would need to keep your head up.