Little did I realize when I committed myself to a white water rafting trip what I was getting into.
At 5:30 in the morning, Henry Yu picked me up along with Lily Chow. With him already in the car were his children Chloe and Mylo as well as Sarah Ling, a UBC graduate student. We drove the Trans-Canada highway to Yale where we met the other travellers at the Fraser River Expedition compound. From there we transferred to a school bus that took us to Lillooet. There, we toured the St’at’imc fishing site and were shown the traditional wind-dried method of preserving strips of salmon.
After lunch we boarded a powered raft. Throughout the journey we were accompanied by a second raft. On this day, the film crew wanted to photograph us from a distance. Our raft was accompanied by Michael Kennedy, an archaeologist and Shane Simpson, our guide and steersman, both who gave a running commentary on the history of the river.
On one of our stops, we visited an active gold mine. There were large machineries on the property and a small trailer where fine powdery gold dust were shaken and settled onto a pie size pan. We were told it had an estimated value of $20,000.
At the end of the first day, we arrived at a beach to camp overnight. In the morning we breakfasted and boarded the raft; this time, we had the film crew joined us.
We went through some rapids, a mild taste of what to come. We beached at a landing of a steep embankment covered with slippery rocks. Most of the passengers were young and able to climb over the rocks but at my age, I didn’t dare risk my falling. It was my deepest regret of the trip; a chance to see, in the words of archaeologist, a pristine gold mine left by the Chinese. The site, known as the Browning’s Diggings, had high stone walls, stretching what seemed forever. The stone walls were the result of the intense labour of the Chinese looking for gold.
Once back on the river, we couldn’t help notice the long freight trains running high up on the canyon walls. I thought back to the labour of the Chinese railroad workers whose lives were always in danger.
In the meantime, the film crew kept filming by interviewing on the raft, recording head on the waves of the rapids and even using a small robotic helicopter to fly overhead by remote control and film below.
In the distance ahead, we saw the calm waters of the Fraser turned to a boiling state. Shane warned us to hang on, as we advance on the rapids. The most anticipated one was Hell’s Gate. As we approach the gate, we saw people on the bridge and the observation deck. A helicopter also flew overhead. It was as if they were expecting us.
Surprisingly, the rapids weren’t as bad as we thought. It may be that we went through so many other rapids that we knew what to expect. But then, Shane introduced us to Sailor’s Bar which turned out to be the most surprising. We bounced hard against our seats as cold waves crashed over us. It was like riding a roller coaster with pails of cold water thrown at us. We were totally soaked.
Thankful, we reached a quiet beach to settle down and have lunch.
From our perspective, the beauty of the Fraser Canyon holds its mysteries. What stories are there about the early Chinese miners and the railroad workers? What were their feelings to work in such a place, far away from home? Did they dream that one day, we would retrace their steps?
The river itself holds many guises. It moves fast, it swirls, and boils. It changes colours by fresh water from a tributary such as the Thompson. The river has graceful arched rail bridges spanning its width and even a small cross current ferry run by an overhead cable.
In the three days on the Fraser, we experienced closeness to nature, the colour of history left behind, and the thrill ride through the rapids that left us wet and cold. Would we do it again? I dare say yes.
The purpose of our trip was to determine if it were suitable for heritage tourism. And again, I would say yes