Trip Report: Grand Canyon of the Stikine

Day 3: Day three has the biggest rapids, but there aren’t many of them. We ran everything, the sun shone on us all day, and we came through the final unportageable rapid, V-Drive, with grins plastered to our faces. It felt wonderful to have come through the canyon with a successful run, and we thoroughly enjoyed the paddle out through scenic class-3 canyons with mountain goats lining every cliff face.

Trip Report Stikine, Blister Gear Review.
Quinn Connell scouting V-Drive, Day 3.

After only about 45 minutes of waiting, we caught a ride with some extremely kind locals who drove us back to Dease Lake by the putin. It was almost shocking how easy it was to hitch a shuttle in such a remote, unpopulated place.

It was also shocking to be off the river and immediately back on the road, heading south.

I can’t wait to return to the Stikine. It was worth every paddle stroke and every minute of the long drive.

As I said at the beginning, everything people say about the Stikine is true, to an extent. The Stikine is a legend for good reason, but it’s been billed as a feat so difficult that few will ever accomplish it. And this isn’t meant to downplay the difficulty of the Stikine—you absolutely must be ready for this run or you will run into serious consequences.

What we found at our particular flows, was a river that was difficult, beautiful, and committing, but surprisingly manageable for two paddlers with strong bigwater skills to scout and boat scout over three days with minimal beta on specific rapids.

Trip Report Stikine, Blister Gear Review.
The Tanzilla slot! The river narrows to about 5-6-feet wide here.

I think it boils down to a question that another boater asked us over pizza in Missoula. In response to our decision to run the river on short notice and without anyone who had been down before, she asked, “So, is the Stikine just another run now?”

Is it?

My opinion certainly was shaped partly by the amazing weather and flows we had.

It’s also definitely the result of advanced technology and equipment, such as a new gauge that gives paddlers more accurate flow information, that make expedition paddling much easier for our generation. And it’s easy to talk about the “good weather” when I’m wearing a warm Gore-Tex drysuit instead of a shoddy wet suit, and my camping gear is kept perfectly dry by high-quality stow float dry bags.

I have no doubt that if the folks who took the first descent of the Stikine were still paddling today, they’d be the gnarliest boaters on the planet. It takes a special kind of person and a true adventurer to run this river with old school gear and no beta. In the words of my friend Xavier Engle, “No matter how gnarly you think you are, there is always someone who fired it up before you with higher flows, worse gear, and no beta.”

Trip Report Stikine, Blister Gear Review.
Quinn Connell on AFP, Stikine River. 

But despite the many, very real challenges of pulling off this run, it seems to me that it’s becoming more and more common as the next generation of boaters begins to paddle at a higher level. The river that was once the biggest challenge in whitewater has become a training ground for those looking to achieve even higher levels.

In the coming years, it will be especially interesting to watch the next generation of boaters explore the river at higher and higher flows, testing their limits on a river that has so far only been successfully paddled at its lowest annual flows. The Stikine still has more challenges to offer, and it will provide countless more epic adventures for paddlers who undertake the endeavor.

For more photos of our trip, check out this gallery.

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