The Brunette River: Still Creek 2.0

Monday, May 18, 2020

Our Still Creek adventure was so much fun that we had to find out what was in store on the other side of Burnaby Lake. Fortunately, the Urban Oarsmen had a post on the Brunette River too, which we used as a guide to our adventure.

Plus according to the Wikipedia page for the Brunette River, “The earliest known European immigrant who settled on the banks of the Brunette River near the present-day North Road in 1860 was William Holmes…The river was named by Holmes for its peaty brown colour.” Anyone who knows me knows that I love a wee dram, particularly a peaty dram. So, after reading this it was destined to be!

From Google Maps we determined that we should be able to launch from the dock at Sapperton Landing Park or nearby. In the end, we departed from a point in between the pier and the dock where there was a small trail leading down to the riverbank. This was a two-man trip, just Vital and I, as Trevor was unable to join our trio paddle crew.

We had an easy paddling going up the Fraser River leading into the mouth of the Brunette River. We planned to make it to the headwaters on the east side of Burnaby Lake. However, our planning, or lack thereof, failed to inform us that the Cariboo Dam would eventually stand in our way. Fortunately (or unfortunately), we would not make it far enough up the river to discover this.

Our first major obstacle was the train bridges just before the Brunette Avenue Bridge. We managed them easily, though on our return trip with the sunlight giving us more visibility in the water it was a surprise that neither of us caught a fin on the old pilings. We were travelling slowly, exercising caution for that reason, but the murkiness of the water left us essentially blind. I would not have been an issue to contact them but it was still surprising in hindsight that we did not.

Passing underneath Brunette Avenue itself was not too much of a challenge. But it was after this point that the waters began to get shallow. Eventually, we came to a sand bar and we pulled over to change out our fins. Both of us were using more of a touring/racing style fin like the one on the right below (for a great overview on the difference between fin types see the video below from SUPboarder), so we removed our centre fins and just stuck with the shorter thruster fins.

Getting past the next train bridge proved to be a bit more challenging. The waters were shallow so we needed to portage along the north embankment. Getting back in the water was challenging due to the old pilings that blocked our entry. We balanced our way out on them, toting our boards, before making a difficult/awkward entry. To be sure, some of the problem was both of our reluctance to just get into the water, but come on, we were SUPing up the river, not water hiking! Plus, on our last paddle, I had taken an inadvertent dip in the Fraser River.

The next section of the river again had some shallower parts but now with a bit more current so there were a few points of walking. There was a sand bar with passages on either side just before Hume Park and we split up to determine who’s choice of path was better. It was probably a draw with neither of us winning. We then needed to river portage to get past the shallow faster-moving waters before and underneath the North Road Bridge. After this point the pace of us moving forward slowed. We got out of the river and hiked up the bank leaving our boards behind to survey. After assessing the time, we made one last push to get a bit more distance before deciding it was time to turn back.

We had our first taste of rapids coming back through this section (see the map below) but we were both pretty low on our boards (i.e. squatting…okay fine kneeling). This was also the case underneath the North Road Bridge and at this point, we decided to stop at Hume Park for a snack. There we ran into a couple who was bird watching. Funnily, Vital had just listened to a bird program on CBC Radio the day before and mentioned it to the couple. It turned out that this guy was the man who was being interviewed! If I remember correctly they were looking for Purple Martins (but do not quote me on that).

Vital and I having a snack at Hume Park. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

The highlight of the trip came on our return. As I mentioned above, the lighting was better on our return and many parts of the Brunette’s waters were now more visible. As I paddle along looking down at the water I noticed a large log floating along with me underwater. I was thinking to myself that the water must be moving quickly for the log to be travelling so fast when the log began to roll! That is when I realized that it was a beaver! He cruised along with us for a bit before disappearing. Now that we were alerted to their presence we saw them all over the place. We had three more sightings by the end of the trip, though none as close, surprising, or magnificent as the first.

After passing the first Canfor Avenue Bridge we decided to make a left at the next crossing to leave the Brunette River and head out into the Fraser River. When we reached our launch site we almost did not recognize it as now there was a full-on rocky beach to land on. It was now low tide. I am always surprised at how far inland the tide travels.

Perhaps in the future, we will brave the Brunette again, this time with our full trio and perhaps some deeper waters to help us along. In addition, river fins are a kit addition that I will be looking into more, but with a quick search, I came across these by saruSURF.

While we packed up underneath the Expo Line Skytrain we enjoyed a wee sip of a nice dram of Teeling Single Malt that I had packed along in a flask to mark the occasion.

Enjoying a wee dram of Teeling Single Malt post peaty paddle. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

Below is a GPS of our route from Google‘s Fit activity tracker.

Screenshot of Google Fit activity tracker.

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