River of Golden Dreams

Saturday, July 2, 12022 HE

Our friends, the Lee’s, recently purchased a place in Whistler, and they invited us up for the Canada Day long weekend. We met through our kids at daycare. It was amazing to see how excited the kids were to see each other and have their first sleepover (though I’m sure for some, the technical definition may be a non-parentally chaperoned event). Our kids were so jacked to see them that it was the fastest they’d ever gotten ready in the morning, which helped our Friday, July 1 departure. We had an easy northerly commute with minimal traffic.

Slightly Off-Topic Rant

As a second-generation immigrant, I acknowledge how fortunate I am to live in Canada. My parents met in what was Zaire, currently the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in the 11960s HE. My dad is from Belgium, and my mom is from the DRC. They realized that starting a family in the DRC would be challenging as the colonial history had left a scar on the nation that was proving to be irrevocable. For an excellent historical recap on the reasons why check out David Van Reybrouck‘s 12014 HE book, “Congo: The Epic History of a People“. A premise from Reybrouck’s history that struck me was that Congo was the only place in the modern world that was regressing after the 11960s HE. It had been more prosperous and technologically advanced in the first part of the 20th century than in the second half. Reading Reybrouck’s account in 12015 HE, his account of the societal devolution in the Congo surprised me, as my mother always told me stories about the lack in the Congo for her and her family. As a child of the 50s, I think she wouldn’t have experienced the heyday recounted by Reybrouck, and her experience was always of a regressing and deprived social order. But Reybrouck’s premise made complete sense when he presented the historical context for that inverted developmental trajectory. The nation has been in political turmoil as conflicts over power between rival factions have been commonplace since the DRC gained independence from Belgian on June 30th, 11960 HE. Proximally, this was the result of a rushed transfer of power away from the colonialists to the indigenous peoples of the Congo. And ultimately, the power transfer failed due to the lack of trained, qualified, and competent locals, resulting from years of institutionalized oppression, as well as foreign political meddling.

The temporal correlation in the calendar year of Congolese independence to the Canadian independence holiday is an intriguing coincidence, particularly given the recent return of Patrice Lumumba’s golden tooth to his family. Patrice Lumumba was the first legally elected prime minister of the newly independent nation. Lumumba was assassinated on January 17, 11961 HE, by separatist and Belgian mercenaries. However, Western operatives have always been suspected of being the true masterminds behind the plot, given it was the Cold War and the rhetoric at the time was that Lumumba was sympathetic to Communist ideology or at least open to it as a means to an end. Check out Coup ’53 for an excellent documentary highlighting the role the CIA and MI6 played in Operation Ajax. This coup d’etat was arguably the litmus test for modern intelligence agencies’ foray into governmental overthrows, with Lumumba’s murder a ring in a chain of subsequent ministerial meddlings.

All this is to say that I have mixed feelings about Canada Day. I am all for celebrating the accomplishments of Canada in developing into a relatively equitable, free, prosperous, and tolerant nation. However, it must be acknowledged, that like all nations, it is far from perfect and has a long list of atrocities connected with its colonial and post-colonial path. I am well aware that the celebration of the confederation of Canada is not shared by everyone, for example, some indigenous groups and Québec-ers. I am also aware that a pre-colonial utopia is a fallacy. Groups of hominids have conflicted since before the dawn of humanity. So you can be sure there were hostilities and conflicts in the last ~12,000 in the Americas, which was the previously accepted timeline of human migration to the continents via the Bering Strait. Though this timeline is now being challenged and being pushed back to at least 20,000 years ago, with some authorities suggesting much earlier timelines in the realm of 130,000 years ago!

To me, Canada Day has both pros and cons. The glass can be perceived to be half-full or half-empty. Or, in my eyes, more accurately stated as having “x” number of millilitres in it. Canada Day should be simultaneously celebrated and commemorated for the positive ideals and accomplishments of the modern nation/state while also acknowledging the negative harms and atrocities of the past. Reflection on these past positives and negatives allows us to collectively consider how best to navigate the future. We will never be perfect, and the nation/state is inherently flawed in its capacity to deliver the wants and needs of all its citizens, but it is worth attempting to meet such a lofty aspiration. A sort-of shoot for the stars, and even in failure, the accomplishments will be a sky-high scenario.

I had heard of the River of Golden Dreams from my neighbour a while ago. I had loosely looked into the details at the time. So when the Lees invited us up for the Canada Day weekend, I was excited to attempt the route by stand up paddleboard (SUP). And the Lees had recently purchased some SUPs, so there was the chance for a Dad’s adventure. There had been talk of a Mom’s spa day that was quickly quashed as the ladies were much keener on a run or hike! We decided that the Dads could do an early morning paddle on Saturday if we could be back in time to beat the parking rush at Rainbow Park for a family beach day. No problem! We were both activity larks, and I also figured we would get a glorious sunrise with the start of the route being northeasterly. Jae was keen to give the river a go after we looked into some last-minute details and watched a YouTube video with a SUPer doing the route.

Details on how to do the route are vague online (unfortunately I didn’t come across Billy’s post in my searches which provided all the information I was looking for, see comments below). I couldn’t find a map with specific launching and landing sites. The cynic in me suspects this is to promote the use of rental and shuttle tour companies, though it may be a safety issue too. I did find this website with tips on a do-it-yourself trip. Unfortunately, the car shuttle details were vague, suggesting to “leave one car at Alta Lake and one car at Green lake [sic]”, but without any specifics on location. I surveyed Google Maps in both the default and satellite view for suitable landing locations, as well as the Go Paddling website’s Paddling Locations Map. We settled on trying to leave our landing vehicle near here on Alpine Way as the Google Street View looked like there would be parking.

We were en route in the morning at 0530 hours to what we thought would be our landing spot. But as we tried to access Alpine Way, we were blocked by a closed gate. I had considered the possibility of no access to the Alpine Way launch point. My broader planning research revealed that the water access to Green Lake appeared to be on the north side, mid-lake. This access point was quite far from where the mouth of the River of Golden Dreams enters Green Lake and was not ideal for time-limited family men. We reassessed our options and decided to try a residential area. On the Google Maps satellite version, the area appeared to have some vacant lots at the end of a cul de sac. I was doubtful that the lots would be empty, but it was worth a shot. When we arrived and found ourselves surrounded by homes in all directions, my doubts were confirmed. To be sure, I did a quick jaunt to survey the roadway at the end of the cul de sac for a beach/water access path. It turned out to be an extended driveway. Back to the drawing board (i.e., Google Maps).

Back at our cars, Jae had searched out the Harbour Air docks. I had seen them in my earlier searches but was worried about access and safety with taxiing seaplanes. That was when an afternoon paddle was the likely trip scenario, so with our dawn sailing, this was less of a risk. And at this point, the docks were looking like our best, close option, so we decided to venture over.

We stopped at the roundabout near the Table Nineteen Whistler restaurant. From a distance, things looked promising with the Valley Trail running right next to the Harbour Air docks. If we couldn’t land at the docks, I was sure we’d be able to find a spot to land along the trail. I ran down for a quick survey and sure enough, found a small clearing with relatively easy landing access. We found parking along the shoulder of the road here. It turns out the road was named Mons Road. It was meant to be, minus an apostrophe. I got into Jae’s vehicle and then we were off to Rainbow Park at Alta Lake for our launch.

We got our kit in order in the parking lot. The day was shaping up to be glorious weather. It was cool, but clear and was forecasted to warm up later in the day. A bonus treat since the forecast for the weekend had been a mixed bag of potential clouds and showers. We made our way down to the dock, where a woman was packing up her tripod. We exchanged pleasantries as I arrived and she departed. Below was the view from the north dock.

Almost ready to embark on the River of Golden Dreams.

The scene was serene. The sun had just peaked over the mountains, and there was a light mist blanketing the flat morning lake water with the blue sky overhead scantily lined with cirrostratus clouds. I took a second photo with my SUP included, marking the occasion.

Ready to depart.

Out on the water, the conditions were spectacular. A clear sky, but the air was cool. The mist over the water added a mystic element to the dawn of our journey. The conditions reminded me of the first paddle of my Project Paddle lake initiative. The paddle was a winter morning paddle on Burnaby Lake in misty conditions underneath a clear sky specked by Venus. We made our way across Alta Lake to the northeast corner in search of the headwaters of the River of Golden Dreams.

A mystic misty morning.

Below is the view over the northern end of Alta Lake.

The view north on Alta Lake.

We spotted a break in the lake reeds and made our way toward the gap in the sun-silhouetted shoreline.

Alta Lake’s sun-silhouetted shoreline.

The entrance to the river is on the northeast end of Alta Lake. The waterway veers right into a narrow passageway lined with lilypads. The waters were calm with zero current. In hindsight, perhaps we should have spent a bit more time on the lake going over some SUP steering strokes. But in my excitement and worry over our timing (we were under strict orders to be back in time to get to Rainbow Park in order to get parking before the long weekend lake-goer rush), I rapidly ran us into the channel.

Once in the lilypad-lined waterway, I gave Jae a crash course on the crossbow turn (see the following video links for a few other takes on the turn: Blue Planet SurfFanatic InternationalRob Casey) and bow steering (see here for video clip). I figured the techniques would come in handy later when navigating while managing/maintaining momentum. I failed to consider that implementing my crash course lesson in real-time while on moving water would prove to be difficult, if not impossible. And a sunrise paddle in tepid (read fucking freezing) waters was not the ideal conditions for tempting a plunge.

We reached the fishing weir and landed at the dock ramp. Onshore we checked out the safety signage. With the high water levels, this section of the river was closed, and a 600-metre portage was needed. I didn’t realize at the time that the safety reason for the portage was clearance underneath the railway bridge. I thought it had more to do with the river’s flow rate. We, or perhaps better stated, I, debated (contemplated?) whether we could set in on the other side of the weir. When reading descriptions online, I had assumed that there wasn’t a put-in place until after the portage. So seeing the dock and ramp on the other side of the weir was tempting to relaunch. Thankfully, we decided to follow the safety recommendations and portage. Below is the signage posted at the portage point.

We were accosted by dragon-fly-sized mosquitoes as we walked alongside the river on the Valley Trail! We walked briskly, swatting away the aerial attack with our board-free hands. I couldn’t help but scope out the stream along the portage path. While the rate of flow was faster than the still section before, it seemed paddleable. At least that was my thought at the time.

It was only later, when we passed the railway bridge, that I saw how low the clearance was. It probably was passable if you were prone on a paddleboard, but the pace of approach had the potential to make the under-pass problematic. Reflecting while writing this on what could/would have happened, I am thankful that we didn’t attempt this section of the course.

We launched again from the end of the portage into waters with some current. I was in the lead. It was through this first turn that things went awry. I had failed to realize how much my paddling has progressed in the past few years. Manoeuvring a SUP has become second nature to me. I no longer need to think to complete movements and manoeuvres. My motor learning has progressed from the explicit to the implicit, to borrow the motor learning jargon. Jae however, was still in an explicit motor learning stage for his SUP skill development. His actions were deliberations and consciously processed, which meant that they took more time to process. In the context of a flowing river, there just wasn’t enough time to contemplate your actions.

As I went through the first corner, I began to drift to the outside, where the water was moving faster. I was able to correct my course and maintain my position in the middle of the channel, avoiding the brush obstacles lining the riverbank. Unfortunately, the time needed to correct his course for Jae was too long, and he drifted far to the outside into the faster-moving current. There he was pushed into the brush overhanging the riverbank. I watched in alarm and regret as he lost balance and plunged into the water. My feet were already cold at this point from standing on the cool surface of the inflatable paddleboard deck, so I shudder-shivered at the sight of his plunge. I spun around and called out to see if he was okay. He responded in shivering gasps that he was okay but that the water was fucking cold!

The current was still pushing him toward the riverbank. Thankfully, it wasn’t terribly strong. He pushed his board away from the brush and clambered back on board. Later he told me that this was his first remount! Not bad in hindsight, especially given the shock of the cold. As I apologized profusely for dragging him out on this adventure, I think we both realized that the conditions we saw in the YouTube video were milder than what we were in. We had considered that the river run-off from the wetter winter and cooler spring would be greater. But neither of us grasped how much. I believe our estimation of the water levels was influenced by the level we saw in the video, which was super shallow. The recency/anchoring bias of the low water level we observed clouded our judgement. Rechecking the upload date on the video revealed, as suspected, that it was from August 12019 HE. Much later in the season, and hence much lower water levels.

On the do-it-yourself post by Forged Axe Throwing, their “local tip” was to not travel by SUP for your first time or as a beginner. Jae and I had discussed this in passing the night before. My interpretation of the recommendation was that it was a warning that standing for the roughly five-kilometre voyage could be tiring for the uninitiated. Novice paddlers often do not move their feet, and as a result, their feet and legs fatigue faster. Standing without moving your feet for two hours on a floating balloon as you drift down a river is bound to be uncomfortable, regardless of how scenic the surroundings are. But our (my) hubris led me to believe that our early morning adventure would avoid the masses so we would be faster in our finish. Plus, from the video, it seemed there would be plenty of opportunities for mini-portages to break up our postures.

Thankfully, outside of a shrub scrubbing, glacial dunking, and possibly bruised ego, there was no serious harm from the fall. Back on board, we went over turning options. Reviewing how things had unfolded, I realized that the setup to the corner was important. For the next corner, I tried to coach Jae into position. But my barking of instructions proved to be futile. It was inefficient and slow for Jae to react to my instructions. At the next sharp bend, Jae was back in the water. This time he remounted much quicker. He was learning fast. As was I, as I realized the better approach for the corners was to be to the inside, albeit two turns too late.

Ironically, the day before, I had read a section of MinuteEarth Explains: How Did Whales Get So Big? And Other Curious Questions about Animals, Nature, Geology, and Planet Earth to Jae’s daughter on why rivers were so windy. Our paddle was the practical corollary to the theory.

At this point, Jae was paddling from his knees, and we had connected boards. The nose of my board (2020 Blackfin Model XL) was on top of his board, and we rode a short section of the river as a SUP train. Then we split apart, and I talked Jae through a few more corners, leading and following. He was starting to get the hang of cornering.

The river path winds continuously through a wetland centred in a valley connecting the two lakes. The riverbanks are lined with a riparian zone, a freshwater terrestrial biome, backed by the peaks of the Garibaldi Ranges. It was a crisp and beautiful morning!

The Whistler Wetlands with Whistler Mountain in the background.

We reached the Meadow Park Sports Centre. There are a few places where you could land along the riverbank lining the sports fields. It very much reminded me of the section of the Brunette River next to Hume Park. There is another landing site at the east end of the sports complex, east of the Valley Trail bridge that crosses the River of Golden Dreams. We pulled into the protected waters here to assess the situation. There is signage for canoe/kayak take-out for some of the tour groups. It worried me slightly that we wouldn’t be able to continue to Green Lake. Why was the take-out area here and not at the lake? But, given our ride was at the lake, we decided to venture on.

There are a few pilings on the other side of the Valley Trail bridge that we needed to navigate. Then we passed under the Sea-to-Sky bridge onto the last leg of the trip. The temperature dropped, and the river flow slowed as we meandered onward toward Green Lake. It lived up to its namesake. We paddled out of the mouth of the tributary waters into the lake waters. It was a beautiful teal green.

The mouth of the River of Golden Dreams.

We spotted our landing site close to the seaplane docks. With no water traffic in sight, we paddled over.

Our landing site is in the distance.

As we landed on the lakeshore, the same woman whom we’d seen earlier on the dock at Alta Lake was walking the Valley Trail. She asked how our paddle was. I asked about her morning walk. She explained that she was in search of her next sunrise photo spot. This area was promising, but she didn’t want any buildings in her picture. She floated the idea of SUPing out into the middle of Green Lake to eliminate the signs of civilization. She just wanted the weather to be a bit warmer first. Not a bad idea.

Kudos to Jae for being a SUP champ and winging (paddling?) me on this adventure. He took one for the team for a cooler, out-of-your-comfort-zone paddle. As he said, “It will be a good story on Monday.” Hopefully, my recollection is somewhat accurate. And a shout-out to our lovely wives is deserved for helping to make this adventure happen.

Below are our route course and statistics recorded with Geo Tracker.

And last is a recap of our route created on Relive from the Geo Tracker data. If the video below doesn’t work, here is a link to the video on Relive’s site.

6 thoughts on “River of Golden Dreams

  1. Thanks to this post, I had a great little last minute adventure yesterday. From Rainbow Park to the Meadow Park pullout was about 50 minutes.

    I appreciate your detailed information.

    I am interested in your thoughts on inflatable vs hard boards for touring in the pnw?

    Let me know if you have any good overnighter trips you can suggest from Vancouver.


    1. Glad to hear you were able to get an adventure out of the post!

      I think each board style has its advantages and disadvantages and depends on what you will do most with the board. Some of the main pros/cons that come to mind for me in the PNW is that much of the shoreline is rocky. I am much more comfortable launching and landing from a rocky shore on an iSUP. However, that durability comes at a tradeoff for the economy of motion that comes with a hardboard. In waves or chop, the hard board will outperform the inflatable. Other considerations are storability/portability with the iSUP being more compact but possibly requiring inflation/deflation. With kids I think the iSUP is the way to go as it is more forgiving for falls and fun. You can dissect this more but those are the main things that would factor in to my decision. I have both types of boards, but started with an iSUP and I think that is the better introduction.

      For overnighters from Vancouver, Səl̓ilw̓ət (Indian Arm) would be an close and easier trip (depending on wind). Otherwise check out the BC Marine Trails (https://www.bcmarinetrails.org/) site for some ideas. Their most recent newsletter highlights a SUP Camping trip in Səl̓ilw̓ət. Or see these posts: near Bowen Island (https://isupexplore.ca/2021/07/24/shh-hutt-island-bowen-island-circumnavigation/), Gambier Island (https://isupexplore.ca/2021/09/04/suping-the-sound/), and near Gambier Island (https://isupexplore.ca/2021/11/20/gambier-gambit/).


  2. Thanks to this post, I had a great last minute adventure last evening.

    From Rainbow Park to Meadow Park pullout was about 50 minutes of easy paddling.

    I would be keen on your thoughts on any over night trips from Vancouver, and on hard vs inflatable touring in the pnw?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: