Sookumchuck creeks is probably the best class 4 run that mere mortals can aspire to paddling. It is very scenic and fairly continuous with no waterfalls, just mile after mile of great class 3 and 4 whitewater. At lower levels the eddies are plentiful however at higher water these tend to disappear and it is much more continuous in nature. There are quite a few tight canyons and ledges where good boat scouting is very useful and shore-scouting would be very time-consuming. Skook is notorious for wood so be on the look out especially when it is higher and running fast and after high water events when new wood is quite common. This is a remote run with difficult access should you need to walk out in an emergency. Check out Google Maps “satelite view” to get a sense of where the forest roads are and keep in mind they may be a thousand feet up when you are in the depths of the canyon.
The run begins with a few kms of mellow class II white water followed by a short stretch of class 3 which marks the beginning of the “good stuff”. Another stretch of class 1/2 precedes a short (100m) long section of class 4 followed by a longish section of class 1/2 before the canyon walls noticeably close in and the gradient becomes steeper in the long stretch of class 4 that finishes with the river-wide ledge/hole (which is usually boofed on the left; watch for the house-sized boulder on the right.) This section is pretty much the crux of the run so if you feel comfortable here, the rest will be fine.
There is some more class 4 before the large scree slope and the “skull” with a nice rock beach opposite for a shore break. After the skull is another longish section of class 4 with some of the larger and more distinct ledge drops of the run culminating in the sequence that starts with another river-wide hole. (Run it far right aiming to hit the protruding wall at a right angle; the water will “typewriter” you out into the middle.) At lower levels the lines are quite tight so boat-scout carefully. At higher levels there can be some fairly big holes.
There are a few 'named' rapids listed in Stuart Smith's book but these are interpreted differently by various communities. In particular, “Shot in the Heart” could be one of 3 different rapids covering at least 5km of the river. The only rapid with a universally agreed upon name is “Screaming Right Turn” which drops out of the huge pool fairly late in the run. After this, the river spreads out more and it can be very bony at lower levels. There are a still a couple of steep rapids which can surprise the inattentive before you get to the takeout at the bridge.
If this area is empty, there are no alerts for this river. (Don't edit this here; add alerts via “Add +/River Alert” in the top menu.
The symbols can be clicked on and provide some simple explanations of why they are there. You can also use the symbols to get directions from Google Maps to the put in/takeout. A handy thing!
Starting From: Skookumchuck, BC
1. Head south on HWY 93/HWY 95, proceed 68 m
2. Turn right onto Torrent Rd, Proceed 1.8 km
3. Curve right and continue on Torrent Rd for 1.0 km to bridge over Skookumchuck Creek.
In very low water conditions you can also take out at 4.5 km upstream along the shuttle road.
There are a number of options for putting in. Most people currently use the new “short shuttle” which involves putting in just upstream of the major side creek near the site of the old “fishermans camp”. This involves a 15 minute walk from where we leave the cars to the river.
See the map for old put in further up and shuttle options.
(A more verbose description is available at http://funhogznews.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2005/10/28/1328489.html)
All distances are from the bridge at the takeout just upstream of the pulp mill at Skookumchuck BC, NOT the signage along the forestry roads.
The trail to the put-in leaves the end of the clearing where we park and follows an ATV trail about 100m before descending into the forest and crossing the side creek and a clearcut to intersect the no longer “extremely claustrophobic” track described in Stuart Smith's book. Cross this forestry road and descend the steep slope to get to the river. The walk takes about 15 minutes total and you can drag your boat the whole way.
If you are coming from the north and have a shuttle driver then you can drive right to the river by using the old put-in. Take the Findlay Creek FSR west from the south end of Columbia Lake (just before getting to Canal Flats.) Go past the Findlay Falls parking area. Turn left (south) at the Skookumchuck FSR and cross Findlay Creek over a spectacular canyon. Follow it south; it climbs slowy up the east flank of the mountain until it crosses a small pass and starts to drop into the Skook valley. After a long decent it crosses the side creek and starts climbing up the other side. One or 2 km later there is the turnoff to the left which lets you drive to the old fishermans camp. This used to be the “claustrophobic” road but logging has cleared out the area and improved the road. Watch for flagging to indicate where the hike-in trail crosses the road.
The other alternative is to continue up Skook FSR until it drops down to the river or continue upstream to the first bridge. If you don't have a shuttle driver or a 2nd car, you can ask any fisherman you see whether they would be willing to take your car out to Skookumchuck. We usually offer them $20 bucks to buy some beer and they usually turn down the money but take our car out for us. (This is known as “Playing to Win” as opposed to “Playing Not to Lose.”)
At 4.9 km from the bridge, just before the road turns right and starts climbing, take the small road to the left. Follow it to an obvious parking place before it starts descending steeply. Carry your boats upstream following a trail that starts where the road turns back downstream. This trail gets somewhat cliffed out at the river wide hole known by some as “Shot thru the Heart” and by the locals as ????. There are only a couple of harder drops before the river mellows out.
Alternately, you can put in where you parked the cars to avoid the harder drops.
You can leave a car at 4.5 km and mark the river bank so you know where to take out (1 drop above “Screaming Right Turn” A.K.A. “Surprise”.) If you run SRT you can portage back up on the west side and ferry back across to the takeout (the left bank is private property so only ferry across once you are directly across from the take-out.)
Class 4 creeking
The river is primarily snow melt and rain fed; there does not appear to be any glacial melt contribution to the flow. There is no online gauge but the Kootenay River at Fort Steele gauge on the environment Canada site provides a rough correlation (see the link to the google docs spreadsheet under “gauge”. The creek contributes less than 10% of the flow but it does give a general idea of the levels in the area. Generally, it can be run from May until July. During June, the level will often be “sporty medium” or high and a clean run can be done in 2.5 hours. It can be run in August but expect it to take much longer (5 to 8 hours depending on how much you need to scout.)
Look at the south (looker's left) footing of the railway bridge looking upstream from the road bridge. As of 2016, there is a new paint gauge on a large boulder near the downstream corner. The old paint gauge on the bridge abutment is now completely buried in rip-rap and old small bits of if can be seen if you know where to look through gaps in the boulders. (Numbers from the new paint gauge, the now-gone stick gauge and old paint gauge in parenthesis.)