Multi-Day Expedition Rafting – The Babine River

By: Nicole Dresler


Perhaps this word brings to mind the early historical expeditions of Christopher Columbus, or of Lewis and Clark. Or maybe it’s the more recent Antarctic Expedition by Conrad Anker, or Nimsdai Purja’s seven month expedition to conquer the world’s 14 tallest peaks.

Whichever it may be, it is likely that your thoughts are associated with extreme temperatures, challenging conditions, and an incredible feat. Especially in today’s day, where we are seeing some of the most vigorous athletes outdoing one another with incredible accomplishments, often lugging kilos of gear up mountains and through passes, all while surviving off of 20 days worth of “just add water” freeze dried meals. 

These grand expeditions, which are popularly documented through YouTube vlogs, and Netflix documentaries, are giving the term “expedition” a reputation of meaning only the most daunting of achievements. In reality, by definition expedition means “a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration”. 

All smiles on the water!

Although I would consider myself an outdoors(wo)man, my introduction to wilderness activities has been a slow greeting, encouraged by passionate friends with the skills and willingness to bring me along. Prior to a few years ago, my time outdoors consisted of day hiking, a few nights camping in a provincial park, and lounging lake side on a sunny day.

The idea of a multi-day expedition sounded fascinating, but far out of reach of my capabilities, or aspirations. All the expedition content I had been exposed to seemed far more of a “suffer fest” than an exciting summer getaway. 

The beginning of a lifetime love of rafting.

A few years ago I began working for Canadian Outback Rafting where I was introduced to the operations of day rafting as well as the world of expedition rafting. I was hired to work in the office, and although it was a familiar work environment, I felt alien due to my lack of previous rafting experience. I was quick to learn that I was not alone in my naivety. Inquiry after inquiry, I learned that almost all of our guests were rafting for the first time, and that this is our speciality. We offer guests the opportunity to explore new places, and new activities, regardless of their abilities, experience, or comfort level. 

I soon had the opportunity to take part in all of the different rafting tours we offer at Canadian Outback Rafting. I started with our day trips and then had the chance to participate in our 2-day Elaho tour. The concept of pushing a collection of rubber yellow tubes down the river was foreign to me only a few months earlier, and here I was packing them full of all the gear we would need for an overnight trip. 

On the Babine River.

It is easy for me to say that after a day full of rapids and a night spent next to the river, I was hooked. When I was presented with the opportunity to take part in our Babine Expedition, the famously known Grizzly Bear River,  I was ecstatic. This was a chance to explore a new river, see an abundance of wildlife, camp in the pristine wilderness of Northern BC, and all I had to do was show up. 

In the fall of 2021, a group of us embarked from Squamish to Smithers BC, for the start of six days and five nights on the Babine and Skeena River. In the days leading up to the trip I had lots of questions. I had done the one night raft and camp, but how different was the 6 day? What should I wear on the river? What kind of shoes should I bring? How big are the campsites? What will the kitchen set up look like? Will I be able to have all my favourite meals, and midnight snacks? 

The expedition team in Smithers BC.

Just like our commercial trips, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by our trip leaders and guides that have run the Babine River numerous times. They were able to prepare me for exactly what to pack, and all the river gear would be provided by them. They reassured me that the kitchen, camping, and bathroom set ups would be more than enough. 

As we set off on the river, suited up in our wetsuits and safety gear, the rafts were filled with coolers of food prepared by the guides, all the tents, rain shelters, and cooking equipment we’d need, as well as everyone’s personal gear stored in dry bags. 

Over the next six days we tackled class 3-4 rapids, rafted through incredible canyons, spotted numerous eagles, hawks, and other wildlife, and shared many laughs on the river. 

Each night we enjoyed campfires, amazing food (3 course meals – far from freeze dried food), campsite games, and some down time to read, journal, and connect with one another. 

Breathtaking views from the river.

Because this was a personal trip, we went as a group after our commercial rafting season had ended. We embarked on this expedition in the late fall, which meant we encountered colder weather and  wetter days (which we were prepared for), and unfortunately no grizzly bears as they were already in hibernation. But other than quite literally the rain, none of these things dampened our experience and only provided us with more of a reason to look forward to running the trip again, with a departure date in August. 

Once our trip had ended we unloaded in the adorable town of Hazelton. I was so excited about the experience I had just had that I promised myself that I would not be afraid to seek out new opportunities and adventures in the future. Especially ones that were so easily accessible with the help of professional guides. A couple months later I booked a 12 day river trip on the Karnali River in Nepal with an outfitter that would take care of all the details and logistics, just like we do here in BC. I completed that trip in May, and now have a Grand Canyon rafting trip booked for December… I guess you can say that the Babine River sparked my passion for rafting expeditions! 

In the chilly fall weather.

Spending time in the wilderness is and always will be an important part of my life. It allows me to disconnect from the busyness of my daily routine and embrace the quietness and beauty of the nature around me. Being able to experience something new and unknown, while having the guidance and skills of the experienced staff allows me to learn and grow comfortably and at my own pace. While I am becoming more comfortable and capable in my adventures, I still have a deep appreciation for the opportunities that exist that allow me to step outside of my comfort zone. I look forward to the many more expeditions I get to take part in, and the time spent with new and old friends, those greatly experienced, and those who were hesitant at first, just like me.