Gamsby River

What It's Like
Ultra-classic, coastal wilderness multiday. 3 days of white water. 2 days of flat.
Scouting / Portaging
All rapids can be scouted/portaged. Walking the canyons due to high water would be a major undertaking.
5 days minimum. 6 or 7 are recommended in case of high water portaging or for enjoying the area.
When to Go
Late August, early September. Getting the correct level is one of the most challenging logistics to this trip.
Contributed by Ali Marshall

The Kitlope Heritage Conservancy is a BC Park that encompasses the largest tract of untouched coastal temperate rainforest in the world. It is a truly pristine wilderness, home to grizzlies, wolves and all 5 species of salmon that spawn annually in its waters. The Gamsby River is one of the main tributaries of the Kitlope River, cutting through the Coast Mountains until it reaches the rainforests of the Pacific.

This fly in trip consists of three days of incredible white water. Flowing emerald green through polished granite canyons, it is similar in style to the Ashlu Mine section in Squamish. If the water level is correct then there are no major portages, only a few that can be done at river level. After the white water you can sit back, relax and float for two days, soaking up some of the best scenery in BC. Don't forget to stop at the Shearwater Hot Springs on your boat ride back to Kitimat.

The first attempt on this river was made by an American team in 2001. They were thwarted by high water and flew out from Ear Lake after a portage fest.

Book a float plane with Lake District Air in Burns Lake. Fly into Coles Lake (just outside the park boundary). An easy 4 km hike over a mountain saddle will see you into the Kitlope/Gamsby watershed. You will arrive at the source of the river, 1 km from the glacier that gives birth to it. There is only just enough water to paddle from here. Beware of wood. After two hours of manky paddling the river bed turns to granite bed rock and you pass through a couple of scenic mini box canyons. Shortly after a powerful tributary enters from river right which marks the start of the good white water. You are rewarded by 10 km of beautiful class 3-4 read and run before the first camp.

Day 2 starts off with more of the same. There are several kilometres of class 3-4 read and run with a couple of class 5 rapids to keep you on your toes. The canyon walls start to grow and you come to a spectacular polished box canyon. The first rapid is a portage. After walking it at river level you are treated to 3 km of class 4-5 rapids. Some scenic class 2 takes you to camp 2, a large beach and stream on river right. This is at the start of the lower canyon.

The lower canyon is a 7 km ultra classic class 4/5 section. Every rapid is good to go. Nearly everything can be scouted at river level. At high water this section could be very challenging and to portage the whole thing would be a 2 day suffer fest.

A spectacular waterfall marks the end of the white water. 40 km of flat water will have you arriving at the ocean. This is a very special part of the world and we spent 4 days enjoying the zone. If a team had good water levels and were moving fast, the trip could be done in 4 days. I would recommend a minimum of 5. We took 7. 3 days of rapids, 4 days to enjoy the area.

Arrange a boat pick up from Kitimat. On your 140km boat ride back through the beautiful Gardner Canal, stop at the Shearwater Hot springs for a good soak.

This river trip is a truly special experience. You are in a wild and remote area. Be bear aware. Please be respectful to the land, this is a unique landscape that is sacred to the Haisla nation. Hopefully with this river becoming a new classic, kayakers can use their voice to help continue the protection of this coastal paradise.

Meadows on the 4 km hike from Coles Lake to the Gamsby.

Going over the small saddle between Coles Lake and the Gamsby.

The beginning of the whitewater.

A classic day 1 rapid.

Camp 1.

The first major canyon.

Camp 2.

Classic whitewater of the lower canyon.

Classic whitewater of the lower canyon.

Classic whitewater of the lower canyon.

The waterfall at the end of the whiteawater.

The entrance to Kitlope Lake.

Beautiful camping on the lower river.

There are hundreds of waterfalls flowing into the lower river.

Fantastic coastline when you reach the ocean.

Shearwater Hot Springs.
Gamsby Trivia

  • The group of Ali Marshall, Luke Borserio and Louis Bissonnette completed the first full descent of the Gamsby in August 2017.
  • A team previously attempted the Gamsby in the early 2000's, bailing at Ear Lake due to high water. The group included Seth (Warren?) and ??.