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The Babine River trip

Oct 9, 2015

By Kara Pitman

Known for its salmon, grizzles, whitewater and First Nations culture, the Babine River winds through canyons and old-growth forests on its way to meet the mighty Skeena River.


This August, I started a project to look at water temperatures in this river system, part of my PhD research. This involved navigating through Class IV whitewater to employ temperature sensors throughout the Babine River and its tributaries. I am studying how streams from higher elevation glacier-fed and snowpack-dominated basins contribute to the water temperature of the Babine River during the period of adult salmon migration. I am interested in answering questions like: How do land management practices such as logging influence the water temperatures of the Babine? How might climate change alter these river systems? We accessed the Babine River by raft, entering the river at the Babine fish weir and successfully employing 32 temperature sensors (HOBO Pendants®) between the outlet of Nilkitkwa Lake and the confluence of the Skeena River. If everything goes to plan and the cables hold, these sensors will collect temperature data throughout the year—the data will be downloaded next year on a return trip.


Within the first 24 hours of the trip we were welcomed by Northern Lights, soaring eagles, and schools of salmon colliding with our legs while we waded the river. The first few days on the water were ‘mellow’ in regards to whitewater, allowing us time to efficiently employ the temperature sensors and catch falling eagle down, supposed to lead to good luck! Making our way down the river, we placed temperature sensors upstream, downstream and within stream of the Nichyeskwa, Nilkitkwa, Hanawald, Shelagyote, Gail, Thomlinson, Shedin, and Shegisic Rivers and along the main stem of the Babine River. After Thomlinson tributary, the Babine River constrains and drops in elevation. At this point the whitewater becomes lively. We worked as a team to navigate the steep canyons. One highlight was watching two female grizzly bears fish for sockeye salmon at a section of river known as Grizzly Drop while we scouted the route down the powerful rapids. We also saw and felt the deep history of the place, seeing First Nations’ fishing sites and imagining people fishing on their traditional rocks for centuries.


I feel very grateful to have gotten the chance to start this project. It is a remarkable place, where the power of the river is humbling, the salmon are inspiring, and the heritage filled me with awe. 


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