Podcast #5: Tim Irvin – Wildlife Journeys

Wildlife guide, biologist, photographer, writer, and spirit bear tour company owner—Tim brings us along on three of his most memorable canoe trips: the Back, the Snake, and the Western.

3 incredible river trips in Canada’s north

Wildlife guide, biologist, photographer, writer, and spirit bear tour company owner—Tim brings us along on three of his most memorable canoe trips: the Back, the Snake, and the Western.

You can listen by hitting the « play » button in the audio player below.

See Tim’s work:
Tim’s website, blog, and spirit bear tours – https://www.timirvin.com/
Tim’s Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/timothy.irvin/

Boreal River: https://borealriver.com/

Time stamps:

02:16 – How Tim got his start canoe tripping
03:10 – Back River, Nunavut
04:20 – « The Magic Middle »
10:30 – The Snake River, Yukon
23:04 – Bailey – Back – Western River – 7 week solo trip
35:09 – Tim’s canoe trip camera kit

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the « play » button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.


All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions

Podcast #4: Nicolas Roulx – Akor Expedition

« Don’t become polar bear shi*! » was the last advice they got from a Kangiqsualujjuaq local. They were successful.

Canoe crossing of Nunavik and the Torngats—and big plans for the next trip

Hear about Akor Expedition’s incredible trip in 2018—65 days travelling incredible backcountry in the land of the Innu, Naskapi, and Inuit.

You can listen by hitting the « play » button in the audio player below.

The Akor folks like big expeditions—and they’ve got a massive one in the works for 2021

…they’ll attempt a complete crossing of Canada from the northernmost point to the southernmost point. 8000km over 7 months—self-propelled by ski, canoe, and bike.

But if you’re not sure if they can do it, you’ll feel more confident once you hear about their last trip: in 2018, departing on June 7th from Shefferville, Quebec, they crossed Nunavik and the Torngats by canoe.

They learned from the local Indigenous people along the way. People who inhabit the territory today and whose ancestors lived in these areas for thousands of years. In Akor-founder Nic’s words: « They know their land so well, they know their land much better than I know my neighbourhood [in Quebec City] ».

The crew of 6 accomplished their impressive trip in 65 days:
– dragging across frozen lakes
– paddling down the massive and icy George River
– dragging and lining up the Koroc
– portaging an interior passage of the Torngats
– running the Palmer River to the Labrador coast
– and finishing things up with a 500km paddle on the ocean to the village of Nain, Labrador

Polar bears were a big concern (« we felt like prey… »)

You’ll hear some great stories—about the challenges and fun along the way. Nic talks about their goals for collecting data for scientific research. And educating people in the « south » about the « north »: at the time of this recording in November 2019, they’d presented to over 7000 people at more than 50 talks since returning from the trip.

Ready for a dose of inspiration and adventure? Akor’s moving full speed ahead.

A short and incredible video of Akor’s 2018 Nunavik & Torngats expedition:


How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the « play » button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.

Podcast #3: Nouria Newman – part 2

Part 2 of the 2-part interview. In this episode of The Boreal River Show, we hear about some incredible trips, discuss issues in paddling, and get some great expedition tips.

« Don’t forget to go kayaking when you go kayaking »

This is part 2 of a 2-part interview with world class kayaker, athlete, and adventurer, Nouria Newman.

You can listen by hitting the « play » button in the audio player below.

Once a competitive whitewater slalom kayaker who won World Championships (listen to part 1 for her backstory and how she got into kayaking), Nouria Newman now travels to the most remote corners of the globe—and paddles for different reasons…

In this episode we gain a little more insight into what makes Nouria tick, hear about some incredible trips, discuss issues in paddling, and get some great expedition tips.

Time stamps:

  • 00:49 – There are no levels and everyone crashes
  • 03:21 – Pitt River solo expedition—bushwacking and bear spray
  • 12:26 – Actually, I’ll take a sandwich
  • 15:09 – Embrace it when it get’s hard, and funny things happen
  • 16:42 – Gear tip: webbing and carabiner ‘flip line’
  • 19:46 – Dream trips and finding missions in your backyard
  • 21:27 – Near miss unpacked: The Tsarap, Zanskar, and Indus Rivers in India
  • 26:54 – Don’t forget to go kayaking when you go kayaking
  • 36:21 – Paddling alone and risk…it’s complex
  • 41:26 – Challenges with social media
  • 48:46 – Expedition food: lentils, croissant, and sometimes mango

Nouria’s India solo expedition video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_O2_M1E7e4
Nouria on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nourianewman/

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the « play » button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.


All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions

Podcast #2: Nouria Newman – part 1

The first of a 2-part interview with Nouria Newman—adventure athlete and world class kayaker. Listen here to The Boreal River Show.

Backstory, Adventure Stories, and Bias in Boating

Hey podcast! Here’s the first of a 2-part interview with Nouria Newman.

You can listen by hitting the « play » button in the audio player below.

Nouria Newman is a world class kayaker. She’s also an adventurer—exploring the world on incredibly remote and challenging river expeditions.

In this first part of a 2-part interview, we discuss:

  • 00:00 – What drives you?
  • 04:01 – Nouria at age 5—from Playmobiles to whitewater kayaking
  • 08:52 – Competetiveness and passion for boating as a teenager
  • 13:16 – Evolving from slalom to ‘plastic’ boating
  • 14:29 – Youth whitewater in France vs. US, paddling with dad, and ‘spider jump’ rescues
  • 17:10 – Nouria calls out dad’s friends for gender bias—then rescues one from gnarly rapid
  • 18:45 – Meeting the right people: apprenticeship with Nico and Debs
  • 20:17 – Argentina’s Upper Rio Atuel: hiking, starving, and Medoza’s finest rice & mayo
  • 23:10 – Lessons learned on the Upper Diamante expedition: the lost shoe, the lucky shoe
  • 28:55 – Paddling with Ben and Boomer
  • 30:12 – A tough trip—group dynamics
  • 33:05 – Sexism in paddling

Nouria on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nourianewman/

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the « play » button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.


All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions

Podcast #1: Caleb Roberts

Here’s the first of our 6 part series on river expeditions. This is also our first podcast ever. We’ll be releasing a new episode every two weeks.

Most epic trip and lessons learned

Hey podcast listeners! Here’s the first of our 6 part series on river expeditions. This is also our first podcast ever. We’ll be releasing a new episode every two weeks.

You can listen by hitting the « play » button in the audio player below.

This episode features a conversation with Caleb Roberts—we get into some great stories, incidents to learn from, and tips. Caleb is a river expedition guide with Black Feather, a team paddler with Zet Kayaks and Blackfly canoes, and a videographer and filmmaker.

Connect with Caleb on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the.tall.canadian/

How to listen to The Boreal River Show

You can listen to the episode by clicking the « play » button in the player above or by downloading it in Apple Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms like Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn & Alexa

We’ll be releasing a new episode every month with some extras thrown in from time to time.

Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for an episode? Get in touch by email or message us on Instagram.


All podcasts page – The Boreal River Show
Boreal River Rescue – rescue training
Boreal River Adventures – international river expeditions

Boreal Forest Animals of the Magpie River

5 creatures you may see between paddle strokes on your whitewater trip

Written and illustrated by BR guide Ty Smith

Despite a remoteness from human activity, you’ll never feel alone on a Magpie River Adventure. Many impressive and hardy animals call the surrounding country home. Thick boreal forests line the river creating dark protective shadows. As we float by, it’s not hard to imagine several sets of eyes watching our strange, bulbous crafts.

Spotting these well-camouflaged forest inhabitants takes keen sight and a bit of luck. Even with animals as large as black bears and caribou. That’s why it’s a special moment, anytime we catch a glimpse (and hopefully a photo).

To let you get to know the Animals of the Magpie a little better, we’ve highlighted 5 of our favourites. As key boreal forest species, they help make Magpie River ecology so fascinating.

Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)

Ink sketch: Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) of the boreal forest, Quebec

Innu: Atiku
French: Caribou

Habitat and Range: Tundra and coniferous (especially “boreal”) forest in Canada, Alaska, and pockets of northern Idaho.

Diet: Depending on the season, caribou feed on sedges and grasses, alder leaves, mushrooms, lichens (particularly in winter), willow catkins, cotton grass, horsetails, and dwarf birch.

Fun Fact: As an adaptation to the dark northern winter, caribou are able to see ultraviolet light. This allows them to visually perceive things other animals (including humans) can’t like the urine of predators. They can also see lichen, which absorbs UV radiation, as darker patches against the winter snowscape. This ability gives caribou a competitive advantage at avoiding encounters with carnivores like grey wolves and finding food when it is scarce or hidden.

Beaver (Castor canadensis)

Ink sketch: Beaver (Castor canadensis) found in the boreal forest, Quebec

Innu: Amishku
French: Castor

Habitat and Range: Marshes, ponds and streams across Canada, in Alaska and all United States except Florida and arid parts of the southwest.

Diet: A majority of the beaver’s diet is made up of tree bark and the soft tissue beneath the bark called cambium. However, they will also eat water plants, buds and roots. Given a choice of tree bark to eat, beavers are partial to birch, alder, willow, aspen, poplar, maple, beech and cottonwood.

Fun Fact: Beavers have lips that can close behind their chisel-sharp front teeth. This lets them move and chew wood underwater without getting anything (like splinters) in their mouths.

Lynx (Lynx canadensis)

Ink sketch: Lynx (Lynx canadensis) of the Boreal Forest, Quebec

Innu: Pishu
French: Loup-cervier, Lynx

Habitat and Range: Coniferous forest across Canada, Alaska, United States bordering Canada and south in the Rocky Mountains into Colorado.

Diet: The lynx is a very specialized hunter with the snowshoe hare, it’s chosen quarry, accounting for about 75% of its diet. The remainder of the lynx’s diet includes small rodents like meadow voles, birds like grouse and ptarmigan, carrion and occasionally large herbivores like caribou and deer.

Fun Fact: Different lynx populations have different physical form and appearance depending on climate conditions. More northerly lynx, which must cope with thick snow for longer periods, have lighter colouration, thicker fur, and larger and more padded paws, than their southern relatives. In some cases their paws, which help keep them on the surface of deep snow, are larger than an adult human’s feet.

Grey Wolf (Canis lupus)

Innu: Maikan
French: Loup

Habitat and Range: Coniferous and deciduous forests across Canada, in Alaska and the northern border of the United States.

Diet: Grey wolves eat meat, exclusively. By hunting as a pack, they are able to kill larger animals including moose, caribou, deer, bison, elk and musk-oxen. Smaller animals like hares, beaver, small rodents and grouse round-out their diet.

Fun Fact: Well-adapted to the periodical feast and famine of the wild, grey wolves are able to fast between meals for up to 2 weeks without damaging their health. Conversely, after a large kill, grey wolves will eat up to 30 lbs in a single sitting.

American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Ink sketch: American Black Bears (Ursus americanus) found in the boreal forest

Innu: Mashku
French: Ours

Habitat and Range: Forests and wooded swamps across Canada, the United States, Alaska and northern Mexico.

Diet: Black bears are omnivorous, eating fruits, nuts, berries, insects, fish, small mammals, carrion and honey. In rare instances they will prey on juvenile moose and deer. Their sensitive noses allow them to find food over large distances and in less obvious places (like ant-colonies hidden in rotten logs).

Fun Fact: In autumn, black bears may spend up to 20 hours a day foraging. During this time they will increase their body weight by 35%, building up fat-stores to survive the long winter.

Bonus Creature: Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

Innu: Matameku
French: Truite mouchetée, Omble de fontaine

Habitat and Range: Native to eastern North America in Canada and the United States but introduced to Europe, Asia and elsewhere in North America. The Brook Trout is at home in all kinds of clear, freshwater, including rivers, streams, lakes and spring ponds. They are also, by far, the most commonly reeled-in fish on the Magpie River.

Diet: In their youth, brook trout mostly eat small insects. Once they reach maturity, their diet broadens to include minnows and other small “bait” fish, worms, snails, and a full range of aquatic insects.

Fun Facts: A brook trout is actually not a trout at all, but a type of “charr” (albeit the most trout-like charr out there). They can also live up to 9 years while growing to nearly 3 ft and 14 lbs.

What to do if you see one of these animals

Step 1: Be calm

Don’t panic. Being calm, cool and collected is the key to not startling the potential subject of your photo-shoot.

Step 2: Quietly assess the situation

If you’re in a raft, “stealthily” get your guide’s attention so they can steer the raft to the perfect distance and angle. And so they can quiet down the rest of the crew. The same goes if you’re in an armada of packrafts. Except you need to do the precision paddling.

If you’re on land, assess the situation for your own safety and everyone else’s. Then get a guide’s attention so they can double-check your assessment and gather other nature-lovers.

This is a good one to have a predetermined, but unobtrusive signal (like making the sound of a chipmunk) that lets your team know what’s up.

Step 3: Stay safe

If you’re too close to the animal, or in its path, calmly give it some space. Keeping your eye on the animal to judge its reaction.

If you’re on the water, it’s usually not difficult to get away quickly. Particularly with the help of the current.

If you’re on land, you can give space while walking calmly toward your basecamp. From there, if the animal needs even more space (e.g. is extra curious or rambunctious), you and your team can make a swift escape onto the water by raft or packraft (always kept near the water’s edge).

However, in most cases, it’s the wild animal that will be scared away by a large and boisterous group of rafters.

Step 4: Observe the wonder of nature!

Once your distance is safe, silently take out your camera and fire away. Or just enjoy watching a wild animal in its natural habitat.

For the brook trout, it’s probably best to fine-tune your fishing game, and reel one in, if you want a closer look and a photo.

If you notice a creature during your flight in, you’re probably good to skip straight to step 4… and to be as loud about it as you like.

Want to experience these boreal forest animals first-hand? Join us on this summer’s Magpie River Adventure or Magpie Packraft Expedition.

The Pacuare River and Hydroelectric Peril

The balance of wilderness conservation and industrial ambition in Costa Rica

By Boreal River Guide – Ty Smith, MSc

PRotecting the Rio Pacuare from hydroelctric dams

Pacuare: The Quintessential Jungle River

The Pacuare River is a world famous destination for whitewater paddlers and eco-tourists. The river boasts warm water, dense virgin tropical rainforest, abundant wildlife, and waterfalls-galore. It’s hard to overstate the lushness of vegetation along the Pacuare, with incredibly bio-diverse plant and tree species covering the steep surrounding hills and canyon walls.

The Pacuare River valley is home to the Cabécar Indigenous people and is part of their ancestral territory.

The river itself is beautiful, characterized by clear blue-tinted water and round boulders. These shift during floods, causing the rapids to morph and form new paddling lines.

Most importantly, the Pacuare is a free-flowing river that you can paddle year-round.

“It’s like the Disney Land of rivers with awesome rapids, waterfalls coming in from everywhere, and giant blue butterflies, toucans, and sloths.

It’s also just accessible enough that we can get there fairly easily, but remote enough that it’s stayed relatively pristine. And it’s perfect for whitewater paddling with groups, with continuous, technical, and fun rapids that are not too difficult. It’s a highly runnable river! ”
– Danny Peled, Founder of Boreal River Adventures

Paddling the Pacuare

The Pacuare flows from the Talamanca Mountains, the interior “spine” of southeastern Costa Rica, to the Caribbean coast. It ranks in the top 10 of most lists of premiere rafting destinations in the world.

Along it’s 180km (112mi) journey it drops 1,280m (4,200ft) and forms 6 distinct paddling sections:

  • Headwaters (only accessible by hiking)
  • The Top (class II-III)
  • Upper Upper (class II-III+),
  • The Upper (class IV-V)
  • The Lower (class III-IV)
  • The Coastal Lowlands (flat water)

The 37km (23mi) “Lower Pacuare” is the most popular rafting section in Costa Rica. It contains lots of continuous rapids including class IV “Dos Montañas”, “Cimarrones”, and “Upper and Lower Huacas”.

Rio Pacuare, Savegre, Reventazon - Costa Rica Rivers and dams Map

Map of Costa Rica with the Pacuare, Reventazón and Savegre Rivers indicated.

Hydroelectric Threat to the Pacuare River

Costa Rica’s national energy company has prized the vast hydroelectric potential of the Pacuare for decades. But so far, a stalwart resistance has successfully saved the river from development.

Currently, a presidential decree protects the Pacuare from larger hydroelectric projects (>500KW) until 2030. But, this fragile truce between industry and river activism could be overruled by a new government before then.

The ultimate conservation goal is to establish lasting, legal protection for the Pacuare River. Until then, the future of Costa Rica’s best and most sustainable whitewater rafting, and the home of the indigenous Pacuare Cabécar people, remains uncertain.

“… for more than 20 years they’ve planned a dam on the Pacuare. But we’ve put up a very strong fight, and we’ve stopped them a little bit. But then the government changes.”- Kerlin Salazar Pérez, Cabécar person

A Fight Worth a Dam

3 ICE headquarters in Costa Rica

The Instituto Constarricence de Electricidad (ICE) head office in San Jose, CR.

Several parties are concerned with the building of a dam on the Pacuare River:

The Cabécar Indigenous People

Damming the Pacuare River will flood the home of the Cabécar people and displace them from those areas. They stand to lose much of their traditional way of life, including access to the fish, edible and medicinal plants, animals, and adventure tourism jobs they rely on for subsistence. The dubious economic benefits and power supply of (CR currently has a power surplus) a new dam must be weighed against the environmental, social, cultural, and economic costs to the local Cabécar people.

Instituto Constarricence de Electricidad (ICE)

ICE is Costa Rica’s government-owned electrical power monopoly. Since the 1940’s they have a constitutional mandate to investigate and develop energy resources for Costa Rica. Since 1986, ICE has proposed damming the Pacuare River to generate power.

Citizens of Turrialba and surrounding communities

Turrialba is the closest city to the put-ins for the Pacuare River. It is the staging ground for most adventure tourism activities involving the river. In 2005, the citizens of Turrialba held a constitutional vote for the future of their community. 97% voted to not dam the Pacuare.

Adventure Tourism Community

The Pacuare adventure tourism community includes Costa Rican and international companies and guides. They focus on whitewater rafting, kayaking and canoeing, zip-lining and trekking. This industry also sustains and is supported by several eco-lodges. And the impact to the local economy extends far beyond the outdoor activities, to transportation, hospitality, and local suppliers.

Amigos del Río Pacuare

Made up of members from the above groups, except ICE, the “Friends of the Pacuare River” have been the prominent voice contesting dams on the Pacuare. They organized the plebiscite in Turrialba and advocate tirelessly with the Costa Rican government to protect the river .

The Hydroelectric Conundrum

Let’s take a moment to talk about why dams might not be a good idea. Dams mitigate floods, store drinking water, and generate power. As long as the water source doesn’t dry up (e.g. when a glacier melts away to nothing) they are a renewable resource. However, for years the term renewable, as it relates to dams, has been used interchangeably (or confused) with “green” power.

At Boreal River Adventures we rely on rivers for our livelihood. Our bias against dams goes beyond the aesthetic difference between a dry riverbed and a vibrant free-flowing river. However, let’s objectively examine both sides of the argument and then discuss some of the main points.

Rio Reventazon Hydro Dam

The Reventazon Dam (305.5MW). The largest dam in Central America

Pros of dams

  • Renewable resource
  • Large dams can generate substantial power
  • Creates many jobs during the building of the dam and power line infrastructure
  • Creates operational and maintenance jobs once built
  • Power can be produced “on demand”
  • Can prevent flooding
  • Does not involve fossil fuels or uranium during power generation
  • Can provide a source of stored drinking water
  • Can maintain a “healthy” river ecosystem via several methods (e.g. fish ladders, continuous base flow)

Cons of dams

  • Destruction and disruption of intact wilderness
  • Organic matter decay releases greenhouse gasses
  • Negative impact on adventure tourism activities
  • Fish kills impact ecosystem balance and fishery stocks
  • Change in river temperature profile forces species to adapt or die
  • Invasive species may be better adapted to post-dam conditions and move into ecosystem
  • Dam failures occur (particularly in active tectonic areas like Costa Rica)
  • Large tracts of land (read virgin rainforest of the Pacuare) are clear cut to connect power lines to the dam
  • Flooding can occur (e.g. reservoir filling, high volume releases to protect dam structural integrity)
  • Earthquakes have been linked to the incredible mass of water withheld by some large dams, which also threatens the stability of the dam
  • Sediment buildup decreases the efficiency of power generation. This negatively impacts the river when released in large flushing events (like clear water turning to de-oxygenated mud slurry).

Although dams provide important services like power generation and crop irrigation, they can also cause environmental and cultural problems. When weighed against each other it seems inappropriate to call dams “green energy”. This is especially true when you consider the growing capability and popularity of today’s renewable power options. For example, in 2012 governments and businesses installed 75 gigawatts of wind and solar power, compared to 30 gigawatts of hydropower. (Source: International Rivers)

In general, Costa Rica is a challenging country in which to build dams. The volcanic central mountain ranges are formed by the Cocos tectonic plate sinking under the Caribbean Plate. This active tectonic zone results in volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Next consider that a tropical rainforest climate is already prone to landslides and flooding. The long-term structural integrity of large dams is far from guaranteed.

Fortunately for the Pacuare River, the argument against a dam is stronger because of lessons hard-learned from other ICE projects. These lessons include people being displaced, methane gas being emitted from decaying organic matter, and fisheries have been depleted by sediment and debris flushes. The fact that Costa Rica currently has a power surplus, also makes further dam building unnecessary.

Find out more about the environmental impacts of dams from the organization International Rivers.

Timeline: Dams and Conservation

1986 – ICE submitted a proposal to build a dam on the Pacuare River near the end of the Lower Section at the rapid Dos Montañas. The site was geographically ideal as sheer rock walls formed a natural constriction.

1991 – Before the start of building, a powerful 7.5 earthquake, centered in nearby Puerto Limón, shook the area. It destabilized the dam site’s bedrock, causing fissures and forced ICE to abandon the project.

1998 and 2000 – ICE completed 2 dams on the Reventazón River, north of the Pacuare. The 177MW Angosturas dam (2000) destroyed a major section of raftable whitewater. This caused most commercial rafting companies to shift to the Pacuare River.

2001 – The Amigos del Río Pacuare river advocacy group was formed. This was in response to an increased appetite for hydroelectric development by the Costa Rican Government. They feared the Pacuare River would share the fate of the Reventazón, .

2005 – The rafting industry boomed in the Turrialba area, and public sentiment seemed strongly in favour of river conservation. To capitalize, the Amigos del Río Pacuare helped organize a plebiscite (referendum). The Turrialba citizens voted 97% to ban dams on the Pacuare River. Although this vote could not legally prevent a future dam, it was a clear and persuasive expression of the public will.

Costa Rica Hydrolectric Dam Threat TImeline 1996 to 2005

2006 – Having given up on the Dos Montañas Site, ICE proposed building a dam on the Upper Upper section of the Pacuare. The reservoir for the dam would flood a Cabécar community and displace them from ancestral lands.

2014 – The Amigos del Pacuare organized a meeting with the new CR government to negotiate protecting the Pacuare. This led to President Luis Guillermo Solís’ signing a decree to protect the Pacuare and Savegre Rivers from large dams for 25 years.

2016 – The 305.5MW Reventazón Dam was completed, becoming the largest dam in Central America.

2017 – The Costa Rican Government passed the Wetlands Protection Act in March.

2017 – In June the Savegre River became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It boasts wondrous biodiversity, with 59% of Costa Rica’s birds, 54% its mammals, and 20% of its flora.

Costa Rica Dam Threat timeline 2006 to 2017

The Reventazón Reckoning

Flooded Reventazon River

The Reventazón Dam Reservoir after being filled. The treetops protruding from the water hint at substantial decaying organic matter below the surface.

The Reventazón River, a large watershed north of the Pacuare, was once a hub for world-class whitewater paddlers. In fact, many northern hemisphere Olympic kayakers would train on the Reventazón during their winter.

In 1991, the World Championship for Whitewater Rafting was held on the Reventazón for a raucous 15 days of high-water racing.

Unfortunately, the former majesty of the Reventazón has been chipped away with 3 successively larger dams. By the second dam’s completion, much of the worthwhile rafting was dry and most companies had moved away. With the completion of the Reventazón Dam, the largest in Central America, no rafting was viable without a scheduled release. This now happens rarely and is not the main business of the companies involved. Besides the periodically-defibrillated flicker of a pulse, the Reventazón is essentially dead.

What’s more, problems of excessive sediment load and organic matter decay plague the Reventazón Dam.

Before filling the dam reservoir, ICE was required to remove all organic matter. This wasn’t done. As a result, the substantial drowned vegetation below the surface continuously releases greenhouse gasses as it decays.

High sediment loads in the river have been connected with improper agricultural practices and heavy rain events (not uncommon in a rainforest). The sediment backs-up behind the dam and can cause the power generators to work less efficiently. To clear out the sediment the Reventazón Dam Operators perform several large flushing releases per year. During these releases, a muddy slurry replaces the base flow downstream. This causes a large death toll among the fish population, as their gills clog with sediment.

The Reventazón Dam is not a picture of environmentally conscientious choices. It should serve as a stark vision of the future of the Pacuare River, if a dam is approved.

El Presidente Wades Into The Pacuare

There are few environmental advocacy stories with a better climatic moment than the battle for the Pacure. President Solís’ flare for the dramatic, no doubt played a part.

On August 29th, 2015 a festival was held on the Pacuare River celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Turrialba’s historic vote. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, his wife, daughter, and Environment Minister Edgar Gutiérrez, all went rafting to see the Pacuare first-hand.

Afterward, a forum was held with all vested parties including members from The Cabécar Nation, Amigos del Rio Pacuare, Citizens of Turrialba, Adventure Tourism Professionals, and members of the Costa Rican Government (ICE being an extension of the govt.).

Environment Minister Edgar Gutiérrez prepared the crowd saying, “It’s really a great day because we managed to demonstrate that people do count. The old way of doing politics, of doing government by imposition is over.”

He then highlighted that Costa Rica now provides electricity to 99.4% of the country “[without] burning one litre of fuel to generate [it].”

Gutiérrez noted that this fossil fuel-free power came at the cost of several hydroelectric projects, including the “immense environmental impact” of the Arenal dam. Built in northwestern CR, the Arenal generates 12% of the nation’s power. But, with its reservoir full, it also tripled the size of Lake Arenal.

The forum culminated in President Solís asking the audience to form a circle with their chairs around him. Accompanied by Minister Gutiérrez he then produced a decree: dams would be banned from the Pacuare and Savegre rivers for 25 years. After the two diplomats signed the document, Solís held it above his head and shouted, “For Costa Rica!”

Encouragement for Future Conservation

As you might imagine, the elated audience applauded and cheered. It was a day that some had been fighting toward for several decades, and they enjoyed the moment.

President Solís closed with some encouraging words for conservation and a call for continued action:

“I’m going to tell you this, the reality today conspires against the damming of water,” he said. “The investors who want to produce electricity in Costa Rica aren’t thinking of dams because they know that climate change doesn’t facilitate that. But even more than that, the communities aren’t going to permit it.”

“So, congratulations for what you’ve accomplished so far, but what’s left to do is much more. What we’re doing today is a testimony, nothing more, a testimonial expression of what this country can do in the future.”

A (Tentatively) Hopeful Future

In the years following the historic victory for the Pacuare, 4 events occurred that give hope for its future.

  1. The Raventazón Dam was completed and ran into problems with greenhouse gas emissions. These were due to organic matter decaying in its reservoir, and excessive sediment build-up and release in large flushing events. This environmental and economic (adventure tourism, fishing) damage has not gone unnoticed. Those who may have supported a Pacuare Dam now have a glaring example of what could happen to their river. And those who oppose it have further justification for their cause.
  2. Costa Rica passed the National Wetlands Protection Act on March 6, 2017. This aims to preserve and revitalize the nation’s rivers, lakes, mangroves, other wetlands, and their biodiversity. The Act combines efforts from the Ministry of the Environment, the National System of Conservation Areas, and the United Nations Development Program. It’s part of a national strategy to conserve and sustainably manage Costa Rica’s wetlands. Although no permanent legal protection has been established, this policy paves the way for that to happen.
  3. The Savegre River became a UNESCO World Heritage Site on June 15, 2017. This was a near-immediate example of policy leading to action. The government must now ensure that the Biosphere Reserve maintains all the characteristics that made the UNESCO designation possible. However, it does not represent any substantial changes for the communities involved. A similar status might be a good fit for the Pacuare River Valley. There are several active communities interested in environmental protection, while keeping access to the “sustainable” use of their land and natural resources.
  4. Lastly, on April 1, 2018 Carlos Alvarado Quesada was elected President of Costa Rica. He is a member of the same party as Solís (center-left Citizens’ Action Party); it is hoped he will be just as supportive of the Pacuare. With a government favourable toward conservation until at least 2022, the Pacuare (and Savegre) Decree should go unaltered.

Friends of the Pacuare

After years of effort, the public and governmental will are finally aligned, and legal policies are in place to safeguard the Pacuare for generations to come.

It’s a very exciting time to be a “Friend of the Pacuare”; the future of paddling and experiencing this beautiful river has never been more hopeful.


What You Can Do

If you want to help protect the Pacuare, there are a few things you can do.

Stay informed. Check back here for updates on the fight for the Pacuare.

Take a stand. Even if you’re not from the area, sign a petition or send a letter to a government official. It can make a difference, especially if you represent someone bringing tourism to the area.

Support adventure tourism. Take part in, and tell others about, sustainable adventure activities. Help the companies that want to keep the area natural. Plus, it’s a healthy and bold way to experience the world!

Experience the Pacuare

Here are 2 great options for you to visit the Pacuare River (with us ☺ ) this winter:

Costa Rica Packrafting

Join a jungle expedition and explore the Pacuare on the 9-day Costa Rica Packrafting trip. You’ll paddle your own packraft, camp on the riverside, hike in the rainforest, and gain skills—far from the crowds.

Costa Rica Wilderness First Responder Course

Earn international certification as a Wilderness First Responder at an eco camp on the banks of the Pacuare. For backcountry leaders, rescue teams, and anybody who travels remotely, you’ll gain the confidence and abilities to manage medical problems in the backcountry.

Boreal River founder, Danny Peled, will guide and instruct the Costa Rica trips. He spent 5 seasons river guiding in Costa Rica through his twenties and fell in love with the Pacuare. Boreal River has been running training and adventure trips on the Pacuare since 2013, with our local partners and guides.



What’s the deal with packrafting?

Everything you ever wanted to know about packrafting—but were afraid to ask

By Boreal River Guide – Ty Smith

Going to the frontier is always worth the effort. It’s where the unique places and experiences are found.

In the case of packrafting, we’re at the junction of 2 frontiers of wilderness travel: backpacking and paddling. Technology has finally caught up with the ambition to hike to remote locations, and get to a lake or river. Instead of turning around and going home, roll-out a boat and keep on cruising (The reverse operation is also true when you get back to land).

Packrafting is the minimalist counter to a busy lifestyle. It’s the ability to thrive in the backcountry while embracing the ultra-light ethos and the freedom therein that has lead to packrafting’s popularity. There’s room for everything you need, except your worries – which you don’t need anyway.

Packraft – the boat that fits in your bag

In essence, a packraft is a small inflatable kayak. It is lightweight (6-11lbs), packs down tiny, is stable enough to run whitewater, and is large enough to accommodate you and your water-proofed gear.

Because your boat fits in your bag, along with all your other stuff, it’s an ideal way to explore previously inaccessible terrain. And since modern packraft designs are relatively stable, even a novice paddler, with great instruction can be paddling Class 3 whitewater in a short period of time – often on their first day!

However, if a rapid looks a little too big for comfort, or if we need to walk around an impassable section, portaging a packraft is a cinch.


Origins of Packrafting Myth

It’s said that after Leonardo DaVinci sketched the flying machine and the aerial-screw – precursors to modern airplanes and helicopters, respectively, he then moseyed down to his favourite lazy river. He spent two days constructing a bulky wooden raft, then lay back to casually float downstream sipping sangrias. Just as he was dozing off, his raft bumped into the bloated body of a dead cow that was trapped, floating and swirling in an eddy.

With his incredible powers of deduction, Leonardo realized how he could have had that victory sangria much earlier. Thus, he abruptly poled back upstream…. strode to his work desk… and added one more design to his sketchpad. Although gruesome by modern standards, his new boat, was a revelation. It consisted of several inflated and watertight animal organs sewn together. This boat was portable, easily deployable, and initially edible.

The packraft, as it would eventually be called, was conceived! … (see corroborating evidence below).

Unfortunately, like many of Leonardo’s ideas, the packraft was ahead of its time and so wooden boats had their day. Eventually, the rubber inner tube was invented leading to smoother riding vehicles. When turned horizontal, they were a great way to float downstream with your friends and a couple of brewskies.

The age of inflatables had begun!

Watercraft Origins Closer to Fact

Just like the tree of life, designs of inflatable watercraft began to branch out — behemoth rafts were tried on the largest rivers in the world. Smaller rafts, inflatable kayaks and catarafts were the stuff of narrow creeks and rivers.

Floor designs went from non-bailing “bucket boats” to self-bailing, and propulsion involved 1 and 2-bladed paddles, oars, and even motors. In time, the right inflatable boat combinations were found for the right rivers… to maximize fun and safety.

However, in almost every scenario, the boats needed a mode of transport, beyond just human, to get to the action.

The First True Packraft

There was a single exception. On one of the smallest twigs of the tree, somewhere between inflatable kayaks and those pool-toy dolphins from Marineland, emerged the packraft.

history of packrafting

Peter Halkett (1820-1885) – National Maritime Museum, London

The first recognizable packraft was built by Lt. Peter Halkett in the 1840’s. It was made of cotton impregnated with Indian rubber. His boat was created in London, England but designed for carrying across the rugged terrain between rivers in the Canadian Arctic, where his father worked for The Hudson’s Bay Company.

The “Halkett boat” was later deemed invaluable to several early European Arctic Explorers. It had the added benefits of transforming into a raincoat or groundsheet, depending on the design. Accessories also included a walking stick, which became a breakdown paddle, and an umbrella, which remained an umbrella while in the boat, but could be used for downwind sailing.

Whitewater Packrafting

The first whitewater-capable packraft is traced to 1952 where it was paddled on the Urique River in Chihuahua, Mexico by Dick Griffith. He later brought the packraft to Alaska where its portability over the difficult terrain between watersheds was extremely practical, much like Halkett’s boat in the Canadian Arctic over a century earlier.

The packraft was introduced 3 decades later to the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic adventure race and has been a mainstay in the competition ever since.

Alaska, is generally regarded as the incubator of contemporary packrafting and the source of its current spread to some of the far reaches of the world including: Western US, Mexico, Central America, Patagonia, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and other pockets of Europe.

Materials have also improved over time, from impractical cheap vinyl boats (floats?) originally designed for placid pools (look at them the wrong way and they’d pop), to much more robust designs using polyurethane-coated ballistic vinyl.

This generation of boats could finally bump a rock and not immediately sink; they were portable, robust, and river- and sea-worthy. At Boreal River Adventures, we use self-bailing rafts with a Dyneema® outer shell and a urethane internal air-bladder. With thigh straps and a comfy inflatable seat, you’re secure in the boat, which leads to greater control and maneuverability.

How It All Works

  • Take the tightly rolled packraft out of your backpack
  • Unfurl it on a flat and soft surface
  • Pump it up
  • Place in shallow water, step in and go paddling!

Once you’re back to shore:· Step out while in shallow water

  • Place your packraft on a flat and soft surface
  • Deflate and roll tightly
  • Secure (with a cam-strap or rope) and store in your pack
  • Hike off like it was “no big deal”

How To Deploy


Packrafting 411

How practical are packrafts, really?

Really practical! As mentioned, the new generation of packraft is more durable than their predecessors. They pack up small, weigh 6-10 lbs and are stable enough to run the bigger stuff – even on your first day.

Are they cool or will I play the fool?

Packrafting is niche, and granted, not all niches are cool (e.g. dancing the polka outside of October). This niche allows the amphibious merger of backcountry hiking and whitewater paddling – both “cool” in their own right – so you tell me.

If you have any further misgivings, all of our guides like to “nerd-out” about something (fishin’, paddling gear, permaculture, The Habs, etc.). We’ll happily stand or paddle beside you in every photograph and you’ll look super-cool by comparison.

What if I’m no good at Tetris?

Not a strong backpack-space economizer? Our guides have developed finely-tuned packrafting systems for travelling in remote backcountry. Everything from bringing the right (light) gear, to packing your bag, to making sure everything fits in your deployed raft (including yourself). We’ll show you what works for us and you’ll be a nimble packraft-loading-ninja in no time.

So, I can bring everything I need on my back (boat, food, sleeping bag, Teddy)?


We help you pack light… so your balance is “just right”.

Well that was probably more info than you could fit in a packraft. Hopefully we covered what you wanted to know, but if not, give us a call. Clearly we’re excited about the possibilities these boats allow and we’d love to chat about them or even take you paddling.

Closing statement (feel free to use it on your future packrafter friends):

So go ahead, cut your adult-sized toothbrush in half (keep the bristly end), buy a spork and find a helium-infused trip shirt (that last one is fictional) – because “packrafting” is a your direct ticket to adventure!

Now that we have packrafts in our adventuring quiver, we’ve come up with 3 great destinations ideal for the intrepid (or prospective) outdoor traveler. Whether you seek:

Boreal River can help you explore each frontier in style.

Quebec’s Côte Nord (North Shore) Region

The Magpie River flows through the heart of Quebec’s Côte-Nord region. This is the area north of the St-Lawrence Gulf from the Saguenay Fjord to Labrador. Along the rugged coastline, river after river spills into the St-Lawrence, bringing freshwater to sea. These rich estuaries are all wild Atlantic Salmon runs. As well they’re feeding grounds for whales, seals, dolphins, and colonies of puffins.

Inland, on the glaciated rock shield, vast stretches of Boreal Forest extend into Quebec’s central mountains and to the tundra. This is one of the largest areas of intact forest in the world. It is home to common Canadian animals – black bear, moose, beaver, loons – and rare, endangered ones: lynx and woodland caribou.

The people

The earliest human inhabitants of this area arrived 8,000 years ago. For the last 2,000 years the Innu people (sometimes called Montagnais) have called it home.

The Innu in the region used to live as semi-nomadic hunters. They spent  summers on the coast and then travelled up the rivers in the fall. Through the winter, they hunted caribou and other animals in the north. The Innu then paddled and portaged down the rivers each spring.

The first Europeans appeared on Viking and Basque fishing fleets. Then, the French settled in fishing villages along the coast.

Today, coastal highway 138 connects the villages and there are few roads that extend inland. Though the road ends at Kegasksa (276 km/171 miles east of the Magpie), a small population inhabits the area further east. Known as the ‘Basse Côte Nord’ (Lower North Shore), these tiny villages, some French, some Innu, some English, are currently only accessible by a weekly supply boat or snowmobile in the winter.

Town of Sept-Îles (Seven Islands), Quebec

The French established a settlement at Sept-Îles in 1651. Soon after that a trading and fishing post was built, which eventually was ceded to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Despite the safe harbour and excellent fishing, Sept-Îles remained a small community. At the start of the 20th century it was inhabited by about 200 Acadians and 600 Innu on the adjacent reserve.

The town ballooned when industry arrived, first pulp and paper, then mining and massive hydroelectric projects. Since the 1950s, Sept-Îles has been an important economic hub.

Côte Nord region today

The region’s industries include fishing for crab, lobster, scallops, bourgot (whelks), and halibut, and mining in the interior.

The biggest towns of Sept-Îles and Baie Comeau have mineral processing plants and shipping ports. Construction of the Romaine River hydroelectric dams began in the summer of 2009. The over $8 billion development is currently one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Canada. Other projects in the future include extending Highway 138 eastward and new hydroelectric dams.

In recent years tourism has grown. This is thanks to its beautiful landscape, rich history, and Highway 138 that follows the coast from Quebec City to Kegaska (418 kilometres east of Sept Iles). In Mingan Archipelago National Park visitors travel to the islands by motor boat and sea kayak. They are drawn by the marine wildlife, beautiful rock monoliths, and unique coastal ecology.

To take advantage of your time in this beautiful region, read what to do on the Côte Nord.

Magpie and the area’s rivers

Since the 1950’s, Hydro-Quebec has dammed many of the rivers of the region. The Magpie River is one of the few mighty rivers in the world to be virtually untouched. Read our Boreal Forest expert’s impressions of the Magpie.

The Magpie is a world-class destination river. It is considered one of the best stretches on the planet for multi-day whitewater trips for kayakers, canoeists, and rafters. The river is relatively easy to access by float plane or helicopter. At the same time, it is untouched nature; the immediate sense of remoteness and mountainous landscape make for a humbling and spectacular wilderness experience.

However, the Magpie remains unprotected and hydroelectric development threatens its future. This would transform the free flowing river into a network of artificial reservoirs.

Read about the movement to protect the Magpie and what you can do to help.

Teenagers Kayak the Magpie

Group from Explore Expeditions has the wilderness adventure of a lifetime

In July 2018, a team of sixteen teenagers (ages 12-19) paddled the Magpie. Led by 3 Explore Expeditions staff in Kayaks and two Boreal River guides who rowed the gear rafts, the group paddled great whitewater, took in stunning scenery, learned new rescue and camping skills—and had an amazing time!