Friday, June 5: Ali visits Skeena schools, kids get pumped about swim

BRIAN: Ali has been on the road over the last month, visiting schools up and down the Skeena and throughout the watershed from Prince Rupert to Houston. Her presentation provides an educational piece on what a “watershed” is and why the Skeena watershed has become such a globally significant place. 

She also does a logistical breakdown of the Swim that includes dressing up students and teachers in her swim outfit; including a rubber cap, goggles, neoprene booties and life jacket.

Ali has invited every school in the Skeena to create a representative banner that the Swim Team will carry down the full length of the river and fly from their camps all along the swim route.

The response from these visits has been inspiring to say the least. One of the goals of the Swim is to create something outrageous that gives people a reason to come out to the river this summer and perhaps think of the river and the whole watershed in a new way.

Every spring, billions of skeena salmon fry (approx. 220 million from the Babine alone!) make the impossible journey down the river to the ocean, and every fall millions of the adults swim all the way back upstream. Yet most of us don’t think about this very much when we look at the river. By following the longest wild salmon migration in the Skeena, Ali is providing each of us with an opportunity to look at the river in a new way when we watch her swim by.


Day 1, Clip 1

Skeena Swim 2009 YouTube videos

Clips from the 28 day journey on the Skeena

Monday, July 6: Only 11 days left

ALI: I cannot believe we depart for the Headwaters in 11 days. Eeep! There is still so much left to do & I often wonder if I am ready for this endeavour. Yesterday’s swim with the YOW! gang helped quell some of my anxiety. We floated the Bulkley from Chicken Creek in Smithers to Trout Creek, about 27 km. They rafted & shouted encouragement to me the entire way: it was a great morale boost and the sunny day was great for everyone’s spirit. 

For the first half of the trip I was practicing handling the riverboard I will be using for some of the shallower sections of the Skeena, as well as some of the bigger rapids. It is great because it allows me to keep moving (without racking myself!) in water only 20 cm deep, something that will prove invaluable at the start of the Skeena as we will be traveling through some serious boulder gardens. It also allows me to get up higher on the water so I can better follow Chris through bigger rapids. I had a lot of fun riding wave trains yesterday. From their wild eyes, satisfied grins, so did the YOW gang. I am really impressed at the skills they have already acquired and the quiet confidence they all displayed. 

Tuesday we are training on a stretch of the Bulkley that includes the Bulkley Canyon and its infamous “Featherbed” rapid. I think I will be sitting in the raft for that one…

Thursday, July 9: Ali the “Slacker”

SHANNON: “I can help you prepare food or stack gear – just let me know what needs to be done, the only thing I’m doing is training, I feel so useless…it’s not like I’m doing any of the hard work!” was Ali’s comment to me today on the phone. She and Chris Gee have been training hard, hitting the rivers daily, testing and improving Ali’s skills in different types of situations on the rivers.

We recently completed our Swiftwater Rescue training with Walter Bucher of Raven Rescue and I was humbled by Ali’s strength in the water. Let me put it into perspective, I am almost 6’ tall and when Ali gets sassy, I throw her over my shoulders and toss her (somewhere soft) so that she knows I’m the tough one! In the water is a different story…one of the skills Walter put to the test was our ability to get to “safe zones” in the river.

Our goal was to swim across into an eddy utilizing all the things we’ve learned about river hydraulics, currents, eddy lines, ferry angles, etc. I wasn’t the least bit worried as this was the 5th time I had taken this course. When I finally made it to the “safe zone” on the opposite side of the river, I felt as if my lungs were going to explode and that I couldn’t possibly swim another stroke. I was absolutely exhausted.

The WORST part was that I missed the first “safe zone” and the river carried me downstream a lot farther than I had hoped to go. Most the team followed suit and then it was Ali’s turn. Watching her swim was like watching a jet boat. She swam without faltering to hit 3 “safe zones” in the time it took the rest of us to hit 1! To add insult to injury, I don’t even think it increased her heart rate!

Monday, July 13: En Francais

ALI – Yikes! I just completed what may just be the hardest preparation I have yet had to do for the swim: a radio interview in french! It was for a Radio-Canada program called “À perte de vue” with Dominique Arnoldi. It will air closer to our departure date & will be posted on their web-site. Let’s just say my french is uh, calcified, so it was a challenging few minutes. In other news, it has been a pretty relaxed week. Gee & I decided it would be best to rest & repair in advance of the swim, so I have been enjoying time off (and lots of ice cream).

Thursday, July 16: A Big THANK YOU from Ali

We are four short days away from getting wet. To say I have butterflies would be putting it mildly; I think there is a crow flapping around in my gut. I am honored to be trusted with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and feel so privileged to be part of this project. It has taken an enormous co-operative effort to bring the swim to fruition and I would be remiss in neglecting to thank everyone who shared their talents, offered assistance, volunteered time, loaned gear, and donated funds. From a lodge in the Kootenays sending us a case of Cliff bars to strangers stopping me on the street to voice their encouragement, the response to the swim has already been amazing. THANK YOU; I am awed.

What follows is a list of people who have specifically helped me. They greatly contributed to the project, whether they realize it or not (and if I’ve overlooked anyone I apologize: I have water on my brain).


Dorothy Giesbrecht for spending time teaching me somatics, Jocelyn Mio for helping me brush up on my French, and Lisa Perry for covering my ass(ets).

All of you who came out to help me train, especially Erin Hall, Travis Chalmers, and Jane Hollenberg. I was so grateful for the company.

Dwayne Felewich, for providing a 6 mm wet suit so I could train in Merton Lake just after it thawed; and Laurie Burleigh, for fending off beavers & paddling alongside me once I finally worked up the nerve to get in.

Wayne Gregory, for letting me attend Sunday night indoor soccer, arguably the most fun I had cross-training and certainly the most entertaining. Irene Howard for running grueling early-bird workouts. My shoulders thank you for all of the push-ups.

The Bulkley Valley Otters “Silver” group, for never letting me lose sight of how much fun swimming is. And to Coach Brad Thurlow: thanks for finally arriving & resurrecting Masters’. It was worth the wait.

Lila Fraser, Adam Raymakers, and Scott Tiltman for their on-line support. Everyone who took the time to learn about the project and write me a note; the well of encouragement I can draw from is very deep indeed.

Jane Stevenson, for pledging her support way back this winter. Jane and her father, Stewart Young, will host the team in Doreen.

Caroline Marko, of Salt Boutique. In addition to being wonderfully supportive, Caroline hopes to lend me some semblance of style after four weeks spent in a dry suit by generously providing something a little more refined for the big celebration in Rupert.

Breeann Semeschuk & Trevor Doerksen, for coping with the tornadoes that repeatedly tore through their home. You won’t miss the chaos, but maybe the company?

Josette Weir, Ingrid Granlin & Jeremy Roscoe, and Hélène Fleury & Dean Allen for providing “accomodations” during my training. “House-sitter” sounds so much better than “homeless”.

The gang at Bearclaw Lodge for helping out so I could train, and for being super co-workers. Thank you to Heather Muir and James Mould for holding down the fort, and Gene & Joy Allen for being really, really understanding bosses.

All my friends at e.l.f. Silviculture for a great season and for contributing thousands of trees to the cause. Wes Martin deserves a special shout-out for going WAY above & beyond, and for hosting us while we were on our school presentation road trip.

Christine Birnie, for sound & timely advice, and for generously demonstrating her faith in me. I am humbled.

Lindsay & Patti Eberts, for their belief in the project and for sharing Lynn Cox’s story with me. It was a great complement to my own training.

Greg Brown for offering thoughtful advice, coaching me to speak with the media, suffering through sprint workouts, and for agreeing to be (part of) the contingency plan.

All of the people who have worked, and continue to work, to make the trip happen by coordinating community events, media relations, answering odd questions, and doing various other thankless tasks. Thank you Todd & Kathy Stockner, Cassidy Helps, Frances Birdsell, Taylor Bachrach, Michael Clarke, Julia Hill, and Ingrid Granlin; all of the grunt work and none of the fun!

The spouses & children of the swim team members, for proudly supporting their loved ones’ participation in this project. They are: Yvonne, Lauren, & Darren Eddy; Chris Robberts; Steve, Grant, and Sarah MacPhail; and Alana Wadley & her newborn, Aurora Allen. Alana, thank you for understanding how much Jim’s participation will mean to the success of the swim. Carol MacPhail, thank you for helping make Shannon’s first-time participation in an SWCC expedition possible.

My Mum & Dad, Alex & Jim Howard, for their love & support, frequent phone calls as to my well-being, and for hustling the neighbours for pledges (way to go, Avocado St., et al!). Mum, thanks for imbuing me with your work ethic; Dad, thanks for sharing your passion for the rivers. I cannot wait to see you.

My siblings, Greg, Chris, and Moni, for being my biggest boosters and for championing the project. They fed me, housed me, employed me, worked out with me, and generally overwhelmed me with their kindness & support.

Niomi Mio, for keeping me grounded, sane, housed & fed, and for being honest, realistic, hilarious, and the best of listeners. Corasone!

Finally, to the swim team: Thank you for taking this leap of faith with me.

Let’s do this.

Monday, July 20: The night before departure

It’s the eve of the start of our journey, and I wonder how I will be able to sleep tonight. So many people have worked so hard to get us here. Some of us for years. Now it’s my turn to shoulder — literally — the burden.

The drive into the headwaters was one of wonder and excitement. Lunch at the top of Mount Klappan where we spotted caribou and scouled at Shell’s test wells.



We passed a small lake with two outlets: one that flows into the Stikine and one into the skeena. A short hike up the hill from the lake leads to Nass Lake, the source of the Nass, the third river born from the Sacred Headwaters.

After too long being cooped up in the trucks, we arrived at Spencer’s flats. It is more beautiful than any picture could capture, and the air is filled with the heady smell of thousands of wildflowers.

Today we hiked up one of the surrounding mountains. Everyone was happy to move after two days of driving. The view was truly spectacular and I had chills following the snaking path of the nascent Skeena below.

After a satisfying dinner, the team has dispersed to get ready for tomorrow. We’re stoked for Jimmy’s arrival by helicopter in the morning and even more excited to get on the river.

Tuesday, July 21: Bumping through the boulder gardens to Otsi Creek


Ali and her team have finished their first day on the river. The weather was good, and they’ve had a great day, making the 15 km from the headwaters to Otsi Creek with no problems. Ali had just the two kayaks accompanying her today, as the water was too shallow and rocky for the rafts. At Otsi they’re picking up the rafts and gear, which were brought in by helicopter for the rest of the journey. Below is a transcription of Ali’s daily audio blog.

[Transmitted by satellite phone]

Listen to the audio file of Ali’s blog entry.

“Hi Friends of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, It’s Ali and this is my blog entry for the first day of our trip, July 21.

We’re sitting at a beautiful campsite just past Otsi Creek, and we’re still surrounded by mountains — it’s spectacular here.

The day went pretty well. A big cannonball into the Skeena, and the kayakers Kim and Chris did a great little drop off of a small cascade, and then we got going.

Had some fun with the helicopter and some photographers this morning getting some crazy shots and then as the day progessed we got bumped around some boulder gardens — a little pinball action.

The kayakers looked great in their slalom course and I got hung up a few times but all in all it was pretty fun. Saw a bear. Finally stretched out the muscles. Feeling pretty good.

Got into camp to a great snack and a warm hot water bottle. So, we’re looking forward to tomorrow and more of the same, a bunch more bump-and-grind. The river is starting to take shape. We’re all still very excited.


Thursday, July 23: A truncated report from Kim the kayaker


Listen to the audio file of Kim’s blog entry.

[The following audio blog entry was transmitted via satellite phone. Unfortunately Kim lost reception and was cut off part way through, but it sounds like otherwise all went well today!] 

Wednesday, July 22: Ali is a swimmin’-frickin-machine!


 Listen to the audio file of Shannon’s audio blog.


“Hi Crew, this is Shannon McPhail reporting from Courier Creek.

We’re a day ahead of schedule because Ali is a swimmin’-frickin-machine!

We went through some of the craziest boulder gardens, the water was insane, the raft guides were absolutely tuckered, but the raft got left in Ali’s dust! We could not keep up with her, she is so fast and so strong.

She was getting beat up really bad on the boulders today — she’s got a few bumps and bruises but she keeps a smile on her face, we don’t know how.

The rest of the crew is absolutely pooped out. And she gets out of the water, she’s pitching the tent, she’s cookin’ dinner, she’s blowin the rest of us away. And pickin wild strawberries!

It was such a fantastic day. We stopped at a crystal mine. It was absolutely beautiful, sunny day on the river. She swam a double day today so we’re an entire day ahead of schedule.

And we saw our first Chinook today! heading up to the Sacred Headwaters to spawn! And …it’s just an awesome, awesome day.

So, we’re all tuckered, but it’s pretty shameful that none of us are as energetic as Ali is right now.

Have a great day and we’ll talk to you tomorrow!”

Friday, July 24: Jim calls from the confluence of the Mosque River


Listen to the audio file of Jim’s blog entry.

[Transmitted by satellite phone]

Hello, this is Jim Allen from the confluence of the Mosque and the Skeena River. Ali swam from the Duti confluence down to the Mosque today. About forty clicks. She did great; that’s our longest day yet. A big day of flat water. Big views. Lots of views of the Slamgeesh Range, looking up Chipmunk Creek into those mountains. I had a couple snips at some fish. A couple Chinook rolled. And, uh, we’re going to make our way down to the Sustut tomorrow. And we’ve got some of the biggest whitewater of the trip as of yet. And we’re all lookin forward to it. Ali’s doing great, she swam a lot without the flippers and board today to loosen up. She kept a good pace for forty kilometres. A short lunch; put about nine hours in on the river. Okay, well, talk to you tomorrow. This is Jim Allen from the Mosque.

Saturday, July 25: Chris Gee talks about the whitewater downstream of the Sustut


Listen to the audio file of Chris’ blog entry.

[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hi there, it’s Chris calling from the confluence of the Sustut and the Skeena. Our camp is, as you’d expect, spectacular. We’re looking at the edge of the Slamgeesh Mountain Range, and the Skeena is very loud just downstream from where we are.

We’re in for some action tomorrow no doubt. Ali continues to swim well, and easily managed our trip from the Mosque River to our camp here on the Sustut. Ali will face her biggest challenge thus far tomorrow, when she enters into some substantial whitewater.

The crew remains strong and focused, and our goal of the ocean nears with each of our paddle strokes.

Thanks and have a great day.

Monday, July 27: Brian calls from O’Dwyer Canyon


Listen to the audio file of Brian’s blog entry. 

[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hello, hello, this is Brian calling with the Skeena Swim Blog for yesterday (July 27) and today (July 28). I’m calling you from O’dwyer Canyon on the Skeena River, surrounded by giant walls of rock. The river pours in from one side and curls around a sharp point of rock and disappears on the other. The river is full of fish.

Yesterday, Ali Howard swam some of the largest rapids on the entire river, and to this point of the trip she has swum every single inch of the Skeena, and it’s just blowing our minds. Our planning for this trip and our expectations are being obliterated by her efforts and her grace and her determination and as a team we’re drawing inspiration from her all day long. We sit in our rafts and our kayaks day after day all day long and we look down and realize she’s been in the water all day long. Her focus and determination are something beautiful to see.

If you’re listening to this, you should have had a chance to check out some of the video from the last few days. I think that you’ll find that this place is remarkably beautiful, and our journey down it is a real gift to all of us, to be here. We’re really looking to share this place with all the communities and all the people of the Skeena, as we roll on down. We can’t wait to see everyone down there.

We’ve gotten to watch this river grow tributary by tributary. A few days ago at the Sustut confluence it was just a remarkable place in this river. And now here we are in this awesome canyon.

We just had dinner and dessert, fishing for… [satellite phone reception lost]

Tuesday, July 28: Aaron reports on the team’s first rest day of the trip


Listen to the audio file of Aaron’s blog entry. 

[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hi this is Aaron, Tuesday the 28th, our first day off. Today we did a big hike. First to mention that on our way down here, every beach we stopped at we saw grizzly bear tracks, the same one. So we’re at O’Dwyer and took a day off here ‘cause Ali swims so fast. We went and did a hike, and stumbled across and meadow and fell into fish pits and realized that there’s a whole big meadow of thimbleberries that were covering fish pits, it’s obviously a summer village site. And just before that we found a blazed tree, obviously hatched.

Yeah, a beautiful hike, Bowser was with us for part of it, the dog, but he got (word indecipherable) and we later found out he jumped into the canyon and swam the whole canyon down, just barely making the eddy at camp. He slept all the rest of the day and he’s just getting a rub now. So up there we were looking for petroglyphs. We didn’t see any, but obviously found a trail that went back up to the fish pits.

It was a repair day also, we first repaired Ali’s suit in multiple areas where it was leaking like a sieve I guess. Did a bunch of berry-picking: huckleberries & blueberries galore. Um, what else has happened? Andrew painted us a beautiful picture of our campsite and the view, the man’s quite talented. Did a lot of mandatory swims in this sweltering heat. And, yeah, bathing, laundry and eating – we ate some tasty trout, a dolly and a rainbow. A great day off. A neat meadow of fish pits.

Alright, tomorrow is whitewater all the way from morning to dinner. Okay, that’s it. (Cut off)


Wednesday, July 29: Ali on a short day of whitewater to Sheladamus Creek


Listen to the audio file of Ali’s blog entry. 

[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hi Friends of the SkeenaSwim (Mom and Dad especially — have a safe flight, guys), it’s Wednesday July 29 and this is Ali filing a blog.

We had a short day in which we swam and rafted and kayaked from O’Dwyer Canyon to just below Sheladamus Creek, so we travelled about 20 or 25 kilometres. Which didn’t take very long at all; in fact it felt like we spent about 45 minutes on the water today because the whitewater was moving and it was a lot of fun. Nothing too stressful and the kayakers had a really good time.

We left our beautiful camp just downstream of O’Dwyer Canyon, an area of impressive cultural heritage for an area of geological wonders. We’re camped just downstream of Sheladamus Creek right now. Because we got in at [interrupted] we spent the afternoon exploring Sheladamus Creek and some of the rock formations that are around. And we found [interrupted]. Sheladamus Creek pours out of a spectacular canyon that’s lush with verdant vegetation.

We’ve been fortunate to have beautiful weather. The short day was appreciated by me. Just rest up, take care of any aches and pains that I might be feeling, and get ready for a big day tomorrow. We’ll see two of the biggest drops [rapids] on the river: “Terminator” and “Motion Picture.” So, I’m looking forward to those. And, we’ll see how that goes.

We’re heading for the Kuldo tomorrow. Bye!

Thursday, July 30: The team’s first video blog! 

The Skeena Swim team reports on the first ten days of the trip, from the Headwaters to Kuldo. 

Friday, July 31: A challenging day of swirly water, hard oaring, and smoke from fires


Listen to the audio file of Ali’s blog entry. 

[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hi Friends of the Spirit of the Skeena Swim 2009. It’s Ali, it is July 31st, and it’s my good friend Wes Martin’s birthday. And I wanted to mention him because Wes pretty much paid for today. He made it possible for us to be out on the water by donating a huge day of work for E.L.F. silviculture, which the company then matched. It was enough to get us down from our camp last night at Kuldo all the way to just below the confluence of the Babine River.

We’re camped on a beautiful island, and we’ve seen our first cedars of the trip. The day was a challenging one, a long day of about 35 kilometres. We did it in about four and a half hours, but it was a tough slog through swirly, boiling, challenging water. The rafters had to oar pretty hard, and I was pretty challenged by getting through whirlpools. It was a long day.

The first thing I noticed when we turned the corner just downstream from the Babine confluence was the forest fire at Shegeshe [spelling?]. And it got me thinking about natural processes and how nature would renew itself. And it made me think of how fortunate we are that the upper Skeena is so wild and untouched and acts as a filter — sort of the lungs and liver, if you will — of the whole watershed, and balances out the activities of day-to-day life and industry in the lower half of the Skeena. It made me ever more grateful of the conditions that the upper Skeena currently enjoys, and I hope continues to enjoy. It’s the reason we’re doing this swim; to raise awareness of the state that it’s in, and invite all the residents to become part of the dialogue about the future so we can continue to enjoy the quality of life we do now.

Thank you, and tomorrow we head into some more whitewater. It should be a big fun day. We’ve got the kids from YOW (Youth On Water; a program of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition) with here now — they joined us in the afternoon — and everybody’s pretty excited.

[Video footage of Ali and crew going through rapids just downstream of the the Kuldo Bridge. Courtesy Incite Media.]

Saturday, August 01: Kayaker Kim talks about Youth On Water and the importance of taking care of the Skeena 


Listen to the audio file of Kim’s blog entry.  

[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hi, this is Kayaker Kim calling in from the river bank of the Skeena River below Cigarette Corner. Today we left the confluence of the Babine and the Skeena River.

We were joined by the Youth On Water (YOW) crew, which was probably on of my highlights of the trip. I can see the huge smiles and wide open eyes of the young people who are living and working in this watershed. I overheard one of the young guys comment “wow, man, I’m nervous paddling down these rapids and Ali has to swim through them!” It’s truly amazing to share our experiences with these young teenagers, and you can see the excitement on their faces; they’re just so happy to be part of what we’re doing here on the Skeena Swim.

Today our crew could see the familiar sights of the local mountains. The Skeena ranges and the Tomlinsons. As well, we’re very close to that wild bush fire that’s happening here in the Valley. As I sit here on the riverbank I can see the huge smoke clouds billowing over the river.

I really hope our trip is inspiring everyone in and around the Skeena Watershed to become true caretakers of this land and water. And I encourage everyone to have a good look at the sources of three of the greatest rivers in Canada: the Nass, the Stikine and the Skeena.

I’m so happy to have joined this group and unfortunately I’m leaving the group in Hazelton. It was a life-changing experience and I hope so many more people after us can enjoy this area.

That’s all for now. Thanks for all the support everybody — our family and friends along the way. We look forward to seeing everyone soon in Hazelton (Monday). Bye!


Monday, August 03: Ali: “It feels like there’s a new start to the trip now” 


Listen to the audio file of Ali’s blog entry.

[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hi Friends of Skeena Swim 2009, It’s Ali calling with a blog from Old Hazelton for August 3rd.

 Our day started at Don and Stanita Messier’s who had shown us incredible hospitality overnight, and we floated on to Kispiox village where Roy Henry Vickers led us and 50-odd paddlers who had come to join us in a wonderful song, a paddler’s song, that really set the rhythm tone for the day — I know it was in all of our heads.

We had a wonderful reception at Kispiox Village before we were sent off for Sikh-e-dakh (Glen Vowell) where we had an incredibly proud and warm welcome from Amy and the other elders. There was druming that stirred all of our hearts and souls, and I won’t forget.

We continued on under 4 Mile Bridge where there were legions of people lined up to cheer and wish us well. And on down to Cedar Creek where we met Doug Donaldson (MLA) and Nathan Cullen (MP) who threw their support in by swimming with us on to Ksan. Before we left Cedar Creek we sang happy birthday to Jim Allen, our original trip leader on the upper Skeena and an incredible contributor to the swim and to the cause. Finally we rounded in to Old Hazelton and the streets were lined with people — people on top of China Hill honking and cheering — it’s something I won’t forget.

We had an incredible reception and the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en communities showed incredible hospitality and generosity and shared stories of their pride in the watershed. I would like to thank everybody that came out and participated. It was our original hope for the swim to get people out celebrating with us — celebrating their watershed. And I hope people continue to celebrate it every day and realize what an incredible place they live in. It feels like there’s a new start to the trip now. We have miles to go and now we’re in the lower half where we’re bringing our story down to the people, to the residents, of the watershed.

Tonight we’ll be in Gitsegukla and I’m excited about what we’ll see there.

Take care. Thanks very much. Bye!

Tuesday, August 04: Brian Huntington writes from Gitsegukla Village


It is morning now. I am sitting on the gravel bar beside the Skeena River finishing up some thimbleberry pancakes and highbush cranberry juice.
I am trying to send out this quick note on yesterday’s activities but people from the village are arriving one by one to see us off with bright smiles, prayers and gifts…. Just a moment ago, standing in the morning sun with the river all around us… Peter Jones presented his drum to Ali so that she can sing with the people as she makes her way downstream. This kind of generosity has overwhelmed us since we arrived back into Skeena communities a few days ago. The grace of it is beyond words.

I will run quickly through the images of yesterday and then will get back to the people who are here with us now….

Ali’s mother Alex gathered us in a circle at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena and sent us on our way with a beautiful prayer. Ali’s father Jim stood in the gravel between the two great rivers and waved us off.
Doug Donaldson took the time to ride his bike down for our farewell.
The river and landscape have changed. The sky feels enormous and the views of mountains are distant and slow. We got our first glimpse of the Seven Sisters and realized that it will take us about four days to float around them.

Float float float… fish fish fish…. Fishermen waving and chatting us up from the shore. Sunshine and endless blue. A cooler breeze today.

The arrival at Gitsegukla is worth a thousand pages. I will quickly try to share some of the magic…

We arrived from upstream to a long gravel bar filled with people
Four young men in full regalia
Head pieces of cedar, feather and paint
Placed on their heads by their teachers
Their family dressing them in beaded blankets

They approached Ali from a distant at the sound of one drum beat
They said “Guuula.”,
which means come, and invited Ali to step amongst them. They walked together and entered between two lines of village members with drums beating rhythmically, singing loudly so that everyone could feel the music and be aware of the extension of the music from heart to heart and beyond.
Ali was still soaked with Skeena water and stood in her swimming gear surrounded by the circle of music and drumming.

After singing they extended prayers and visions for our journey and for the river. The words were clear and true….
We are the people of the Skeena….
We must take care for everything depends on the salmon.
It is our responsibility and it brings our culture to life and purpose to do so.

We were left alone for the evening and found the lower Skeena groove in the goofiness and games we play. As a team we have truly found each other as individuals…

Elders and kids wandered back down later in the night with drumming, songs and stories by the fire. We all sat together under a big moon and the stars.

We received the story of this village and the people
They invited us to sleep where there old village used to be. It was washed away in the high water of 1936 and they moved to higher ground on the next bench. Now there are berries and a single message pole where the village used to be. This morning there was a bear in the clearing as Shannon and Aaron gathered berries for breakfast.

To fully express the ease and elegance of this community and depth of connection that was discovered in our brief time together by the river last night seems impossible. As I write this the drums are warming as everyone gathers again to send us off. This journey has opened our hearts where we carry the songs and stories downstream.

Thanks for enduring the ramble…. The sun is already getting hot and the drums are getting louder.

A quick word on Ali…. She is becoming a true inspiration to be around. This journey that she is on has elevated her to a special place…. She is clear, intuitive, calm, entirely focused and deeply connected to the water. It is a real gift to be around her and with each new day on the river and with each new song and prayer and gift that she if offered…. her presence grows. If you have the chance to see her out here, I would encourage you to take the opportunity. Its special and I have personally watched children and elders respond to her with a passion that we so often seek in our lives. Is that too much to say? Maybe, but where were I stand right now I see a group of people young and old gathered around a woman beside a river in the sun. And they are singing.

We welcome you to join us.

Thursday, August 06: Chris calls from Kitwanga


Listen to the audio file of Chris’s blog entry.


[Transmitted by satellite phone]


Hello, this is Chris calling from the banks of the Skeena River. We were sent off this morning by our hosts from Gitsegukla. The singing and drumming that accompanied us as we headed down ther river was both powerful and inspirational. The people of Gitsegukla are clearly committed to preserving the health of their river. Many of the local young people came out to see us off as well. Our journey to Kitwanga was short but beautiful; we spent much of our day staring at the mountains and watching salmon move up the river. The Kitwanga people welcomed us with a wonderful meal and spectacular greeting. We all felt very welcome to be here. The value of the river to the people I met today is truly beyond measure. Thank you very much. Ali is continuing to amaze us all. We’re having a great night. Bye for now.

Sunday, August 09: Ali on Kitselas Canyon and the celebration at Kitsumkalum


Hi, it’s Ali calling in the blog for Skeena Swim for August 9 from Terrace.


I’m calling in a little bit late; we had a late night last night; the celebration went a little bit long. By the time we got to the house of Rachel Slanina-Moulder, who has generously loaned her house to us in her absence, it was after nine oclock. We were all very happy to get here. It’s a beautiful house; a bit strange to be at a house in the suburbs, but wonderful just the same that people continue to extend hospitality to strangers like us.


The day started at Kitselas Canyon, which for me was a bit of a milestone. I had visited the Canyon with Brian in May when we did our school tour and we sat on the rocks thinking “we’ll be here in a little whille” and we couldn’t conceptualize what it was going to be like. So to swim through it was yesterday was quite something. There was an area called Shaman’s whirlpool which I felt was a personal crucible, and I was allowed to pass through it unharmed. I take that as a good sign. The people of Kitselas showed us great generosity by allowing us to stay in their longhouse overnight, which was a super gesture and one that was definitely appreciated. We were met by Hatha, from Skeena River Expeditions, and he provided two rafts for people in a flotilla, so many people were able to join us. We were also joined by several kayakers, including Kimmy’s husband Chris Roberts. It was great to meet him and understand what kind of special guy gets to hang out with a woman as special as Kimmy.


When we got in to Kitsumkalum, Kim was there wating for us and welcoming us in with the Kitsumkalum chiefs and matriarchs and the Terrace Women’s Drumming Circle. They put on an excellent show and were very hospitable. The Mayor of Terrace was there to greet us. It was a big celebration and was worth swimming upstream in the Kalum to get to.


A special thanks again to Hatha and Terry who joined us from Prince Rupert with his war canoe. And an extra special thanks to Laura Bakermans who has saved me by loaning me her drysuit — mine gave up the ghost yesterday.



Tuesday, August 11: Brian talks about the arrival in Kitsumkalum and their experiences on the lower Skeena


Listen to the audio file of Brian’s blog entry.


Hey, you all. This is Brian calling in. Standing beside the main stem of the Skeena with a 24 foot canoe in front of me offered to us by Roy Henry Vickers. The boat’s name is Many Hands. We did a gear exchange yesterday, and floated this boat down from the Kalum River confluence to just upstream of the Shames River confluence.

Last night we were welcomed graciously into the Kitsumkalum community. Ali actually, after swimming twenty five kilometers, dragged herself up a portion of the Kalum river and put on an extremely dramatic crossing, ferrying from one side of the kalum to the other to meet this incredible crowd of people who were there cheering her on and drumming. Songs were exchanged, and we all shared a feast and our hopes for the Skeena river and celebrated the swim and all the communities along the river that have welcomed us.

Today we push off downstream and we’re back to our small crew and it feels nice to be on the river again with these people who have travelled together from the headwaters.

To be down on this lower river landscape is just incredible. It’s huge. The river is huge and the views are huge.

Andrew just got this incredible footage of clouds boiling off a ridge downstream. It’s clear now but it feels like there’s rain everywhere around us. These valleys are steep and close and filled with snow and clouds.

Got a fire going and dinner’s on the way. Thanks for checking in with us. Ali kicked ass this afternoon. Swam for three hours and covered thirty kilometers. We’re drifting at ten kilometers per hour. We got htis canoe going up to 19 kilometers an hour on flatwater, so once we get our rhythm down we’ll start having a lot of fun with this.

I’m supposed to let the girls at Mr. Mikes know that one of our crew is… [Disconnected]

Wednesday, August 12: Energy flagging, Ali calls in only two days upstream from the finish line


Listen to the audio file of Ali’s blog entry.


Hi Friends of the Spirit of the Skeena Swim 2009. It’s Ali calling from the Skeena where we’ve been stopped by tides a bit early today. It’s Wednesday. We’ve had a hectic past few days. Long, long swim days with lots of cold weather and lots of mileage. Many many seals and spectacular views. I’m starting to smell the ocean air but still not there yet. Hopefully we’ll head that way soon. Energy is flagging as I’m sure you can tell by this blog. But I’m happy for everybody’s support. We keep getting honked at and whistled at and also waving from the highway and it certainly goes a long way to boosting my energy levels and helping me out. Hope everyone’s well out there and we’ll see you in Rupert in a few short days.

Thursday, August 13: Seals and saltwater! The end is near!


Listen to the audio file of Brian’s blog entry.


Hello everyone it’s Brian calling. Standing on a log over tidal sedges on the lower Skeena. Sun just went down over the far ridge and we’re all heading to bed.

We got up really super early this morning to catch the outflow tide. Clear skies and calm waters and Ali swam about 18 kilometers down the far bank of the Skeena. Had a good flow with the tide going, didn’t know how that was going to be but it carried our boats pretty well — drifting at about four kilometers per hour.

Came around a few points and past two really large colonies of seals. Four to five hundred in each grouping. That was a pretty awesome site. They were all hauled up on these sand bars in the middle of the river and exploded off of there in a spray of water and sand and woofing. Then it went from 500 seals on the shore to 500 heads in the water and Ali swam through them and they followed her and it was really nice. Not dangerous at all.

Then we came around Windsor Point to big winds, whitecaps and no more current going down. Ali swam for another kilometer or so but it was too much work against the current. So then we pulled over and suffered the rest of the day away in Frizl hotsprings. Hours and hours of soaking in a tub and enjoying each others company. Now we’re set for a really early day tomorrow. We’re hoping for calm weather in the morning with the low tide, with the outflow, and we’ll make the crossing.

The crossing down here is about three kilometers. We’re calling it the Skeena but it’s ocean! It’s totally tidal dependent and filled with seals. The water is starting to taste a bit salty.

Downstream we can see the end of the continent. There are no more mountains. The view just opens right up. We can see the end in sight and spirits are high.

We’re all looking forward to the meteor shower tonight and the late moon.

And that’s all she wrote! We’ll see each and every one of you in Rupert I hope.

Friday, August 14: Shannon blogs from Cassiar Cannery


Ali swam to the OCEAN!!! This is Shannon McPhail calling in for the very last night before Ali arrives at the North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward.

We’re camped at the Cassiar Cannery and feel as if we are being very pampered by the incredible view of the ocean and sleeping in the INCREDIBLE bed and breakfast houses operated by Justine Crawford. A good night’s sleep is just what the doctor ordered after several tough days on the river. Ali turned her jets on to make the long distances fighting tides and winds. There were days when it was all she could do to get herself out of the river, shivering so badly that she couldn’t take off her own gloves. The Skeena River has always inspired me and after seeing first hand what Ali has endured – my inspiration has increased exponentially.

This morning, we talked about the distance she had to cover, we knew that it was almost impossible, it was double the distance she swam yesterday (which was tough). Ali rose to the challenge and our canoe got very quiet watching her work her magic in the water. She never raised her head and relied on Chris Gee to keep her going on the right direction. We were silent because we didn’t think she could maintain that burst of speed…and yet she never relented. She would stroke 6 times before taking a breath and we watched our goal for the day get closer and finally surpassed! She swam though squid and kelp before she would admit that we were in the ocean. It was an emotional celebration on both the canoe and in the water and none of us truly realized at that moment what had just happened. We were just so amazed at the speed and determination she had just shown.

We pulled into the point that took us to Inverness Passage where the cannery is and had some lunch in the afternoon sun. It was there that we talked about the entire expedition and it started to sink in that Ali Howard had just accomplished what she set out to do. We recalled all the amazing gifts and blessings that communities, friends and families had given to us and all of us firmly believe there was a higher power watching over us. It always seemed that when we needed something it would somehow come to us, whether it was the sun to keep Ali from being hypothermic, a canoe to battle the winds of the lower river, advice from those that know the area and safe passage seemingly guided by the ancestors.

So here I am, sitting in the living room of this beautiful cabin, surrounded by the people that dedicated themselves to this river. It’s hard to imagine that it we won’t be together day after day any longer and while we share stories with incessant laughter we are all sad to see this end.

This river and the people that make it their home was all the motivation we needed to complete this journey. Every community had concerns with coalbed methane and oiltankers while others talked about cultivating a healthy economy from the resources we have. I think it’s fitting that we’re completing this journey at the North Pacific Cannery which was part of the commercial fishing industry that has struggled alongside the aboriginal food fisheries and sport fishing. We hope that this not only inspires people to safeguard this incredible place but that it will motivate them to become a part of the process and decision making when issues affect this watershed.

Thanks to all of you that helped us make our journey and sent your words of inspiration. We truly love this place and the people that live here…it’s our home and we will never stop working to keep the people, our salmon and our water safe!