Featured Ritt Kellogg Expedition: Bowron Lake Beauties “SUP” the Circuit

As a tribute to Colorado College alumnus Ritt Kellogg ’90, a skilled outdoorsman who tragically died in an avalanche, the Kellogg family established the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund in 1993. Each year, this fund provides students with the means to carry out incredible backcountry trips in the U.S. and Canada for 12 days or more. Through a rigorous application process, students may propose virtually any trip they can dream up — from rock climbing in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in northeastern Canada, to sea kayaking off the coast of Alaska. This semester, the Active Life section will feature a group of fund recipients and their journey every week.

Photo Courtesy of Sarah Laico

In late July, Sarah Laico ’19 and Mary Murphy ’18 began their 12-day odyssey around the Bowron Lake Circuit in British Columbia. These two ambitiously decided not to canoe or kayak the gorgeous lake circuit, but to stand-up paddleboard. Paddling and hiking between five and 11 miles per day, Laico and Murphy needed to have a strong core and even stronger willpower to accomplish this fantastic feat.

The Catalyst: What inspired the trip?

Sarah Laico: I think Mary and I both had a deep love and affinity for SUPing, and when Mary half-jokingly proposed we do a Ritt SUP trip, we kind of looked at each other like, “And why not?” We originally planned to do the Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile stretch along the coast of Florida in Everglades National Park. After hearing about hurricane damage, water sanitization issues, plus our moms freaking out about gators and snakes, we switched gears. I stumbled across the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit on Google, and things fell into place.

Mary Murphy: Sarah and I have been good friends for a while and have led numerous trips together for Outdoor Education, and I think what basically inspired the trip was that we both saw this as an attainable and exciting challenge.

TC: What was the most challenging aspect?

MM: The portages! By far. Hiking with all our group gear on our backs (and the weight of that gear not balanced) made it really hard to enjoy the “hiking” portions on our first day. Physically configuring our gear, boards, paddles, and personal flotation devices all on our backs and packs was just really challenging, but also so rewarding knowing that that process was what allowed us to access this gorgeous backcountry lake terrain.

SL: Also, I thought I just might die from all the mosquito bites. We looked like we had chicken pox.

TC: What was the most rewarding aspect?

SL: The most rewarding aspect was simply doing the dang circuit. We had a lot of close family and friends giving us skeptical looks when we told them our plans — our loved ones just absolutely grilling us about how it would even work. So just getting out there and having everything go according to plan — that felt good. Many Canadians we met on the circuit were so impressed that we did it on SUPs  rather than in canoes, and even asked to take our picture. I felt vindicated.

MM: Just getting there and getting on the water and paddling the first 10 to 20 miles or so was just really rewarding and renewed my confidence in my SUPing abilities.

TC: Do you have any personal highlights?

MM: Living on our boards, on and off the water! We snacked on our boards, ate lunch on our boards, sunbathed on our boards, filtered water on our boards … the highlight was definitely just doing what we set out to do and having fun doing it!

TC: Did you see any wildlife?

SL: We did! A moose one morning in the early fog, several otters, two bald eagles. And Mary saw a bear our final night!

TC: What was your best camp meal?

SL: Definitely the night we made couscous with peppers and onions and pesto. So good. But also, a friendly ER nurse from Bend, Ore., named Bob gave us butterscotch pudding.

MM: I really enjoyed our ramen nights! We had a lot of fresh veggies, onions, peppers, for most of the trip, which made the ramen that much better. Oh, and the spice ‘Tex-Mex’ trail mix was a staple.

TC: Any funny stories or camping mishaps?

SL: We had brought this huge jar of tomato sauce for our pasta nights, even though Mary is technically allergic to tomatoes. After the first day of hiking with so much food weight, we tried to pawn it off on a bunch of young Canadian couples, but they weren’t having it.

MM: About three or four days in we met our friend Bob from Bend, Ore. One of those nights we had a ton of wind — and while Sarah and I slept soundly through the whole storm — Bob didn’t, and in the morning, he informed us that our paddleboards had almost blown away into the water. He had spent the night securing our boards/paddles and avoiding his leaky tent. Later that day we actually saw two guys along the shore in the trees who had been walking for miles looking for their canoe that had broken free in the storm. After that we made sure to “bombproof” our boards every night.

TC: If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?

SL: I’d bring backpacking backpacks rather than those awful SUP ones. And bug spray. I don’t believe in it, but placebo effects can go a long way.

MM: There really isn’t anything I would change except maybe packing lighter. I brought like five top layers and wore one of them 90 percent of the trip. 

TC: Do you have any advice for those applying for a Ritt Kellogg Grant?

SL: Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do; if you can dream it, you can plan it, and you can send it.

MM: Don’t listen to the haters. Really, we had a lot of people doubt us and our planning. Find someone else who loves what you love and just put in the work to plan a trip you would be proud of.

Be sure to catch Laico and Murphy’s trip presentation — along with those of all other Ritt grant recipients — on Oct. 9, 7 p.m. in the Cornerstone Screening Room.

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