Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 year in review by team paddler, Luke Vollmerhaus

Hey Team!
So I thought I’d throw together a little summary of my year and pass on my recommendations to all you adventurers! 

I started off the season slow with kayak laps on local rivers; the Elbow, Sheep and High Wood. These are some of my favourite runs in southern Alberta; easy to access, well documented in local guide books and all with flow gauges. There’s plenty of beta on these runs as well as they are all very popular. If you’re in the area and down for a simple bit of fun I’d look them up!


The SUP season started off a little slow as well, I did a lot of lake paddling both with clients and on my own. Ghost dam is one of the easiest bodies of water to get to from Calgary for flat water SUP if one wishes to be out of the city (Otherwise the lake communities are great, just don’t forget your PFD, they will yell at you with a megaphone until you get one). I suggest venturing up the arm of the lake that lies on the north side of the highway as it is more wind protected and there’s less power boat traffic.

As the season came into swing I got together with my friends Zac and Liam for a river kayak trip starting in Jasper and finishing in Waterton. Our first stop was a hidden gem; Beauty creek, 40 min south of jasper before the Columbia ice fields this creek drains into the main valley. It has no gauge and there is little beta as it only gets run a handful of times every year. There is however an excellent description in the Stuart Smith guide. The hiking trail runs river right and provides a great view of all rapids on the way up. Because of its location in the forest and narrow canyon wood can be a big issue on this run. Be sure to check all drops carefully, sneaky wood is a paddlers nightmare. Be sure to bring a rope and harness as one must repel into the pool below Lumbarsis to run proper safety. If it’s rained recently there will most likely be water in the creek. You just have to run in and check it when you get to the pull out on the road. 


The Ram was our next river. First note of caution on this run, there’s a 50ft waterfall right at the put in. It can be hiked around but it’s a bit of a nightmare due to a 6 ft cliff band and steep shale slopes. It’s easier to run the falls than to hike. So show up ready to rock for this run. Be careful about safety on the next drop (particle accelerator as rescue options are limited. There’s a big seal launch on river left to get around it. This is an awesome run and I highly recommend it to experienced paddlers.

Other highlights from that trip were Cataract Creek and boundary Creek. Cataract has lots of descriptions in the books and on the web and there’s generally lots of beta on it as well. It is a long run though (16 km) so plan for a full day and bring food. There is also a Flow gauge for cataract. Boundary Creek doesn’t get run very often and has only a bit of info on it. It is in the Stuart Smith guide though. It is a very committing class V run.  It drains into Waterton Lake, you either have to paddle or rent a speed boat to get the 6 km to the mouth of the creek (right beside the Canada/U.S.A. Boundary marker).  Then one must hike 3 km up stream to the put in. Bring bug spray. Be sure to scout every rapid on the way up as there are very few scouting points on the way down. Over all it is a beautiful run with some of the most incredible wilderness surrounding it. However it is class V and if something goes wrong it happens very fast. I highly recommend this to very experienced boaters.

When I got back it was time to hop back on a SUP board. The bow river from ghost dam to Cochrane was flowing beautifully and Harvie passage was at a perfect flow for a surf. For the SUP boarder with the beginnings of river training the bow from ghost dam to Cochrane is an awesome run, some fun rapids and cool little surf waves with plenty of flat relaxing water. (Note that the flood has significantly altered the rapid directly below the dam, though this is easily portaged if necessary)
 Surfing at Harvie passage is on hold for the moment as the redistributed the river bed in the area significantly. We’ll have to wait and see what spring flows and cleanup crews put together for us.  

After the flood not much was paddle-able so my final venture was up to the Slave River on the border between the North West Territories and Alberta.  This river is enormous peaking around 7000 cms every season. There are so many different runs you can do on the same stretch of river simply due to its vastness. There’s everything from easy class I/II to big burly (emphasis on the big) class V and it’s all warm water. There are some of the most amazing freestyle kayak play spots on this river. It’s a great place to practice any skill at any level. Huge eddies make excellent training grounds for beginning paddlers. I really can’t say enough good things about this river and I haven’t even mention the community yet. Due to its location north there are few people in the area. The town of Fort Smith (right beside the monstrous river) is small and very charming. The paddling community there is small but one of the most welcoming I’ve ever encountered. The Fort Smith paddling club runs weekly paddles for all skill levels and provides all equipment for beginners. I highly recommend that any and every one venture up North for this amazing locale. I especially recommend attending the Slave River paddle fest (August long weekend) as it is one of the most diverse and awesome paddle fests in the world. In my mind it sets its self apart from other festivals because of its openness to complete beginners. It’s super easy to hop in a boat there with little or no experience and be well taken care of, safe, and have a great time.

My list of adventures unfortunately ends there due to a knee surgery and the time consuming monster otherwise known as university. However I will mention one final destination I highly recommend although I was not able to make it out this year: Skookumchuck Narrows in B.C. There you’ll find one of the best play waves in the world. It’s a tidal influx that creates a current into an estuary. Long story short it forms a huge consistent beautiful wave that is perfect for freestyle kayaking. I really want to get a SUP out to this wave in the near future as it would be perfect for a surf. There’s plenty of camping in the area as well as hotels nearby. Its easiest to paddle into the wave on an incoming tide from the docks and leaving boats at the wave so you don’t have to hike them out at the end of your session. If timed properly you can also paddle out of the wave on an outgoing tide so no long boat lugging is required.

Finally looking at next year I’d like to stress to anyone paddling in Alberta that the flood refaced EVERY river. Even if you’ve paddled the run 100 times before, it’s going to be a completely different river so paddle the run like it’s a new river and be very careful, scout more than you think you should and set more safety than you think you need. 

I would also like to thank Nikki Rekman Sales for making my adventures this year possible, it truly has been a wonderful season.

On that note I’d like to wish everyone Happy New Year. I’ll check back with a report at the end of February after a SUP surf adventure to Sayulita Mexico!

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Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin