Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Adventures on the road in Western Canada

As you may or may not know, life on the road for a Paddlesports Sale Rep, is not a vacation. It's driving anywhere from 2.5-7 hours per day to get to where you need to be, store visits, clinics (in-store or on-water) and these can be 45 minutes to 3+ hours. If you have the amazing fortune of having your spouse on the road with you, as I do, they can do some driving while you do your "office" work in the passenger seat. You get the picture, it's fast-paced and full-on and just for the record, I am not complaining. Being on the road is my favourite part of being a Paddlesports Sales Rep, it's here where I really get to know my dealers, their staff and their business. This is where and when the most interesting conversations happen and this is when I find out how they really feel about our brands. I love it.

The bonus is my territory is beautiful, in my opinion it doesn't get much better than Western Canada. I travel through 1 territory (Yukon) and 4 provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and there is something fabulous about all of them. Admittedly, I do have a favourite - British Columbia - my home province.

I always get excited when we start to see the Rockies, in the far distance, traveling West on our return trip and one of my favourite places to explore is Yoho National Park. 

The photo below was taken at Natural Bridge, the bridge that you can see to the left was created by the massive amounts of water flowing down the Kicking Horse River.

Natural Bridge - YNP

The Kicking Horse River is part of the, Canadian Heritage River System with its source at Wapta Lake. We have driven by it many times and have always admired it as we get close to Field, BC. Here the river flows through a braided gravel valley through the town of Field and West.

We decided to take the day off and explore so we can do some paddling in the area the next time we are through. This is one of many things I LOVE about my job, exploring new places to paddle.

We messaged a high school classmate of mine, who now lives in Field with her family (thanks, Marla) for some info and also stopped in at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre and spoke with Jinelle(?!?). Nothing beats local knowledge and we went away with a lot of it, including MAPS!!!

The grade and class changes on the Kicking Horse depending on where you are and the time of year.  The river drops from 800m over 49 kms. We were most interested in the section through Field known as, Field Reach and from the Amiskwi River to Chancellor Peak and Hoodoo Creek Campground (Ottertail Reach and Chancellor Reach)

The put-in for Field Reach is simplest at near the Kicking Horse Campground/Cathedral Mountain Chalets. 

"Beginning at the bridge below the Kicking Horse Campground this reach comprises an impressive, braided out wash known locally as Field Flats. As the rivers current slows, it is unable to carry the larger particles that have washed downstream. This material is deposited, creating an out wash plain. Canoeists and kayakers must take out at least 100m above the Trans Canada Highway bridge at the end of the reach. Below this point, the river becomes very swift and is un-navigable." - The Kicking Horse River Touring Guide

Distance is approx. 7.5km 
Change in Elevation is 48m 
Difficulty is Grade 1, suitable for open canoes

The put-in for Ottertail Reach is not quite as simple as I believe you have to walk-in but speak to the folks at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre for the most up-to-date information. You want to put-in BELOW the Amiskwi River bridge. The most challenging thing about this put-in, is the fast currents right below it and a very strong eddy on river right as the river turns sharply right. It is recommend that you scout this area before putting in.

"Beyond this point the river slows and becomes braided. As it approaches Ottertail Flats its flow has slowed considerably and is confined to a single meandering channel until the end of the reach at Finn Creek. The valley in this reach is the widest in Yoho National Park and permits views of the spectacular peaks of the President and the Ottertail ranges. To the west the river flows along the flank of Mount King, part of the VanHorne Range. Finn Creek Picnic area is a good place to take out before the rivers current once again picks up. This is also a great break or lunch stop, with pit-toilets." - The Kicking Horse River Touring Guide

Distance is approx. 13.2km
Change in Elevation is 36m
Difficulty is Grade 1, suitable for open canoes

Chancellor Reach is a more challenging, class 2 section.  For a short run you can put in at Finn Creek Picnic Area but most would put in below Amiskwi River bridge (as described above). 

"A rocky ridge on the East side constricts the valley. The river flows southwest for 1 km and then swings to the southeast. As the river rounds the ridge it becomes steeper and faster. There are frequent rapids and larger riffles. At Faeder Lake Picnic Area the valley widens and the channel once again becomes braided. This run is more difficult at low water, when many of the channel bars are exposed, leaving only narrow chutes between them. Canoeists can easily survey this section from the highway."The Kicking Horse River Touring Guide

Distance is approx. 6.7km
Change in Elevation is 135m
Difficulty is Grade 2


It is no longer easy to take out at Chancellor Peak Campground. The bridge was washed out (even before the Alberta Floods). We took our bikes in there and finally discovered why the campground (one of our favourites) had been closed the last couple of years and still is. Here is a photo of how far we got on our bikes, 3.6km from the entrance right off the Trans Canada Highway (32m elevation gain).

Mark checking out the huge changes on the road or lack there of, into Chancellor Peak Campground in YNP.
Looking west as the Kick Horse River flows away from Chancellor Peak Campground.
Speaking to Parks people, we were told that it is best to take out BEFORE the Trans Canada Highway crosses the Kicking Horse,  below Chancellor Peak Campground as Wapta Falls (27m tall), is not far downstream.

More experience paddlers may wish to portage Wapta Falls via a 600m portage trails accessible on river LEFT at Beaverfoot River and continue on towards Golden (Washout Creek Rapids Portage is before Golden).

This blogpost is not a river guide and is only information we gathered from speaking with locals and scouting the river from various locations along the Trans Canada Highway. We have not yet run the river ourselves. Extreme caution, paddling experience and the appropriate gear are required whenever river paddling.

I can't wait to get back to Yoho National Park and here's hoping that Parks Canada will start opening the available campgrounds in the park, sooner than June, for us early-season folks.

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Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin