Ready, Set, Go

It is not that going on a kayak trip is really much different than any other adventure. Maybe closer to a backpacking trip to anything else. But are we ever out of practice. We usually pack a week or so ahead of time just so we can walk by the pile and take stuff, we have added because we might need it, out. This time we are packing early because we can’t remember what we need.

Debbie has about 4 different lists, from the one supplied by Footprint Kayak Tours to our regular ‘we are leaving the house’ list. Our basement is set up in four piles. Kayaking stuff, camping stuff, clothes specifically for the kayak camping trip on Desolation Sound and clothes for camping to and from the coast. Each pile is at least knee deep. After all we are car camping so we can take as much as we want, except on the tour. The big restriction is living out of the car, we have to make sure we have access to all we need. We can bury things but only what will not be needed except at a specific time. There are a couple of other piles upstairs as well, a food pile that still has to be topped up and the ubiquitous electronics, mostly a modern day nuisance but unfortunately a requirement, even for me.

Up until we were sequestered we could pack with our eyes closed but this 6 month social distancing from our travel bags has caused a disconnect. I’m hoping in time we can again pack without humming and hawing but we may never again achieve the efficiency we had only a short time ago.

In one day we are off, all packed or not.

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North Saskatchewan River – 50 St to Riverside Nature Trail, Arrrr

We leave our pirate hats and eye patches on land and paddle the North Saskatchewan River as kayakers in training. In training for our Desolation Sound tour, which will be approx 15 km a day for six days. Today’s paddle is 17 km, downriver, but still a paddle.

There is a place to put out at the end of Township Road 540, close to Legends Golf and Country Club and at the trailhead to the Riverside Nature Trail. We park my car out there and drive back the the 50 Street boat launch. We are in the water by about 10:00. There are a number of other groups of paddlers preparing for a day on the river. A warm day for an adventure.

North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton
Loading up the kayaks at the 50 Street boat launch

We paddle down the river through residential, then industrial and then into wilderness. It is amazing how it can feel like the wilderness yet the city is just over the bank and a little ways away.

North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton
Approaching the Beverly Bridges
North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton
A train! A train!

The sounds of the city fade until we float under the Anthony Henday bridges. The traffic noise reaches us a long ways down the river until we round a bend and it disappears.

We see many groups of fisherpeople on the banks. We also see the odd goldpanner. I did not realize so many folks spent time on the river.

North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton
An intrepid kayaker!

The green on the riverbanks is slowly turning to yellow. There isn’t a lot of it yet, but fall is approaching.

North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton

When on the river it is hard to tell how fast we are moving. We paddle almost continuously to replicate what we will be doing on the west coast. We paddle over a shallow area and Mur says to look down at the rocks as I move over them. WOW! I’m moving at a pretty good clip! We complete the trip in two hours and paddle 17 km. That’s impressive, but the speed of the river is a huge help. It is a good paddle day.

North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton
Lovely reflections on the river.
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“On the Road Again”

I believe the quote is “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”. Totally forget which movie the quote is from but it is somewhat appropriate. Maybe not seething mad, maybe more like crazy mad. The difference doesn’t really matter, we need to get away so Debbie and I are off traveling. Not that far, to the British Columbia coast. Desolation Sound to be exact.

We have been camping a few times this summer and didn’t realize it but the three or four trips we took were actually practice for the bigger trip on which we are about to embark. We were able to do our part with the social distancing thing and only interacted with folks from a distance. Honestly it is a pretty sad state of affairs but it is what it is and we are going along with it.

We have booked a trip with a guide to kayak for 6 days in the ‘wilderness’ of the BC coast. Things as they are, Debbie and I are the only ones booked to go, so as long as the guide is not Covid positive we should be just fine. Our plan is to camp all the way to the Sunshine Coast. Only contacting the outside world for groceries and gas. We do that at home anyway so we will not be putting ourselves at any greater risk than we do in Edmonton. Stopping for only a short time to visit Debbie’s sister it should only be about 4 days before we arrive in Lund. Without delay we will get in our kayaks and paddle away from civilization. After 6 days in the backcountry of Desolation Sound we will get out of the kayaks and follow a similar but shorter route home.

It is amazing how scary this actually is. Scary and exciting. Both emotions arise because we are heading into the unknown. We are pretty seasoned travelers but the situation is such that very few alive have even experienced anything like it. We’re all on unfamiliar ground. It took us a long time to jump in and make a commitment to go on this trip. We wanted to wait as long as we could and see what was transpiring on the virus front before we could say yes for sure. The spread of the virus has been pretty stable in Canada for quite a while. After analyzing our plan and figuring we were no more at risk than doing what we are doing at home the YES button was pushed. Still there are butterflies in our stomachs. I think that is good because those butterflies should be a reminder to remain diligent and cautious. The excitement arises from the imminent adventure after sitting at home for the better part of 6 months. Not quite like paddling into the ‘Heart of Darkness” but it is exploration for us.

Started packing today. Leave Monday.

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Lower Kananaskis Lake

It is said that at noon the wind picks up. Yesterday we found out the warnings we had received were indeed accurate. Our approach is to leave earlier and even though the trip will be shorter, today we want to be back at our put in spot before noon.

At 8.30am G drives by our camp site and we follow in behind. As we leave our ‘loop’ and join the collector road that leads to the highway, we turn the corner and the camp attendant’s truck is stopped and blocking our path. I joked to Debbie, ” What the hell is he stopped for….. a bear?”. Sure enough as we creep by the stopped truck there is a grizzly bear chopping on a small bush covered in berries. It is totally engrossed in its exploits and our vehicle passing does not even cause a flinch. Very cool, I can’t say I have ever seen a grizzly before and for sure not that close. Later talking to the park attendant I found out the bear is the cub of Number 139 and her other cub was in the bush near by. We totally missed the second bear. The one we saw is stunning, quite big even though it is only a cub, and the coat was lustrous, dark brown in colour with golden brown shoulders and hump.

Lower Kananaskis Lake, Alberta
Lower Kananaskis Lake

Our kayaks are unloaded and we are boarding by about 9am. We will paddle down the lake until 10.30am then about face and head back and try to make it back before the witching hour. For most of the trip the water is glass smooth. The surroundings are quiet and tranquil. The mountains adjacent to the lower lake are not as rugged as the ones surrounding the upper lake but it is still an alpine paddle and the reflections on the still water are impressive.

Lower Kananaskis Lake, Alberta

I spent a good amount of time taking photos of those reflections but somehow a picture never captures reality and although the pictures are nice, the fleeting images can only be experienced if one is sitting in a boat.

Lower Kananaskis Lake, Alberta

About 11.30am a few gusts disturb the water’s surface and the mirror type reflections become distorted. Still interesting but not nearly as noteworthy.

Lower Kananaskis Lake, Alberta

Our paddle back to the spot from which we disembarked is much less stressed than yesterday’s and we arrive right on time. After getting the boats back on shore and loading them on the car we sit on a bench and eat lunch overlooking the lake in a spot not as exclusive as the previous lunch but with a no less impressive view.

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Kayaking in the Mountains

Traveling along the Alberta highways in the summer I am again taken back by the beauty. The wheat has started to change colour and the landscape is now a patchwork of green and gold. Our trip to the mountains is pretty uneventful but we did see a very large moose traipsing across a shallow slough. We also took note on how the cows are respecting the social distancing edict and are evenly spaced at an acceptable distance of about 2 meters. Who would have thought??

We are on our way to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to meet our kayaking buddies M & G and another couple we soon find out are S & J. We arrive and our reserved site is empty and ready for us to set up. M & G again arrived earlier and were already ensconced. Of course their drive from Calgary was much shorter. The Lower Lake Campground is quite big but it is nicely laid out, with a good amount of space between each site allowing for a bit of privacy. We were however treated to a free Spanish lesson at one a.m. when the lady next door was teaching her kid, who must have woken up scared, to count, uno, dos, tres….

9am and we are on our way to Upper Kananaskis Lake for our first paddle in the Canadian Rockies. Just standing on the shore looking at the crystal clear, blue/green body of water surrounded by rocky peaks rising right from the shore is an awesome site. Our goal is to paddle the perimeter of the lake and see what is about.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Alberta
Upper Kananaskis Lake

On this particular day there were no animals, save for a couple of ducks, about. There were a few boaters, power boats are allowed on this lake and a couple of boat loads of fishers were trying their luck, and three or four other kayakers out paddling.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Alberta
Upper Kananaskis Lake, Alberta
Lunch Time!

Half way around the lake, it’s noon and lunch time. G lands his boat on a very small island, we all follow, seating for 6 please, we dig our dry bags out of the cargo holes and have a very peaceful and secluded lunch with a million dollar view. Right about noon we start to pack up and board our sloops.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Alberta

We were warned about the wind that whips up at exactly noon and sure enough the air starts to move right on queue. We are on the homeward leg of the journey and the waves are very small so we just keep paddling in a leisurely fashion.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Alberta
The start of the wind

About a 1/2 hour in, the wind starts to pick up and in a flash the waves are a 1/2 meter high with white caps. This is a bit disconcerting, we buddy up and paddle towards the boat launch in a much more urgent manner . This is the first time Debbie and I have been in water like this so we learn on the job so to speak. The wind of course is not constant and the gusts create a very unpredictable canvas on which to apply our art. Neither of us have a lot of arrows in our quiver but we did use a couple of different paddle strokes to maintain some sort of control over the direction we were headed. We do get to experience one very cool thing. We got to surf a few of the waves. Paddling along with the wind at our back, a wave picks us up and jets us forward. A bit of fun in a somewhat stressful situation.

A couple hundred meters from the boat launch we round a point and find ourselves in a small somewhat calmer bay. This lessens the urgency and we can paddle in a much more relaxed manner till we reach the shore. Debbie and I get there first, we leave our boats in the water, ready to lend a hand if necessary, and keep our eyes across the water making sure our friends are not in distress.

Regardless of the somewhat bumpy ride at the end of our tour it is a wonderful day on a pristine lake with world class scenery as a backdrop.

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Kayaking Devon, Alberta to Laurier Heights in Edmonton, Alberta

We don our pirate hats and eyepatches once more and head out on the waters of the North Saskatchewan. Today our trusty side kick, J, and his bright yellow canoe are missing from our flotilla.

Both our vehicles have bars on the roofs, so we drop Murray’s vehicle off at Laurier Heights and drive to Devon with the kayaks and our gear in my vehicle. Once there, we unload everything and then remove the kayak racks from the bars. We load two racks into Murray’s kayak and one on top of each kayak, under the bungee cords. We also load the kayak covers, tie down straps, lunch and our sandals into the kayaks. We are ready to push off!

North Saskatchewan River

It is a windy day today, with the wind coming mostly from the west, which is a good thing as we are paddling north and west. The river is moving about the same speed as when we were on it last week. We notice it is not as silty as the other week also.

North Saskatchewan River

Murray doesn’t really believe in just floating down the river, so we paddle. Sometimes hard against the wind and sometimes very relaxed. About and hour and a half after we start, we pull off on a sand bar and have lunch. We don’t dawdle as we are in the wind and I am getting cold. This is a good learning experience for me about wet feet, wind and staying warm in cooler weather.

North Saskatchewan River

We see a few hawks, no deer at all, some fisherpeople, but mostly river scenery of striated banks, trees and blue sky. As we approach Edmonton, we see more and more houses high on the hills overlooking the river. We also see water lovers and their dogs enjoying time by the river.

Before we know it we pass under the Anthony Henday Bridge, two foot bridges and are approaching the Quesnell Bridge, which is just upstream from our destination. We land and check our GPS. 33 kms! Four and a quarter hours! WOW, the river must have been flowing at a pretty good clip as it didn’t feel like 33 kms.

We secure the kayaks racks onto Murray’s vehicle bars, load the kayaks and gear and drive back to Devon to pick up my vehicle. Once in Devon , we order supper from our favorite Vietnamese Restaurant which Murray picks up on the way. We are famished after our day of trolling the North Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, there were no other water craft for us to plunder.

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The North Saskatchewan River Through Edmonton, Alberta

The Arrogant Worms sing a song about pirates on the Saskatchewan River and that is what we are today. Pirates in kayaks! We paddle the river from Laurier Heights (near the zoo) to the 50 Street boat launch (near our house) with our friends J&A&S.

I have never done this before and I am excited as the flow rate of the river has mellowed out after all the rain and after paddling the Red Deer River, I feel I can do this. We meet up near the zoo at the boat launch and push off.

Edmonton, Alberta

This is definitely an urban paddle compared to our previous paddles. On this river there is constant noise – traffic, motor boats, construction work, people on the river banks. We have paddled up to today in the wilds where it is quiet with the occasional bird call.

We see scullers training on the river, dogs jumping in the river, cyclists and runners on the river valley paths, fisherpeople and a few ducks. We travel to many large international cities where the concrete comes right down to the river. In Edmonton, the river is bordered by green. The city has kept the river valley parks for everyone to enjoy. The tall buildings of Victoria Park Road, downtown, the University and Saskatchewan Drive are visible but they are set back behind the green embankments.

Edmonton, Alberta
First Bridge we paddle under!

The part I enjoy the most is floating under so many the bridges (10!). We start with the footbridge that connects Hawrelak Park to Buena Vista Park. Groat Bridge comes up and we can hear the construction on the bridge. My father was in Engineering in the 1950’s while the bridge was being built and I have some photos of his class on a field trip to the construction site.

Groat Bridge, Edmonton, Alberta
Groat Bridge

Two most favorite bridges arrive around a bend. The High Level Bridge, opened in 1913, and the Walterdale Bridge, opened in 2017. My engineering roots are tickled just to be able to view them from water level.

The High Level Bridge, Edmonton, Alberta
High Level Bridge with Walterdale Bridge in the background and the LRT Bridge in the foreground

Next we pass under the new LRT bridge being constructed over the river. The span doesn’t quite reach across yet and we mused about how the trains will have to jump over the gap on their way to the southside.

New LRT Bridge, Edmonton, Alberta
New LRT Bridge

J tells us an interesting historical tidbit about the river valley. About a hundred years ago there was a dump by the river, just after the Dawson Bridge extending downriver for a distance. We float close to shore and can see the garbage being exposed in the river bank. Erosion is wearing away the soil, but the debris remains. We see old tires, metal, house parts, a horseshoe, coloured glass and it doesn’t smell that nice. Interesting!

We stop at the downstream end of an island for lunch and A&S, being of a younger age, frolic in the water and play in the sand. We older folks, sit on the sand, munch on our wraps and enjoy the views and conversation.

It is only 500 m to the 50 Street boat launch and once we push off again we are there quickly. It has been a grand trip down the North Saskatchewan and, unfortunately we marauded no vessels and obtained no loot.

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The Road Home

Debbie’s and my plan is to pack early and stop at one of the many lakes between us and home and practice partner and self rescue techniques. One never plans a spill and if it happens it is a good idea to know how to get back in a kayak. Kayaks are narrow by design. If you sit in the middle and do squiggle around much they are very stable, but one lapse of concentration and you’re going for a swim.

This is when a little practice of getting back into the kayak pays off. There are a myriad of different techniques, and many different variations, on each of the methods to climb back into an overturned boat. You can take a course which will teach you one or two different ways to do it but I found searching the internet, and watching dozens of videos and borrowing ideas from several helped a lot. Both Debbie and I are fairly body aware and know what we are capable of. There were some of the methods that were just not going to work for either of us and some we thought we should try. By experimenting we each found a couple of ways that work. We have been practicing them. As we find others we give them a try and have added ones we could make work to our practice schedule.

We stop at Buffalo Lake. There are 3 different provincial parks around the lake and we wanted to do some reconnaissance for future camping excursions. The Narrows, the first stop, is a nice campground accessed by a gravel road. There were a lot of available spots, due to the gravel road access I think. There was a good place to put the kayaks in but the water is a reedy channel between Buffalo Lake and another smaller body of water. Not somewhere we want to dump the kayak and practice our skills. Nice enough campground though and maybe a place to return to. We could paddle the narrows and chill in the great outdoors.

Next stop Rochon Sands. There is a provincial park campground there as well. It is a little more crowded as the access road is paved right to the park. The beach in the park is nice enough but quite small. There are no reeds in the area of the beach and the bottom is sandy. This is where we launch the boats, go for a paddle, come back to shore don our wetsuits and head out to get wet. First the water is not a cold as we thought so the wetsuits are a bit of overkill and second the lake there is so shallow, even 50M beyond the swim enclosure both Debbie and I can touch bottom. We still practiced but cheated a couple of times when touching bottom was an asset. It was still time well spent as getting into the kayak was difficult but we both managed to do it.

Refreshed from out dip in the water and tired from our strenuous efforts we head to the north shore of the lake and the Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area. This would be the most ‘rustic’ of the campsites. Again it is accessed by a gravel road and not as many folks are willing to travel the 5KM on a less than perfect road to get to a campground. The beach there is quite nice, we wandered out to the waters edge and there is a lot more room there than at the Rochon Sands Provincial Park. The one downside to this area is it is quite low, elevation wise. There has been a lot of rain this year in Alberta and a lot of the sites are rendered useless because of the boggy conditions.

Any of these three spots look good for future forays into the wilderness. Don’t know when we will make it back but I’m pretty sure we will.

The rest of the trip is a highway drive and I am again amazed at the fantastic landscape that I have driven though a hundred times and only in the last few years been awed by what is there.

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Paddle 2, Tolman Bridge to Morrin Bridge

It takes 6 car driving segments with 2 cars to get things set up this morning. Two cars travel to Tolman bridge with 4 people. Drop the kayaks there and leave M and Debbie to set up and make sure the boats don’t ‘float’ away. G and I drive both cars to the Morrin bridge, leave one car there and return to start paddling. Once we land at Morrin G and I will drive back to Tolman and pick up the car left there. We both drive back to Morrin to pick up M and Debbie and the 4 kayaks and then return to the campground. We checked out the logic of using 3 cars, as Debbie has her car from driving from Vernon, but it would still take 6 segmented trips. It is sort of like doing a grade school algebra problem. There was a reason we learned that in school. Although we used a graphic method rather than some long forgotten algebraic formula.

We put in at Tolman bridge as planned. The wind today behaves. When we start we have a tail wind. The grade of the river is steeper on this sections and with the wind we travel very fast. (at least relatively) The day is hotter than yesterday and there are a couple of occasions when the wind blows in our face but it is very light and more of welcome cool breeze rather than a challenge.

Tolman Bridge to Morrin Bridge

The wildlife is sparse. We pass the occasional cow or small group of them moaning and bellowing as we paddle by. The group spotted a couple of pelican’s searching for lunch. The big event of the day was a bald eagle and it’s overly large off spring. The eagle was flying back and forth across the river trying to attract our attention away from what appeared to be a flightless young one. The dark colored, no white head, juvi was lolly gagging on the beach.

Tolman Bridge to Morrin Bridge

Today was definitely the day of scenery. The base of the banks started right in the river and rose at a steep angle to a height of a 100M or so. The lack of a flood plain made the vision much more dramatic, more of a canyon feel.

Tolman Bridge to Morrin Bridge

The river moved quickly. Sitting in the kayak, it doesn’t really feel like we are moving that fast, but as we pass stationary things on the shore we get a real good idea of our relative speed and I think a strong runner would have a hard time keeping up. There was a homestead ruin on one of the banks and I turned and tried to paddle upstream to get a second look. I was motionless, much like swimming in an infinity pool. It would have taken a lot more effort than I was willing to put in to have a second glance.

We travel 24KM, it is a good day, a long day, and we are all bagged.

Tolman Bridge to Morrin Bridge
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Paddle 1, Bleriot Ferry to Drumheller

Tuesday, our first day of kayaking on the Red Deer River. We are to put in at the campsite near the Bleriot ferry and get out at Newcastle Beach in Drumheller. G and I had to hunt for the ‘beach’ in Drumheller but with a little help from a couple of locals we were able to drop off the pick up vehicle. Once back at camp we set up the kayaks at the river’s edge. We launched the boats and the day began.

The river is flowing nicely and we start at a reasonable clip. The wind is from the SE which is right on the bow so even though the current is enough to keep us moving downstream we all increase our paddling power. As we go we all talk about the increase in effort and figure it must be an unconditioned response to the resistance of the wind.

The view from the water is different than from anywhere on land. When Debbie and I are in some foreign city we will ride the water bus or taxi, if one is available, just to get that different perspective.

Travel by kayak is much slower than in an auto on the highway. It is easy to take in the surroundings and see things that would normally be a blur. The bright green reedy shore foreground and the striated cliffs of the badlands behind make for stunning scenery as we drift by. We are in a ‘civilized’ section of the river so there are a few houses that dot the banks and every once in a while a busy roadway parallels our path. Not exactly wilderness but that is quite hard to find now-a-days.

Not to many animals on today’s journey. We do see quite a few birds. There is an osprey or two circling high above us. Maybe checking to see if we would make a suitable lunch. They seem to be enjoying the strong wind, swooping and soaring without flapping their wings even once. The next siting is two deer on the left bank (arty types). One slid down a short steep band and into the water. She swam the river and mounted the bank on our right. From a couple of meters above our heads she stood and watched us approach. Not spooked at all. When we got too close for comfort she ducked into the bush and disappeared. We spot another osprey fishing from such a height it is really only a dark silhouette against the deep blue sky.

Our new found diversion of kayak touring in physically a lot of work which in itself is good, but other than that it gives us a reason to explore the world near our home. It’s on the water, of which we are great fans, the ride is super smooth, and the movement is rhythmic and repetitive. A short time into each trip ones worldly concerns disappear and the state of Zen takes you over. You become one with our kayak and with the surroundings and it makes for a very pleasant way to spend the day. Alberta is big and there is a lot of territory to explore, it should keep us occupied for quite some time.

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