Paddle: Bow River, Ghost Dan to Canmore

Quick Summary

Summary: A nice 1/2 Day paddle, A good step up from a novice river.
Distance of trip: 18 km, 3 hours
How to get to the set in point: At the base of Ghost Dam. Travel West from Calgary on Hwy 1A. Through Cochrane, and out about 18km. the Dam is on the left hand side, drive down the private road.
How to get to the take out point: Back in Cochrane under the bridge (hwy 22).
River Grade: 1+
Rapids: Some standing waves, max 2ft during our trip.
Paddleiing partners: Richard
Level of experince of group: novice
Level of experince of the trip author: novice
Camp sites used: Wildcat Island, nice spot for lunch. this is a non maintained campsite.
Weather Conditions: Sunny and warm for Oct maybe 17 DegC
Trip rating, and some justification of the rating: Good.
Good points / Bad points: xxx
Boat style used: Canoe, Kayak, raft, etc.
No Map avail.

Ramble on about the hike

I've got the canoe loaded, today I keen to get out on the water. Rich wants to go. I want to go from Canmore to Cochrane. Rich argues for Ghost dam to Cochrane. Rich wins... only cause I need a partner. We drop off Richards Car under Hwy 22, I notice the water is low, very low... and off we go to the set in.

Set in at the Dam. Not much to say... it is a private road down to the river. It is some what washed out (that is rutted, not falling into the river). The dam is cool, it is one of Richards old play grounds. He tells me stories how they used to play under the spillways... then run like hell when the horn sounded.
Set in base of the dam This is the put in point. The adventure begins for our heros.
Set in looking down river This is a picture of the river, at the start of our trip, we find out later that the water is higher that we expected.
After the trip, the Dam had cut flow, it was very apperant that the channel here is very deep, and very sharp, and fast flowing. A good place to not go swimming. Looking at this picture it does not look so bad... a meter or so down, I'd not want to be there.
Another shot of the dam Another shot of the Dam, shows the dam better, but not so good the river.

The water looks pretty easy, slightly, but not much worse than the Bow back in Calgary. However the trip guide I read rated this as a class I+, and a good step up from the novice (Class I) run back in the city. I guess we'll find out what that really means.

We have not gone far, maybe 50 ft, enough to go bast the shrubs in the second picture above. There are 3 or 4 guys in a camper, likely out for a fishing trip. A few hellos back and forth. One guy seems intrested, asked what the trip is like down into Calgary. I shout back 'we'll find out' trip. He mentions something about the water level has gone up 2 or 3 ft in the last 15 minutes. That could make the paddle more interesting.

There are a few houses in around the Dam... one up on the hill a nice log house, must have a fantastic view. The river below, and the Rocky Mountains in the distance. The river, so far is pretty well behaved, typically, some mixed waves at worst a foot or so in height. Enough to be a fun, keep us dry, but not really exciting.

shot going down, rock cliffs on the side The problem with sitting in the stern is that one part of the view never changes. The banks of the river are different here than in Calgary, they are often Granite as in the picture to the right. Often the river will have cut through a bit of rock, but the rock is still consticting the river... which of course causes it to speed up a bit. This particular section of river is pretty typical of the speed/texture of the water at the start of the trip. Easy, only the odd rock to miss.

First real test, is obviously coming fast as we can see the water having a little more action ahead. Nothing serious. Just the river makes a turn, and consticts a bit. This caused the river current to speed up, push close to the side of a small rock faced. I'm trying to explain the theory of a back ferry to Ricard, theory because I've never done it in a canoe (use it in my kayak when on the river with good sucess). We manage to do enough to not go slamming into the rock face, probably not a real consern as the main current is a dozen feet from the face. However the The waves are getting closer... At last it comes down to, at least lets hit the waves strait on with a bit of power. Into the standing waves we go.

Nose dive. Followed by the bow launching upwards, then slapping back down onto the water, only to do it again. Richard definatly caught some air. Firt time I've had water come up into the canoe in any quantity (but only a few liters). I'm nervous afterwards, because the back ferry did not work well for us, and I'm not sure if that is typical of what is ahead or not. However Richard is now much more confident. It seems at one point he was watching the Bow of the canoe go into the wave, that is the water coming right up on the deck, before it snapped up. He figures if we can do that, then we'll be good the rest of the way. We pull out to assess the 'mighty rapids' we have just run... Hmm they do not look so imposing here, but there is not much for a frame of reference.
down stram of wave train This is a picture looking down river just after the standing waves.
The first  wave train The waves look pretty small in the picture, but it was pretty exciting. It is hard to get perspective on the size of the waves. We went down the middle of it, I'd say they were about 2.5 ft top to bottom.
looking down from wave train again Another shot down stream from the first wave train, canoe is cluttering up the picture, but it hides the power plant that was in the previous picture. Just thought this was one of the better scenery pics I got on the trip, so thought I'd put it in.

For the next couple of miles or so, we do not hit much in the way of standing waves. We practice the back ferry for a bit on for the next bit, but do not get really good at it. We do however manage to miss all the rocks on the trip, and make it safe and sound to the take out. I'm trying to convince Rich to take a course with me. The river does not toss anything like the waves we just went through at us, it is still fairly fast, and fun.

We eventually come to the gas plant seen in the pictures above, along with the pipelines runnig way up over the river. That was some what impressive. We have not seen a sole for the last 45 minutes, but here there are fishermen out on the river onece again. must be access to the river from the plant.  Wildcat Island river bank

wildcat Island: Surprise surprise, a nice camping spot on the river. There is a Canoe in an eddie, almost free floating. Two young guys out for a weekend camping trip are just loading it up. They give us the rundown on the island, they had it all to themselves last night. I comment on the canoe 'free' floating like that, they tell us that it was pulled completely out of the water, but the water came up.... Lucky they were not stranded, they'ed have to ford the river (probably not to bad) but it is cold, and the hike out, it would be anoying to say the least.  Wildcat Island sign

The two (brothers I think) take off, and we have the place to ourselves. We are able to resurect their fire, and we break for lunch, Well a snack really. Some cookies, carotts, fruit. And of course what Hummus and Pita bread, I'm not a huge fan of it, but Rich Loves it. After lunch we explore the place. Looks great for a small group of people. I snap a few more pictures:

 Wildcat Island looking up stream A pictue looking up stream from wild cat Island. This is the Right side of the Island. I'm standing on a little coin dyke(sp?) made by the campers. It is this that generated the eddie that the other's canoe was in. In the picture on the left, up where the river divides, is actually where Rich and I almost hit a rock from the side. We hesitated on choosing a side of the river to go down. By the time we decided, the river lines made it hard to get accross. The old "were not going to make it, no no, we'll make it, crap were not going to make it.." see saw was going through my mind.... well we made it... but it got very shallow, and we really had to get in the right river line, and then crank the canoe around to not side swipe the rock.

After our lunch break, off we go again, Wildcat Island is gone after a few minutes and the river is now a single chanel again. Nothing really jumps out as special about the rest of the trip. However I do recall feeling and saying how great it was as we paddled along, how happy we were that we went out. Paddle paddle paddle

 Paddle paddle..

Cochrane We are in town... you can see it coming from a ways off. The country changes from semi wild (expept arount the plant) to cattle country, at least that is my preception from sitting in the river valley. I know it is not even close to wild out here. I never got the cammera out until I wanted to take the picture of the overhanging bank... by the time I was ready I missed the shot I wanted. but still prett neat. Notice it is no longer the granite that was present in the pictures at the start of th trip. Now we are back to layers of sand/lime stone (I think that is what it is?)
 Just coming into Cochrane Just coming into the town of Cochrane, the overhang I was muttering about earlier.
Shot of the new housed along the bank Still in the first part of Cochrane, a few pics of the new houses along the bank.
 Other bank in Cochrane Bank accross from the housed, It would be pretty nice living here, the other bank is steep enough that it probably will not be developed.
 Water markers at takeout took a picture of the water markers at the takeout... When we dropped off the car, it was down a meter or so.

back at put in to pick up car, the Dam had once again cut the water flow back. The water was back to being lower. The must have seen us coming, and cranked it up so we could have a more fun trip. It was only running high for a few hours. With the water lower, you could see the channel in the bed rock of the vally, aout 1 ft below the surface of the water, it dropped strait down (if not a over hang). By now the wind had picked up, the waves on the lake above the dam were smashing and spraying over the top of the dam petty impressive.

Well that is it, another section of the river 'in the bag'. We'll have to visit this one again, before getting into the more advanced, Class II section from Banff to Canmore.


Copyright Myrl Tanton 2004-2005


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