Paddle: High River High River to Hwy 552

Quick Summary

Summary: A Novice River, which goes from a small river, to a fairly large one, with high banks, lots of birds
Distance of trip: 24 km
Time Taken: 7hrs inc a quick Lunch, and 45mins of playtime
How to get to the set in point: High River where the bridge crosses the river
How to get to the take out point: Turn right on Hwy 547, the take out is on the left a bit after you cross the river.
River Grade: I Novice, although 'harder' than last year according to the trip coordinator.
Rapids: 1 at I or I+(?)
a few grade I- Some sweepers, at the faster bends.
some sleepers in the slower current.
Paddleiing partners: Walter: coordinator, Intermediate paddler, solo canoe
Phil and Ronnalee: Intermediate and novice, tandem canoe
Earl: Advanced paddler, solo canoe
Walter: coordinator, Intermediate paddler, solo canoe
Level of experince of group: xxx
Level of experince of the trip author: Novice
rapids, bridges, etc): Cross under a train bridge about 1/2 way
Hwy 2 about 3/4, and Hwy 522 very close to the end.
Camp sites used: NA
Weather Conditions: Medium and Light Rain for most, clearing up towards the end of the day. One quick squall.
Boat style used: Sea Kayak, Gullemot Hybrid

Map Highwoood River: High level to take out.

"Map is Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, Department of Natural Resources. All rights reserved."
map from the website

Trip Report

This trip, was another of my last minute trips. I'd been planing to go the following weekend. But was having the old 'gotta get out of here blues' and Friday morning got the clearance to go paddling from the wife for Saturday.

Spent time trying to get some folks to join me in a day trip down the Bow, from Cocraine to Calgary. Everyone had plans :-(. I still wanted to go, but not to keen on solo. Thing is, I broke my wrist two weeks earlier, and was not confortable with the notion of the canoe paddle strokes, and the solo trip. I was hoping to use the sea kayak... I figure there is less wrist action, given a lazy paddle. And with the thumb emobalized, the griping of the kayak paddle seemed reasonable. The problem, with the kayak, is I have no real experince in it on running water. I had a bit of a mope around the house Friday after work. Then resolved to go any ways, A few last ditch calls to try and drum up some partners...still no luck.

Then that third brain cell (the one that is wounded but not quite dead) kicked over, and I thought. 'wait a minute, I joined the Bow waters canoe club just before I broke my wrist'. I found the trip list, and sure enough, a novice paddle tommorrow. The Highwood river. I called Walter the trip coordinator, and signed up to join the group of 5 already going. then loaded up the stuff for the trip, taking a bit extra, as I wanted to see how the kayak handled loaded.

Turns out Walter lives close by. Next morning I meet him at his house at 8:00, and follow him to the south side of the city to meet the rest of the group. Earl is already inside the coffie shop, I look at the canoe out on the truck, it is older, and looks experienced. It looks like (and turns out is) some of the hand made canoes the club made several years back. In side we meet Earl, funny thing is, with a dozen folks in the shop, a glance, and I know who belongs to the canoe outside. I walk over and introduce my self. Earl looks like a a 50ish. However I find out later he is retired, and 67.

Walter comes in just after me, and we sit together and wait for others, the weather is a bit cool, but completely overcast and raining. Soon two others walk in... funny they look like canoers too. Phil and Ronnalee are the next. Sitting around waiting for the last member to show (a kayaker who ends up not making it). We chatt. Turns out phil is a fellow Engineer, infact he used to work in the same company as I around 8 years ago. I don't remember his face, but recognise the name.

As we are signing the waiver forms, saying you are responsible for you self (I'm not sure if we had to sign the fact that the sky was blue or no...). I end up making a disparaging remark about the need for this lawyer type stuff, as a sign of a sick society. That's when I found out Walter is a layer, and Ronnalee worked for a number of years as an para-legal, or something like that. Oh well, if you can't make your self look like a jackass infront of your paddling mates who can you?

It's still raining, and time to go. I think it was Phil who asked if we should go in the rottin weather. I interrupted him with a comment along the lines "I don't care what you do but I'm going", I think I was a bit more force full that I normally am, but getting the okay from the wife for a full day out (we have a 5 week old baby), and deciding that a broken wrist in a cast. were not enough to stop me, somthing like rain was not going to play a roll in that decision. Other than helping deciding which cloths to wear.

By the time we got the boats shuttled, and the cars at the take out and finally on the water. It was around 11:30. As luck would have it, another club member who lived in High River was on hand to see us off , she wanted to join us, but her husband got the call to work last minute. She helped me get my spray skirt on (my thumb is not useful). and we were off.

There is a new canal at the set in point, bleeding a fair bit of water from the river. As a result the river is a bit low, and a bit less novice than it was last year. I'll be testing out the epoxy/carbon/caboxil mix on the bottom of the kayak pretty well today.

The first part of the river is fairly small, although it is hard to tell from the pictures. On the outside corners, the banks are just high enough to hide what is beyond them. I snapped a picture of Earl as I floated past, while he was paddling back up in the slower current on the inside of the bend.

Earl low banks 1 low banks 2 low banks 3 low banks 4

low banks 4 We are not far from the set in when we come to the first hazard. The river takes a bit of a tight turn and has dropped a small willow tree over 2/3rds of the river. All the current flows under the braches of the tree It looks like a sweeper, (but I think the water was clear under it?) Earl has taken up the forward position, and does not even hesitate, and easily misses it. Walter, decides to avoid the issue, and pull his canoe for 20 ft or so. Phil, and Ronnalee take the run next. They try to steer the boat aroud it, and end up running into the bush. I try for my first ever back ferry attempt. I over did it a bit, but was no where near the hazard. I fact I end up sitting in the slow current on the inside of the corner. I toss my cammera up and Ronnalee gets this pic of me relaxing at the mighty hazard.

After Earl watched us, he decided he'd best impart some wisdom on the group. Basically explaining the Back ferry, and when to use it. After that he drug up his canoe, and did a demo for us. Then we decided to choke down a quick lunch and get on with the trip. Lunch was fast, we were all cooling off from the lack of exersise, and the constant rain. I had the benefit of a gortex jacket that my wife got me for christmas. (thanks dear, I really like it) I was nice and dry, Both from the jacket, and the spray skirt. However, some of the others were wet, and needed to warm up.

The river went from quite small in town, where banks were low, maybe around 8 ft or so on the outside of bends. Erosion seems to have been hard at work in town. It looked like one guys trailer would have to be moved soon. As we left town, and came to the farm/ranch lands, the dirt banks got higher and higher. Lots of cliff swollows were zooming around. It was neet watching them buzz a few inches above the water darting around taking care of any mosquitoes in the area.

 'cliffs'  'cliffs' 1  'cliffs' 2

I was taking the above picture sequece of Earl and Walter going around a bend. And got a bit behind with taking the camera out, and getting it back into the dry bag. When I caught back up to the group Ronnalee was excited for having seen a huge owl. I completely missed it. However about an hour later we came accross a pair. I got a picture of one out in the distance, in a bush, however I doubt it will turn out as anything more than a white smuge, as it was far away.

 'cliffs' We had a bit of a break as Earl did some canoe paddlin teaching to the others. maybe 30minutes, I sat back and snapped a few more pictures. The owls were purched near some old farm buildings, only one was really visible from the river. The others had fallen, but the tough little guy was trying his hardest to stay standing... sad to say it is only a matter of some small time before he goes over. I almost expected to see it go. (the second roll of pictures did not turn out... due to the swimm at the end of the trip)

The river was becoming lazier, now the little riffles, were being replaced by sleepers. It was however obvious that this could be a very active river in flood. There were huge piles of logs at the points where the rivers course had changed. At one of these Walter had gone through a bit of a constriction and bend. with the log jam on the right, Walter edied off to the left around the bend. I was following to close behind. He eddied off to the side, and I ended up trying to back paddle to hold my position, in the main current, and avoid the log jam. It was doable, however the force required caused a fair bit of pain in the wrist. I decided to join Walter in the eddie. unfortunately my position, made for a pretty good bump into Walters shiny new canoe. (sorry Walter).

As a quick side note, The wrist was a minor anoyance on the trip. I bit unconfortable at times, but this was the only time it really hurt. Later I switched to my spare paddle, with smaller blades, after that I never noticed the wrist. (I did pop two advil earlier, about a hour into the trip)

We came accross some folks out for a horse ride along the river, said 'howdy' took some pics and kept on floating. We passed the old Magnesium plant. The government built it, as the second plant in the world (or was that N.A., or Canada...?). Anyways it shut down after a year or two when the Magnesium market crashed. At first I thought what a shame, but I'm thinking that with mixed feelings. I would not want a Magnesium contaminated river... we are already naturally high in murcury, or so I've been told in the past.

It was just before the plant that the rain turned from drizzel/break to on. This time it really brought the wind with it. For only a few minutes it generated lots of white capped waves, and stranded two boats on one shore. Phil, Ronnalee and I sat out in the full force of the storm pinned agaist a mud cliff. My ego would like to think I stayed by choise to keep them company. While Earl and Walter hung out on the lee shore. A usual with the alberta storms, it is like some one threw a switch, first on, then off. After that the weather was much better. the last 1/4 of the trip was almost sunny at times.

About 2/3rds into the trip I think just after crossing Hwy 2 we came to a bit of an actual rapid. here we again stopped to play in the small waves. Earl was showing us some surfmoves, and how to paddle upstream against the rapids. I tried to power up the main current. I thought I was doing well, actualy, I was surprised how well I was doing. However enevitably the current, would grab my bow, and I'd be to slow to correct, or unable to, and I'd get cranked sideways, and go back down. This was a bit spooky as the water was shallow. I'd hit rocks, and the like. once getting stuck pinned on two perpendicular to the current. While being stuck, Earl was coming down backwards through the rapids. (A skill he suggested we learn). I thought I was going to get t-boned. He did hit me! but only to brush against my stern, as he went by with a laugh.

I did push my way forward off the rocks, and made the 'quick' turn I had to, inorder to miss the larger rock in the faster current about 15 ft below me. My second attempt going up stream, I made it further, and the entered the 'main' chanel of the current. I lasted about .5 seconds as I got cranked around again. This time I was going sideways in waves that seemed about 2 ft. The Air brace was not all that effective, and I started to go over, but planted by paddle in the water which was about 2 ft deep here. I got a pretty good 'ohh..' from Phil as I was going over, but managed to stay up, and make it down to the group in the eddie. Funny from the eddie, it was hard to see if there were even waves there?

It was a fun 1/2 hr or so bit of playing around. Wave surfing is pretty neet. Sitting in rushing water, but the current is not pushing you forward over the wave. By the way this would be the rapid I'd rate at class I+.

The trip continued on, The weather has improved. It is not sunny, but it is not raining much either. We seemed to be coming out of the ranch areas and to the acerage type places... some were just beautiful. but most were the big ass houses on big lots. Many the new ugly cookie cutter type houses. Not for me. Earlier we did pass some very nice houses along the river, one a renovated old sand stone house (in a small town?) way up on the bluff.

At one particularly nice place, Phil, Ronnalee and Earl were well along the bend and out of site. Walter and I were paddling down, the current is lazy, with Huge rocks in the river.Some above the surface, some not It was very nice to float along, doging rocks. There was a large house, kind of styled as a swiss mountain house. This down on the low inside corner of the stream. Completely secluded, and the 'valley' all to him self. I could live here I thought.

Near the bridge under Hwy 547, the river widdens and shallows out. Walter and I are still behind. I'm pretty proud of the paddleing skilles I've developed on this trip. I make it a point to try and go trough the riffles without hitting any thing. I made it about 3/4 through, the just floated over, but ended up scraping over a few towards the end. I'd estimate the water was about 2 inches deeper than my draft on average. So I thougt I did well.

After staying dry for the whole trip. I jammed my kayak up on shore (but not quite all the way to the cockpit, like normal). I managed to choose the one spot in the whole river where it was deep next to the shore on the inside of a corner, and no current. I took off the spay skirt pulled my self onto the deck. However somthing in the bungie lines behind me hooked the back of my jacket or spray skirt. The unexpected resistance, combined with basic lack of coordination sent over over the edge and into the water/mud. Ughg. ended up drenched from the waste down.

I'm a bit confused of what happened when on this trip. Images of Earl standing to check out the riffels, trying to find the channel through. Watching Hawks soar above, starlings. Chatting with the others. Watching Earls complete mastery of the canoe (wow). It was a great trip. Enjoying the valley, watching rocks slowely slide by just next to my hull, only to grind over the last one in the cluster

Update: Last summer Earl passed away. A real loss to the paddling comunity in Calgary. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Copyright Myrl Tanton 2003-2004

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