Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I'm up in Jasper for a few days. I used to live here, and learned to paddle, climb, cave and generally get amongst it in the mountains of Jasper when I was younger. Last night I paddled the Athabasca, the river I truly learned to paddle on, as well as raft guide on. As the trees, waves and water flowed by I had so many deep river flashbacks. I remembered individual rocks from over 20 years ago, people I paddled with, the texture of the light, the flow of the water around rocks, beautiful memories I didn't know I had. I love rivers as much as anything in the natural world, they are as perfect in their own way as any rock, ski or aerial line I ever experience. They are the pumping, alive arteries of the mountains to me.

Today I hooked up with some super solid Jasper/Mt. Robson boaters (Andrew and Sean) and had a go at the Fraser Canyon. This was THE bad-ass rig when I was in high school around here, and I only ran it a few times back then. Maybe because I took the worst beat-down of my life in the canyon below Overlander Falls. When I was about 19 I swam a half mile or so of vertical-walled class five canyon with a fair amount of water slamming through it. I'm still not entirely sure what happened before the swim; I have some ego-saving memories that likely aren't the truth, but the end result was that I swam what felt like ten miles of gnarly water, and I nearly blacked out in the midst of it all. Saw stars, puked, the whole experience. Broke an ankle... I didn't paddle that canyon again until today, 20+ years later...

Today we bombed it on down through numerous drops to Overlander. I kept laughing in the middle of the drops--I'd feel my boat get kicked a certain way, and then remember the drop. Not a sniff of any drop in my mind until I was in it and making a move, then it would come back to me like a smell from childhood. I've had good luck this year with following locals down rivers, just follow 'em and have fun, and soon we were looking at Overlander, which I was sure I wasn't going to run as it was the biggest, baddest thing in the area back when I was a kid. I had a look at Overland today and it looked feasible, which was worrisome--I mean, the legend, the monster OVERLANDER! I still walked it, just out of respect for the tradition of the waterfall... It's hard to explain what that waterfall meant when I was young; now it's probably had a couple of hundred successful descents, but I knew my business lay in the gorge downstream of Overlander...

Scout? Not with the locals, just line it up and go. I had to stop in an eddy above the canyon entrance and get my act together mentally. Just seeing the entrance to the canyon brought back a lot of memories, none of which were good. I even flipped over in a rapid just above the canyon, something I don't do a lot normally. But the Fraser just has more power and general ass-kicking lurking in its green water than most rivers I paddle. I can run a lot of class V creeks and not flip, but I remember having to combat roll once or twice back in the day on the Fraser, and today was no different. The water level was somewhere around 100, which Sean said was a solid medium. Andrew thought that was high. I have no idea, seemed like a good level to me.

Then I was following Sean's boat into the canyon, through the "Terminator" hole, surf the boiling eddy, couple more moves, into the big old eddy at the bottom I remember from when I was 19. I literally saw flashing coloured stars in that eddy back then, puked, and generally had some sort of near-death recovery from my swim. Today was definitely mellower, and I felt the weight of that beat-down from over 20 years ago lift off my shoulders. I'm definitely a better paddler than I was 20+ years ago, but I was also warm thanks to my drysuit and better clothing, with people who knew the river well, and generally fired up to give 'er. The Fraser isn't the raddest run I've ever done, but it sure was a nice day compared to the last time I had a go at it! Thanks to Sean and Andrew for a wicked day on the river. Kayaking good water with good people sure is fun!

Oh, and the kayak recovery program is working--my elbow is feeling way better, and all the kayaking is keeping me strong in the upper body... Yeah!!!

Now all I've gotta do is find a boat I love and buy it. I've paddled five different boats this spring... More on that later, I've got a completely pointless kayak review brewing up... Let's just say that not all "modern" boat design is much of an improvement on what I used to run back in the Wave Sports days.