Bow River not 'just a float'
It must be the warm weather that is bringing out the inexperienced people to try their luck floating down the Bow. I see the article in last week’s Outlook, “Dangerous Bow River logjam claims…” A couple more wrecks on the Bow.
On the Saturday preceding, I was with a group of friends paddling through Lake Louise townsite when another group of paddlers caught up with us. As we watched, one of them overturned in a small set of waves. The friends still upright had no idea what to do.
The canoe and swimmers soon washed up on a beach. I asked if they had scouted the river or knew what was coming downstream. They said “no” and one guy volunteered it was his first time in a canoe. I thought ‘what a nice place to start learning to paddle. Lots of fast water, obstacles, waves and logjams.’
By the time they got to the next rapids they overturned another canoe and it washed away downstream. They were hoping we could help them find it. We had offered to guide them through the last rapid, but I suspect they had no idea how to stop.
Today in Banff I saw a truck with two inexpensive one-person rafts with oars made of flimsy plastic heading west out of town. They stopped at the liquor store on the way out of town. No doubt to improve their skills and judgement on the river.
Last summer my friends and I picked many of these craft, punctured and deflated, off logjams and tree branches. One group we encountered started from Banff with nine rafts. By the time they got to Harvie Heights they had only five left. This group, like many others, were wearing T-shirts, shorts and flip flops.
Apparently, when they left Banff they had no idea how cold the water was, how easy it is to get a sunburn from the glare off the water, or how useless flip flops are on a fast river with a bottom of stones and gravel. They had lost half their flip-flops and were trading them around to get some relief for bruised feet.
Now, I don’t want to suggest banning river travel, regulations or fines. This is a free country and we have the right to damage ourselves and to expect rescue. I just wish they wouldn’t leave so much litter like bottles, beer cans, flip flops, coolers, lunches, clothing, paddles and damaged canoes and rafts on the river.
I would only ask that if you see someone obviously inexperienced heading for the river, ask what they know about the river and tell them that the river in this valley is not “just a float.” Some skill, experience and good equipment are advisable.
I know that every year many people with no knowledge or experience make it all the way from Banff to Canmore. I also know that many people have a frightening swim to shore in icy water, leaving their gear in a trail down the river. I know. I am out there picking it up.
Good books on paddling the Bow and rivers in general are available. Canoe clubs in Calgary and the Rocky Mountain Canoe School teach courses every year. The Town of Canmore offers a river paddling course that has been running for 37 years. River paddling is not rocket science, nor does it require vast knowledge or strength to do safely.
Paddling the Bow is great. Please get a bit of information and practice in your chosen watercraft before you tackle the Bow. Please pass these suggestions along. Maybe we can prevent a needless death.
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