Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ridin' the Rapids

This is an ongoing series recapping my 2008 trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Day three of our Banff National Park vacation, I'd scheduled a whitewater rafting trip down the Kicking Horse River.  Having never rafted before, Roger and I were excited....and a wee bit apprehensive.

There was no way I was gonna risk damaging my expensive photography equipment by taking it onboard, so I purchased a disposable waterproof camera for the occasion (GoPros weren't widely used yet in 2008).  So if the photos in this post look a little hazy, that's why.  (Well.....and the camera got splashed multiple times.)  Sorry the images aren't up to my usual standards, but the story is too good not to share.

Ready to run the river!

There was lots of outfitters in the area offering rafting tours, and prior to our trip I'd researched them all.  So how did I finally decide?  Did I pick the company with the best safety record, experienced guides, or best price?  I let my stomach do the talking, and chose the one offering a free BBQ lunch.

So as Roger and I, and the other customers chowed down on a delicious spread of steak and ribs, our guides proceeded to scare the bejesus out of us with their safety instructions.  "The river is still very cold.......the water is extremely fast could fall out and hit a rock......the waves are unpredictable......we're going to be going through some Class IV rapids, which are very dangerous.... this is what you do if you fall out......"  I was nervous before, and this wasn't helping.  What was I getting myself into?

Roger gets his first splashing

After our safety talk, everyone was outfitted with protective gear.  Wet suit, fleece pullover, waterproof jacket, helmet and life jacket.  Even in late July, the glacially-fed Kicking Horse River was ice cold.  Our guides didn't want anyone getting hypothermia.

Then we split into groups - eight people to a raft, a grand total of four rafts.  Our guide was a lanky young man named Pierre.  Right away, I knew we'd chosen the best guy.  Pierre started out telling jokes, and didn't stop the entire time, inserting instructions in between his gut-splitting one-liners.

The scenery was outstanding

After everyone found a seat on the raft, we pushed off, and began slowly drifting down a slow-moving portion of the Kicking Horse River.  A perfect place to get us neophytes oriented, Pierre took the opportunity to give everyone a quick lesson on paddling.  We each had an oar, and Pierre expected us to use it.  He instructed "When I say paddle, you must paddle!"

Pierre, our guide, was a total riot

Downstream, the placid river suddenly gave way to roaring rapids.  My stomach began flip-flopping.  Pierre shouted "Paddle now!"  All eight of us clumsily thrust our oars into the water, trying not to hit each other.  A wave washed over the raft's bow, completely dousing Roger (who'd actually chosen to sit in the very front).  Strong currents rocked our small watercraft, as we bumped through a gauntlet of huge rocks.  It felt like a wild carnival ride.  I prayed I wouldn't fall in.

Pulling out the rafts at halfway

And then just as quickly as we entered the rapids, the river suddenly widened out again, and slowed into a gentle current.  Whew!  I'd made it through!  And, hey, what a wild rush of fun!

First set of rapids now behind us, it was practical joke time.  Another raft glided alongside ours, it's guide attempting to pull a lady overboard.  Everyone retaliated by splashing him with their oars.  Pierre, wanting to even the score, caught up to the same raft, and quickly grabbed the nearest occupant's life jacket.  A very surprised man hit the water, making a huge splash.  Pierre mischievously flashed his fellow guide what he called the "Kootenay Salute," which consisted of (ahem) extending one's middle finger.

Loading the rafts, we drove around some impassible rapids

Past the slow current, our craft bumped through another patch of whitewater.  This time my raft-mates and I were ready.  Paddles in  hand, we navigated through with lots of splashing and gleeful whoops.  Waves washed over the side, soaking everyone.  This was a total blast!  Pierre told us we'd just run through some Class II and III rapids.  This wasn't bad at all - piece of cake!

We floated through another patch of calm water.  By now, my fingers had released their death grip on my oar, and I was relaxed enough to look around and enjoy the spectacular scenery lining the Kicking Horse River.  But not for long.  Another set of rapids awaited.  And another.  But, with each one, I became more confident, and started to really enjoy myself.

All aboard the "Cool Bus"

Around another bend, and it was time to take the rafts out.  Pierre said downstream lurked a stretch of very dangerous rapids that were nearly impassable.  For two of the rafts, this was the end of their trip.  But Roger and I had paid for the longer journey, so we, and some of the other customers, boarded a school bus (with the "s" and "h" removed from the back, it became the "cool bus") which transported rafts and riders around the bad section of the river.

Everyone in our raft had signed up for the extended tour, so once past the rough spot, we all piled back in, with Pierre again at the helm.  He warned that in in this next stretch of river we'd be going through some Class IV rapids.  When he hollered "hold on," we needed to pay attention and do just that.  Gulp!

I'm happy to have survived a Class IV rapid

The current began to flow faster.  Our raft gained more and more speed.  Pierre yelled for us to paddle.  All of us dug our oars in the water, and stroked furiously.  My side of the raft got caught in a strong current which quickly drug it towards a sheer rock wall.  Pierre shouted "pull in your oars - NOW!"  I hastily retracted my oar mere seconds before we slammed into the rock.

Uh-oh....our raft was now pinned against the rocky bank, with rapids streaming all around.  But Pierre, who'd obviously been in this predicament before, calmly used his oar to push off, and in no time, we were again shooting through the narrow canyon.  Our boat bounced off of huge rocks like a ping-pong ball.  Waves of water hit us from all sides.  Fearing I'd be bucked overboard into the roiling river, I held on for dear life.

Our raft shooting through whitewater

And then, it was over.  We drifted into a calm backwater.  I'd survived the rough ride! know....although scary at the time, it was kind of fun.  Pierre pointed towards the shore, and told us to smile.  Stationed on the riverbank was a rafting company employee, snapping our picture.  Proof that we'd conquered the mighty Kicking Horse.

As our raft bumped over a small set of whitewater, Pierre invited us to jump into the river, and let the current carry our bodies over the drop.  Although most of the folks in our group decided to try it, I wasn't quite ready to leave this nice, secure boat.  I'd done good just getting through the rapids, thank you very much!  We floated ahead of the body surfers, and picked them all up.  Everyone who opted for the river ride said it was very peaceful.  Hmmm.......maybe next time.

Drenched but totally stoked

Soon, way too soon, we approached the designated take-out spot, and just like that, our first whitewater rafting trip was history.  Exhilarated, Roger and I both agreed it had been an absolute blast.  Although apprehensive at first, we'd faced our fears, and came away with a memorable experience. And, thanks to Pierre, we now had a new repertoire of jokes to try out on our friends.

I've got a couple more Banff trips to share with you all, so please stop by again!


  1. We have this here in Quebec but I have never done it. I love the water and this is something I would enjoy. Your photos are lovely, Linda.

  2. Looks like exhilarating fun, something I'd love to do.
    Wonderful post!

  3. What a great report on your rafting adventure.. Sounds exciting thrilling and sometimes scary... My hubby used to be a rafting guide in his younger years.. So , he would enjoy this trip you went on... Great photos, thanks for sharing the story..

  4. Looks great! I don't live in the best part of the world for this kind of adventure - but H (my son) wants to have a go, so I think I'll have to do some research!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  5. What fun! This is quite an adventure And your photos are great. Good idea to get a disposable waterproof camera. I would have done the same!

  6. Oh, this was really fun! Well written, I could feel your fear and exhilaration all at once! Thanks for bringing me along at least virtually. :-)

  7. You are much braver than I am! But it might have been worth it just to spend time with your guide Pierre.

  8. Thanks for sharing your adventure....not for me!

  9. Quite an adventure! The snaps with the disposable camera have not come out too bad at all.

  10. Some day I will get back to Banff. It has been decades, but I remember how breath-taking it was. Have you been rafting in OR?

  11. Years ago I went on trip with daughter's Girl Scout and wet! Tom The Backroads Traveller

  12. Oh you are adventerous. I won a free rafting trip once down the Wenatchee River but chickened out. I can't swim and just the thought of falling out of the raft was enough to scare me into not going. - Glad you had fun and survived.

  13. What fun! Class IV rapids on your first trip is quite ambitious.

  14. Wow, that scenery is so beautiful! I have never been white water rafting but it definitely looks like a thrill. I don't know if I'd be brave enough to try it though!

  15. Oh what a ride! Lol! Sounds like a blast! I have done a couple of river trips with hubby and friends, but not any big rapids. And as far as choosing, I too would have went for the food!

  16. Looks fun and exhilarating! I have to say though, I'd be scared to bring my camera!

  17. So much fun and excitement!!! (and barbecue is always a bonus! Ha!!)
    I love people like Pierre who are so memorable.
    You guys definitely belong on the COOL BUS. This was awesome. :)

  18. Wow, Linda... what a wild ride! It's one thing I've never attempted, but I sure admire anyone who sets aside their fear and just goes. All that gorgeous scenery you saw from the raft, that you would never have seen. That alone must make it worthwhile... but I can see by your huge smile that you had fun, too!

  19. What a ride! If I were younger I might try it....the kayak is about as crazy as we get up here:)

  20. 27 years ago I rafted the Tully River in North Queensland and loved it. I've always wanted to go again, but the opportunity didn't arise. Now I can't because of bad osteoporosis. Lovely to relive it through your experience.

  21. Hmmmmm not sure if I would but I'm glad you did. :>)

  22. Wow, this is NOT something I would do at all. You two are brave! I love how you tell this story. I was riveted from start to finish. I know you'd love to get back out there and write about current adventures, but I'm thoroughly enjoying your posts from older trips.

  23. Wow, what an experience! I'm not sure I would be up for it.

  24. Fun story, we did a guided trip in Moab at the low water time of year that was no more dangerous than rafting in a whirlpool tub. But, it was an intro into it for me and I plan to try on some real rapids at some point. Good to hear those who haven't done it can get through it.


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