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? Uh...no. 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 ......you 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! And....you 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!