May 30, 2015 Bow River

Day 1 of 2

A last-minute decision found me taking Friday afternoon off work and rapidly scrambling to pack for a one-night family paddling trip on the Bow River. Not being in the habit of packing for overnight trips, this took longer than I expected. The first and last overnight paddling trip I had fully organized as an adult was in 2009. Plus this would be the first overnight trip with the kids. I spent considerable time deciding what to pack or not pack and finding the gear from various storage locations.

The packing went to late evening, including grocery shopping and other house chores and errands. I wondered a few times if it was worth all the effort for a one-night trip. But I figured one night is a good introduction for a family trip. It’s important that initial trips are a positive experience, or else the kids could declare mutiny before they have a chance to experience the fun times. One night of poor weather could more easily be endured than one week.

Speaking of which, I was looking at a poor weather forecast for the weekend including cool weather and rain, in addition to high flows on the river. A flow of around 80 m3/s is ideal for a relaxing family paddle; however, the flow was climbing into the range of 200 m3/s, higher than I would have liked for a family trip. I decided to see how it looked in the morning.

On Saturday morning around 11 a.m. I met up with Ed*, a member of the local canoe club, at a take-out point halfway along the trip. I left my vehicle there so we could head home Saturday evening if the weather was poor. So far it was cloudy and cool, but no rain. If the weather was good, we’d re-shuttle the car to the next take-out point on Sunday morning.

Sarah had to work on Saturday, so I planned to paddle tandem with Ed and the kids in his boat. But on the way to the meeting place she texted me that her work was cancelled. Ed and I decided there was time to pick up Sarah so she could join us. He would paddle his boat solo instead, a first for him in that boat.

We picked up Sarah, packed our boat and met Tom, another club member, at the put-in at Fish Creek. The extra sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothes, jackets and sweaters for the kids took more room than I expected, so packing the canoe with room for the kids to sit took some organizational effort. The kids sat on spare life jackets between the gear, with toys and snacks close by.

The river looked fast and choppy at 220 m3/s, and somewhat foreboding in the grey weather. But I had been on the river at this flow before and knew what to expect. Several rafts launched while we loaded.

We launched around 1 p.m. and found the water level was manageable – we avoided the waves at the largest parts of the rapids and Sarah stayed mostly dry. No bailing was required. We had about 20 cm freeboard with the fully loaded boat. Although cloudy, the high was +18 C.

The youngest reminded us with occasional complaining and tantrums that she has a hard time sitting for extended periods. At times I wished we had waterproof DVD players to keep the kids entertained. We took a snack break on shore at Policeman’s Flats, after passing through some of the largest wave trains of the trip. I packed empty yogurt containers for the kids to collect rocks for throwing into the water from the canoe, so this kept them busy at break time.

A tricky thing we discovered at this water level was the lack of eddies to stop and get on shore. The few eddies we could find were relatively benign to maneuver in and out of, although tricky because they were often very small.

One of the highlights was passing a flock of Arctic Terns and swallows. There were several high earthen and sandstone cliffs along the route as well as low-lying shorelines with large poplar trees.

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We took a second break at the confluence of the Bow and Highwood Rivers.

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Shoreline of the Highwood River

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We arrived at our island campsite around 5 to 5:30 p.m. The kids helped unpack and set up the tent.

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While preparing supper, the sky cleared and sunshine prevailed for the remainder of the trip. I discovered I’d forgot to pack the supper food I’d rushed out to buy yesterday. Fortunately Tom had packed extra food and lent us some instant noodles, sliced carrots and onions for soup.

I packed the old Coleman Peak stove from a garage sale in a coffee tin to help contain the liquid fuel that usually leaks out, but the lid cracked and some of the liquid fuel still managed to leak out. I plan to upgrade to avoid this mess in the future.

After supper the kids engrossed themselves playing with the rocks, driftwood and sand. The oldest even managed to spell out the word “love” using rocks shaped vaguely like letters. They had so much fun they didn’t bother to play with the dinosaur toys they’d packed.

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The luxurious, sunny, windless evening made the frantic packing worthwhile. I realized the outdoor evening relaxation and fun is something we miss on day trips.  There were small swarms of mosquitoes but they didn’t bother us.

Ed brought marshmallows for everyone to roast. I went for an evening hike with the kids to find frogs, instead we came across a hawk protecting a nest, which we steered clear of. The oldest and I hiked a short way up a well-worn animal trail into the forest where she saw a frog after all.

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There was flood debris scattered on the island and shoreline, mostly large entanglements of trees but also a few man-made objects including a BBQ propane tank, large metal disposal bin, tires, bicycle, etc.

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Flood debris along the shoreline

We were treated to a grandiose sunset and bats skitting around our site at dusk.

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I lay with the kids in the tent while Sarah visited with the others at the campfire and eventually joined us.

As per usual with sleeping in a tent, I was awake periodically through the night, being up perhaps one third of the night. The eye patch and ear plugs did help. I woke up around 3 a.m. to add an extra layer, the temperature being around +10 C. I wore thin layers and a toque in the -7 C rated MEC base model synthetic fill sleeping bag.

* Actual names not used.

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