Paddling Down the North Saskatchewan

As the 'London Years' were drawing to a close, after four years of homesickness (well, actually, only the last 1.5 years were plagued with constant homesickness), I vowed to do two things after returning to Canada - try curling and go canoeing.

I took up curling two months after I moved home, and today, two years later, I finally got to go canoeing.

Sort of.

A friend and I went on a day trip with Edmonton Canoe today, and paddled down the North Saskatchewan River. First off, conditions were not ideal, but we booked three weeks ago and had to go. It was about 15 degrees, so not cold per say, but windy. We parked the car at Emily Murphy Park in Edmonton's river valley at 9am, paid our $50 each and then boarded the bus out to Devon. Devon is a small town about 30km south west of Edmonton, so it didn't take too long. After arriving by the Devon highway bridge, and a short bathroom break, we got into our kayak and set off.

Yes, I said kayak. Apparently somehow we got booked into a kayak, while the rest of the daytrippers got canoes, except for one other pair in a kayak. It took us a bit to figure out how to go/stop/steer but we got it in the end. I'd never been in a kayak before, but hadn't been in a canoe since I was like 12 so there wasn't really a skill level difference or anything. It was an unguided trip, so we set out on our own to conquer the North Saskatchewan.

Here's a few pictures from the river:

That's me trying to dry my pants during lunch. I was wearing 2 layers on bottom and 5 on top. At least I wasn't cold!

The only shot we got of the river.

Who made this footprint? Time to get back on the river!

Me under the Anthony Henday freeway. We made it to Edmonton!! Notice how the wind is inflating my hood...

My view for 6 hrs. What you can't see is all the splashback from her paddle!

So. The trip down the North Saskatchewan River to Edmonton is about 40km and usually takes between 5-7 hours. However, today there was a wicked headwind on two large north flowing sections of the river (30-50km, whitecaps and everything - if we didn't paddle we went backwards, I reckon this was how it was probably half the trip), plus wind the whole way through. It was hard. Very hard. Way harder than I though. Plus we had no map, so we really had no idea where we were or how far we'd gone.

Did I mention paddling through a wicked headwind is really, really, really hard? Did I mention we are not in the best shape?

It was so hard.

After we crossed the Henday, we were a bit hopeful because at least we were in Edmonton. At 4pm, we suddenly saw someone waving on the side of the river. We yelled at her, and she said she was from the canoe company and did we want to get out?

Heck ya! I'm pretty sure I even told her I loved her.

And then she told us we were only half way. Yes, that's right, it took us 6 hrs to paddle half way. That's how long we were supposed to be on the river in total, and we only got half freakin' way. I checked it out - we paddled about 25km through a wicked wind for 6 hrs and only made it half way to Edmonton!!!
We hauled our kayak up the side of the river to where the canoe truck had parked at Terwillegar Dog Park. There were a couple other canoes from out group there, and over the next hour a dozen more arrived.

And that's when the stories started. One canoe tipped, stranding the family who had to be rescued by a fire truck, and the canoe got lost. Another canoe only got 30 minutes in before tipping and then returning to Devon. More than half of the other canoes tipped. One canoe got swept into the water by the wind while everyone was on lunch and they had to swim to get it back. Some people portaged or dragged their canoes part way. Only one canoe and the other kayak somehow made it all the way back to Emily Murphy Park (I think they had superhuman strength?!). This was only the second time this summer a trip was cut short. And my poor friend was freezing while sopping wet in the canoe truck.

It was kinda crazy.

In hindsight, the kayak was the best option. We had a back rest, and we figured it was more stable and easier to steer (after consulting with a couple other canoe-ers). However, I think the canoes went faster (but that might be because we're wimps) and the kayak definitely had a crap-ton of splashback water in it, while the canoes barely had any water at the botton. The kayak paddles, as opposed to canoe paddles, caused a lot of water to fly in my face off my friend's paddle, and since we were so low in the water, our paddling accumulated a lot of water in the kayak, which we had to sit in the whole way because it never came with a cover. We also weren't given a bail bucket like the canoes. BUT most of the canoes tipped, so really I doubt they were better off wet-wise. We were all wet and cold and exhausted.

We had to wait an hour for the van to come get us, and then it drove us back to the car, and we headed home.

I can't move my arms. And they hurt so much. 6hrs paddling in the wind!!! Seriously, what were we thinking. I am in so much pain right now. It feels like tiny goblins are nibbling at my biceps and wrists. I don't even want to think about how hurtin' I'll feel tomorrow. By then my back and neck will be throbbing in agony and the tiny goblins will have turned into fat trolls of terror.

But when (if) the pain wears off in a couple days I'll have nice muscles, and just in time for curling too! I'll be a good sweeper this year!

The trip really wasn't what I thought it would be. I was imagining an idilic leisurely paddle down the river. It was really challenging though, I'd put it way up there with climbing Mount Sinai. It was fun though, and a great accomplishment even if we only made it half way.

Would I go again? Of course. I still haven't fulfilled my canoeing dream. However, I would only go out for a shorter 2-4 hr paddle on calm waters. And since the scenery is similar to floating down the Pembina River, and that requires no arm effort or pre-booking in case of weather, I would rather float than paddle. But yes, I'd take a trip with Edmonton Canoe again Maybe next summer after I've forgotten what the pain feels like...


  1. Wow, the whole trip was supposed to be 30-50 km. That's some serious paddling. Congrats to get as far as you did, it was crazy-windy on Sunday.


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