Bow River Valley – exit

Gravel bar & cut tree

As I stood on the gravel bar I realized I could use the tree that was lying across part of the river at the south end. I had to wade into the river to reach the tree but the water was only about a foot deep.  I saw the possibility of crawling on the tree to the west shore but many branches were blocking my way. I soon got my axe from the nose of the canoe, were it had been safely wedged in and survived the roll over.

I started to cut the branches off and then noticed that with each branch I removed the tree started to lift itself out of the water.  It was then then I decided to cut off the top ten feet of the tree that was heavy with branches. Once the top weight was gone the tree rose about a foot above the surface of the rushing current.

In the photo above, looking south, the gravel bar is in the lower left hand corner of the picture. The top of the tree is lying in the water at the south end of the gravel bar. The main part of the tree is obvious from the cut off end, and lacking most of the braches on the top side.  In retrospect, if  I had not made it to the gravel bar, the current would have swept me into the tangled web of half sunken trees on the right and I may not have survived.

Once my bridge to the shore was ready, I attached a long rope to the canoe which I moved across the reef to the west side.  While canoeing I wear leather canoe shoes. I had removed them while wading on the reef but once I got to solid land I would need my boots to travel. The boots had been wrapped in the tent and survived in a dry condition so I hung then around my neck to cross the tree bridge.

Once across the rushing current I soon had my boots on and then walked upstream and pulled the canoe across so it was clear of trees and branches.  With the canoe and all my gear safely on shore I decided that I needed to find my paddles, which had obviously been swept down stream.

Canoe in backwater #26

As I walked along the bank of the river I watched carefully for the paddles and hoped they might have snagged somewhere on the river bank. Eventually I managed to  find and recover one on the near shore.  Paddle in hand I continued walking and as I came around and bend in the river, I looked ahead and saw a huge log jam blocking the river.

The logs blocked the entire river from side to side and were piled at least ten feet above the surface of the river. Many were sticking up in the air at all angles. All the logs were larger than a telephone pole. The end were sawed off so at some time loggers cut the trees and sent them down the river, no doubt to the town of Banff.  Obviously a log jam occurred and these hundred or more trees piled up to block the river.

I spent about half an hour inspecting this tangled mess.  All the water was rushing under the logs and came out about thirty feet downstream in a white mass of boiling water. Had I not dumped my canoe when I did I would have come around the corner with almost no chance to paddle to the shore.  The canoe and I would at best been crushed against the log jam, and unable to get free.  At worse we would have been swept under the dam and pinned. We would have simply disappeared, never to be found.

It was at this time I felt much better about having dumped my canoe. I had no trouble convincing my self the canoe trip had ended, as I could see nothing but more uprooted trees all along the route past the log jam.

The next task was to recover my canoe and camping equipment. My only option left was to climb the mountain side up to the highway.  I left all my gear and struggled up to the highway and then hiked about ten miles into town.  After a hot supper and a good night sleep I returned to where I had left the canoe.

Canoe from high above #28

This the view of the canoe from half way up the mountain slope, sitting in a quiet backwater, far removed from the rapids.  Once down with the canoe I used the long rope that was tied to the nose. I ran the upper half of the rope around a tree up the slope.

When I walked back down to the canoe I dragged it up hill and at the same time pulled on the rope, which also prevented the canoe sliding back down the 45 degree mountain side. Once the canoe was up to the first tree I repeated the rope trick with another higher tree. It was slow going because the canoe contained all the tent and equipment.

After a couple of hours the canoe was up on the highway and soon tied to the roof of the car.

When ever I was asked about this canoe trip I rarely gave all the details. But as the years went by I could not help but think of things that happened that should have caused me to quit or give up.  Some might have quit when the canoe got stuck on the rock in the first five minutes. I had waited too long to canoe this river and I was determined to try.  It was certainly the adventure of a lifetime and gives me much pleasure when I think about it.

Canoe on the mountain #29

This is the last photo taken when the canoe was about half way up the mountain.  I managed to get three or four more years of  use out of the damaged canoe, before I had to cremate it.   In all, I wore out three canoes in my lifetime.

Bow River Valley – Part 3 upset.

morning on tkhe bow river

I got off to an early start the next morning.  After a hearty breakfast, I soon had the tent down and all the gear packed and ready to go.  First I had to work my way back to the main river from the creek where I had camped. This is wilderness camping at its best. I had the whole river to myself.

Once back on the river the miles of mountain scenery began to slide by endlessly.  River, woods, and mountains, similar but never the same.

As the hours past, the river continued to wind and twist and as the curves got sharper it was very difficult to see what lay just ahead. The current at the bend of a river has a tendency to slow down on the inside and drop gravel, so it is shallow water.  On the outside of the curve the water speeds up to go the longer distance, eats away at the river bank which results in deeper water. The fast water undercuts the bank and caused pine trees to topple into the river, but still anchored on the shore.  These tree can hang just over the water surface and interfere with anything or anyone passing by. Staying in the middle of the river on normal curves is the best method.

Bow river sweepers #18

Eventually I reached an “S” curve in the river by entering a right hand curve.  At the same time I could see a number of evergreens hanging over or in the water on my right side. This  is a photo I took the next day.  We are looking down stream and a large gravel bar is on the left hand side of the river.

As I came around the bend in the middle of the river I tried to aim for the gravel bar where the water was slower, but the current swept me to the fast water on the right side. In my effort to go left, the current swung the back end of the canoe around to my right so I started to go down river sideways. It was at this moment I noticed a pine tree hanging right across my path as it leaned out from the right hand bank with the trunk about eight inches about the river surface. Only the tip of the tree was in the water.

I was paddling so hard I was afraid I was going to snap my paddle in half. I realized I was at the point of no return and I was going to hit the tree with the right side of the canoe. To prevent the side of the canoe from going under the tree and leaving me in the water, I leaned to my left and let the entire right side of the canoe take the blow.

The tree was big enough and firmly rooted to the shore so it easily stopped the canoe. The water on my left surged up, filled the canoe in seconds, causing it to sink and roll under the tree with me inside. I got out of the canoe and as I surfaced I saw a second pine tree waiting for me a short distance away. I followed the canoe and  I ducked under the second tree, pushed by the fast current, and came back up on the other side.

The canoe was upside down and pointed downstream. As I started swimming after the canoe, I noticed my hat bobbing in the water near by.  I reached over, grabbed the hat and put it back on my head.  It seemed the sensible thing to do at that time.

When I caught up to the canoe I grabbed onto the back end and rolled it up right in the water. The sides of the canoe were just showing on the surface of the river. Looking ahead I could see a large gravel bar in the middle of the river and managed to steer the canoe towards it. I crawled up onto the gravel and then dragged the canoe up high enough so it would not be swept away.

Two sweeper trees. #21

This photo was taken the next day, from the gravel bar, looking back upstream and the river bend I came around. The two small evergreen trees in the middle of the photo on the right hand side mark the river and current that swept me around the bend. The two trees in the foreground are the two that my canoe and I rolled under. As I stood up on the gravel bar it was at this moment the shock of the ice cold water hit me. I stood in the middle of the river shivering with the cold and the shock of the mishap. I am a good swimmer so I never felt concerned at any time.

My hands were stiff as I awkwardly removed my shirt and pants.  Once I had rung out most of the water I put them both back on. Still shivering, tipped the canoe and drained out the water. When I checked out the contents of the canoe and found I had lost both paddles, but everything else was still securely packed. I dug out the camera from the packsack and saw that it was still there but rather damp. I rewound the film back into the cassette then drained the water out of the camera.

Gravel Bar #23

This photo was also taken the next day from the river bank, looking upstream  and shows the gravel bar in the left side of the shot.  The tree in the foreground was still anchored  on the bank but lay just over the surface of the water and the top reached over the gravel bar.

The water was rushing past on each side of the gravel bar so fast, any attempt to swim ashore would have quickly swept me down the river and out of sight. Since I had lost both paddles I could not use the canoe. I was stuck on a gravel bar in the middle of a swift river and I needed to get ashore to dry land. I now had a new problem.

 

Bow River Valley – Part 2 of 3

Bow river #14

Once I was back in the river I started to relax and enjoy the scenery and the wilderness of the area. A highway runs on either side of  the valley but hundreds of feet higher than the river and some distance away and out of sight.

During my journey I saw only one other person.  He was a trout fisherman standing hip deep in his waders in a rapids.  He was facing down stream and had just cast his line.  He did not see or hear me because of the noise the rapids made.  Because of the rocks in the rapids I was forced to stay in the deeper water near where he was fishing. As my canoe and I flashed passed him. I yelled a friendly “Good morning!” and left him standing, frightened, mouth hung open and a shocked look on his face. He was fully awake when I left him.

After about fifteen miles the river starts to narrow and deepen. The water slows down a little and the river begins to wander back and forth from side to side in the valley. The river bends make it difficult to see what lies ahead. This river wilderness has been unchanged for many hundreds of years.

Bow river camping #9

At this point I decided to set up  camp. The river has the occasional small creek leading into it from the valleys on either side. The spring run off was done so water leading into the main river had ceased.  This allowed me to paddle away from the current and set up camp in an ideal quiet spot. I soon had my tent up and the gear in place. After supper I took a few more camp photos then sat and relaxed.

Bow river camping (#12)

Sadly the dunking the camera later got ruined many photos, caused scratches and messed up the emulsion. However considering this was taken over fifty years ago, in now looks like an old photo.

distant camp

Just before jumping in the sleeping bag I paddled off into the distance to take this photo of my tent camp, almost hidden in a backwater creek. The smoke from the campfire is drifting off into the woods as I contemplate what lies ahead of me tomorrow.

 

Bow River, Banff Alberta – Part 1

 

Bow River #2

Photos were water damaged from the camera being in the river.

When I lived in the mountains of Banff, Alberta I was drawn to the river and vowed someday I would make a canoe trip from Lake Louise, to Banff, a distance of about forty miles down stream. The Bow River is fed by melt water flowing from the mountains and glaciers, all along both sides of the valley.

The opportunity came in August of 1961 when I was 26 years old. I had been planning it for a couple of years and finally bought a new Cedar strip canvass covered canoe. When the day arrived I was committed, no matter how the weather turned out, as my window of opportunity only gave me three days. I started out in Winnipeg and drove a thousand miles with the canoe strapped to the roof. I was venturing off on my own and had camping gear and equipment in order to stay out overnight in the valley.

Bow river #5

This is a typical view as the river flows down the valley with spectcular steep mountains on both sides and a never ending thick green woods on the banks of the river. it is a beautiful but lonely place.

Early one morning I put my canoe in the river near Lake Louise and headed down stream for Banff. My first challenge was to pass under a new bridge that crossed the Bow River. A lot of blasting had been done to construct the footings for the bridge and most of that rock had been pushed back as fill.

The river starts out wide, swift and shallow. The current is too fast to paddle against so the run down the river is exhilarating.  The swift current limits the work with the paddle to steering, and in particular to avoiding rocks and dead trees.

Bow river #6

As I passed under the bridge, between a bridge support and the shore I immediately became hung up on a rock. I tried to use the paddle to lift the canoe up and off but the rock was steep on all sides, leaving deep water all around.  After the ordeal was over I briefly saw the pointed rock sitting about a foot below the water line.

As I bounced the canoe and tried to slip free I heard the sickening sound of canoe ribs breaking. My desperate movements were causing the rock point to first break a rib, then puncture the canvass and cedar between the ribs. Because of the camping gear and supplies in the canoe bottom I was unable to see how bad the damage was.  I had not yet noticed any water in the canoe so I assumed the canvass itself had not yet punctured.

Here I was five minutes into my trip and I was hung up on a rock and causing serious damage to the canoe.  I eventually just sat there, paddle in hand, and watched the current racing by while listening to the odd car passing overhead on the bridge.

In the end my only options was to bounce the canoe violently up and down and move off the rock enough that the canoe finally slid off and raced off down the stream.  My concern for the extent of the damage was primarily focused on how badly the canoe was leaking.

Bow river rapids #1

I was also distracted by a rapidly approaching rapids and uprooted pine trees lying about. Once I was in calmer and less dangerous waters I ran the canoe ashore, unloaded the gear and inspected the bottom of the canoe. A total of five ribs had been cracked and in the space between the ribs the floor was puncture in four places. Turning the canoe over showed serious scrape marks in the canvas but no actual hole.

I had come too far to make this trip so I decided the canoe was still strong enough to continue but I would have to stay off the rocks. I pushed off shore and went on.