A local guide takes you to the River Wild...
The sun hits your face, beating down unrelentingly, it’s hot. But as soon as this feeling becomes unbearable, the cool, crisp water below your boat rises up as if by magic and soaks your whole body. You hear a cry to keep paddling and suddenly you feel the sensation. Bam. Another wave hits. You shift slightly to regain your foothold and put all your energy into the paddle strokes to push through what seems like an endless amount of white water. Then there is a calm, you take a deep breath as you revel in the accomplishment of making it through another set of rapids. You and your companions celebrate the moment with laughs and high fives, another job well done. This is whitewater rafting on the Elk River.
If you have been down the river you know these emotions. Joy. Thrills. A sense of accomplishment. Taking in the spectacular scenery. Each comer and bend of the Lower Elk River offers new adventures and places to test your endurance. This 16km stretch of whitewater is beautiful and majestic, as well as mighty and fierce. I know this river very well, as well as I know a can of Kootenay. But as I sit in the back of the raft, waiting to guide another set of excited and nervous clients down the river, I know that this trip, like every trip before it, will be different. As the saying goes 'No man (well in this case woman) ever steps in the same river twice'. Each excursion down the river is unique and beautiful in its own way.
Only a couple kilometers downstream of the Elko dam, the day's rafters unload the bus high above the river. After gearing up in wetsuits and bright orange life jackets, they make their way down the long staircase leading to the river. We go through paddling techniques and safety procedures. I can see the looks of excitement - in a few minutes we will be hitting the water. The river is an elegant and powerful force, predictable but always changing. As soon as the boat hits the current the delicate dance begins. The guide and crew's relationship on the river is crucial; there needs to be a foundation of trust. Together we need each other to perform this elaborate show.
The first set of rapids are within view only seconds after getting on the water. I make the call and tell the crew the commands. Some are hesitant, their bodies freeze as they take it all in, but soon they remember their training and put their nervous energy into the paddle strokes. We push and splash through a rapid called “squirrel nuts” and the cheers and yelps of joy that can be heard throughout the valley are wonderful and rewarding. We quickly re-group and smash through the next set of rapids, then another, triumphant once again.
We reach the on-river lunch spot and settle the boats on shore before enjoying a delicious and well-deserved lunch of self-serve sandwichs, fruit and treats at the camp kitchen. Nearby, the icy waters of the Wigwam River hit the warmer flow of the Elk and we plunge our hands in to test the temperature. Beside the Wigwam, the water of the Elk feels tropical. Eagles soar overhead and if we're lucky, we'll spot mountain goats or deer passing through to nearby mountain meadows.
We hit the water again to take on The Canyon, a true test of our tenacity. The crew is now a well-oiled machine; I know their strengths and weaknesses and they start to anticipate my commands. As we enter the steeply walled canyon, the waves and boils of the class IV rapid push our boat in all different directions. I project my voice over the roar of the rapids and together as a team we dig our paddles deep into the water and plough through the white wall in front of us. The raft almost comes to a stop as we hit the hard "meat" of the Horizon Line wave. The wave is tough but we are tougher. We push against the force and emerge on the other side. Some make it through on the raft; others take a cold plunge into the river only to get swooped up moments later by one of our crew members on another passing raft. The adrenalin takes over; the mood is electric as it resonates throughout the canyon. Another exceptional and adrenaline-charged trip down the river. We follow this with cliff jumping, bull riding on the prow of the raft, and a float-swim in the gentle stretch of rapids before we reach the mouth of the river.
As the trip finishes the crew is tired but still on a high from the day. The stories and memories gained today will be shared with friends and family back home, and again, years later when they re-live the time when they rafted the beautiful and mighty Elk River.
Local Swiftwater Expert
Whitewater rafting on the Elk River is available with Mountain High River Adventures and Canyon Raft Company from June until September, depending on water levels.
Bookings are welcome from groups, families, singles. Non-swimmers and older kids are welcome.
Trips include transportation from Fernie, lunch, wetsuits and all safety gear.