I walk out the door to find a cool brisk Golden morning. Throwing my rafting gear in my truck I find myself heading out for another day on the river. Through the trees and around the bend I see an inversion over the town of Golden. The sun is shining above though so I know the clouds will break and we’ll have a beautiful day. As I pull into Alpine’s compound I see the other raft guides getting together.
Today we’ll have 10 rafts going down the river with 80 guests. The PFDs and the helmets are counted and put onto the buses as the rafts get prepared for transport. The rafts are pumped up and stacked onto two trailers. Once the rafts have been securely fastened it is time to head to the office. As we pull into the office we see that some of the guests have started to arrive. Smiles are seen as we circle around the parking lot. Stepping out of the truck I look down to see the town of Golden shining in the sun. The inversion has lifted and the mountains are towering over the town. We head into to the office to make sure the guests are checking in, check that the gear room is well stocked and grab the lunch food for our riverside BBQ. Two of the guides are left at the office to gear up the guests as myself, the other guides and our lunch staff hop into the trucks and head to the river. Driving up the Kicking Horse River valley is mesmerizing, either looking down the canyon into the river that we’ll shortly be rafting down or looking up at the Canadian Rocky Mountains surrounding the valley. With the music on we are all getting stoked for another day and then there it is, Chancellor Peak. Sitting at the put in of the rafting section is one of the tallest mountains in the entire Canadian Rockies known as Mount Chancellor. As I see that mountain I know that the day is truly about to begin. Off the highway and down a logging road we approach the put in. As the trucks stop it is time to get the rafts ready for the river. The rafts are unloaded one by one and placed in a line by the river. Each raft then has the air checked, 8 paddles loaded with one spare, an oar frame with two oars for the guide, a throwbag and the guide’s personal gear. After the rafts are set to go it is time to get changed. The Kicking Horse River is a glacier fed river, which means we need to wear the appropriate cold-water gear.
Neoprene socks, river shoes, wet-suit, board shorts, dry-top, helmet, PFD, throwbag and now I am ready. The rumbling of the bus soon fills the air. Another guide and myself head to the buses to escort the guests down to the river. One by one the guests hop off the bus in sheer excitement and start making there way to the rafts. With all the guests gathered by the raft the head guide starts talking about the dos and don’ts of white water rafting. After the safety talk the guests are split into groups of 8 and sent to their raft guide for the day. “Hello there folks! My name is Peter and welcome to the Kicking Horse River.”
Part 2 – Let’s Paddle
One of my favourite parts of being a white water raft guide is that every single day is different. Each day you are given a different crew. The crew may have been rafting tons of times in their lives or maybe have never been in any form of white water before. The crew may be full of families or could be a rip-roaring bachelor party.
The crew could be a group of Golden locals or a group on vacation from Germany. Each day the environment of the river is different. The weather is always changing rapidly in the mountains. As well the river level is always moving up or down and can even change throughout the day.
Today the sun is shining and the river level is sitting at a great level of 90 cubic meters per second. This water level means that the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse is open for commercial rafting. The crew is a mix of people. Four University students coming from Calgary, a couple locals from Golden and two travelers coming all the way from Australia. Before letting them in the raft I show them the different parts of the raft, how to sit and how to hold the paddle. I then ask if any of them have been rafting before and ask if they all know how to swim. I check each guest’s gear and then have him or her hop into the raft. Pushing off shore we are finally floating down the mighty Kicking Horse. Now it is time to paddle! “The most important part of white water rafting is paddling and that we are paddling together.
One raft equals one team!” The main commands are forwards, backwards and hold on. Obviously there are more to cover but we’ll leave that till you’re actually in the raft. Today I have a strong crew. Everybody is paddling in sync with one another and everybody is listening to me. For me the three golden rules of white water rafting are keep your feet UP while swimming, hold on to your paddle and ALWAYS listen to your guide. Everyone in my crew today is on the Kicking Horse Challenge, which means they’ll be rafting down all three sections of the river (the upper, middle and lower sections). “Ok folks, here is our first rapid of the day. If you’re not awake yet I’m sure you will be soon. Welcome to Alarm Clock. Let’s go forwards!!!” Big waves equal big smiles. The upper section starts off with nice big waves in Alarm Clock and then mellows out for a nice smooth float through Yoho national park. This smooth section of the river is perfect for practicing our paddling skills. After cruising 11 km of the river with great splashes and beautiful scenery we make it to our lunch spot. This is our chance for us to stretch our bodies, relax in the sun and eat a wonderful BBQ lunch on the side of the river all before we see the main rapids that this river has to offer.
Part 3 – The BIG Stuff
Lunch comes to an end and it’s time to get back on the river. Checking over everyone’s gear again we load up and push out onto the Kicking Horse. “Well folks, that entire morning was just the warm up. We now have the middle and lower sections to go. 22 km of awesomeness!” One of the best parts of this river is how continuous it is. We do not have large stagnant bodies of water between the rapids.
The river just keeps flowing with big continuous class 3 and class 4 rapids. With such continuous water it is important for us as guides to stick together and use each raft as safety for the other. I am always looking forward and staying close to the raft in front of me and always looking behind to make sure none of the other rafts are having troubles. Today we are the second raft in the line with 8 rafts behind us.
Practice practice practice. As we are approaching the first significant rapid of the middle known as the Cable Cart rapid I am making sure my crew knows each and every paddling command. We drop into the rapid and have some great splashes and then we see it, Hopi’s Hole! “Ok crew let’s go forwards, now hard forwards and HOLD ON and GET DOWN!” The raft picks up speed and crashes through the massive wave Hopi’s Hole. The entire crew including myself gets covered in water but we make it through. Looking behind I see the other red Alpine rafts one by one crash through Hopi’s as well. A great start to the middle section. The river now calms but I know just in a couple kilometers we will arrive at Portage Shotgun, an 800 m long class 4 rapid and the biggest rapid of the middle section. Paddling up to Portage Shotgun is exciting. The rapid starts of with a big water slide so all you see is a horizon line in the river and hear the thundering of the rapids below. With strong forward paddling and hold ons we manage through the rapid. “Well folks if you liked that just wait till the lower section where we have a 3 km long section of class 4 rapids through a canyon.” The rest of the middle section is very fast paced.
Almost non-stop continuous class 3 rapids with big waves, massive boulders and the mountains towering over you on either side of the river. Everyday thousands of people drive this stretch of the highway winding through the Kicking Horse Valley but most of them are to focused on where they are going instead of where they are.
Travelling by the flows of the river is a truly humbling and exciting experience. At times you really wish that the river would slow down just so you could stay there longer. The middle section comes to an end and now it’s time for the moment we’ve all been working towards, the Lower Canyon! “Ok crew. This is it! All day has been in preparation for these next 3 km. Listen well, paddle hard and let’s have some fun!” The lower canyon is one of the main reasons I work on the Kicking Horse. Big steep canyon walls on either side and some of the most technical white water that gets commercially rafted in all of Canada. Big waves and big cheers are had all the way through the canyon. After this I feel we all deserve a beer. Cheers folks and we’ll see you on the Kicking Horse again soon!