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Camping with a canoe #2: Rocky Mountain House to Drayton Valley

Canoeing and Camping from Rocky Mountain House-Drayton Valley, AB
August 31-September 2/2013

I previously posted about my first canoe trip as an independent adult, during July, on Maligne Lake.  When that trip finished, I thought that would be my last trip for the year, although I hoped to explore the canoe circuit in the Lac la Biche area.  Luckily, members of the Ceyana Canoe Club organized a river trip for the September long weekend.  Although I prefer lake canoeing to river canoeing, I decided to give this a try, because I knew that there would be experienced paddlers in the group.  I wasn’t too sure if I would have a paddling partner or not, but I made a commitment to join the trip, and to bring my canoe and camping gear.

On Friday, some of us drove to Rocky Mountain House to camp for the night.  Other group members left home early on Saturday morning to meet and get organized in Rocky Mountain House.  We all took our canoes to the launch area, and some members of the group stayed there.  If we had cars, we drove to Drayton Valley, an hour away on Highway 22.  Once we got there, we parked near the Willey West campground.  A minivan cab arrived, and another family had a van they were driving back to Rocky Mountain House.  Finally, we were all reassembled, along with our canoes, in Rocky.  After a bit of discussion, we set out, with instructions to always stay within sight of each other.

The first day was full of adventure.  First, one group member in a kayak kept filling up with water.  He couldn’t understand where the water was coming from, and it got a lot of his items wet.  Next, a pair of canoers got stuck in a tree that was up against some rocks.  It took a long time to free their canoe from the place where it was stuck.  Some of the paddlers brought saws for firewood, and they came in handy.  Finally, my partner and I had our canoe fill with water in some rather large rapids.  It was a little bit scary, but we were able to hang onto the canoe, and get to shore.  Amazingly, everything we brought stayed in the canoe, and almost everything (except for my camera) stayed dry!  It didn’t take too long to empty the water in the canoe, and to tie everything back in.  My canoe isn’t made for river paddling, and it was really overloaded, so the other paddlers took a lot of our heavier gear in their boats.  We paddled about 40 kilometres on that first day, and we were quite tired by the time that we stopped for the night.  Everybody set up their tents and cooked a hearty supper.  Sleeping was pretty easy to do!

Sunday morning, we woke up to find our whole campsite surrounded by fog.  It was eerie to know that we were surrounded by tents, when we could hardly see them.  My little woodstove didn’t light, because all of the wood, and even my matches were quite damp.  Fortunately, another camper shared their stove with me.  Day 2 was our longest paddling day, close to 60 kilometres.  By the end of the day, everyone was anxious to get off the water and to get rest and food.  There was a dessert potluck, but I didn’t stay awake to indulge.  It was another terrific sleep!

The next morning was bright and clear, and our group began to get much better organized.  It was another 40K day of paddling, and we were all anxious to get off the water before it was too late in the day.  Everyone communicated well, and made it safely through the rapids.  The rapid began to feel more like fun, and they became less frightening.  I was able to paddle with the daughters of one of the longtime club members, and they were very experienced and helpful.  All through our trip, the weather was just fantastic, with bright blue, clear skies.  We rarely saw other people along our way, but we did see bald eagles.  We had time for a longer lunch break, and paddlers began to splash each other and to really have a lot of fun.  When we saw the bridge at Drayton Valley up ahead, it was kind of sad to think that our time in nature was drawing to a close.  It was around 4 pm, and it didn’t take too long to reload our cars and get on the road.  Most of the group met up for a burger supper at Jack’s in Spruce Grove on our way home.

Our group had 12 boats and over 20 people, which worked out very well, especially when there were problems.  With so many helpers, everything was taken care of in a hurry.  I really feel lucky to have been able to take 2 big canoe trips this summer, especially after so many years away from the water.  If you have the chance to take a trip like this, I really encourage you to take the opportunity.

Group on the river