A Prehistoric Paddle
Arrival at the summit leading down into Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, left me breathless, and that wasn’t because I climbed it on foot! I was looking over forty-seven square kilometres of sculptures carved out by glacier melt. Table top rocks balanced on slender columns, hoodoos formed fascinating castles. Curves melded, caves beckoned and chasms promised untold treasures. And I would paddle through this timeless terrain.
My paddling mates Barbara and Nadine arrived at our booked campsites ahead of my husband (who had volunteered to shuttle us) and me. They had their tents erected, and we all pitched in and got a tarp up and the table beneath, just as the skies opened and rain poured down through supper and most of the night. It didn’t stop us from enjoying a chicken stir fry cooked up by Nadine, and the fresh baked apple pie I’d made. We also enjoyed a rousing game of cards. I took the easy route and stayed with Den in a hotel in Brooks, a thirty minute drive from the park.
Early morning found us at the gravel and dirt boat launch in the park. The water wasn’t high and there was a steep bank formed by several sand and mud shelves. Packing kayaks is a slow and steady job, and three male kayakers arrived at the launch from upstream as we finished. They were most helpful in pushing us off our precarious perches.
The river was quiet, with little sign of surface current. We headed downstream to the northeast. Scenery was splendiferous, from trees made skeletal by the last flood, to sandstone carvings and mudstone flats.
We found the water level low, and many times over the two-day paddle found our kayaks in six inches of water, as we raced for more depth before getting hung up on a sandbar. Progress was side-to-side, as much as forward in places, as we aimed for the cut banks and the deeper, faster water.
A handy sandbar provided a place for lunch and a stretch. Then we paddled until looming clouds and the growl of thunder in the west warned us to get off the water. We settled for a sandbar stretching out from a sheltering bluff with enough Russian Willow trees to provide purchase for our tarp. Nadine, who is a tarp guru, had it up in minutes. We stashed our kitchen gear on a tarp under the shelter. Our tents provided bright splashes of color as the sky darkened and rain blasted us for several hours. I had a nice nap and woke to the smell of food cooking. Called to dinner under the tarp, we feasted on ham steak, new potatoes and squash.
By 9:30 pm the storm had moved off and a brilliant evening followed. While I enjoyed a quiet walk along the shoreline, Nadine and Barbara reported they took in the sunset bathing the monuments in gold and scarlet as late as 11:30 pm.
Barbara cooked a full breakfast of pancakes, ham, eggs and fruit. We don’t suffer for food on our trips – they’re all about the eating! We were packed and back on the water at 9:15 am and paddled for two hours. We were just about to land for a lunch break when another cloudburst set us scrabbling for the protection of a high bluff. Pulling up against it, we waited out the short spate of rain, not wanting the bother of putting on our spray skirts. At this point Nadine checked her maps and discovered we were just a few kilometres from the Jenner Bridge, where we would meet Den and pull out.
We arrived only to find our transport missing. This was not like my husband, who would normally be there hours earlier, parked and looking down the river for his first glimpse of us. When I questioned his absence, I learned Nadine and he had spoken of a small campground a kilometre further down river, where it would be much easier to take out. But—and here is the big mistake no experienced adventurer should make—not one of us locked in the final destination, or a plan B.
We decided to eat lunch under the bridge in hopes he was just late and would show up. While the cement embankment made for a comfortable picnic spot, the steep incline would make taking out almost impossible. We guessed Den had gone on to the campsite, but couldn’t move out in case he hadn’t. Our quandary was solved short minutes later, when the three male kayakers we’d met the day before, at the launch, paddled by. They agreed to tell Den we were at the bridge, and say we would wait there for him. In short order he appeared, and we locked in take out at the campground and paddled away.
Unloading three kayaks and loading them and all our equipment into the back of the truck was a good workout. We were happy to sit in air conditioned comfort as Den shuttled Barbara and Nadine back to their vehicle. At Dinosaur Park we decompressed, before we separated, by enjoying the parks famous ice cream. We had a lot to celebrate. Though black clouds brooded above us both days, we were sheltered from heavy rains, had quiet water, minimal wind, no bugs and mid twenty temperatures. Toasting our successful paddle with our favourite flavour mounded onto a crunchy cone was definitely a good choice.
How you cope with the conditions and changes determines the success of your adventure. Experiencing the inner workings of your paddling companions adds a deeper element to any trip. I am most fortunate to have two innovative, strong and courageous paddling companions, one bringing calm logic, the other eternal optimism to the mix.