Jun. 06, 2012 - Issue #868: Hot Summer Guide
Water, water everywhere
The river offers urban mariners a chance at languid adventures
The City of Edmonton's river valley programs offer voyageur canoeing day trips, which program manager Karina Ma says are suitable for ages eight to 70 and last from 9 am to approximately 3:30 pm. The trips, which are $37 per person, launch from Laurier Park and wind down the river before concluding at Capilano Park.
"It's excellent for beginners because you have somebody there who knows the river and can guide through it; you just paddle forward and enjoy the scenery," Ma says, adding that her staff, who are certified canoe guides, are well versed in interpretive information regarding plants and wildlife in the area.
The emphasis of the voyageur program, which takes 12 people on each trip, is getting Edmontonians reacquainted with nature. Ma notes that being out on the river can often make you forget about being in an urban centre and instead focus on the scenery you don't get to take in every day during the hustle and bustle.
For those who prefer smaller groups, tandem canoes can be rented through Edmonton Canoes or Totem Outdoor Outfitters rather than the city, which Ma says is for legality reasons due to the higher skill level required. Ma adds that the most important thing to remember when canoeing in tandem is to keep the boat balanced in order to avoid capsizing. The pair needs to paddle on opposite sides at all times and the person in the back needs to remain aware of where they need to steer.
Another way to take part in a relaxing day on the river can be found thanks to the Pirates of the North Saskatchewan. Rose Vreeker and Andrea Gietz began the tour business last year, following the death of Gietz's husband Rodney, who introduced her to rafting in 2001.
The day on the water starts downstream of Drayton Valley and runs 26 km along the river, with stops to swim, explore the river bank and a gourmet salmon lunch. Trips are $125 per person and participants can sign up individually or in groups up to six people.
Gietz is originally from England and says it was rafting and experiencing the scenery of the river valley that made her fall in love with the area and the city.
"Having discovered how just stunningly beautiful the river is, we really want to share it with people," she says of her business with Vreeker. "You feel like you've had a two-week holiday after a day on the river."
While it still involves a little paddling, Gietz says inflatable rafting offers a more leisurely mode of travel since it's not so much about getting to the destination, but enjoying the ride along the way. Exploring the river bank and swimming in lagoons to avoid the current allows people to interact with their surroundings and potentially discover some treasure. Gietz says they discovered a fossilized tooth on one excursion and there's always the potential of finding more of Alberta's history.
The trips involve very little skill, and Gietz says the only requirements are being able to fit a life jacket and the ability to get in and out of the raft. It's calm sailing for the majority of the trip, with the exception of a few Class 1 rapids, which are the lowest level and easy to navigate. The atmosphere doesn't waver from relaxing, despite a little splashing in these areas.
"It's so nurturing for your spirit to be out in nature that way," Gietz notes. "Most of us have very busy lives and would like to have more time playing outdoors, and being on the river is such a delightful way of getting that time."
Boating Safety Tips (provided by Karina Ma)
As far as springing a leak and sinking, Gietz says rafts are just as safe as a canoe, and they always carry a patch kit on board for quick fixes if a leak occurs.
• Small boat standards governed by federal transportation require a PFD must be on board at all times. It is not mandatory to wear them, however, 80 to 90 percent of all drowning incidents occur because the person was not wearing a life jacket.
• Attach a whistle to the PFD to have handy in case of an emergency to signal for help
• Be sure to have a bailer on board. This can be a bucket or even a cut-off juice jug.
• Keep a length of floating rope with you at all times or a throw bag to rescue someone from the water if necessary
• Travel in groups if possible to help one another out if emergency situations occur.
• The water on the river can flow quite swiftly, so if the canoe does capsize, focus on getting yourself to shore, rather than flipping the canoe.
• Monitor the weather. Thunder and lightning storms are obvious hazards for water activities, but strong winds can also be problematic. Voyageur canoe programs through the City of Edmonton do not run if winds are stronger than 50 km/h.
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