Paddling the Peace River

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Darren and I paddled the Peace River this weekend! It’s a river we’ve been wanting to do for a while, and we finally did it. Well, at least a tiny part of it!

We spent an unusually long amount of time discussing how far we should go and other logistics. We had arranged for friends — we have such great friends! — to drop us off and pick us up, but were a little stuck on exactly where to be picked up. We knew we wanted to start from Tompkins Landing, where the ferry crosses the Peace, and then go downstream. What we didn’t know was what kind of flow rate, or drift rate, we’d encounter along the way. We were hoping for 5 km/hr or so, knowing that it’s late summer and the water levels are not as high or fast as in spring, and not really sure what the current would be like. There are web pages like this Alberta Gov’t one that give the water level (albeit not accurately right now) and the discharge, or cubic metres per second. So I had looked at all that, and read the Peace River chapter of Mark’s Guide for Alberta Paddlers and considered the anecdotal advice we had heard. An acquaintance who had canoed from Tompkins had said that it was one long day of paddling to La Crete or two easy days. But we were in kayaks — surely we’d go faster than that! So, we decided we’d camp at La Crete (about 50 km downstream), or farther, the first night and get up early and paddle to Fort Vermilion the second day (about another 75 km). Were we crazy? We didn’t think so (but what do we know)!

Well, maybe we just didn’t have the gusto, or maybe it was the slow current, but when we checked our progress at the one-hour mark, it wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, only 4.8 km! We needed to average at least 8 km/hr, or better yet, 10, to make our trip happen. So, we paddled and we paddled and we took a lunch break and paddled some more, rested, passed slowly through some shallow areas, and before we knew it, we’d been on the water for 4 hours and only gone 20 km or so. So, the plan changed, and we decided to go to Moose Island and try camp there. It was about 35 km from our starting point, nothing to scoff at! At times, the river was like a big lake, with almost no current — peaceful, but not helping us out at all!

I had the map and Darren had the GPS, but I think I prefer the map (although the GPS does give a speed reading). I knew what curves were coming up, where the islands were, what side we should pass on, and all that. It was always the longer side, that is, we never got to shorten our trip by going on the inside corner of the island; those were all sand bars or even grassy and attached to the shore — no way through. It looks like we would have made it through on the the “short” side of Moose Island, but we didn’t realize that until we were on the other side. >sigh<

But we enjoyed ourselves! It was very quiet, and we saw hardly any birds except Canada Geese. They were certainly on the move, and we saw several flocks of 80+ birds. On the shore of Moose Island, there was a small flock, and they started honking and ‘mooing’ — that’s the word I invented to describe the quiet, “mmm” sound they also make to each other. As we got closer, they got quite agitated. They’d probably never seen huge yellow geese before! (What would a goose think of a kayak?) But as we retreated, they quieted down and went on with their goosey lives.

We didn’t see any other wildlife, although we heard quite a crashing through the bush on one island. We paused and watched, hoping to see a bear or some moose, but nothing. It was probably a couple moose; I don’t think a bear would be that loud.

Peace River-D & tentAfter 9 hours of paddling, we reached Moose Island (didn’t see any moose there either), but we went past the west shore, thinking we’d find a place to camp near the east end of the island. We pulled over to check it out, but the bank was too steep and the flat bits we saw weren’t big enough for our tent. We even crossed the river to check out a couple spots on the far shore, but again, when we got closer, they were not as flat as they looked. What to do?!? We were both getting so tired, and we really needed to find a spot. Well, I thought I had heard voices (Darren didn’t, so what does that mean?! 🙂 and sure enough, we rounded the end of the island and there was a huge, wind-sculpted sand bar with about 10 kids and a few adults enjoying the summer evening. So, we’d found our camping spot and a little company too! They left before sundown, and we managed to get a tiny bit of crappy cel coverage — enough to call our friend to change our pick up spot from Fort to La Crete. There was no possible way we would make it to Fort by Sunday evening — and knowing that took the edge off, and we could relax, make camp, cook supper, build a fire and enjoy it.

I forgot my good camera, so this pic was taken using my cel phone.
I forgot my good camera, so these pics were taken using my cel phone.

We slept in and walked along the water and sand and simply enjoyed the morning! There was the most beautiful fog above the water, which gradually faded as the sun burned it off. Idyllic. My mind has been go-go-go lately, and this extra time was just what I needed to relax and stop thinking for once!

And what has my brain been go-go-going on about? That’ll have to be my next post. 🙂 Enjoy the summer while it lasts!

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