Bring your bathing suit, sunscreen and smile for the camera. I didn’t know what to expect when Jon Knauf, owner of Mountain High Adventures told me the water would be too rough and wavy to take photos without ruining my camera.
Mountain High Adventures provided everything for a wave filled day rafting down the Elk River in Class 3 and 4 waters including lunch at the Wigwam confluence.
Wet suits, neoprene booties, helmets, life jackets, paddles, lunch and most importantly an experienced guide are provided to travel down sixteen km of the Elk River.
The change rooms are rustic so wear your bathing suit. A scenic drive past Elko eventually leads down a dirt road and then the toughest part of the trip: the steep hike down to the raft put in.
Being on the West slope on the edge of the Canadian Rockies means the area is desert and usually hotter than Fernie. Not a single cloud in the sky and the air was a warm 27 degrees; perfect for a white water excursion because nobody came off that river dry.
On the shore, we could see the Class four rapids right from the start. I was a bit nervous and I could tell I wasn’t the only one.
The safety briefings from guide Mark Hatch were thorough and his instructions were clear. He repeated the information and demonstrated exactly what to do if one of us fell out of the raft. Which way to swim, which direction our feet should point and how to pull each other out of the water.
“If you fall out of the boat, think like a spawning salmon to help your buddy pull you back into the raft,” said Hatch.
Big splashes were abundant as the Elk River is at mid flow with high water still decreasing from the flood levels.
A couple from Calgary who sat at the front of our boat was instantly named the “Wave Slayers” by our guide and we soon found out why. The class four rapids two minutes after launching off shore cooled us off quickly and had my eyes open large.
Waves came crashing over top of the wave slayers, a mere foot or two in front of me. I was grateful for the protective barrier they provided. We paddled forwards and backwards as a team following our guide’s instructions.
“I got water in my face and there were a couple times I couldn’t see a thing,” said wave slayer Lupita Schartz.
When I finally sat in the front, twice I almost fell as the force of the heavy waves pushed me off balance even with my feet jammed into the raft seams used to hold paddlers in the raft.
Three young ladies from Red Cliff, near Medicine Hat were rafting in a second boat. As nervous as they were before we hit the water, by the end of the day they were grinning ear to ear.
“The waves at the beginning were my favourite part; they were way more intense. I was scared when I fell out of the boat but everything was ok,” said 18 year old Rain Kuystermans.
“I liked the whole day. I thought I was going to be scared but I wasn’t. I rode the bull (sitting on the front pontoon of the raft). I especially liked meeting the people on my boat,” said 19 year Zoe Mudrack.
“The beautiful thing about the Elk River is we can hit up almost all of the waves on the sixteen km section,” said Hatch. “There are only a couple of spots that we know we need to stay away from. Wood is on a river is dangerous, but there is very little on the section of the Elk River we run as we are below the Elko dam.”
The narrow river and towering cliff faces at Phillips Canyon were a beautiful highlight of the day. What made my day awesome though was the engaging and reassuringly repetitive safety talks by our animated guide so I could actually feel the thrill of the big waves rather than fear them. The trip was a great combo of super safe adventurous fun which I didn’t know was possible with white water rafting.
The rafting season started on the May long weekend and goes into September seven days a week. Inflatable kayaks are available too when the river levels drop in August.
If heart pounding white water isn’t your idea of fun, scenic raft tours leave from the Stanford Inn at 4 pm daily.