Well it was just too warm and sunny this Saturday to resist so a couple of friends and I decided to go and see about running the Harvie Passage. We brought my old Prijon T-Canyon kayak and my Evergreen Prowler canoe.
We got to the parking lot at the park around 2pm and walked in to the west bank take a look. There were lots of people on the viewing platform and also right inside the fence beside the water just taking a look. There were also few people in rafts portaging around the passage but nobody actually going through. We checked out the 'easy' passage beside the west bank and although the water was pretty high we decided it looked safe enough for our modest skills so we headed back and got the boats. By the time we returned there was already another couple getting their canoe ready at the top of the run and several rafters appearing up river as well.
We got ready ourselves and then my friend went first in the kayak. He made it down the first four drops no problem and then pulled in to wait for us in case we had an upset. When he was ready we headed towards the mouth of the first drop and the point of no return. All went well over the 1st and 2nd but by the 3rd drop things were looking a bit more difficult. We made it through the 3rd ok but took on a bit of water. The 4th drop was the biggest and unfortunately I did not take the right line and we headed right into the curl at the bottom. The canoe torqued, swamped, and we went over
While my front paddler took care of himself and the paddles while I swam after the canoe and managed to rescue it before it went over the last drop by itself. It was a struggle to haul it out of the main current but once out of it the strong back eddy helped swirl me back to shore and my friends waded in to help pull it out.
There were lots of people watching and some kids had been running along side cheering as we went down so I'm glad it was entertainment for someone. As for us, aside from being a bit wet and cold we were laughing too. We sat on the shore and took a look at the passage again while we decided whether to continue on down stream or try it again. As we were watching several rafters went down no problem although they also got pretty wet on the 3rd and 4th drops. The couple we had met at the top also came through in their canoe and although they took on a lot of water they made it through the whole thing without flipping. They shored up at the bottom as well and got out to empty their canoe and dry off before continuing down river.
We decided to stick around and play a bit but as we were getting ready to portage upstream and try it again the Calgary Fire Department showed up in their rescue boat. They were pretty cool and asked how we were doing and what we thought. I said I thought this was a bit more difficult than I had expected for the 'easy' passage but we were having fun and were going to stay and play for a while. They informed us that the passage is not officially open and that since we looked prepared and safe they weren't going to ask us to leave but if they got any calls from people on shore they would have to come back and clear everybody out. We thanked them for the 'warning' and watched as they drove their boat straight up the 'easy' passage. They did this several times actually, going up the easy side and then down the middle passage. Apparently they have been practicing too.
So, sufficiently warm shouldered the boats and headed back upstream. Each of us ran it again in the kayak and had some fun. I ran it twice more in the canoe with a partner and we made it through both times without flipping and taking on much less water than the first time. I also made a solo canoe attempt but chickened out after the first easy drop. My canoe is not a solo boat and is not even set up with knee pads. Without any bow ballast it was just sitting too high and I could not control it in the current at all. Perhaps some more practice this season will help... and some knee pads.
While we were playing many other people showed up to try out the rapids including a bunch of play-boaters who ran both the easy west bank passage and also the much larger drops in the middle and east side of the river. Too difficult for me but they looked like they were having fun. We paddled out below the drops a little later to watch before heading down stream and I have to say it looks far more difficult from below than above. The river was just raging over the bigger drops and a missed line would definitely have sent you into some trouble on rocks on the side. Definitely not for the unskilled.
So my first impression is: wow what an awesome playground but
much more difficult than I had expected on the 'easy' side. The CFD fellas did say the water was quite high and that the passage was much more reasonable when flow was lower so that is encouraging for the casual/recreational canoeist who makes the decision to attempt the easy passage without stopping to take a look first. The difficult passages are sure to upset all but the more experienced canoeists and 'yakers but I think the worst you will get is very wet and a long delay as you retrieve your boat and gear as long as you stay in the middle of the flow. The edges of the larger features could definitely do some damage if you went over them, or got pushed into them, by accident. The river below the passage slows down and rounds an easy curve so there is plenty of opportunity to swim to shore safely if you need to or else try and rescue your boat as you continue on downstream to a more shallow area.
We did take a few videos with my iphone but I'm new on here so I'm not sure if I can upload or attach a video yet. I will look into it when I have a minute. Seeing all the other people playing safely there on Saturday was encouraging and hopefully is some indication that it is unofficially open for business. Again I'll mention that the CFD was pretty cool about not bothering people but I'm sure they are watching carefully so hopefully everyone can be responsible and not give them a reason to shut us down for the summer until the scheduled opening this fall. One last thought is that I think we still have higher water ahead. There is a ton of snow in the mountains and it hasn't really started to melt yet so I caution is warranted as we move into warmer weather.