North Saskatchewan River Rocky Mountain House to Edmonton

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Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Theodore Garver
Trip Date : 
August 3-7, 2020
Location Map: 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
319 km
Duration: 
5 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
0
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Portaging: 
Not applicable
Remoteness: 
Intermediate
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
High
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

The start of our trip was a Rocky Mountain House at the 11a bridge at River Side Park.

Technical Guide: 

The canoeing conditions were very good although the first half of the trip included many rapids that require some experience with stabilizing and steering a canoe in river conditions.  We encountered rapids with standing and moving waves that were at least two feet in height and perhaps up to three feet in height.  Some of these waves have the potential to swamp or tip a canoe when they are at the right angle with respect to the canoe travel.  Our canoe was uncovered and we took in significant water three times.  Twice between RMH and Drayton Valley and once in the rapids below Drayton Valley.  Let me emphasize that there is at least one significant rapids below Drayton Valley.  In my opinion, at the river flows we were experiencing the potential to swamp the canoe in rapids is perhaps the greatest danger.  Most of the rapids are not near boulders or other obstructions other than a bank.  Downed trees, sweepers and strainers were common but generally easy to avoid as they can be seen from a distance.  In some places gravel/stone bars or rapids are hard to detect until it is difficult to change track.  These gravel bars can also be hazardous as they can hang up the canoe and the current will then push the canoe broadside to the current.  

Table of canoeing speed and river slope by 20 km leg.

Distance

Average speed

Speed 95th Percentile

Speed Standard Deviation

Slope

Leg (km)

km/hr

km/hr

km/hr

m/km

0 - 20

12.67

15.20

1.71

1.54

20 - 40

12.80

15.22

1.60

2.10

40 - 60

14.16

15.20

1.49

1.45

60 - 80

13.01

15.06

1.36

1.41

80 - 100

12.46

14.81

1.74

1.45

100 - 120

12.34

14.50

1.60

1.63

120 - 140

11.94

14.80

1.81

1.21

140 - 160

11.86

14.60

1.66

1.22

160 - 180

11.14

13.90

2.01

1.28

180 - 200

11.62

13.90

1.64

0.78

200 - 220

11.18

13.30

1.25

0.54

220 - 240

10.60

12.50

1.36

0.55

240 - 260

10.18

12.90

1.67

0.68

260 - 280

11.14

13.90

2.01

0.55

280 - 300

10.19

12.32

1.27

0.75

300 - 318

10.09

12.00

1.29

0.01

 

 

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Harvey Voogd and I canoed the North Saskatchewan River from Rocky Mountain House (Highway 11 Campground) to Edmonton (50th Street boat launch) over the period of August 3-7, 2020.  Our equipment was a 16 foot Kevlar prospector style canoe made by Clipper Canoes.  An important facet of this trip is that the water was higher than normal, and therefore there were rapids with waves of 2-3 feet that would put the upper stretch of this trip into the Class II+ type canoeing.  At Rocky Mountain House the flow was around 250 cms (cubic meter per second) with lower flows near 200 cms in the evening (generally after canoeing).  The daily flow variation at this point in the river is primarily due to flows from the hydroelectric facility at the Bighorn Dam at Abraham Lake. Canoeists can check water flows for rivers at the Alberta River Basins website (https://rivers.alberta.ca/).  Water flows at Edmonton for this period generally varied between 300 and 400 cms with peak flows generally occurring at night. The Rocky Mountain Mountain House to Drayton Valley stretch of the river was faster water through wilderness or remote landscapes. Our progress is shown in Table 1 and Figure 1, for our full days on the river we canoed 70-75 km. We experience loss of cell phone coverage for about 80 km between RMH and DV. The water was warm enough for swimming.

Table 1 Daily distances.

Day

km

Day 1

39.835

Day 2

72.077

Day 3

75.564

Day 4

73.038

Day 5

57.737

Our first day we started at about 11:30 and pulled over at about 3 pm for a heavy rain.  We paddled a bit more after the hard rain, but we stopped early as it continued to rain.  We camped in a remote forested area practicing LNT (leave no trace) when we left. On days 2 to 4

we started between 9:30-10:00AM and camped by 5:30-6:00 PM. We stopped 3-4 times a day. You can compare our daily distances (Table 1) over about 8 hours indicating that including stops we were traveling about 9 km/hr while our river speed was more like 13 km/hr (Table 2).  These days were hot and sunny so we took care to maintain hydration and protect our skin from sun.  We passed Drayton Valley after two days on the river (at about 11 am on Wednesday).  Around Drayton Valley we encountered quite a few people enjoying the river from road access. On Thursday August 6th we camped about 7-8 km short of Devon at an established campsite (53.35873774, -113.8431248) on an island.  This site was up a heavily eroded steep bank that was about 5 meters in height.  The site had a lean-to type structure that was close to falling down the bank because of bank failure.  Most disappointedly, the site was littered with trash including bottles and cans as well as discarded camping gear including several tarps, a tent, a backpack, cooking utensils and other miscellaneous items.  Unfortunately, we did not have space in our canoe to recover and take away this much trash. If anyone that reads this account would like to help me clean this site up then please contact me.  Thursday night was windy, but without rain.  On Friday the weather was less favorable with light to heavy winds, light to heavy rain with a cool temperature. We passed Devon around 11 am and arrived at Edmonton 50th street boat launch at about. 3:45 pm.  

The North Saskatchewan River between Rocky Mountain House and Drayton Valley goes through an ecosystem that is a transition between lower foothills and boreal forest central mixed wood natural areas.  Aspen and black popular are the most common hardwood trees with white and black spruce mixed with lodgepole pine. Shrubs are dominated by alder and willow. This time of year the blooming wildflowers included asters and goldenrod. The region between Rocky Mountain House and Drayton Valley has hills and riverbanks may include bluffs and clay and shale cliffs that are subject to erosion and failure. It appears that this year bank failure and subsidence has been particularly active along the river, potentially because of wet conditions.  Flood planes are present in low lying areas.  This area of the river is wild and remote without much river access by road.  In addition we found that we lost cell phone coverage (Telus) about 40 km out of Rocky Mountain House until we approached Drayton Valley (Note this is different than described in Mark Lund’s Book (Mark’s Guide for Alberta Paddlers, 2nd Edition (Updated))). We did observe two individuals by the river whom appeared to use ATV type vehicles to gain river access. We observed wildlife on the river including deer and moose. The birds we saw included bald eagles (6), Swainson’s and red tailed hawks (2), American kestrel, belted kingfisher (4), ravens, tree and bank swallows, robins, bluejays, Canada jays, white throated sparrows, least flycatchers, warblers (unidentified), common merganser ducks, Canada geese, western wood pewee, small sandpipers (30+, least sandpiper I think), great blue heron (2). A birdwatching highlight was observing an American kestrel engaging with a pair of unhappy kingfishers.

After Drayton Valley the steepness of the river banks drops off and more signs of agriculture and industry are present.  The river meanders past Keephills and Genesee power plants and high tension lines cross the river at least four times in this region.  It appears that gravel mining and processing is and has been a significant industry along the river.  On night we inadvertently camped across the river from a gravel processing facility that had turned off the rock sorting when we landed but started it up later.  Overall, it seems that efforts to reclaim the gravel mines are minimal.  Some farms are on the riverbank without any offset to protect the river.  In particular, we say one farm where the bank failure had caused several rows of wheat to subside to a level about one foot below the rest of the crop.  People were more numerous around Drayton Valley and at other locations where there was road access to the river.  There are also a significant number of motorized boats on the river in the stretch between Drayton Valley and Devon.  These boats seem to be shallow draft with large motors (perhaps 100 hp).  On some of the high hills there are isolated homes.  As one gets closer to Edmonton the homes appear in groups on the high banks.

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
We used Garmin GPS maps.
Other
Suggested Resource Material: 

Mark's Guide for Alberta Paddlers 2nd Edition, Revised and Expanded.  Mark Lund. 2014 with updates to March 2020. Published by Mark Lund.

Special Comments: 

I reccomend the use of dry bags for all equipment and provision for a bailer (we used a large sponge) as water from the rapids, rain and feet entering and exiting the canoe accumulates in the canoe.  

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