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PostPosted: December 30th, 2009, 4:54 pm 
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Hi all,

I know I should be out skiing today but I can't help planning paddling trips for next summer.

One tentative plan I have is to paddle the 770 km +/- from Jasper to Athabasca.

I've read all relevant posts on this board, have Mark Lund's book and have the ARCA map for the 300 km reach Jasper to Whitecourt.

Here's what I've learned:

1. The river is a bit bigger and faster than the N Saskatchewan from Rocky to Edmonton. Best paddled later in the season.

2. There's 2 Parks Canada campsites and several informal campsites en route. Elsewhere, I'll try to camp on islands to partially avoid bear contact.

3. Rogers indicates they have cell coverage over the entire route, but I won't count on it in the river valley.

4. Resupply available at Whitecourt and Ft. Assiniboine.

5. The ARCA map indicate bears are common. Has anyone any info to indicate that they could be more problematic than they are, say, in the mountain parks?

6. I'll need to arrange a shuttle from Jasper to Athabasca. Any recommendations?

Any other suggestions or info on the route?

Thanks!


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PostPosted: December 31st, 2009, 12:42 pm 
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I have never done any of it but you might want to get a hold of Allan Kesselheim's book "Water and Sky: Reflections of a Northern Year". He describes the route in detail - including bear problems there.
Its also a good read.

Let us know how things go - I'd like to do this one some day as well


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PostPosted: December 31st, 2009, 4:28 pm 
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Camping on an island won't do much for you except limit your choice of camp sites. Bears can swim!

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PostPosted: December 31st, 2009, 4:41 pm 
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Doug Flint wrote:
Camping on an island won't do much for you except limit your choice of camp sites. Bears can swim!

Even better - islands are wonderful places for the bears to break the monotony of a major swim...

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PostPosted: December 31st, 2009, 8:02 pm 
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Well, yes, I know bears can swim. I think everyone does. That's why I made the caveat that island camping would only "partially" avoid bear contact.

My hunch is, however, that they're less likely to be wandering the shores of a small island than the shores of the river.


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PostPosted: January 4th, 2010, 10:43 am 
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Gbarron-

I noticed that the October and November editions of the Nortwest Voyageurs Canoe Club newsletter, available here:

http://www.nwvoyageurs.com/frontpage.htm

Have some nice photos and a trip report on the Jasper (Old Fort Point) - Hinton reach.

Back issues may have more reports on other sections of the Athabasca - I think its quite a popular river for tours.

-jmc


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PostPosted: January 4th, 2010, 8:39 pm 
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You seem a trifle nervous about bears. If you really want to to reduce the probablility of a close encounter of the ursine kind, avoid late May & early June. They are crusing the rivers banks then because that's where all the primeau grub is. Personally I don't worry about them, although I do carry a single shot survival 12 gauge, which I have never had to use. I also paddle with a large dog who won't chase bears but understands they should not be near our camp. It's amazing how fast a big bear will depart the area when a loud holy crap bark gets directed their way! She ran two off this past May for me. My advice is relax, be prepared, and enjoy good camp sites where ever they are rather than second rate locations because they are on an island.

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PostPosted: January 6th, 2010, 8:35 am 
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Flint,

Actually, no, I'm not nervous about bears. I've been mountaineering for thirty years in the Rockies and have only once seen the behind of a bear in the backcountry. Like most backcountry users, I'm at far greater risk of hypothermia. But, that said, I do what I can to avoid contact with bears.

Anyway, yesterday I had a coffee with Dr. Sandra MacDougall, a biologist who has been studying human-bear interaction in Alberta, Kluane Park, and Alaska and who has done some work with Herrero. Here's what she said:

My logic for opting for island campsites makes sense. There are lots of blacks in this area, and they are inquisitive, but less likely to randomly visit islands. But in August, they'll likely seek out bear berries in higher ground.

She also indicated that some experts are now questioning the conventional wisdom of separating camp and cook sites by at least 100 m. Keeping food nearby may actually deter bear visits.

And anyway, most bear encounters occur while people are moving, not camped. This is a concern in the light of Kluane Park's plans to allow mountain biking on some trails. Mountain bikes move quickly and quietly and hence can bring cyclists into unexpected contact very quickly.

Sandra also strongly supports carrying bear spray, since it's light, effective, and safe. It also protects bears, since control officers are more likely to kill a bear that's attacked a human, and this is especially true in areas outside national parks (as my route is). Thus using bear spray prevents attacks and thereby saves bear lives.


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PostPosted: January 6th, 2010, 10:57 am 
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I don't understand how keeping food close to your camp is going to help deter bears? Perhaps I am missing the key concept to this...

...perhaps having cooking area/food 100m or so away from your camp will expand scent throughout the area(like lure bear closer to your camp and camp scents) thus maybe a bear that smells the food 100m away will have a greater chance of entering your area when say it was 300m away to begin with and would have missed all scents entirely had the food been at camp...? Thats the only guess I have to the biologist's theory.

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PostPosted: January 12th, 2010, 10:01 pm 
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We paddled the stretch from Hinton to Whitecourt last Sept, camped along shore and on the islands, no bear problems what so ever. As for cell coverage on the river pretty iffy although I didn’t have the cell phone on much, we did have a satellite phone that was pretty useless too. Sorry I can’t help with a shuttle as we had a co-worker meet us at Whitecourt and drive us back to the launch point.
Pat


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PostPosted: January 13th, 2010, 7:31 pm 
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gbarron wrote:
Anyway, yesterday I had a coffee with Dr. Sandra MacDougall, a biologist who has been studying human-bear interaction in Alberta, Kluane Park, and Alaska and who has done some work with Herrero. Here's what she said:

My logic for opting for island campsites makes sense. There are lots of blacks in this area, and they are inquisitive, but less likely to randomly visit islands. But in August, they'll likely seek out bear berries in higher ground.

She also indicated that some experts are now questioning the conventional wisdom of separating camp and cook sites by at least 100 m. Keeping food nearby may actually deter bear visits.

And anyway, most bear encounters occur while people are moving, not camped.


GB;
I just finished reading Sid Marty's book The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek which caused me to re-read Bear Attacks from Herrero.

I too wonder about the idea of food smells and stashing your food along ways away. I've wondered about the deterrence of people to bears. I'd like to hear more on this.

After reading these two books I think the problem we will have on any river trip or lake for that matter will stem more from who has tripped there before us, than our location ( island or shore) and not just this year. If they left garbage about etc we are liable to meet a bear.
We all feel safer on an island but a habituated bear who is food conditioned won't let a little river get in the way of coming over to visit.
Hugh
A side note about Kluane park and mtn bikes. Typical of parks. We went throught the same arguments 20+ yrs ago down south in Banff, Jasper , etc Parks. I don't have any figures but I doubt if there has been an increase in Bear, Bike interactions.
The biggest argument was more about the wardens having to go in to rescue an injured/broken down biker and how this mode of transport brought less experienced back country users further in the bush.

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PostPosted: January 14th, 2010, 10:14 am 
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Here's some follow-up comments from Sandra about the 100m no-cooking perimeter: she thinks bear behaviour varies depending on food density.

On the West Coast, where food is plentiful, bears will tolerate other bears or humans quite close. But in Kluane, where bears have to scour large areas to find enough food, they seem to get more "twitchy" even when intruders are relatively distant. So it might make sense to have different separations between cooking and camping areas in this two zones.

Mike M, thanks for recommending "Water and Sky." I have it ordered on Amazon. And if I do the trip, I will post a trip report here.

I've also looked at the relevant issues of "Eddyline." Thanks, JMC!

Hugh, as you point out, it makes sense to avoid campsites where people have left garbage since bears will tend to revisit these sites. I'm a vegetarian (so no meat or fish) and I keep a pretty clean campsite. But I confess I haven't fully embraced the 100 m concept. And given my background in mountaineering, I'm quite comfortable cooking in my tent above treeline. But this is not such a good idea on paddling trips.

I agree that a habituated bear can swim (or walk) to an island. But my intent was only to "partially avoid" encounters, not completely prevent them.

In an analogous way, if one wishes to hide a gear cache from human eyes, it's wiser to do so in the bush than on a trail, even though (as we all know) humans can walk off-trail, too.


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PostPosted: January 14th, 2010, 11:54 am 
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Greetings

It has been awhile since I have posted here on the forum, but I may have something to offer on this question.

In 2006 we paddled from the historic site of Jasper House (the height of navigation in fur-trade days) to the confluence with the La Biche River, approximately 700km from memory. We started on 1 June and completed this section in 10 days, they were long, but leisurely days to be certain.

We saw numerous bears on this section of the trip, more than we saw in the following 74 days of paddling that summer. We had absolutely no bear problems, we stashed our food beside our tents and did not worry. At our campsites, we saw no evidence of garbage, or indeed of any other campers. The bears invariably watched with disinterest, or fled if we approached to closely. Due to the swift current, we could often spot a bear far downstream, set our angle, and drift within 10-20 metres, often unnoticed until we were past. We saw the bears with near equal frequency along the route, including one swimming across the river while we were restocking at the town launch in Athabasca Landing.

As for camping, we did utilize numerous islands, and found that this often provided the flattest, most accessible piece of land. Due to the nature of the river, the high steep banks, islands, or a steep slippery muddy climb were the daily choices. On this section we had several absolute gems of campsites, some on shore, some on islands.

We thoroughly enjoyed this section of the Atha B, the scenery was fairly uniform once we left the mountains, but the steady current, wide river and steady procession of wildlife made it very interesting. The steady current also led us to take long floating lunches, reading books, sharing stories, and relaxing.

Due to the character of the river (silty) and the pulpmills (Hinton) we did not filter the river water. Rather we would carefully examine maps for side-streams, beaver ponds, or restock at campgrounds/towns. My wife and I carried 26 litres in Dromedary bags, in addition to our personal bottles. This is something I would strongly encourage you to consider.

Just beware of the Flying Squeavers, we never saw one, but we did witness the evidence of their destructive behaviour. :o

If you have questions, feel free to ask here, or pm.

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PostPosted: January 19th, 2010, 10:51 am 
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Hi Grey Owl,

I've looked over your very informative trip site and have read the trip reports for the section from Jasper to the Athabasca townsite. A very ambitious trip and it looks as if was quite taxing for some members of your party.

Thanks for your suggestions and observations regarding bears and island camping. I thought about the Hinton mills too, but unfortunately my smallish kayak won't allow me to pack much water, so I'll have to filter from side streams (there seem to be plenty).

Two more questions: how bad were the mosquitoes in June? Second, do you have a GPS track log for the trip? Not that I'm likely to take a wrong turn, but it helps locate the current position of channels and establish gradient. If you do, I'll send you my e-mail address.


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PostPosted: January 19th, 2010, 1:40 pm 
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Unfortunately I did not keep the GPS running throughout the trip. In fact, I don't think I even kept record of the campsites for the first 10 days of the trip. An oversight to be certain.

The only part of the trip where braiding was even mildly an issue was upstream of Whitecourt. For this section of river I would suggest using the Paddle Alberta maps of the Athabasca as they are quite good. Despite this, we never worried ourselves with having enough water in June, the river was full and running fast. The only issue we had was occasionally taking in a few splashes in our excitement to enjoy the whitewater and on a few sharp bends where the outside developing some big standing waves.

As to insect, I remember mayflies more than mosquitos. In fact we travelled with a mayfly hatch for 3-4 days. They were simply everywhere, and the Franklin's Gulls stayed with us, skimming the surface, picking up lunch. During this time we literally travelled in a flock of gulls, as far as we could see up/downstream there were thousands of gulls feasting on the hatch.

There were a few nights when we 'chose' to camp on grassy patches in the forest that the mosquitoes were bad. But on the water, on islands/sandbars or in pasture/rangeland, I do not remember them being terrible. But terrible bugs are all in ones perception, some would call anything bad, while others quietly where longsleeves and blow on each mouthful of food. Once the sun set, things were often a little different, rather like hail on the tent, and handfuls of dead mozzies when you packed up in the morning.

I will check with the others regarding their impressions, but it seems that the horrendous insects were later on in the summer.
The horseflies (bulldogs) started 3rd week of June and blackflies were near the first of July. But every year will be a little different.

Definitely bring a bugshirt and be prepared to enjoy the daylight hours and head into shelter after dark. And besides, with no portages, the insects are never as bad.

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