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 Post subject: South Saskatchewan
PostPosted: May 18th, 2010, 12:42 pm 

Joined: February 10th, 2008, 4:41 pm
Posts: 326
On May 6 I drove to the Grand Forks just north of Grassy Lake and camped at the confluence of the Oldman and the Bow. The rain and snow of the past several days had played havoc and the roads were breaking up.
On the river just after 8:00 and the birds are everywhere. Flocks of big pelicans hanging on the bars and many raptors around the cliffs. Golden and Bald eagles, Prarie falcons, Swainson’s hawks and Harriers. Seven hours or so later I camp at a massive Prairie Cottonwood in a cool wind. A few rain showers blow by. The scenery is good. There are herds of antelope numbering thirty or more and mule and whitetail deer grazing in the sage.
36 km.
Day 2
Day dawns bright and cold. Heavy frost. Morning paddling is stunningly beautiful and it warms quickly and then blows and clouds up as the day progresses. Many beaver lodges. A Golden Eagle pair at their nest. The wind makes for hard going in the afternoon and I pull up at another big tree and make camp sore and tired.
40 km.
Day 3
Heavy rain in the night and the little wash near camp is gurgling with water in the morning. I have to pass through Medicine Hat today so I am up and away early at 6:30. The wind has switched and pushes me east along with some current and I am flying. I pass through Redcliff where the coal seams are burning and stinking in the cliffs and by noon I am in the Hat with all the attendant joys of graffiti, traffic and sirens. I stop at Police Point Park where the helpful interpreter at the wildlife centre fills my water bottles and I push on in the cold wind. Seven and a half hours today and I am done in. It gets colder and I am glad to have balaclava, down jacket and double sleeping bag. There are small flocks of Myrtle warblers, many Violet-green swallows and a Say’s Phoebe keeping me company in camp.
42 km.
Day 4
Bitterly cold at night but then fog in the morning gives way to cloud. Down river to near Minor flats and the sun breaks through and I peel off the longjohns for the first time. Birdlife is abundant. Pelicans, Western grebes, Blue-wing teal, Shovelers, and five Turkey vultures that circle me. They have highly developed olfactory powers. I’m not dead yet but perhaps I smell as if I am. There are some rocky sections in the river and I have to do some manoeuvering which wakes me up. I spook a fat buck from the brush at camp and walk up onto the plains to take the view. The prairie here is rolling and dotted occasionally with small wetlands. Every few hundred metres is a gas well. There are cacti everywhere and brightly coloured gravels exposed on the crests of the hills. This is the finest camp yet and I enjoy the warmth and comfort.
40 km.
Day 5
A cold clear morning. Four deer swim the river to camp and turn back when they sense me. Pelicans troll the water, the meadowlarks sing and the sun comes across the prairie with amazing speed. I canoe down a couple kilometres and stop at Cactus Flower archaeology site where a few thousand years ago people made their living by the river. There is a narrow stratum in the exposed bank showing broken rock and bone shards. I pay my respects to the ancients and move on. I camp just south of C.F.B. Suffield. It is a restricted area and you can pass through on the river but not trespass. There are fines and imprisonment if you are caught and the thought is more than enough to deter me. The weather is warm with big cumulous, distant thunder and spats of rain. A pair of Swainson’s thrush pass through camp capturing and eating insects as they go.
Day 6
Early in the morning I pass the unmanned military checkpoint and pass into the promised land. There are badlands and sandstone caprock in profusion. It is the wild, wild, west in all its glory, enough to make Roy Rogers jump on an apple box and kiss his horse. Three big mule deer sprouting new antlers watch me pass and a cow elk stands below the crest of a hill. A coyote silhouettes on an outcrop in classic Wile E. pose. All you can do is look and I soak it all in. I stop at Bull Springs coulee but from the sight and smell of the water there is one word missing in the name. I scout Rapid Narrows and run the middle shipping half a teacup of water and I am through the restricted zone. The base borders only one side of the river from now on. Best day yet.
45 km
Day 7
Down through the last of Suffield on the west and north of the river. Badlands and caprock but I have been spoiled by the previous day and am harder to impress. I filter a gallon of water in a coulee but it stinks of the cosmic egg and tastes worse. The current slows but the wind is with me and I swing along stopping just up from Sandy Point. The real world is creeping back in in the form of powerlines, pipelines and big trucks jakeing on the hill down to the bridge around the corner. I sit in the shade of a big cottonwood, the first I have seen in some time, and listen to the sad sound of the Mourning Doves roosting in the trees.
35 km
Day 8
Warm and sunny again and no frost. The land looks scraped and sere. In scouting for a camp on a big island I spook a cow moose and I leave as she could be calving and I hate to disturb her. I find a better camp just off the tip of the island on the western shore. Somewhat sad as this is my last night. The curlews and geese and godwits join in, calling down the end of the day. Beaver splash in the river. Then,in the distance, the only creekside Johnny for miles decides to cut his lawn.
30 k
Day 9
I go for a last walk onthe prairie to delay departure and all that remains is to paddle the last few kilometers to Estuary passing the site of Chesterfield House (not a sofa in sight) and the confluence of the Red Deer river. Cows and people on the shore. The last paddle stroke is at noon and my adventure comes to an end. Not wilderness by any means and all of it touched and thumbed by the hand of man. Still, to stand on the bank of the river with dawn breaking, the meadowlarks singing while the ducks trade in the mist and the pelicans pass in slow formation --- it was worth the effort.
330km Total
Prairie River by Dickinson and Baresco. Excellent guide to the river and its wildlife, history and landforms.
If you are brave or foolish enough to leave a vehicle at Grand Forks recreation area it could be vandalized.

Last edited by Stencil on October 20th, 2010, 7:09 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: South Saskatchewan
PostPosted: May 18th, 2010, 1:09 pm 
User avatar

Joined: July 3rd, 2003, 11:15 am
Posts: 905
Location: on the edge of the big blue
Hey Stencil,

I'm having lunch at work and enjoying every sentence.
I spent two years during highschool in the Hat and have hunted the river edges east of there.
No red flash from the cock pheasants or the heartbeat of an exploding sharptail?
And no photos?

Time's but a golden wind that shakes the grass...

 Post subject: Re: South Saskatchewan
PostPosted: May 18th, 2010, 9:28 pm 

Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 11:21 pm
Posts: 1079
Location: Burns Lake, BC
Thanks for the read Stencil. :clap:


 Post subject: Re: South Saskatchewan
PostPosted: May 19th, 2010, 7:15 am 

Joined: February 10th, 2008, 4:41 pm
Posts: 326
Sorry, but the camera declined to work from the first day on. Saves me a lot of work now. There were lots of pheasants crowing (godawful voice) and down on the lower reaches there is a halfmile no hunting zone each side of the river. It was crawling with pheasants. I saw no sharptails.

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