Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cameron Creek, AB - Canada

In the goodness of Cameron Creek, Alberta - Canada

Cameron Creek and his rookie status remain fairly static due to the remote yet accessible Alberta prairie-mountain zone where the number of National Parks outnumber the representing creekboaters. In fact if this quaint little tributary of Waterton Lake was situated a few miles to the south in Montana, perhaps the run would have a greater reputation from the western boating community.

Nevertheless for a run located in the far southwest corner of the Canadian Rockies, Cameron Creek will remain a roadside playground for those looking for quality drops under looming windswept peaks and canyon walls.

Keeping the hands away from Razor Ramone

Over the past couple of weekends Cameron has been dubbed 'creek of the week' by a select few who have been keen to run BC class V but ultimately have been shut down thanks to record snowpack melting in the hot spring sun. Although creeks in the East Kootenays and Idaho panhandle have been chugging since early May, the other side of the mountains in Alberta have seen water levels remain consistent.

If you're coming from any direction to paddle you will still have to cruise the open prairie landscape until you see the mountains rise up out of nowhere. Waterton Park has only one entrance and you also will need to pay the national park fees. Once you near the townsite look for a quick right turn that steepens up a set of switchbacks. On the second switchback (nearest the canyon) pull over and have a look at unrunnable Cameron Falls. Here the creek makes a final plunge to the valley floor off an immense slide shelf in ugly fashion. After the switchbacks you will see a pullout on the left overlooking the canyon. If you are doing the main run this will unfortunately be your steep heave-ho takeout up a mixture of scree and bush.

Shon Cottrill finishes up Aldridge.

Continue driving another 6km up past McNeally's picnic area where the creek looks mellow. Another pullout on the left overlooks Aldridge. Put in here and have a good look at this rapid as it contains a couple of tight moves around some piton rocks at the top. If Aldridge looks scary, you might best reconsider paddling that day or at least go for the Cameron 'light' section. Beyond Aldridge is gentle 5 -1o minute float until the river turns right and enters the canyon. Once horizon lines start to appear be on the lookout for Wild Thing and scout on the left. Wild Thing rocks of a double ledge before turning into a sweet slide and might be the best drop on the run.

Just downstream is another double ledge within tight walls. The line is straight forward but is best scouted from the road on the way up. Hanging out in this pool below requires the decision of calling it a 'light' day and taking the easy hike out or getting the full Cameron admission. Not far below in the lower canyon is a committing cave drop that needs medium or lower flows. Look for a hard scout left wall just above a 20 footer with most of the flow going into a doom-room. Safety can be set up on the ledge that creates the cave but it will be in the hands of the first boater to style things up right. Watch for a log spanning the creek just below this and portage carefully.

Mikkel St. Jean on the crux cave drop

Once you are out of this mini box gorge the valley gets deeper but the road remains accessible high above on river left. Cameron Creek becomes the most fulfilling at this point as another half dozen crystal clean drops present themselves for more smiles and friendly hoots.

At the end is Razor Ramone, an ugly horseshoe ledge with a rock fin parallel to the line. Takeout above or below this rapid unless you are feeling like another go at tougher drops and scary portages for the final several hundred meters up to the brink of Cameron Falls.
Special thanks to Shon 'Flex' Cotrill for the snaps.

Map of the Waterton area

View Cameron Creek (IV-V) in a larger map

Monday, May 07, 2007

Findlay Creek, BC - Canada

A fine start to paddling season on Lower Findlay Creek - BC

If you have just spent the long winter digging out, skiing big lines, or just buried and hibernating under 10 meters of snowfall since last October....creekers from the motherland rejoice! This year's snow pack is MASSIVE and currently the Selkirk, Monashee and Rocky Mountain Ranges look stocked with a water supply certain to last through October. This doesn't even include the always representing BC Coast Mtns also spouting record amounts in new paddling frontiers like Terrace and Smithers. The past weekend brought a combination of skiing some of the finest powder of the year along with the resurgence of quality creeking back in the Columbia trench.

The final flush on Findlay Creek brings back memories of Cali

Findlay Creek has a special significance in that if it wasn't for a small mountain in the way, Findlay would actually be the headwaters of the continental Columbia River. Instead Findlay is one of the tributaries to enter the Kootenay River before it heads south into Montana. Things to take note about the East Kootenays and Findlay area in early May include: - Huge populations of Elk and Deer grazing this time of year, the excellent lush meadow camping everywhere, and the fact this run will be well blown out for most of the summer as temperatures increase.

The put-in for Lower Findlay creek is 5km up the Findlay forest service road at Findlay Falls Rec site. The camping here is excellent and is a base for paddlers who might alternatively paddle Skookumchuk or Dutch Creek. Just past Findlay Falls take a left turn on Skookumchuck forest service road and look for the power line road on the left which will take you to the takeout.

From the put-in a short trail leads down to Findlay Falls. This drop had a runnable right line in the past but has since become a logjam. The left main line of Findlay Falls is plain nasty at best.

Findlay Falls lands on a big choke stone.

As our crew of 3 departed with a slight hungover haze under the noon sun we were instantly surrounded by canyon walls and swirly currents. After about 2+ kilometers of clear water and two notable drops, the run tightens up and picks up gradient. Two narrow pinches lead you to a third boof-pinch aptly named the Portal. Set between vertical walls and a difficult scout, the Portal would certainly be a gauge (if it hasn't already)that high flows on this run would mean bad news.

Portal at low flows

After the Portal things really start rockin out with more drops and more consequences if you flub the boof strokes. Shortly after this section our group downsized due to a bruised rib but we were fortunate to find an exit climb out on river left for Colan and his boat. This left Jordie and I to tackle the crux of the canyon where the gradient goes off through a mess of scary sharp limestone.

In the steepest section a 200+ yard torrent requires a hard left cutback through a knuckle dragger's delight followed by a big launch off a pourover of chunky boulders.

Nailing this line would be the climax on the run if it wasn't for the surprise waiting just downstream of the big pool. The guidebook loathes about the wood in this previously unrunnable final ramp formed from a landslide on river right. Presently there is no wood to be seen and was first fired off by Scott Fiendel and I on last spring's mission.

Scott Fiendel on the final drop in 2006

The approach to this Kaweah-Cali drop is best done hard left with your foot on the gas until you punch a hole and enter the slide. From here Findlay Creek bubbles down until it joins up with the Kootenay. The best view is looking back upstream on the float out absorbed in those class V emotions. Here's to another epic summer in whitewater paradise. Props to Colan for remembering his 100 dollar camera on this trip.......sorry about the quality.

View Findlay Creek (V) in a larger map