Monday, June 25, 2007

Bighorn River, AB - Canada

Crescent Falls backdrop with Mikkel St. Jean making the Curtain Call - Bighorn River, Alberta.

The Bighorn River is a classic waterfall tributary of Alberta’s North Saskatchewan headwaters. In a setting amongst the raw jagged Central Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Bighorn has found away to erode itself into a deep layered gorge with 6 beauty drops within its walls. The run is heavily dependent on snow in an area commonly low in annual amounts. This usually makes for a limited window of opportunity for paddling. However, the endless thunderstorms rolling across from BC currently had this waterfall paradise pumping.

Among the usual suspects for this mission were Jordie and Jen McKenzie, Manilow, Chris McTaggart, Nelson BC local Mikkel St. Jean still waiting for levels in BC to drop; and fresh off a second descent of 100ft Johnson Falls was heavy hitter Logan Grayling complete with bloodshot eye and the savage mustache.

Logan Grayling boofs must run freefall #5

Getting to the Bighorn is easy requiring you to travel west along the David Thompson highway through Nordegg towards the Banff National Park Boundary. If you are coming from the opposite direction head north on highway 93 from Lake Louise and then head east towards Nordegg at the Saskatchewan Crossing turnoff. The Bighorn River crosses the highway through giant culverts at the end of Abraham Lake. You can camp and leave a car here and then continue back towards Nordegg looking for the Crescent Falls turnoff just down the road. The road up to Crescent Falls is only a few miles and ends at a recreation area parking lot.

Only a few steps more will put you at the brink of a 70 footer that is still waiting for someone to claim this monster for a first D. Most of us regard the problem with Crescent Falls to be all the loose sediment of sharp rock which explodes out from the boils when flows are most appealing. If ever you were going to wear a motorcycle helmet complete with visor off a big huck this would be the one. A bonus for your eyes is just beyond and another 40+ feet to go.

Curtain Call was first run by Rob Evans-Davies about a decade ago and has since seen a few more descents over the years. Again the line on this waterfall varies with water levels and this time it looked to be center left with left control.

Chris McTaggart lost the fight with his paddle shaft on Curtain Call

Beyond the second waterfall you are surrounded by deep walls on your way down to the Particle Accelerator. Here the river ramps down into a narrow slide that ends in a big hole complete with pinched exit and a scary cave on the left. At lower flows you might just get your bow up before the hole and boof. However the current level made for some impressive downtime as saftey pondered the resurfacing whereabouts of each mystery man.

Just beyond here the final 3 waterfalls lay in succession about 100 yards from each other. 10 foot Squirrel Nuts, 25 foot Freefall, and then a final 20 foot plunge into a pool. All of these are pretty much unportageable unless you like cliff jumping from twice the height of each drop. Finally a half hour of class III awaits on your way down to the takeout.

Jenny McKenzie on the final drop of the Bighorn.

To best judge the flows for the Bighorn have a look to see if any water at all is flowing through the second culvert. If there is just a bit the levels are good, none means the level is low, and lots means the river is high. Standing at the top of the two first falls will also give you an idea.

View Big Horn River (IV-V+) in a larger map