BLOG #12 ATHABASCA, AB: PADDLE PARADISE CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
“Where you from? Athabasca. Wow, that’s so far away. Not Lake Athabasca! And no, not Athabasca Falls by Jasper.”
I can make it to the St. Albert Costco in 75 minutes. If you’re looking for a great paddling area close to Edmonton consider A-town. It is an iconic rural town set in the river valley. We are a unique area with major employers, which drives an economy unparalleled in most small towns. Alberta Pacific Forest Industries and Athabasca University are diverse employers. Add to it the fact that many people who work in Fort McMurray live in our town as well, preferring small-town life to raise their families.
With this, we have our own theater productions, a city worthy recreation facility, amazing local trails and a riverfront with its own music festival every July. I have called Athabasca my home for 21 years and truly love the people and recreational opportunities around the area.
One of my favorite places to paddle is the Athabasca River directly from town where we have a boat launch. It is one of the few places to launch a boat for many kilometers in each direction. From here you have a few options for takeout ranging from 10, 23 or 45 km away. Check out www.paddlingmaps.com for more details.
The river enchants me when I’m on it, much more than lakes. The ever-diverse landscapes changing around each corner is always a surprise and each season is a new paddle depending on flooding, erosion and water levels. No paddle experience is ever the same.
I have hooked onto big fish in the river only to have them spit out my hook as well as small ones, I have taken people who have considered it too dangerous to paddle on; only to come off it with a new sense of awe and wonder leaving them with the desire to do it again.
There are guidelines that I have kept while enjoying this waterbody:
- Avoid paddling alone. If you do there’s no cell service, take an Inreach/Spot.
- Always tell someone where you’re going.
- Generally, unless the water levels are low in May (I haven’t gone during this time frame yet last spring you could have) I don’t paddle on the river until Mid-August due to debris and water levels. August-November is great paddle time.
- Wear a full PFD, expect worse case scenarios on moving water and go with the mindset of being prepared for anything.
- Keep shoes with you on your board (I use crocs and neoprene socks), if you’re walking in the river for extended periods of time then get river shoes.
- Wear a PFD with pockets and enough survival gear in it to live should you lose everything. https://boreal.net/articles/watercraft-training/lifejacket-survival-items.php
- Pack extra clothes and food in a dry bag. Even a 10 km paddle could end up with having to go to shore for some reason and needing to stay there. I now use Icebreaker clothing or any type of merino wool exclusively on the water. Get wet? It still keeps you warm.
- If you’re new to river paddling and haven’t bought a waist leash yet, then attach the leash up higher on your calf where you could reach it if you need to detach from your board for any reason (sweepers, rocks etc.). Be aware of rocks or changes in currents.
- Weather watcher. Be religious about checking the weather for the day and before you depart. Know when the wind will pick up what direction and what measures you need to prepare for it. Maybe shortening your distance etc. Head to shore safely on the side to wait out a storm (lightning).
You’ll feel a weird wiggle of the tail when the small eddies grab your fin the first time, it’s barely noticeable but it’s there. I have paddled the river on hot fall days without a ripple of wind in sight only to come around a bend and be blown up river. Be prepared that sometimes you may have to paddle on your knees in these situations to protect yourself from flipping off your board.
Stay diligent and you will have the experience of a lifetime, the above picture is all levels on the river having the time of their life many it was their second time ever on a SUP! Contact me and I’d love to accompany you if you’re in the area. Happy paddling.
I Live Life Now,
CSEP-CPT/RYT 200 Yoga Instructor
Advanced Flat Water Instructor