Johnston Canyon - Rise of the Green Team

Johnston Canyon - Rise of the Green Team

Simon Coward
5 minute read

Words By: Brandon Willms

Somehow, Jason, Tim and I have all ended up with a Green Dagger Nomad for this season. It makes for a bit of a bland roof of kayaks when we all go boating together as we have a major lack in contrast. However, I think it somehow gives us an extra boost of badassness when we are on the river together. Whatever the case, the Green Team was out in full force on Johnston Canyon last week!

Anyone who has paddled Johnston before knows that this excursion consists of four main obstacles. Hiking, tourists, wood and freefall. Once you have dodged your way past a million tourists on the beautiful trail-boardwalk system, it is time to put the game face on. There is a lot of falling between you and the takeout. We managed to catch Johnston on a glorious sunny day last week and experienced all the perks on offering. 

    Left: Myself on the slide with a launch "Ski Jump". Photo: Jason Boutet


Jason and Tim running "Stella" falls. You cant get a much more perfect waterfall anywhere!


The River Report - Johnston Canyon

Location: Banff, AB

Our Water Level: Not many visible rocks at the take-out bridge; Pipestone River Near Lake Louise 35cms; Spray River At Banff 9.3cms; Bow River At Banff 178cms;

Grade (at this level): IV+(V+)  

Character (at this level): Pushy Low Volume Creeking; Pool Drop with swift flowing pools making things run together; Small eddies; Constricted bedrock canyon rapids; Waterfalls; All drops are scoutable on the walk up; Portageing is difficult once committed to certain sections; Chose the drops you want to commit to beforehand and know where to take-out for portages; Wood is a large hazard on the run and gets caught up in new places all the time so do a complete wood scout of any committing sections before putting on; Undercut canyon walls, powerful recirc and drops in succession are some other major hazards. Potential to go as big as you want in here as there is a 30+ meter waterfall that has been run twice (Upper Johnston Falls) and a technical 15 meter waterfall (Lower Johnston Falls) that gets run on occasion (it didnt feel like the right water level for our group, but that is not to say others wouldn't think differently).

Run Spotlight: (the part of the show where we discover the good, the gross and the glorious parts of the river through trial and error/success.)

-   This level seems to be prime for the normal common man section (excluding upper and lower falls???). The drops all have wonderful amounts of water to avoid any scrapping, but also not as pushy or scary as it can get in there. (Note: this level still has a grade IV+ because you can walk around the hardest drops and still get a valuable day, however you have to get a little creative to avoid the class V. The whole run does get easier at lower flows and the drops are still nice then.) 

-   We put-in at the boardwalk just below Upper Johnston Falls. This sets you up to run a class V slide to drop combo (Ski Jump?) that puts you on a war path with the overhanging canyon wall. Jason and I both had to fend off the wall, but both got flushed downstream and out of there without too much difficulty. Lining up this one properly sends you off the rooster with so much speed and airtime, it feels like your flying!

-   We discovered some river wide wood on the first double drop downstream of Stella. We decided that with our time-frame we would just walk it and paddle the second half of the sequence. Someone could easily take out this log with some rope work and a saw, so if you go back in there soon, consider bringing the gear.

-   The second double drop "Phils Folly" had a log across the lip of the 7 meter drop, so on our walk up, we decided to stop and take it out. It took a bit of teamwork, but the drop is now clean again! To run both drops together makes the sequence a class V in my opinion, although to walk the first one and paddle the 7 meter is a straight forward IV+. 




Myself clearing the boil just upstream of "Phils Folly". Photo: Tim Shaw              Jason Boutet with a stylish line on the double drop downstream of Stella. 

Jason getting fully on edge for this challenging boof. He got to play in the hole for a couple seconds but it let him go without too much trouble. Its an unnerving spot to get surfed being right upstream of a 7 meter drop. 

Tim pictured here sneaking by the undercut wall on a no-name rapid downstream of Lower Johnston Falls. 


Although Johnston is a very busy place and there are a lot of factors that go into running it, it is still one of my favorite rivers in the area. Such classic creeking in stacked succession and easily completed in a half day trip from Calgary. It is one of the defining runs of our area, and I count myself lucky every time I get to run it! If the photos were an inspiration to you, take 3 min and watch this unreal video that Danny Gariepy made from our day out! 


Cheers Team!

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