The River Report | Pipestone River

by Brandon Willms

Hey everyone!

   Just got back from an eventful few days of paddling (and driving and faffing) this last week. Tim Shaw and I decided to make a mad dash out to Revelstoke as we got word through the paddling grapevine that the legendary Upper Pingston was at a good level.

   My Dodge Dakota has been the vehicle of choice for our longer road trips that involve a lot of logging road driving, so we saddled up and got on the road, bright and early on Tuesday. I had recently celebrated the 300000 km milestone on the Dakota and was starting to get a feeling that it might not have much life left. Well those fears came true while we were approaching the shelter bay ferry. A dreadful rhythmic metallic click started from deep inside the engine and it was clear she was toast!

That sad moment when your truck gives up the will to carry on......

   What followed was a classic case of dirtbagging, faffing and bumbing rides involving AMA and some good friends. We did manage to get a run on middle pingston, which is a nice continuous class 3-4 blast at a juicy level, but we missed our opportunity for the Upper. Regardless, with the help of our friend, Danny Gariepy, we managed to get a really fun lap of the Pipestone River on our way back to Calgary yesterday. It just so happens that I had the pleasure of running it at a slightly lower level just last weekend with a fun group, so I have lots of photos and some beta from various levels. Figure its an excellent recipe for another river report!

The short hike is worth every minute. You quickly forget you had to work at all. 
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River Report | Pipestone River – Ski Hill to Town

Date: June 16

Location: Lake Louise, BC

Our Water Level: 13 cms

Grade (at this level): III+ (IV)

Character (at this level): Good quality, technical, low volume creeking in a deep, steep sided valley; the rock type is a mix of smooth rocks and boulders and sharp, stratified bedrock; two portageable bedrock drops IV and IV- respectively; continuous, long rapids, some rapids wrap around blind corners; crisp river features; holes, pourovers, boofs; read and run; challenging rescues; scouting challenging in places; hardest drop is portageable; hazards include pins, powerful recirculation, long swims through rocky rapids and potential for wood around every corner. Egress is possible on either side by hiking up and out of the valley (can be very steep and challenging) and then down the river on trail.

Directions: Take-out is anywhere in Lake Louise, we often get out at the eddy 50m upstream of Laggans Bakery on river left. Put-in is at Lake Louise Ski Hill. Continue all the way to the end of whitehorn dr, past the main gate of the ski hill and park beside a push-gate (through an electric fence, meant to fend off bears) in the back left corner of the ski hills summer storage lot. You will find a trail leading away from this which goes upriver. After approximately 20 min hike, the trail forks. Follow the left fork down a steep embankment and eventually to the river.

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!)

  • On this particular day, we had three paddlers (Maya Blomme, Andrew Ladle and Cayse Ruiter) who had not run this section before!
  • The pipestone can be challenging to discover for the first time. To safely navigate this river requires good boat control and catching midrapid and midstream eddies in class III+ whitewater. This is not a great river to be testing your ability on class IV. Come expecting to be put in class IV scenarios.
  • There are numerous, awesome classic boofs at this level. Boulders are for the most part, padded enough to be nice, but lookout for the odd, sharp rock hidden in the landings. There is also sharp bedrock lining the sidewalls of the river. This run has been known to break boats and rip drysuits (like many rocky mountain runs).
  • Two step (IV) is the first of the bigger drops and is the harder of the two. It has a few possible lines at this level, but we ran the boof line on the hard left with good results. I have experienced and seen many back loops out of this drop in the past.
  • There is wood scattered throughout the river at the moment, but it is mostly out of play. The worst log is on the river right on the outside of a blind left hand bend. It is in one of the rapids in the first half of the run. See the cover photo for reference (can't see the log in the photo, but it is on the right hand wall at the bottom).
  • Sidewinder (IV-) is the second of the big drops and it is quite friendly at these levels. Eric got backlooped into the hole, but got flushed out fairly quickly while still upside down. There is a massive pool below it and safety is easy to set up and reasonable here.
  • Mr Splat (III+) starts at the exit pool of Sidewinder and is one of the more recognizable rapids. It has a boulder fence halfway down. At this flow, we were able to ride over the right side of the main boulder (the one that gives the rapid its name). One of our party went over the boulder upside down with pretty minimal impact. At slightly lower flows, this rapid is a techy, manky rapid likely deserving a IV- rating.


Top: Brad Barnes on his home river, flying through "Sidewinder". 
Middle Left: (Photo: Danny Gariepy) Great Pipestone boogy  Middle Right: (Photo: Danny Gariepy) Takeout right in Lake Louise
Bottom: Myself feeling the effects of the 9r's rockets 

Date: June 20

Level: 18cms

Grade (at this level): III+ (IV)

Character (at this level): High quality, technical, low volume river running and creeking at this level; The extra 5cms brings the river to its prime level. Most rocks are now well padded and lines become a little wider. The river is slightly more pushy than at 13 but not enough to warrant an increase in the grade as many lines become easier; The character is otherwise the same as at 13 cms.

Run Spotlight:

  • This is a better level for the boulder gardens in the early part of the run. Everything is still very continuous however, and class IV skills will be very handy.
  • This is a prime level for Two Step.
  • Sidewinder is basically the same as at 13, the recirc will get stronger as the level continues to rise, but is still not serious.
  • Splat has a beautiful boof available on just about any of the boulders in the boulder fence. Danny sent a huge boof off the boulder left of center!

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Danny sent it so big, even the bushes can't take it away from him. 

   I think the Pipestone is a wonderful river. It is short enough for quick laps if you’re passing through the area (or after work runs, if your Brad Barnes and you live at the takeout), but long enough to fill an afternoon with excitement if you’re taking it a bit slower. It is nonstop right from the put-in almost to the takeout and has a fairly steady grade of difficulty. If you have paddled mostly grade III and are thinking of stepping up to class IV, try the nearby Upper Bow first and make sure you feel comfortable and controlled in III+ to IV- before attempting the Pipestone. If you are trying to push your abilities here, make sure you have a small contained group, and at least one strong paddler as boat scouting and rescues are tough here. To finish, I would like to quote our own kayak wizard Paul Kolman, “May your boat stay wet and your butt stay dry!”

Many of the Photo Credits go to Danny Gariepy, Tim Shaw 

Maya on a sweet ramp somewhere in the first half of the run.