Kananaskis River Ice Lesson
This story may be humorous and I fully understand that, and I have presented it over beers as ‘learning comedy’ as it could have had disastrous conclusions, so the moral of this story is that rivers are very dangerous and should be constantly questioned with every footstep you make crossing one.
Our story starts off in Kananaskis…..
The ice flows that sit every year on the steep embankment above the Kananaskis River north of Canoe Meadows looked like good solo ice bouldering, in a neat setting.
Parking early morning it’s winter so nobody is really coming into this normally busy parking lot. Hiking down to the river’s edge there is no edge to speak of as it was just barely small streams braided 30m across to the west side. It only took a few moments to skip over ankle deep to the other side. Cool. Hiking for 15 minutes north along the rim will get you to the spot where a rappel is mandatory to get down the 40m dirt, clay and vegetated hanging garden of soil cliff to the bouldering ice flows.
The rappel rope secured to a tree at the top dangled as a single strand. It was left there to jumar back out of if the ice flows would not spit one out back into the top forest – that was to be seen still. On go the crampons, a snack, grab the tools and the harness. The setting is very different and contrasty that usual with very dry snow free river bottom, which should be seen in retrospect as a red flag since the area around the rappel cliff had some snow on it. Sink the tools into the beautiful sun baked ice, it is very hard to imagine it is still middle of winter here and it’s too bad the sunglasses were not packed.
Crampons work themselves onto and above the wafer-thin ice shelf that runs like a waist belt along the bottom edge of all the ice flows; huh that is an odd ice formation. The backpack is left suntanning next to the rappel rope, the sun is reflecting off the adze of the pick until a few booming sounds are heard in the distance. Begins to be continuous and sounds like a roar.
Around the sharp bend 300m down south comes a tsunamai of a million buckets of frigid powerful river heading at a tremendous speed. Holy F!
As it makes the corner the sound is forgotten to the sight of a river bursting foot by foot by foot higher up the banks within seconds. Running on river rock in crampons, ice picks dangling, racing against time is no longer a fun enjoyable cruiser day but one of utter horror. The grades on these little flows just grew!
Grab the pack, climb the crumbling dirty face with the tools sinking them into moss, and roots just enough to swing the crampons back onto that thin ice shelf, the waist belt one that is no more than a few inches thick and supporting the weight of a climber, his winter clothes and backpack with odds and ends: the cohesion of ice is pretty impressive to uphold the weight. Clip onto the single strand of rope. Tie on a jumar. Tie on another jumar and jug up a bit as the river, now a meter or two deep is lapping hurriedly at the ice supporting the boots. The Kananaskis River is raging and moving hard in a cold push to get out of the mountains.
Takes about a half hour to jumar up 40m of crappy terrain and using ice tools to snag anything that will hold to progress a bit faster. Finally the top and out of danger. Pull up the rope. Breath. Relax. Think.
Head down back to where the easy crossing was used maybe it’s not so bad there. Maybe someone visiting on the other side may be able help. Nobody. The river is big and scary here moving at a tremendous rate, impossible to cross, pure suicide. Luckily the phone has enough reception to call work as the night shift is only a few hours away which is clearly not going to happen and to make matters worse I will miss an important event, in this case a big football match. Yikes.
Had a good topo map been stowed in the rucksack this adventure may not have been so long but that is only a suspicious guess. So instead of a possibly shorter south bushwack, the more sparse level north walk-out was more tempting. And thus 5 hours later, after hiking north to and through Rafter Six Ranch, out to the Trans-Canada and all the way down it, past the casino, and south back to the car at Canoe Meadows did this adventure and learning experience about river crossings come to an end with no serious complications other than a missed day at work.