Participants: Jim Fegy, Cap’n Bob
This stretch of river is fantastic season starter. It has many features for you to work on your skills and get back into the groove after a winter of Netflix. With steep banks and abrupt twists and turns it offers that character of a small volume river. What it also offers is some fantastic white water without having to travel far from Edmonton. Unfortunately, this river does not have a water station so you won’t find its present level on any websites. What is does have is a running level system known as “boards”. The south pillar of the bridge has markings on each of the boards and from that measurement one knows what to expect on the river that day.
Shuttles are run from the Pembina provincial campground to the bridge on highway 22. Parking at the takeout can be found at the park gates, day use area or down at the north end of the campground. While the parking at the north end is the most convenient, it is limited and monitored so be mindful. An early season warning is that until about the second week in May the park gates will be locked. Be prepared for a long haul out, but it is worth it! Parking at the highway 22 bridge can be found on the east side. The south side of the river has a very smooth and dry ditch that provides reliable parking in most weather. There is also a large field on the north side of the river which offer access right down to the water. At present there is no signage on this field and I assume that the owners of this property will continue being gracious as long as we remain respectful.
The river starts off smooth and gentle with only small class 1 rapids. After about 30 minutes you will notice the river starts to pick up. Shortly after you will see a very high and long cut bank on river right the action really picks up. This section can provide some substantial standing waves with large rocks to avoid. The stretch is short but high on the “yippee” scale. You will see a high cliff back directly in front of you as the river abruptly turns left. I recommend you stop in the large pool on river right just above the bend. Be proactive to get into this pool early as the current is strong in the lower part. From here you can safely look down into the feature known as S-bend. This stretch has a difficulty that varies with water levels. I would rate it as low as a class 1+ on low water days when you are sliding over the rocks but I would give it a FULL 3 on days when the river is running at 12 boards. The most difficult part of S-bend and the stretch leading into it is this is where all the 50’ spruce trees accumulate and can block channels or possibly the entire river. From the pool on river right it is possible to portage around S-bend if conditions are sketchy. Note the floods of 2020 have significantly changed S-bend so scouting may be a good idea.
From here down the river switches back and forth from calm to giggles. Enjoy this section and play in all the features you can. As there are so many good spots along this run there is never a need to surf a risky hole that has a nasty strainer just below. At around the 2 hour mark you will find a farmers house on river right with a fire pit and a lawn right down to the water. This can be a fantastic surf spot when the river levels are just right. You will bounce around for about another 5 minutes when the Range Road 75A bridge comes into view. If you or anyone in your group have been struggling to this point there is a large open plateau on river right that makes a great place to pull out. If you thirst for adventure this is where the concentrated goodness begins! From the last turn leading into the bridge to the confluence with the Pembina its non-stop action for about 15 minutes! Once at the Pembina things slow down and flatten out. You have plenty of time to ferry across to the campground but do know if you miss it there will be some hard decisions to make.
Difficulty: Class 1 – 3, depending on water levels, today was “16 boards”
Duration: Approximately 3 hours
Weather: A mixed bag of sun, clouds and rain with a temperature of about 9 degrees C