The upper Jordan River is a short stretch of water consisting of six drops until it reaches the bridge over the river on the Boulder Mountain road. On Saturday, a race was planned to take place down the river and 10 teams of two registered to test their skills down the challenging creek run. There were a few kayakers from Revelstoke, and others came from throughout B.C and Alberta to take part in the race
Among them were Carl Jacks, an accomplished expedition paddler, and Mikkel St-Jean Duncan, one of Canada’s top whitewater kayakers.
“In terms of general areas that I’ve been, I’d put it in the top five,” said St. Jean-Duncan, who has paddled around the world. “You have some world class boaters who come through and they can find some really good challenging whitewater rapids.”
Unfortunately, the race was canceled after an organizer’s dog fell in the river and died. The tragic incident cast a pall over the day, yet the kayakers in town still took the time to get a taste of what Revelstoke first has to offer.
I was stationed near the fifth drop on Jordan River and I watched as the racers came down in two large groups. St. Jean-Duncan was the first to navigate the small and narrow canyon. He followed the line into the rapid, swung left to pop off a flat, shallow rock and then pointed his boat through a skinny chute that ended in a small drop.
He coasted into the flat water between the fifth and sixth drops and waited for the others to come through. One by one they followed a similar line. Some made it look easy, others struggled a bit more.
They then headed off downstream, over the sixth drop and towards the take out point at the bridge. A second group came through a few minutes later.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time hanging around kayakers in Revelstoke. A few of my good friends paddle, so I’ve attended many bonfires filled with kayak talk. Even though I’ve never done any whitewater kayaking myself, I’ve heard enough stories about the Illecillewaet raft run, the 13th wave, the box canyon, the upper and lower Jordan, and the Perry River, that I feel like I have a fairly good idea of where people paddle around here.
My friend Brendan Ginter administers the Revelstoke Whitewater Facebook group. It’s where local and out of town paddlers share information about water levels and conditions, and make arrangements to go paddling. The group has 161 members. When I asked who the best person to talk to about the local scene was, people told me to talk to Ginter.
“The kayaking in Revelstoke is like the skiing in Revelstoke,” he told me. “For the most part, with the exception of a few spots, it’s all pretty high end. Creeking is like big mountain skiing and playboating is like jibbing. We don’t have much of a park around here, but we certainly have some good big mountain terrain.”
Revelstoke’s kayak scene is pretty scattered, Ginter said. There’s a some world-class paddlers that call Revelstoke home, but there’s little in the way for beginners. The big draw for visitors is the creekboating in the area on rivers like the Jordan and the many creeks in the area.
For beginners though, it’s not the most welcoming spot, with even the easier rivers carrying some big consequence. He mentioned the lower Jordan – from the Boulder Mountain bridge to the Columbia River – as a nice class II, but it’s filled with wood, making it a potentially treacherous option.
St. Jean-Duncan cited Pingston Creek as his favorite in the area. Located south of Revelstoke, near the Shelter Bay ferry, the creek starts high up in Pingston Lake in the Monashees and cascades down to the Upper Arrow Lake. The section that gets paddled is close to the lake. “That ones really awesome because it has three different sections,” he said. “One that’s really hard, one that’s intermediate-advanced difficulty, and one that mostly just the pros that come in the area do.
“The waterfalls right into the lake are awesome because it’s a really hard rapid but it ends in a lake, so if anything happens, you end up there. It’s not super scary, but its challenging.”
The Illecillewaet River provides some of the best variety for kayaking around Revelstoke. The raft run, which stretches 23 kilometres from Albert Canyon to Greeley, is one of the best sections of continuous class II and III rapids around, Ginter said. “It’s 23K, it’s a fairly interesting run with lots going on and it almost never gets done,” he said.
A few kilometres below Greeley lies what boaters call the 13th wave – a standing wave of water that kayakers, and surfers, can play in. There’s a standing eddy right behind the wave, so if you fall out of the wave, you can just paddle back around and get back in. “You can hang out there all day, surfing the wave and doing tricks and playboating,” said Ginter.
Below the 13th wave is the box canyon. A few hours after watching kayakers come down the Jordan, I snuck across the train tracks to witness most of the group of paddlers attempt the KOA drop in the canyon. The box is regarded as one of the most intense bits of whitewater in the area and the KOA drop – so named because it’s located below the KOA campground – is the burliest part of it. It’s where the river widens and falls rapidly, culminating is a two-metre drop.
I arrived just as about a dozen kayakers showed up. Three of them went straight into the rapid, not hesitating through the drop and then escaping into an eddy on the north bank of the river. Everyone else pulled ashore above the rapid to scout out the drop and figure the best way through. One of them opted out, and carried his kayak around the rocks above the river. Everyone else went back.
The first person to hit the drop got thrown upside down. He disappeared into the raging water and emerged downstream upside down. I watched as he successfully uprighted himself, only to get tossed back under as he swept past the eddy. A kayaker took off after him but he managed to roll over again and paddle away.
The second kayaker through had a similar experience as he was buried in the waves and tossed about. After that, everyone chose an easier route, over a rock slide, down the drop and into the eddy. They regrouped and paddled away down a flat stretch of the canyon towards some more rapids and the City or Revelstoke.
The box canyon is one of Revelstoke’s star attractions for expert kayakers. Last summer, St. Jean-Duncan and some other professional kayakers came to Revelstoke to film with Sherpas Cinema. They dropped the 20-metre high Sutherland Falls in Blanket Creek Provincial Park, and then went to the box canyon to finish their day.
Revelstoke has big potential as a destination for whitewater kayakers, especially high-end creekboaters, said Ginter.
“There’s endless steep creeks and lots of really good access,” he said. “There’s all sorts of stuff that hasn’t been run before. The Incomappleux is one perfect example, but if you go towards Mica, some of the stuff has never even been scouted or looked at from a kayaking standpoint, and there’s logging roads running up almost every single one of them. The potential is almost endless if somebody wants to put the work in.”