Whitewater Rafting in Jasper National Park

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I had never been whitewater rafting before.  I always wanted to give it a try, but it never seemed to work out.  But when I checked into my room in Jasper, and I received a coupon for a rafting trip, I knew the time was right.  Where on earth would be a better place to go rafting for the first time, than a glacier-fed river, surrounded by Rocky Mountain peaks?

I hooked up with the Jasper Whitewater Rafting Company at a staging area, across the railroad tracks from downtown Jasper.  Luckily, I ended up with a group of equally inexperienced people for the trip down the Athabasca River, including a family with two children.

After we donned wet suits, outerwear, gloves, boots, and a life jacket, our guide, Ron, gave us a few minutes of instruction — starting with how to get in and out of the raft.  Since we were only going to be in Class 2 rapids (and because of the time of year, the river was low and slow), the actual work involved wouldn’t be very complicated.  Ron would stay in the back of the raft to steer, and tell us when to row forward, row backwards, or relax and enjoy the scenery.

I ended up at the front of the boat, along with Ross.

Ross’s wife Cheryl went behind him, while Eve (who was all alone on the river, because the rest of her group wanted to hike that day) sat behind me.  The kids, Kyle and Elise, stayed in the front for part of the trip.

Fortunately, Cheryl had brought her digital camera, and she was nice enough to share her pictures with me.  I bought a disposable film camera the night before the trip.  You’ll be able to tell which pictures are mine, because they look like grainy photos taken in the 1970’s — not to mention, I was trying to operate the camera while wearing rubber mittens.  It wasn’t easy.

At least 80% of the time, we all had to do nothing at all, just float.  That gave us some great opportunities to enjoy the surrounding scenery.  Ron pointed out the stumps left behind by beavers along the shoreline…

… and pointed out the names of the surrounding mountains.  Up ahead, looking north, is Pyramid Mountain, which looms over Jasper.

Same mountain, different direction.

While my pictures were terrible, and Cheryl’s were good…

… the pictures taken by the rafting company were the best.  They caught us as we plunged…

… into the biggest wave on the river, which left Ross and me soaked…

… while Cheryl looked for the camera, and waved.

Back to my lousy photos now!  This is the last one I took, as my disposable camera ran out of film.  This bridge marked the spot where another stream mixed with the Athabasca River, giving us a chance to see the Athabasca’s milky water mingling with the clearer water from the other creek, directly below our raft.  This was also the end of the rafting trip, and a place where the currents were mild enough, that we could jump out of the raft, and go for a swim.

I’m a Floridian, and I don’t go in my backyard pool if the water is below 76 degrees (and even that’s pushing it!).  On this day, Ron told us the water was 8 degrees Celsius, or about 46 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s chilly.  Thank goodness for the wet suit!

Jasper’s Whitewater Rafting Company offers three trips: the shortest is the one I took, the Athabasca River Mile 5 trip, which begins about 9 kilometers south of Jasper, and ends close to town.  It’s a Class 2, which means it’s an easy float with a few waves, splashes, and small rapids.  For a longer Class 2 trip, try the Athabasca River/Athabasca Falls route, which includes a 12 kilometer, 1 1/2 hour float.  The Sunwapta River route is a Class 3, meaning you need a little more experience, endurance, and better swimming skills.  The first two leave from Jasper, the third departs from the Sunwapta Falls Resort. Trips cost between $59 and $79 (CAD) (2009 rates — check their website for updates).  Be sure to ask around town (including at your accommodation) for coupons.

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