Due to heavy winter snowfalls and -10 °C daily temperatures, it seemed like spring would never get its turn up north in Alberta. Finally, on April 14, we caught a warm front (and let me be clear here: warm in Canada is 3 °C, or 37 °F for my American friends), and raised our hands to the weather gods in reverence; paddling season was finally here.
My friend Indra and I had plotted and planned all winter, waiting for an opportunity to check out Marble Canyon, located within the boundaries of Kootenay National Park. My brand-spanking-new Hala Radito arrived weeks earlier and had been sitting in my garage, waiting to hit the water. I was antsy, to say the least. Our trip to Marble Canyon had already been postponed twice due to weather, so jumped at the opportunity in mid-April when we saw some potential in the forecast. We packed the go-kart (aka my Hyundai Accent) full of gear and made the two-hour drive from Calgary to Kootenay.
Approaching Marble Canyon on foot is relatively simple: park the car and walk about 10 minutes on a well-defined path before reaching the short, but spectacular canyon. However, accessing Marble Canyon with a paddleboard is a totally different ball game. For one, our packing list for this trip was rather long, resulting in some heavy carriage: SUP, pump, paddle, wetsuit, life jacket, helmet, harness, crampons, rope, biners, first aid kit, SPOT, radios, cameras and a few other odds and ends. Second, water levels exist at the bottom of a canyon. We had to descend.
While I inflated the boards, Indra set up the rappel station at the drop-in point. The rappel was 35 meters into the depths of the canyon. I opted to rope down first so that my more experienced partner could double-check my set-up. Next, we lowered the boards down. With a 35 meter distance between us, radios were exceptionally helpful for communication. Indra came down after the boards, and finally, it was time to kick off our paddling season.
The canyon still had quite a bit of snow in some places. Overhead danger isn’t something we normally think about when we head out on our SUP, but in this case, Indra and I made sure to acknowledge it at the start of our trip and point out any potential hazards along the way. To be on the safe side, we staggered ourselves so that we were not running under hazardous features at the same time.
As we approached the end of our run, we came across a long stretch of deep water that we just couldn’t resist running again. This allowed us to get some solid strokes in to finish off the day! We took out at the last bridge before the parking lot. As we pulled the boards out of the water, a group of unsuspecting bystanders greeted us with questions like “aren’t you cold?” and “are those kayaks?”
We walked back to the car in our wetsuits – post-holing up to our knees if we veered even slightly off the packed snow trail – with huge smiles on our faces, because the 2018 SUP season had officially started in the Canadian Rockies.
Robyn Bell is an international team rider for Hala Gear. Photos courtesy of Alice Rose Photography.