Cycle and Paddle Dunster, B.C. to Saskatoon

June 21/16 to July 8/16Paddle Whitehorse to Dawson City
July 19/16 to Aug 3/16Cycle Homer Alaska to Whitehorse
Aug 17/16 to Oct 10/16Cycle and Paddle Dunster, B.C. to Saskatoon
May 1/17 to Oct 5/17 Paddle and Cycle New Lowell to Fort Frances
Where the map lettering shows the N in National Park is Valemount. The black line northwest of there is my route starting from Dunster. The yellow line from Red Deer is the river route leading to Saskatoon.

When I left the Peace River at Fort Vermilion (destination Inuvik) it was my intent to one day be resuming my cross Canada journey from the same place. That route would take me further down the Peace to the junction with the Athabasca River, then up that river to its junction with the Clearwater River. This was the Methye Portage route followed by the explorers and fur traders and I had hoped to follow in their footsteps. So much for the romantic thoughts of doing that. When I considered the difficulties of solo, against the flow paddling, where lining through stronger flows might be necessary, I opted for a safer more practical route. That choice was to resume from Valemount, the town at the north end of Kinbasket Lake. A good choice too, because it was accessible by train. One big glitch though, the only train route to Valemount was via an out and back to Jasper. Instead, I disembarked at Dunster, a whistle-stop station north of the highway junction to Jasper. There would be a gap in my route, but Dunster was twice the distance from that junction as Valemount was. Connecting and completing every mile of my journey solely by my physical effort was never my goal.

From Dunster, I pulled the canoe up the Yellowhead highway to Jasper, then headed south on the Banff Jasper highway to Saskatchewan Crossing. A junction there leads to Rocky Mountain House and beyond that the Red Deer River leads to South Saskatchewan. The North Saskatchewan saw much greater fur trade use, but I wanted to paddle the Red Deer River as it flows through the unique topography of the Alberta Badlands

The Dunster Railway Station built in 1915 still exists, but now as a museum only. No longer a regular stop but a request can still be made for pick up and drop off. Via Rail, by special request, will also make stops at any point along their routes to accommodate the likes of canoeists and hikers.

A sign at the Tete Jaune Lodge caught my attention, advertising their nightly buffet. When Ted, the owner, learned about my travels he insisted this cabin be free of charge! Very grateful for that offer but it wasn’t my first freebie of the day. On the train from Terrace, I was bumped out of economy, to first class, which included meals at no charge.

Mount Robson at 3954 metres is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. It is rarely cloud-free. I was also able to see Mount Terry Fox. There were very nice tributes to Terry at that view site.

Rearguard Falls on the Fraser River. If you’re a salmon arriving here, I’m sorry but you’ve missed your birthplace river, and intended spawning ground. You can’t get past these falls! I never did get the chance to paddle any of the Fraser River with all the paddling I did in B.C. but now I would be following it up to near its headwaters.

Hello Alberta and hello Continental Divide! I am leaving water that flows to the Pacific. Although from here it flows to the Arctic or into Hudson Bay. I have another divide to cross (somewhere??) before I reach the Atlantic flow. [I wouldn’t reach that divide until 100 kilometres south-west from Thunder Bay.] Still looking for mosquitoes too! None in the Yukon or Alaska and none camping at the divide. Wondering how the insect-eating wildlife is managing without them? Someone assured me I’d find them in Saskatchewan. Hope so. Been packing a lot of Deet and haven’t used a drop.

Mountains that endured the glacial grind.

Commercial rafting on the Athabasca River. Imagine what my journey would cost if I was paying their kilometre rate!

A very scenic, stop for the night camp spot, beside the Athabasca River.

As nice as tour cycling gets anywhere. An easy uphill grade and off the charts scenery.

Athabasca Falls. One of many scenic highlights along the Banff Jasper Highway. From my international travels, when people say they have visited Canada, the Banff Jasper is usually mentioned.

Remnants of the disappearing Columbia Icefields. I had not travelled this highway for a decade but when I was last here for a summer visit I recall the ice extending to the foreground of this picture. There was a large tracked vehicle sitting on the ice, used for taking tourists further up the glacier. I was shocked to see how fast and how far the glacier has retreated.

I knew it wasn’t going to be able to pedal all the hills through the Rockies. Here the pushing began up to Sunwapta Pass.

Tangle Creek Falls. A scenic start to the uphill push.

Falls in Nigel Creek. Taken from a bridge and not likely noticeable to anyone travelling by car. I had reached the summit just before dark the night before and to avoid traffic for the downhill plunge – which was another of my no brakes, let her rip, descents – I delayed breakfast and was on the road just after seven in the morning. When I reached Saskatchewan River Crossing I stopped at the Crossing Resort which offered a buffet-style breakfast that I fully utilized.

A pleasant sunny day here but not always the case. Shortly after leaving Saskatchewan Crossing, it started raining, along with gusty winds. I wear my poncho over my rain gear because in an all-day rain, the more protection the better. It’s made, to be extra long in the back, to allow for a backpack. It can be shorted with velcro tabs and I’ll be sure to do that from now on. The gusty winds caused the material to get caught in the back sprocket. No harm to the poncho but wow what a ‘chain’ of events it caused. Suddenly the back tire skidded to a stop. The material had balled up in the chain and caused the rear derailleur to jam sideways into the gear cluster and that snapped the derailleur hanging bracket. I could go no further until I found a new hanger and fixed the bike. That meant hitchhiking to the closest town, Rocky Mountain House, 160 kilometres away. A kindly Edmonton couple, who turned about when then noticed my plight, waited while I hid the canoe and loaded what I’d need to take with me. Luckily, the bike shop in Rocky had a replacement hanger and with that, the bike was easily fixed. The next day, two rides got me back to the canoe and I was underway again. When I arrived back in Rocky I picked up the box, of non-essential for land travel items, that I had shipped by bus from Terrace.

Sunrise on Abraham Lake, a hydro electric reservoir on the North Saskatchewan River.

A day of scattered but heavy thundershowers. For the most part, I was lucky enough to dodge them. One that caught me totally in the open had me enduring the downpour covered with my poncho. For another, I boldly chose this shelter …

Boldly I say because as the storm approached I noticed this empty garage a short distance up a driveway. No time to ask ‘may I please’, I just biked right on in. At the time both sides of the garage were empty – nobody was home. Felt a bit sheepish when the owners returned, but it wasn’t long until I was enjoying cookies and tea and telling them more of my story.

My grandeuriest of portages (the Rocky Mountains) est fini. Once I get everything ship-shape I will be a paddler once again. This is the Medicine River and it’s just a few meandering kilometres from the Red Deer River. Heavy rains have all the rivers running high.

Why I chose the Red Deer River to start my eastward paddle. I took this pic in 2007 and think it’s one of the most scenic I’ve ever taken. Hard for this BC boy to admit but this is the Red Deer River in Dry Island Buffalo Jump park in (choke!) ALBERTA. I’ve day-paddled the Red Deer in two other places as well and it offers some truly unique landscapes through the Badlands and Dinosaur Park. Not a pristine blue right now. Heavy rain has it looking barnyard brown. I won’t be doing my usual of drinking the river water.

Forget your unreality TV and allow me to entertain with some true drama. It’s raining so I’m under that tarp with the big box of ‘too heavy to cycle with’, delivered by Greyhound, doing things trying to get my ship together. Rain stops so I stand up and stumble stumble – yup right into the river!! Not an immersion but a roll in the shallows had me just as wet. I laughed so you can too. Good practise for a real immersion but not what could be called a dry run!

My first camp spot on the Red Deer after a day of paddling against a strong headwind. When the winds are like that if I let it swing my bow even a little I get spun around like a big weather vane. No safety issue with that happening here but not wise to float backwards. And if it does happen, getting pointed back downstream is a real chore even with the extra reach of the kayak paddle. Disembarking ashore and manually turning the canoe back upstream is one sure method. Sometimes, once in shallow enough water, the kayak paddle can be used as a pole to push the bow back against the wind. The best bet though is to not let it happen and that requires constant attentive paddling.

Castor Canadensis. How the west was won for western Canada. Without them no fur trade exploration. I was late in finding a suitable camping spot so it was getting dark when I spotted two beavers in the shallows. At first, I wasn’t sure they weren’t just pieces of wood, except for their similarity. One quickly submerged. The other – deaf perhaps? Their tail slap doesn’t sound like a smack. It’s a sound like tossing a cannonball into the water would make. A good kathump!! There are plenty of beaver in the Red Deer River but beaver are very wary. You usually only know of their presence when you hear their communal warning kathump. If you do spot them it’s most likely only a glimpse before they disappear underwater. I was very fortunate to catch these two, so slow at getting off the mark.

This picture is out of time sequence. Just wanted to include a picture of a beaver felt hat. I was in England in 2018, in a living history museum, and asked if I could pose with this rather dusty felt hat I spotted on a top-shelf. These hats, all made from North American beaver, remained popular for more than 300 years! Quite amazing that the beaver, as a species, survived.

I did not know there are pelicans in Alberta.

Blue heron are the birds I see most often. But eagles, osprey, and hawks too. I’m excluding Canada geese in my tally. (Are they still considered wildlife? Foul they are. They also make the pest list in New Zealand.) 

The Red Deer River is very much a wilderness paddle. In two days I only saw people three times. I’m seeing more birdlife here than I did on the Yukon River.

Calf-deep mud was the only means to access the campground I just spent two nights at. You just have to think of it as more Huck than yuck. Clothes are clean, I’m clean, batteries are all up to snuff. No idea where the next resupply town might be. Names on the map are often just that. Saskatoon is about 800k away. I’ll set up for rowing once I find a mud-free location.

A very unique display of a fossilized dinosaur skeleton. It’s untouched. It’s lying where it fell 75 million years ago, now protected from the elements by a glassed shelter. I’m at the Dinosaur Park visitor’s complex. The remains of more than 500 dinosaurs of 50+ species have been found here. Erosion constantly uncovers more remains which are exhumed asap, as once exposed they deteriorate quickly.

A glimpse of Alberta’s Badlands. Layers of sandstone, mudstone and ironstone laid down over millions of years. The name says it about this land-form worldwide. Trying to walk through Badlands would be a most unpleasant experience, especially when wet.

Something a boater would not expect to find – ever! A barbed-wire fence stretched across a river! I’m still in the Red Deer River but on a whim, I decided to take a narrower channel instead of the main channel. Fortunately, I wasn’t rowing because I would not have picked this up in my mirrors. In the picture, the canoe is against the bank and I am in the process of squeezing under the wire. A few days later, when I had cell, I reported it to the RCMP and later a constable called me back wanting full location details.

Ever been to, or heard of, Empress, Alberta – population around 150. It was a three day paddle down the South Saskatchewan from Dinosaur Park and except for a few cars at the bridge crossings, I never saw anybody the entire time. Arrived here, in the centre of town, and still nobody. Rather eerie. Had me thinking of that ‘Last one to leave the prairies please turn out the lights’ saying from the ’80s. Did find a cafe/convenience store – and a shower. Next possible resupply (and human face perhaps?) is 200 km downstream.

The migration is underway with Speckled Bellied Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese and plenty of ducks. These White American Pelicans are a favourite with their black flight feathers and six foot or more wingspan. Moose count now at six. Two nights ago, one stood a hundred yards off and watched me for an hour while I prepared camp. Too dark to get a decent picture.

My oars ‘waken’ up a sleepy lake. Had an interesting visitor this day. A solo air force fighter jet came straight upriver at an elevation of I’d guess 1000 feet. When he/she noticed me, the jet rolled 90 degrees for a better look and continued past holding that configuration. I waved!

My last night camp spot. Just at the west end of Diefenbaker Lake, a hydro reservoir about 200 kilometres in length. Won’t have any assist from the current here but won’t be running aground on sand bars either.

Not the easiest of dams to get around but doable. Any reason to think that things might be a bit different tomorrow? Nope, everything looking good. Ever heard of a Colorado Clipper? Ah no. Ya well, you will tomorrow, and hope you like it here because you won’t be getting underway for another three days.

Welcome to Saskatchewan Ron! Doesn’t this say it’s time to make like all the overhead geese and take to the wing? I’ll be doing that Oct 12 from Saskatoon. In Outlook now and still 125 km to Saskatoon. Temps are near freezing but I have good winter clothes. I paddle wearing my dry suit. This is all the winter I expect to be experiencing. I’m flying to New York to join a sailboat crew, destination Haiti.

Made it to Saskatoon. Will find somewhere to store the canoe once I’m downstream of this weir. Yes, this is most certainly a portage around. Crazy that there are no warning signs or barricade booms upstream of this deadly beast. I happened to learn of it when googling about the river. I just walked past it, scouting out take-out places, and it is totally invisible from upstream. It is possible seasonal booms have been removed for winter – who would be out boating now??