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August 2022

Shuswap River Kayaking

Guest Author: Tyson Head (@restlesscrusade)

The Okanagan Valley is known for many of its adventures and hidden secrets. Everything from wine tours in the summer to deep powder skiing in the winter. One of its un-spoken excitements is the white water available to kayak enthusiasts. I first got into kayaking back when I was 16 years old and never really got out of it . After all these many years one would think that my skill level would be much greater but like any sport, time and commitment is required. I consider myself as a casual kayaker.

Every year as the snowpack in the outlying Monashee Mountains begins to melt the water levels start to rise. Lower Shuswap River at the outlet of Mable lake near Enderby, B.C. has a three kilometer section that starts to turn heads. Although runnable and enjoyable at any water level this stretch can change from a rocky float through pleasant forests with birds of prey soaring overhead to a raging torrent of class IV, full volume white water filled with standing waves, holes, boils and whirlpools. Like many and all sports out there this one should not be attempted without competent training, and never alone.

We have a very loyal and welcoming crew of paddlers that have been meeting up every Wednesday after work for quite some time now, 5:30 at the take out. As we head to the water we do a quick buddy check to make sure we are all prepared for safety and fun. The first few hundred meters are just fast flowing water but it soon turns into some tall standing teeter totter waves followed by a narrowing of the rock walls resulting in a 100m long section of overhead waves, technical holes and turbulent waters. This is by far the roughest section of the river, known to locals as "Big Pool" and should not be attempted during high water without a strong roll and confident lead. Once you round the corner to the left you continue through enjoyable shorter sections of white water with many eddies and surf waves to play around on and cheer your fellow paddlers.

The remainder of the river continues this way with the exception of one other technical stretch where every year a kayak rodeo is held. This is a competition where play-boaters toss themselves into river features known as holes to perform moves in the surf waves to impress both the judges and fans. The hole is limited to the left side of the river but the section leading into it is often filled with large whirlpools and boils that often leave me and others upside down in our boats.

Another couple hundred meters along features smaller white water sections before the river widens and flattens out. There is a good size take out on the right hand side where we tend to collect and compare smiles and laughs for the day. The vast majority of the time we exit the water a much more pleasant person than we entered, like the river had washed away all the stress from the previous work day. We are all expecting a perfect run down the river but are prepared for the not so pleasant side of water sports. A properly fitting helmet and life jacket are just the minimum standards before taking to the water with many of us toting along a throw rope, knife and other safety gear just in case the worst case scenario rears its ugly face.

Water levels for Shuswap river can be easily found online at the Government of Canada web site as well as various apps like "RiverApp". There always seems to be a Facebook group for river kayakers in every section of the province boasting group paddle and meet ups on their local rivers. Most paddle members are always keen to help each other out, even if you are an experienced kayaker or someone new to the sport looking to gain experience.