Whitewater rafting on our summer vacations has become something of a family tradition, but we’ve gotten pickier as we’ve progressed. Our 15-year-old son, for instance, was perfectly content on a quiet float along the Rio Grande a few years ago, but when we started looking into rafting trips in Jasper, he loftily informed us that he wasn’t interested in trips geared toward "kids."
Happily, we found a trip that proved one of the most engaging whitewater experiences we’ve had. After looking over various brochures and talking with people from several companies, we booked a trip with Whitewater Rafting Jasper, Ltd., a long-established company recommended by a friend.
Our next decision was which river trip to take. Basically, all the companies offer comparable trips on the Athabasca River and to Sunwapta Falls. Most of the rapids on the Athabasca are Class II, while the Sunwapta trip offers Class III rapids, but entails a longer drive and is only 2 hours long. We opted for the 3 1/2-hour Athabasca trip.
Glacier-fed rivers like the Athabasca, which flows from the Columbia Icefield, are cold, but we were kitted out in neoprene wetsuits and booties that kept us comfortable. Wedging myself into the wetsuit in the makeshift "dressing room" in the back of the shuttle bus was a bit dicey, however. The put-in point was near popular Athabasca Falls, and we had something of an audience watching from the falls above as we hauled our rafts to the river and set off.
This company uses smaller eight-men rafts, more exciting than larger rafts and more conducive to developing camaraderie among rafters. Our trip was a bit unusual as we had four guides in the raft for the three of us. The head guide was supervising a guide learning this stretch of the river, while the other two were basically along for the ride. This favorable guide-to-client ratio provided a perfect opportunity for me to ask all sorts of questions, which were all good-naturedly and authoritatively answered. I learned all about the requirements for becoming a certified rafting guide in Canada, as well as receiving some terrific tips on places to go and things to do locally.
Although the rapids weren’t particularly large or technically difficult, the Athabasca is a swift-running river and kept us on our toes. There were no slow stretches requiring paddling, and we only needed to paddle to set ourselves up going into and negotiating rapids. Listening to the head guide coach the guide-in-training through the various stretches of the river was fascinating, and I picked up a few tips on "reading" the river secondhand.
All too soon we’d reached the take-out point, but it seemed we weren’t done with rafting for the day. The annual Jasper Rafting Pentathalon was being held that evening on the Athabasca near Old Fort Point, and our newfound friends urged us to come cheer them on as they defended their title.
The defending champs at the Whitewater Pentathalon