On April 25 the forecast for the following day called for 15 - 20 cm of snow and a discussion went back and forth all day, via email, weather to cancel the much anticipated canoe trip or to take our chances and go any way. Finally after much debate common sense prevailed. The next morning found me sweeping the snow and ice from the boat that I had loaded on the car the night before. Steve, Bryan, Jimmy and myself piled into Steve's van with two canoes on top and Jimmy's kayak wedge between him and I inside.
The view from the window as we passed through the Nesbitt Forest could have passed for an X-mas card. Snow lay on the ground and trees 12 inches deep and questions of our sanity started to surface. But Steve assured us that he had got up early and installed the snow tires on the van! We might get stuck in mud but we were at least ready for the snow.
When we arrived at the bridge over the Garden River we were surprised that the snow had completely disappeared and that the river was completely flooded! Even the fields were under water. At least there wasn't going to be a lack of water! Soon after we arrived at the put in Doug, a fellow from Prince Albert, arrived and after introductions he and Steve shuttled the vehicles to the take out. When they returned we got down to some serious paddling.
Doug and Jimmy would paddle their whitewater kayaks, Steve and Bryan would paddle Steve's prospector and I paddled a solo guide. I didn't know too much about this river. I knew it was small, even smaller than Eagle Creek and I had some concerns that it would be too tight for a 16 foot prospector. As it turned out, the river was about two boat lengths wide, perfect!
In the 5 or 6 km's from the bridge, where you put in, to the North Sask. River the Garden River drops over 90 feet! For those of you who paddle rivers will know that this can mean only one thing, a steep, fast river with lots of rapids and features. The Garden River certainly doesn't disappoint. The entire run is basically one long stretch of rapids with a few short, quiet sections to relax on. There are a bunch of waves for surfing, some large eddies to practice eddy turns and a ton of small eddies along the shoreline. In my opinion, this river is similar to the Torch river but much smaller. About half as wide and twice as steep. The rapids are similar however I would not recommend this river for novice paddlers. There are many bends in the river and around almost ever bend is a sweeper on the outside. Couple that with the swift current and a rooky paddler could easily find themselves in trouble. We paddled this river at flood levels so a lot of the rapids were washed out. The kayakers in the group would like to see the water higher and the canoeists would like to see it lower. At lower water this would a very technical river with literally hundreds of rocks to maneuver through.
We did have one mishap on the river. As I came around a bend I could see that, just ahead Bryan was standing in the water up to his waist next to the upturned boat. This struck me as a bit odd. Now I'm certainly no expert when it comes to paddling but I'm pretty sure that standing in ice cold water isn't what's meant when we say "run the river". When I pulled into the eddy behind them, after laughing my ass off I checked to make sure they were alright. Apparently they had the tilt wrong and when they entered the eddy, the eddy current caught the side of the boat and over they went. Now they will tell you that it was over quickly and gracefully but I'm pretty certain they held to the time honor tradition of grabbing the gunwales. Hell even Bill Mason did it! After they emptied their boat and some good natured ribbing we were on our way.
The rest of the day went without incident. Along the lower sections there are some pretty bony rapids that I sure wouldn't want to tip in! Some of the waves were large and came in over the gunwales, landing in my lap! Luckily the sun had come out and helped to keep us warm.
The take out is a very nice gravel beach on the North Sask. River. You end up paddling right out onto the big river, the beach is right at the mouth of the garden river. Over all I'd have to say that the Garden River is one of the nicest rivers we have in southern Sask. And possibly my new favorite.