Those involved in the white water rafting industry aren’t the only ones having to deal with this year’s loss of access to the Lower Canyon.
The Kicking Horse River is a renowned river in kayaking circles as well and local paddlers are unable to access the river’s crown jewel in the same manner that they have in the past.
“It’s definitely been unfortunate…not being able to legally access the lower canyon,” said Eric Shore, a recreational kayaker who also works as a raft guide.
This is causing safety concerns among veterans of the local kayaking scene, as it may lead some less experienced kayakers to take risks they wouldn’t normally take.
Like rafters, most kayakers will typically take their boats out of the water at the Kicking Horse Rest Area and skip the dangerous rapids that are immediately downriver. Those class five rapids are passable in a kayak, but only for exceptionally skilled and experienced paddlers, and even then the conditions have to be right and the water level has to be manageable.
The concern is that some kayakers may risk going through this portion of the river in order to be able to access the mellower, but still intense, lower canyon. Shore has witnessed some kayakers take this risk already this season.
“I think a lot of people have been paddling the middle at higher and higher (water) levels to get into the lower canyon, which kind of presents a bit of an issue. That’s an extremely demanding and dangerous piece of white water,” said Shore.
“More people are doing that because it’s trespassing to go the other way. It’s definitely pushing more and more people into that section as opposed to just going into the lower.”
At higher water levels, the section beyond the Kicking Horse Rest Area is exceptionally dangerous. The water moves a lot faster in this section than anywhere else on the river, and rescue becomes very challenging and at certain levels it might not be possible.
“You’d most likely lose your gear and there has been deaths on that middle section,” Shore said.
Shore also believes the issue could become a bigger one as the season drags on. Some kayakers may grow weary of trespassing on CP property or simply get tired of having to skip the Lower Canyon section of the river.
Larry Sparks, a longtime rafter and kayaker in the area, saw the access issue as a potential problem years ago. “What we’re dealing with right now is, I think, almost a greater problem, which is that we have an incredible natural asset which is a pillar of our tourism and community…but no long term use plan or management strategy, and it’s a terrible waste of an incredible thing. What we’re seeing due to loss of access is people beginning to realize how valuable of a thing this really is,” he said.
Late last month, the B.C. government announced it will be giving the Town of Golden funding in order to explore the option of building an access road on the other side of the river, allowing rafters and kayakers to avoid the CP tracks completely.
Altogether, it’s been a trying season for kayakers, many of whom originally moved to Golden because of the Kicking Horse River.
“It’s definitely frustrating…how it used to be it made it so nice to be able to access such a beautiful canyon in there,” Shore said.
“I think some people who were paddling a lot or were maybe a little less committed have stopped paddling as much.”