Messing About on the River

There’s a fresh scent that comes with April. You can smell the warmth, good cheer, not to mention the incessant BBQ’ing, the occasional whiff of muddy grass and, if you’re really lucky, the remnants of well-fed Fernie dogs, so watch your step. April is a month that is invariably filled with those last few warm ski days, increasing favourable temperatures and a change of scene.

Many springtime activities take place on the Elk River – rafting, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, lazy days floating or any other water-based activity that the Elk River can accommodate. It’s a hive of activity, and this month we focus on a well-known Fernie couple that in 1995, started up one of Fernie’s popular rafting companies, Canyon Raft and has never looked back.

As Lynn Craig says, “both of us were raft guides on the Kicking Horse River for many seasons but lived in Fernie. We knew the Elk River and the Bull River would be great rafting, so it seemed like a natural progression to open our own company and be the first to offer rafting trips.”

It was a river that they knew well. Blair Craig had been working at the Fernie ski hill since the winter of 1975/76 and began canoeing and kayaking to fill summer months with a sport that brings many of the same great benefits of skiing. Whilst Lynn met Blair kayaking, soon relocating to Fernie.

“The rafting season starts in early May with guide training, while commercial trips generally start around the May long weekend, stopping after the September long weekend when the weather cools off.” For a mountain town that invariably likes to mix and match seasons within the span of a day, that is a successfully long season for anything.

Luckily Lynn and Blair don’t mind the weather and have a passion for Fernie at all times of the year. “Summer is a great season but we love all the seasons, taking full advantage of what each has to offer – hiking, biking and running in the spring and fall, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and skiing as much as we can in the winter.”

In the summer, they meet guests from all over the world, offering a trip for everyone, even grandma. “Our most popular trip is the Lower Elk River Canyon – our full-day white water run that is full of great rapids. For a shorter trip we also offer half-day floats on the Elk River near town, which are a great way to see the surrounding Rocky Mountains but are gentle without any rapids.” Cue grandma.

Of course, it’s not just about staying afloat and making it to the bus at the end. “People are surprised to find so much beautiful wilderness hidden away from all the roads. Once you hike down into the Elk Canyon and board the rafts, there are no roads or anything man-made until the end of the trip at the highway 93 bridge.” Surprising even you locals!

For other river enthusiasts, the river and season ramps up at a fast pace, with little time to hone skills. “Around mid-May to late-June, the snow melts along with the spring rain, making the river really start to flow and get more powerful, so you want to be on your game!”

Lynn and Blair know of the hazards, safety precautions and have no doubt seen a few rookie mistakes first hand. “Most people think of life jackets as the most important safety equipment, but you also need thermal protection as the cold will knock the fight out of you very quickly.” And if you do end up in the river, “swim away from the outside bends.”

Such wise words should be adhered to if you’re tackling the PPP. From the novice dress-up splasher, to the wetsuit clad pro, the Powder, Pedal, Paddle (Run), aka the PPP is one of the great spring sporting events in Fernie. Whether in it to win it, or there just for the party, it’s a fantastic day to celebrate the end of the season, and an event that this couple are no strangers to.

But if you’d like to hand the reins to the experts and see for yourself what the Elk River can throw at you, check out rafting. It promises a great day out, where you can run some great rapids right off the bus, learn how to paddle and simply find yourself “messing about on the river.”