Looking for ideas for your next kayaking adventure?
Thought about heading off to see the Northern Lights, experience 20 hours of daylight and paddle some of the biggest waves and holes on the planet?
So the Slave River Festival might be worthy of your bucket list.
I had the time of my life on the mighty Slave River in Canada's remote Northwest Territories.
From playful bears in the eddy, wild camping under the Northern lights on gigantic rocks in the middle of the river metres from world class waves it really was a special special experience.
First off though biggest thank you to @leif_and_natalie who invited me this year and made it all possible. (Ps. all the nice pictures here are taken by Leif).
Where is the Slave River?
So the Northern lights, bears in the eddy and the thought of amazing white water 20 hours a day appeals then?
So lets deal with the elephant (or maybe Buffalo) in the room, where is this Slave river and how do we get there?
Think Ice Pilots, Yellowknife, 250 miles or so south of the Artic Circle. So it is remote, excitingly distant but trust me well worth the adventure.
Getting there involves getting to Edmonton in Alberta. Direct flights are possible from the UK but Harry and I chose to go via Montreal and break the trip up there for a few days to paddle the Lachine rapids on the St Laurence river.
From Edmonton to Fort Smith, home of the Slave River paddle festival is a mere 15 hour drive including several hours on gravel roads. This might sound daunting but the drive is relatively easy and part of the overall experience. We camped about halfway at Louise Falls campground after a quick mission to see Alexandra falls.
The scenery and wildlife on the way is interesting from bears to buffalos, waterfalls and fair bit of forest which at one point turned to miles and miles of still smouldering stumps after a recent forest fire.
Eventually we arrived safely and got stuck into scouting the area but there really is so much potential world class paddling you need a guide to find the best spots as the levels vary continuously. Luckily we had the incredible @leif_and_natalie on hand.
The mighty Slave river offers huge paddling options from mellow waves and holes to mighty and massive waves with appropriate names like Rockem Sockem, Roller Coaster and Furies. The rapids are split into 4 areas known as Pelican, Mountain Portage, Casette Rapids and Rapids of the drowned (Slave river was once an important trading route and this name comes from a historic tragedy). Each area has its own personality but change constantly with the fluctuating flow (500 to 8000 cumecs) so generally high to crazy high volume and a paddlers paradise.
The four main rapid sections are then broken down into many more sections with islands between. These rapids vary in size from the Poop shoot and Car wash to Molly's Nipple and Elephant in a bag. There really is something for everyone.
With the benefit of ace local knowedge from @leif_and_natalie We were able to paddle new rapids and waves virtually everyday.
The Slave River Paddlefest.
So you have adventured to the Canadian NWT, seen the Northern Lights and enjoyed some of the best white water on the planet. What next?
Time your trip for the first weekend of August and get ready for Paddlefest, foremost a fun paddle sport festival aimed at all abilities from first time kayakers to seasoned pros. The event kickstarts on Friday with a family canoe picnic followed by the all important canoe races below rapids of the drowned.
First off a head to head two man canoe race, essentially boater x in canoes. Competitive as always Harry and I were ready to demolish the opposition but unfortunately I think we lacked canoeing skills slightly (entirely) and just managed to take the bronze.
Next up was the 6 man canoe race. 4 teams assemled to race in pairs.
The top two finishing canoes were teams of some of the best whitewater kayakers in the world. It was an intense battle.
Now time for a community meal where we listened to talks about the Pelicans and history of the river. Following on Natalie inspired us with a talk on how she is able to combine her scientific studies with her paddling career.
The evening meal demonstrated that the strength and cohesion of the community in Fort Smith is somthing we can all learn from and it is inspiring to see their resiliense as they work together to preserve their river, homes and livelyhoods. @townoffortsmith
Women's Freestyle Development Clinic.
As part of the Slave River Festival this summer, I had the incredible opportunity to help @brookehess and Natalie coach the Slave's first Women's Development Clinic. Not only did I personally learn so much about coaching and leading trips from two of the best, the ladies all developed massively over an intense week.
From hole boating sessions at the Playground to laps on Molly's Nipple, we spent time working in small holes and waves and developed onto larger more powerful waves and rapids.
Harry Price surfing Rockem Sockem.
Nick Beavis Paddling English Channel, during the Slave RiverFest time trial.
Working out the risks and line for Pelican Rapid with Kristin Alligood.
Ottie running Pelican.
Ottie on Outrageous.
Such an unforgettable summer and I truly cannot wait to get back to the Slave. Once again a massive thank you Leif and Natalie Anderson for your hospitality, the invitation, these amazing photos and for sharing your knowledge of this amazing river. To Bill, Jill, Ann, Russell and Jon and to everyone else who drove Harry and I about. To Brooke Hess for organising such an awesome women's event and all the lovely ladies on it. I can't wait to come back!