Friday, August 12, 2011 (Mt. Fernie Provincial Park, Mt. Fernie, BC)

It was a cloudy morning as we drove to the Stanford Hotel, the pickup location for Mountain High River Adventures.  Great...the day we really want sunshine and its cloudy!  But the forecast is for sunshine today so we have our fingers crossed that they are right!  We are going whitewater rafting today!

We arrived at the hotel just before 9:00 as the Mountain High River Adventures bus was pulling in.  We went into the hotel and up to the loft where there were already 3 others waiting.  A few minutes later, Dave and Mark arrived...they were our guides for the day. There would be 2 rafts going out with 13 guests.  Dave handed out waiver forms that we were asked to read and sign...it was the usual...sign your life away if you want to go whitewater rafting.  We got started on our forms as another couple arrived and then a family of 4...with two young girls...wow, they’re brave!  We would be picking up the final couple at Elko. 

Elko is about 20 kms west (we passed through it on our way to Fernie) where the junction of highway 93 goes south to the US border into Montana.  As promised by Dave and Mark, the sky was clear when we arrived at the pickup spot...a popular ice cream shop just off the highway with plenty of parking.  After getting the final couple “signed up” and on the bus, we continued a short distance south on highway 93 before turning off onto a gravel road that led to the drop-off spot...on a cliff overlooking the Elk River. Yes, a cliff...it was 300 feet down to the canyon floor!

Unfortunately, we could not take our camera with us on the raft...and neither one of us thought to bring it out to take pictures as we all prepared for the day.  But John, the owner of the company, had joined us and was going to take pictures from the cliff-side as we go through the rapids...he must be part mountain sheep...you should have seen some of the places he was when he took pictures!  Mark and Dave would then take pictures throughout the rest of the day and a CD with all pictures would be available for purchase (of course) for $30...but well worth it since they would be the only pictures of our adventure.  So, stay tuned for pictures...we should be able to pick up the CD early next week.

Dave and Mark were spreading out 2 large tarps on the ground and getting all the equipment out as John took us over to the cliff edge and told us about the area and where we would be going.  It would be a 17 km run down to the pick-up spot.

Now it was time to get “suited-up” in wet suits, booties, life jackets and helmets.  John handed out wet suits from the back of the bus while Dave and Mark were busy off-loading the rafts and taking them down to the cliff.  They have a very cool set up to get the rafts down...it’s a 4-wheel trailer operated by a motorized pulley system that they used to lower the boats down the steep bank.

Now it was our turn to head down to the canyon bottom...they handed out paddles as we headed down...a very good thing because they made good walking sticks.  Although they had wooden steps going down, they were more or less there to just keep you from sliding on the gravel.  It was very very steep...and a long way down.  Of course, I was at the back of the line going very slow.  I wish I had a picture!  That in itself was quite a workout...and those wetsuits are damn hot when you’re not in the water!

Once down at the bottom, Mark gathered us all and we sat on rocky river bank as he gave us some safety lessons...like how to pull your partner back into the boat and how to hold the paddle so that you don’t injure your neighbour...and what to do if the raft flips...

Okay...now it was time to get into the boats...we were split into 2 groups...the family of 4 and the group of 3 went with Dave in one raft and the remaining 3 couples were with Mark...on with the adventure!  We were told to sit side saddle on the outer side of the raft...not inside...and tuck our feet under the tubular seats. Steve was up front along with Ken (they were in the “Dragon Slayers” positions) the wettest position...and only allowed you to tuck in one foot at an awkward angle to the seat on one side and the other foot under the  outer side tube of the raft. Their positions gave them the least amount of "grippage"...I was right behind Steve; Ken’s wife Tilley was behind Ken and Conrad and Ramona were in the 3rd row.  Mark was perched at the back with the big oars to steer us.  Once out on the water, we did some practice paddling under Mark’s direction...and then we were on our way! We were encouraged to come up with a team name for our raft so we became the Dare Devil Dolphins and the other raft were the Squirrely Poodles.

OMG...what an absolute blast!!  They had names for all the different sets of rapids we went through...like Bag of Marbles...Pin Ball (yeah...that was aptly named as we deliberately bounced against a big rock the size of a car and spun 360 degrees as we went through)...and then up onto the flat high angled CPR (cool purple rock)...unfortunately, I can’t remember all the names...but Mark was excellent as he steered us through.  We didn’t lose anyone overboard but on one of the rapids, the other raft did...and their guide Dave was also bumped out of his steering position on the back.  They had the person back in the raft before I even noticed her in the water...a bit of excitement there.
About a third of the way down our run on the river, it was time to pull over on the river bank and have lunch.  I thought that we would just sit on the rocks on the riverbank and have some pre-made sandwiches but nope...they have quite a spot all set up back in the trees.  Mark and Dave urged us all to relax on the riverbank and get to know each other while they carried the coolers and got lunch all set up.   Once ready, they called us to an area set up with benches around a big fire pit (probably used earlier in the season when the weather isn’t quite so nice) and a high table built off a tree that held 2 coolers—one with water and one with "mystery juice" (lemonade)—glasses and bowls of salsa and chips.  A few minutes later, Dave came over and called us down another path to an area where a "built in the trees" table housed lunch...buffet-style, we made up our own sandwiches or wraps...there were containers of tuna salad, ham, cheese...a platter of lettuce, tomatoes, sweet-peppers and of course, mayo, mustard, etc.  Then there were 2 big containers of spinach salad and pasta salad...followed by cookies and freshly-cut watermelon.  Wow...what a spread!  Apparently their lunches are catered by a local deli/bistro restaurant in Fernie...very, very good!
They have even built "a room with a view"...an outhouse without a door way back in the trees.  It was truly a challenge trying to pull up a wet—wetsuit!  Especially while trying to swat off mosquitoes and black flies the size of birds!!  Ahhh...isn’t nature wonderful?!
After we were all finished, Mark and Dave packed everything back into the coolers and it was time to head off on the river again.  But first, pictures were taken of both "teams".  We went through class 2, 3 and 4 rapids and it was so much fun!  Along the way we were "ambushed" by the other raft and had another of many water fights. Every time we successfully ran a set of rapids or won a water fight we would do a high five with the paddles. Of course we thought that we won every water fight! Our next stop was in a beautiful narrow canyon where there were some deep pools for cliff-jumping. There were 3 different heights to choose from.  No, I didn’t partake...neither did Steve...even with a wetsuit that water was dam cold but it was fun watching those who did...including the 2 young girls!  Mark took some great pictures.
After everyone was finished with their cliff-jumping...some making multiple jumps...we continued on down the river.  Mark had a lot to say about the area and the river...very interesting and informative.  As we neared the pull-out spot, the river calmed considerably so Mark filled our time with corny cow jokes and then those that wanted to could jump out for a swim...the closest I got was sitting on the edge of the raft with my feet dangling in the water.
And then it was time to end our whitewater rafting adventure.  We pulled up onto the river bank and the guys helped Mark pull the raft up the short path to where the bus was parked.  It sure felt good to get that wetsuit off!  We all stood around chatting while Mark and Dave got everything packed back on the bus (and the rafts onto the trailer).  Here are a couple of pictures that we managed to take...that's Tilley and Ken in the foreground...
 

Then we all boarded the bus for our ride back. Mark drove while Dave plugged the camera into a TV they had set up onboard and we were able to see all the pictures taken throughout the day. Dave would zoom in on many of us so that we could make fun of everyone’s facial expressions as we hit the rapids. We will definitely spend the $30 for the CD...I can hardly wait to get it so that we can see the pictures close up!
We stopped at the "ice cream place" back at the junction of highways 3 and 93 to drop off some of the rafters...and were stopped long enough for most of us to go get ice cream.  The rest of the drive back to Fernie was relaxing with Dave taking time to chat to everyone on the bus.
We were really impressed with our guides, Mark and Dave...very nice, personable young fellows who worked very hard to ensure our whitewater rafting adventure was the very best it could be. 
Once back at the Stanford Hotel, we went in with Mark and Dave so that we could order our CD...instead of mailing it, we have asked to pick it up next week. I can hardly wait...so stay tuned and I will post the pictures once we get the CD.
We were both totally exhausted by the time we got home...lots of sunshine, fresh air and fun!  It had been an absolutely awesome day!  We will definitely have to do it again!

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