6 Things I Learned Rafting the Kicking Horse River

A white shuttle bus pulled in front of the doors of the SameSun Hostel in Banff. The doors clunked open. “Hello mate, ready for some rafting?” – Banff has got to be one of the only places in Canada where it’s totally normal to be greeted by an Aussie.  We laughed and replied with a quasi-enthusiastic “Yea”. It was early morning after all and whiskey showed up on the menu last night. Candice and I boarded the bus and took our seats. In just over an hour and a half we’d find ourselves rafting with Hydra River Guides on the Kicking Horse River. Little did I know how many random facts I’d be learning while experiencing some Class 4 rapids.

1. River obstacles must be named something funny or terrifying.

With names like “Rollercoaster”, and “Goat 2”, its typically safe to assume that those rapids will likely be pretty fun, but also not very murderous. On the opposite end of that stick are the insane names. Take “Terminator Hole” for example. This particular rapid has the ability to suck you under and keep you under. For good. Most Hydra River Guides would advise avoiding that particular rapid. Then there’s always “ShotGun” –  a Class 4 rapid that will literally shotgun you through it (mostly out of control), the only thing you can do is hold on and hope for the best. The nomenclature behind these rapids makes for a perfect mix of fun & fear. Which makes conquering them all the more enjoyable.

Photo by Candice Walsh

2. Bison Burgers are delightful

The Bison Burgers that were barbecued up for our group absolutely rocked. The ladies at Banff Adventures Unlimited ensured we give them a try. Bison Burgers are like super burgers. They have less fat, more protein, and are incredibly awesome with sauteed onions, lettuce ,tomatoes, and pickles. It may not be the most vegan meal (however, they did have vegetarian burgers should you have morals, or a better diet than me), but honestly, who’s going to pass up eating a cousin of an almost extinct animal. Can someone say “Bragging Rights”?

3. Sucked Under? No problem!

Ever since I was a kid one of my biggest fears was being sucked underwater and being held underwater by the constant pushing of flow above me. Back when I lived in Saskatoon, SK I told my parents I wanted to swim down the river and go down the little Gardiner Dam in the South Saskatchewan River. I would have been maybe 5 or 6. They said that wouldn’t be smart, as I would be all sorts of dead. It must have stuck, as it still freaks me out a bit.

Fortunately the Hydra River Guides explained how to get out of this sticky situation, should we ever have the misfortune of getting ourselves into this little pickle.

Step one – Curl up in a ball and wait 10 seconds. If you don’t get pushed out go to step two.

Step two – Spread out into a starfish and wait 10 seconds. If you don’t get pushed out go to step three.

Step three – Repeat Step 1 and 2 until you escape. Or drown.

james hectar

4. James Hectar Was Sort Of A Zombie

So back in the day this James Hectar fellow was trekking around this river looking for new routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway and collecting plant species with his buddy slash commander John Palliser and a few native guides. On one unfortunate day he was kicked in the chest by his horse while trying to cross the river and was knocked unconscious.

Medicine wasn’t so good back then, so they chalked him up as dead. As they were burying him he awoke from his coma, and freaked everybody out. The natives then named the river Kicking Horse River after James Hectars’ return from the dead.

Hoodoos Kicking Horse

Photo by Glenn Miller

5. Hoodoos are some freaky things

During one of the few slower parts of the Kicking Horse River, our Hydra Guide pointed out some Hoodoo formations. These bad boys were formed over hundreds of years. The wind and rain erodes the sand but the roots of the trees above the sand keep part of the sand intact. Once they get pronounced enough they’ll start “Hoo-ing” as strong winds blow through them. In the old days, Native Americans would detour for hundreds of miles to avoid Hoodoos as they were thought to container evil spirits.

White water rafting Kicking Horse

7. You don’t have to be insane to go white water rafting

Sitting down after being given the safety instructions can be daunting. For some people in our group they looked visibly nervous. Jumping up and down, shivering hands, trying their best to surpress their fears with laughter. We had a wide variety of people rafting with us today. A family of 5 with several guys in their 15’s and 16’s, an elderly couple, a group of friends from ireland with an age range of 30-50, and several solo female travellers. Then there was Candice and I, each in our young(er) twenties. People from all walks of life were joining in on the fun. Not because they wanted to die, but because they wanted to live while they still could. For some it was the adrenaline, for others it was a bucket list. People do crazy things for all sorts of reasons, questioning any of those reasons would be selfish.

Fact of the matter is, everyone felt comfortable enough with our guides and with the safety precautions that were being taken that nobody bailed out of the boat. In fact, everyone did so well we didn’t have a single fall-out during the entire white water rafting adventure. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but going in there with a clear mind and a determination to paddle your heart out, and everyone will come out alive.

Have you been white water rafting in Canada yet? What did you think?


Thanks to the Moose Network for their awesome help with planning my recent visit through B.C and Alberta, and for arranging for a comped pass with Banff Adventures Unlimited and Hydra River Guides. All opinions and reviews are my own.

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