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WHITEWATER RAFTING IN WILLMORE WILDERNESS PARK

Author: Mike Fisher

Mike is an award-winning, Calgary-based writer who loves dogs, leaps before he looks, rides bulls in china shops and always finds a bird in the hand startling. He loves writing about Alberta because it offers breathless moments around every corner.

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I dig my paddle into the foaming whitewater and pull hard when the guide shouts for us all to work together. We plunge in and out of another wave. No matter how much water splashes over me on this trip down Sheep Creek, two hours north of Jasper National Park, it can’t wipe the smile from my face.

It’s my third time whitewater rafting, so I’ve asked to be at the front of the raft, where the action is best. I brought two close friends with me – and a waterproof camera to capture it all. We’ve already bonded with two of the other riders we met on the short shuttle ride to the river. They wanted to be near the front, too.

Typically, each raft has an experienced guide who directs from the back of the raft and shouts instructions – such as “paddle now!” – which gets our hearts pumping.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Based in the nearby town of Grande Cache, Wild Blue Yonder White Water Rafting operates various trips into Willmore Wilderness Park – 4,600 sq km (1,840 sq mi) of pure pristine backcountry – with pretty much something for everyone, including novices. I prefer to choose adventures that aren’t just one size fits all, but will fit me like a glove. So I love that these folks made it easy for me to select my trip by level of difficulty, as well as the experience I was seeking.

The Sulphur & Sheep option turns out to be the perfect choice. This trip offers fierce paddling and a bit of floating, too, so we can take time to enjoy the spectacular deep canyon scenery and watch for wildlife. As the outfitter suggests, for this one you do need to be in reasonable physical shape, at least 18 years old, with a minimum of eight hours rafting experience. The trip is listed as intermediate/advanced (Class 3-4+ on the international whitewater rating scale).

Waterways Offer Tame and Wild

Over four hours and 27 km (17 mi) on the water, I experience the highlights of the tamer Sulphur River and the wilder in-your-face Sheep Creek.

The rafting season typically begins in mid-May and runs through September. This particular trip runs late May to early July, given that June is usually the time when the water is high and fast, making for a more exciting ride.

Whitewater Party with Paddles

You don’t just paddle by yourself and that’s what makes it a party with paddles.

Whoa, we just bashed through another wave! Everyone is grinning from ear to ear as we practice some precision paddling. It sharpens my appetite when we stop for a quick bite and a drink. At Sulphur Gates, one of the most spectacular spots in the Grande Cache area, where the Sulphur and Smoky rivers converge, I grab my camera to take some shots of our new best friends.

When our journey ends, we return to our hotel suite in Grande Cache and start happily sharing our photos. Together, we have some serious bragging rights.

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