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Trip Ideas

Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures Weekend

On a June weekend earlier than most bugs had made their presence recognized, John and I took off for northern Alberta to spend an extended weekend with Darcy and Shirley Zelman, house owners of Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures. My aim was to take a look at the formidable Class VI Grand Rapids – labeled unnavigable (even Purple Bull hasn’t despatched somebody down) and among the world’s largest concretions that litter the Athabasca River shoreline and the river itself. My major purpose for the go to was analysis for the second version of 125 Nature Scorching Spots in Alberta. Debbie Olsen, my co-author and I are including 75 new entries, and this shall be considered one of them. However I additionally like to fill within the blanks on my private map, so I used to be eager to do that journey.

Poacher’s Touchdown on the Athabasca River is the launch website to entry the backcountry cabins that make up Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures. Its location is nearly 200 km northeast of Edmonton, off Freeway 63, the one which goes to Fort McMurray. From there it’s nonetheless a 4 – 5-hour jet boat journey down the Athabasca River – although with many attention-grabbing and historic stops alongside the best way. As you go by trappers cabins and homesteads, take into consideration how far you might be away from anyone. Potential stops alongside the river embody the remnants of an previous telegraph workplace, the Calling River and Home River Settlements, the previous Pelican Portage, Higher Wells and Germans’ Cabin. We did a few them in addition to an island cease to marvel at monster ostrich ferns and black poplars.

Two {couples} together with two of their pals joined us the weekend we went – however all of them had their very own jet boats. Some folks have paddled to the lodge after which been shuttled again to their vehicles and within the winter, you possibly can snowmobile into the lodge. Belief me – that is distant feeling backcountry that few folks go to now although it was a historic thoroughfare.

The jet boat we used to get to Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures lodge  
Looking out to the other boats following us
Looking to the opposite boats following us
Break time on the Athabasca River
Break time on the Athabasca River
Our first stop was a pretty one
Our first cease was a reasonably one
We stopped on one island in the river to see ostrich ferns as tall as an adult man
We stopped on one island within the river to see ostrich ferns as tall as an grownup man
A stop on an island revealed massive poplar trees- remnants of old growth Boreal forest
Huge poplar trees- remnants of previous progress Boreal forest on the identical island because the ostrich ferns which have escaped fires by advantage of their island location

Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures – accessed through a ship journey on the Athabasca River

The Athabasca River begins on the Columbia Icefield and flows for over 1200 km to empty into Lake Athabasca. From there, the waters take an extended path to ultimately be part of the Mackenzie River system and empty into the Arctic Ocean. We have been to spend 4 to 5 hours getting there – and protecting roughly 225 km. 

Although it was an extended boat journey, I felt that the time handed shortly – in good half as a result of the panorama was all new to me. This brown, muddy part of this part of the Athabasca River bears no resemblance to the turbid, turquoise waters of the Athabasca River many individuals could be aware of close to Jasper. 

As you journey alongside considered one of Canada’s nice waterways you possibly can’t assist however surprise concerning the lives of folks that have used this river as their freeway. As a significant hall, the river has been used for millenia by the Indigenous folks. Fur merchants, gold miners, explorers and settlers have additionally plied the waters. At one level, there was a Hudson’s Bay Firm settlement of as much as 200 folks on the river together with three gasoline wells close to the Hudson’s Bay website. The primary effectively blew out and was lit in order that it burned from 1897 – 1915 earlier than it was efficiently capped.

On the best way to the lodge, there may be the chance to see wildlife alongside the shore. Search for moose, black bear, elk, deer, and timber wolf. We did see one moose on the shore and a bald eagle munching on a not but lifeless Canada goose – in addition to a bald eagle chasing a Canada goose within the air, a primary for all of us.

Once you move the confluence of the Home River, you’re only some minutes away from the lodge. This gorgeous confluence space has a darkish historical past. Again in 1875, Brother Alexis Raynard (pg 130) was each murdered and cannibalized by his Iroquois information.

The moose we saw on the boat ride in
The moose we noticed from the boat on the journey in

The lodge arrange

There isn’t a formal dock on the Athabasca River so on arrival you hop out of the boat (with the assistance of a ladder) and climb a brief hill to succeed in the backcountry lodge. The lodge is made up of a number of buildings – together with two log cabins for friends, a cookhouse, and the proprietor’s personal cabin. There’s additionally a separate constructing with a bathe and the water is scorching.

Our log cabin was rustic. Inside was a queen mattress, a kitchen desk with chairs, a wood-burning fire, a Coleman range and numerous kitchen implements so we might make espresso on our schedule. There was no indoor plumbing – however a clear outhouse was a brief stroll away. Outdoors there’s a desk with a few chairs and a swing.

Don’t anticipate something formal if you keep on the lodge. Mealtimes are determined upon based mostly on plans for the day. And the remainder is as much as you. We had two full days on the lodge. One was devoted primarily to studying, strolling and R&R, whereas the opposite was taken up with a visit to the Grand Rapids. The opposite friends spent a lot of their time fishing – and have been fairly profitable too. Fish you’re more likely to catch embody walleye, northern pike, goldeye and burbot.

Meals are cooked by Shirley – and eaten outdoor round a big hearth. Meals is plentiful and scrumptious – with favourites like lasagna, barbequed steak, and rooster. You carry your individual liquor together with any snacks you may like.

Welcome to the lodge
Welcome to the lodge
John and I outside our cabin
John and I outdoors our cabin – Picture credit score: Karen Genovese
The second cabin sleeps 4 - 6 people
The second cabin sleeps 4 – 6 folks
The outside common - eating area
The surface frequent – consuming space
Darcy cooking up some steaks one night
Darcy cooking up some steaks one evening
Hearty home-cooked meals, all done by Shirley
Hearty home-cooked meals, all accomplished by Shirley

What to do on the lodge

The lodge – which sits in Grand Rapids Wildland Provincial Park, is a spot the place most individuals come to fish or hunt, one thing that’s been occurring since Darcy’s mother and father began it as a moose looking lodge effectively over 20 years in the past. I’m not into fishing or looking however I did love strolling alongside the river, particularly watching the antics of noticed sandpipers in mating season. It was a deal with to nap, learn for hours at a time, and study concerning the lives of the opposite friends – who have been ranchers and farmers, a world I’m utterly unfamiliar with.

John additionally took benefit of the axe throwing – and did effectively after a number of tries.

John practicing his axe throwing skills
John training his axe throwing expertise
Exploring the cobbled shoreline of the Athabasca River
Exploring the cobbled shoreline close to the lodge
Some of the rocks have petrified wood in them
A number of the rocks have petrified wooden in them
I didn't see a bear but saw tracks and more bear poop on a hike to the Howse River than I've seen in my life
I didn’t see a bear however noticed tracks and extra bear poop on a hike to the Home River than I’ve seen in my life
One of the couples happily fishing for most of the day
One of many {couples} fortunately fishing for many of the day

A helicopter journey to Grand Rapids

There are two methods to get to the Grand Rapids – by boat or by helicopter. In case you have been to try to get there by yourself by boat from Poacher’s Touchdown, you may barely make it – and chances are high that not more than two of you would go at a time as you’d must maintain the load within the boat all the way down to preserve gas. And also you’d have to hold sufficient gas to return.

Up till 2021, Darcy has supplied the choice of a ship journey downstream to the falls from the lodge (13 km away) or a helicopter journey. Going ahead, he’s solely providing the helicopter journey by way of an organization in Fort McMurray for security’s sake.

When you get to the Class VI Grand Rapids, you possibly can see why Darcy has nixed the boat journey. First off, if something occurred to his boat, assistance is a good distance off, particularly as he must land on the other aspect of the river to the place the lodge is positioned. Then you have to stroll beneath a cliff (look in among the photographs under) the place there is perhaps rockfall. And he might solely supply the journey in August when the water ranges had dropped on the river. 

The helicopter journey is enjoyable. And it affords nice views, so you actually get the lay of the land, significantly the extent of the rapids. As there may be WiFi on the lodge, Darcy can set up a visit on the final minute, based mostly on the climate.

Boating down to the Howse River to catch a helicopter
Boating all the way down to the Home River to catch a helicopter – this space can be a great fishing spot
Watching the helicopter come in to one of the few open places near the lodge
Watching the helicopter are available in to one of many few open accessible areas close to the lodge
I marvel at where helicopters can land
I marvel at the place helicopters can land
Looking at one of the large slides into the Athabasca River from the air
one of many massive pure slides into the Athabasca River from the air
Nothing but whitewater where the Loon River meets the Athabasca River
Nothing however whitewater the place the Loon River meets the Athabasca River
Concretions seen from the air
Concretions seen from the air
Watching the helicopter come into land beside the river
Watching the helicopter come into land beside the river

A couple of hours at Grand Rapids

In lower than quarter-hour we have been whisked from the Home River touchdown spot to the Grand Rapids. After touchdown, we had a number of hours to discover the world. We have been in a position to stroll amongst 1000’s of concretions, thought of to be among the world’s largest, that litter this part of the river. Photographers will discover loads of subject material.

Past the concretions at Grand Rapids, yow will discover fossilized wooden and cross bedding within the sandstones. And also you’re going to need to merely sit on the rocks for a while and admire the pressure of the river pushing by way of both aspect of the island in the course of the river. At one level there was a rail system put in on the island to assist portage massive masses previous the rapids!

 We have been additionally handled to a shore lunch – wieners roasted on sticks. I’d forgotten simply how scrumptious a great wiener might be, particularly eaten outdoor.

The cliff face Darcy used to lead people under is off in the distance
The cliff face Darcy used to steer folks beneath is off within the distance
Its scary just looking at the rapids
Its scary simply trying on the rapids
You can walk up to the Loon River, stopping to marvel at all the concretions
You possibly can stroll as much as the Loon River, stopping to marvel in any respect the concretions
Can you imagine being caught in these waves?
Are you able to think about being caught in these waves?
When was the last time you had a roasted weiner?
When was the final time you had a roasted wiener for lunch?
John and I just hanging out
John and I simply hanging out

A word about concretions

Concretions are distinctive rocks which have eroded out from softer rocks. They appear to be a sphere or a flattened sphere – with some as much as 3 m or extra in diameter. At Grand Rapids, they litter the valley flooring to the extent that they create a fall-in-and-you-die part of Class VI whitewater. (You can too discover iron wealthy concretions at Purple Rock Coulee close to Drugs Hat.)

It’s thought that concretions develop in place, rising out from a nucleus in concentric spheres. At Grand Rapids we might see the nucleus in a single occasion, a chunk of fossilized wooden on the centre of a big concretion. These rocks are about 100 million years previous so there was plenty of time for minerals to precipitate out of resolution and constructed up layers, binding with grains of sand to kind a rock that’s more durable than the encircling rock. When these formations are uplifted and topic to erosion, the concretions are more durable for Mom Nature to breakdown than the encircling “non-fortified rock”.

John pointing to the nucleus of a concretion
John pointing to the nucleus of a concretion
The spheroid concretions line both banks of the river
The spheroid concretions line each banks of the river
Concretions lodged in the riverbank
Concretions lodged within the riverbank – Picture credit score: John McAdam

Ultimate ideas

The backcountry lodge at Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures might not be as luxurious as some that you simply’re used to. However when was the final time you have been in distant, untouched wilderness that supplied fabulous landscapes, world-class pure wonders, and an extended historical past? For individuals who like off-the overwhelmed path experiences and don’t thoughts leaving among the comforts at residence, I believe you’d get pleasure from this particular a part of Alberta. You possibly can depend on Darcy to supply up a platinum expertise round each bend within the river – and definitely on the lodge. And Shirley will exit of her solution to accommodate your dietary wants. They’re open from June till mid-September and supply quite a lot of packages, relying in your pursuits. Make sure you try their web site – famous above.

Additional studying on adventures in Alberta

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Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures weekend in northern Alberta to see Class VI rapids, rock concretions and wildlife while staying in a log cabin


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