Thursday, July 10, 2014

Prairie Places: Kayaking Swift Current Creek at High Water


Estuary of Swift Current Creek, photo by Mike Wild, who always gravitates to
the highest spot[click to see the whole panorama]
There are some wonderful stretches of grassland in Canada. Places we go to for solace and solitude. Here is a photo story about one spot I visited, but I would love to hear from you about the prairie places you explore this summer--leave me a comment below or send me an email to I will post a list of favourite grassland places later this summer.
The weekend before Canada Day I walked part of the last stretch of Swift Current Creek meandering towards the South Saskatchewan River between Saskatchewan Landing and Beaver Flats. Friends have been telling me for years about the place, showing me pictures, describing it as a hidden wonder.
Even on google earth the landscape looks dramatic, steep hillsides and buttes tumbling down to a small underfit stream hurrying toward bigger waters.
a little riffle in the creek before the big rains came
Arriving there after a morning of birding north of the river in the Matador Provincial Community Pasture, I walked north from the last bridge on the creek. The rains of June had made the hillsides as green as postcards from Ireland. The sleepy creek had become a series of rapids running through rock gardens and standing waves worthy of a northern river. Here is a video that shows one set of rapids that got me thinking about a kayak trip.
The next day I talked to my good friend, the indomitable and always ready for an adventure Mike Wild. We decided we would do a Canada Day paddle down the creek and out onto the South Saskatchewan toward Beaver Flats. Karen agreed to come along. We borrowed all of the gear from Doug Kermode's Spirit Bear open source paddling emporium (thanks Doug!).
When we got there at 10 a.m., the creek was flowing even faster thanks to the deluge that fell on Sunday the 29th. It was the most fun I have had with a paddle in my hand for several years. Karen and Mike stayed dry but I dumped twice and went for a bit of a swim in fast water. But the water was warm and the sun shined on us all day.
Here is a string of photos from the day.

Karen suiting up for the day near the bridge east of Stewart Valley
With my white-knuckled grip on the paddle as I struggled to stay upright and aiming downstream in the rapids there was no way I could take photos of the river action, so all the shots from here on are either on shore when we stopped or at the estuary where the water was calm.

I counted seven Yellow-Breasted Chats singing along the creek, their territories evenly spread between the bridge and the estuary

I heard at least two Willow Flycatchers, another increasingly rare species that likes these
 grassland coulees

Pin cushion cactus were in bloom

Once we made it to the calm waters of the wide estuary we
 found a beach for lunch

this is a view of the estuary looking back from a hilltop that
is the corner to the river flowing east (left)

Mike took this shot as I walked to the top of this
 lower hill overlooking the estuary and river

After some exploring we headed into the river. This is Mike
mustering the courage for his dive.

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