The South Ram River is one of the few multi-day kayak trips in Alberta. The river flows east out of the Rockies through a deep scree canyon that is home to countless sheep and eventually opens up and winds its way to the North Saskatchewan River west of Rocky Mountain House. The trip is a 1-3 day grade 3-4 run comprised mainly of class 1-2 with a smattering of class 4 or 5 drops and a few harder canyon sections.
My dad, John Duncan, made the first kayak descent in 1985. I'd been itching to get on it for the past three years but getting a group together at the right water level was tricky. This year the stars aligned and our committed group of four quickly grew to nine.
The run begins at Ram Falls, an 80-100 foot drop that as far as I know is still unrun. After scrambing down the scree with your boat as the tourists watch on, the river turns a corner and begins with some fun class 4 ledges, from there you paddle in a beautiful canyon until another class 4 section with three distinct ledges.
The first portage happens at 80 foot Tapestry Falls. Tapestry Falls has been run twice, though only once intentionally. Jakub Nemec ran the falls in 2009 but ejected from his boat at the bottom. In 2001 a family rafting trip unknowingly drifted to the lip of the falls. The kids jumped out and swam to shore while their fathers stayed with the raft, one launched from the boat and the other managed to stay in. Amazingly no one was hurt but they opted to be heli rescued the next day. They blamed their backroad map book. If you choose not to run it there are three options, a five hour hike around on the canyon lip, a sketchy scree scrample, or the rappel. A few of our group opted for the scramble but soon turned around. We carried in climbing gear to set up an anchor in the rock and lowered people and boats into the hurricane below.
A few more class four ledges and a slide bring you to the 40 foot Table Rock Falls. A few of the group quickly did the scramble around to collect the lowered boats while the remaining four scouting the line. The falls look deceptively like Leap of Faith near Fernie BC with the force of the water pushing left but the lip is decidedly trickier. Dave Crear and Bryce Shaw ran it clean while Pavel Bendl and I blew our decks and swam to shore. We came across a nice tree sheltered grassy opening a few kms downstream of the falls and set up camp. A short walk into the trees we happened upon a stash of creature comforts – an old table, chairs, and and grill for the fire. Thank you rafters.
Day two began with a bunch of class 2 and 3 leading up to Sulphur Canyon. The first half is a beautiful tight canyon with some fun class four, it then opens up to a island with one of the harder rapids of the run on the right, Ricochet. Then a short but gruelling portage around the ugly class V+ second part of the canyon before you are on the paddle out. Pray the gate is unlocked, or better yet, call ahead and enjoy an easy take out at the bridge, or suffer our fate and paddle farther downstream for another gruelling slog up the hill to the vehicle.
This run is a lot of work for the amount of whitewater you get but the rapids that are there are quality rapids. This trip is all about the scenery, the riverside camping, and leaving civilization behind for a few days on the water.
Thanks to Kris for the history.
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