Last fall, I was planning a four-day packrafting trip down the South Saskatchewan River from Outlook to Saskatoon. High winds and family obligations foiled my plans, and instead I ended up taking two day trips, both along the stretch from Paradise Beach to the city. I had never done a river trip before, minus a short and fast section on the Kingsmere River this summer, so as a person afraid of water, I had some trepidation. At least on a day trip, you’re not carrying a backpack filled with expensive gear…?
Paradise Beach is a nude beach. I didn’t know that until I mentioned the name to my mother and she went ‘Oh, Bare Ass Beach!’. If you’re going to google this place, I suggest using the formal name, or clearing your search history afterwards so you don’t get disapproving looks from your spouse. As for actually seeing anyone in the nude, being naked outdoors in the fall in Saskatchewan is not that fun, and the beach was deserted when I arrived.
I had read that the river would initially be shallow and some walking on sandbars would be necessary at this time of year, but I wasn’t prepared for how shallow it would be. Packrafts ride high in the water, but only minutes after launching I found the bottom of mine grating against sand. I got stuck. Wiggling, no matter how desperately it was done, was ineffective. I had to get out of my packraft and walk to almost the centre of the river, pulling it along beside me, before I reached water deep enough for padding.
The first part of the trip required a lot of wading, making progress slow. I learned to stick my paddle through one of the straps of my backpack and usher along my packraft with the paddle so that I didn’t have to bend over while walking.
The sand along the river was lovely, with fine pale grains. I didn’t see many human footprints, but migratory birds had left evidence of their passage everywhere.
On both days I was scared for the first 1.5 hours or so, then the fear vanished. Maybe that’s the time limit for how long I can be afraid without anything bad happening? I have epilepsy that’s 99.9% controlled by medication, so I try to never let it stop me from doing anything that won’t increase the chance of a seizure, but I do find that I get mild bouts of panic because of ‘what if I have a seizure’ on the water. That’s unpleasant because panic can feel like an aura, which makes me think that I’m about to have a seizure, which increases the panic. Anyway, on both days I eventually became confident that I wasn’t going to die.
The paddling became quicker near the Berry Barn, where the water deepened. No more getting out of my packraft all the time to walk, and I could spend more time admiring the fall scenery.
7-8 canoers and kayakers popped up near the Fred Healy canoe launch. Houses were also popping up on the shores, giving the river a more populated feeling.
People with dogs were occupying one section of the riverbank. The water was stuck-packraft shallow and the dogs were splashing out to the sandbanks. I got stuck on both trips – I’m still not sure where the deep water is thereabouts – and I got worried when walking my boat that a dog would jump onto it and do some damage. Luckily, that didn’t happen and I was soon in deep water again, paddling away.
One of the first signs of Saskatoon proper is the train bridge, which is in view for roughly 5 hours before you reach it (or that’s what it felt like on Day 1, when I was exhausted from a headwind and trying to move quickly because I didn’t know how long the trip would take).
I saw a weasel-like creature in the rocks on the shore, and more dogs, and runners, and luxurious houses with private docks. I guess that not all rich people choose to live in idyllic mountain towns (where I would be this instant were I rich). I had two potential endpoints: Gabriel Dumont Park and Rotary Park, with Gabriel Dumont being closer. I was so tired on the first day that I got to Gabriel Dumont and badly wanted to end there, but it was too early for my ride, so I did the maritime equivalent of trudging onwards to Rotary Park. I also ended at Rotary on the second day, much less tired due to calmer waters.
My overall impression: I enjoyed this stretch of river, though it starts feeling industrial once the bridge and power station come into view. I noticed a number of potential campsites and I still want to complete Outlook to Saskatoon, but next time I’ll be planning the trip for earlier in the year! There must be a happy medium between the river having such a large flow that it’s dangerous and the river having such a small flow that there’s a lot of walking, and I definitely didn’t hit that medium on this trip. Still, I enjoyed it and it was nice to explore the river that has so much importance to this community.