The North Saskatchewan river rises in the Rocky Mountains at the Saskatchewan Glacier and travels 1287km until it joins the South Saskatchewan River. From here it becomes the Saskatchewan River, flowing a further 550km before emptying into Lake Winnipeg.
At its upper reaches the Saskatchewan was a glacier blue torrent, tumbling over rocks through forest and forming huge blue lakes.
Where we joined it the sandy silty sides had turned it a muddier green and it was already a pretty bloody big river by our standards! Canyon-y and often quite fast flowing on the bends it would then open out into wider shingly braided sections where route choice was more important and avoiding logjams, shallows and sweepers became key. We learnt a lot about manoeuvring and just how manoeuvreable the fully laden canoe is on these stretches.
As the river was joined by more tributaries it became wider and slower, but often still with high sided banks full of families of swallows. We saw one of these banks calve off just north of Edmonton, leaving a fair few homeless for the night and we suspect raising the infant mortality rate this year… not long prior to this Cas may have wondered out loud if we should paddle so close to the banks in case of collapse and we have adjusted our method appropriately since…
All the bird life increased with the slower meandering river, though it was replaced by a colony of nudists on the approach to the city… Apparently this is not uncommon in Canada… We also saw many folk panning for, we presume, gold, using both manual and generator/water pump methods. It did take us a little while to work out what the contraptions by the river were for.
Edmonton was a pleasant surprise. Despite being known as the oil capital of Alberta the river bank was maintained parkland almost throughout. Cas took some time to enjoy it (i.e. babysat the boat) whilst Mike was dispatched to MEC to increase our solar charging capacity (still buying toys…).
We needn’t have been worried about big-city commercial river traffic, as the only things we encountered were small pleasure boats and some students floating down in a paddling pool.
We started to see our first pelicans just after Edmonton and survived a fairly gruelling day of headwinds and industrial scenery to get back out into the countryside shortly after Fort Saskatchewan. The river here narrows to pass through beautiful valleys of deciduous woodland, bordering the huge areas of farmland beyond. Here we saw our first coyote and wolf. Then our second, third and fourth wolf and the bear they appeared to be watching take a bath. Also a water snake (?), a million mosquitos (many squashed) and many fishes (none caught…).
This morning was momentous – the river turned east. We are now actually heading across the country, and are camped riverside expecting to have to wait out our first storm.