The slave river has been in the back of my mind since I started kayaking. The article with Steve Fisher crushing big lines and surfing these huge waves was just awe inspiring. Until last season I really thought the Slave river was out of reach to me. It lies in such a remote part of Canada that one would need to work in a northern diamond mine, work as a river guide or just not work at all to make the time to get up to this infamous playground. I fall into the latter at the best of times so it was about time that I attempted to make the journey up into Northern Canada/s North West territories.
It was not with "into the wild" style tactics that I took on the little mission. I had a lot of help from Aquabatics, a store down in Calgary and from a local by the name of John Blyth, who runs the slave paddle fest each year. (you can click on all those links and they'll open in the background). Without the hospitality and generous beta from these guys it would have been a tough go.
It has to be said this place is not close to anything by any means. Bring your food with you, bring bug repellant and if you drive a diesel car bring a funnel as they only have industrial diesel pump. Its a solid 18 hour drive from Edmonton and thats on a good day with no serious Bison interference
Once you arrive in Fort Smith there are a few choices for sleeping, there are a few motels and an abundance of crown land on which you can pitch a tent. I am not sure what the camping rules are there so don't quote me check out the town website.
Unlike most rivers we are used to the Slaves rapids do not total a lot of length making access to the various ledges, of which there are 3, relatively easy. It is the shear width and copious array of channels that make this river so breath taking. The force in some of these rapids really makes you feel how fragile you are. Some of these rapids take up to twenty minutes to cross.
Despite its volume this river offers something for intermediate paddlers all the way to the pro's. The waves here are spectacular, fast and powerful. Airtime is plentiful and so is sunlight so your days can be as long as you want them to be. there were waves as big as bus-eater on the Ottawa River and some small enough to learn how to spin or cart wheel.
If the drive is daunting there is always flight options in and out of Fort Smith from a number of southern airfields, although I can not see these prices being competitive. This was my first time up here and it is the closes thing we have to the Zambezi river in Canada. I can safely say that this will become and annual pilgrimage for me.
Leave any questions in the comments
Photo credits: Leif and Natalie Anderson, John Blyth and Rob Murphy