Slave river Paddle Fest 2016

Ninth annual Slave River Paddlefest, Fort Smith, NWT

The Slave River in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories is most famous for the North West Company’s tragic exploration of the area during their fur trading journeys in the 1800s. More recently, however, the river was in the limelight thanks to the film work by Young Gun Productions, highlighting what are possible the largest rapids in North America. While it’s true that in style and volume the Slave is most similar to Africa’s mighty Congo or Zambezi rivers, there are rapids and channels that are perfect for beginner, intermediate and expert paddlers alike.

Local John Blyth and summer stalwarts Natalie and Leif Anderson spend weeks if not months working hard to showcase the Slave during the early August Paddlefest and make it accessible to a multitude of ability levels and river disciplines. Their hard graft, alongside the town of Fort Smith, Parks Canada, and local enthusiasts, produces one of the best kayak festivals I have ever been to. There were pro and intermediate slalom races, rodeos, SUP competitions, canoe events and even inflatable pool toy races. The atmosphere was jovial throughout the weekend and it was evident that everyone was here to have a good time and make new friends.

After the dust had settled and the festival-goers dispersed the Slave returned to its quiet undisturbed self. I stayed an extra week with friends Rob Murphy, Nia Williams, and Scott Linton. It was my second time up here and the lower levels at this time of year offered up a plethora of surf waves and play holes. We managed to get hours of surfing every day, mixed up with some of the classic Slave big water lines. The more I kayak in this part of the world the more I feel it grabbing hold, forcing me to come back. It’s a river for all abilities and provides new and exciting challenges at every turn.

So what do you need to a) join in with the Paddlefest and b) kayak the Slave?
The Paddlefest, which always takes place the first weekend in August, is set up to show newbies around the river with clinics, guiding, and competition throughout the four-day long event. There is camping available in a number of spots and almost all of your food is taken care of by the event organisers. Sure, it’s 1300 kilometres from Edmonton, one of Canada’s northernmost big cities,but this river shouldn’t be discredited due to the distance. If driving is not your jam there are daily flights into Fort Smith Regional airport. The experience alone is worth the time.

If you and your crew are intending to come up here outside festival time you want to time it between June and August. It’s true the wide expanses of northern Canada are home to quite a few bugs, but with careful planning and the right gear you can avoid their infuriating pestilence. As previously mentioned, this river has rapids and lines for all abilities, however, navigation is best done with local knowledge and guiding, which is on hand in town. Put a little in the budget for getting a local to show you down for your first few days, it’s well worth it as you are guaranteed to get the goods on each mission out into the giant Slave river.

4000-4500 m3/s. This level provided big water river running and some of the most powerful waves I have ever surfed. This is the level to test your big water abilities.

Waves: Sweet spot, Chico, Playground hole.

This year we had levels floating around 3700 m3/s which opened up a few channels and provides a lot more play on the river.

Waves: Chico, Playground hole, Monster Schiesser, Rollercoaster, Party hole, Rock‘em Sock‘em (little high)

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