South Ram River
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 July 2009 14:34 Written by Spencer Cox Monday, 06 July 2009 03:06
South Fork of the Ram river – Ram Falls to upper take out
After a great campout at the Ram Falls provincial campground, we began the scramble down to the river from the boardwalk lookout for Ram Falls. The slope to be descended looks scary since it is gravel and begins above small cliffs. However, the slope surface is surprisingly grippy. We lowered our boats off of the cliff to a receiver below – an uncomplicated procedure.
The level at the start of the first day was 26 cms at the mouth of the Ram river and 20 cms at the takeout on the second day with a steady flow decline during the time period in question.
The section from the put in to the series of 3 class III-IV ledges consisted of 3 hours of paddling the river amidst stunning canyon scenery and class II-III low stress paddling. Keep an eye out for sheep on the cliffs and deer in the river, to say the least. In addition, pay attention for rock fall even when on the river as we observed many incidences of small rocks raining down into the river as we were paddling by.
Once you scout and negotiate the 3 ledges, Tapestry falls arrives quickly. Tapestry falls does not give much warning to approaching paddlers (maybe that’s why some people inadvertently ran it) so pay attention. Get out on the right. The 25m Tapestry falls is a great place to chill out for a while as its beauty is quite unique.
As far as portaging the falls is concerned, there appear to be 3 options.
The first is using ropes to lower yourself and your boat to the pool and ledge at the base of the falls. This would be the least time consuming option. There are 2 anchors as of June 2009 in place on the river right side of the falls. One is a piton with 2 slings attached that seems too flimsy for human weight but probably adequate for loaded boats. The piton is close to the cliff edge. Set further back from the edge than the piton is a bolt and hanger, which appears to be sturdier than the piton and more likely to support the weight of a paddler.
The second option appears to be lowering your boat to a receiver below who would have to scramble up and around the scree, rocky, cliff laden slope and down to the base of the falls. In scouting this option, the exposure factor is high and the traction on the slope is a combination of gravel that you can sink into to achieve good purchase and hard rock with a bit of gravel on top to greatly reduce traction – steady nerves are required as the scramble is close to the edge of significant cliffs.
The third option is the canyon rim portage. It is undoubtedly the most time-consuming option – 5 hours – although seems to be the option with the least imminent danger and certainly the way to go if you have issue with height. The direct climb up to the canyon rim through rocky terrain with good traction can be found by backtracking upstream around the river’s bend to the right and basically routefinding your way in a direct assault straight up the hill (read backbreaking, demoralizing, sweatfest with a great sense of exhilaration on achieving the rim). It is important to take note of the descent route from the canyon rim to the river’s edge while at Tapestry falls before you begin the ascent. There is an enormous cliff face on river right downstream of Tapestry falls that represents the downstream edge of a gentler, treed slope descending diagonally from the rim. We used this slope as a landmark to guide us down from the rim. Part of the challenge there is that the forested slope you need to descend back to water level ends in cliffs except for a small portion adjacent to the enormous cliff face therefore your routefinding down to the river’s edge needs to be somewhat precise.
Upon executing the third option, we arrived back to the river’s edge at 11 pm. We are fortunate in Alberta to have extended hours of daylight in summer! We camped right where we completed our descent, which was a nice, smooth rock shelf on the edge of the river.
The next section is a class III-IV boulder garden above Powerslide rapid, which would be a rough swim. You must make the required moves in the boulder garden because there is only a short stretch of slackwater before you must eddy out on the right at the top of Powerslide. Incidentally, the camping at the base of Powerslide is the more desirable option than where we camped after our portage and is only 5 more minutes of paddling (not including scouting).
Shortly after comes Table Rock falls. There is a large midstream boulder – Table Rock – at the beginning of the lead-in to the falls. Again, the falls are not very obvious, pay attention and get out on river right. The portage is much easier and less exposed than at Tapestry falls. We carried our boats up the forested slope to an appropriate spot where we could lower them with rope. The portage effort took 40 minutes. The base of Table Rock falls is a great spot for lunch, although if you sit at the edge of the pool, you will be constantly bombarded by spray from the falls, which at first is nice and cooling but later becomes cold and wet – a few more meters downstream will solve that problem and still retain the view.
Next up is a wonderful 2 hours of scenic class II paddling gradually increasing to class III until the confluence with the North Fork of the Ram river. On June 17, 2009, the North fork was running clear while the South fork was murky resulting in a distinct difference at the meeting of the waters.
Roughly, 2 hours and 20 minutes from Table Rock falls, we encountered the first canyon of the combined Ram river. The first canyon’s entrance rapid is difficult to spot and mildly difficult to eddy out above (on the right) so again, pay attention. The rapid is a class III-IV pair of slots. The canyon is a smaller scale than the enormous vistas of the previous day and has sheer walls rising from the river. The first canyon ends with a diagonal ledge scoutable from the right.
Immediately following the first canyon is class IV-V Ricochet rapid. As you approach you may smell the sulfur smell from the springs on river left, which is where we got out to scout. We ended up running the rocky river left channel around the large midstream island, which was uncomplicated.
The second canyon is within view of Ricochet and is difficult to identify from the seat of your boat. Get out on river left for the scout and the portage trail, which is obvious and dead ends in an easily negotiable gully where we executed a roped boat lower and paddled the very last class III double ledge out of the second canyon, although you could argue that it is class IV due to the narrow exit, which has a hazardous flow into a left sided undercut cliff face. The time elapsed from taking out to putting back in was 2 hours for the second canyon.
The remainder of the run is class II paddling easing to class I with an increasing number of gravel bars whose layout you become better and better at reading to avoid getting hung up. We were paddling this section at 20 cms, which I would suggest is the lower limit before you must get out and drag your boat downstream. It took us 2 hours to paddle continuously to the upper take out. The thunderstorm accompanying us on this leg had the most amazing rolling thunder effect!
The upper take out involves a hellish 40 minute uphill hike to your vehicle. Park uphill of the valve station if you expect mud because we barely made it out of there due to the mud (rear wheel drive). You’d probably be ok with 4WD. It is almost worth the extra 14 km to get to where the road meets the river (North Fork road) to avoid the exhausting carry to your vehicle and the potential of being stuck on a muddy road and unable to drive out.
Time lines –
Day 1 – put in to Powerslide rapid including canyon rim portage around Tapestry falls was 10 hours.
Day 2 – Powerslide rapid to upper take out was 11 hours.
Day 3? Breaking the run up into 3 days would allow for more leisure and greater enjoyment of the natural camping facilities.
Author: William Riordon
Additional Information (from Calpaddle):
The Upper Takeout Bridge:
The road is the main branch of the Sun Pine Logging road system. Access is limited as the gate is often locked but I've driven it 4 times. I've never had to pass a logging truck fortunately as its narrow and those guys don't slow down. I've also hiked most of the road when it was built and very controversial. You can drive right to the river and there are 4x4 trails on either side of the river at the bridge which allows you to park away from the road. Last time our car was covered in bear tracks and had some minor b&e damage when we took out so you probably don't want to leave food in your car that isn't well sealed. We also talked to a fish and wildlife officer at the bridge once and he had no problem with us using the road. He was looking for poachers and not concerned about paddlers although he was very interested to know if he could float his family down the river in their Canadian Tire raft. The bridge is located about 1 hour of paddle time out of the canyon. Use google maps and switch to Satellite and you'll see the road. It isn't on regular maps.