Paddle and Portage owners Mark Saunders and Sandee Greatrex in the Kootenay River at the mouth of Summit Creek.

Paddle and Portage owners Mark Saunders and Sandee Greatrex in the Kootenay River at the mouth of Summit Creek.

Paddle and Portage offers new way to explore Creston Valley

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For Paddle and Portage owners Mark Saunders and Sandee Greatrex, kayaking is more than just something to do and more than something to keep fit — it’s a way to give locals a new perspective on the Creston Valley.

“We’re giving people a new experience … and a different way to look at the river,” said Greatrex. “Some people have been here a long time and have never been to the river. It’s a new way to see their valley — the jewel of their valley.”

Not only is it beautiful, but with a current of about three km/h, the Kootenay River also offers a gentle way to start kayaking, as Greatrex and Saunders discovered when they first arrived in the valley and set out in their kayaks.

“We paddled upriver and didn’t know it,” said Saunders.

Beyond scenery, paddling on the river is a way to enjoy wildlife that spends time near the water, including otters, bald eagles, elk, blue herons and cormorants.

“A really significant thing about kayaking is that you can be as quiet as the water,” said Saunders. “Because you’re not noisy, they let you get pretty close to them.”

When a woman visiting from Norway saw a beaver for the first time, “she just started screaming out loud, she was so happy,” said Greatrex.

There are a few ways to experience the Kootenay River with Paddle and Portage, which offers guided and self-guided trips — complete with kayaks and gear — as well as a shuttle service for personal equipment. Distances vary depending on drop-off and pickup points, but can stretch to about 35 kilometres, from the south launch just north of the U.S.-Canada border to just north of Wynndel.

Saunders and Greatrex also offer classes through the Creston and District Community Complex, covering the basics of kayaking, such as stroke and launch.

They said most new kayakers pick up the necessary skills quickly, and are impressed to learn that the kayaks are incredibly stable.

“You’re hard pressed to make it tip,” said Greatrex.

If anyone tries — and that would require really trying — “likely what will happen is it will toss you out,” added Saunders.

They also enjoy hiking and cycling, and even created six kilometres of crosscountry skiing trails in the forest near their off-grid straw bale home in Alberta.

Greatrex was the first to try kayaking. While on a break from studying kinesiology at the University of Calgary, she took a trip to the West Coast, and camped and kayaked while exploring the islands around Nootka Sound.

In 2009, they left Alberta, and travelled for five years, spending a lot of time on a sailboat in Mexico. Greatrex suggested that they bring along their kayaks.

“I’m so happy we did that because we just loaded them on the deck of the sailboat, and wherever we anchored, we could launch and explore,” said Saunders.

“You get to see more aspects of a state or province when you get on its waters,” said Greatrex.

As with the Creston Valley, kayaking in Mexico allowed them a unique view of wildlife, including a whale shark that swam under them.

“The water was maybe 20 feet deep,” said Saunders.

While in Mexico, others in the sailing community mentioned Creston, and told the couple it would be perfect for them — and as soon as Saunders and Greatrex saw the Kootenay River, they agreed.

Locals have been happy to join in since Paddle and Portage started last year, and the first come, first served Monday and Wednesday evening paddles sell out quickly. Not only are customers enjoying the group aspect, but it’s an activity that many people are able to do. Paddlers must be reasonably flexible, and be able to sit on and get up from the ground.

“We’re absolutely introducing a new activity to Creston,” said Saunders.

“And their visitors,” said Greatrex. “A lot of people have visitors and they want to know what to do.”

They’re happy to supply the activity, which leaves new paddlers equally excited.

“They’re not frowning when they get out and walk away,” said Greatrex. “They usually have big smiles on their faces.”

To learn more about Paddle and Portage, visit www.paddleandportage.ca.