Walking on Waterfalls in Jasper National Park

Guide Joe Storms prepares to rappel down the first major drop in Ogre Canyon – Photo: Matt Standal

Staring into a mist of freezing riverwater flowing down a 10-meter chute, I asked the obvious question:

“I haven’t rappelled in 15 years … can’t you just lower me down?”

“No, we made a plan to rappel, so we’re sticking to it,” said my grizzled, French-Canadian guide.

His voice was drowned out by the curtain of icy water flowing around the car-sized boulder that sat over my head. My climbing harness held firm to a chain wrapped around its base. I had just finished filming Rock the Park TV show hosts Jack Steward and Colton Smith as they disappeared into the froth.

In the next 30 seconds, I was on belay, walking backwards into the “Turbo Washer,” the biggest of the waterfalls we’d negotiate in Ogre Canyon.

Imagine being sprayed in the face with a fire hose while moonwalking down a huge playground slide. That’s the thrill (and probably the drawback for some) of canyoning – a sport that includes hiking, climbing, rappelling, jumping, shimmying, squeezing, and God-knows-what-else through nature’s canyon playlands.

While I love hiking, biking, and skiing in the mountains, I’m certainly not an experienced climber. For me, the experience was truly an adrenaline rush.

Thankfully, our canyoning guides were among the most talented in Canada, including expert rope handlers from Rocky Mountain Canyoning, based in Jasper.

Rock the Park host Colton Smith slides down a boulder into the Turbo Washer – Photo: Matt Standal

I’m about to disappear under a huge boulder to get in position for filming the “Turbo Washer” – Photo: Tommy Steward

Am I pointing at the Ogre’s face? Who the hell knows? – Photo: Matt Standal

Ogre Canyon is not on Jasper’s official tourist map. To get there, one must drive to the park’s eastern fringe and discover the tiny hamlet of Brule, population 31.

Sidenote: this former coal mining town lacks any sort of commercial services, but does deliver some big ass mosquitoes. 

From here, it’s a short trip on a bumpy 4wd road through a horse pasture and up a muddy track to the entrance of the canyon, which according to local legend, resembles the scowling face of an ogre. You’d have to squint pretty hard to see a face in these gnarly rocks. Maybe the folks who named it were on a different kind of canyon trip … ahem.

Using the metric system, I’d estimate the canyon at roughly 1km long and 40 meters at its deepest point. That’s about half a mile and 120 feet deep to us Americans. Interestingly, the folks in this part of Alberta told me they often use imperial methods of measurement. Seems there was some sort of metric pushback here in the 80s. I doubt the namesake ogre gives a damn.

For those interested in canyoning in Jasper, be sure to hire a guide or know exactly how to travel through a raging cauldron of icewater. The American Canyoneering Association rates this section of limestone 3C II, which means that you’ll be faced with exposed, technical climbing in water with strong current.

Translation: normal living creatures do not typically visit this canyon. The only life we found here was a very confused frog.

While our hosts chose to rappel down each of the 8 major drops in the canyon, myself and two other cameramen were mostly lowered via fixed ropes by a team of guides. The idea is to get the cameraman in place before the action goes down, saving precious time and preserving story continuity. I completed the experience while hauling a Canon 5D Mark III, lenses, media, and tripod.

According to Rocky Mountain Canyoning, we are the first film crew to document the canyoning scene in Jasper National Park.

Director of photography Nejc Poberaj leans over the canyon ledge to film TV show hosts Jack Steward and Colton Smith – Photo: Matt Standal