Across most of the continent, the 49th parallel fuses two political siblings–Canada and the United States–like Siamese twins. Other than a line on a map and a few well-guarded crossings, it’s not much more than a toe line in the soil.
In Alberta’s Waterton National Park this political boundary becomes more than just a fantasy fence line. Tucked into the extreme southwest pocket is Boundary Creek, a liquid no-man’s-land that skirts back and forth along the two nations’ border. It has never smelled smuggled tobacco or twisted a barrel of bootleg moonshine because this Alberta-to-Montana crossing is self-regulating: it’s a class V run.
“Running Boundary Creek is a full-day commitment,” said Spencer Cox, one of a team of four who were the first to storm the border in the high spring runoff of 2006. “To get there you have a long flatwater paddle, a longer slog up a horse trail and to end it all, an illegal border crossing.”
Cross border kayaking
Like any crossing, you have to go through Customs first. That leads directly into the full-on class-V Cavity Search; eddy left at the bottom of the rapid and this is a straightforward domestic run. Eddy right and you’ve just paddled into foreign waters (unless of course you’re American, in which case you’re home).
“The scoured bedrock drops and crystal clear blue water make it a classic example of steep creeking in the Canadian—or is that American— Rockies,” Cox says.
The creek ends four kilometres later when it spills into the U.S. side of Waterton Lake. Paddling down the lake a few hundred yards gets you back into Canadian waters.
Chris Goble, who discovered the run, managed to enlist Cox, David Faubert and Joel Fafard for a first descent of the creek in spite of the international security risk. Now with the initial run made and passport laws relaxing ever-so-slightly to allow those wonderful, tiny, waterproof driver’s licence cards, the Treasure State of Montana could see a rash of border jumping creekers paddling toward her other jewels.
This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2008 issue of Rapid Magazine.