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Paddler Profile WallySchaber Wally Schaber and some guy named Pierre

Wally Schaber called my office last spring looking to fill a seat on his 15-day canoe trip down the Hess River, NWT. I wondered what it would be like tripping with a guy who led Pierre Trudeau down the river and introduced the blue barrel for canoe tripping. Wally was the first to commercially guide on the Nahanni River back in 1976, only four years after Burt Reynolds’ Deliverance brought canoe adventure to the silver screen. I was five. Wally opened the outdoor shop Trailhead with partner Chris Harris in 1977 and he founded the outfitting company Black Feather in 1971 (sold to Wendy Grater in 1994). Through them over the years Wally has hired, and fired (recommended they try another career), many of the who’s who in the canoeing industry today. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s Wally was on the leading edge of open canoe whitewater paddling and continues to be on the edge of river tripping. Wally is admittedly old school, doesn’t playboat and pegs his most spectacular kayak- ing achievement as “getting in one.” His dream road trip is paddling the Hood, Mountain, Tatshenshini and Hess Rivers all in one summer.—Scott MacGregor


School: Music:

Best/worst day on the river:

Deepest fear: Sponsors:

Smarties or M&Ms? Floss or Waterpick?


University of Waterloo. Jazz.

Any day with Bill Mason (1973- 1986) applies to both. Flash flood northern river. Trailhead and Wellington Brewery—Trailhead Lager. M&Ms. Waterpick.

photo J. David Andrews Black Feather Archives.

“Normal people portage Wilberforce Canyon on the Hood River.

Not Schaber.

He (and his side-kick

Mason) roped down their canoe and found waves big- ger than they looked from 300’ above the river. Big surprise. They were upright for seconds (long enough to become coverboys for the book Wildwaters) but Schaber is still talking about next


time. He may look like a cross between Russian bal- let dancer, Rudolf Nureyev and a bear from the Moscow Circus, but he’s a never-say-die(nosaur) hot- dogger when it comes to canoeing. His gift is getting others to do the same. Thanks to Schaber, I’ve wrecked the odd canoe (it’s okay, most were Trailhead rentals), shot at least one waterfall on pur-

pose, cooked turkey over an open fire, and shared a few sunsets with keen paddlers in exotic places. He’s the explorer, the exemplar, who continues to help make it happen. The original whitewater host. All he needs now is glasses.”—James Raffan.

photo Ted Johnson

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