Sunday, October 12, 2008

Canada, the Start. Missianibi




 

“Once in a Life Time”

These were the words that my Brother-In Law Tom used to get my interest. Both in our late 40’s, we had been canoeing since we were kids growing up in Wisconsin. I started in Boy Scouts at age 11 or so. I’m not sure when Tom started. He grew up in a town 45 miles south of me and he was always near water of some kind as a kid as far as I know.
I do know that in college he did some teaching of canoe skills in a swimming pool.
I first got to know Tom in High School when I started dating the younger sister of his girlfriend. We never really did much together until he asked about canoeing in northern Minnesota where my wife Lynn and I had moved to when we were in our late 20’s. We canoed that one summer weekend back in the mid 80’s and then one following spring I was invited to participate in the yearly college spring canoe weekend Tom and his buddies always did. For the last 20 plus years I haven’t missed a spring trip while Tom has been doing it for over 30 years. My 3 sons and Tom’s 2 have all grown up canoeing together with us on numerous trips in MN and WI of varying length and degrees of difficulty.
Then one day back in the late 90’s, Tom got this hair-brained idea from somewhere that we needed to try Canada. Our “Once in a Life Time” trip he called it. Well, we sold that to our wives and as sisters, they bought it. Tom’s wife Susie even allowed us to take her youngest son, Jon, with us. Jon was barely in high school, I believe. That trip to Canada’s Missinabi river was so much fun we decided that we needed to do more. How to sell it to our wives? Well, we came up with a “once in a life time trip”…… to each province. Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, with a couple extra in Ontario thrown in for good measure. So far 5 trips in all. Did I mention that Tom and I are both in sales? Go figure.

1999
The Missinabi River
Mattice to Moosonee on James Bay, the Southern tip of Hudson Bay
The trip that started it all, 7 of us in 4 canoes. Finding an unbelievable book by Hap Wilson’s called MISSINAIBI: Journey To The Northern Sky, we started out on our “Trip of a Life Time”.
It was going to be our first and only trip to Canada so we wanted to do it right. 6 of us drove up with the canoes and gear and met my Canadian buddy, Hubie, (Hubert) in a small town a few hours from our put in. That night we held court. With the 6 Americans laying around in the motel room drinking beer, Hubie stood in front of us holding up each article he had brought and we gave it a thumbs up or down on whether or not he would be allowed to bring it on the trip. We had literally dozens of portages to perform over the next week and we didn’t want any extra weight so no doubling up in items was allowed. You could have your own toothbrush but we shared one tube of toothpaste. For the first time meeting these guys, Hubie was great and showed a wonderful sense of humor and spirit of cooperation.
We typically take "normal" food with us. All the regular mac & Cheese, dried potatoes, rice, etc. type stuff. We stayed away from special hiking/camping food they sell. Not only did we want to be economical on weight, we wanted the cost of our trip to be as economical as possible, as well. For meat we took smoked brats and bacon and they both kept well. The Brats we'd cut up and add to the spuds or mac & cheese and the bacon we found out was a great appetizer, the grease was the best thing to fry fish in.
In the same vein, in all of our trips we only used a guide service once. We made contact with locals that we found through contact from work or friends. This proved to be a lot more flexible (we didn't have to be somewhere at a certain time) and less costly. We always enjoyed making contact with the folks that would shuttle our vehicle. They sometimes had some local knowledge or insight that we found interesting. On this first trip, the guy that shuttled our van/trailer actually felt that the wheel bearings on our trailer needed to be re-packed so he did that while we were on the river.
We had made contact with a local Canadian through my work in the papermaking industry to shuttle our van with the canoe trailer to our take-out, a train station in Cochrane, Ontario where we’d be heading to from Moosonee. There was no road out; only way is by train, plane or paddling upstream. We decided to take the train.
We basically followed the suggestions that Hap made in his detailed book and made our way down the river. We knew we had one very serious section that had taken the lives of a number of 5 canoeists from Ohio in 1993 due to poor map markings, so we watched especially hard for it, Thunder House Falls.
When we started to recognize the beginning of the series of low-graded rapids that progressed to a series of deadly waterfalls, 2 that are 13 feet high and one 10 feet, we pulled over to shore. The height of these falls might not sound alarming but to see the river constrict and force tons of water threw and over these rocks is unforgettable. It's not so much the drop but the volume. To get caught in that much force is deadly.
Hubie at the Thunder House overlook

After beaching we decided to walk the portage to the end to see what we were dealing with. Even before we really heard the falls, we could feel them through the rocks as we walked. The ground trembled with the force of water pounding over the 3 drops.
It was unbelievable. The 5,400 ft. portage took us maybe 40 to 50 feet above the river on sheer rock ledges. No way to canoe it. When we got back to the canoes we unloaded to begin the portage. I thought I could take my empty canoe solo downriver another few hundred yards without any problem and thereby shorten the distance we would have to carry it. After some discussion where my sanity wasn’t really questioned but my decision was in that one small mistake would take me over the Falls and almost certain death, I pushed off. The river was about 60 feet wide here and although moving quite fast there were no rocks to cause much concern. But there were deep swells and holes of a few feet and as I was getting situated I dropped into one of these holes and damn near capsized. It got my attention real fast! My senses heightened and pulse quickened even higher than they already were. Stabbing the water with my paddle I used all of my skills and power to make sure there were no more surprises. I made it down to where I had seen a good take out and paddled into shore. Hubie was having a hard time finding me and thought I missed the take out and went over the Falls.
Although I didn’t say much at the time and still haven’t talked about it in all these years, I often times think about those few seconds where everything would have changed. I can’t say it keeps me up at night but I also can’t say that there haven’t been times over the years when I’ll wake up in the middle of the night from the reoccurring dream of me dropping in that hole and grabbing the gunwales, tipping over and getting washed over the Falls.
We finished the portage and rested at the large pool at the bottom of the Falls. After loading up the canoes and filleting the large walleye that Hubie had caught earlier in the day, we put in only to go a fairly short distance to pull over, unload and do it all again, to avoid Hells Gate rapids.
Hubie's Walleye

Matt at the Hells Gate Rapids portage. Notice "skeeter" net outfit. A must up there or the bugs will drive you crazy. This is not a joke. I use a cheap head net, those total jackets are nice, but they are expensive and they rip. I usually wear light leather gloves around camp/shore as well, to keep the bugs off.
Just the name tells you not to even think about it. This time for a 2-mile portage past some unbelievable rapids. The portage was brutal. Mosquitoes, swamp, heat, creek crossing, mud up to our asses, shoes getting sucked off, muscles pushed to the end of endurance carrying gear and canoes. We finally got most everything to the end of the portage and back to the wide bank on the river. We were so tired we pitched our tents and the 2 kids fell into their sleeping bags and zonked out without eating any supper, fresh walleye. I highly recommend taking a couple of strapping young men on trips as we did. They more than pull their own share in the toughest situations.
That portage tested us all and nobody ever complained ever again on any trip we took when we decided not to take any article with us on the river that wasn't deemed necessary.
Hap tells of a group of canoers that decided to split at Hells Gate. Some doing the portage as we did while the others took to the river. Where as it took us the better part on an afternoon, it took the canoers 2 full days of terrifying river work to make it through.
After another day or so the river widened and there were no more serious rapids.
"The bar" is open!


Booze counter.

We had around 100 miles to go to Moosonee. The wind picked up behind us as we expected it would based on our research and we raised the sails on our now makeshift catamarans. Mac had pre-drilled the canoes and rigged the tarps we used for sails in anticipation of this day. Man, did we have fun and were we moving out, averaged close to 10 miles per hr. with spikes maybe in the 15 mph range. We all agreed if a guy wanted to let himself out on a rope he could have water-skied behind our setup.
Mac always takes any oppertunity to take rest.
Sausage Platter, anyone?

After covering 50 some miles in 6 hrs. Tom pulled over. We were at the confluence of the Missinaibi and the Mattagami Rivers and he was nervous about getting into even bigger water than we had been in. A discussion started as to whether we should stop for the day or keep on. I had to walk away from the debate so I could think. After a bit the guys walked over to me and asked what I thought. I told Tom that as he has his son Jon there and a young friend of Jon’s, it was only his decision to make, not anybody else’s, as he was responsible for them. I don’t think the episode I had had earlier in the trip, before the Falls, entered into my response, but years later I’m glad we didn’t temp the gods twice on one trip. We stopped for the night. When we returned to the States we learned that the same day we were sailing on the Missinabi the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in MN got hit with a tremendous wind storm that blew over many, many square miles of trees. As the crow flys we weren't that far from the BWCA and experienced some of what went through there. Although we noticed trees getting blown over on shore, we thought it was windy but not that bad. Maybe ignorance is bliss.
The next day we came to a railroad bridge crossing and packed everything up to it.
There were a few buildings we investigated and an old cemetery but we were the only humans present, that were alive, at least. After a few hours the freight train to Moosonee arrived and stopped for us. When we got to town we checked into our motel, got cleaned up and started to head out for an evening on the town. Right before we closed the door behind us the clerk mentioned that the door would be locked at midnight or some certain time I can’t remember now. We mentioned we had a key and could let ourselves in. The clerk rephrased his statement. Not only would the door be locked, our key would not work in it. Seems the local native population would get a little rowdy as the evening wore on and the motel owners got tired of damages and problems so no one could come and go after a certain hour. We made sure we made it back in time. The next day we loaded up the canoes on a freight car on the Little Bear and had a scenic 5-6 hr. train trip to our waiting van in Cochrane.
Our “Once in Life Time” trip was over.
2000
Harricana River trip
Joutel to James Bay
We noticed this river on the map from the year before when we ran the Missinabi to James Bay and figured out how to make the float. We again made contact with a local that helped in the shuttle. This year we had 5 canoeists and 3 canoes. I mainly canoed solo. The put-in actually is in the province of Quebec near the small abandoned mining town of Joutel. This river today can be found listed by a few of the wilderness guides in the area as a regular trip, but at the time we did it, the only thing we could find was a single sparse trip report. We bought topography maps and put them together so we’d at least have a general idea of things.
This river trip was not to be confused with a leisurely float down your favorite river. There were no portages cut that we could find and even if we had found any, we probably would not have used them. The first day we actually did drag our canoes over top of some barren rock out-cropping, but after that we lined everything.
The river is as rugged as the rock holding it in from spilling out over the landscape. As all the rivers up here are, they’ve cut themselves a path north through the jagged exposed out-cropping of the Canadian Shield. We would come across huge rapids where the water shot over massive pieces of this out-cropping only to drop into holes big enough for whole houses to fit in.
With 25’ of rope on the bow and stern of each canoe, we lead from the front or held back from the rear every drop or rapids on the entire river.
We had a few interesting situations. At one of the first rapids we thought that if we unloaded every thing a single guy in the canoe could shoot the rapids. Matt and Jon it was decided were to carry as much as they could around the rapids and Mac, Tom and myself with the reduced weight of equipment and people would ride the rapids down to a large pool. Tom went first and I followed after I felt he was safely through. As I was flying down river, Tom had picked up an eddy current and was actually heading back up stream, in a rapids! That was the first time we’d ever seen enough eddy current to form an upriver flowing rapids. It gives one the perspective of how much water and force is contained in these rivers. We noticed that the boys had decided to carry the packs across a sheer rock face on river left. One slip and they would be sliding down this steep wall into the rapids we just went through.
At camp that night we talked about how bad that could have turned out and that in the future one needs to get up and over the break of the bank. This situation also prompted Tom to recommend we always lined or portaged on river right unless it was a short distance. We knew from when we started that for sure the right bank was not an island. He made a very valid point that it was conceivable that if we moved along the left bank, it could end up being just an island. There were many islands of varying sizes the river encircled. From ones of a hundred yards that we could see beyond, to a few that were a couple of miles long. If we lined down the shore of an island by mistake and got to the end only to find we were in the middle of un-canoeable rapids or water falls, we’d be in a really bad situation.
The next day or so we were lining the canoes around a short but wild rapids on river left. I was in front working both ropes, as I was going single. Behind me was Mac holding the bow rope of his canoe and Tom holding the stern rope. Jon and Matt brought up the rear with their canoe. The roar of the rapids we were skirting was deafening and about half way into it, as I was turning slightly upriver to work my stern rope, I noticed out of the corner of my eye Tom slip and slide into the rushing water. I figured instantly that he’d hang onto the rope so as not be sucked into the teeth of the rapids. I yelled as loud as I could for Mac to hang on tight to his rope. He looked at me rather puzzled but I yelled again “hang on tight and set your feet, Tom went in” Mac understood immediately and at about the same instant as his canoe was swinging out into the current, his rope was mightily jerked. Tom had disappeared under the water and also beneath an undercut bank. When he came up it was apparent that he had gashed his head as he was bleeding. Luckily the rope was not jerked from his hands nor did the force of the blow to his head knock him unconscious, as he was able to hang on to the rope and swing to shore safely. When we got Tom out and he had a chance to catch his breath, I started asking him stupid questions like “who am I? who’s your wife? where are we? what day is it? and the like. We decided he didn’t have a concussion and later after things settled down we all decided that maybe wearing life jackets would be a good thing. We also tried to get Mac to wear his good pair of tennis shoes to get better traction and throw away the ones he had been wearing, as the soles were tore away from the uppers in many spots and his toes were sticking through the bottoms, but he wouldn’t do it. Those “town tennis” as they became had to be saved for Moosonee and the trip home!
Later we came to rapids that was very long but didn’t seem too difficult. It was decided as my solo canoe had less weight and so could then handle higher water, I’d take off and see how it went. I got in the water and started paddling and to my amazement, there was 2-3 foot drops everywhere that we weren’t able to discern from shore. I started paddling feverishly at one point out in the middle to position myself to take on an extra big drop and over I went. The guys from shore only saw me paddling like it was my last hurrah and I was gone from sight. They figured I swamped the boat, but after a few seconds I reappeared triumphantly. I was able to beach on an island after a bit more maneuvering and through hand signals made the guys understand they had to go far out into the middle then come downstream to avoid the big water. From my downriver position I could guide them by arm signals right and left. How vigorously I waved and ran in either direction along shore determined which to go and by what speed to avoid big drops that could have caused then to take on water and eventual swamp.
As we continued downriver Tom and Mac did end up taking on water over the sides and swamping. They were able to get to shore and managed not to lose any gear. That made us think about what would happen if we lost a pack with all the food or tents or camp stove, etc. We decided to spread the food and equipment around in different bags to avoid a major issue if one pack did sink or float off if one canoe did tip over.
Further down the river we came to a huge 7-mile island. It took us a whole day to cover that distance. After that, we knew we had made it past the majority of the dangerous areas. We started floating down the wide fast moving river thinking about our next “situation,” getting from the mouth of the river to Moosonee with a 30 mile open stretch of tidal mud flats and salt water, James Bay. It was recommended to us not try to cross James Bay. Just the last summer a freighter canoe (a specialized canoe about 25 feet long and 5 feet wide with about 3 feet of depth) had capsized with a local family onboard and all 4 had drowned. We knew there was a “Goose Camp” at the mouth of the Harricana and that there was supposed to be a work detail there with communications to Moosonee. Our plan was to make it that far and make a decision whether to have a plane come out and get us, a few freighter canoes or sail/paddle ourselves. The cost involved in the plane and freighters were not very attractive. Further, weather conditions could determine what we ultimately did.
So, as we are floating down the river we saw a horizon line, which indicates a drop in the water usually associated with a waterfalls or a low damn. We know there were no dams and nothing indicated a falls (nothing on the trip report or map, that is) but we still paddled up cautiously. We could see the river below the horizon line so we knew it couldn’t be much. Well, as I was leading the pack and could see that it was just a 2-3 foot drop off a shelf, I decided to have a little fun and go off of it. Somehow in the current and the air eddy (wind is very normal near a rapids. I think it’s due to the rushing water as it picks up speed causing an air disturbance just above the surface of the water maybe like a venturi effect) I ended up getting spun around backwards. No problem, I just dropped over. Being backwards I couldn’t paddle as aggressively as I wanted. I slid over the drop, but the hydraulic action of the water overpowered me and pulled me back upstream to where the water dropping over the shelf deposited itself in my canoe. As I filled up with water I noticed that Mac and Tom had taken on enough water from going over the drop themselves that they had to head to shore to empty their canoe. About this time, the weight of my canoe was enough that the current pulled me out of the hydraulic and I started downstream, my canoe behaving more like a submarine than a vehicle designed to float on top of the water.
Jon and Matt were far enough back to realize they had to head toward shore and not go over the drop. As soon as they could they were heading downstream to help me out. By that time my canoe had rolled over and everything was floating. I stayed with the canoe and Jon and Matt busied themselves with collecting all the gear in the floating garage sale. Well, after 15-20 minutes of floating down the river I thought it might be a good idea to swim for shore. Although there was not supposed to be any large rapids or water falls I didn’t want to find out the hard way we were wrong. Try as I might I couldn’t break free of the main current. The river was 200 yards or so wide at this point and every time I’d get somewhat close to the outside of the current, the river would change direction and I’d be back into the main flow. I started to bounce off of rocks as the water wasn’t that deep but it was still moving quite fast. There is great danger in one getting a foot caught between 2 rocks. When this happens, it doesn’t take much force form the current to lay a person out horizontally and drown them. I needed to keep my feet up out of the water to avoid this. The canoe was still floating in front of me but about 30 yards down river. One never wants to be on the downriver side of a swamped canoe. Only bad things can happen should this be the case. The canoe was drifting sideways and all of a sudden it stopped. It had come up against a large rock in the river just barely submerged. I floated up to the canoe and stood up on the rock. I was able to lift one side and start to drain the water out. Jon and Matt had finished fishing out the gear and pulled up alongside and helped as I flipped the canoe over. We reloaded the gear, waited a few more minutes for Mac and Tom to catch up and went merrily on our way.
After some time we figured we were in the tidal basin and the tide was going out. With the combined effect of the tide and the current we were making pretty good time and were hoping to make the Goose Camp well before dark.
About the time we saw the Camp, up a fairly tall bank on river right, the group of men working there, noticed us as well. We were told that one of the guys at the Camp would be a cousin of the guide that we had talked to weeks ago about the options to get from the mouth of the Harricana River to the town of Moosonee. As we made our way to the boat landing and began walking up the trail, the workers all took positions standing around a guy sitting on a huge tree stump made into a large chair. As we got within shouting distance, he pointed toward Moosonee and yelled “Town’s that way.” This brought raucous laughter from his “subjects” as we kept heading up the path to them. Long story short, they showed us their construction site and the work they were doing. Tom was able to use the generator-powered phone to call his wife to let her know we made it out (we still has this little problem of the crossing James Bay to town, though). After a bit “Chief” told us of a campsite down river before we’d hit the Bay. When asked what our plan was, we just shrugged and said we thought we’d just paddle across in the morning. Chief then told us of a spot where fresh water could be found if for some reason we couldn’t make it across in one day. We talked about the high and low tide timetables and such and when the best time was to start and which tide to use. As we started to walk away we mentioned that Chief should stop in after work and have a bit of whisky with us. Little did we know that that was the deciding factor in how we’d get across the Bay.
Chief had talked to his cousin the guide and knew we were coming. They were hoping we’d enter back into civilization like most of the other paddlers had that came down the Harricana, desperate as hell and willing to pay a kings ransom to get taken back to civilization.
After a few hours Chief showed up at our James Bay campsite. We learned from him that the time we took to canoe the river was exceptionally fast. He told us of 2 Japanese brothers that swamped while making the trip a number of years before and how one drowned and was never seen again, even after his family had hired local guides, airplanes and helicopters to try to find the body. How the brother that did survive emerged from the bush half crazed, near starving and naked covered in mud trying to protect him self from the mosquitoes and black flies.
He then mentioned in passing that he had to go to town tomorrow for some supplies and if we wanted to, he’d take us and all of our gear back in one trip. We all kinda looked at each other and shrugged. One of us even might have mentioned that we were kinda looking forward to the adventure of finishing up the trip with a canoe crossing of the Bay. Most probably Tom would have mentioned that if we did take him up on his offer, what would it cost? I think he said $100 US. That was a mere fraction of what was quoted to us before as they had told us they’d need to use 3 freighter canoes to do the job and that a plane was even more with multiple trips required to get all of our gear and the 3 canoes to town.

After a couple more rounds of whisky we settled on the price and a time and we were set. It was after we got to Moosonee the next day and we offered to buy Chief lunch we learned that they took us serious that we were prepared to paddle the Bay. “My God”, Chief told his cousin, “they even have whisky left.” I guess that’s the measure of how bad off a river party is up north.
We were able to get a good northern lights show that night with the vast expanse of water open to the north. While camping on the river, we never had the open sky to really see them. There was a slight breeze to keep the bugs away and I think most of us slept under the stars reveling in the glow of the aurora borealis, the whisky and the fact we made out like bandits and beat the locals at their own game to get across the Bay.
When we got to Moosonee Tom and Mac made their way to the train station where only a year before we had loaded up our canoes and gear and rode the freight train called Little Bear out of town. They guys were not having much luck as the Little Bear wasn’t due for a couple more days and as we had pretty much seen everything there was to see in Moosonee last year, we weren’t too excited about hanging out for a couple more days. While I stayed back at the motel watching the Toronto Blue Jays beat up on my Boston Red Sox, Tom and Mac went back to the train station when the tourist train the Polar Express came in. The guys explained our situation to the train Conductor and Engineer, and although it had never been done before that they knew of, they allowed us to tie our 3 canoes to the catwalk of the engine and when ALL ABOARD was directed to the tourists heading back out, we were on the train.
We made our way to the caboose where a very friendly (and pretty, I might add) Canadian women was playing piano and singing songs and taking requests. As we further demished our alcohol supply Mac taught the pretty piano player the Salvation Army song and many more ditties most of which came from his college days. Of course Mac did his rendition of J. Edger Swoop, the beloved ballad to the American Eagle, to the amusement and enjoyment of all.
I have often times described the Harricana trip as not being a vacation when we were on the water, as the river demanded full attention and respect. Looking back though, it’s normally these types of experiences that most contain the sense of satisfaction over the years.

2003
Missinabi Lake to Mattice
This section of the river was to complete the Missinabi River in its entirety. There were 6 of us this trip. Tom, Mac, Jon and me as usual. My youngest son David and his buddy Kyle completed the group. As before we got locals to help us with the shuttling. We started out with a long 5-mile paddle across Missinabi Lake that was a little windblown. Dinner that first night, as was our custom, was steaks with spuds, rutabaga and mushrooms. This always lightened up at least one canoe for the rest of the trip. This section of river is not as demanding as the trip we did back in 1999. Although not a place to get too complacent, if one takes note of the rapids and knows his skill level honestly, it is a very enjoyable trip. We took a side trip up a river that was reported to have a fun place to body surf. We found the spot and as we all preceded to play in the water, I pushed off a rock while surfing and ended up tearing a tendon in the tip of my right ring finger which prompted Kyle to proclaim that I could only come to Canada canoeing 8 more times as that was the number of fingers left that I had not damaged in some way, shape or form. I finished the trip with no more incidents....
We ended up doing quite a bit of fishing and managed to catch a number of nice walleyes and northerns.
This trip was satisfying in that David did an exceptional job all week canoeing and working with the rest of us. Jon, as usual, was great. David and Kyle figured out what needed to be done and dived right in. Setting up tents, getting firewood, pumping water with the purifier and doing dishers all needed to be done.
Only thing that was difficult was trying to get Jon to wear a life jacket at times. Kyle was interesting in that he normally made every stroke while paddling, but it was doubtful that he ever got his paddle in more than half way or moved his paddle faster than the current we happened to be in. That being said, I normally had him as a partner and I had to paddle twice as fast and use twice as many strokes to keep up with the group.

Mac entertained the boys most every night while Tom and I just laid back and enjoyed one more “Trip of a Life Time.”
We all enjoyed Mac driving home after the trip and the van swaying from fog line to fog line as we motored down the road. I was too terrified to sleep and tried to spot moose before they stepped out in the road, to which Mac would look at me and say “What moose?”
We spent the night in Sault Ste. Marie and had a great time at a local pub that had live music. Jon especially enjoyed the local talent. The boys had fun in the motel trying to find covers that were somewhat clean.


2005
Pipestone River
We selected this river as it was near a town that appears to be the furthest town north that one can drive to in Ontario. Only Tom, Jon and myself made the trip. 1 canoe and a kayak. We started by having a guide service take us to the put-in. They had to take their vehicle and maybe that was good. It was about a 3 hr. drive on gravel roads. We put in and started down. The kayak was something new and I was excited to see how different it would be. When we hit a long stretch of decent rapids I decided to hold back on the last drop and let Tom and Jon finish the portage so they could sit in the pool at the end while I tried shooting the last drop. I can’t remember how big the drop was, maybe 4 feet, but I didn’t make it. I had to paddle straight out from shore and try to make a chute.
I had to turn down river before I got to the chute and went over the drop. The kayak was fully loaded with about 80 lbs. of gear and with the front and back the only parts touching it was too tippy and over I went. If I would have had more speed I maybe could have shot over the drop and landed flat. In any case when I flipped over I did a wet exit, as I did not know how to roll it. Still don’t, either! That was ok, until the current started pulling me upstream into the rapids.
Tom had mentioned to me that if I flipped and was caught in the current I needed to remember to dive down to get to where the current wasn’t able to grab me and keep me in the “wash machine”. Well that sounded like a plan, only problem was that I was unable to get any air to breathe so diving was not an option. With my life jacket on it kept me somewhat floating, but the water surface was so frothy that there wasn’t enough water density to keep my head above water long enough to get air and the air had so much water in it that every time I breathed I got as much water as air. I couldn’t get a good breath and the current was pulling me close to the drop where escape is all but impossible. I started swimming like never before trying to get downstream. My arms were in the same environment as that was making it hard to float and get air. There wasn’t enough water density to “grab” anything. That left my legs as the only true option to get me to safety. I started kicking so furious that I actually pulled a calf muscle slightly but it was enough break the hold the current had on me and floated out. As I was heading downstream, the kayak was being recirculated for a 2nd time through. I let it go. By that time Tom and Jon had arrived and I grabbed hold of the side of their canoe and I let them paddle me to shore. A few minutes later they had retrieved the kayak and I got to unload everything and get all the water out of the hatches and cockpit. I was pretty shook up over this ordeal and portaged a few of the following rapids when I really didn’t need to until I was able to understand that drops were not my friends. The kayak can take on enormous rapids and come out fine, but it was the tip and tail balancing act that got me in trouble, not the size of the rapids. Once I understood this and got some confidence back it was unbelievable some of the water I took on. On one wave train there was a series of 15 or so 4-5 ft standing waves that I plowed through. The kayak would dive into one get lifted up and dive down the backside only to get picked up and almost get vertical again before it went over top and back down over and over again. Jon and Tom had to portage around all of this. While they were doing that I kept making a loop back around into the waves and kept playing.
There were numerous rapids that I was able to take that Jon and Tom in the open canoe could not attempt. One spot on rapids I was going to attempt I remember I wanted to avoid as it had a large hole in it. But, as is the case, when I got into the current, that’s where it took me. I hit it hard and kept paddling. I think Jon said I was totally out of view as I dropped in the hole then popped out the bottom.
Fishing was great from the kayak and we had plenty of fresh walleye. After about 5 days we got to our take-out, which was a plane ride that took us back to the start. This was our only trip in Canada that we used a guide service and it didn’t work out as well as it could have. Some details were not given as options that ended up costing us money, but I guess the guides felt justified in keeping us ignorant of our choices. This upset Tom and he worked on the guide so at least we each ended up with a neat sweatshirt!





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