Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pipestone River, Canada 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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