Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kayaking - first the bad news

I went on a great sea kayaking trip with family and friends recently. Much like last year, the injuries didn't happen until after the big event was over...Tim and I did a little white water on Elbow River, just downstream of Elbow Falls in Kananaskis.

It was actually quite the adventure in the end...turns out I don't have to be rock climbing to epic (people that know me always bring a head lamp when we do something, even in the middle of the day). After bumped our way down the shallow river (lesson 1), Tim and I came around the corner, side by side (lesson 2), and proceeded to be eaten alive by one of two (lesson 3) fairly intense rapids on the stretch of river we were running. I remembered the other one, but this one had slipped my mind... Tim flipped and wet-exited, while I fought to escape the unintentional (and unwanted) surfing: I was actually pointing *down stream*, and got pulled back in enough that I ended up with my bow in the air. Eventually I flipped...and was flipped back upright! I decided anything that could flip me back upright was not for me, and so I bailed and immediately shot out of the rapid/falls. My boat came out 30 seconds later (it's amazing what times of stress will's now looking for a place on Church St).

In flipping, I hit my face on a submerged rock, so now I had blood pouring down one side of my face. In a total rookie move, I also let go of my paddle (lesson 4), so that was somewhere downstream at this point.

The adventure did end Tim and I are on the side of the river with dozens of kilometres to the nearest road. The other side was a giant, steep embankment. Given that we were blocked just 20 metres upstream by a cliff that met the river in white water, it didn't bode well for walking back to the put-in. So we decided Tim would go downstream about 50 metres to the nearest shore-eddy, then I would follow, paddle-less, and he would throw his paddle as I came past, so I could eddy-in.

That went fine...I was able to eddy-in by paddling with my hands. Although my hands hit rocks on the bottem and were bleeding.

Then we had to get up the side of the big scree-slope embankment. Tricky at the best of times, but with two WW kayaks and a paddle? Hmm. So one of us did a little "lead climbing" with a tow rope, up to a large, solid looking rock, then the lower person tied the rope to the kayak, and proceeded to push the kayak up, and scramble up behind it, while the first person took in the slack so the kayak didn't slide back down (and into the current, to join my paddle wherever it had gone).

After doing that five times (so I guess the slope was just shy of 100 metres), we went back down to repeat with the second kayak. This time we tied the tow ropes off on trees, for a little "fixed-rope" effect. Then we bush-whacked to the road, and flagged down a passing car, who were nice enough to take me back to my car and not even tell me to try not to bleed on their seats.

The numerous rules I broke:
1. Avoid shallow rivers; they hurt more than full ones.
2. Go single file: it's less social, but much safer.
3. Wild rivers (unlike domesticated ones like the Upper Kananaskis) need to be scouted. It kinda sucks to get out every bend, when the river twists every 100 metres...but it turns out you kinda have to.
4. Hold on to your freakin paddle.

As a past motorcyclist, I should know that you can't learn all lessons from experience. I'll try to avoid doing that in the future...

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