After a half dozen sessions in this pool this winter, practicing rolls with Geoff, I've been fortunate enough to take advantage of great spring kayaking conditions. I kicked off the season with two fun runs down the Credit River in town, with Amanda one day and Ian the next. But that was just super mellow class II stuff - the real action began last weekend when Amanda and I ventured up to the Head River.
It didn't start off perfectly, when I discovered I'd misplaced the tie-downs. I thought I had a whole bag of webbing somewhere? Nope. A visit to Honest Eds for a replacement, another stop for food, and we were off, albeit two hours later than planned, thus missing the scheduled meet-up with others. Fortunately the Quaker Oaks general store near the put-in was able to tell us where the take-out was, and when we got there, the guys I'd arranged to meet had just finished. Adam wasn't sated and joined us for his second run of the day. That was awesome - yay, no scouting required! It also turned out he's a former river guide, so was a constant source a invaluable tips.
The main rapid of the river is called Triple Drop. Once again we would Adam lead the way, followed by Amanda, and I was bringing up the rear. On the previous rapid I had trouble seeing what line he was taking, so I figured this time I'd follow Amanda a little closer. Bad idea. Amanda got stuck in the backwash of the first falls, and I was too close to take a different line. I turned sideways as I ran into her, immediately got flipped, and pushed underneath her boat! She flipped as well, so when I rolled back up, she was swimming while holding her kayak and paddle. Adam had eddied out, so he was now last, and I was furthest downriver, trying to offer Amanda assistance, while floating backwards. Adam yelled for me to turn around for the next rapid - oh, yeah, right! I barely managed to turn downstream in time to go over the biggest of the three falls (maybe 2 or 3 feet). Yikes. Amanda floated/swam over it, Adam shunted her boat to the side, and I fetched the paddle. Fortunately she was fine, and even better, wanted another run at it.
While carrying our boats back and scouting the run, we saw a fish trying to jump upstream. Then another. And then we saw that the eddies at the falls were filled with dozens upon dozens of fish. I think we decided they were catfish. Super cool! I was able to put my hand in and pluck one out - big guys, probably almost 2 feet long and 2-3kg? We ran Triple Drop again, and finished the run without any further drama.
A week later we continued to have absolutely gorgeous weather. Cloudless skies, just a breath of wind and a hint of summer humidity. Ian's workmate Eoin is in town for a couple of months for a job. He left his four! kayaks back in Van...so yes, he's very good! We decided to head to the Upper Black, off Hwy 7 north of Belleville, because, like Head River, it's only runnable during the high water of spring runoff. Great to be both doing something new - an adventure!
After scouting the takeout, we drove to the put-in, launched, and were immediately greeted with fun rapids. I'd previously been given a heads up that some of the rapids are tough to scout by foot, but fortunately Eoin's experience allowed him to get a good sense of each from his boat, and eddy-in part-way through rapids to look around corners and such. This alone saved us hours of repeatedly exiting our boats and scouting by foot, but was almost essential for the really fun, but committing, canyon sections.
On one such section, I paddled into the eddy where Eoin was waiting, and he said to me "Did you see the dog?" I looked back over to the other side of the canyon, and sure enough, on a small ledge just higher than water level, a mangy, red dog was pacing and looking at us forlornly. Medium-sized; a Setter perhaps? She looked quite emaciated, and would howl and yip occasionally. Eoin said she looked like she might have jumped onto my boat as I passed. She'd clearly been stuck there for some time, days at least, perhaps when the water was high enough to wash her up there. We called out to her, and although she skittered about near the edge, couldn't be coaxed into the foaming water rushing by. Eoin decided rescue her. He ferried over, and leaning precariously from his boat, was able to have her come to his hand for a pat, and then he half-persuaded, half-yanked her onto his deck. Now he had a had a petrified dog crouched on top of his paddle, and he was floating backwards through boulder-strewn rapids! He bounced off a rock and nearly went over, and then was able to wrest his paddle from under the dog just as they were swept over a little drop. The dog fell into the water but was able to swim to the embankment, which was now the base of a hill rather than a vertical canyon wall. Eoin signaled that he was fine, and we started off again. The dog ran beside the river for a little ways, but eventually disappeared to who knows where.
We'd also read that there was at least one, and possibly three, required portages and big grade IV rapids. We got out of our boats to check out the first big one, and I was pretty shocked that Eoin was tempted to run what looked to me like a 10 foot high meat tenderizer (to support my thinking, there were multiple "Portage, Please!" signs on the bank). So when we saw the next one, and it was slightly less ridiculous, I suspected he would want to run it. He felt confident, scoped it out from land, and ran it like a boss. He was signalling what looked much like he thought I could give it a go, but I definitely wanted to clarify...I walked to the base of the falls and from there, couldn't see over the top - it was a solid seven feet high, and maybe thirty degrees of foaming, boulder-strewn carnage. But he was so confident, I was able to summon the courage to give it a go. I tried to take the same line as he did, and was just a foot off, but that meant I bounced like a pinball off all the features we had said to avoid... Still, I made it to the bottom, upright and intact. Woooooooo!!
The rest of the run was great fun. We even saw a porcupine float through a rapid and saunter off, just a few feet from our curious gaze. After 4 hours we were happy to be done. We took the kayaks out in someone's grassy backyard beside the Queensborough weir, and started jogging up the road when someone started calling out to us. The person living there wanted to give us a ride back to our car (actually, she was volunteering her husband). Skip the 14km walk/run to the put-in? Yes, please! And so we were on the road headed back to Toronto before dark. Also, two out of two trips finished without needing a headlamp? Win.