Head River and Black River
Saturday, April 9, 2005
length: 10.0km, 1 day
participants: Glenn Meinzer, Michael Sims, Peter Farr, Dianne Pringle
The original plan had been to paddle the Salmon River with another group, but late Friday night we heard that the Salmon was still frozen over so a quick change of direction was in order. We made a hurried decision to give the Head a try as we heard that Cline had run it the day before and it was high and clear. Mike was disappointed – he would have preferred the upper or lower Black near Queensborough instead, but he came along anyway.
I picked Mike up downtown at 8am and we met up with Dianne and Glenn in Oshawa as the Head was a short drive north of there along highway 12. I had never done that river before and the day looked like it was going to be beautiful, so I was looking forward to it with great anticipation.
When we arrived at the put-in there was a group ahead of us just setting off. The river looked very high. At Tim Who's (the little bakery/coffee shop half way down the river) we were told that the ice had broken up on Monday around noon. Apparently she saw the first kayak go past only 20 minutes after that!
After setting up the shuttle (a whole 5-minute drive from take-out to put-in) we hit the water about 11:30am. Not having been on the river before I have nothing to compare with, but I was told that some of the smaller rapids were washed out. We played for a bit at a drop that ran between an old stone wall or bridge. It was a good place to practise ferrying since the current was pushy and the waves were not simple surfs.
A chute somewhere past half-way (I think) was our lunch stop and a play spot for a while. While there three kayaks zipped past, pausing only for a moment to play in the current. I have posted some low-quality video from the chute, as well as pictures from the trip.
There is a more significant, multi-part rapid a little after the chute, and we took the time to scout it more thoroughly. The main features were a half-metre drop and a couple of holes, one of which looked quite nasty, at least to me. After that bit of fun there were only simple chutes and very few surf waves. In fact, there were so few that we had lots of fun knocking each other off each wave and claiming it for our own, at least until we were knocked off in turn. We did find one smooth little wave near some huts and shacks where we managed to get three of the four canoes all surfing side by side while a not-too-appreciative dog barked at us from shore.
All too soon the take-out bridge appeared and it was time to pack up. We soothed ourselves with fruit tarts and coffee at Time Who's and then decided that the day was still young (4pm) and we would take a look at the Black, just for kicks.
That river was higher than I have ever seen it. There was no sign of the rocks at the put-in. Again, have posted pictures. Everything was washed out, although the Lunch Rock made a beautiful surfing wave. All the side channels in the campground were flat, but a new feature had appeared in the middle of the formerly flat section below the campground. Normally there is a swift about half-way down the flat section where two wings of granite poke out from either shore and constrict the river a bit. The rocks themselves (normally a metre or two high near shore, I think) were submerged, but they formed a very sticky hole in the centre, with a boily eddy downstream. This seems to have been the highlight of Mike's day. He surfed the diagonal wave right into the hole. For a while he was front and side surfing in the hole, and we watched as we drifted a bit downstream. All of a sudden he went over. It looked like he tried to roll at least once, but wasn't able to come back up. Eventually he was out of his boat and both were stuck for a bit, but he managed to stand (presumably on one of the big rocks) just outside the hole and get himself back into his boat before we got back to him. He claims we were abandoning him to his fate, but we saw how much fun he was having getting trashed. He did come out of the hole with a huge grin on his face.
Bellringer and Pinky's were completely washed out. The ledge above Pinky's was still a nice surf, though. The take-out was so high that we practically landed at the road. The Environment Canada gauge for the Black at Washago read about 9.5m, for those of you trying to calibrate. Check out the picture of Glenn “ringing the bell” just a few inches above the water at Bellringer – it will give you an idea of how high it was.