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tripping beginner paddlers 4 days
Saugeen River
Friday, May 16, 2008 to Monday, May 19, 2008
length: 50.0km, 4 days
difficulty: beginner

organizer: Keith Nunn, Michael Johnson
participants: Beth Baskin, Keith Nunn, Liam Nunn, Michael Johnson, Morgan Baskin, Ian Burr, Josh Sandomirsky, Taylor, Marshall, Braedon, Kyle, Andrew, Geoff, Sheron


We led a canoe trip for a group of Scouts, from the First Highland Creek Troop in Scarborough, who are working toward their Chief Scout award.

The original plan had been to take them down the Lower Madawaska, but high water put a stop to that. It may not have been the best bet anyway as they would have been doing way too much portaging.

We camped in Walkerton on Friday night and did our car shuttle and started out on saturday morning. Because oif the shuttle, we didn't get on the water until 10:30am and had to paddle 30km to McBeath.

They did very well and made the 3km paddle in good time. The river was flowing well, but the wind was pretty bad as we got further downstream.

I gave them some limited instruction in handling current in the meetings before the trip and on the river as we travelled. They handled the class I whitewater quite well. I think most of them quite enjoyed it.

There were lots of folks on the river. In the stretch of whitewater from Walkerton to 8th, there were a number of canoe groups of varied skill. One group was having a bad time due to very limited skill and size issues.

A couple of very big women were in a canoe together and didn't have much experience. They capsized in one rapid just before we got there and had fished themselves out just as we arrived. We stopped there and talked about the water while the other group went ahead again. We caught up with them again about an hour later. they had changed up the partners a bit, but had got a canoe and paddler trapped in a sweeper.

No pfds being worn of course. After ensuring that my group was safely in the eddy on the other side of the river I intervened to save the swimmer and then had some help from Michael and Ian to rescue the equipment and boat of the foolish.

Somewhat surprisingly, the group to whom the trapped paddler belonged vaporised as soon as I intervened. It was nice to have them out of the way, but who the hell did they think I was? A whole team of SRT trained fire-fighters?

We got their gear out and returned to them. Unsurprisingly, no real thanks for the whole business. We tried to make the point that they should wear their pfds all the time, but I doubt they will (or even did the rest of the way down). Boneheads. Oh well, I'm sure their parents are glad they're still around.

It did provide a great lesson for the Scouts on the dangers of sweepers. We had some good teaching about risk management, leadership, and decision making as well.

After 8th we started to see floatillas of drunks in canoes, rafts, pedal boats, aluminium hulls, and anything that might float. We were very worried they might all be stopping at McBeath to transform it into party central.

Fortunately, most took out at bridges and McBeath was pretty quiet. There was one group of revellers there when we arrived, but they were pretty good. There is lots of poison ivy at McBeath. In particular at the upstream end where we camped to be away from the revellers. Two of the Scouts seem to have come down with nasty cases of it since. On their hands and .... Yikes! Maybe washing your hands before you go to the washroom is a good idea on camping trip.

Sunday was cold and rainy. We left the site quite late trying to wait it out. We got blown about and cold as we travelled, but folks held up pretty well for the 10-12 km paddle to Saugeen Bluffs CA.

Lunch was in Paisley where we retuned a pfd we found on the river. Liam was hoping for a reward for returning it, but the person working there that day was pretty clueless and overwhelmed.

The folks we rescued turned up in the shop while we were there and claimed the pfd. Still no thanks. Boneheads.

We camped at Saugeen Bluffs and had a pretty nice evening. We went over some skills stuff for their Water tripping badge. In the morning, We made the decision that with the cold weather and strong wind again, beth and I would paddle out alone and get the car while the kids tore down and packed up camp.

All in all a fun weekend. It's a great river for novices who are wanting to try out their whitewater skills (Walkerton to 8th) or for anyone, including total beginners, who are travelling with someone who can offer instruction along the way. If the whole group is rank beginners then start below 8th.

posted by: Keith Nunn

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