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whitewater play novice paddlers 3 days
Palmer Rapids -- Madawaska River
Friday, November 12, 1999 to Sunday, November 14, 1999
length: 3 days
difficulty: novice

leader: Three Amigos
participants: Caroline Owen, Chris Mack, Nicole Mack,

Well, we got off to a fairly early start on Friday morning and the three amigos (three Stooges?) headed off to Palmer Rapids for our last hurrah of the season. We arrived early in the afternoon and decided not to paddle on Friday since the idea of putting on frozen wetsuits in the morning didn't appeal to any of us. So, we set up camp and Nicole and I went off to scout the rapids. Palmers and the lower Madawaska were at 150 cms which is honkin'. Piano rock was buried and the shore was covered up to many of the trees at the bottom of the downstream run. The pebbly beach that we usually take out at was totally gone! If you've never been there, none of that will mean anything to you, but take my word for it, there was a TON of water.

Saturday we had planned to run Snake Rapids on the lower Mad, but in the morning Nicole suggested that it might not be such a great idea since we seemed to be the only crazy people near the river without drysuits. Chris and I reluctantly agreed. Whenever we told anyone that we were paddling in wetsuits, they gave us the "are you nuts?" look. We just nodded and smiled (and stopped telling people that we didn't have drysuits). We went to the put-in at Snake to tell some folks that we had planned to meet that we wouldn't be joining them. So, off they went and we went back to Palmers to play.

Back at Palmers, Chris got ready to embark on his first canoeing adventure (unless you count paddling around the flatwater at the bottom of the Gull for about half an hour) since his knee surgery in August. We added some more padding around the knees in the stern and set out to try some ferrying at the bottom of the chute. The standing waves at the constriction were enormous and the wave train went halfway to the downstream run. Wow!

Being used to paddling stern, or solo, it took me some time to get used to being in the bow. At one point, when Chris and I were pulling out of an eddy, I held my cross duffek long enough to get my solo boat out of the eddy, but Chris was still in there as we lost momentum and nearly lost it upstream. So, full of water, we made it across the river at the completely wrong angle to catch the next eddy where we nearly lost it again on the eddy line. (Thanks for that low brace, Chris :-)). Chris was in the stern, soaked and spitting water. Undaunted, we tried a few more ferries, then carried our boats up to run the chute. What a ride! Coming down the tongue at the top, Chris and I laid in some wicked power strokes and hit the first standing wave at a phenomenal speed. I laid a huge stroke into the wave, rode up over it and went completely airborne. We landed perfectly to cruise through the rest of the waves, then turned to watch Nicole blast through with a big grin on her face.

The downstream run was a hoot with almost no eddies and just a lot of fat happy waves to roll over. There is a nasty hole on river right, but it's easy to avoid. We did a couple of runs, some more ferries and called it a day.

The guys who ran Snake rapids came to the campsite to visit before they went off to the cozy Swiss Inn to dry out their paddling clothes, have a hot shower and a good meal. They'd had a blast on the lower Mad and planned to do the run again the next day. Our few hours of playing at Palmers on Saturday had told us that we'd made the right decision not to run Snake with our current gear (more reasons to BUY MORE GEAR - Gee, I wonder if Santa Claus monitors emails for gift ideas...hint, hint). It was a sad, but satisfying, feeling on Saturday night, to realize that this really was the last blast of the season. We spent many hours sitting by the campfire discussing our acomplishments (and challenges) of the day.

When Chris starting sawing up the ridgepole from the tarp (it was only snowing lightly at that point, so we didn't need the tarp), Nicole decided to pack it in and hit the hay. Chris and I stayed up and talked about paddling until the ridgepole was ashes, then we turned in and dreamt about whitewater all night.

On Sunday, Chris decided not to paddle, (Chris' note: ***We really only had enough gear for 2 people so I decided to let Nicole rip it up on Sunday, knowing that she got off the river early on sat because of insufficient gear (going for dad of the year), besides then I get to take carnage pictures!!***) Cline's comment: didn't Homer Simpson get "dad of the year"?

so it was time for me to try to surf the 16 foot beast on a five foot wave. No luck, but I had a hoot paddling up to the monster of a wave and riding up and over it anyway. Some people that we know who live in Palmer Rapids came out to play on Sunday afternoon and they were teaching Nicole all kinds of cool kayak moves while I took my turn on the wave, paddled my boat to the shore, emptied out and started over again. Ah, the joy of open boats!

I nearly killed a kayaker when I ran the chute. As I came around the corner, Nicole was in an eddy signalling the kayaker on the wave that we were coming down. He got off the wave and I assumed that he'd returned her signal, so I kept going down. Shawna came out of the eddy and onto the wave just as I was coming down the tongue at a mind-numbing speed. She saw me and tried to get off the wave, but it was holding her pretty well. She managed to move over to allow me just enough room to squeeze between her and the rocky shore as the two of us screamed in terror at one another as we passed, inches apart. Chris, three feet away on shore, was taking pictures!! Can't wait to see our expressions. I hate to think of the destruction that a 16 foot canoe at full speed would do to a poor little kayaker (then again, this could be hours of entertainment -- "101 Ways to Squash a Kayaker" -- I'm thinking this could make a good drinking game. What do you think?

But, all was well and Nicole and I came off the river tired and happy. As we pulled our boats up onto the shore, we started singing Christmas carols because the river had become a winter wonderland and the snow was falling hard and fast. We all felt satisfied that our season was over. Next week we start practising our rolls in the pool where Chris works and then we'll wait until the spring, or until we can afford drysuits, before we paddle outside again.

posted by: Caroline Owen

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