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whitewater play novice paddlers 4 days
Madawaska River
Friday, May 21, 1999 to Monday, May 24, 1999
length: 20.0km, 4 days
difficulty: novice

participants: Beth Baskin, Caroline Owen, Chris Mack, Keith Nunn, Marcie Gibson, Morgan Baskin, Nicole Mack,

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VVCC Member Chris Mack reports on the VVCC excursion to the
Lower Madawaska River on May 24 long-weekend, 1999.
(Pictures will follow as soon as somebody sends me some. daver)

We had to cancel our trip on the French River due to lack of water, so we ere still scrambling for somewhere to go with less than a week to go before the May 24 long weekend. I suggested to Keith that we go up to Palmer Rapids or the weekend and run the Lower Madawaska River. I was excitedto hear that there were enough people interested, and even more excited when Keith volunteered to take care of all the food!! The participants were myself, Nicole, Keith, Beth, Morgan, Marcie and Cline.

I was able to get off work on the Friday, and Nicole was not upset about missing school either. We got an early start and found ourselvesat Jessup's Field in Palmer Rapids and on the river by 2 pm. Therewere only 2 groups from MKC, and 1 group from SWAT, so it was easy to work on our ferries, eddy turns, surfing etc. without bumping into each other. Ihave been on this section of the river probably 20 times through the years, and the water level was at mid summer level already, about 23 cms. There are 3 chutes at Palmer Rapids, but only the right one was runnable, and a few people got into a little trouble when running it, one canoe dumped, pinned on a rock,and ended
up buckling in half when releasing it, only later to be stomped back into shape (you gotta love that abs 'memory'). Most people stuck withferrying at the bottom of the chute.

I found myself getting pretty tired (must have been the drive up), so we crawled back to camp and started setting up our tent and getting stuff organized. Marcie was the first to arrive, then Cline,and Keith, Beth and Morgan arrived shortly after dark. I suggested that we get on the river for a couple of runs before dark, Cline quickly accepted, and we were on our way.

The section of river by the camp has a few spots to play in, the 3 chutes at the top, and a downstream section of perhaps 500m of good class 1-2,with a portage trail to bring us back to camp.

I have never paddled with Cline before, so I suggested we paddle up to the chutes and do some front ferries. We started off with a few flawless front ferries and peel outs at the chutes, and I suggested we go for the downstream run. This section of the river offers good ferries, the possibility of catching about 10 eddies on the way down, 1 diagonal curling wave big enough
to side surf a canoe, a nice drop at the end with a great place to surf on, and a big bay at the end to rescue any people and gear. From the Bay there is a 5 minute portage trail that takes you back to camp.

We approached the start of the run on the far right, down the tongue and popped into our first eddy, then front ferried all the way across the river, catching the eddies along the way, then peeled out and thread our waybetween some rocks before picking our next eddy to catch.

For the next 200 m you have the choice of going back and forthacross the river catching as many eddies as you can. Then there is a small ledge (with the diagonal curling wave) that has an eddy on river right just beside it.

To catch it you have to put your boat sideways to the curling wave so you have the correct angle to catch the eddy! We eased our way into the eddy, then peeled out and caught our last eddy before the drop at the end. The current wants to take you to the right, straight over a little ledge and through some big curling waves, and to complicate things a little,there was an exposed rock right in the centre. Off we went again, catching our line and coming out dry at the end.

At this time of day, everyone was off the river, so I thought it would be a good time to do some surfing (no crowds!!), and Cline was eager to try it. I quickly explained what we were going to do, and we powered out of the eddy on river right, straight onto the wave, a little stern draw from meand we were on!!

When I told Cline she could stop paddling now, she turned around and saw that I wasn't paddling either, just holding the angle with a stationary stern draw/pry while we glided on the wave, and the lookon her face told me that I had just witnessed the start of a white water addiction;-)

A quick portage and a short paddle and we found ourselves back at camp, hanging up wet neoprene, searching for snacks, and enjoying a fire till it was time for bed, and for me it was a very deep sleep!

Everybody that has camped with me knows that I am up with the birds,and this trip was no exception. I awoke to silence, quickly brewed up a large coffee on my whisperlite (so much for the silence) and quietly weaved my way through the plethora of snoring tents down to the river and sat in the bush and listened to the sounds of the rapids mixed with the awakening birds as I
stared out at the rising mist. After inhaling my first mug of coffee I could no longer resist the urge and eased my canoe into the water and paddled out into the mist. As I made it back to the put-in a blue heron skimmed overhead partially concealed in the mist, a great start to a day. The urge for more coffee had me heading back to camp, and shortly after brewing more was
greeted by Keith.

The sun quickly woke up everyone else, and we were soon feasting on gourmet breakfast treats. Keith was our grand wizard of culinary delightsfor the whole trip, and his creations were amazing!!! The efficiencywas equally stunning, I would hear the suggestion for food, and then suddenly everybody (but me!) would start doing their part as if it were a well rehearsed play.

I remember watching everybody preparing supper and realized the only useful thing I could think of was to go scrounge up some wood for the fire:-)

Soon we were ready to get on the river, but we were not alone! Once all the local paddling schools showed up, along with everyone at Jessup's field, there must have been about 200 people. Timing was the key, once a group left a spot we could easily have our turn before the next group showed up. Keith,
Beth and Morgan went for a little swim after leaning upstream while ferrying, but the current pushed them to shore, and after some initial anxiety Morgan was ready to do it again. Some more ferrying and we were ready to try the downstream run. Nicole decided to stay at the beach at camp with Morgan while all five of us went downstream.

Being safe paddlers, we made our way to the portage trail and started to scout the run. The river was so low that we found ourselves walking along the rocks where there is usually water. Scouting the entire thing would take a long time, and would probably be forgotten by the time you actually got in your boat, so we decided to scout half of it, and then I would lead the way
eddy hopping my way down the river, with the rest of the group following. I like to catch every eddy, so everyone was put through their paces, with exceptional results. With all the micro eddies and tight maneuvering required at this water level I would have to say it was a class 2 technical run.

The rest of the day kind of blurred into numerous downstream runs, coupled with tune-ups at the upriver chutes and switching partners and oh yeah... did I mention the food...mmmmm (Keith rules!)

Just when I thought we had all had enough I would ask "well, does anybody want to do it one more time?", and Cline would give me the look, and we were off again (thanks Cline). My whole body ached by the end of Saturday, I was still sore from Friday actually, and I was now becoming aware of Cline's insatiable appetite for white water ;-)

I talked to some canoeists after supper who had paddled Snake Rapids that day and they told me that there was enough water for a decent run, so I was happy to announce to the group that we would be able to go to Snake Rapids tomorrow.

I woke up nice and early again, only this time I found it necessary to immediately start stretching. My shoulders and back were beginning to show signs of abuse (boy I have to get a smaller solo boat), but after about 2 hours of stretching combined with mugs of coffee and ibuprofen I was ready
for more. The plan was to all drive down to the put-in, dump our gear, drive to the take-out and leave some cars, and drive back to the put-in. The forest road is in bad shape this year, the put-in road has to be driven at about 10 mph to avoid all the ruts (canyons) and exposed rocks. After what seemed like hours, we were all poised on the shore ready to paddle Snake Rapids.

The run starts with 4 km of flat water, but due to some unexplainedreason I was not paying attention when we came out of the bay and started paddling upstream instead of downstream. Nobody noticed any difference in the current
until we came upon our first rapid. It was very surreal to belooking up at a set of rapids, and for a moment I thought I was in an episode ofthe Twilight Zone. Having realized my mistake we quickly turned aroundand made our way to the downstream run, going an extra 5 km out of our way :-( (Sorry all)

Finally we could hear the sound of our first rapid for the day, Headof Snake Rapids. At this water level there is really only one route forcanoes, cut across the diagonal wave and into the eddy on right, then peel outand head on downstream. There was a nice curling wave going about 3/4of the way across the river, and we had to take care not to go through too muchof it.
We must have stared at the drop for 1/2 hour and I could sense people were a little apprehensive about this one, so I boldly suggested we stop standing and start paddling! All my instructors seemed to use the samephrase when we were scouting a difficult rapid, "the time spent staring at a rapid is
directly proportional to the difficulty you will encounter". So I lead the way, confirming the safe route of choice, and slid into the eddy and waited for the next boat. Cline and Marcie were next and as they came over the first little drop, they opened up the angle and cut across really smooth and popped into the eddy nice and dry. Beth and Keith were next, with the rest
of us poised in case of an upset. They built up good speed, linedup nice for the first drop, and then as Keith opened up the angle to cut across the tongue, Beth did a bow draw and closed the angle, which had them going directly into the large curling wave below. All four of us were watching so closely from the eddy, we all muttered a little 'no.......o" when we saw that, but then a sigh of relief as they both managed to retain the correct
angle to shoot across and catch the eddy (great work!).

The next rapid was 'The Narrows', quickly followed by 'Tail of SnakeRapids'. Both of these were straight ahead and we ran them without scouting and without incident.

'Rifle Chute' was next, and it is the most demanding of them all, a solid class 2-3 depending on water level, this time I would say it was aclass 2, a straight ahead run on the right, with some rocks to avoid at the end, and some small eddies to catch on the right on the way down for the braveto try.

This was another one of those rapids that have people staringat it for hours. The problem is that it is very hard to see if there are rocks in among the frothy stuff, there are only very subtle clues to give away the rocks position in a rapid like this. Everyone decided to keepto the tongues going down on the right, and dodge a couple of rocks right at the bottom. I ran first, and found enough water on the way down to catch an eddy, and then continue through to the bottom, relatively unscathed. Both of the other boats made it down with just a little bump (or two?).

Less than 2 km down we came to 'Split Rapids' a rather confusing group of islands. As best as I can remember, we went to the right of the first island starting with a narrow chute, then a ledge with a clear opening in it.

After another km we came to the last rapid 'Raquette'. It is the most technical of all of the rapids, demanding quick maneuvering, good braces, and the ability to thread your way over 3 ledges with the last chute concealing a rock named 'canoe eater' in the middle of it. With the water level being
this low, we all did well as we made our way through the maze of rocks to the recovery pool at the bottom.

On my other visits here, this marked the end of white water and all that was left is 2 km of flat water to the take-out. What happened next really took me by surprise!!

I started to hear the rush of water but could not see anything. I asked Nicole to be still while I stood up in the stern to get a look at the narrow section we were headed for. I was quite surprised to see a formidable drop no less than 50 feet ahead of us!
The water level was so low that what is usually nothing more than a riffle on other trips had turned into a 4 foot drop with a big rock just left of centre at the bottom with some squirrelly water (almost a hole) over to the left. I quickly angled the boat over to the left of the rock, shouted "POWER! POWER! POWER!" to Nicole (who really felt I was crazy for wanting to do this one, but came through for me with those power strokes) and we flew over it, caught some air time, and some screams from Nicole, and landed down below with some solid low braces to try not to fill up with water as our momentum carried us through to safety. We immediately caught an eddy on left, and signaled for Cline and Marcie to keep to the left to avoid the rock. They both dropped down like pros, hardly taking on any water ;-), quickly followed by Beth, Keith and Morgan (another couple of feet and we will be boofing!). I found myself apologizing about not knowing about this drop, but after Nicole and I ran it I was confident everybody could do the same, especially with a safety boat already in place.

There was nothing left to do but paddle 2 km but the weather decided to change quickly on us and the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and we got poured on. Having given my paddling jacket to Nicole I was finding it a little cold and I thought we were in for a little lightning so when we passed a campsite with a nice big fire, I requested a little break to warm up and wait out the worst of the storm. Well the people we met were very nice, they were paddling from the upper section of the Mad all the way down to Griffith, and when I mentioned about warming up by their fire for a minute, he immediately started building up a fine fire for all of us to take shelter by. Well there was no lightning, but the rain seemed to calm down a little and I was very happy to get that blast of heat (and Keith's spare shirt, thanks again), so off we went knowing we had less than a 1 km to go. It was starting to get dark at this point and I was somewhat relieved to finally find that small sign on river left that indicates the take-out. The take-out at Buck Bay has a nickname as bug bay and everybody soon found out why.

These buggers wait till you're carrying your canoe or gear and then proceed to gang up on you in huge numbers. Every single time I have been there it is always a nightmare with the bugs.

After peeling off layers of soaking wet clothes we managed to make it back to camp. Somehow I had not managed to get out of my wet stuff yet so I was eager to get to my tent and put on some dry warm clothing. When I got out of the tent, everybody was doing the food thing. This group has definitely camped together before!!!!! I looked over (by the light of thecandle
lanterns..thanks Nicole..) and saw total teamwork in action again. Potatoes being chopped, spices being added, water being measured, cutlery dugout, plates arranged, stoves being pumped. What a great way to end the day, enjoying a plate of hot basmati rice and curry while sitting around with friends.

It was already late after finishing dinner, and everybody called it an early night after paddling about 14 km (with detour), and scouting and running rapids all day.

It was raining rather hard in the morning and it did not stop when Nicole and I left at 2 pm for our lazy 5 hour trip home.

Nicole and I wish to thank you all for your patience, good humor, excellent cooking, stretching exercises and friendship. We both look forward to paddling with you again soon.

Nicole and Chris

PS I have some great pictures, but I will have to wait until mylovely and talented wife Dorothy is back from Florida so she can scan them for me, then I will post.


A second perspective on the VVCC excursion on the Lower MadawaskaRiver on the May Long weekend, 1999 provided by VVCC Member Caroline Owen. (Pictures will follow as soon as somebody sends me some. daver)


The weekend was awesome! Weather was great, bugs were tolerable,food was fantastic, company was amusing and best of all there was WATER in theriver.

I arrived Friday night around 6 and Chris and Nicole had been playingall afternoon in the rapids. Chris and I went out for an hour or so and played in the bottom of the upper rapid, then did the down river rapid. It was my first time paddling in the bow in white water and it felt great.

Saturday we spent the day playing at Palmer's. It was quite crowded, especially at the bottom of the upper rapid where people were practicing their front ferries and their eddy turns. Keith and Beth andMorgan had a near run-in which Chris and did the dreaded "lean upstream" while Beth grabbed a gunnel (for which she still owes us beer!) and over they went. We spent the rest of the weekend hearing Morgan tell the tale of howshe "dumped" in the canoe. The good news is that she was very calm about the whole thing.

We then did several runs of the rapids. I was so gung-ho thatI stayed there all day and paddled with every single person in our group (except Nicole). I paddled bow and stern and Keith and I went out after supper with Chris and did another run, taking time at the bottom to practice ferries and turns and even managed to surf!!! Of course, then we hit an unsteady moment and Keith described the next event as, "I'm not sure if I grabbed the gunnel first, or leaned upstream first!" At any rate, we went for a swim and had to paddle out in Chris' boat to rescue my canoe.

I'm very happy with my Swift Dumoine, although it was a bit awkward without ANY outfitting. I've since bought pads/straps/air bags and will install them this weekend. I did the skid plates a couple of weeks ago.

Sunday we did the down river run from Aumond's Bay to Bug bay with 8 sets of rapids. The water levels were low, but they were all runnable.

We were hampered by a navigational error at the start and ended up going about 3 kms upstream before hitting some rapids going the wrong way!!!

We backtracked and paddled the other way for a good bit before we hit any moving water. The first rapid, Island Rapid, was fun. There was a decent drop through a clear V and a eddy just on the right after the drop. From there it was a matter of avoiding a bunch of clear rocks and we werethrough.

The next rapid of note was the 6th - Rifle chute. We spent a fair bit of time scouting it and picked a fairly clear but tight route down the far right side. Chris went first followed by Keith and I. Then Keith went back and ran it again with Beth. Marcie was happy to sit this one out. In my guide, it's rated as level 3 in low water and 4 in high water. Chris classified it a 2!!

The next set of rapids was really just a huge ledge that we flung ourselves off, then both Chris and Marcie and I got hung up a bit in a wall of rock at the bottom. Beth and Keith observed this and wisely steered clear.

The last set of rapids were through a maze of islands that were very pretty. It took a bit of coaxing, but I managed to talk Marcie into running them. It was getting late (because of our earlier detour)and the sky was looking ominous. We scouted for a while, then down we all went without any mishaps. Although, Keith and Beth came through successfully, only to be stopped dead on a big flat rock at the bottom. They looked hilarious with water streaming around their boat while they were totally stuck, pointing downstream in Frodo. Keith had to step out andpush off the rock to get them off.

The last km or two was flat water, and about half way, the heavens opened and the rains pelted down. We stopped at a campsite to wait it out and the occupants were very welcoming and we stood around their campfire and told rescue tales and other paddling stories. From there it was a short paddle in the fading day to Buck bay, which Chris refers to as Bug bay. We were eaten alive as we tied on the boats.

Then back to camp for Keith's famous curries while we changed into warm dry clothes and cooked by the light of candle lanterns. We all turned in early and slept soundly, waking to the steady sound of rain on our tents. We spent the morning sitting in Chris' van eating oatmeal and drinking various morning addictive substances. I left about 10 am and Keith and Beth shortly after. It didn't clear, but at least we got some much needed rain!

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