Trip report of the Gatineau Festival 2001
This weekend to the Gatineau festival was by far the best paddling weekend all summer. I was skeptical about the 6 hr drive and the $45 Canadian entrance fee. After all was said and done I can safely say that it was well worth it. I have never met any culture that was as hospitable as the French-Canadians. The fed us, shuttled us, let us camp and gave us hot showers and kept up a nice fire that burned all night long. Never once was I made to feel as stupid as I felt for not being able to speak French. Being surrounded by the french speaking Canadians all the time was really weird, it was almost like being in another country. I guess Canada is another country.
We arrived Friday Evening and checked in, there was already over 100 people there. We milled about then crashed for the night after getting all the info we could on the river. They handed out these neat little maps in French and English that showed all the channels and in one little section had a nifty big X on it that said “don’t go here” with Class V rapids right next to them. Needless to say, we’d be running that channel the next day.
The next morning we awoke and people were already dressed, had eaten and some of them had already made a first run by 9:00 in the morning. I couldn’t believe it. Don’t these people know you’re never supposed to start paddling till the afternoon? They announced some info about the shuttles in French and we didn’t understand a word of it. After a few cups of their extra strong coffee I was racing around to get my stuff together and forgot to bring food and water, I’d suffer for that mistake later. We ended up catching one of the shuttles and got on the river much, much to early.
The Gatineau was much like the Ottawa, only better. There was plenty of water that made the rapids quite interesting. My favorite was Lucifer, which we ran 6 times. There was 4 big holes and the trick was to run it and catch-all four of them. There was another hole aptly named Lucifer’s Anus which was a boat eating monster. We didn’t play in that one. There was one interesting class V drop with about an 8′ drop with these big logs held together with chains in the middle of the rapid. It looked weird, but we ran it anyways, the hole at the bottom launched the Mr. Clean well into the air and it was pretty darn fun. After that came a strange wooden breached dam which was what they were trying to warn us about with the big X. It look OK so we ran it, but at lower water it would be pretty iffy.
The rest of the river was a blur, Lots of huge waves and holes that were a ton of fun to play in. At one rapid we saw countless open boaters swimming. Oh yeah there was a TON of open boaters, for the first time in my life the kayakers were outnumbered by open boaters. It was phenomenal And they were GOOD, a good open boater in the northeast is about as rare as a clean smelling piece of neoprene. I can count the number of solid class V open boaters I know from NY on one hand. These guys were cartwheeling, yes cartwheeling, full size open boats in holes. It was truly amazing. By the time we took off 6.5 hours later we were beat. We ate candy bars and muffins from a little stand and waited for over 2 hours for a shuttle. Moral of the story, when in doubt, run your own shuttle. I figured it was making up for all my bad shuttle karma from leaching rides for the past year instead of running my own shuttle. I forgot about my grumpiness and hunger when I got back to the campsite and there was a huge dinner prepared for me. This was no hot-dogs and hamburger meal this was good stuff, turkey and gravy and lasagna and corn and buns and all that other great stuff. It was delicious, in fact it was probably the best meal I had ever eaten. Sure seemed like it at the time. Oh yea, Except for Marlo’s cooking of course…
The next morning we got up early and made our way right to the coffee pot, that was the key move because after a couple of shots of that we were moving about quite well and stuffing out fat american faces with croissants and other groovy breakfast foods. We kept asking about the Class V section and probably became known to them as ‘those pesky Americans who keep bugging us about the Class V section”. They were very nice to us and really went out of their way to make us comfortable there. These Canadians had achieved what every American Whitewater festival planner attempts to create and usually come up short, a festive atmosphere There was no vendors and people trying to sell you stuff, what there was a lot of food, and really nice people who were here to spend time with each other and have a rocking good time. It was cool, Really cool.
We finally met up with the guy who had the key to unlocking the class V section. He was very friendly even when I grossly mispronounced his name. He assured us that there was lots of people that were going to run Class V section. It turns out that it was only Mike and I and the only 2 other New Yorkers there that were going to run it. This trip officially became known as the “Lets let the Americans run that crazy Class V section and if they come back alive maybe we’ll run it too”. In all fairness we were assured that many people had run this section before and it was perfectly fun and safe etc etc, so if it was so fun why out of 300 or so people was it just us 4?
We stopped and looked at each rapid on the way to the put in. There was 3 total, 2 of them had 2 separate channels. The last rapid we ran 3 times down different lines which makes about 6 different runs. It was fun, alot more fun than the other section. The fury of the river narrowed down in several parts to only 10 or 20 feet. After running the first rapid I looked back upstream and was shocked at how steep it was. What can I say, big waves, holes that would kill you in a second and deeply undercut rocks with logs sticking out of them. This section was BIG FUN! There was about 20 people that were watching us and many people with video and still image cameras. That must have been our 15 minutes of fame. I’ve never paddled in front of so many spectators in my life, and they wanted CARNAGE! Luckily they didn’t get too much carnage, as there was only one swim (not by me) on the first rapid and the rest of the section was run without incident but not without inevitable flippage. Next year I hope there is at least 50 people who run it, it is well worth the trip. And the Canadians were nice enough to take pictures of us with our cameras and drive our cars to the take out for us! TOO COOL!
I thought it was pretty cool that we had run these knarly Class V stuff, but then I thought about all the old logging dudes who used to stand on logs with pike poles and run these rapids hopping from log to log and steering by running on the logs. One of these old guys would take one look at a video of us kids running those sections with all that silly safety gear and those nice indestructible plastic boats and have a hearty laugh. Yah right, we only THINK we’re hot shit. Put me on a class V rapid standing on a log and you’d get some quality entertainment.
So next year when I announce the Gatineau Festival you’ll think back to this post and pack your bags and head to beautiful Canada. Till then …
Trip Report for 2003
I held my breath as a watched Mike stall out after running the first 10′ drop. His Micro 230 slowly got sucked back towards the hole and then back endered into the air. Within seconds he was washing over the rock laden section of the 30′ waterfall where another boat had gotten vertically pinned just moments earlier. I ran to the waters edge with throwbag in hand. Mike finally rolled up and got in the eddy. He gave the thumbs up, regained his composure and ran the last 40′ slide section of the ‘Grande Chutes’ rapid with the style and grace I’m accustomed to seeing from Mike. After he climbed up the rocks we inspected the damage, his helmet had some serious scars and his shoulder was scraped up but he was in good shape. I suddenly felt exhilarated, I saw my line, hiked up to the top of the drop and lined up. The first two little dinky 5′ drops went without incident. I lined up for the bigger 10′ and landed a clean boof, then I was immediately launched off the 30 footer. I barely got wet as I landed yet another clean boof. I ferried over hard to the far right and ran through a small chute and finally cascaded over the last 40′ slide. Victory was mine. But now we’re at the end of the story and need to start at the beginning. How the hell did Mike and I end up 12 hours from home, deep into the heart of Quebec at the Kipawa river running a very large drop that only 3 other people had ever run. To understand this we must start at the beginning.
Two broken feet in the same year had pretty much ruined my 2002 paddling season. I had a bad accident running the South Sandy at high water by myself where my play boat had pinned and collapsed crushing both of my feet. As soon as that healed I broke my other foot on my first solo skydiving landing. Things were not looking good, I had no health insurance, and had pretty much given up on going to doctors who seemed to delight in taking all my money and telling me what I already knew … that yes indeed my foot was broken. Mike and I were committed to making it up to the Gatineau this year, we had gone 3 years before and had a very memorable trip and we were pretty sure that this trip would be just as memorable, if not more. But on to the good stuff…
So our first stop on the trip was the Seven Sisters of the Rouge. The only problem was that Mike and I didn’t know where the Seven Sisters were. In our usual fly by the seat of the pants style, we hadn’t printed out directions before we left. We spent a little time wandering around asking many wacky French Canadians where the ‘Big Drops’ were. Most of the time they would just give us a blank stare trying to figure out why we were looking for Large Craps. It was not till much later that we learned that the French saying for ‘Insanely large waterfalls that no one in their right mind would possibly kayak over’ was ‘Grande Chutes’. Once we learned this it was a lot easier to find out where we were going. The Seven sisters was beautiful and the six (not seven) drops were all quite spectacular and ranged in height from 10-20 feet, my preferred drop heights. Any hair boater that finds themselves in Southern Quebec should definitely cash in on this gem.
That night we cruised up to the Gatineau and camped out with a bunch of our other paddling buds from NY and the surrounding states. Dozens of French Canadians came up to me and said hello and were incredibly nice. If any of them traveled to NY they would probably be locked up in the loony bin for being so polite. It is generally expected that anyone you deal with in NY is going to have a pretty big chip on their shoulder. Seems like the further south you go, the worse it gets.
The Gatineau was just as beautiful as I remembered, everyone who was there was there for the express purpose of having a good time. The women were unbelievably attractive. The whole French Canadian culture encourages women to find their own spiritual enlightenment. In the US it seems like most women (female paddlers excepted) are encouraged to follow in the footsteps of Brittany Spears … pretty, shallow and incredibly fragile. The river was beautiful; Lucifer was my favorite rapid, after about my 10th run I stopped counting. Everything else was pretty much how I remembered it. In the rapid called High Tension at least 50% of the Open boaters were swimming the whole rapid and I got just a little jealous. When no one was looking, I hiked up to the top and jumped in. The best part was coming to the bottom and waving my arms like a crazy man as I floated on a collision course with a surfer. At the last minute I dove under the wave and his boat leaving him wondering about my sanity and were the heck was my boat and paddle anyway?
That night they served a nice dinner and hundreds of people gathered for a pretty good band with lots of dancing and copious amounts of alcohol being consumed. It was cool, those funny Canadians really know how to throw a party. In the food line I overheard a woman from the Canadian rafting team talking about going to check out this drop called “Grande Chutes” on a river called the Kipawa. I asked about it but the response I got was “Oh no, that drop is too big, everyone portages it. It can’t be run”. After asking a few more questions of other people I discovered that it had been run at lower water by 3 Canadians. One of the Canadian’s lifelong dream was to run the falls and it had finally been realized. This was so beautiful and romantic that it almost made me want to cry. This guy knew the Kipawa like the back of his hand and had portaged that waterfall dozens if not hundreds of times and had loved it like it was his own. We were a bunch of asshole Americans from out of town who were looking for a quick wham-bam-thank-you-mam. I felt pretty damn lame.
The second day was pretty uneventful, I only ran Lucifer 5 times before I realized I was too damn exhausted to carry up again. Halfway through the run I got accidentally stuck in a monstrous hole that I swam out of and kept me from breathing for a good 30 seconds. I felt pretty lame till I watched a 6 person raft get sucked into the hole from the eddy (just like I did) and flip dumping all the occupants into the hole as well. Mike and I jumped out of our boats mid-stream on the last rapid right before the big wave. That was pretty fun and once again left the Canadians in the eddy wondering about our sanity. We headed back to the festival and headed over to sneak into River Run campground on the Ottawa to spend the night without paying.
That morning Mike wanted to run the Ottawa and do some silly play boating clinic with some paddler I had never heard of called Ken Whiting or something like that. Everyone knows that play boating is for sissies and besides my play boat was back at home in pretty rough shape. On top of that, because of my broken foot I was stuck in my creeker. Somehow I managed to convince Mike to head up to the Kipawa wrongly assuring him that it was only about 2 hours away. 6 hours later we pulled into the parking lot for the Kipawa and I began to realize that if we turned around right now and headed home that we’d get there at around 4 AM in the morning. On top of that we were lining up to run a drop that only 3 other people had ever run before and that I had never even seen a picture of before. Not to mention the fact that we both had to work the next day. My spirits soared when I saw another truck with Riot boats in it in the parking lot. Everyone knows that you have to be good to paddle a Riot boat and I had a faint hope that maybe these guys would help us set safety or something like that. The thought of Mike and I running this thing by ourselves felt way to familiar and was way to sketchy. It turns out it was the video boaters I had overheard at the Gatineau festival, they had come on Monday instead of Sunday like they had planned to do. Both of the men’s names were Dominique which made them twice as easy to remember. I forgot the women’s names but that was OK because they got Mike and I mixed up too. Dominique1 was a little uncertain about my running the drop being that I
1) Looked like a total friggin geek
2) Had a cast on my leg
3) Looked like a total friggin geek
When I said to Dominique1 “You know in 2 years everyone will be running this” he replied with “Yes but imagine what we’ll be running in 2 years”. I knew I instantly liked this guy. After getting set up with throw bags and cameras the women ran the first 2 little entrance drops and then the last 40′ slide and did quite well. Then Dominique2 went up to run the whole kitting kabudle from the top. Apparently the other 3 people who had run the drop before put in an eddy below the first 10′ drop which in my opinion was really the crux move seeing as how if you flipped on the first 10′ you would almost certainly run the 30 footer that came 10′ after it upside down. The first run was too close to the center and got pushed left hard into the rocky area. He was vertically pinned and his skirt blew. Luckily Dominique2 was no stranger to crisis and realized death would be probable if he swam (2 other people had already been killed swimming this drop). He caught the eddy with a boat full of water and climbed back up to run it again. The pin had crumpled the sides of that fancy Xytec Riot plastic and he had hit pretty hard. I had a lot of respect for him when he worked to get redemption without hesitation. His second run was clean and he climbed back up to film Dominique1. Dominique 1 had a clean line and now it was our turn. Somehow I convinced Mike to run first. He backendered on the first 10′ and ran the 30′ upside down. He recovered nicely and managed to run the rest of the rapid cleanly. I carried up and ran it top to bottom cleanly. My last thought as I went over the first drop was that there was no hospital within about 2 hours so I better not fuck up. The last rapids after the big drop named Hollywood was pretty fun, even at lower water. It would have been a hoot at higher water. The nice French Canadian video boaters let us use their truck as a shuttle vehicle and they were going to stay and film some more. When we got to the takeout the people that owned the property at the takeout were exceptionally friendly and gave us sodas and shiskabobs. My vegetarianism went out the window, as I was feeling like Gandhi after 3 months of fasting. Their hospitality was frightening and a far cry from getting chased with shotguns like we were used to in the states. I wanted to move to Quebec and never look back.
Mike and I drove for 12 hours and I got home at about 6:00 AM, just in time to catch a few ZZZs before my morning apt. I was sunburned, sore as hell, and tired but the rush from my most excellent paddling weekend kept me going through the day. The Raquette is releasing next weekend along with the Beaver Rendezvous and I’ve been waiting to run the Raquette for the last 2 years. So much hair, so little time. I can hardly wait. Thank goodness for AW, Chris Koll and Pete Skinner. Where would the NY hair-boating scene be without them? Probably in Canada…