A crazy month on the Ottawa River…


We were up at the Ottawa River for the month of August this year and it was fabulous… It all started with a trip that Hunter and I took last year when we paddled the Ottawa River for a week and he participated in the inaugural “Little Rippers” program at Ottawa Kayak School (a primer for those too young to attend Keeners). We had so much fun that Hunter declared he wanted to attend the Keeners sport development camp this summer… so off we all went!

We kicked things off with an impromptu birthday party for Hunter, pulled together by our amazing group of River Moms (thanks Kristine, Kathy & Carol!!!). There was a water balloon attack, competitive ping pong and pool, an amazing potluck smorgasbord and of course, cake, candles and singing. Hunter was thrilled to get to celebrate his 14th birthday with his river friends.

It was quite the community of families, which made things super fun. I call this the grown up version of living in a van down by the river. Definitely not a failure in life in any way – more like a huge success; all these amazing families that spend their time living outdoors with their kids while still making a living.

We managed to get one day on the river paddling together before we had to get Hunter all packed up to go to OKS Keeners Camp. We got all of his boat outfitting figured out, pulled together his new gear from our partners at Jackson Kayak, Salus Marine and Level Six, and managed to shove it all into one small duffel bag to cover him for three weeks.

Normal late summer flows on the Ottawa River are between 1 and -2, with the sweet spot being between 0 and -1 for features like babyface and garburator to be in. Over the course of the month that we were around the Ottawa, it only hit those lower levels for a few days. Almost the whole summer has been unseasonably high, with levels in the teens in late June and people surfing Buseater into late June / early July.

Shaggy Designs has an online gauge  which became super handy as we woke up each morning and checked the gauge before making any plans. Once on the river we would also paddle by the physical gauge after McCoys to see if anything had changed. We would often see 1-2 foot swings while on the river with one day having a 4 foot drop within an hour. The blue line above is 2017, the red is 2016 and the orange is 2015. This really shows how wacky the water was from “normal” flows. Lots of speculation on why but no definitive answers…

With higher water levels we spent most of our time on the middle channel exploring new (to us) rapids and playing with the Walker family. It was fun to be a part of helping another family stretch their paddling muscles and really exciting to see the progress being made over our two weeks together. Tim’s new rack system for the truck worked out super well and left us feeling pretty pleased about having a shuttle vehicle.

Keener Camp is a kayak leadership camp, with equal emphasis on whitewater kayak skills and personal leadership skills. The kids live in houses together and are responsible for cooking their own breakfasts, dishes, and cleaning. They are also monitored to ensure they have a shower at least once a week as they are teenagers… The kayaking focus is all about progression. They figure out where you are and then gently support you through learning new skills and challenging yourself every day. Hunter loved it and is already talking about going back again next year. His description was that he learned to be a better kayaker and a better person…

Left to our own devices we managed to get out and kayak almost every day as well as go on some adventures. Our first woods walk was really buggy and we regretted forgetting the bugspray. For our second walk we thought about the bugs and put on long sleeves and long pants but yet again forgot the bugspray, which turned a 2 hour wander through the woods into a true effort of perseverance. At about 45 minutes in we decided to continue to push forward, having no idea where we were, purely because we didn’t want to turn around and walk back through the ravenous bugs we had just made it through! There are lots of walking, hiking and biking trails in the area to help fill your time off the water.

One Friday evening we all headed out to the Corner Wave Classic event (like a hometown throw down competition). Transportation is always a fun challenge. With the main event being spectating and the secondary event being fishing, we managed to get 8 boats, 8 people, coolers and fishing gear on and in the suburban. It was a super fun night out with friends, treats and a campfire. Pretty impressive when the local friday night competition has Dane Jackson, Nick Troutman, Clay Wright, Bren Orton, Emily Jackson and Claire O’hara in it!

The Ottawa Valley runs right along the Ottawa River and has strong french influences from Quebec, which is just on the other side of the river. One of the must-haves when in the valley is Poutine, and you need to get it from Tammy’s Taters chip truck in Renfrew (in the Walmart/Canadian Tire parking lot). YUMMY…

While the Ottawa River has some amazing rapids, it also has big chunks of flat water. The warm water makes this a great time to practice all of your flat water skills and generally goof around with friends!

Tim had a small mis-hap on the river (accidental paddle to the head from a kid) so we went to check out the Renfrew ER and then wallow in ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen, because it makes everything better!

Being a teenager, we really didn’t hear much from Hunter unless he needed something (laptop, go pro, blanket, money etc.). It was nice being just down the road and able to drop things off as well as get glimpses of him on the river.

Our time on the river ended with one last family day after Hunter finished camp. It was pretty great to see all the new skills he learned and how his confidence has increased. One Lower No Name, one of the last rapids on the middle channel, he snagged a 5 minute surf while everyone else was coming down the river around him. Tim sat at the bottom of the river and said “that’s my boy” full of fatherly pride, which is priceless.

We definitely recommend the Ottawa River as a kayaking destination for families. We stayed at River Run Resort in their new RV sites and it was super handy being at the take out, just a short distance from the river. Lots of places to play for kids as well as washrooms, showers and internet.

 

Kingston2Ottawa – a weekend in the wacky world of Marathon Canoe…

The Kingston2Ottawa  race is a 200 km marathon race for canoes/kayaks/SUP’s. It runs up the Rideau Canal system (a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest lock system in the world) from Kingston to Ottawa and has 22 portages spread over 200 km of river. It has to be completed in 36 hours and the winners this year did it in 23 hours. It is CRAZY!

We found ourselves in the midst of this world in late July because we volunteered to be pit crew for Grandpa Bob. Well, really Grandpa offered to pay Hunter to be his pit crew and Hunter needed someone to drive him, hence along came the rest of the family.

Shocker #1 was that the race started at 6am on Saturday morning… nothing like starting the day with the sun. As pit crew that meant some of us (Lee, the morning person) got up at 4:30 to get things organized and get the racers to the start line on time.This was actually a bit of a family affair with one team being Grandpa Bob (75) and his paddling partner Gwen, and another team being Uncle Mike and Aunt Fiona from Saskatchewan. Mike and Fiona were entered in the expert class while Bob and Gwen opted for the Adventurer class, which meant that their support team could run the portages for them. Turns out this was a great deal for Bob and Gwen!

It took us a lock or two to really get things figured out. The times out of the first section were so fast that they had already started the portage just as we got to the lock – not really earning our money there…By the third lock we had figured things out in terms of both the portages and the food, which had things flowing like a formula one pit crew!

We all wore London Canoe Club shirts to make it easy to find us and see us from the water. This isn’t like a running race where there is a super clear trail that you are following – often you are heading in a general direction along a lake trying to figure out where the lock actually is. The jumping up and down blue spots helped fine tune the direction.

There was a pretty broad variety of locks amongst the 22 and it was interesting to check out the different styles and stages. Some have been updated since they were originally installed and others are exactly the same – being opened and closed with chains, gears and levers.

Everyone we talked to said the hardest part of the race was crossing Big Rideau Lake due to the boat traffic. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the cruising traffic was high – lots of criss cross waves and boats that really didn’t give way to the racing canoes and kayaks. Challenge #2 was finding the channel markers in the dark – turns out they don’t reflect much and are only really present in the tighter channels vs larger open water.

It was an impressive feat – watching people paddle non-stop for 27 hours…although staying awake and being pit crew for the same amount of time did feel equally exhausting!

Mike and Fiona handily won the Expert class in 23 hours (2 hours ahead of the 2nd place boat) and Bob and Gwen won the Adventure class in 27 hours (over an hour ahead of the 2nd place boat).

For those that are intrigued but not committed, there is a 100km race that starts in Smiths Falls. I also understand that there will be a 50km version next year so maybe check that out… We will be sticking with our whitewater playing until they throw some waves in to make the course more interesting.

 

 

 

Grand River / Elora Gorge answers the search for whitewater in SW Ontario

We are down in southwestern Ontario hanging out with family right now. We had heard rumours of some whitewater around here so drove 2 hours up to the Kitchener/Waterloo area and thought a run down the Elora Gorge run on the Grand River would be perfect to test out our new Salus Marine lifejackets. It was down from flood levels a few weeks ago and running around 10 [m^3/s], which seems to be just higher than normal summer flows.

The put in is just below the dam in the town of Elora (park at the baseball diamond and walk across the bridge and then down the path on the opposite side of the road). The old mill is in the background and the new micro dam is just out of the photo on the right. Check out the blue heron photo bombing the picture!

The Elora Gorge is primarily limestone, with cliffs up to 72 feet on either side. At high water it can be quite crazy with a river wide hole that forms in the middle of the gorge and no sneak lines… At lower waters it’s a tubers paradise and a scenic class 2+ float with lots of eddy hopping and mini waves to surf.

The run took us about 90 minutes and we definitely milked it for all we could since we had been off the water for 10 days.

Lots of scenery to check out and enjoy along the way, and warm water to go with it!

It made for a fun family day on the water… If you are interested in going, you can find flow levels here: https://apps.grandriver.ca/waterdata/kiwischarts/rf_uppergrand.aspx (look at Shand Dam).

 

Kelly’s Whitewater Park – a family destination

Kelly’s Whitewater Park is located in Cascade, Idaho – about 1.5 hours north of Boise. This was our 3rd stop here, and our first time coming during the “summer season”.  The first few days did not seem promising as we had big rains, cool winds and were watching snow accumulate on the local peaks out our window.

The first sunny warm day was also the same day as the North Fork Championship, held just south of Kelly’s near the town of Banks on the North Fork of the Payette River. The sun was shining, the river was pumping (running over 4000 cfs, which equals HIGH WATER) and it was a tonne of fun. We got to meet Canadian kayak legend Benny Marr, who is one heck of a nice guy, and watch Dane Jackson style a very challenging course and come away with the win for the second year in a row. If you are in the area and the race is on, be sure to make the effort to check it out. A great day for paddlers and spectators alike. Hint: Bring foam to sit on the rocks and a cooler with drinks and snacks as it’s a full day of fun.

The North Fork was at high water levels for the first full week we were there. It was fun to paddle the top wave at everything from 5,000 cfs down to 2,500 cfs over the course of a week’s time. All of our other experiences were at 1,200 cfs so this was a big change. At high water the top feature has both a juicy hole and a super green surf wave, combined together. This allows you to work on all sorts of tricks and skills.

My focus was making friends with the big foamy hole, which took a good 6 days BUT left me with another 6 days to work on my wave skills which was pretty fun. Tim tackled learning wave loops and was doing well by the second week. Hunter got so comfortable in the feature that he and Tim party surfed it together and he tackled learning how to do front and back blunts.

The one downside of living in a parking lot at the side of the river is the wildlife…Hunter found a mouse in his boat one day – luckily it was before he got in!

The middle wave at Kelly’s is a fabulous place to play for people of all levels. It isn’t really in at high water so we were happy when the levels dropped down to 2500 cfs and it came back. It’s almost river wide with eddy service on both sides and deep enough to loop if you line up with the osprey nest on the short.

The middle wave is also a great place to SUP surf and surf surf. We brought the surf boards out and had a great time figuring out the wave. We all decided that it should be classified more as a swimming activity than surfing based on the % of time actually spent standing on the board.

The middle wave is just off a large rock island, which is a 2 minute walk from the parking lot. You lug all of your various toys out there for the day and then play/rest/swap/repeat for hours on end. With warm water and warm temps it really is an ideal summer playground for families of all interests.

One of the best parts of our stop this year was being there with friends. We capped the stay off with a convoy out to the local natural hot springs. There are 2 pools that have been built that are beside a small creek with pipes running from the creek that you can use to moderate the temperatures in the pool. Bring some beverages and snacks and it’s a fabulous afternoon or evening activity.

We had a great two weeks in Cascade this year. It is a fabulous small town, with great outdoor amenities and really friendly people. There are a number of campgrounds in the area if you want more than a dirt parking lot to stay in. Can’t wait to explore more of the runs on the Payette next year. Oh – and if you happen to come across a set of keys for a Ford F350 and 5th wheel – call Tim!

 

Whitehorse Star: Hunter Vincent represents Yukon at GoPro Mountain Games

Hunter Vincent represents Yukon at GoPro Mountain Games

He’d never paddled this section of washed out class II-III whitewater,

By Marissa Tiel on June 13, 2017

He’d never paddled this section of washed out class II-III whitewater, but that didn’t stop 13-year-old Hunter Vincent from suiting up and paddling all-out for just under 20 minutes against some of the world’s best paddlers.

Last Saturday, armed with some second-hand intell about the run, a river-running kayak and his trusty fiberglass paddle, the young kayaker was off like a shot from the put-in, chasing down the paddlers in front of him during the Coors Light Down River Kayak Sprint.

One of the youngest to compete, Vincent said he was happy with his final placing – 26th out of 32 men.

With open categories, Vincent was racing the likes of Spaniard Gerd Serrasolses, Dane Jackson, Nicholas Troutman and Tad Dennis. One, an Olympian, and the rest all at the top of their game with some world champion titles.

“I paddled as hard as I could for the length of the course and tried to catch the paddlers in front of me while also trying not to be passed by others,” said Vincent in an email.

Yesterday, the family of three – mom, Lee, and dad, Tim – parked their R.V. at Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Idaho, where they’re spending some time playing on the river and discovering new runs.

This was Vincent’s first time competing at the GoPro Mountain Games, a festival of sports that takes over the mountain villages for three days to celebrate outdoor sports, art and music.

While Vincent spent his last summer in Whitehorse at the playhole upstream of the Centennial Bridge almost every day, the teen opted to compete only in the downriver sprint race.

“The freestyle hole in Vail was really pushy and levels were changing throughout the day which made it hard to get consistent with tricks,” he said.

“Right now I am a stronger downriver paddler than freestyle competitor so we decided that I would compete in downriver this year and aim to do both categories next year when I am stronger.”

The downriver run on Gore Creek was swollen with new runoff from the hot weather. While many of the features were washed away, Vincent said that you had to watch out for sweepers hanging over the side of the river.

After four miles with 129 feet of elevation loss, Vincent stopped the clock at 19 minutes, 27.64 seconds.

He finished only 2:31 behind Serrasolses, the top racer.

“I was exhausted, but also happy,” said Vincent of his finish.

He misjudged the finish and had a little gas left in the tank so he is looking forward to another shot against the big guns next year.

Though it would be easy for a young paddler to get intimidated sharing eddies with world champions and national team members, Vincent has enjoyed the experience. The GoPro Mountain Games race was just his second open competition.

In Buena Vista, Colo. he also competed against the best in the world.

“I’ve found them all to be so friendly and supportive when you say ‘hi,’ or ask for tips and suggestions,” said Vincent.

“That really helped me not be overwhelmed by competing against all these amazing top paddlers.”

Last weekend, the Vincents parked their home about 20 minutes outside of Vail.

Lee said it gave them the best of both worlds: “The busy, active games and the peaceful mountain valley.”

She said the festival was very family-oriented.

“There seemed to be kids and families competing in every sport and it’s definitely something that I would recommend for other families.”

After a marathon drive up to Idaho, the Vincents are now on tap for some play time at Kelly’s Whitewater Park and plan to run some new rivers in the area as well.

In early July, they will head back into Canada for a short while for Vincent to attend a slalom paddling camp with the Alberta team.

Beyond the camp, the family isn’t sure where they will go next, but with their home on wheels and a sense of adventure not easily dulled, they will certainly end up on a road not often travelled.

 http://www.whitehorsestar.com/Sports/hunter-vincent-represents-yukon-at-gopro-mountain-games