Posted by: Joe | July 23, 2008

“If you’re going through hell, keep going” (about 2 hours)

We had another long weekend planned this past week, for my first whitewater rafting trip. Sheila has been doing this trip for a few summers now, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months.  After all, a man is never more alive than when peering into the face of death.

Friday morning we drove to the OWL Rafting facility on the Ottawa River near Forester’s Falls. Where is Forester’s Falls you ask?  Well, it’s about a two hours drive past the Hell Hole.  OWL is so far into the middle of nowhere it’s a 15minute drive to the nearest LCBO outlet.  Pro Tip: setup your new tent at least once before attempting to do so in the pissing rain.

After breakfast Saturday morning, we had our briefing from our trip leader, who informed us excitedly that the water level had dropped overnight.  Everybody groaned, confused, until she explained to us that for the previous several days, water levels had actually been too high, and that there were rapids that couldn’t be run by a commercial tour–the water falling had the effect of bringing it down *just* below the cutoff and that we’d be able to run all the best portions of the 12km Rocher Fendu whitewater.  With the water levels where they were, we’d be running the highest whitewater in North America east of the Colorado.

Sweet.

We geared up and after a short bus ride we found our raft, one of the larger 12-man boats, and our guide  Sven.

The river didn’t wait long to show its teeth:  the first rapid of the day, McCoy’s Chute, dumped the first group’s attempt with the empty raft tumbling in Phil’s Hole for 5+ minutes while our guides tossed rope lines from the shore trying to snag it.

The climax of the Ottawa Main Channel is Coliseum and the Big Kahuna, a Class IV+ rapid during high water like we experienced.  All of the guides warned their crews that if you weren’t a strong swimmer, you might want to consider portaging this one.  It was a long wait–we were the last raft of our tour down, and going was slow due to the number of unsuccessful attempts to negotiate the rapid.  Power boats criss-crossed the bottom of the run, picking up swimmers and strewn paddles.

I was positioned in the starboard bow, and after some observation of the guides and some experimentation, I found that the method that gave me the best stability and paddling leverage was to push my feet into the forward thwart and lean my upper body out over the tube.  So, I was staring the monster right in the eye as we dropped in.  So much fun.  We hit it perfectly, never coming close to bailing.

Saturday night we watched the moon rise by the campfire before crashing relatively early.

It was great fun–can’t wait to go again, although next time I’d like to try one of the smaller 6-man sport rafts, which get thrown around a little more.  If I lived anywhere nearby I’d be shopping for a kayak right now.

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