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Can you convert a Flat Water Paddler to Rapids?

A Client Experience During a Noire River Adult Adventure

Being a full-time flat water paddler for over 10 years, I wasn’t sure what to expect paddling whitewater for the first time. Would I enjoy the faster pace, paddling down the rushing water of a Quebec, Ontario river? Could I handle the waves that could possibly swamp our canoe, boulders blocking our path and the adrenaline rush that was sure to follow?

This summer my husband and I took on an adventure of paddling down a 60 km section of the Noire River on the Noire River Adult Adventure with MHO Adventures. We’ve travelled through Algonquin, Killarney, the French River, all on multi-day flat water lake trips for over 10 years together and have always enjoyed that type of tripping. Signing up for the Noire River trip, I will admit I spent time ‘google-ing’ whitewater terminology so I didn’t come across as a complete newbie. I searched for Youtube videos of other explorers trips to see what we were signing up for. Thankfully, MHO has a great blog post on some common terms to know. Added to my vocabulary were; eddy, swift, ledge, river right and left.

The trip was 5 nights and 6 days in total. Part of this excursion also included a night at an AirBnB the night prior which allowed us to get to know our guides and the other guests. Here we were able to get our personal gear transferred into the blue, watertight barrels provided for us, one for each person. As we all got organized, we enjoyed some delicious wood fired pizza for dinner and had a team meeting to go over what was in store for us from our guides Jake and Micah.

There were 12 of us in total, 2 guides and 10 guests. We all got to talking easily and I looked forward to getting to know everyone while on the water. What really impressed me quickly by the crew of people we would be traveling with, was the number of solo campers. Some were single, some married with families, but they joined the trip as solo campers. I was so impressed by the people that took on the challenge of learning rapids with strangers and the little community that we formed so quickly.

The following morning, we had a delicious breakfast and piled into a van for a shuttle ride of approximately an hour and a half. Bopping down gravel roads with the ting of gravel in wheel wells, we were all excited to get on the water. At our drop off location, we unloaded canoes, barrels, paddles, helmets and PFD’s. The van shuttle left and we were on our own in the middle of the woods. 12 relative strangers, about to embark on an adventure.

At first look at the river, you could see how it got its name because of its dark color, but you could also see the amount of current flowing past the sandy banks. Having traveled across many large lakes, and experience being wind bound, I have a healthy respect for water. However, this trip seemed like it was going to be quite different. Seeing the strength and movement of the current from shore was a reminder to always have an appreciation for water and pay attention to the guides' lessons!

On our first day, we had many lessons from our guides, chit-chatted with our new found friends, and enjoyed the absolute beauty of the river and the surrounding shores.

At our first camp spot, most of the team got on their swimsuits to cool off and escape from a few of the horse flies that decided they wanted to keep us company for a while. Swimming in the water with a current was a new experience. If you jumped into the water at the far end of the campsite, you could literally float in no time to the other. You had to keep your feet planted or keep swimming just to stay in one spot!

The second morning had us packing up and ready for our first introduction to paddle strokes and maneuvers that we would be using in rapids. Draw, cross, river right and river left. Our guides would have us paddle hard up river and then either draw or cross to change direction. For my husband and I, I am typically in the bow or front of the canoe and my husband the stern or rear. Our guides described our positions as the ‘engine’ being in the front of the canoe and the ‘steering wheel’ was in the back. After this training session and the down-pour rain that decided to join us, we were all eager to get to our first set of rapids and test our new skills.

Our guides were stellar. At our first set of rapids, the team walked the length of the rapid. Our guides talked through each section, and reviewed our ‘WORMS.’ Water, Obstacles, Route, Markers and Safety.

My first set of rapids was a Class II known as “Hunt Club Rapids”. We ran it ‘ducky style’ where a guide in the lead canoe started off and once a few canoes lengths of space was behind them, the next canoe followed. The second guide would be at the end of the line as the last canoe. Following the path of paddlers in front of you was amazing and a great way to learn the proper route through a section of whitewater. The water rushing over, around, crashing, was so much to pay attention to that I was grateful to have a leader for this first go.

After a successful first run, we were able to take some time and practice eddy-ing in and out of the base of the rapid. Our own little playground to get more comfortable maneuvering and learning how the current would push our boat around.

Over the days, we got more instruction, ran varying classes of rapids, ate amazing food and had great conversation with new friends. We camped along beautiful beaches, tried some fishing and ate more delicious food. Can I say again how delicious and spoiled we were with food? MHO does food right on their guided trips.

Then the day came with a real challenge, a shorter, technical set of rapids where we would camp for the night. The benefit of camping here meant we would empty our canoes and paddle down the rapid set without the weight of our gear. The team stood at the edge of the rushing water and we reviewed our ‘WORMS.’ For the best route you would start on the left side and once through the first wave head to river right and then a quick straighten out for the best line through the rapid.

My husband and I loaded into the canoe, watched our friends successfully paddle, and then it was our turn. We entered the rapid, paddle, paddle, wave, paddle, aimed right and then overcorrected in the middle. Splash. Next thing we knew we were in the water beside an upside down canoe. Luckily we were well prepared for this type of situation from our guides and we swiftly got into the safety swim position to float down the last set of the rapid. Not my most graceful moments I will admit, but knowing our guides provided both safety and guidance, we got to shore and quickly started to talk about where we went wrong. We decided to watch another canoe paddle down to help us confirm the proper route down and got set up to run the rapid again. No way we were leaving without another try at this set! Line it up, paddle, paddle, awesome! Beautiful run and it felt amazing. One of our friends on the trip Brian said to us afterwards, “You won’t remember the rapids you run well, but you’ll remember the ones where you flip!”

Up until our flip, we always had a little bit of fear in the back of our minds about what it would be like to tip over, would we be okay and even what others would think. However, once we got wet we saw how prepared our guides were for our safety and our fears or concerns began to disappear. When our new friends cheered us on from the banks of the river it really boosted our spirits to be able to run the section of rapids again. For the remainder of the trip we felt a lot more confident with our abilities and the abilities of our group as we ran a number of other whitewater sections.

Our last day was over 14 kms of continual swifts and Class 1 rapids. I found I was almost more tired from this day because you had to pay so much attention to what was in front of you in the shallow water. We found this day over too quickly and the ‘reality’ of everyday life creeping back into our vision. As we unloaded the canoes, shuttled back to our vehicles and said goodbyes to our fellow paddlers, I can honestly say I would love to go on another adventure with each one of them.

This trip really showed me how much adventure there is to be had in the backcountry of Canada and taught us about a new kind of adventure that my husband and I could enjoy and learn more about. Would I give up flat water paddling for rapids? No, that’s too much of a passion. Would I go on another adventure with rushing rapids with MHO by my side? Hell yes.


Alex and Jess
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