Upper Seymour Reprise

Saturday, May 11, 2019

It was a perfect sunny day but not too hot. The Grantham gauge read 24 cms when we put in and dropped steadily to 18 cms by the time we took out. Solo paddlers were Alain, Phil R, Phil B, Claude and me, with Carey and Jen in tandem. I have paddled the lower Seymour at least half dozen times since joining the club but was trepidatious about the upper especially after reading the recently penned Paddy and Phil’s excellent epic Easter adventure beaver post.

I have worked on the Seymour River since 1998 and never really thought of paddling it until a year ago when I joined the Beaver Canoe Club. Part of my work on the river involves swimming downstream with mask and snorkel and counting steelhead returning to spawn. I have done this dozens of times from the dam to the mouth, including the canyon. Jen was unduly amazed thinking that I count fish swimming in the similar flows to which we were paddling this Sunday. But I assured her that folks have long stored boats and hung up their paddles, waiting for melt or rain, before we think of entering in the water.

A nice gentle start at Spur 7 gives one a false sense calm that all will be okay. Not too long into the trip, I get bumped by a submerged boulder and I’m back to counting fish again in the river. In my mind I can hear Carey bellowing “HOLD ON TO YOUR BOAT. SWIM. SWIM.” Bum down, feet up, I crashed into a rock, got separated from the canoe and sheepishly made it to shore. Oh boy, I can hear Carey now. Alain, chief photographer and equipment rescuer for the day retrieved my boat for me (later he will save Claude’s paddle too).
We carry on, eventually reaching the Spur 4 bridge. Carey, before we put in, had me park my jeep at this mid-way point in case he thought I should take out here. Carey, I’m sure, probably not impressed with my early dump on such a minor rapid, had hinted at the impending doom to follow in the lower half below Spur 4. In a fatherly manner he probes, “Marc, it’s been a good run so far and there are 2 options:  You can get out here and call it a day or you can keep going knowing that if you go in, a long swim is probable, you will likely have to self-rescue and possibly you may never see your canoe again. I’ll leave it up to you.” Hmmmm…my heart thumping, I meekly whimper, “Uhh, OK. I’ll keep going, I guess.”

Only 11 am by the time we arrived at Spur 4, we decided to make our way down river before having a lunch stop on an island. Feeling pretty good at this point, I started getting some intel that things will start getting more intense with more boulder strewn gardens and bigger and bigger drops. Phil states he’s “never made the final drop without swimming”. Oh jeeez…what have I done. Carey piped up, “Marc, I didn’t observe what made you dump, but it sounds like you should lean back and brace when you know you are going to hit a rock.” And shit, he was right. It worked. Here comes a rock, lean back, low brace. Hey, I’m not swimming!

With only a minor ulcer to show for it and many kind encouragements especially from smiling Jen, my newly found survival technique got me through the last adrenaline inducing drops to the take-out. I was even able to witness Phil’s historic mastering of the Final Drop.

As Phil entered above the drop he was precariously turned sideways with no apparent attempt being made to straighten out. All watching mesmerized, Phil’s lips appeared to be forming words with some barely audible mutterings of obscenities. Phil’s boat did straighten out at this point, but he was facing back up river. With awesome composure, he crashed through the gaping hole and bobbed out to the calm eddy, still backwards, with barely a hair out of place.

Without some mountaineering skills, the take-out could be considered the hardest part of the whole trip. We all managed though, tied our boats onto vehicles and made our merry ways out of this gem right in our backyard. Thanks guys for such a great day.


PS: Thanks to Alain for the photos.

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