Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ça Cogne! It's spring in Canada.

What "cognes?" The ice melting, breaking up, and flowing downstream to be churned up in the rapids as they hit the whitewater kayaks playing in the big, fast, spring flows of the Ottawa River off Bate Island.

Over the weekend, I watched the melting ice flows moving downriver towards the rapids. They are almost impossible to see churning in the whitewater of the rapids. I asked a whitewater paddler at Bate Island, "What about the ice?"

He responded in French, "Ça Cogne."

In English, you can choose the verb of your choice: it bangs, knocks, hits, thumps, whacks, wallops, or clobbers.

I guess the size and speed of the ice chucks hitting your kayak would help you choose the best word.

Then I asked him, "What if you go into the water."

He responded calmly with a smile, "Cover your face."

Spring thaw usually equals big spring flows on the Ottawa River. And this year is no different.

Each year I look for the peak spring flows off Bate Island. I can usually tell by a convergence of whitewater paddlers lined up along the shore, waiting for a turn at the high flowing rapids and big standing waves.

They were there this long Easter weekend, and so much fun to watch.
It's quite a show. Especially when you're standing close to shore, the incredible speed and powerful rush of the water during spring flows is impressive and frightening, and challenging fun for the whitewater paddlers.

Spectators gather to witness the yearly spring paddle pilgrimage to this spot at Bate Island on the Ottawa River between the cities of Gatineau, Quebec, and Ottawa, Ontario in Canada.  Bate Island has a small park with picnic tables, a large picnic shelter (gazebo), free parking, and can be accessed in either direction from the Champlain Bridge.

The variety of skilled paddlers and surfers who show up to ride the big standing waves and play in the icy-cold rapids may surprise you. We expect whitewater kayaks and whitewater canoes. They are made for this.
Each year, it's the surfers and stand up paddleboarders who surprise me the most. Yes, they ride and play in waves and tides, but what about rapids with strong currents and some ice chunks thrown into the mix? My images simply can't convey how fast and furious the water is. You have to be there to fully appreciate it.
Whitewater art comes in many forms. Some forms will swim more than others.
When going into the rapids, choose your best weapon.
The whitewater kayak is king.
It's still missing from my small fleet of sea kayaks and paddleboards. But I'll get one or two for play in less intense waters and rolling practice.

I had a rolling lesson in a Jackson Zen 65 river runner, and I liked it. It's the only whitewater kayak I've ever sat in that made me think I might want one. I usually don't like the feel of them.

Stay warm and safe. If you are new to the river, beware. The very dangerous Deschenes Rapids are downriver from Bate Island.
Deschenes Rapids, Ottawa River, Aylmer, Quebec, Canada
You do not want to paddle downriver from Bate Island or run the Deschenes Rapids from upriver. The rapid along the Quebec shore races with fury through an old hydro facility that has crumbled. But you can view these impressive rapids from shore if you cycle the path along the river

Happy trails!
The BaffinPaddler