The Kipawa River Festival

The Kipawa River Fest has just celebrated its 25th year anniversary. The festival serves many purposes aside from the challenge of paddling an amazing river and meeting up with like minded river enthusiasts. The Festival brings awareness and a voice to a river whose navigational rights are being challenged and even revoked by the altering and building of dams. The Kipawa River is located in Laniel Quebec. Keeping true to typical Quebec whitewater, it is a beautiful, high volume, wild, gem which requires very solid paddling skills to negotiate. The rapids are numerous, substantial in length, often technical, and always meaty. The river rarely guarantees flows outside of the festival weekend. The priveledge of paddling this river is rare and coveted.

The exerpt below is a description of Hollywood Rapid which marks the end of the Kip as it plunges into Lake Temiskaming. Holly Chester, one of my paddling partners wrote it. I feel that it captures the charachter of the river well, in addition to explaining why it is that we paddlers do what we do. I hope you enjoy it.

"We each step purposefully on the planks abridging the clay and moss and streams below our feet, as we precariously balance our kayaks on our shoulders, paddle in opposite hand. Already I’m visualizing the rapid ahead. Best case scenario flashes through my mind: a series of calculated strokes drive me across to the left side of the river where I follow the green highway down to a pillow rock avoided to the left. Worst case scenario sneaks up behind: poorly executed strokes, a shaky and unbalanced kayak floats with the current down the right side of the river where I’m ultimately flipped by a hole named Davey Jones’ Locker. I’m potentially kept for a long surf where I most likely hit my head and scrape face on the many rocks that lie just below the surface. This is a very real fear. I take note on our arrival night of a girl with a swollen and bruised eye and scraped cheek. I quickly tuck that alternative out of my mind choosing to focus on the five most important paddle strokes I need to execute as I drive out of the cramped and volatile eddy. We forge on down the slick path until we reach the steep hill that is our point of entry. Setting our boats down we convene on the rocks to discuss our lines. Essentially, we each look at the river and determine from our individual perspectives which is the ideal path to reaching the bottom of the rapid. Ideal lines vary on the paddler and are determined by personal comfort level, river knowledge, and ability on the water. The line I determine — the green highway — requires that I approach as closely as possible to a pour-over rock, maintain an upstream angle for at least 10 strokes as I ferry across large breaking waves. If I’m successful in my strokes the breaking waves won’t compromise my ferry angle and I’ll maintain my line on the green highway. As I eventually turn my boat downstream I will be among significantly smaller standing waves on my way to rubbing elbows with a pillow rock and through a shallow rock garden to the rapids end. Conversely, if I were to leave the eddy facing downstream I would be at the mercy of the currents which would directly put me face to face with the Locker and a shallow beating on the rocks below. In actuality, it will probably take me no more than 30-45 seconds to finish my run. I will attempt to convey the clarity I experience each time I’m on a rapid that warrants my undivided attention. I achieve a kind of focus that I can’t achieve in my everyday. I can’t do it running, working, writing, reading or any of my daily endeavours — and this is what it feels like…

rapid entry
The surge of the rapids overpower all other sounds. It’s a constant din that fills your ears such that your paddling partners will have to yell to communicate. The inability to ignore the sound keeps your undivided attention on the water below and only serves to intensify any feelings you have whether it be excitement and anticipation or sheer unrelenting fear. You begin your ritual entry into your kayak. Feet on blocks, knees in brace, adjust back band and tighten, tighten again, fingers rim skirt around the back of the cock pit, skirt on, pull tab out — check, rock the boat in a sea-lionesque manner, slide in to water. For this particular rapid this entry moment is critical. Taking one big stroke on the right I swing the nose of my kayak up and directly on the cusp of a pour over rock. Lifting my left knee and simultaneously paddling on the right I’m shot out of the eddy much more quickly than anticipated and into the waves below. One. Two. Three. Four strong sweeping strokes and I’ve hit the first breaking wave on my downstream edge. Six. Another breaking wave. Seven. Eight. Nine. I’m on the green highway at this point breathing so heavily I manage to accidentally inhale a splash of water. Choke. Ten. Eleven. I can see the pillow rock. I then realize I’ve misread my line. The pillow rock is not the exit but rather a standing rock just below is. In a panic I navigate right of the rock, where I initially had planned to go left, ultimately without consequence. Twelve. Thirteen. My boat is now bumping off the rocks slightly below surface. Insignificant waves splash my boat. Rapid over. For those 30 seconds I am completely, totally, focused and engaged, never once experiencing a rogue thought, a floating doubt, or a misplaced idea."
Holly Chester

Long live the Kipawa Libre - (free)!

Katie Quinn

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