Trip Report – Lower Petawawa – 16-18 Sept 2022

While the original plan was to re-do the Upper Petawawa only two weeks after doing it the first time with a different group, our experience made us change plans and run the Lower section instead. It was also a good opportunity for me to run both sections of the river!

The water was once again forecast to be low, none of us had done this section but our friends reported it was pleasant even at lower water levels. A quick call to the outfitters to change our shuttle around (and a few hundred dollars saved!) and refreshing the packing and meal list from the previous trip and we were good to go!

This trip we wanted to be a little bit more organised in order to leave on time since we didn’t want to be too rushed on the river. We all met up the night before, rearranged barrels, packed what we could and only had to pack the food and pick up Marty B along the way.

Day 1 – Beautiful Scenery

As planned, we met early in the morning, packed the last minute items and left to get Marty B before picking up breakfast and setting off. Our timing was excellent, arriving at the outfitter around 915 to pay and exchange keys so they could reposition our vehicle. All said and done, we were on the river before 1130.

We paddled across Lake Travers in good time and ate lunch at the campsite on the far side of the island (about 5km). We noted how it would be a great spot for canoe camping with the kids being fairly easily accessible. The weather was amazing and Marty B even grabbed his chair to enjoy the view during lunch. Just like on the Upper Petawawa, we saw a lot of deadheads at the surface! Lunch consisted of dried sausage, cheese, veggies and pita.

After lunch we continued on another 5km before getting to the Big Thompson Rapid (Class II rapid). We kept looking for the dam indicated on the guide at the start of the rapid but it looks like it is mostly gone now. A quick scout here revealed no huge problem, just had to pick a line with minimal scrapeage. Just after, Little Thompson (Class II rapid) is just a nice straight shot down.

As we were still early in the day, we opted to keep going so we would have less to do on the last day but stop to take a look at the campsites. We created our own rating scale and code as to what to yell out to let others know if it was a good campsite or not. Our code was, well obscenities we attributed to bad, good and great sites (yes, we’re super mature). Morale was good, nice weather, plenty of daylight and everyone had energy so nothing to lose in waiting for the perfect site! After investigating a few sites, we made it past grillade rapid and looking at the time, aimed for one of the campsites around crooked chute. The section above the chute was beautiful, relatively easy continuous rapids, nice sky and not just going in a straight line. It made a great end to the day with everyone smiling. After scouting the campsite at the first and last take-outs, we opted to camp at the latter.

With the fire and the campsite set up, we set about cooking dinner: steak, potatoes and onions with a side salad and red wine. Our luxury food item was a cheese platter with crackers accompanied by a bottle of porto alongside some brownies for desert.

After a great meal, we had a night of singing around the campfire and the whitenoise from the rapids to fall alseep to. Total distance for the day: 18km

Strava GPS map of canoe on Lower Petawawa 16 sept 2022
Strava GPS map of canoe on Lower Petawawa 16 sept 2022

Day 2 – A day full of rapids

Early in the morning, Marty B was up and I followed shortly after. I walked along the shore hoping to scout crooked chute and various possible portage routes and found Marty B (with his camp chair) sitting at the edge of the water just soaking in the scenery.

After scouting a few different possible portage routes, we figured the best way was to take the canoes with the gear up to the old logging chute and just portage across. It was a relatively short, straight shot without having to climb over fallen logs or take a huge detour uphill.

When we got back to camp we started making breakfast (eggs, bacon) and coffee and then went back to scout the actual rapid to see if we wanted to attempt to run crooked chute (Class IV rapid).

After portaging all the gear across, only Seb and Gibe decided to run it. We did a lot of scouting and placed ourselves in strategic rescue spots just in case as we weren’t sure if there were hidden rocks or other unknowns that could compromise the make or break eddy-out.

Video of Gibe and Seb running Crooked Chute (Class IV rapid) camera on Seb’s helmet in stern position

After the excitement, we finished loading our canoes and ran the remainder of the rapid (Class II rapid). A few km later and we were set for Rollway (Class III rapid). This one required a bit of scouting with a log fallen across and the map indicating a ledge. Well we scouted for a little while thinking “ah there is the ledge! it’s not a problem” and then decided to run. Marty B and Gibe went first and picked a different line than what the rest of us were planning. They had to stop and eddy out to reposition so Seb and Sylvain went in the meantime. Burg and I looked at their entry and shortly after went back to our canoe for our turn. We started down, running across what we though was the ledge without problem, but then we kept looking at the water and thinking hmm maybe that wasn’t the ledge maybe this is it… until we actually saw the ledge! No huge deal, it was runnable but there was certainly a moment of real quick decision and looking to see where it was passable.

After rollway was the Natch rapids (Class III rapids). We took a look and while it looked like it might be doable, it was a big right to left movement without much leeway and with a sharp rocky side. We decided to rope the first part and get in our canoes just before the 2nd drop to be on the safe side. This part seemed to be doable and no rocks to really worry about. (we talked to another group at the end of the trip, they ran the entire rapid without issue but since they had been doing this river for 30 years, they knew how it would kick the canoes on the right line).

A bit further we decided to have lunch on one of the campsites just in front of a large cliff face. Beautiful view and also a collection of broken canoes at the campsite! Lunch was again sausage, cheese, veggies, pita and dip.

After lunch, a few more km before Schooner rapids. Burger and I decided to swap places as I don’t often get to steer the canoe and wanted to get some experience in to be more flexible when we do the Nahanni next summer. It was also my first time steering our new esquif Canyon and wow was it different than our prospector. It is very twitchy, not tracking straight easily and requiring both J and C strokes to keep it going in the right direction. Almost every stroke was some sort of correction and if it went too far off, I need to ask for help to straighten it out.

Anyways, after progressively getting better at it, we hit Schooner rapids (Class I – II rapid). These are nice pleasant easy rapids, just enough to need to pick a line and move quickly. These rapids are over 3km long so it’s a nice trip. We did get a bit hooked up on rocks around the island but some picked better lines than others.

Shortly after, was five mile rapids (Class I rapid) (about 5km long), this again was super enjoyable and not too intense. So much so that Burger decided to take a nap (or at least lay down) while I was steering the canoe down. He did have to come help at some point where the channel was hard to pick and we had to do a bit of maneuvering, but nothing to panic about and we would have just beached ourselves.

We took a look at a few different options and eventually found a campsite on Whitson lake (there were a lot more people around! ). Since we had a few people investigating we used our code from the previous day… and probably got some people wondering why we were yelling these obscene things at each other and then nodding in acknowledgement.

We settled on a campsite and starting setting up the tents, clothesline and prepping dinner. On the menu for the night was spaghetti with Italian sausage in the tomato sauce. Of course we had our ration of wine and what was left of our cheese platter and Porto to finish off the meal. During this time, we all had intense discussions of general life and how we wanted to do certain things in our Nahanni trip next summer.

After many discussions, Gibe and Seb decided they wanted to have a camping spa. So we set about heating some rocks in the fire, prepped a tarp and a bucket of water. Essentially you want to drop very hot rocks in water to create steam and contain the steam inside a tarp. The heat and steam help to relax muscles and when your body temperature is high enough you simply jump in the water to cool off and repeat the process. (Of course, you traditionally do this naked since you’re sweating, getting in and out of water and want maximum steam/heat effect).

Anyways after 3 rounds of this process everyone was ready for bed (I omitted the almost NSFW pictures).

GPS trace on Lower Petawawa River Sept 17 2022
GPS trace for the day

Day 3 – The long lake back

Overnight I had some quite interesting dreams. You see our tent was on a flat spot at the top of a hill but it was not quite flat enough, and I was near the door where the hill started to be steep. So during the night, I would slide slowly down towards the steeper portion and obviously dream that I’m sliding down some sort of cliff face. I would wake up, shake my head at the scary dream, reposition and then a few hours later repeat this process. It wasn’t a horrible sleep but it wasn’t the most restful!

After a quick breakfast, (bagels, fruit), we packed our things and headed out.

This time Sylvain was in the back with me in the front in the Canyon, he got to experience first hand what I was talking about in terms of difficulty to control. While he has a lot of experience, he too had some trouble getting it to track properly and it took quite a while to get used to it.

We had 9 km of flat left and it seemed to take forever! I remember thinking ok, we’re almost there, only to realise we are nowhere near that point on the map. The map scale is also different on the last section (by 5x!) so I wasn’t used to moving so slowly on the map. Not only that, but with the rain it was just a long day. Eventually we made it to the take-out. It’s important not to miss it since the Petawawa military base is shortly after and canoeing through an artillery firing range is not only illegal but likely quite unsafe.

We loaded our gear into the trailer and got changed, just before we were done another group we had passed the day before was just getting to shore. We compared notes on our weekend on the river, and turns out they had been running this river around the same time for 30 years. They told us that they did run the Natch rapid and that the current pushes you away from the jagged rocks (Ok Gibe, you win) but that they hadn’t run crooked chute, they said once was enough.

Anyways, we headed out (with Gibe practically having to run after the car since he did not want to stop talking to the other group) and went to the pub (Whitewater Brewing Co.) for some food and drinks before heading home. This time, we made it back before dinner!

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