This is our 2nd annual spring run of Green’s Creek in Ottawa. The name will be familiar to most Ottawan’s as there is a big sliding hill in winter that takes its name. The creek itself flows through greenspace for most of its length and passes just at the bottom of the sliding hill. This creek needs to be run in the spring as the water level drops below runnable levels. There are several possible starting points but the river flows below several major roadways until discharging into the Ottawa river.
- Location: Green’s Creek, Ontario, Canada
- Trip Type: Canoe, whitewater
- Participants: Sunshine, Gibe, Seb, Sylvain, Wissell, Dave Bard, Sam, Matt, Val, Alexandre W
- Distance: 23km
- Maps: N/A
- Shuttle provider: N/A (House/car near exit)
- Features: Class I rapid, Class II rapid, Class III rapid
We had sent out several scouting parties in previous weeks to determine the best section for a put-in. There are several possibilities, some of which are more easy to access than others and at the same time, we wanted to monitor snow melt. To get the best experience, we wanted to get in the river as soon as it would be runnable and as far upstream as possible so the water flow would be good. Last year, the canoes were actually braking a thin layer of ice on the surface so this is really an early spring creek. We eventually picked a spot at this location
With this being an early spring run, we made sure to get as much thermal protection as possible in case of an upset. Westsuits or drysuits, coats, warm layers and of course lifejackets and helmets. As we were expecting a few downed trees due to a Derecho last year (the waterway is not really travelled) we brought a saw in case it was needed.
We all met up early in the morning at the put-in point. Our take-out was at one of the participant’s houses a few hundred meters from the Ottawa river.
Upon setting off, the first thing we noticed were the huge amount of downed trees. We knew there would be some but did not expect this much. The creek is fairly narrow where we put in and with downed (or leaning) trees in the way, we had to try and manoeuvre around them, often just getting branches in our faces.
Unfortunately I was not the best a maneuvering in these conditions, for the last several years, I’ve been mostly canoeing on the bow but took the stern position to get more experience before we head to the Nahanni. Sylvain took the bow position and we had essentially no luggage. Since there is a good weight difference between the both of us, the pivot point was quite a bit forward so I had some difficulty adjusting to that plus current, the twisting of the creek and the downed trees. That meant more trees in the face and unfortunately a bail!
The capsize and recovery
Going around a corner, we drifted a bit towards a downed tree and the branches lined up directly with Sylvain. In an attempt to get out of the way, he laid down backwards in the canoe. At the same time, I was leaning to avoid the tree and so with both our weight on the same side, we capsized. (Images are screenshots from a video)
Taking a dip in water at essentially freezing point really takes an impact, even with a wetsuit. There is an initial thermal shock, then things start to calm down as the body adjusts. In this situation and adrenaline rush, thinking is not the sharpest and you start to lose the ability to properly control your muscles. (Having done a polar bear dip in a hole cut out from the ice at -10C wearing nothing but a bathing suit, I can say, its a weird feeling to start to lose motor control as you try and take the ladder out of the water). So after stabilizing the canoe, we wanted to empty it of water and reset. We walked it towards shore and realized getting out would be difficult as we were more than waist deep on a muddy bed with a steep drop. Sylvain flagged that he did not have the strength to lift the canoe up so I figured I would go towards the front and assist, there was a log we could set the front on that seemed like it would work well. However, we did not think about the current flow and that the back of the canoe would be taken by it (we should have kept the canoe parallel to the flow). The canoe got moved further turned on its side and quickly Sylvain was in a very bad spot.
On one side, a downed branch, on the other, the canoe capsized in the water being pushed by the current. Immediately when I noticed this I grabbed the front of the canoe and leaned back, pushing as hard as I could with my legs to get the canoe off Sylvain. I manage to create some space and allow him to get out of the danger area (but seriously I was pushing with my legs as hard as I could and leaning into it). The canoe eventually got wedged under the branch but no one was in danger. At that point Dave and Sam from the canoe ahead of us came to help out. We had been in the water for a bit and I felt like we had to get out right away to warm up a bit and think of what to do next. I managed to get out first using the downed branch and Sylvain took the same route (after trying to get out elsewhere unsuccessfully).
Now our next trip was to get the canoe out, emptied and continue on our way. We were unable to pull on the canoe directly and the water was deep enough that it would be difficult to do from the water we figured we could tie a rope to it to try relieve suction as it was full of water at this point and pull it on shore to empty. Dave tried to get the rope around but wasn’t able to. Since I was already wet, I volunteered to try and tie it in and could get back out if I fell in. I put one leg in the water but couldn’t touch bottom so Dave held onto my lifejacket to give me extra support as I leaned for it and managed to tie the canoe with the rope. Sam and Dave took over and with a good amount of effort, pulled on the rope to break suction and get the canoe on shore. We emptied it out and reset, hoping we would warm up and not have to do that again! We were still in the first few kilometers of our day.
Most of the journey down we were met with logjam upon logjam. Some we could just sort of rock the canoe to pass, others we had to do a short lift-over and others we were forced to portage around. There were a couple where we had to use the saw to get around in places where there was no real portage possibility and where we gauged the water depth to be more than waist deep. Honestly, I lost count how many there were, my camera was rolling less than half the time and so here’s a few screenshots of logjam encounters we had during about 90 mins of footage. Next time, we might ditch the hand saw and bring a chainsaw… or two… or three.
Along the way, we also encountered a number of interesting bridges/tunnels under roads. Some had very little clearance, others were quite long and good echo chambers! It’s always fun to pass through these, especially ones that pass under both directions of 3-lane highways. In another interesting encounter, at some point, we waved to a passing train! The scenery was at times quite beautiful.
One portage we had to do involved a machete and snow-packed ground. We discovered how portaging on snow is awesome and easy to drag the canoes along. We even had a little snow ramp where we could slide down the canoes to a pool and then lift the canoe over back the river. We also slid down (not in the pool) which was an enjoyable part of the day.
The fun rapid section!
There was one really fun section of this trip (for those who know the area) in between the Costco and a bit past Innes Road. It was mostly some fun RI but with the amount of downed trees, we also had to manoeuvre from one side to the other to avoid sweepers. It felt a bit touch and go at times (and it could have been super dangerous) but in the end it was pretty fun. I didn’t have my camera on until we passed the RI with sweeper section but there was another section of RI before what became an RIII with a curved section under a downed tree and up to the tunnel under Innes road. The rapids then continue from there for another good section (RI-II) with a few rock obstacles and some sweepers before just becoming fast moving water.
Collection of RI and our eddy out just before the complex curved section:
This section we had scouted before and noted there was nothing significant past the downed tree. It is a blind corner so we needed to make sure there was nothing in the way before attempting it. A few decided to portage and skip it as it seemed a bit risky. The water pushes along the wall making the only viable route to hug the wall under the tree. After that a few series of big waves before ending in the tunnel (Under Innes road). Unfortunately for this one we were a bit too far from the wall on our entry and Sylvain had to lean backwards to avoid being hit while I also had to lean. Somehow, we managed not to flip but Sylvain was left sitting/laying at the bottom of the canoe between the seat and the portage bar with most of the rapid remaining. We somehow managed to keep it steady (unsuccessfully tried to get more distance between us and the wall along the way) with Sylvain even posing for a photo op and finished the rapid successfully!
Rapids after Innes road were pretty decent too, a bit more rocks and some sweepers to contend with but the flow gradually reduced until it was fast (then slow) moving water.
End of trip & final thoughts
At the end of the day, we were all very tired. When this trip was done the year before (pre-derecho) there were a lot less downed trees and the flow was better, we all expected to be done several hours earlier. It was amazing that this trip was completely done within city limits and other than the tunnels under infrastructure you couldn’t tell! It certainly was an adventure and a good day, looking forward to running it again, although next time, maybe just the fun rapid section and I would skip capsizing :).
Stats from my watch, note the huge temperature drop when we capsized. The reading is essentially skin temperature not outside temperature.