AQUA ther­apy

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - OUTDOORS - BART­LEY KIVES

MID-MARCH in south­ern Man­i­toba usu­ally doesn’t mean sun and fore­cast highs of 12 C. But that’s what we have this week, mean­ing win­ter has come to an early and un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous end. While cold weather may re­turn, con­di­tions con­ducive to win­ter sports prob­a­bly won’t. The only pos­i­tive as­pect of this early snowmelt means rivers and creeks that usu­ally aren’t runnable un­til April and May ought to be nav­i­ga­ble a month ahead of sched­ule. What this means is even be­fore win­ter of­fi­cially ends, it’s time to think about pad­dling. As­sum­ing cold wa­ter doesn’t frighten you, here’s how to get out there early: 1. Iden­tify a prospect The first rivers to open up in the spring are of­ten small wa­ter­ways that aren’t nav­i­ga­ble later in the sea­son. This means the only time to ex­pe­ri­ence them is in the midst of the snowmelt, when wa­ter flows are suf­fi­cient to sup­port ca­noes and kayaks. There are some well-es­tab­lished early-sea­son pad­dling routes in Man­i­toba. Friends of mine rave about the white­wa­ter on the Black River, a pool-and­drop Cana­dian Shield wa­ter­way that flows out of Nopim­ing Pro­vin­cial Park on its way to Lake Win­nipeg. Ex­pe­ri­enced pad­dlers can tackle the 103-kilo­me­tre stretch from Pro­vin­cial Road 314 to Lit­tle Black River First Na­tion in three days. If you’re not into cold-weather camp­ing, the Gar­den­ton Flood­way and Roseau River can be com­bined into a white­wa­ter daytrip of 40 to 54 kilo­me­tres, as de­scribed by John Buchanan in his lamentably out-of­print Ca­noe­ing Man­i­toba Rivers Vol. 1 South. This very ac­ces­si­ble route be­gins south of Vita, only an hour south­east of Win­nipeg. You can take out at High­way 59 or con­tinue to Pro­vin­cial Road 218. You won’t be alone. If you have su­pe­rior mov­ing­wa­ter skills, the fast-flow­ing Ochre River, which flows off Rid­ing Moun­tain’s rel­a­tively steep north­east­ern shoul­der, of­fers a few hours of tight turns and boul­der-dodg­ing. Full dis­clo­sure: the only peo­ple I know who’ve done the Ochre un­der­es­ti­mated its dif­fi­culty and had to per­form a dodgy self-res­cue in a tight spot. If se­ri­ous adrenaline is not your thing, there are scenic stretches of the more placid Souris and Pem­bina rivers that are only nav­i­ga­ble right af­ter the snowmelt. At some point in Man­i­toba’s not-too-dis­tant ge­o­log­i­cal past, the Souris River emp­tied into the course now oc­cu­pied by Pel­i­can Lake and the lower Pem­bina River. Now, the Souris bends away from the Pem­bina be­fore it drains into the Assini­boine River. Buchanan iden­ti­fies the 37-kilo­me­tre stretch of the Souris from Pro­vin­cial Road 348 to High­way 2 as the most fun stretch, with high banks and a few Class I rapids; the lower 21 kilo­me­tres are placid. He also rec­om­mends a 34-kilo­me­tre sec­tion of the Pem­bina from Smith’s Bridge at Road 5 North to Pro­vin­cial Road 201. Of course, you don’t need to pad­dle an es­tab­lished route dur­ing the snowmelt. Just find an open creek or river and pro­ceed to step No 2. 2. Gather some in­tel OK, so you know where you’d like to pad­dle early in the spring. But there’s no way to de­ter­mine whether it’s ac­tu­ally doable with­out find­ing out whether the wa­ter is ac­tu­ally mov­ing and there are no dan­ger­ous ob­sta­cles in the way. First, check the Wa­ter Sur­vey of Canada’s web­site at wa­terof­ ca, where the feds chart wa­ter lev­els and dis­charge vol­umes for many (but not all) Man­i­toba rivers and streams. Fid­dle with the site, and you’ll fig­ure out how to set time pa­ram­e­ters to cre­ate a sea­sonal flow chart. This will give you a good (but not fool­proof) in­di­ca­tion of whether to­day’s wa­ter level and dis­charge vol­ume are in line with the sea­sonal peaks as­so­ci­ated with good spring pad­dling con­di­tions. If the con­di­tions ap­pear promis­ing, go scout the river in ques­tion. Are there ice-cov­ered sec­tions? Don’t go. Tons of dead­fall? Also bad news, be­cause sweep­ers can be deadly in fast-mov­ing wa­ter. Play­boaters and kayak­ers al­ready hav­ing fun? Join them! Ob­vi­ously, you can’t scout a wilder­ness wa­ter­way like the Black River ahead of time, so be very con­ser­va­tive about your de­ci­sion. Err on the side of low wa­ter, if you must, be­cause scrap­ing against a few rocks is prefer­able to spend­ing your last min­utes on earth trapped below a sheet of ice. 3. Be very, very care­ful At the height of the sum­mer, dump­ing your boat in the river is no big deal. You get res­cued by your bud­dies, you dry off and you warm up. In the spring, that’s not the case, even on a glo­ri­ously sunny day. Cold wa­ter can im­mo­bi­lize you and in­duce hy­pother­mia in amaz­ingly lit­tle time, so you need to dress as if you in­tend to wind up in the frigid river. If you own a dry­suit, wear it. Wet­suits in­tended for sum­mer use ought to be aug­mented in the spring with a neo­prene skull cap, pad­dling gloves and booties, plus some sort of dry­top or other in­su­la­tive layer. Pack ad­di­tional clothes into a dry­bag to wear in the event you dump. And most im­por­tantly, don’t go alone. Pad­dle with at least one other boat to en­sure any res­cue will be swift and rel­a­tively pain­less. Re­mem­ber, the of­fi­cial line on early-ses­sion pad­dling is don’t do it. While that’s just alarmist pro­pa­ganda aimed at pre­vent­ing id­iots from try­ing to run the Flood­way Con­trol Struc­ture, re­mem­ber a lit­tle bit of cau­tion will make any pad­dle a lot more fun.


An April pad­dle along the Seine River in Win­nipeg. Don’t worry, Kives has a life-jacket with him.

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