Of all the dangerous things you can meet on the river ... apart from drawling murderous hillbillies ... the sweeper must be right up there. Few scenes strike terror in a paddler worse than cruising around a tight turn and coming face to face with a pile of sharp sticks churning in the current, waiting to suck him or her in.
Perhaps the scariest thing about a sweeper is you never know when you're going to encounter one. Sure, you've done your research, so you know where the rocks and drops are on the stream, and what to do to manage these known risks. That's part of the adventure, a whiff of danger adds thrill and excitement to the run.
But a sweeper is an unknown risk that can appear suddenly without warning around a blind turn. The roots of a tree are eroded by swift water, and the trunk tips over and dips its branches in an unyielding curtain across the stream. Or driftwood snags on a rock, and a jam of tangled tree limbs forms, blocking passage. Maybe you can skirt the sweeper close to the far shore, but maybe not.
The worst of it is that all too often, the current wants to propel you directly into the worst of the tangle. If you don't make it to shore, the consequences may range from merely a dunking, through to lost boats and cargo, all the way to drowning.
Don't worry, I'm not going to cite directly a case where it happened on a New Brunswick stream. May those folks rest in peace. If you really want the tragic details, skip to here:
I've been foolish enough, a couple of times, maybe several, to think that I can just push a branch of a sweeper aside and continue on my merry way. It doesn't work like that. Branches are spring-loaded, and have flipped me faster than a pancake on a hot griddle. There's no reasoning with a sweeper, avoid them at all costs. It's not worth it, lemmetellya.
There are certain rivers in New Brunswick that, in my experience, are more prone to sweepers than others.
I've met my fair share of big logs blocking the Keswick over the years. Not so much in the upper stretches where the current is faster, but in the lower stretches where it approaches Burtts Corner. It seems the trees are uprooted higher up behind Crabbe Mountain, and fetch up in the lowlands where the river slows and meanders. Thankfully, they don't pose a great risk, as there is usually lots of time to get to shore and lug a boat around them.
My buddy Mark wedged his boat under a huge bole down there a few years back, and it took us a lot of tugging and grunting to work it free. This river, and its sister stream the Nashwaak, seem to get the worst of local rain storms, so it's no wonder sweepers are commonplace along their courses.
The Tobique is also notorious for stream-wide wood. In many places, the stream loops and twists back on itself through alder meadows, and paddlers come around a turn and face log jumbles with only seconds to react. When Biff and Pete and I ran it back then, we often had to scramble onto and over piles of driftwood, hauling our boats and trusting our weight and fate to tree trunks with sharp spikes that shifted and rotated around our nether regions. One stump in the center of the stream flipped their boat, and I had to race ahead to collect coolers and coats on their merry way down the brook.
The Miramichi seems to be free of this curse. I've never had to deal with a sweeper all the many times I've run this stream. I guess it's wide enough, all the way from Juniper on down to Boiestown, so it's not a problem.
Yeah, I suppose I could go on naming NB rivers with sweepers. The fact is, a sweeper can appear on any stream, especially the smaller, twistier ones. Given a choice, I wouldn't take a chance with one. Just be careful going around those sharp corners, and be ready to strike for shore .... if you still can.
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