campfire tales!    Broken Blade on the Keswick

Every paddling trip is like life, you should try to learn something new every day. Or at least, learn to use your common sense.

I didn't hesitate when Mitchell invited me along on a day trip on the Keswick River. Oh, it was still mid-April, and spring was just a snowed-in promise, but I grabbed my gear, threw… well, grunted ... my boat onto my car, and headed out. I don't like turning down an invitation to paddle, especially from Mitchell, he's a competent paddler and a good man to run the river with.

Haystack Rock Bridge, Keswick River
Mitchell mosies under the Haystack Rock Bridge at the put-in. Note the ice along the far shore, that water`s cold.

I didn't check my paddles, just grabbed two wooden ones, and tossed a change of clothes into a dry bag.

When we got to the river at the Haystack Rock bridge, I noted with a twinge of fear that the snow was still two feet deep in the woods. Even scarier was the two-inch thick sheet of ice that covered the still water along the shoreline in all the quieter eddies. Man, that water was frigid. And I had no dry suit gear, just a pair of wet-suit booties.

Keswick river rapid
Looking upstream at the first ledge. I shipped some water here, broke my paddle, and flipped in the eddy.

I should have checked the condition of my paddles as I was getting ready. The paddle I chose for the first set of rapids was cracked, a six-inch long break from the lip of the blade up along the lamination line.

Keswick River
Hugh swings behind a rock in the background, while Willie slips into the vee.

The first major drop involved a four-foot slot between two rocks and then a straight run between boulders into a long rock garden. There was a convenient eddy just below the first drop that we planned to catch in order to scout the remainder of the rapid.

Keswick River
Ryan`s wearing a dry-suit to protect against hypothermia. It was sunny but cool, and the water was ice.

Keswick RiverI made the first drop okay .. I entered on an angle and sluiced in, yawing to the left, shipping in some water over the gunwales, but regaining my balance just in time at the bottom. Moments later, as I braced to catch the eddy, my boat was slow to respond, and as I finally pointed the bow towards upstream by the shore several yards downstream from the perfect eddy, my stern caught a rock and over I went.

Goodness, that water was cold. My boat filled up, but since I was in fairly shallow water, I managed to drag my boat off the rock and onto shore before it began to buckle against the stone. It weighed a ton or more with all that water in it, thankfully Mitchell ran over to lend me a hand. Since my bag was tied in, I didn't lose anything to the river.

I changed into dry clothes, and set off back into the river. On my first stroke, I discovered why I had missed the eddy. Half of my paddle's blade face was missing, broken off along the crack line. I tossed it into the boat, grabbed my spare, and made it down the river with no further mishaps … well, I did go over one ledge backwards hanging onto the gunwales, but got her straight again in time.

Keswick River
Haynes Rapid was long and tricky, I ran it on the right.

I`ve decided it`s best to just burn my cracked paddles in the campfire, and invest in new paddles instead of bringing the doubtful cracks on the river. Otherwise, they`ll surely break just when I need them the most. After all, they don`t break hanging in my shed over winter.

Keswick River
This isn't me, but same spot, same thing happened. I didn't grab the gunwales though ... did I?

One other thing … I'm going to invest in a decent dry suit. My feet were ice-cold cherry-red at the end of the day. I should know by now, if you plan to paddle a stream in New Brunswick in mid-April, don't dress for mid-May, or you'll pay the price.

There is a large island downstream from Haynes Rapid, where folks usually stop for lunch and a rest. There were two huge trees blocking the stream, only a last-second scramble got me to shore above them. I should have taken the river-left channel, it was straight and free of sweepers.

Keswick River
Mind the sweepers on the Keswick!

campfire (28K)It's nice to find a free campsite ... if you don't mind snakes, trains, trucks and sprinklers!


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