|Swimming on the Nepisiguit|
There are several portages around the non-runnable drops on the Nepisiguit, but the carry we dreaded most of all as we paddled down the river was the Grand Falls and gorge.
The carry shown on most maps leads from a landing on the left shore, at the very edge of the boom before the falls. Then the path runs for several kilometres around the sheer cliff of the gorge to a put-in into the waters of the pool at the mouth of the gorge.
We met a gentleman enjoying the pleasant spring sun at the boat landing. His name was Ron, and he was eager to converse with us about the portage.
"A lot of folks don't know this, but you can run the gorge starting right at the top end beside the falls all the way down to the pool," he confided to us. He led us to the edge of the cliff face overlooking the spot where the last ledge of the falls and the run-out of the hydro plant merged in boiling green and white froth below.
"Just rope your boats down this cliff to the tiny cove, and you can run right out to the end," he promised. "I can run all your gear out to the end of the trail in my truck, and meet you there in half-an-hour."
Well, we looked at it closely and from our viewpoint, it did appear that the run downriver was calm and clear of rocks and waves as far as we could see.
"Schoolteachers from Bathurst come up here all the time and enjoy the ride," said Ron. When he produced a long stout rope from the back of his truck, we began to marvel at our good fortune to meet this helpful gentleman.
I know, you're beginning to wonder about his motives. How many folks has he lowered into the gorge, and what became of them? But as we continued to talk, we found that we had many common acquaintances in Bathurst, including my friend who organized our shuttle. I chose to trust him.
It was not overly difficult to rope us and our boats and paddles down the cliff face. Sure, we had to watch our step, but slow and easy, using saplings and outcrops for handholds, did the trick. Soon our three boats bobbed in the tiny nook. Hal set off first into the bubbly tailrace, and immediately disappeared around the rock and out of sight.
I launched next, and knelt on the floor of my boat, in the centre for maximum stability. As I rounded the rock and came out onto black water, I saw Hal eddied out behind the first jaw of the gorge. The waves in the vee beyond the pinch seemed few and small, so I decided to run down the middle rather than take the safer lateral cut into the calmer water by the wall of the jaw.
I swear I was running dead centre down the wavelets, but as I passed a paddle's length away beside Hal, the bow caught a curl and flipped me like a fried egg on a greasy spatula. There was nothing either of us could do to prevent it, and I was already far downstream before Hal could make any reach or throw to help me.
The current was incredibly fast, strong and deep. Thank goodness for my life jacket. I bobbed under and resurfaced a couple of times, then found myself beside my boat. I grabbed it near its end, and quickly reviewed my options.
The current was far too quick and strong to escape. My paddle was gone. The walls of the gorge were sheer. I realized my chances of making it to the shore with my boat anytime soon were slim to none.
The one factor in my favor was the water temperature. It had warmed up nicely after three days of blistering heat. And there were no rocks or drops in the gorge.
I tried to climb onto the bottom of my boat to get a quick look downstream, but it sank ever lower as I put more of my weight farther up its length. I had to let it go.
After a few more turns in the gorge, I felt the current slacken a bit, and the canoe was maybe ten metres or so away downstream and receding. But my fingers magically found the 35-metre rope I had used to lower the boat down the cliff.
I grabbed it firmly and began striking for shore. I was hoping to find a foothold on the cliff face and swing my boat into calmer water, to begin recovery.
Each time I got within reach of the shore and stuck out my free hand towards a rock, the current sped up around a turn, and I got swept out into the centre again, kicking and sputtering. Finally I had to let go, release my boat to the current so I could gain a foothold on the cliff wall where I could at last stand up.
Hal came around the turn as I found my footing. I sent him after my boat, as I knew Scooter would come along and pick me up, which he did seconds later.
We found my boat near the mouth of the gorge, and wrestled it to shore. My paddle was floating not too far away. Nothing was lost, except maybe some pride, but you gotta swim every once in a while. Haven't you gone for a swim?
Sometimes the actions of your paddling buddies put you in a very awkward spot. Here's a tale of getting caught in a sweeper.
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