|Surfing the Serpentine
by Alida Visbach
It was perhaps the most beautiful Victoria Day Weekend ever in northwestern New Brunswick. The Serpentine River, just 40 minutes from the town of Plaster Rock, was bursting with an amazing spring run-off. The usually dry rock bed of the river had become a torrent of rushing, icy water spilling over rock ledges and sandy shoals. This is the story of one crew's discovery of the most unexpectedly beautiful river-run they'd ever experienced.
Our crew of eight drove to the rendez-vous point, a campground in Plaster Rock on the Friday night, equipped with tents, stoves, sleeping bags and all the paraphernalia of a rustic weekend in the wilds of New Brunswick.
After an evening of camaraderie, merriment, good food and a good night's sleep, we were roaring to go; ready to find out what the Serpentine had in store for our 'entertainment' for the weekend.Loading up our four canoes on two pick-up trucks, we headed out for our journey to the put-in point.
For what seemed like hours, we wound our way deeper and deeper into the bush, navigating a rock-strewn dirt road filled with twists, turns, ruts and ravines. Not leaving the 20th century completely behind, we were thankful for the blast of air-conditioned air that kept the outside soaring temperature at bay. It was only May 22 and the temperature had already reached the 26 degree Celsius mark by 8:15 am! It certainly promised to be a weekend to remember...now, if only the Serpentine would cooperate with our plans as well!
The first sight of the river filled us with excitement, the water rushing over the river bed; the banks swollen to overflowing. It was all and more than we had hoped for! Putting in our gear laden canoes took us until 9:30 am; and finally, we were ready to push off. Our destination was 15 miles downstream to where the Serpentine joined the Tobique and than a further 5 miles to the take-out point at Riley Brook.
The first leg of the journey seemed pretty tame, not withstanding the white water conditions. We spent the morning practicing our maneuvers; rocking the canoe, dodging rocks and tossing beers to our buddies in the other canoes. Otherwise, the morning was uneventful; giving us all the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful spring scenery and the fabulous temperature (up to 30 degrees by this point!) By noon hour, we were all ready to hit the shore for a bit of lunch and an exploratory jaunt into the surrounding woods.
We pulled ashore at a rustic fishing camp nestled along the bank of the river. A perfect picnic location with a grassy slope down to the river and an outhouse, thoughtfully left open and clean by the unsuspecting owners. (of course, we left everything in the same condition as we found it). After a meal of sardines, crackers, cheese and beer, we again set off down river.
Now, the challenge of the river began! Water that had merely tickled the undersides of our canoes before lunch, threatened to tip us over without our shenanigans. White water rapids appeared suddenly around bends of the river, making us put into practice our not-too-finely honed canoeing talents. One canoe fetched up on a rock in the middle of a rapid, forcing its poor occupants out into the icy waters to free it. Luckily the canoe was an Old Town, so no damage was done!
Another team ended up entangled in some low hanging branches along the river's edge, causing a brief moment of tension when a deadhead came sweeping along in the current, missing them by a hair!
The Serpentine wasn't letting us down; we were having one thrill after another. One canoe would tip and fill-up with water, while another would go to their rescue. Luckily for us, the hot temperature ensured that we didn't have to sit around in wet clothes too long. Drying wasn't a problem, but it sure did a number on our thirst! Beer was starting to run out and it was only 3:30 pm!
Almost at the junction with the Tobique, we came to the hunting/fishing lodge of the Malherne family. A stop here to stretch and explore was in order. Walking around to the stone steps of the Lodge, we spied a family of garter snakes, curled up enjoying the afternoon sun. What a beautiful, unspoiled area! New Brunswick truly has hidden treasures of nature where ever you turn!
Getting back on the river, we decided that we should push through to our take out point, yet five miles down the Tobique. The Tobique, being much deeper and wider, didn't offer the excitment of the Serpentine, but the scenery and wildlife were wonderful! Bald eagles soared overhead, moose bobbed for water grasses along the shore and salmon swirled in the water beneath our canoes.
It was 6:00 pm and we were approaching Riley Brook, saddened somewhat by the end of our journey, but tired and happy to be coming back to civilization. The rest of the evening was spent, quietly reflecting our spendid day and discussing plans for our next trip up the Serpentine.
That was several years ago now, and I haven't been back since. But I'm thankful for my experience that day and highly recommmend the Serpentine River to anyone who enjoys natural beauty and a great paddle.
Here's a trip report from Tyler!!
Nice to hear from you! The Serpentine River is "by-far" the best river to ride. It is full of rapids and falls commonly known as the Reardin Falls. We always drive up through Riliey Brook and turn off at the '11-mile' road and put in at the landing. What we usually do is go up the night before and camp out at the landing and put in after breakfast. The landing is quite big as there usually is 30 - 40 in our group. I havn't gone with the group for a while but I would be interested in going down again myself. We usually stop at the Strathconna Lodge half way down and have lunch. Reardin Falls is right after this lodge. By-the-way...this lodge is privately owned but no one is ever there...we usually just spread out on the lawn and cook up a storm...lol! The lodge has about 5-7 acres of open river front...so there's lots of room. In the past...we've taken our coolers and stoves right in the boats with us. The falls is fairly tricky...there is a trail to get around it if you so please.
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