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August 14, 1997
Geoffrey Peake, Chief Guide of the Hide Away Canoe Club (HACC) writes:
The George River express is now in its third day, and we paddled another 60 kilometers towards the sea. As it now stands, we still have another 110 km. to go, with less than 70 metres of drop left to the ocean. Tonight's camp is on a nondescript gravel bar with a commanding view of the Bridgeman Hills to the east. Today has been another interesting day filled with rapids...more so than we bargained for.
The rapids started as soon as we left camp. First as swifts and easy waves, but about an hour after starting, we entered a larger set that started off easy, but gradually grew in difficulty. In this set, I was following at the rear; the other boats had passed us when we stopped to fix our spraycover. I knew we were heading for trouble when Tom said "Hey, look at that cool line of white ahead!" I looked up and there was indeed a lot of waves ahead. Nothing unusual in that--but something sounded different--there was a deeper roar to the rapids than there should be. The trip notes we had said nothing unusual about this rapid, so we just kept heading down, sure that everything would be fine. There is a rule in rapids, though, that says the steeper the drop, the harder it is to see. That is why such hazards as ledges and falls can appear to be practically invisible to the upstream paddler, except perhaps as a line running across the river--A WHITE LINE...oh oh.
There is a point of no return in some rapids where, no matter how fast you backpaddle, no matter how you manoeuvre, you cannot escape going through them. When I finally understood the significance of the 'line of white' all three canoes had now passed that point. The two Peters were now entering the worst of it, and as they dropped over the main ledge, their boat disappeared for a brief second before rolling up and over the standing waves, which, now in proper perspective were huge--almost 2 metres in height. I said nothing, but my mind thought 'Holy Shit'.
Finally, just as Mike and David were dropping over the ledge, Tom and I were finally close enough to see the true drop that had been hidden from us upstream. I think I yelled for Tom to paddle, but I can't really remember because it all went by so fast. I just remember approaching that wave and thinking what a really big wave it was, even in a 20-foot canoe. Down, down we dropped, only to hit the amazingly steep rebound wave, that lifted nearly half of the boat out of the water and threatened to roll us over. A big wave washed clear across the decks, but we rode that wave out, and the next one, before I had the presence of mind to shout a few commands at Tom in the bow
"Crossdraw! Crossdraw!" The canoe turned to the left and we paddled hard toward shore to avoid the next big wave. Amazingly, both other boats had made it through, and we all headed for the first available eddy to pull our boats up and bail. There was a lot of adrenaline still pumping for the next half hour, as we relived that rapid over and over. Had we scouted that rapid there is no way we would have ever run the boats through that chute, but it's nice to know that they are capable of a lot more than we normally do.
Just for interest sake, I looked through my photocopied notes of Mina Hubbard's journal to see what they thought of all these rapids. Naturally, lacking spraycovers, lifejackets, waterproofing, not to mention a satellite phone, their view of the many rapids of the George was somewhat different. On August 24, 1905, Mina wrote "While running a rapid, Job and George nearly wrecked. Job changed his mind about course a little too late. Narrow escape. The river from Indianhouse Lake has been like a toboggan slide. I will be glad for everyone, and especially Job, when we leave the rapids behind".
After a day like today, I start to feel the same way myself.
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