Trip Reports

Threading the needle at McCoys - a Survival Tale

Threading the needle at McCoys - a Survival Tale

If as a beginner you ask your very experienced tandem partner, "I don't know, should we run the Main or the Middle?" and they tell you that the water is big and boily and you need to be prepared for some really long and big swims", what they are really trying to say is:  "You'd better be prepared to paddle for your life and if your arms are aching and your body is ready to quit -- you'd better still be prepared to paddle for your life or you probably shouldn't run this river".

With that background, here is a survival tale of Threading the needle at McCoys.

On the Sunday of Y-Fest, after a long enduring day of paddling solo on the Ottawa Middle Channel, I figured I was too tired to paddle solo again, so when Yannick suggested someone could paddle tandem in his Blast, I gladly accepted the opportunity and Kate having so much fun on our Gatineau run offered to paddle with me again.  I had just done the Ottawa Middle channel three times in a row, the only river I've paddled outside the Gatineau. So when questioned whether we should run the Main or the Middle, I naively asked Kate what she thought (see above).  The Gatineau river also had elicited the same comment, so I figured, why not, let's do the Main (Note for beginners - Not recommended).

As we scouted the river for McCoys, Kate showed me these two giant holes and pointed to a line that went right between them.  This is called "Threading the needle".  Isabelle called out, "what line are you running?", and I casually called back, "we are going to thread the needle", having absolutely no real concept of what that meant.  We scouted the rest of the river and I can't remember if we planned to eddy before Horseshoe, but in the plan, we were going to miss that hole too.

In the water, the first part of the rapid seemed to go well.  The waves were big, but I was paddling forward as much as possible, and amid the waves, Kate suggested that she couldn't see anything and could I please tilt my head to the left. I had no idea that my arms could hurt so much with Kate screaming "Paddle forward!" and I paddling for my life through those big waves, not really having a clue where we were.  When she yelled, "Lean Forward" (I imagine this was when we caught the edge of Phil's hole), I leaned backwards and was slammed with a wave that threw me nearly horizontal, yanked my helmet off my head as much as possible without coming off and sent a torrent of water up through my nose.  Amazingly, we recovered and somehow paddled our swamped boat into this eddy in the middle of the river.  We were then being swept by the current backwards towards the left channel of the river when Kate ordered, "Get out of the boat!"  With thrashing waves and our fast reverse speed, it was hard to get out of the boat and I dumped our swamped boat as I tried to exit.  Incredibly, Kate made it out of the boat and managed to grab the boat and the shoreline as I was dragged down the river a few feet and grounded myself on a rock.  Kate asked me to stand up and walk over but the current was so strong I said I couldn't do it.  So, she pulled the boat on shore and came over to get me.

Next we got back in the boat as I looked around for an exit strategy...but there didn't appear to be one.  So she explained we were going to ferry all the way across the river and head for the big tongue, and avoid this other menacingly huge hole (horseshoe).  I was doubtful and my arms were aching.  So out we went into the current, Kate urging to paddle forward, our boat turning into the current before any real ferrying was happening, once, twice, as we gave up and headed back into the same eddy again.  With my arms screaming no, and Kate asking for more power, I suggested we should try to exit higher in the eddy, because I didn't have any more power than the previous two tries (as I was at the same time eyeing the simple route on the left).  Undaunted, off we went for a third try, higher up in the eddy, and were finally able (with a lot of screaming, paddle forward) to get across the current, past the crashing hole, onto a smooth train of black water heading for the big tongue as I silently prayed, "Thank God, this is almost over!"

We were congratulated a lot for our McCoys run, and maybe one day I will look back on that success fondly.  At the time, all I could say was "That was hard" and I had some very serious doubts about trying the rest of the Main.

Luckily, the rest of the day was less difficult, but still quite a challenge. The company was great and it was good to see the Ottawa Main Channel, since I'd heard so much about it.  Nevertheless, it will be a long time before I attempt that river again.

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