Weekend Warm-Up: Rising Waters

No one has canoed the entire length of Newfoundland’s Terra Nova River before. This wild artery in far eastern Canada demands both expert paddling skills and good luck. This film documents a group of experienced canoeists who attempted to make the first descent three years ago. They failed. To date, no one has completed it.

These weren’t your run-of-the-mill paddlers. They were all either founding directors or members of the Newfoundland Kayak Company. One of them, Richard Alexander, is one of only six people in Canada to hold the highest level of sea kayaking certification. If any group of canoeists could successfully bring this home, it’s them. Apart from their individual expertise, they’ve worked together so long that they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can rely on each other in a pinch.

 

The Terra Nova River spans over 200km through the northern end of Terra Nova National Park. Vigorous stretches of rapids invite skilled parties in decked canoes.

Canada is one of the best canoeing countries in the world. It features everything from the accessible Ottawa River, by the nation’s capital, where you can hone your whitewater skills for an afternoon, to the many wilderness canoe rivers of the Northwest Territories, which sometimes require two-month expeditions. But Terra Nova is an elusive stretch of water that many enthusiasts herald as a holy grail.

Maneuvering boats averaging 5.5m long past haystacks, around sweepers, and through narrow passages between rocks would tax even this expert party. But there was one further issue they hadn’t counted on. Because of recent rains, water levels were 50% higher than expected.

Canoeists attempt the Terra Nova River.

 

Rain, rain, rain

Heavy rain continued to fall relentlessly as they made their way downriver. As a river absorbs all the runoff in its watershed, its level, intensity, and difficulty rise dramatically.

At times, the party had to wait days in their soggy tents. When they eventually returned to their boats, some of these roaring sections caused major anxiety. Boats smashed, and sometimes the canoeists dumped in those cold Newfoundland waters and were swept downstream, their legs pinging off submerged rocks.

After weighing up the risk, the group made the call to abort the mission.

They admit that risk is part of what paddling is all about. “If you could remove all the risk, the activity would no longer be canoeing or kayaking. What we do carries inherent risk.”

Nevertheless, the time comes in some adventures when you just have to cut bait. At the end of their attempt, they agreed that they will need a serious amount of downtime before they try again.

Alex Myall is a writer for Explorers Web. She has been writing about exploration and historical expeditions for four years. Previously she wrote about the human body in relation to exercise for publications and websites based in New Zealand. She also wrote modules for the Zealand Certificate of Exercise, Level 4. Based on Wellington’s South Coast, New Zealand, Myall is a full-time mother of two young girls, an enthusiastic trail runner, and a fanatical traveler. She also owns and operates a small travel agency.

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