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2023 Ottawa River

Wednesday-Sunday Aug 23-27, 2023
Kayak: BridgetM, ChrisW, DaveF, JimP, JonD, KelseyK, LaurenG, MarkM, PaulC, PeteC, RubinB, TannerK, TylerP
Doing Own Thing: DawnD, Kala the Pooch, Rio the Puss
Organizer: Jim Poulin
Difficulty: int-adv WW
Level: medium low
Author: Jim Poulin


This year the weather ruled the days. It was generally cool and cloudy, not quite the normal hot August days on the Ottawa River. Most days hovered around 70. While cloudy, at least there was not a lot of rain – that made camp more enjoyable. A few showers but nothing we couldn’t handle. Our last day, Sunday, was the sunniest by far, and sent us home with visions of big, fluffy and very, very white whitewater. The water was warm but maybe not quite the bathtub level of prior years.

There were thirteen paddlers in total. As is always the case on these trips we picked a few strays that wanted to paddle with us (not sure why – have you seen us paddle?!?). Abbi Goddard, a 21 year old from London England (and an alternate on the UK Freestyle Team), hung with us for the entire time, including around camp. Abbi was about halfway through a month-long visit to the Ottawa. She had needed a “lift” so she relied on us (and others) to transport her to the put-in and take-out. But I think she liked us anyways. We also picked up a couple from Quebec City, Florence and Alex, for a run down the Main. And on Friday, Walker, originally from Tennessee but who now lives in New York City joined us for a Middle / Main combo. He was in Ottawa City for a wedding and headed to Forester Falls to see what the Ottawa River buzz was all about.

Levels for the first couple of days were in the +1.75 range. (as opposed to last year’s -1.75) Then on Friday the River Gods (dam operators) reduced the flow to -0.5 for the 2023 Canadian Cup Freestyle competition on Garb. While rumors had it that the river level would head back up, it stayed at -0.5 for the rest of our time there. -0.5 is much more playful than +2.0 with Baby Face, Pushbutton and Garb coming in nicely.

Dave had been in Canada all week taking a 5-day class at the Madawaska River – he was high bidder at the AWA auction. He was working on getting all the fundamentals correct after years of doing them “his way”! He was ready to show us his new stuff!

This year the Canadian border crossing was easy peasy. No more ArriveCAN app and necessary paperwork. I didn’t even think about the recent border process until after I was already across the border.

That said we did have a couple of paddlers (RyanZ & ChrisF) turned away at the border. I heard rumors they were trying to smuggle some American Poutine across the border. We missed them!

Once again Owl Rafting was our home base. They are so paddler friendly! I mentioned last year that the whole Owl business was for sale. Well, the kids bought it from their parents and it continues on. We took full advantage of their facilities – camping, showers, live music, fire pits and SAUNA (not really needed in past hotter years). Thank you Owl Rafting!

Speaking of next year, mark your calendars. Since this format seemed to work for so many, we will do it again! See you at Owl Rafting for a week (OK, technically 5 days) on the Ottawa River:

Wednesday August 21 through Sunday August 25, 2024


So here is a daily breakdown of the daily juicy deets…


Wednesday, August 23

Level: +1.75

Weather: some sun and more clouds with temps around 70

Participants: Paul, Mark, Chris and Jim

Afternoon Run

After the drive and 3pm-ish arrival we opted for a full Middle run.

We didn’t scout McCoy’s as it was the not the first rodeo for this veteran crew. Note that the Zoom Flume sneak route is still choked with wood from last year’s tornado, so not even an option.

We had an uneventful run of McCoys – doing the usual “thread the needle” line. The group played around below the Horseshoes for a bit to get our big water legs under us again. At this level Baby Face was not really in. We then headed downstream. Ran all the usual Middle runs without scouting (walked Garvins of course) Big No Name was quite interesting at this level. Working down the left line we came upon a horizon line near the bottom left ledge. Not sure where all the holes lie – and there were many, we opted for a far left sneak line to check it all out, instead of getting out and scouting. A great start to the trip!

We headed back to camp and the group completed the day by relaxing over dinner with a few adult beverages.


Thursday, August 24

Level +1.5

Weather: cloudy, cool, misty and windy

Participants: Paul, Mark, Chris, Jim, Lauren and Tyler plus strays Abbi, Florence and Alex

Main Run

We opted for a Main run today. There was a quick scout of McCoy’s rapid as Tyler and Lauren had not seen it before. Paul provided probe services for the scout team. We spent a little time at Horseshoe and Baby Face, but like yesterday, Baby Face was not in at this level. After the lengthy flat-water paddle, we arrived at Upper Lorne (home of the Garburator). Ran through without a scout. Garb was not in so we proceeded down to Push Button. At this level Push Botton was more friendly to the longer boats but everyone had a go at it.

We moved downstream to Butcher’s Knife. Paul’s description for all the new folks was to start right, miss the holes and then casually head left. After we ran through Paul thought better of the “casually head left” comment as at this level you need to move pretty aggressively left!

Normans was next and we played followed the leader in the chaos. Everyone did great and we stopped for a scout of Coliseum. Mark provided probe services while we scouted. He tried the traditional right-and-work-left line only to end up in Mikey’s Hole (Mikey eats everything). He rode Mikey for some time before surfing back into the right line slot for an escape. From our scouting position we only saw an occasional paddle blade and tip of his boat. Cheers erupted when he made it out in one piece and still in his boat! So, Mark’s probe showed us what not to do! At this level, there seemed to be a good straight right line. After the initial hit on the V-wave next to Big Kahuna, you stay in the main flow – maybe a little on the right shoulder of the next three waves. This lines you up for a smooth slot through Mikey’s hole. Works in theory but some of us (me!) ended up too close to the large rock and then dumped into the big hole behind it. Saw a large portion of the sky for a while but got out unscathed. I forgot to mention to Lauren during the scout that the waves will be a bit bigger than they appear from the rocks. She did point that out to me after we ran through!

We found that the river right wave hole at Blacks is quite surfable at this level, so we spent a bit of time checking that out before heading to the takeout.

Afternoon Run

We had big plans for a second run down the Middle. But after all the fun on the Main (it was already approaching 3:00pm) we opted to go back to camp and call it a day.

Saunas and warm showers were the rule of the day at this point as all were a chilled. Then we tucked into apps and adult beverages before setting about telling tall tales of the day’s adventures and mishaps.

We wandered over to the pavilion to see some live music by The Fiddlaires. They were a couple of teenagers playing guitar and fiddle and step dancing with an accompanying keyboard. These kids ripped it up. Check a sample out at:

As we watched the music, we noticed a number of “poutine loving senior” folks having dinner behind us. We could not believe all these folks had rafted today. Upon inquiry we found they were going to have a sunset cruise on the Owl party boats (the ones they use to tow the rafts from the last rapid back to camp) and The Fiddlaires would be playing on the cruise as well. Good on Owl to use their assets to help make a go of it.

We were all tired after our day, but it was a banner day all around and why we venture north to this wonderful whitewater playland.


Friday, August 25

Level -0.5

Cool and clouds with temps in the high 60’s.

Participants: Paul, Mark, Chris, Jim, Pete, Bridget, Lauren, Tyler, Kelsey plus stray boater, Walker

First Run - Middle

I had never considered a dry suit for an August Ottawa trip. But I’ll bring it in the future. Kudos to those who tossed their dry suit in the bag before leaving Vermont!

We opted for a Middle run to get everyone on the water and feeling comfortable. This included a run through McCoys. There was a quick scout of the rapid as Kelsey had not seen it before. Paul once again provided probe services for the scout team – he does this well. Baby Face was in today and we spent some time surfing before turning our attention downstream.

From there we worked our way down the Middle Channel. All your favorite Middle Channel rapids were fluid. Iron Ring, S-Turn, Butterfly, Garvins, Little No Name, Big No Name and Velvet Falls was the lineup. We did walk Garvins as usual – although Tyler and Walker took a good hard look at the line down Dragon’s Tongue (and the Boof of Destiny) before deciding to save that run for another day. There was much play at all the usual locations. For Big No Name we split the lines on the right and left. Jim took Bridget down the right line but Pete saw Chris having some “fun” in the big central hole and yelled to Bridget to go hard left instead. This didn’t turn out so well for Bridget (or Chris for that matter).

In past years, we would head back to camp between runs. This sometimes led to demotivation (in other words, cocktail hour) and cancelation of the second run. This year we had a plan, bring lunch/snacks and head right for the put in for run #2. While there was some complicated shuttle design to minimize travel, we managed to get boats and people to appropriate places, that is, of course, if Mark doesn’t leave Paul stranded at the takeout!


Second Run - Short Main (Upper Lorne to the Takeout)

We had hoped to get to Garb early enough to see the end of the Canadian Cup competition but we just had too much fun on the Middle Channel! We did get to see a few stragglers strutting their stuff. As you would have expected, Dane Jackson and his sister Emily, won the men and women’s classes. Here is a short video of the day’s competition:

Participant: Mark, Paul, Jim, Kelsey, Pete, Bridget and Walker.

Tyler and Lauren opted to head back up to McCoys and Garb for a park and play session. Chris decided to take the afternoon off.

After watching the big boys and girls show us how to handle Garb we started our run. We played at Push Button for a bit – nicer at this level for surf and spins. Then to Butcher’s Knife and Normans. We all scouted Coliseum (even Mark) to get the line straight at this new level. During the scout Dane Jackson came roaring up stream on a Jet Ski. But not some normal Jet Ski, this thing sounded like a NASCAR race car. He wound it up and flew up Coli, catching significant air on some of the wave holes. And then he was gone. Some of our crew saw him at Garb working his way upstream. Here’s a quick video:

The run through Coliseum was much less eventful with everyone nailing the right line.

The short Main option is good for a second run. I think it only took us a couple of hours (and that is with play and scouting). Could be done in an hour if you needed a quick fix. Back to camp for saunas and beers before dinner.

Rubin and Tanner rolled into camp with a couple more boats than they started out with. They had stopped in St. Albans so Tanner could buy two squirt boats. We all marveled at these old relics. A few of us harbored dreams to take a run down the river in these low volume crafts. But after we attempted to get in them, we thought otherwise. We ended up with skinned feet/ankles and cramped feet. They got stored behind the RV for the weekend. Can you say buyer’s remorse?!?

After three days of paddling, it is no surprise that there were a few sore muscles in camp. Never fear, Dawn (our traveling massage therapist) is here! For almost an hour there was stretching, rolling on rollers and baseballs (really), Dawn working her deep magic on shoulders and necks and the Massage Gun (The Thumper) made an appearance.

Paul broke out his newly designed and built candle pot and we watched the flickering flames until it was time to retire.


Saturday, August 26

Level -0.5

Weather: cool and cloudy – temps in the upper 60’s

Full Main Participants: Paul, Rubin, Tanner, Kelsey, Jim, Pete, Bridget and Jon

McCoys to Pushbutton Participants: Mark, Dave, Tyler and Lauren

Morning Run – Full Main Channel

No need to scout McCoy’s since Jon, Rubin and Tanner felt they knew the lines from last year. The river was still pretty quiet with no more kayakers and rafts than there were the past few days. Maybe the weather is keeping people away? So, without the normal long lines, we spent some time on Baby Face.

We made our way to Upper Lorne. A few brave souls tried their luck on Garb before we headed down to the milder Push Button. There was much boat swapping going on and it was fun to see all the various paddlers trying to figure out their new rides.

We opted for a no scout at Coliseum. Interesting personal note, I noticed Kelsey and Jon in the eddy on river right mid way down. I thought it would be a good place to be. As I went through the V-wave it crashed on me and by the time I shook the water out of my eyes and ears, any chance of making that eddy was long gone. I continued down the right line to the bottom. As is the case with many runs on the Ottawa, the best laid plans become Plan B in a big hurry!

Second Run - NOT

Well, the best intentions were for naught. After a playful first run, no one had the energy for another go. The plan was a short Main. But the Plan B (see previous comment) turned into saunas and beers. Plus, it was tequila night and we needed to hoard some energy for that!

Apps came out and the tequila flowed. Then Dawn played a song she had written for the weekend – Heart to Heart with the River. (here’s a link: ) That led to the formation of the Ottawa Jam Band – Dawn on Uke, Paul on guitar, Dave on banjo (who knew I???), Rubin on fiddle (who knew II???) and Tyler keeping the beat on the bottom of Chris’ boat. There was some singin’ and drinkin’ until it got too dark to see!

By then, there was a very loud band playing in the pavilion. Some wandered over to check it out. They rocked the house until after midnight. The rest of us felt fully comfortable lying in our tents and listening from afar.


Sunday, August 27

Level -0.5 still!

Weather: sunny (finally) but still cool – temperatures maybe hitting 70

Short Main Participants: Paul, Rubin, Tanner, Jim, Dave, Chris

McCoy Park & Play Participants: Pete, Bridget, Tyler, Lauren

Garb/Push Button Park & Play: Kelsey

The Last Run

One of the nice things about the Ottawa is the plethora of run options. We all had different plans for today before we hit the road. Made for easier shuttle logistics! We utilized Jon’s truck before he hit the road (sadly his back was acting up this morning and he thought better than to test it on a Main run). We were just trying to squeeze in one more fun filled run before the ride home.

We were out of camp by 9:45 and opted for a short run down the Main, putting in at Lorne/Garb. Playing was limited but some did a few surfs at Garb and Pushbutton. This would be a no Scout and no Swim run. That’s the rule for the last day run.

While at Pushbutton, a solo open boat came by and headed downstream. When we continued our journey, we caught up to him while he was scouting Butcher’s Knife. He watched us run both the right and left lines. Then, while we were down at Brain Douche, he attempted his run. We watched as he flipped and swam the right line. He came out of the water on the lower right side of the rapid with his paddle in hand. Whew! But his boat, which we could not see, was stuck on the right cliff. We looked on for a bit and then Tanner decided to get in his boat and paddle upstream to offer a hand. But before Tanner got going, our solo friend got his boat and headed down. We thought he would run the next two big rapids with us for safety but he opted to scout Normans alone. He was not even in scouting position when we made our run. Not sure what happened to him, but it sounded like a questionable choice to run the Main solo.

Speaking of Normans, the river had to take one last shot at Rubin. In this chaotic rapid, Rubin rolled not once, not twice, but three times to get through that lumpy (Abbi’s word) rapid. As I mentioned a few times this weekend – I am not fond of this rapid!

After our run through Coliseum, Dave mentioned he would have liked to have seen that line before following us down. But he did concede that if he looked at it too long it wouldn’t have really helped!

We were back in camp just about 1:00. Rubin’s family had arrived from Kanata and were waiting for us. We packed up, ate some lunch and said our goodbyes. We all vowed to meet up again next year. Same Ottawa Time, same Ottawa Channel (see what I did there?). Everyone was on the road between 1:00 and 2:00. Paul, Chris, Jim and Dawn connected for a creemee in Alburg on the way home (can you say dinner?!?)

I never heard from anyone Sunday evening so I will assume the ride home (including the border crossing) was uneventful and everyone had sweet whitewater dreams that night.


I hope everyone enjoyed the trip as much as I did!


See you next year…



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