campfire tales Nanook's Campfire Tales
Adventure at Little Falls

Our local paddling club, Tumblehome, went on the St. Croix for our first overnighter recently. There were ten of us, including most who had never paddled moving water before, and a few wily vets who thought we knew it all. But on this trip, beginner or not, we all learned a lot.

The St. Croix is unique among New Brunswick rivers. It can be run almost every weekend and most weekdays. There's a dam up at the lake that lets out enough water to keep the river high enough when most every other river around is running dry, at least in New Brunswick.

litfallsham (59K)
Yeah, I'm hamming. Behind me, you can see the ledge which makes the American side of Little Falls more dangerous.

Our guide told us the water was higher than usual this day. This actually meant many of the shallower rapids were an easy glide-through. On the other hand, Little Falls downstream would be more than many paddlers could handle ... but not if we choose the river-left side.

Since the St. Croix is guaranteed runnable all summer long, there are many outfitters who rent boats to folks from away. The parking lot at the put-in at Vanceboro is always full of trucks hauling trailers with maybe a dozen boats apiece.

So you're not alone on the stream. On this day, dozens of boats were always one bend in the river behind us. We couldn't always see them, but they were getting ready, just loading up behind us, as we launched at Vanceboro.

St. Croix River
Leslie and Mitch enjoy a smooth run down the Canadian side of Little Falls.

So we pulled over above the Little Falls on the Canadian side, and everybody got a good look at the rapid from top to bottom by walking along the portage trail. Mitch explained that if we went down the ledge on the American site, our boats would bang and spin on the double drop at the top. It would be a long and rocky swim down to the pool for any folks who flipped and swamped up there. We all agreed we'd start down the Canadian shore, and edge along the waves to finish the run in the centre of the pool below.

St. Croix River
At this level, the run-out to the pool was long and wavy.

Sharalyn and I went first, and I confess I played it a little tame by not running the wave train by the shore. But it was still an exhilarating run, Sharalyn's first real rapid. You don't mind me saying that, do you Sharalyn?

garyandchild (54K)
I won't name names, but here's a picture of our two "rock hounds."

Then Sharalyn and I paddled out to the centre of the pool at the bottom of the rapid, to render assistance should any other boaters swamp on the way down. We all took the Canadian side. Mitch took a couple others down, going for the maximum bounce and splash between the waves all the way down. What a hot-dogger.

So Sharalyn and I stayed out in the pool a bit longer, to watch the next party of maybe a dozen boats come down. Who's counting? They seem to all come at once in twos or threes over the ledge on the American side. No one stops to scout the rapid beforehand. They whoop and holler as they go over the ledge.

St. Croix River
The drops are steeper on the american side of Little Falls.

Soon two canoes are flipped, then a third. They even bang into each other and flip. We counted maybe five over all. Debris of all sorts spilled from their canoes.

The worst flip and swim involved a young man and woman who held onto each other all the way down the long rapid, flopping, tumbling and shrieking. Several times they nearly got upright somehow on a rock, then they'd be swept into the current again, ass-over-teakettle. No one had told them they should lie on their backs with their feet pointing downstream, up and together, hands at their sides.

The worst was the bawling and screaming from the girl. Sharalyn and I were afraid she'd broken a leg against a rock, the way she kicked her legs up again and again on the way down.

It turned out it was a good thing he was holding on to her, as we saw as they entered the pool that they were not wearing PFDs. We paddled close to them to offer our help, but they didn't answer us. So when we saw they were okay, we backed off and let their friends take care of them. I guess they ignored us because we were strangers.

EvanYoung1 (258K)
Evan Young solos down Little Falls. Photo by Maurice Pigeon

So to top it off, ten minutes later and two bends further downstream, Sharalyn and I are floating gently through a flat stretch with a few rocks. Sharalyn is ruddering in the stern and me relaxing in the bow. I look to my left, and here are our young man and lady sidling up right beside us. Still no PFDs, either one of them.

I say hi, but they don't say a word. The girl looks me in the eye, with the emotive aspect of a cold fish. Then they cut us off, pushing us sideways to the current, as they carom off our boat and past a rock we can't see for their boat.

So they end up bouncing off us, get off scot-free, and nail us to the rock. There was a frightening moment as our boat pivoted sideways and the gunwale yawed towards the water, but I shifted my weight and we gave her all we had. Thankfully, we got the boat pointed straight again and slid free off the side of the rock.

Just when I think I've met all the types of folks there are on the river, there's always one more. That's an adventure in itself.

Speaking of rocks and first-time paddlers, there was one duo who couldn't seem to hit enough of them with their boat. And not just hit them, but get hung up hard and sideways on them while they're at it.

Most times, they managed to get off the rock, especially in the calmer water. But there was one rock garden that gave them and us quite a scare.

Their boat ended up sideways on a rock, and couldn't get off no matter how hard they pushed and shoved. Sharalyn and I waited downstream in an eddy until it was obvious they weren't going anywhere, so we headed back upstream.

Thankfully, we were able to slip up the eddies and come in just downstream of them. But we couldn't help by pulling on their stern from downstream. We'd only end up in danger ourselves of broaching on the next rock behind us.

So Sharalyn and I slipped to calmer water by the shore, and paddled and manouvered until we were a fair piece upstream of their predicament. Then we paddled hard, got up some steam, and struck with our prow against the stern of their boat which was not hung on the rock. We knocked it forcefully, swiveling the boat straight so the occupants could lay into their blades and push it off the rock.

It was cool. I'm glad it worked, for them and for us.

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