Scouting a line through a sticky hole on the Upper Petawawa

May 12 was the date chosen for this year’s Hell Or High Water (HOHW) event in Petawawa Ontario and a large contingent of KWPer’s made the trip north to paddle, party and participate. The two day festival is a fund raiser and public awareness event in support of the fight to halt approval and construction of a hydroelectric project on the town section of the Petawawa River, which features class III-IV rapids during it’s high water season in |April and May. Growing larger every year, this year’s edition saw downriver kayak races for men and women in long and short boat categories, as well as classes for canoes, open boats, rafts and
for the first time, dragon boat racing. The event is designed to showcase the “Pet” and highlight the value it has in its present state for not only
paddlers, but the greater community at large. Besides paddlers, many local residents attended the event to show their support and check out the assortment of boaters taking on the river, which winds through the town and offers 2 significant sets of rapids along that stretch. Nearly 600 participants took part in HOHW this year, which acts as a fundraiser for not only the effort to save the Pet
but also “Soldier On”, a charity in support of military families at the local Canadian Forces base, as well as a
number of local charities. HOHW also serves as the kick off for the annual King
of the Clubs kayak club competition held each Labour Day weekend on the Ottawa
River. The first place club at HOHW wins valuable points that allow for an early
lead on Labour Day weekend but after a great showing last year, KWP was unable
to repeat in 2012. We did, however, manage to have a great time and the day saw
many club members step up to run the Petawawa for the first time.

While Saturday was all about the town section of the Petawawa, Sunday was about running the Upper Petawawa, an entirely different stretch of the river located about an hour and a half east within Algonquin Park. Considered an Ontario classic, the Upper Pet is about 4 miles of fairly continuous Class III-V whitewater which is home to over 20 sets of rapids. The payoff

It’s a long haul down an abandoned rail bed but well worth it

doesn’t come easy though, as after the long drive into the park, a walk with your boat of just less than an hour awaits along an abandoned railbed. You can choose to drag your boat but you’ll pay the price and leave a trail of shredded plastic behind. Most paddlers opt to haul their boats in on their backs using a variety of straps, harnesses and backpacks while others tough it out and carry on their shoulders. Taking a couple of breaks along the way eases the pain a bit, as well as a stop at the spring about halfway through. Due to the number of newbies on our trip consisting of 14 boaters we scouted extensively, which turned our run into a 4 hour paddle. An awesome day however, with little to no blackflies, very warm water for early May (no gloves required), sunny skies and a medium level that left everything runnable with lots of challenges in choosing lines and avoiding holes. The river is accessible to many different skill levels in that all rapids of any consequence are scoutable and there are
usually a variety of lines to choose from. The river itself and the surrounding backcountry is absolutely stunning….prestine and free from development of any sort. You feel like you’re in true wilderness because you are! Moose, bears and
other assorted critters are not uncommon to see. Only one flatwater section to speak of, and it comes at a time on your run when you welcome it as a time to catch a breath, chill out and chat about what’s in the rear view and what has yet to come. Although the highlight of the day for us had to be Devil’s Cellar, a challenging Class IV rapid featuring a huge hole in the middle of the river
that one of our group unfortunately had the pleasure of visiting, the last set before take out (Poplar Rapids?) produced the only swim of the day, with one of our paddlers getting stuck in a recirc that wouldn’t let him go. It was a bit

Oops! Nothing like a little bushwacking late in the day.

of an adventure getting to this last rapid however, as after a basically perfect day however you looked at it, we took the wrong fork in the river and faced either paddling UPSTREAM through boney, shallow water or taking a chance on an
unknown bushwhacking tour through the woods. After a quick team meeting we decided to opt for the bush, which thankfully wasn’t too long a haul. Most of us ended up getting back home to Central Ontario around midnight but I’d venture to say that everyone would say it was totally worth it and would be game to hit up the Upper Pet again given the chance.