WCA on the Upper Humber River, Sunday 2 April 2017

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Happy 150th Birthday Canada! Yesterday you threw all that the restrained Canadian Heritage Humber River has left of it's forces at us.

On Sunday the 2nd of April we were lucky enough to have ideal conditions for our descent from Bolton to Kleinburg, Ontario. It rained heavily through Friday, yielding peak water levels, and then it was sunny with a high of about 13C.

There was an excellent turnout, including 9 canoes, 1 kayak, 17 paddlers, and a bored golden retriever.

There are two gauges for the river but neither has proven to be very useful. This TRCA link for the McFall Dam gauge (C) shows only a stage measurement. Because there are 3 fixed weirs at this location, it never reads anything other than altitude at the water line. See if it reads 213 meters. If this level ever increases substantially, it is time to break out the sandbags as there is some serious flooding already going on in the GTA.

This one for station 02HC025, managed by Environment Canada, includes a discharge number. Unfortunately it stopped working just before our outing.

So I will describe: at the diversion project in Bolton, just downstream of the McFall dam, there was a substantial flow over the bypass weirs, enough to float boats such that it would have been dangerous to lift over them in fast water. One solo canoe ran the second weir and everyone else portaged the entire length. This included the spectacle of us carrying canoes across Humber Lea Road, something that lifelong residents have likely never seen before.

We blamed it on the ice storm at Christmas 2013. There were many more downed trees and log jams in the river than recalled from previous years, and eventually this contributed to the passage taking 2 hours longer than planned for. Eight hours instead of six for the 28 kilometers downstream to Humber Bridge Trail at Kleinburg. There were 2 or maybe 3 places that required actually getting out and lifting the boats onto, or over a low log. In one spot some of us did actually drag the boat over the shoreline a short distance. Otherwise there were at least a dozen occasions of canoe limbo under low fliers as well as numerous S-turns required to navigate around successive sweepers in cross currents. She who forces me to paddle my non-dominant side, and I, substantially improved on our back-ferry.

Four paddlers took the plunge eventually, with one classic sweeper storyline. With the solo canoe turned sideways while the paddler attempted to get up on top of the log, he stepped onto something not entirely stable. The upstream gunnel tilted and filled the canoe with water, it was then swept under the log upside-down and had to be pulled out the other side. It took nearly two hours to escape the Bolton proper. Later on there were much longer uninterrupted stretches with successive swifts where we made up time substantially. Especially towards the end of the day there were chains of 10-15 consecutive swifts with short breaks in between, and nothing more substantial than fast moving water with obvious routes around shallow eddies.

Deep inside the conservation lands we encountered full-blown highway construction signage warning of the approaching pipeline, which turned out to be a flexible hose of some sort. There were several instances of this; a hose emerging out of the river and ending at a cooler box presumably holding the instrumentation. This was accompanied by impressive lengths of survey stakes and flagging tape marking out what, we have no idea.

It was clear that everyone was worn down by the end of the day, having gained valuable experience that will make the Upper Credit look like a breeze next weekend.