One Inity

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Puntledge River Festival 2010

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Boz on Stotan Falls

Flowing through the twin townships of Courtney and Comox on Vancouver island is a river atypical of my BC experience hitherto. Perhaps coincidentally this was also my first boating mission on Vancouver Island. Kayakers descended upon the Puntledge river for the annual festival of slides, falls and waves for which hydro BC releases increasing recreational flows from Friday until Sunday.

Upper hatchery to Stotan falls is the prime whitewater, with husky slides and a few fun waterfalls laced with man eating holes. The ledgey style of the Puntledge riverbed continues past Stotan with a slightly reduced gradient forming magnificent play waves in almost every rapid. Paddling down from the upper into the playrun I’d suggest parking a spare car with your kayak quiver – from here out you’re going to wish you had a playboat.  Among dozens of quality on-the-fly treats, the friendly green glass of Tarp and Play wave is the cream of the crop and only improves as the eddy becomes increasingly uncooperative with the rising river.


Between 65 and 85 cumecs most lines on the upper go sight unseen, besides perhaps either nymph or Stotan falls. The slides are a bit scrapy at lower flows but there are fewer death holes to dodge. On Sundays increasing flow the ramps gather speed and you can move around a bit more, but the lines are tighter and the holes meaner. There are definitely some places on the upper Puntledge where you do not ever want to go at these flows.


The incessant Saturday night giveaway session was testament to the support of the paddling community, with the goods flying free until a sobering presentation from Jakub Nemec captivated the audience. Jakub spoke with passion about the theft of BC’s rivers by the corrupt and short sighted government that is speedily killing rivers and creeks to sell the power to the states (and that’s not mentioning the subsequent capability to capture the water and not return it to the streams…)

Sunday starts at 85 cms and peaks at 110 in the afternoon and these ramping flows give you a great chance to get a feel for the run, learning the rapids and the lines at lower water so that you can return with extra confidence for a peaking run;  Having said that a couple of the lads escaped lightly after run-ins with mid-slide potholes. A fish ladder just upstream of Nymph falls handed out two especially viscous beatings to the Sams.


Stotan falls is a stunning few hundred feet of whitewater. It begins with a blind horizon under the bridge with the first smooth fifteen footer, a second similar fall in the fifteen foot range and then a double-stepped ledge slide to finish. Above is the classic shot from the bridge.


After the adrenalin-fueled Sunday arvo run we loaded the wheels once again and returned to the put in for one last run down the goods. The water had started to drop after the dam ceased releasing but there was easily enough water still, probably slightly more than saturday morning’s 65 cumecs. This is when our fun with fish ladders really took off. Ricketts and I went for a line down the right of a sliding rapid just above Nymph Falls but were both inadvertently pushed towards the fish ladder in the centre. I was lucky to scrape through but another metre left Ricky Dropped right into the corner of the heinous hole at the bottom of the ladder. Fighting valiantly, he was looped onto the rock shelf before eventually dragging himself out, having spent many seconds ragdolling. This is the same hole that beat Tregenza a wee bit on the Saturday (that backlooping re-entry caught on film – see the vid). Back at Stotan we were running out of h2o for the main attraction so after one last run we called it a day. Once changed we went back to the bridge for one last peek at the goodness only to discover a solid line had emerged down the first fish ladder. Now we are not entirely certain whether these channels are natural or man made but they’re a little bit out of place in the ledgey drops of the Puntledge. Since the dam was built the fisheries authority has had to do some fairly major fiddling with the riverbed to keep the salmon happy – gravel beds that no longer form naturally must be replaced, fish ladders built and stocks ‘enhanced’ by breeding programs.


Wet gear was retrieved and donned before rock paper scissors decided the order for the first run. The dropping river channeled up into the ladder and raced down the ramp with diagonals coming at you from all angles until the final reactionary pushed left and off into the hole below. The main part of the ramp was all good but you really wanted to get that last stroke to control your angle through the waiting hole. The three that fired is up all had solid lines and continued off downstream to discover another even larger ladder at the next drop.

This one had at least a hundred feet of cascading foamy diagonals and ledges before piling into a meaty hole. With Adrian armed with his throwbag I dropped in and got a solid final stroke in to pull me up and over the towback. A sick rapid to finish off a stellar weekend on the Puntledge.


If you look in the backroad mapbook nearby you will find massive areas of Vancouver island have been laced with forestry roads. There is barely a natural forest left. Paradoxically, we are lucky to have such great access to the rivers and creeks. In the same book there is a falls marked on Trent creek. Well we asked the locals and were told that it was a fifteen foot slide into a thirty footer and had been run recently. That was all we needed to make it a priority once the Puntledge flows ceased. Despite a night of rain the Trent was low and after scraping down a few hundred meters from the put in we found the drop. A slide alright, too low today, and an ugly looking lip on the falls which from our estimates looked barely over twenty, about 80% of which reconnected on the shelf below. With more water it goes but I’m not sure the mission would be worth it…


Little Qualicum’s been on a few of our hit lists for a while so we stopped in there on the return leg toward the departure bay ferry. A new tree has clogged the pool between the funky twenty and the clean twenty five making a tough IV+ line all the more consequential. After scouting for a long time we eventually decided that the timber cramped our style a little too much, and despite having the gear to descend to the log for safety, we would have to come back with a little less water. Or a lot less water and a chainsaw.

Cheers from BC,



Written by Sean Bozkewycz

June 4, 2010 at 15:19

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