Thursday, January 11, 2007

Kayaking the Flats

Colquitz Creek runs along the west edge of Panama Flats in Saanich. In the winter when the creek is filled with rainwater, Panama flats changes from a large farm field into a lake. I've always loved the many faces of Panama flats; spring, summer, fall and winter.

Over the weekend the flooding was higher than it has been for a several years. The water was even spilling over part of Interurban Road and Roy Road. Karl and I decided to take advantage of the water levels and paddle the kayaks around to see how heavy the flow was on Colquitz Creek.

We had night paddled the Flats a couple days earlier, but the water was a couple feet lower for that trip. We were surprised that we were able to paddle between the two large poplar trees at the north end of the Flats, because usually the water doesn't get that high.

This trip we enjoyed trying to get into the flow of the creek, and back out through the blackberry bushes. I even paddled across Interurban road and returned a tennis ball to a German Shepard that didn't want to get that wet.

I suggested to Karl that we might be able to go down the creek, just a bit, and then get out in Hyacinth Park, just before Marigold Road. I had my branch clippers in case the blackberries or branches got too thick. Unfortunately I forgot about Hyacinth Ave. that we would have to go under.

I went first down the creek. When I saw the water level flowing under Hyachinth Ave. it didn't look like I was going to be able to bend low enough to make it. Several things went through my head: "Which side would give me more height, the right or the left side?" "Should I give up and try to pull the kayak out of the water and out and up through the blackberries on the right or the left?" "If I went through was I going to scrap my head off?" I decide on going under the road on the left side, but it was too late. The nose of my kayak was already going for the right. The water had me sideways on the centre concrete in an instant, and there was just enough time to say, "Oh damn!" Then the pressure of the water flipped me, and I went through upside-down and backwards. A very kind lady took pictures of me on the other side, and shouted instructions for me to get out through the blackberries on the right side of the creek. (Or should I be saying river?)

As I managed to get out of the worst of the flow, and balance on some underwater tree branches, Karl arrived, having dragged himself and his kayak up through the blackberries before the tunnels under Hyacinth Ave. Karl, relieved that I was still alive, pointed out that my paddle was on the other side of the river. Since that paddle cost me $139.00, I had no wish to lose it to the current, so I pushed the kayak into the flow and followed it in an attempt to reach my paddle. I continue down stream a good 30 metres farther than my paddle, before getting to the other side of the current. I figured that I would pull myself out of the river and then go back for my paddle.

Getting to the shore was more work than I thought it would be. I kept getting tangled in underwater bushes and tree branches. I was almost there when the kind lady, who was very worried about me, pointed out that my paddle had come untangled and was passing me on its way down stream. The kind lady said, "Don't worry. I'll get it at the next bridge.

I didn't think she would be able to catch my paddle, so tiredly I pushed back into the current in pursuit my paddle. I caught up to it, because it snagged on the some more bushes. By this time I can barely feel my legs and arms, and it is getting hard to hold onto my kayak and paddle. My boots are again falling off my feet and I am snagged in some branches and bushes. Each time I try to grab a branch, to pull myself a long, it breaks off in my hands. I was slowly breaking all the branches around me, and then watching them float away with the current. I attempted to pull my boots back on again, but only got them part way. It made it difficult to swim, but I wasn't going to give up on the boots yet.

The whole time Karl had been offering to come in after me, but I told him to stay dry, and that I was just tangled. I gave up on pulling the kayak after me, and instead pushed it before me through the branches. I eventually got the kayak close enough to shore so that Karl could grab the front and pull me part way in. I realized that there was something solid under my hands and that it was the concrete path. I pulled myself onto the path and sat in the foot and a half of water that covered the path. Since at that moment I was too tired to stand, I sat in the cold water and reflected on some rather bad decisions.

We emptied my kayak, carried both Karl's and my kayaks back to the Flats. By this time I was shivering, wet, and frozen. We climbed back in to our kayaks and paddled back to our side of the Flats. The wind picked up, so when we pulled the kayaks out of the water, I told Karl we had to get them home right away or I wasn't going to be able to keep moving.

We got the kayaks back in the basement, and I went straight up to the bathtub, turned on the shower, lukewarm, and stripped. Once the shaking returned to just shivering, I went and sat in the hot tub with Karl until I was afraid I wouldn't have the strength to get out.

The next day I found that I had many more bruises than I had thought, and I ached all over, but it had been an adventure, and I will cherish the memories of it.

The kind lady who took pictures of my adventure offered to get her daughter to email me the pictures, but she either forgot my email address or the pictures didn't turn out.

I had taken some pictures with my waterproof, and after the dunking Karl took a few pictures of what was left of me. Those pictures developed as solid grey; maybe the water was just too cold for the film. All I have is memories.

This picture is from January 8th, 2007, a couple days after my Colquitz River dunking.

Karl tests the current near the outflow from the Flats. I stay well back and take pictures.


  1. No fair, Steph! You always have all the fun paddles! :)
    But seriously, I'm glad you're okay...and dry!

  2. Far out! What an adventure.
    How come you and Louise both know how to end up stuck sideways against a bridge post? Must be easier than it looks... I'm just glad you didn't find any underwater snags.