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Paddle Tales: Sea Kayaking in Abitibi-Témiscamingue


My name's Ken Whiting. I'm a world-champion white-water-paddler, and I've lead trips and taught kayaking around the world. As an athlete and explorer, my lifelong passion's been to challenge myself, meet interesting new people, discover beautiful places, and share these experiences with others. This is the story of these adventures. This is Paddle Tales.

Hey everyone, I'm Ken Whiting, and this is the second episode of Paddle Tales, a series that takes you to amazing places in the world, while going on incredible paddling adventures along the way. In this episode, we're going to go to one of the hidden gems of Quebec, in the southwestern edge of the province. With more than 20,000 lakes and rivers and endless pristine wilderness, the region is an outdoor-lover's paradise. And it just so happens that it's only a four hour drive from my home in Ontario.

In this episode of Paddle Tales, we're exploring Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The Abitibi-Témiscamingue region is located on the southwestern edge of Quebec, and it stands out because of its magnificent landscapes, lush forest, and a population that is bubbling with hospitality and creativity that's a result of the mix of French, English, and Native cultures that reside here.

We arrive in the small town of Laniel to find a festival in full swing. Now, as much as I want to believe they're celebrating our arrival, the event is marking something of actual importance: the opening of Opémican National Park, which is Quebec's newest park, and from everything I've heard, it's an honor well-deserved. The passion displayed by the people who live here for the near boundless outdoors that is found literally at their doorstep is contagious. I find myself swept up with the desire to explore the area and learn firsthand what makes this place so special. And so I meet up with Ambroise Lycke, from Sépaq, who has offered to show me the Inuksuk Trail, one of the many recently completed hiking trails that are found in the park.

So what are the activities that you guys are gonna be focusing on in the park?

[Ambroise] So trails like what we have here, walking around, nice cliff, nice point of view around the lake, and things like that. Canoe camping.

[Ken] And what I noticed looking at the map is I mean you've got everything from stuff on Lake Témiscamingue, you've got Kipawa River, you've got islands in Lake Kipawa, you've got such varied types of terrain and types of experiences.

[Ambroise] And just for the forest, for example, we are in between the boreal forest and the forêt à feuilles,

[Together] Deciduous.

[Ambroise] There we go. Have you ever smelled a white pine like this? It's not bad, huh?

[Ken] It's a huge tree. It keeps going up and up and up.

[Ambroise] We're starting to see the trees coming back.

[Ken] Pretty cool. As I learned more about the plan for Opémican National Park, we reached the end of the trail and are greeted by an Inuksuk, a symbol that's used by the Inuit to identify sacred places. As the foliage opens up to reveal a breathtaking panoramic view of Lake Témiscamingue, its placement seems perfectly fitting. Looking down at the sparkling waters and the surrounding wilderness only feeds my desire to explore more of the Opémican National Park.

Having seen the land from above, I'm ready to see it from water level and so I quickly assemble my Trak Pak on the banks of Lake Kipawa. How cool is that that you can have a 16 foot kayak in the back of a pickup and within 15 minutes it's good to go? I meet up with France Lemire, who has spent the last two years surveying the territory. Her unique knowledge of the area will help us navigate the innumerable islands on the lake. So you've explored a lot of this park?

[France] Yeah.

[Ken] So what's your favorite part?

[France] Here it's, I really love that place because I really love to tour around the little islands. We come here often, every year, install our campsite and we have so many great evening campfire, under the stars. No lights pollution at all, so it's magic. Okay, this is my favorite spot. I put my camp there.

[Ken] Oh yeah? Well this is kinda one of those places where you're like, oh that's an awesome campspot, oh that's an even better one, oh I'd love to camp there Pretty much you could throw a rock in any direction and it's an epic camp spot.

[France] Did you see this little island with one tree?

[Ken] Yeah.

[France] With the pine tree. This is so neat.

[Ken]I love it already.

[France] Oh yeah? Beautiful, we're so lucky.

[Ken] Oh, that's cool.

[France] You see all those pines? Like trying to live in those cliffs?

[Ken] Yeah.

[France] They find a way.

[Ken] Holding on for dear life.

[France] Yeah, holding on, wow.

[Ken] There are lots of reasons why I love paddling so much. You can get into places that are otherwise inaccessible. You can discover unique perspectives of the land. And the direct connection you have with the water through your boat and your paddle is a very intimate connection. Whatever aspect of an environment captures your imagination, whatever little piece of your surroundings you want to experience in greater detail, it's all just a few paddle strokes away. So in my mind, there really isn't a better way to explore our natural world than with the agility of a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. And I'm certainly not alone in that feeling.

Within a few kilometers of where we paddled, hundreds of like-minded paddlers have decended on the Kipawa River for the annual Kipawa River Festival. Today, the gathering is focusing on Hollywood Rapid, a spectacular and pushy class four section of river, that's more than enough to challenge even the best paddlers. Although making down the rapid in one piece is enough for most, the Hollywood Challenge sees racers duel head-to-head down the rapid. The winners move on to the next round, until one person is crowned the champion, a title that some will go to any lengths to achieve. While the race itself is definitely for the most experienced paddlers, the festival is for any white water enthusiast who wants to enjoy the beauty of this unique river. Although the competitor in me wishes I was out there racing, the realist in me is more interested in exploring than getting my butt kicked by some younger and stronger paddlers. And so I hookup with Cedric De Marneffe, the organizer of the Kipawa River Festival. We make plans to paddle the main section of river, whose rugged beauty he has fought to protect. Exactly, we'll meet you here. So the Friends of the Kipawa River, I've heard about it for it seems like forever, it's been around a long time.

[Cedric] Yeah, yeah, it's for 32 years it exists. The focus of the Kipawa Friends firstly was we needed to protect the river from hydroprotension, but the main point now, because the hydro project left, is really to organize the festival. We want to announce our sort of visibility of this river to make it more protected for potential future development so the visibility look is very important.

[Ken] Well speaking of rapids, sounds like we got one. First one coming right up. What do we have here?

[Cedric] So the first rapids is Buttonhook, the class four rapids with big waves. So we start center and we paddle to the right to reach a eddy so that we don't put into the hole.

[Ken] Perfect. I'll follow you.

[Cedric] Alright.

[Ken] For almost 20 years I've wanted to run the Kipawa River, and so dropping into the first rapid is exciting for a variety of reasons. The water is big, powerful, and pushy, the kind of whitewater that really forces you to work with the incredible power of Mother Nature because working against it will get you nowhere. I honestly think that this is one of the best lessons that the river has taught me over the years because the go-with-the-flow idea is something that can be applied for the betterment of everyday life. How cool is that? That's a big wave train. There's almost nothing cooler than coming off on a big wave like that. You drop into the trough and all you see is a big black face in front of you and then you burst off the top and the rapid appears before you again. It's the coolest feeling. You don't get to do that every day.

[Cedric] Really good stuff.

[Ken] Yeah. Over 30 years of whitewater paddling my motivations have changed, but one of the reasons I've always loved hitting the river is because it's such a good way to spend quality time with friends and family and to meet interesting people who share similar values. And so even the whitewater of the Kipawa River lived up to the high expectations that I had for it, what I'll remember most is how it brought together such a passionate group of people and how lucky I feel for being a part of it.

As we approach the end of our river journey, we encounter an epic finale to our Abitibi-Témiscamingue adventure: the Grand Chute of the Kipawa. It's difficult to explain the ferocious beauty of this place and no words can really describe the feeling of standing at the edge of such raw power. The savage violence of which the water thunders through the chute is a sight and sound to behold. But it also leaves me longing for more. Even though I've had an amazing time here, I've learning that Abitibi-Témiscamingue is a huge playground for outdoor activities and a few days simply isn't enough to do it justice.

I've barely scratched the surface here. There's so much more to explore. Well that brings this episode of Paddle Tales to an end. Thanks for watching and I hope you enjoyed it. Please give this video a big thumbs up and if you haven't already, subscribe to PaddleTV so you get notified when the next episode releases. Otherwise, stay tuned for a sneak peek at the next Paddle Tales adventure. Next time on Paddle Tales we visit Lac Saint-Laurent, a region of Quebec that features the beautiful Saint Lawrence River coastline along with stunning interior freshwater rivers and lakes. Despite some heavy winds, we'll explore the rugged shoreline of Bic National Park by sea kayak and discover Lake Témiscouata National Park by canoe. Lac Saint-Laurent is truly an outdoor-lover's playground with world-class adventure travel opportunities. You won't want to miss it.

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