Muddy roads and a dull grey landscape are scant reminders of winters vice in northern Canada. Roads are choked with mud, the woods hide what snow remains, and industry takes a break to wait for the spring thaw to harden wet land. There’s no wind through the tree’s, there’s no bustling woodsman, just a silence spliced by a crackling fire beside the roar of a river. Tended by damp kayakers, the fire maintains gleaming grins and steaming drysuits beside a frothing, frigid river. Falling from it’s frozen source, northern rivers begin their springtime journey by creaking and cracking, winding and wrapping, until speed and gradient overwhelm, eventually providing a dense river raging past its banks and crawling into the forest. Where swollen volumes meet perfect gradient, the wave is born and Stakeout begins. Born of a tribe in the early 2000’s, Stakeout is more than a northern pilgrimage, it’s the lifeblood of freestyle kayakers. When rivers spike to flood stage, gauges aren’t accurate, never mind cell coverage, and the only way to know what a river is doing means actually going to stare down it’s icy gauntlet. When a wave is in and the levels are just right, the safety check begins. Is there too much ice coming downstream? Is that eddy, which is a pulsating mass of logs and ice, a hazard? What if gear fails and you swim, how long can you survive in frigid water? It’s not for the faint of heart and approach it how you will but just remember, bring your wide eyes and drysuit to Stakeout.
Paul Palmer, left, and LP Rivest, right, walk away from an un-runnable rapid that serves as a tourist attraction and camping park during the summer months. Stakeout is a searching process and no rapid goes un observed.
Logging roads provide access to many of the remote sections of rivers which the kayakers hang around. For obvious reasons, the logging industry in closed at this time of the year.
With such high volumes and enormous features, sometimes the best way to safely scout a rapid in from aerial photos observed on iPhones. Here, Pat Camblin flies above an upper rapid of the Mistassini in hopes of finding a wave. This mission was unsuccessful.
The most important part of stakeout is fun, and there isn’t always waves. Rather than waiting, the boys run laps on laps to stay fit and sharp for when the pieces all fall together. More importantly, as Pat Camblin described, “It’s about paddling with friends down the most fun section of river in the world”. Pat’s a kayaking pioneer of the Mistassibi river and his experience has led many new faces through it’s enormous rapids.
Lighter moments are what make stakeout so memorable for the tribe. It’s as if everyone has the attitude of ‘this is much too important to be taken seriously’ and the result is bottles of wine in between surfs, only because beer has too many calories. Benny and Bren are no strangers to the of ‘first on, last off’ mentality, which makes the quieter moments all the more meaningful.
Camping is typically a must for a myriad of reasons, the most obvious being access to the river and steep costs of low grade hotels. No-one seems to ever complain when nights like these are the reward.
Patrick Camblin scoops a blunt off the top of ‘Youcattabekittenme Wave’. This wave was found early in the stakeout of 2015 on a river lap when the levels were not favourable for known features. The waves name is an ongoing process…
Ben Marr holds onto a big bounce on the steep, green face of ‘Youcattabekittenme Wave’. Benny really makes this wave seem like ecstasy, but be don’t be fooled by his experience, it’s big, steep, and fast.
Ben Marr launches off the curling shoulder of Hawaii hole, Mistassibi River, Quebec.
There’s a lot about stakeout that goes unnoticed, a major note is the acceptance and mitigation of risk. Northern rivers, in this case the Mistassibi, during the spring time ice breakup means waters are frigid, the volume to vast to swim, and the eddies are collection points for debris and sheets of ice. Safety is always in the mind of everyone, and here LP Rivest sets safety in the mid-rapid eddy while the others drop into a wave.
Tom Patterson, Arthur Paulas, and Sam Ward rest and brew coffee under the bridge above Detonator wave, Petit-Des-Charges River, Alma, Quebec.
Wifi, coffee, eggs, and hot showers. Though a morning of amenities seems peaceful, this isn’t an ideal element for the tribe. The farther from waves, the less time around rivers, and the more time spent connected only raises the anxiety, subsequently heightening a growing agitation amongst the team. Plain and simple, stakeout is about waves, not luxury.