“If the river level is looking good,” texted Greg, “let’s hit the Chitose on Sunday.”
It was Sunday morning, and the river levels were looking good.
So Chitose River is was.
We were a troupe of three boats this time. The same team as the Shiribetsu River a couple of weeks back: Greg and Mari in their Esquif Pocket Canyon, and Mibo and Taku in their Mad River canoe. We were, of course, in the mighty NovaCraft Prospector 16.
Just as well too, as this happened to be the last weekend of 2020 without the Indian Wheel set up at the salmon museum. Once that river-wide fishing installation is installed, it’s an awkward portage. We’ve done that portage with packrafts and it was long and disappointing enough – we had to miss out on the fun drop. We didn’t want to imagine missing out on the drop in our canoes.
The put-in was a hive of activity.
Like every time we’ve been on the Chitose River, however, as soon as we were on the river it felt like we were the only ones for miles around.
And, as usual, we took every opportunity we could to hone some of the ferrying and paddling skills along the way.
Haidee even got in some snorkel-less snorkeling in to get a closer look at the white blossoms and small fishes under the surface . “It’s not all that cold,” she insisted.
The three upper rapid-like sections of the river were running at a nice pace today. First of course was the wide fish ladder to the left of the weir. Then the decidedly tame Jakago-no-ochikomi ‘drop’, worn low over years of natural erosion. And then the narrower drop above the Chitose park footbridge. As is the tradition for any good run of the Chitose River, we made sure to spend some time on drills at the lower of the three rapids, here.
A special treat was meeting Ryo and his wife, in their new double playboat. “This is our first outing in it,” beamed Ryo. “The camo design was an expensive extra, but I love it,” he said. As canoeing veterans, they lapped up the flow.
The highlight of this trip today for Haidee and I was the otherwise stale and boring paddle through the middle of Chitose City proper. We’d previously lived right on the river for two years. We’d look at the river and vowed we’d canoe down the river some day. At that point we’d never really done any canoeing before.
Today, we were taken aback at how much the river had been ‘cleared’ lately. Previously, there were lush green islands dotted through the river. These were gone today. This was noted (and decried) by Naoki Matsuzawa from Canoa. He runs water education programs for children in and around Chitose, and was devastated to see those rich sources of ecological diversity removed.
Then came the big event for today. The man-made drop just before the footbridge near the salmon information center. Haidee and I had never run this before, because we’d never canoed the Chitose River before July before. After early July, the Indian Wheel fishing installation is set across the whole river, requiring either a long but easily taken-out portage, or a short but extremely difficult take-out portage. The latter would allow running the man-made drop, but getting a canoe up the steep concrete embankment would be a task and a half.
In any case, today we were thrilled at the chance to run a drop we’d seen many times from the shore. Today we gave it a good scouting before getting on the river in the morning. River level looked good, so we were confident of an exciting run.
We were out in front of the other two boats as we approached the drop. “Should we let someone else go first?” asked Haidee.
“Let’s just run it,” I replied.
As per our scouting, hugging the left side of the first shrubby outcrop at the entrance worked, and we slid down relatively gracefully. The first clip of the video below is this drop.
Beyond the drop, it was a leisurely 2km paddled down to the takeout. Leisurely, that is, if one enjoys paddling in the rain. The skies opened just 10 minutes before the takeout, thoroughly soaking us all.
As a reward for all our efforts, we all rendezvoused at the Chitose Michi-no-eki roadstop for an early pizza dinner. It’s the same outfit running the pizza eatery at the michi-no-eki near Rusutsu Resort.
A delicious end to a great daytrip with good people on ye old faithful, the Chitose River.