At last we were making the opportunity to paddle the Tonashibetsu River – a somewhat folklorish river within the Hokkaido paddling community. Somewhat akin to the Shisorapuchi River about 20km to the east, but more remote and more wild. One thing was for sure – unlike the Shisorapuchi River, there weren’t any commercial rafting tours being run on this river.
After all the shuttling, the crew (Haidee, Chris, Timbah, Ben and I) were getting suited up for the paddle at around 9am in the morning. The weather was overcast, but it was shaping up to be a beautiful forest-bound paddle.
Chris cursed as he contorted his legs into his tiny whitewater kayak.
Timbah and Ben were in the double packraft.
Haidee and I were in our tandem open-deck canoe.
Right after putting in, we were busy at work dodging rocks. At this point, obstacles were nicely spaced, so it was a busy but fun fast paddle.
Here and there we had opportunities to stop and smell the roses a bit. The river felt nicely remote and removed from the civilized world.
Soon the real work began as the river picked up the pace. The first heart-thumper was a hard right-hand bend. The river was flowing hard into a solid rock bluff.
This was followed soon after by a hard right-hand bend, with a relatively tight gap. We glanced the rock, leaning hard towards it to avoid getting stuck.
Mercifully, the river relaxed for a bit, allowing us to catch our breath and check in with everyone.
“This is great!” beamed Timbah.
“Great to get back into the kayak,” said Chris.
The Tonashibetsu wasn’t done though. Soon after the reprise, we were treated to another tight right-hand bend, with the river again pushing hard into the outside of the bend. This time, we had more room on the river right to take an easy line.
Then came the crux of the route – a right-hand bend with a tricky duo of boulders. We knew it was coming, so we pulled over well upstream of the problem to scout it.
Chris had run it blind in his kayak, and was waiting below it for us to arrive on foot through the low sasa bamboo-grass undergrowth.
“I ended up taking the hard left,” he said. “But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.”
Indeed, the hard left looked like it might have a log lodged in it.
The center line looked tricky because of the approach. The very center of the river was pushing hard into the second boulder – even if we did miss the first, we’d be perfectly in line to hit the second.
The hard right of the river might be a good chicken line in higher water, but today it looked very shallow.
After much deliberation, Haidee and I decided that we couldn’t get a decent look at the line from this side of the river, so we settled on eddying out on the river left just above the boulders, and see if we could figure something out from there. Of course, once we were there, we would be committed to something.
Indeed, once we’d made the eddy out above the boulders, we realized just how difficult it would be to ferry out into the center of the flow, spin around, and get into position. Our Prospector canoe isn’t the most agile boat in the world, so it was going to be tricky.
It looks easy in the photo below, but there were a number of just submerged rocks that were threatening to make the process less straight forward.
We deliberated for what felt like an eternity, and then just committed to the center line.
It didn’t go great, but at least we didn’t pin the canoe. We rode up on the center rock, and promptly capsized on the drop.
Annoyingly, I didn’t get the action on the GoPro.
Timbah and Ben, in the packraft however, effectively repeated our capsize, so here’s the aftermath of that.
It was all fun and games though, and we were all still smiles.
We weren’t sure how long it would take us to complete the Toshibetsu, so we’d left Timbah’s car at the earlier take out. Things were going well, however, and now we had the option of getting a shuttle with Tim and Madoka, so we deiced to push on to the take out on the Sorachi River.
There were a few more rapids before the confluence. After the confluence, we were now entering the backwater of one of the many Sorachi River weirs.
Thanks to Tim and Madoka for the shuttle!