Basswood Falls I

Why I'm Such a Souris River Canoe Fan (an essay in words and pictures by Joe)

Every now and then, as a BWCA outfitter for well over 30 years, I get to experience a customer who just can't figure out that there is massive inherent risk in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and dying is a reasonably strong possibility for all who enter. As It type, I can feel the some readers begin to vibrate as their hairs stand up bristling on the back of their necks. Just because they may have never encountered a problem for their measly 5-14 day, big BWCA adventure, doesn't mean that bad (stupid) things can't/won't happen. If one can't figure out that falling off a log, slipping on a rock, cutting your thumb/shin bone with an ax/knife/saw, pouring boiling water on your leg, starting the woods on fire, getting a hook in your eyebrow, and getting hit by lightning are all distinct possibilities that could occur due to lack of experience & bad luck, I can't help that guy. The BWCA is a harsh, rocky, slippery, jaggedy, uneven environment and that's just the first 10 feet of the first portage. It can get rougher and tougher when you factor in the wind, waves, rain, cold temps, hot temps, and other idiots in the woods. (Incidentally, those of you who live in Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and pretty much every other state; you have absolutely nothing over us in the area of rough, rugged, rocky, unyielding terrain. And yes, a Souris River Canoe will do fine in your neck of the woods. I had to say that because I'm constantly hearing about how "tough" and "special" the rocky terrain is everywhere else on the planet regarding "challenges" a Souris River Canoe might face.)

So, after all these years, I still find myself incorrectly concluding that my customers are getting smarter, because I do have many "with-it" customers who sometimes surprise me at how well they really perform. This is despite the fact that most of them pilot a desk or do things totally unrelated to the BWCA and outdoor living for the other 359 days of the year. Some, however, look like they're gonna be fine, but then, their actions bring out my cynical, old-canoe-outfitter side. All I can do anymore is relish in the fact, that unlike other outfitters, we only outfit Souris River Canoes. There's a reason for that and it goes WAY beyond our being SR canoe retailers. While some may have concluded that I am simply biased and prone to making outrageous claims in the many pages of, I believe that this true tale might drive home, why I'm such a Souris River Canoe fan. I won't waste any time on any other canoe. For the safety of my customers and the performance that I know and understand about SR's, all the other canoes are simply pretty toys with a great marketing plan. Too strong? I don't think so...

The Event

One of our rental customers brought back a canoe that he rented for 6 days or so. It was a Souris River Quetico 17 that was in fine shape when it went out, but for a zillion scratches, but we all know that scratches on a Souris River are relatively meaningless. I went out to look at the canoe and to move it into the canoe return area so some crazy fool doesn't drive over it in the yard with his Prius.

When I got outside, I spied the canoe....ooooooh.....not so good. I went up to the guy and his friend and he suggested that I may want to look it over. I didn't have to look really close. I found it to be reasonably obvious. In fact, I'm pretty sure my dog could have identified issues with the canoe, and he's a desk pilot, totally. Sleeps under a desk in a foam cup, day-in, day-out. That's those dang wiener dogs. Lazy little guy. He's more like a bratwurst now and getting that stinky, old-dog smell. BUT, I'm sure Rex would have noted the unsual shape of this Quetico 17. He's been around a lot of canoes.

The Cause

I didn't even get angry. I'm noted for having "Incredible Hulk-like" tendencies when I witness potentially brazen stupidity exercised on our rental gear, but this day was different. I calmly asked him for details. He said that the canoe went down Basswood Falls which is about 8 miles slightly northwest from Red Rock. Knowing that at least 5 people have died in the upper Basswood Falls in the past 8 or so years, I inquired if it was an accident. I mean, surely nobody would choose to end it all by choice. Who would do that? These are ferocious falls and I can think of many better ways to die. In fact, having the word "Falls" in the name is really an indicator as to why you should take the portage with your Le Tigre kevlar Souris River Quetico 17 that weighs a paltry 43 lbs. Other reasons for not intentionally going over the falls would include the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere with everything you own and need to survive - in your canoe. Walking home is not an option - at all, period. One final reason for not taking the falls would be the fact that you are in a rental canoe. Do you really want to buy the canoe and pay for recovery costs as the outfitter may have to hire a dive team to go risk their lives to peel somebody else's canoe off a large boulder? I think these are only a few of the reasonable questions that need to be entertained by anyone who experiences an urge to commit a "moment of shear stupidity".

Nope, rational thought on the part of the customer gave way to - I'm not exactly sure what. The guy had the foresight to have his partner take all of their gear down to the bottom using the nice portage that is there. Then he got in the canoe and SHOT THE FALLS!!!!!!!! Still, to my own surprise, I did not have that shirt-tearing-off-my-back feeling with my skin turning green. (Ever notice how the Hulk's shorts always get bigger and never tear off as he expands? He goes through shirts, but never shorts. Very odd.) I didn't have to utter the warning, "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...", or anything like that at all. I calmly asked him what thoughts guided him in such a decision and he honestly and with humility, shook his head gently, looked at the ground and replied, "...a moment of shear stupidity."

I went, "Ooooohhhh!". Still no green skin. I think it was because unlike a lot of customers who do moronic things to our gear, this young man was neither defensive nor a jerk. He didn't try to tell me that he received the canoe "in this condition". Yes, some of our renters ACTUALLY think they can pull this off - "Hey man, that's how we got it. Those folds and dents where already there. We pointed it out to the lady at the front desk when we first signed for it." Or, in the event that they destroy the rental canoe, "Quick! Just cover it up with a little dust and Joe will never notice." Plus, another factor that made it less shocking is that I've developed a great deal of confidence and skill in canoe repair over the last several years. It looked bad, but I felt very up to the task of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again sans "all the king's men".

I asked him if the side of the canoe met a large rock because the gunwale was pretty wiped out and the rivets were broken out at the rear thwart. He said he didn't know because he wasn't in the canoe. It went on without him and disappeared under water. Meanwhile he was testing out his lifejacket and probably meeting up with a rock or twenty along the way. Astonishingly, he did not have an apparent scratch on him and he wasn't limping. My guy Curt here wondered upon seeing the canoe if the man changed his mind about running the rapids about halfway down. I'm thinking he wanted to get out after about the first ten feet of roaring white water. In any case, we were very fortunate that we didn't have to bring the guy home in a body bag. Had that been the horrible case, ironically, his last ride in a canoe probably would have been in a Souris River since those are the only canoes the Lake County Sherriff's department and Rescue Squad paddle. So bear that in mind as the "woodpecker of shear stupidity" tries to drill it's way into your brain. Your last ride home will most likely be in a Souris River, not some crappy Brand X canoe. It's pretty likely that you, of course, may not see much. This guy was incredibly lucky and it seems that there are more unlucky people than lucky ones out there based on the current body count for Basswood Falls.

Anyway, the guy went on to apologize for the canoe and increasing my workload. I told him I'd have to charge him for repairs and just over $600 would cover it. It was far cheaper than replacing the canoe and he noted that the canoe did not leak despite some major damage to the sides and a ripped out rear airtank. He also said that it handled very well and they paddled it as you see in the first picture for three more days. They were able to finish out their trip despite a crooked-on-top canoe. They tied the rear thwart in place and pulled the gunwales out a bit because I could see from minor stress marks to the ribs that the canoe was severely crushed inward which is not the usual way for the ribs to flex.

Tremendous current with a billion gallons of unyielding water and pressure. Sure, we can do that! It's a rental canoe!

On to the pictures (Click on the images for a bigger picture and hit your "back" button to return)

Ouch(!) was my first impression of the canoe. It's a Souris River Quetico 17 in Le Tigre kevlar. Pretty banged up. Also note: the seats are intact. Most other brand kevlar canoes will experience some degree (or complete) rivet pull-out even without going through rapids upside down and sideways. I've yet to see an SR in which the seats rip out when all hell breaks loose. It's called epoxy resin, for those of you who think SR's are just like all other kevlar canoes. SR's are in the highest class of kevlar canoes and all by themselves at the top. It's lonely up there.
It took the hardest hit in the back air tank. Looks like the end of the canoe was wedged between two rocks and then the rapids took the unwedged end and tried to pry the two rocks apart. I'm thinking the rocks didn't move. The gunwales sure did, however.
It doesn't look so bad here due to lens distortion working in the damage's favor. But you can see the important part - the bottom of the canoe is still in perfect alignment. Any bending/flexing in the parts that are really critical simply pops back into it's resting shape. Let's see any Brand X do that! Oh, that's right - the foam core snaps in two or cracks down the middle in other kevlar canoes.
There was damage like this in several places along the canoe. The outer fiberglass layer was damaged and completely broken, but the two bottom layers of kevlar remain intact and more importantly, un-leaking!
See how the patches turned out. Click Here
Symmetry at last. It's amazing what new gunwales will do to a canoe that naturally wants to spring back into shape.


Here's the final canoe in the sun. Patches,
new gunwales, airtank re-built, and back into the
woods it went for another 20 days of rentals.
Nobody has shot the rapids with it again.
That's good, because "you wouldn't like me
when I'm angry."


And this is why I'm such a Souris RIver Canoes Fan in pictures and words. Not too many canoes will bounce back from a catastrophic goof. I guarantee aluminum would have been toast, royalex would have kinks, crinkles and cracks that would never go away and all of the Brand X (many different companies = all the same crappy construction vinylester resin, foam bottom, blah, blah, blah) kevlar canoes out there would have come home in a bushel basket. Don't believe me still? Basswood Falls never shies away from a canoe-eating challenge. Don't forget your body bag.

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