The trip is over and it was a whirlwind at best description. Friday night to Saturday night there was 634 kilometres driven by two vehicles for a paddle of approximately four hours. The route we enjoyed today dates back to the sixteen hundreds and was a major development route for the exploration and commerce of that time. That may explain why some of the rocks seemed to take on faces of concern over the paddlers on this route.
So a straight forward A to B trip comes together with two paddlers of different strengths in two canoes and then you apply the numbers of timing over distance. All of a sudden you’ve got a race on your hands with some contributing aspects. One being an experienced solo and distance paddler and the other being one who is not so fond of the solo element and has not had any measure of success at it! Gentlemen, start your engines!
The main impetus here was to see what the portages could deliver! We should have just stuck with reading the reports….”they are not friendly and caution should be exercised.”
Portage One comes up and I’m looking for the phone number to a cab company! Honestly, if it wasn’t straight up, it was straight down with trees and rocks strategically placed to remove your fore and aft decks, depending on your height. At 6’4″, I was trimming the overheads! This one was marked as being an ankle biter and it showed its teeth on occasion. At almost 300 metres this baby showed her rattle!
As with any waterway, care and concern should be addressed to approaching or leaving a dam or spillway or a rapid for any matter. When the power of hydraulics can change a 40 pound canoe into a ton of force, should you be on the wrong side, you need to have a lot of respect for the river!
I need to interject that my paddling partner today had an extremely focused agenda. I was on the same page but in the fuzzy style print! At the end of the first portage I watched the white Sawyer disappear around a corner. What I didn’t realize was the Sawyer would be gone for some time. OK, let’s rewind a long time to my first attempt at a solo. It didn’t go well! Really! So here I am checking everywhere for my map! Thanks God, I’ve got it. Second portage on my own and all’s good. Third portage looks great and the canoe is in the water but I don’t feel right. Of course not, dumb ass, you’ve still got your day pack on! OK, pack stored and map read but what is that over there? Oh ya, it’s the 2nd rapid coming up because I misjudged reading the map and took the shorter of the two portages. Playing numbers, right? A solid back paddle and a small ferry in the head pond to line things up and off we go. There is nothing that compares to lining a run properly followed by that little dance a canoe performs right to the strokes that power your way through the eddy line.
So overall I believe we were close to 28 kilometres travelled with 7 portages totalling 1505 metres plus two swifts and one that approached a class I all within a four hour span. Absolutely over the top for me!
While the portages showed difficulty in a modern day sense, what caught my attention was the heigh of the gorge walls. The rock walls looked over me today in more than one way. I’ve always been a firm believer that respect is earned and not always due! These canyon walls knew that they had a new player coming by. There was a spiritual contact here and thank goodness for the breeze in the trees and the noise it offered. I felt stronger here, as if I was picking up energy from around me. The numbers of people who have travelled this very route is beyond count and here I was on my own.
Checking my map I verified my position and eyed on oncoming swift. The wind at this point was going to be on my right side and the river was going to curve right on the approach. I shifted forward and dropped to my knees to bring the bow down after choosing my line. When the the river, the canoe and the canoeist align, the feeling of exhilaration is second to none. Quickly the rocks glide behind you and you realize your speed of travel. There is a great feeling of pride when your line travelled is a match for the line you picked. To say I was feeling pretty good about my effort would have been the least to say. I was thinking it was going to be pretty tough to top things from here until I glanced over and saw the white Sawyer on the shore. In fact, I wasn’t doing too bad after all. I was about 45 minutes back so Jay had decided to take a break and a swim.
Back into the swing of things with only one more portage of 160 meters over the remaining 4 kilometres. With the take out all but hidden this portage turned out to be the prime test of the trip. It was easy to see the rivers past water levels as the rocks took on a different look. I’m willing to say that the fish wouldn’t have enjoyed being here when the water levels provided a home for them. The put in was an equal joy with a boulder on one side and a fallen tree sticking into the river. A truly joyous spot it must be when wet.
When rivers connect, our final take out was in sight. Travel upstream was a real test with the flow and both of us front ferried our way across for a bit, then the down river run started to where we could ferry out to the shore.
Canoes on the ground and the road beneath us, we decided we’d walk to the truck and come back to trailer the canoes. The only trick with our plan was that we walked the wrong way. Two guys, two maps, one guy who clearly stated, “I’ve been here before!” . There’s a measure of irony in successfully navigating your way through the backcountry only to become disoriented on the pavement in a park. I’ve often said if you can’t laugh at your self, you shouldn’t laugh at others.
This trip was totally a new experience for me and I quite enjoyed it so this is something I’d definitely look at doing over. The final numbers here are contained in my aching muscles and joints, however, they are far too many to count. Get out there and have fun while being safe and please, don’t be afraid to ask for directions…..even if you’ve been there before!