Saturday, August 9, 2003 to Saturday, August 16, 2003
route: Lac Benoit to Driftwood Prov. Park
length: 8 days
offsite report: http://Karonne
8-day trip outfitted and guided by Cdn. Wilderness Trips. Good guides, good instruction, good food, good deal. Fly-in trip to remote exciting river with lots of whitewater. Levels were quite high. We stopped and scouted nearly everything before attempting to run.
Hap Wilson gives an excellent description of the river in his book. Also Kevin Callan gives an entertaining but less detailed account in his book "Rivers of Ontario & Quebec".
Day 1 (Sat.) 18:30 Van shuttle from York Mills subway station to Cdn. Wilderness Trips base camp on Round Lake outside Algonquin Park. Introductions, trip briefing, tips on safety & packing. Sleep in cabins.
Day 2 (Sun.) 7:00 wake-up. Breakfast, pack, & drive to Rapides des Joachim on the Ottawa River. Shuttle by bush plane (1 canoe & 2 passengers + gear per trip) to Lac Benoit, a 25-minute flight. Get dropped off in middle of lake, paddle to campsite at end of lake. This shuttle took most of the day as we were a large group, but the flight was a major highlight of the trip.
In the evening, paddling practice: the guides assess our skills and designate paddling partners, so that each of the 6 canoes is fairly evenly matched. Apart from the 2 guides, only 4 of us knew how to stern paddle, so our positions were determined by default.
Day 3 (Mon.) The start of our paddling, and the biggest whitewater day of the trip. The first set, a Class 1 that came up just after put-in, was the easiest of the trip. But the second set, a Class 2 technical, was for me the most terrifying. You go down a chute that drops about 5 meters, with a tight 100-degree turn in the middle, avoiding rocks along the way. Immediately at the bottom, you have about a one-second opportunity to eddy right, making the whole thing a tight downward spiral. If you flip, the current carries you quickly over one of two falls visible from the top of the chute. There I was with a fairly novice bowman whom I'd never paddled with before, thinking this could have pretty serious consequences. It took all my courage to get in the boat and go. I was so petrified, I pulled the perfect line, better than any of the other boats, and got to bathe in a warm round of applause rather than a cold waterfall!
After that it was pretty much nonstop rapids for the rest of the day: 18 sets, mostly Class 2, many of them quite long. Portaged around "Canoe Eater", stopping to admire the wreckage at the bottom. Camped at "Little Steel" rapids. The campsite is halfway through this long set of rapids with no eddy, so it's like landing on an aircraft carrier: you have to jump out and hang on like mad as your heavily-loaded canoe slingshots around and tries to drag you down the river!
An exhilarating day, and most of us were feeling a little shell-shocked by then. Fortunately, some members of the entourage had had the foresight to lay in a large supply of spirits to calm our jitters, and soon they had us belting out campfire songs till late into the night. Now we understood why our packs were so heavy: each one had a large winebag added to it while we weren't looking!
Day 4 (Tues.) More fun whitewater, but broken up by some flatwater sections, so it wasn't as nerve-wracking as yesterday. My partner thinks I'm a control freak (Okay, I confess!) because I've been calling the moves too often for his sense of creative freedom. So today I backed off a bit. I still overpower him when he misreads the river and tries to draw us into a nasty hole (later he wonders why his draw is ineffective, ha-ha!), but when after one draw stroke into an eddy he thinks his job is done and lays his paddle on the deck, instead of paddling like mad to get us in like I've been doing, I let us drift out of the eddy and into the rapids backwards. He catches on pretty quickly and I start to feel more confident in him as a partner.
That is until, while carrying the 90-pound canoe around a set of Class 3 in "Big Steel" rapids, my well-meaning but inexperienced partner diverts me off the trail. Finding myself bashing through trees, I ask "Are you sure this is the portage trail?" A few steps later, the ground gives way beneath me and my heavy load, and I fall into a hole up to my knee. I consider myself extremely lucky to have sustained nothing worse than a badly sprained ankle. I must have used up some good karma credits on that one. Later my trip-mates would speculate that I had rigged the accident to avoid the heavy loads on the arduous portages ahead. Ha-ha!
At "Z" rapids, we pulled an amazing move. There's a rock garden on river right, and a big wash-out in the sharp turn on river left. The trick is to stay out of the rocks but avoid letting the current force you into the corner. Well, I was still in my "no drastic measures, don't be a control freak" frame of mind, and we got washed into the corner. In fact, we got so washed into the corner at high speed that we ramped straight up the smooth rock wall a good 2 meters out of the water, bounced off a dead tree deposited at the top, flew through the air another 6 meters, landed upright in the water, did a little wobble and carried on down the river, laughing our heads off! You had to see it to believe it! After Z rapids, we made camp, and it was good.
Day 5 (Wed.) More nice rapids, then a 1500m portage around Grand Chute: gorgeous to look at, but unrunnable. It was a hot day, and the hard work took a lot out of the group. I was sorry I couldn't help out more, as I limped along with my paddle and the lightest of packs. Continue downriver and camp at "Red Pine" rapids, a beautiful big site.
Have I mentioned how good the food is on this trip? The best I've ever had! The guides let us help with the prep and the clean-up, but when it comes to the cooking, they're not risking letting amateurs botch things up. Every meal is a gourmet delight!
Day 6 (Thurs.) Layover day. I nursed my grotesquely swollen and colourful ankle and the others played in the rapids or had a quiet day reading and relaxing. At sunset, another guided group came down and got badly hung up in the long rock garden just below camp, providing hours of entertainment for us. Feeling obligated to finish off all that wine we'd carried so far, we were probably finding everything a tad more hilarious than it should have been. Attempting a rescue would not have been wise, and luckily it was not required. Instead, we shouted out helpful advice from shore. Not sure it was appreciated.
Day 7 (Fri.) Our last day on the river. Having observed every detail of where that other group had got in trouble last night, we managed to negotiate the rock garden cleanly. After that, it was a mainly scenic flatwater paddle to the mouth of the Dumoine. My partner was getting tired, so I did most of the paddling, but I don't mind that; I enjoy the workout and the scenery.
Then came the 3km crossing of the Ottawa R., and of course the winds came whipping up and gave us a harrowing time before we finally made it to our take-out at the Driftwood Park campground. Exhausted, we had no sooner dragged ourselves up on shore than people came running up to breathlessly inform us about the great power blackout that hit most of Ontario and the Eastern half of the U.S. yesterday. Gee, we hadn't even noticed!
We gathered on the beach for group photos and to admire the sunset. Then a subversive plot was revealed! Since my canoe was the only one that hadn't dumped on the whole trip, the other members had schemed to dump us before the final take-out. But the Ottawa River got the best of them and by the time they got their wits about them enough to remember the plot, it was too late! Ha-ha! At this point I must give credit to my partner, lest it seem I've done nothing but criticize. He must have been doing something right to help us get through all those rapids cleanly when even the guides were capsizing. So Tim, ol' buddy, here's to you! We had a swell run!
Meanwhile, having been successful in our mission to finish the wine last night, we now had none left for tonight, so an expedition to the nearest trading post was hastily organized. Our partying later that night led to complaints and a visit from the warden. It seemed incongruous to be receiving a stern talking-to from such a sweet-faced young man, and we had a hard time suppressing the giggles. He had no sooner departed than one of our inebriated revelers stumbled and fell into a pile of pots, creating enough clamour to wake up every living thing for miles around. How embarrassing! In the morning we all crawled out of our tents with puffy swollen eyelids, apparently from the antifreeze in the cheap wine.
Day 8 (Sat.) After breakfast the van arrived and we loaded quietly and slunk away, to avoid being pelted by the other campers. Drove back to base camp, unloaded the gear and bid farewell to our guides, then headed back home to Toronto to face the continuing consequences of the blackout.
Soon after, we were reminded of our excellent adventures when the two expert photographers of the trip, fellow VVCCer Damian and should-be VVCCer Darrin, posted their photos at the following links. Thanks for the memories, guys!