Saturday, April 24, 2004 to Sunday, April 25, 2004
length: 22.0km, 2 days
organizer: Peter Farr
participants: Chris Johnston, Damian Rogers, Michel Néray, Peter Farr, Stephen Farr, Tara Néray, Tetley the canoe hound, Dave (?)
This was a trip I had been looking forward to all winter. Last year we went early May and the water level was a bit low, although most of the rapids were rocky but still runnable. This year we decided to a couple of weeks earlier in the hope that the water level would be higher. The forecast was for a cool and sunny day on Saturday with a wet but warmer Sunday. It had rained on and off all week and as we drove up we were cheered to see the local creeks and the Otonobee River were very high. Meeting at the put-in where Highway 36 crosses the Mississauga River just outside the town of Buckhorn, though, we wondered whether the river looked even as high as last time.
We left one car at the bottom and headed to the Mississauga Lake Dam put in, carrying down to the river just below the dam and setting off about 11:00. The day had turned warm and sunny. The paddling crews were: Damian and Stephen; Chris and his friend Dave; Michel and Tara with Tetley the Canoe Hound; and me in my solo boat. It quickly became apparent that the water level was indeed low, and we encountered some locals later in the day who confirmed that two logs
had been put into the dam just the day before!
At first the river is little more than an elongated lake with little current, but after a couple of kilometres you come on the first set of rapids, followed quickly by three more. The first set is a shallow split cascade and there are lots of options for getting down. I think our group exercised each possibility: Michel and Tara
elected to portage; Chris and Mike “ran” it with lots of scraping; I ran the top, lined the middle and ran the bottom; and Stephen and Damian ran the top then portaged the rest.
Immediately after the cascade come a small chute under the road bridge. You can continue to portage across the road and put in after the chute or put in above the bridge and run it. We carried most of the gear but all ran down the chute. It was pretty trivial except that the best line is left and the current has a tendency to push you right at the top. This chute was more fun in the higher water last year, but can probably be run at almost any water level with appropriate skill and equipment. Beware though – there is a rock in the middle of it near the bottom.
Once past the chute you paddle a few meters across a pool and carry around the next cascade. This one might be runnable at very high levels by experts, but at the levels I have seen so far it is a mandatory portage.
After puutting in below this cascade you run a small rocky ledge. At high water this could be quite interesting, I think. At medim to low water you have to find the channel which starts just left of centre and runs to the right of centre. Anything else is just too shallow. This ledge is followed by another pool then another mandatory portage past a cascade/falls. I doubt it is runable by mere mortals at any level.
Have you been counting? That is three or four portages (depending on how you do it) in about 750 meters, depending on water and skill/comfort level. Each portage is small, but the constant in and out of the boats is wearing. This river is about 20km in all and has about 20 portages, depending on how you count them. Even at the lower levels we experienced on this trip, though, they do get better as you get further down the river. By the end you can run most of them even at medium water levels. This is definitely a river for either ABS canoes (run/line/scrape as many rapids as possible) or lightweight Kevlar (carry over everything - don't even think about running).
I am not going to go into detail, since I completely lost track half way through the first day. Most of the rapids are either cascade/ledges or chute/rock gardens, and most that are runable in appropriate conditions. I shouldn't have to say this (but you never know who may read it) - everything must be scouted first. Some of the chutes or canyons lead to unrunable falls. Most of the chutes are folllwed buy the same sequence - rock dodging in fairly deep water followed by a last section of gravel bed with sharp rocks imbedded.
Is it work? Sure, but there is lots of fun as well. It is also an extremely pretty river.
If you choose to do it in two days, there is a beautiful campsite about half way down in the middle of a triple cascade/falls set. You could also do the river in a single day by going lightly loaded.
The weather on Saturday was perfect, but Sunday there was some snow (the kind that looks like small Styrofoam balls) during breakfast, followed by drizzle on and off. Around noon the temperature dropped and some of the party was starting to show signs of mild hypothermia. We stopped to boil the kettle at the old dam just after noon. The last couple of kilometres is through a marshy stretch and the headwind picked up. That coupled with the rain made for a miserable finish to what was an otherwise
Will I do it agin? You bet. Hopefully at higher levels next time, but I will be back regardless.