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advanced paddlers more than 7 days
Agawa Canyon, Sept. 15 - 22
Saturday, September 15, 2007 to Saturday, September 22, 2007
length: 30.0km, 8 days
difficulty: advanced

organizer: Jeff McColl
participants: ,


Agawa River Sept. 15 – 21, 2007 Solo Trip (of epic proportions) 

This off again/on again trip isn’t very long, but the scenery, hiking and wildlife makes for an enjoyable leisurely float.  The rain the week before put some water in the local rivers and by going by the Federal flow gages on the Batchawana and Pukaskwa river and comparing it to the dam release we get for the Elora Gorge race and the Shand dam flow, (May 12 & 13, 2007); I figured it was good to go.

 I was hoping for enough water to float down but not have to walk, but not too much so if the fish were running below the Agawa falls they would be more exposed and attract more eagles for watching and as it turned out it was perfect for that.That said if your river reading skills are a little weak you would probably like a foot more water in the river.  To say it was a little bouncy is an understatement. I have run the river from where the ACR tracks and river separate to the north, I just prefer to start at Mile 116.5 because there is not too many campsites like that one in the world.I got up to the Sault on the 15th. by 3:00 pm and bought my train ticket and paid for the boat. I loaded the boat on the train Sunday morning at 8:00 am. picked up a breakfast to go and drove up to Lake Superior P.P. to register, stash a mountain bike at the takeout for the shuttle and drive up to Frater Station to wait for the train which is supposed to get there  by 12:55 pm it was over 35 mins. late.The wait at Frater and the train ride into the canyon are just as much part of trip as the paddle down the river, the people you meet on the way makes for a great experience.When you get off at Mile 116.5 (give or take a few yards) you are at the bottom of the Goudge Gateway.  There use to be a plaque at the north end on a monument, it has been missing for a few years.  This rapid in high water is a Grade V at this years level it was just bouldery and pretty.  The fishing is great (brook trout) and the hiking is on the extreme side (bring ropes) but incredible. And the picture taking opportunities never stop.

I only spent the one night there and being solo I wanted to spend more time trying to watch the eagles downstream.

 When you sit it the pool  at the bottom of the Goudge you feel pretty small. (But inspired)  The river at this level you spend most of the time playing find a channel and during the entire trip I only had to get out twice to drag the boat to more water, the longest being about 20 metres, so I will avoid describing every rapid the same way. The grade of ww varies from level to level so if anyone needs detailed info I would be glad to give it to you.

The second rapid down from the Goudge pool should be scouted, it is narrow fast, and has more vertical drop than the chute at Elora gorge, plus the rocks are very sharp and big,  there is some train rails on river right, a swim in this rapid entrapment  is very possible!!!

 On the way down at Canyon Station (Tourist Train spot) I met the Park manager and we talked for about half an hour on the river conditions, best time to run the river and how they took out the old telegraph and hydro wires along this stretch of river. (By Helicopter)After the rapid were the river turns towards Superior changes its mood.  Up to the old logging dam the rocks are small bigger longer pools less vertical drop.   The original plan was to spend the next night were the Little Agawa River meets the main Agawa.  There is a water fall on the north canyon wall that you can walk behind, then climb up and watch the trains come down into the canyon.  (There are also several pretty falls on the Little Agawa right by the camp site). Since there wasn’t enough water to actually make a falls I paddled down to the campsite at the old logging dam right above a small gorge and water fall. The 200 – 300 m rapid is another boulder garden with a lot of drop in the first 50m, with a sharp turn to the left as you enter the 100 m long pool above the 10 ft falls.In high water it is not much of a pool. But it is a very pretty spot to camp.  This spot is also at the bottom of the hill I call the pyramid.  From the flat water below were the Little Agawa enters this hill looks like an upside-down ice cream cone, but the first time I saw it in 85 during a beautiful sunset, the shadow of it looked like a pyramid (made for a great Slide shot) And if you believe late night radio talk shows they are mystical places were strange things happen….. Well that’s the 4th. time I’ve camped there and have had no “visions”  After setting up camp and having a late lunch I decided to hike up the pyramid for the first time.  The bush isn’t that thick but the hill is still quite steep, and if anyone can identify that brown fungi that looks like a sponge I’d like to hear back. When coming down I came down the west face hoping for a clearing to get a view of the canyon towards Agawa Falls, the bush is much denser and steep, not paying attention could lead to a big step in the wrong direction.  After finding a place with a view I moved back towards the north side of the hill and found a path that they probably used to skid the logs down the hill, there was no fault in the rock and there were some trees growing on it, it was about the width you would need to use a horse to drag the logs to the river.The next morning my goal was to try and hike up to the top of the cliff to the north of the camp site, and being by myself I knew I would have to be more conservative than I would be if I had some support (younger people to carry my lunch) Oh I had all those over 50 type tests in the spring to make sure my ticker was in good shape.  From pictures I have taken before and google earth I made my plans.  I crossed the pool, walked upstream about 50m and entered a creek mouth, as it turned out it is a flood channel off the river and another creek broke off to the left another 50m in.  Following the creek is pretty easy going (for bush travel) until you get to an incredible 50 ft falls, then you have to go up and following the creek is no longer an option, due to dead fall, boulders (big) and very heavy bush add to that carrying 25 lbs of camera stuff on my back (no pics who’s going to believe you????? A lens for everything, plus a few safety items.)After 2 hours I made it to the west side of the cliff face the dense bush and the steepness of the hill continued, at this point I was dripping in sweat, my heart was going pretty good and my legs were becoming jelly, at this point I decided that was enough so I decided I would move along the cliff bottom and find a room with a view for lunch and pics, and just as with every picnic there is always uninvited guests (black flies that were hungry) I sat up there for about 45 mins and watched the world go by (well worth the sweat and the climb)

I was in bed that night just after 9 and didn’t wake up to almost 10 the next morning. (we old guys need our beauty rest)  It was a beautiful day, about 15c gentle wind and just enough clouds to make the lighting soft for pic taking.  No matter which portage you take either the readers digest version or the full length one around this rapid a good rope is worth the extra weight and safety.

The paddle from here to Agawa falls is pretty short I drifted it in 20 mins, taking my time and looking for wild life, in higher water 5 to 10min. tops.  The portage trail is 100m above the falls on river right and was obscured by a fallen tree, the portage trial sign was faded to white and only hanging on by one corner.  I tied it back in place with flagging tape and threw a few more pieces on some branches to make it easier to see.  As you approach the falls the river makes a left turn and the shape of the bowl created by the falls makes it hard to hear from above.  The weather was still nice so a spent some time taking pics, before portaging.  You want to do this portage in 2 steps if you have to do more than one trip, take your gear to the top of a very steep hill and use your rope.  I put the equipment in the boat and use the rope to slide it down.  On this trail is the only place I saw fresh bear scat this year.  The plan was to continue downstream for a ways, find a place were the fish were grouping to get up a shallow rapid, hide in the bush and wait for the eagles to show, but Mother Nature had other plans.  On my last trip from the bottom of the hill the winds hit, gale force, with branches and trees starting to come down, I figured I better get out of the wind and stay put.  Across the river from the end of the portage trail is a camp spot were the Towab hiking trail comes up to Agawa falls and it was out of the wind.  There wasn’t much rain with the dark clouds and wind; it was more like late evening than mid afternoon.

I met 2 hikers from Germany there and it just happens they had just come from visiting relatives in Milton.  The wind storm did not fade until well after I had gone to bed.

The next morning brought with it great weather again and an eagle delivering fresh pink salmon to within 10 feet of my tent,  the scream it let out was like a solo tripper kicking over his fresh egg breakfast on the first morning out, sort of another line of the tree in the forest thing….. If a tripper kicks over his breakfast and no-one is around to hear him when he swears, is it really swearing…….

 I took a picture of the talon marks on the fish, then picked it up with a forked stick and moved to some rocks by the river away from my tent, hoping it would fly down and finish his breaky, I hid, but no such luck.The river from the falls down is much wider with soft banks that are easily undercut, channels in low water are hard to recognize and some sweepers thrown in for a good measure of fun and the river can change from year to year drastically.  About 4 -500m downstream on river left a new channel has appeared, it’s entrance covered by sweepers.  In 2004 in med water it was just a creek, now it carries most of the water and is the only way down in med to low water levels.  It’s very pretty going down here but it is narrow and deep with some sweepers in the river.  Once this channel re-entered the old channel it was time to get back to he job at hand, watch for eagles, pic my way through shallow rapids and then try and get close enough to the eagles to get a good pic.(even with a really good zoom lens.  The adults stay fairly high in the trees and are not too hard to spot but, the eaglets with their brown feathers hanging around closer to the water in the branches are well camouflaged, and if the adults are uncomfortable with your approach they will swoop down and chase their young away.  I kept the camera in an open barrel ready to shoot and mount on a tripod if I had time.  My best chance at an eaglet came when I was approaching a quick 90 degree turn to the right in a shallow rapid, I drifted to within 50 yards, planted my feet on the bottom of the river, pulled out the camera and was just getting set to shoot when not only the one I saw, but 2 more right above it in the branches took off,I was just getting set to punish myself for getting to close and scaring  them off when the real reason they took off came down the river bank, 2 fishermen coming in off the Towab trail………It was now mid day and most of the adults were now dancing in the thermals along the cliffs, too far away for really good pics but, the only way to describe it is incredibly awesome!!!The river will narrow and the pools are a little longer and when you can see the last cliff face you will paddle by you are approaching the last two “real “ rapids.The first of them the river makes a turn to the left with a quick drop into a pair of house rocks and then a very sharp turn to the right and then into a long 500m pool.  In lower waters it is a very tight turn and in higher water sharp boiling eddy lines.  At the end of the pool is the last one it is pretty straight forward except occasionally trees and logs get stuck between the larger rocks and shore.  From here to Hwy. 17 the river widens even more, again with the odd tree and sweeper.As I approached the house rock rapid an eagle took off about a 100m in front and flew a round the corner, knowing what was coming I secured my camera back in the barrel and locked it up.  After coming through the turn I immediately started to look downstream to see if I could see eagle, nothing downstream I could see, but then that feeling something is watch you, so I looked back and then up… bingo, 50 ft. up in the tree an eagle. So as carefully as I could unlock the barrel slowly lift the camera up at start shooting, The eagle doesn’t move, change some settings, fire off a few more, get to shore and get the tripod out and get some more, (these ones came out great) in the end between 5 – 10 min. and then the eagle flew back up river 100m, and took some more.I made camp so I could get up early and try and catch them feeding.  At the house rock corner there is a stream that comes in on river right.  A short hike up the creek bed and you are rewarded with a small canyon and several great water falls.I was all packed at night so I could get an early started and limit the motion I would need to break camp.  I was all set to pack the tent when the first monsoon hit, back into the tent to wait it out. Even though I just bought one of those fancy rain coats for my camera, I didn’t want to test it in that kind of rain. An hour later it eased off so off I went.  The wet foggy conditions enabled me to get closer to the birds but the fog and light conditions made it difficult. But I did manage to get shots of the one.  The rain stopped by the time I got to Hwy. 17 and I was able to ride walk the bike up to Frater before the next monsoon hit.  After Load the van I drove to Agawa Bay campsite and had a nice hot shower before heading home.I left lots out, don’t want to spoil it for those who may go on their own.

VVCC members can see the pics in the album

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posted by: Jeff McColl

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