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tripping novice paddlers 3 days
Petawawa River
Thursday, September 27, 2007 to Saturday, September 29, 2007
length: 80.0km, 3 days
difficulty: novice

organizer: Peter Farr
participants: Peter Farr,

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Note: You can read the same report on my site, except that the thumbnails link to full pictures there.

Day 1, September 27th

I stayed over night at Algonquin Portage, an outfitter with a lodge located jut outside the Sand Lake gate. They were also going to handle the shuttle for me since I was solo this trip. This allowed me to get an early start on the day, although I ended up waiting for the gate to open at 9am.

At the gate I was told that the water level was "about medium for this time of year", whatever that means.

I was anxious to try my new canoe, an Evergreen Sunburst, which I had bought just a few days before the trip and still had not finished outfitting fully. It seemed perfect for solo tripping, and did not disappoint me on the trip. This would also be my first solo trip since my oldest son was born, about 18 years.

After the long drive in (about 80k from the Sand Lake gate), and then a stroll up from the put-in to check out Poplar Rapids, I finally hit the water around 11am. It was a beautiful day with a little breeze at my back and a few clouds in the sky. Judging by the high water marks on the rocks the river was almost 1m below high Spring levels.

View of Big Thompson Rapid from the top

It only took an hour or so to get to the end of Lake Traverse and the first rapid of the trip: Big Thompson. At this water level it was a simple CI with a clear channel through the middle, but it was a nice warm up.

After Big Thompson the river narrowed and ran through rocky banks, and a kilometer on I came to Little Thompson. It is much shorter -- just a double ledge with most of the water flowing through a notch in the far right side of the first ledge, and then the left side of the second ledge. View of Little Thompson Rapid from the left shore From where I was on the left shore, the far right side looked like it was full of exposed and very sharp rocks, so I lined the boat down the smooth rock slide on the left, then ran the second ledge.

The next rapid was quite a distance off, with a small swift in between. This set the tone for the rest of the river. It would widen out, sometimes considerably, then narrow down again. Each narrows was punctuated by a swift or rapid. Some of the swifts were actually more challenging than some of the rapids at this level. With the low water there were many rocks exposed and picking a course between them was interesting.

View of Grillade Rapid from the left shore

After a considerable paddle I finally arrived at Grillade Rapid, marked as a CI and really more of a long swift. There was a clear channel right down the centre with enough (sometimes just enough) water to get through. The rapid was pretty, with several trees on the side showing their full fall colours. On each side were several metres of head-sized rocks running up into the trees.

My take out just above the chute

Almost immediately after Grillade came Crooked Chute, with dire warnings on the map and in the guide book. Because of this I spent far too much time scouting and peering ahead. It is a very long rapid (the portage is marked as 1580m) with a serious chute near the end. It starts with a pretty and lengthy CI. At every corner stopped and peered around, only to see more CI ahead. I paddled past the first take-out, finally reaching the second take-out, again with dire warnings about proceeding. From there I walked the length of the portage to see what was up, but at this level all Crooked Chute I could see was perhaps CI+ water, so I kept paddling. Eventually I reached the third take out spot, but kept going, eddy hopping down to just above the chute. On river-right there is an old log flume bypassing the actual chute, so I took out there and put in just below the chute. The rest of the rapid below Crooked Chute This final part was a solid CII, surprisingly pushy and with lot of manouvering required. In this way I cut the portage down to perhaps 8-10m. I would not recommend this approach to anyone who is not completely confident in their ability to catch an eddy when required, and also have to note that, especially with the low water, there is a very real chance of having the boat trip over the partially exposed rock and dumping right above the chute. Use at your own risk! At higher water this would be a whole different story - be sure to scout.

Next came Rollaway, the rapid with the reputation. At 800m long it is significant even at these levels as there are many obsticles, but I ran mainly on the left or left-centre. I eddy-hopped down the left side, then got out to have a look at the ledge. The slot that seemed best was also on the left-centre, so I choose a landmark and ended up running it cleanly. The last bit was rock-dodging like the top, and I ended up working my way from left to right.

The day was coming to an end and I had only just reached the Natch, mainly because of the amount of time I wasted at Crooked Chute. I ran the Upper Natch rapid, which was short but fun. I started on the far right of the tongue, driving left and just kissing the hole at the top. This put me onto a nice seam that I could ride diagonally across the cascade and dropping me into the slot at the bottom... whee! The second part was a simple ledge which was easily run.

My campsite at the Natch rapids

I stopped for the night at a nice campsite on river right between the Upper and Lower Natch rapids. I had to set up quickly and ended up having dinner in the dark anyway. Unfortunately there was a heavy overcast so I did not get to see the stars.

Day 2, September 28th

The next morning was overcast and cool. After a quick breakfast of cinnamon and raisin bannock with double-smoked bacon, I packed up and set off to tackle the Lower Natch Rapid, which turned out to be a very simple ledge.

40m cliffs at the Natch

A few minute past this rapid, though, I came on the sight I had been awaiting: beautiful 30m cliffs rising above the water. There is a very nice campsite in the bay across from these cliffs and it would have been a great spot to stay if I hadn't wasted so much time the day before.

40m cliffs at the Natch

From this point it was about a 4km paddle to Schooner Rapid, a simple but pretty CI that was almost 1.5km long. There was again just enough water to run through if I kept to the main channel. Schooner was quickly followed by Five Mile Rapid, which may seem like five miles long but is actually about 3.5km... long enough. It is also a pretty CI, the banks covered in Maple trees in full colour.

Camp at Five Mile Rapid

I decided that if I kept paddling at this rate I would be done far too early, and as a rain storm seemed to be approaching I decided to pull in at the next nice campsite even though it was early afternoon. I found my site jut past the top of the rapid on the right and set up camp. The rain only amounted to a few showers, but the sun came out after that and it was very beautiful. The woods behind the campsite were a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, and the wind storms of last year had blown down a number of them.

I spent a lazy afternoon napping, reading Alexander McKenzie's diaries and watching the water. It wa a nice break, and one of the things I enjoy mot about solo tripping: you do what you want, not what the group wants. Sound selfish, eh?

Fall colours at Five Mile Rapid

The day finally wound down. I had a nice fire going for a while after dinner, but again the sky was too overcast for the stars to be seen, so at last I went to bed. Some time in the night the sky cleared and the almot-full moon made the night bright, but I was too lazy to get out of my bag to look at the sky.

Day 3, September 29th

Early morning mist on Five Mile Rapid

I was up early to see the sun riing on a beautiful day. The sky was clear and an almost-full moon was showing over the trees across the river. I was back on the water quite early, too early as it turned out. The sun was low and in my eyes, and I could not ee the current or the rocks. I only travelled about 100m down the river before I decided to stop and wait for the sun to get a bit higher. It was a lovely morning to sit by the river and read more from McKenzie's travels.

Moon over trees on Five Mile Rapid

After an hour or so I was on my way again, completing Five Mile Rapids. There was enough water to keep me afloat until near the bottom where the rapid braids among several shoals and mall islands. Here I had to get out and wade my canoe for a few metres, then it was back to paddling again. Before I reached the end of the rapid I startled a beautiful Osprey.

After passing under a bridge and Hydro lines, I finally came to the end of Five Mile rapid, and a short paddle brought me to Whitson Lake. This was an interesting area. It is a broader valley between fairly high hills. The vegitation is very different; mostly Silver Maples in a low swampy bottom land. Whitson Lake is shallow and quite wide in spots. I paddled slowly through admiring the serenity.

Whitson Lake

At the end of Whitson Lake came the usual swift, then into Smith Lake. A breeze had sprung up at my back, so I stopped long enough to cobble up a sail. Altogether it probably took about the same amount of time as paddling would have, but who can resist a good sail? I actually sailed down the final swift into Lake McManus, then all the way down McManus to the take out.

All in all this wa a great trip. About 60km, nine rapids, only one portage which I shortened to less than 10m, and no people. I would really like to see this river at high water, perhaps next Spring.

Canoe on hore at the take-out

posted by: Peter Farr

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