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tripping novice paddlers more than 7 days
French River System
Saturday, June 28, 1997 to Friday, July 11, 1997
length: 160.0km, 14 days
difficulty: novice

leader: Dave Robinson
organizer: Dave and Heather
participants: Tripper Dave, Heather McCance, Jessie the Wonder Hound,

French River System
June 28 - July 11, 1997
Well, in January 1997, my spouse Heather started a new job as the Curateat St. Mary's Church, Richmond Hill, which was great, however, startingin January, she only got two weeks vacation, so we decided we'd betterdo something relativelt close to our home port (Lake Wilcox, north of Toronto).After consulting carefully with our other tripping companion, Jessie theWonder Hound, we decided to do a trip covering most of the famous FrenchRiver system.

The French was the "superhighway" of the near north, being the riverthat links the St. Lawrence/Ottawa watershed to the upper Great Lakes andthe great northwest. Since the retreat of the last ice age, it has seenheavy traffic in canoes by the First Nations and the "explorers" (who haddeluded themselves into believing that they had discovered this land) andthe fur traders (who had decided to strip the land of anything of value).

Our 12 day trip had a bit of everthing that Ontrio canoeing offers:whitewater runs to quicken the pulse; large, rock-bound lakes lined withtowering white pine; good fishhing; and the incredible island-studded beautyof north-eastern Georgian Bay. We left Lake Wilcox with our gear packedinto our trusty Mazda pick-up and headed north on Highway 69.

A word about equipment:
On this trip we were paddling "Columba", our 17 foot ABS Prospectorsold by Trailhead under their Black Feather brand name. For paddles weboth use the old stand-by Mohawks (they are indestructable) in white water.For cruising I use a black cherry Nashwaak, the most comfortable paddleI've ever handled and Heather uses and un-varnished walnut Black FeatherBeaver-tail (Jessie doesn't deign to paddle, lacking opposing thumbs andall). We sleep on Therma-rest Camp-rests in a double sleeping back insidea Eureka Tatshensini 4 A-frame tent. Gear is packed in standard Black Feathercordura nylon duluth-style canoe packs with Ortlieb packliners and dry-bagsfor waterproofing. Food is in a 60-litre barrel pack (which is air tightand smell-proof) and utensils and staples are in a 30 liter barrel pack.We cook on an MSR Wisperlight stove with an old Sig alcohol stove as back-up.All packs have tump-lines, though Heather won't use them. On the waterI paddle stern and Heather handles the bow (though this may change as Heatheris becoming a confident stern paddler).

A word about division of responsibilities. One of the advantages abouttripping with the same companion is that you eveolve a system of sharingthe load so that everything gets done with a fair distribution of the work.On portages I carry the canoe and a small pack and Heather carries a largepack, we usually do 2 trips on a portage and split whatever is left onthe second trip. Jessie is in charge of thoroughly exploring the vicinityof every portage. In camp, we both work to unload and set up the tent andthen I generally do the cooking and Heather looks after setting up thebeds and doing the dishes.
Sunday, June 29th
Arrived in Wolseley Bay (Pine Cove Lodge) about 6:30, arranged for parkingat the Lodge. On the water by 7:00. Covered about 5 km lookingfor a site, most of the sites in the vicinity of the mouth of WolseleyBay were taken, but we found a perfect site all by itself in a back baynot too far from where the Little French River joins the Main Channel atFive Finger Rapids. Had fresh Caesar Salad and wine and then tooka short swim before retreating from the bugs,

Monday, June 20 (Distance run about 22km)
Slept in, had a good breakfast and were on the water by 10:30. Headedsouth to Little Pine Rapids and then west down the Main Channel. The water levels are very low, just enough to run each of the sets in FiveMile Rapids. This was the lowest I've ever seen it in five trips. Little Pine was bump and grind, while Big Pine was a twisting, technicalClass II. Blue Chute was so shallow it was almost a boulder garden!

had a good lunch at Little Parisien. As we were getting stuffback in the boat something went pop in my lower back, some kind of musclestrain. I had a hard time standing up straight and walking.

Made camp at a small island just west of Parisien Island and took itslow and easy: lots of rest, Tiger Balm and Tylenol. We'll see howit goes tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 1st (Canada Day)

Decided to stay put and nurse my back. Spent much of the day flaton my back. Jessie explored the island and Heather read a lot. My back improved immensely, I think a rest was the best decision.

In the afternoon I did a little bird watching and got a new bird formy life-list, a Hermit Thrush. It took 45 minutes of careful pursuitbefore I got a good look. I also spent an enjoyable 15 minutes watchinga spotted sandpiper and a white-throated sparrow.

Made bannock on the fire and turned in early to avoid the bugs.

Wednesday, July 2 (Distance run 26 km)

Up early with a filling breakfast of porridge and scrambled eggs. On the water in good time with a rare east wind at our backs! Rigged asail and sailed the first few kilometers but the wind was fitful so wepaddled. made it to the highway 69 bridge about 1:30 and went intothe French River Supply Post for goodies: Cold Pop and Chips (and Ice Creamfor Heather) and had lunch on their porch.

Spent the afternoon paddling the Gorge section. The river flowsthrow a beautiful canyon-like fault line here with bare granite walls rising15 - 20 meters. Trees grow in weird, desperately clinging shapesin cracks in the rock. Several kilometers down from the bridge isRecollet Falls, named for the Recollet order of priests, several membersof the order drowned here in the 1600's. The falls are quite scary,not runnable, and the portage starts no more than 4 or 5 meters from thetop of the drop. It's hard to imagine a brigade of 35' Canots deMaitre unloading and getting their boats over the portage, especially inthe spring high water. The high water mark is over a meter abovethe present level.

We camped on a pretty rock point opposite Flowerpot Bay about 7 km downfrom Recollet Falls. We were going to have Tuna Helper for dinneruntil we discovered that we had neglected to pack the Tuna (Oh well, we'llget some at the store tomorrow, one thing about the French, there are lotsof places to stop for provisions!).

Heather had just finished the dishes and I had just finished makingBlueberry Cobbler for dessert when a huge storm rolled in off the Bay. There were very strong winds and we had to rig storm guys to the tent veryquickly. We settled in to the tent amid terrific thunder and lighteningand torrential rains which lasted over 3 hours.

Thursday, July 3

This morning dawned sunny and warm but clouded over during breakfastand it started to rain, so we decided to spend the morning in the tent.

It got worse, rained all day, so we stayed in the tent all day and read. What the hell, we're on vacation,

Friday, July 4 (Distance Traveled 22km)

Dawned rainy and cold but cleared up. On the water about 10:30. Paddled down to French River Lodge on Ox Bay opposite the Main Outlet. Bought Pop and Chips to go with our lunch (and some Tuna!) and ate lunchon their dock.

Paddled west and then south down the Western Outlet, sailed for about1km, but the wind became unco-operative. Made camp about 5:00 pm2 km upstream of where the channel splits to go into the Delta. Nicebeach site with western exposure, I made Tuna Helper for supper.

Just after dinner, while Heather was doing the dishes, we witnesseda bit of aerial combat. An Osprey with a good sized fish in its talonscame flying by the beach being chased and harassed by a Herring Gull tothe point where the Osprey dropped the fish. The Gull swooped downand grabbed the prize and the Osprey left, after circling right over ourtent.

The country here is quite rugged and beautiful. Lots of classicpink granite Shield with big bluffs and cliffs and tall white pines. We seem to be finally far enough away from "civilization" to be sparedall but the occasion small motorboat, haven't seen a damned jet-ski indays! I'm really looking forward to Georgian Bay tomorrow. We thinkthat the route we have planned over to the Main Outlet is sheltered enoughthat we can make it through in all but the wildest weather. Withluck we may actually be able to sail, we are finally heading to windward!

Saturday, July 5 (Distance covered 17km)

Dawned cold and sunny. Couldn't seem to bring ourselves to crawlout of our cozy sleeping bag. Finally got on the water at 10:00 aftera lazy breakfast with a nice warm fire to toast our bagels on.

Made slow time down the Old Voyageur Channel. Had to line PetiteFaucille and there was just current in La Dalle. Still, it was neatto paddle a stretch I have read about in 200 year old journals. (Thiswas the channel used by the Northwest Company's fur brigades on there wayfrom Montreal to Fort William.)

At the mouth of the Old Voyageur Channel, we turned east along the HighCross Channel and hoisted sail for a bit. The many side channelsand islands make for tricky navigation. We were able to paddle upHigh Cross Rapids with a little work and then ran down Devil's Door andcontinued east through a very small side route that included a lift overand a bash over a beaver dam.

We then continued east along the Georgian Bay behind a screen of islands. The Bay itself had a stiff breeze and one meter swells that were breakingover the offshore reefs and islands. Took a break on an island onthe east side of Sand Bay and then sailed three very quick kilometers northto the mouth of the Main Outlet. Made camp about 4:00 pm on a smallsite on the eastern shore at the mouth opposite Sabine Island.

After setting up the tent with plenty of storm guys we went for a hikedown the shore to look for the remains of the old lumber mill town thatexisted here from the 1880's to the 1920's. We didn't make it far,the ground was just too rough. How did anyone build a town here?All was not lost, though. I saw three different species of warblerswithin about 5 minutes. First I saw a female Redstart and then themale; then a Yellow Warbler and then a Common Yellowthroat. Not badfor a 45 minute walk!

Came back and ate a sumptuous feast of Pasta Vongole with a tin of babyclams stirred in, yummy! Heather did some laundry and is reading, Jessieis zonked in the ten and I'm sipping my coffee and waiting for anothergorgeous Georgian Bay sunset (last night was spectacular). Tomorrowwe hope to continue east to the Pickerel River and then North to a sitearound the first set of rapids.

Sunday, July 6 (Distance paddled 19km, actual route distancecovered 9.5 km)

Well, the distance log tells today's story!

Morning was sunny and we had eggs and cheese on toasted bagels withporridge on the side. While we were having breakfast, Heather discovered"J. Schell 1924" painted in fading script on the rock. Thesite had obviously had some sort of building on it at some point. There was old tar with bits of wood on the rocks and a rusted old woodstove in the trees.

On the water about 10:30. Stiff wind and one meter swells madefor really slow progress. We island hopped on a southeasterly courseto the Outer Fox Islands where we had lunch and a rest after a really hairyone kilometer open water crossing with 4 foot waves and reefs all around.... After lunch we worked our way over to the approach to the Dead Island Channelbut we were stopped dead by very strong head winds.

We got out of the boat and went for a walk to investigate the possibilityof portaging over a narrow spit of land. The portage was a no-go,but we found the remains of another building. All that was left wasthe crumbling remains of a fireplace and some melted glass on the rock,must have burned hot and fast.

We decided to investigate a possible route cross country using a smallchain of lakes that would have taken us over to the Pickerel. Sowe paddled north into Fox Creek and found an old portage trail, carriedthe gear and boat over in a sudden rain squall, pushed off, and discoveredwe were in the wrong lake! We came back over and made the decision to lookfor a site for the night, but first we wanted to check to see if the proposedside route was feasible. There was an old trail but it was very roughand had many blow downs across it, so we decided to head to a site backout on the Bay where we could at least see if the wind would allow us topaddle tomorrow.

In the two hours we spent in Fox Creek, the wind out on the Bay haddropped considerably and we were able to make it though Dead Island Channelto a campsite on the point opposite the island a few kilometers from themouth of the Pickerel River. The weather has been "unsettled" withrain off and on and this evening the wind seems to be picking up.

Monday, July 7 (Distance traveled 22km)

Am I ever glad that we made it through Dead Island Channel yesterday. There was a strong southwest wind all night that kept up through the morningand whipped the Bay into a fury that kept the waves crashing on the shorebehind our camp. We never would have made it through today!

Morning dawned cold but sunny, up at 7:30 with a hearty breakfast ofpancakes, on the water at 9:30. Made good time up the Pickerel outlet. With the water so low there was no alternative but to take the long, confusingportage. We never would have found our way if it hadn't been freshlymarked with orange flagging tape, as it was we lost the trail twice overopen rock. We put in and paddled a few klicks to an island wherewe had lunch and I rigged the sail. We sailed most of the next 3kilometers to the settlement at Pickerel River Crossing where the CNR bridgesthe river.

Just before the bridge, we spotted a sign saying "Bernie's Place, Cottages,Groceries, Canoes Welcome"! Well, with an invitation like that, how couldwe resist! We went in an bought some cold pop, a chocolate bar for Heather,some more pasta and some rope and had a pleasant chat with Bernie. The whole place was built for the CNR track workers and has the old storeand a bunch of cabins/bunkhouses, many still clad in tuscan-red Insul Bricksiding. Bernie is slowly renovating the place and the store was quitecozy. We talked about the river, the weather, the fishing and hepointed out some possible campsites. He also highly recommended therestaurant at highway 69 and the Pickerel, which we were planning to hitfor a treat at lunch tomorrow.

From Bernie's we hoisted sail and had a free ride all the way east downthe Pickerel to the North Channel out of David's Bay, over 6 kilometers. We paddled through the channel and made camp on a point just west of CampIsland. Had a good dinner of pasta with Parma Rosa sauce. Spentan hour and a half watching a beautiful Georgian Bay sunset come and go.Tomorrow we head back into the French via Little French Rapids and DeerBay.

Tuesday, July 8 (Distance run 11km)

Up late with a light breakfast of porridge. On the water about11:00. Paddled the 6 kilometers to the highway 69 crossing in sporadiclight rain. As we arrived, the rain picked up, went into the restaurantand pigged out on fresh cold beer, salads, burger and fries (me) and shrimpdinner (Heather) with blueberry pie and ice cream and real coffee.

It was absolutely pissing rain when we finally dragged ourselves backto the river. I rigged the tarp as a shelter for Jessie but she wouldn'tuse it, fine, get wet, stupid hound! Paddled 5 drenched kilometers to anisland at the bottom of Little French Rapids, set the tent up in recordtime and settled in to read and pass the time.

Wednesday, July 9 (Distance run 16km)

Well, if there is a portage around Little French Rapids, we never foundit! The rapids are deep in a ravine/canyon and had very little water inthem. Just as well, because after searching for half an hour forany sign of a trail, we decided to wade/drag up the rapids. (ThankGod for ABS boats). It was a sunny, warm day, and after our initialdifficulties we had a good paddle. Went from Deer Bay across ourdownstream route on the Main Channel, up Dry Pine Bay to Michaud Fallswhere we bough pop and chips, made a check-in call to my mom, and ate lunchat the end of the portage. As I was loading the canoe after lunch,I slid down the smooth rock into the water and soaked my dry boots, damn!

From Michaud falls we paddled up Eighteen Mile Bay to the North Channelwhere we turned east towards Oullette Rapids where we planned to camp. There was already a large group in a fairly permanent looking camp allover the portage, and, having no desire to camp anywhere near them, wetracked the boat up the rapid and continued upstream to a site on the southshore half-way between Oullette and the Eighteen Mile Island road bridge.

Baked a bannock for supper and fished while Heather and Jessie snoozed. While we dined, we watched a mother Merganser with a lone chick swim by. The chick would crawl up on mom's back and ride for a bit, slide off andthen squirt after her to crawl back up, only to slide off again........ As we had our after-dinner tea and coffee, a beaver swam by en-route toits lodge in the little bay beside our site.

All of this helps ease the end-of-trip re-entry blues which have begun. Only 25 kilometers and Cedar Rapids between us and the take-out......

Thursday, July 10 (Distance covered 17 km)

Lazy morning, up late, good breakfast of porridge, scrambled eggs, toasted bagels and left-over bannock. On the water about 10:45 and paddled the 6 kilometers to Rainbow Camp where we bought cold pop, chips and ice cream and ate lunch (this really sounds like a suburban trip with a convenience store every day, doesn't it!).

Rainbow Camp would be a good base for a White Water Weekend. You could camp at their site, run down Cedar Rapids from a put-in on the road in to Wolseley Bay and finish at Rainbow, and then do it over again the next day, or maybe run Little and Big Pine from a put-in at Pine Cove Lodge in Wolseley Bay.

From Rainbow Camp we continued east up the North Channel to Cedar Rapids. We tracked up Third Cedar, at Second Cedar we nearly dumped doing an "S-turn"across a vee to get to a lift-over on the north bank. When we shifted our lean from down-stream to up-stream, Jessie slid off her perch and sprawled into the upstream chine, water was pouring over the gunwhale and I only just brought her back with a desperate down-stream brace.

After the lift-over we tracked up a steep sided chute at the bottom of First Cedar. When we were ready to get back in the boat and paddle the 250 meters up to the two vees that begin First Cedar, Jessie was nowhere to be found. I walked three-quarters of the portage calling for her before she showed up with an expression that said "What's taking you guys so long, I've been waiting at the end of the portage for ages!"

We tracked up the top vees and then headed about one kilometer upstream to a gorgeous site on the north shore where I had camped on one of the Summer Wilderness Challenge programs in the late '80's.

We had fun with Red Squirrels today. Jessie had been chasing one around the campsite this morning and as I was eating breakfast it came quite close, so I went over to the tree and talked to it. He came within a meter and was very curious, even let me take his picture. Later, as we paddled up one of the wider lake-like sections we crossed paths with another Red Squirrel swimming like mad for the south shore. The river was close to two kilometers wide at this point and he had a ways to go.....

Well we are 8 kilometers from Pine Cove Lodge and the truck. We plan on getting there by 11:00 and heading to the Hungry Bear on highway69 for lunch. By the time we're done we will have covered 185 kilometers over twelve rather laid-back days. I'm definitely feeling in shape to lead the Federation of Ontario Naturalists trip on the Spanish River at the end of the month and Heather seems to have had a good vacation. Jessie, as usual, has had a ball and will dream of chasing Red Squirrels all winter long. She does, however, need to learn to lean downstream!

posted by: Tripper Dave

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