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tripping intermediate paddlers 1 day
Agawa Canyon Oct 4 - 11
Monday, October 27, 2008
length: 30.0km, 1 day
difficulty: intermediate

organizer: Jeff McColl
participants: ,

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Agawa Canyon Fall 2008 (Oct. 4 – 11)

This was my second trip up there this year, I did an earlier trip the first week of July with my daughter, her first wilderness trip to introduce her to the area that where my father worked after WW II.  I wasn’t planning on going there but with the good river levels for July I thought I would risk the chance of a bug fest… but we lucked out, we were able to sit out each night without the bugs being a bother (good water no bugs,July1…priceless) I had a no Ipod rule, but I also promised not to write up the trip (she is16)

But it’s an experience every parent should have with their children, but she did great!


This fall trip wasn’t meant to be solo but, the old guys fell like flies, no lame excuses this year, injury and illness took them out.

Had the same goals as last year picture taking, hiking, paddling (?) and enjoying being out there not rushing around.  I like to leave early so if there are any photo ops on the way up I have time to stop. (And to get away from the GTA before the road nuts get up!)


The ? mark by paddling, the river at this level was barely floatable through the rapids, poling would have been a better option as the shoulders took quite the beating trying to find water deep enough to get a stroke in, and even the 60 inch plastic aluminum blade was too short to reach around the rocks.  Most of the “walks” were in the 5 to 10 metre range with the longest being about 100m through the middle of gravel rapid. With the water temp about 12 to 15 c (55 to 60 F) it wasn’t too bad, but the warm temp did keep the  fish from entering the river from the lake and the rocks were very slippery with algae that was still covering much of the spawning beds.

Even though the water level was disappointing this was the first time I ran the river with the leaves at peak, and it was impressive!

Being the week before Thanksgiving I did not expect a lot of people on the train, there was one couple going to one of the lodges and 2 Americans going up to run the Agawa from Canyon Station, they said they usually go in solo boats but because one of them was having shoulder problems….. they went tandem, it was pretty easy to see their a b s tracks, but they were prepared for some walking if needed, me being solo would have floated a whole lot higher.

My first and only mistake of the trip was first discovered as I was getting coffee at Espanola….I forgot my first dinner and breakfast in the fridge back in Milton. (Homer moment Doh!) The dinner (marinated sundried chicken) was easy enough to replace (with a steak) in the Sault, but the smoked Back forest bacon(ummmmmm) a butcher in Guelph makes his own…..

The train only being about 30 minutes late wasn’t too bad, set up camp, got fire wood for the night and morning, and had an early dinner and coffee so I could go get set up for some sun set shots. I have shot from this area before, but I wanted to get higher, so you scramble up to this little grassy ledge and you find fresh moose tracks, for such a big creature it is pretty amazing where they go.  As you are looking south, the hill on the east side is taller and with the yellow leaves reflects the sunlight to the west side eliminating the deep shadows that should be there, which gives great photo light conditions.

I had decided to take an extra bag for some winter type clothes, an extra carry but it paid off on the first night as the temps dropped below freezing and when I woke up in the morning my coffee water had about ¼ inch of ice! It’s just wonderful how a candle lantern in a frying pan in your tent can make getting into bed enjoyable.

With very little wind the morning sun warmed up the canyon quickly which was good since my first little wade was just 200 metres from the put in.


The next rapid was easier than higher water because the current wasn’t strong enough  to push you into the variety or rocks, you just went through the channel, but I did have to give a helping hand at the start as the boat was wider than the first gap.


When I got to Canyon Station the tourist train was in and there were plenty of people wishing they could take the ride.

Below Bridal Veil falls is rapid 112 (At track mile marker 112) this is the first rapid most river runners encounter when running from Canyon Station, I mention it as a warning because it doesn’t look like much at the start but it drops quickly and the bottom  has some good size rocks that you can get you into trouble, ( I promise I will write a full route this year) and many a boater has gotten into trouble.

The Canyon is pretty narrow and as you get closer to where the river turns west, especially after the train trestle it can have quite the wind tunnel effect.

For lunch I went for a little hike of about 500m up a little side creek looking for waterfalls and was rewarded with a neat 30 footer.  Would have like to gone further, but …next time when someone else is along and we can carry a rope.

The river here is wide bouldery and not a lot of  fun at this level if you were traveling light portaging would be a better option.

My next camp was where the Little Agawa enters, there are some easy hikes and good spot for photos, and this time I wanted to see if I good find the old wood stove that I saw in 1985.


The last time I camped here was in 2005, and I wondered then where the steel plate at the fire pit came from.  That was soon answered as when I went to look for the old wood stove I found it in a different spot from where I saw it in 85, and it looks like someone had tried to carry it and it started to fall apart, and ending up just bringing the steel plate to the camp site.  It was sad to see it broken apart but it was neat to think that I cooked my meals on the same surface that the loggers or train people did over a 100 years ago.

Got some good shots and then played with a technique I read about just before I left.

During a long exposure hand hold and fire your flash to illuminate some of the surrounding areas, it worked out pretty good for the first time trying it.

Another thing I was looking to do was shooting from different perspectives, from the canoeists, the hiker, and the tourist. So a lot of shots of the same thing, just slightly different views, some worked, a lot didn’t.


The rapid at the old logging dam was barely floatable but with the low water, the second half of the rapid, the gorge in the canyon was dry enough to land in the middle of the 8 -10 falls and slide the boat down, and then float to the top of the last drop and slide it down the side.  There are various ways to portage this rapid depending on water levels; the one thing needed for sure is a length of rope to help out going down the hill.


Agawa falls is about 1 km from the bottom of the gorge and the main portage trail 100m above the falls in fast water and sometimes it is not marked, Last year I re-hung  the portage sign and put up some extra flagging tape.  When I ran it with my daughter the sign was gone (they are a plastic paper type sign) but some of the flagging tape was still there. My daughter has run rapids with me since she was 2, put I had her focus on the tape at the takeout as our target area.  (Take out river right) When we landed I said now look to your left…she said holy sh#$, everyone I take down sort of has the same excitement.  Because the river makes a left turn you can not see the horizon line and because the shape of the bowl the river drops into you can hardly hear it.  There is an unmarked takeout on river right about 200m above this one and is also in rapids.

When I got to Agawa falls I decided to take my camera stuff down first, because usually when we have gotten to the bottom of the portage in the fall there is usually some critters down there, this time nothing.  So back up to the top start to pick up the next pack I hear this squawking, which I thought at first to be a hawk, then I look down the trail and I see a med size black critter racing straight towards me making a lot of noise, and as my hand slides down on to my  pepper spray it (the critter) breaks off the trail to the river, and before it jumps into the river it stands up on it’s hind legs, barks at me again and off it goes, a good size river otter and no camera….(r-e-l-i-e-f , and heart beating slower now)

With the otter moving away from where the fish should be was not a good sign.

Also on the portage trail I found some bear scat, 2 piles a couple of days old, and one fresh that day.  Even though there were no fish in the river, the scat was healthy looking.

I camped at the bottom of the falls again so I could have an early start for trying to get more eagle pics, since early morning is when they would be most active hunting by the river.  The parks’ Towab trail comes here to so the area is well picked over for fire wood.  (Unless you have a canoe J)

After setting up camp and heading back to the thunder box I noticed the last user looked like they left in a hurry.  The seat was up and they left their toiletry items behind (hand wash, paper in a baggy) I didn’t see any bear scrapings, or any other animal tracks, all I saw was one Red squirrel twitching it’s tail at me as I went by.  So as I sit down to take in the leaves and colours ….. And then…. about 3 m behind me….. that little Red Squirrel lets go a warning scream that makes your hair stand on end, that critter must have been all lung, and considering I walked past him and he didn’t make a noise…There was no sign of any predators or other animals or people in the area so taking a page from Monty Python I named him the “Killer Red Squirrel of Agawa Falls” (it has to be a him… You women folk say we are always too loud….) And he would repeat this for my other trips  to the box over the next day and a half, and I went there once just to test out my theory and he did it right on cue.

It was a warm night and the clouds moved in just after sunset, so no night shot, the next morning the wind woke me up, a few rain drops hitting the tent, I stuck my head out the tent the clouds were low and the fog was moving in, so since that would ground the eagles and the hills and colours would be covered, I went back to bed.  After about an hour the rain stopped so I got up and decided to stay put for the day, since I had a day too play with, and hope for a sunny day and higher river levels tomorrow.  Put up my tarp and decided to go get some firewood for the day and prepare for a nice slow day.  It never rained hard, but the fog did not lift and it stayed dark foggy and quiet all day…. Except for the “Killer Red Squirrel of Agawa Falls”…..

In between rain showers and coffee I hiked up to the falls to get some shots from the tourist view, the clouds mist and fog does give them a neat effect, but if I shot  200 iso  I was in to long exposures….. at 12 noon!  After a few hours of wondering around in the bush and rain I decided on an early supper and the only hiker I saw all week walked in as I was sitting down to eat.  By the time he came back from the falls he wanted to know the time as he was doing the whole Towab trail in 1 day, it was 4:20 pm.  I asked him if he needed anything but he was prepared to finish the hike safely, even if it got dark, the trail itself is recommended as an overnighter and since I had spare lighters, food, flashlight… I offered him any thing he might need. (But he was good to go!)

Managed to stay up to 9:30, I was hoping for the weather to break and get some more night shots, but that did not happen. Thanks goodness I packed an extra tetra pack for adults (one glass size, one per night)

Got up early the next morning to get ready to catch the eagles when they were hunting, visited the Killer Red Squirrel (wasn’t disappointed by his performance) and was just starting to back the boat when there was a steady chirp or normal Red Squirrel and bird warnings getting louder, and about 200m away my first eagle of the day, too far a way even with the “big lens” but great too watch.  The river didn’t come up, but it did not go down either, it was grey, cool and windy but the clouds where starting to break.  I saw 4 different adult Bald eagles, easy to tell if they have a feather missing in different spots and as I went downstream they would circle back and go upstream and you would go around a corner and see the next one.  From the falls down to the last grade 3 the river is wide and because of the floods in the spring many of the channels lacked any definition, and required a fair bit of in and out of the boat to drag it through to the next channel, the longest being about 100 m, and it was at this inopportune time that 2 eagles and 1 osprey made their closest approaches.  The plan was to split the stretch from the fall down to the lake into 2 sections so I could take advantage of photo opportunities.  The wind really started to howl and with the wind tunnel effect and no place to put the paddle in the water it was getting frustrating as the wind gust blew you away from where you wanted to be.

Just as the clouds really started to break and give you those hills on fire look with the fall colours I was in the right spot and because of the low and relatively warm water I was able to stand in the middle of the river with my tripod and get great shots upstream and downstream.   


The last campsite on the river is just after the last rapid and offers a great view for a last night.  It was all sunny now and with the wind really blowing I was able to air out the sleeping bag and get rid of the dampness from the day before.  Again the Towab trail shares this site and the canoe came in handy to paddle across the river to get fire wood from the high water mark.  I just got back, unloaded the wood and turned the canoe over for the day when I realized I left my saw on the other bank, about 150m away, this and a wall of black clouds coming off the lake made for a quick trip.  Tarp out, fire going and coffee on, I sat back and watched the storm and it made for some good photos. Watching the sheets of rain come down as the wind and clouds pushed around the cliff was impressive.  This storm started about 2 and finished around 7 with the winds dying down in the last hour. In a couple of the lulls of the storm I walked around looking for a good sunset spot (just in case) and an Osprey gave me a good photo shot.


Just when I thought I was done for the night when the sun getting low pushed some light from across the lake under the clouds and made for a very short but spectacular sunset.


After the illuminated cloud broke up I rushed down to the spot I located earlier.

As I found out when I  got home the purple hue was courtesy of an Alaskan volcano. Quote from Spaceweather.com “When Kasatochi erupted on August 7th, it pumped more than a million tons of ash and sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Much of that material is still there, drifting around the Northern Hemisphere producing sunsets of subtle beauty. If don't see one tonight, look again tomorrow. The volcanic clouds are patchy and you may have to look many evenings in a row to catch the purple.” UnquoteMajor bonus…..and an amazing feeling that as crowded as the earth is and as busy as we are that I was the only human on the planet that had that view…… I got up early the next morning so I could be on the river for sunrise and was so rewarded. The river from here to Hwy. 17 was not too bad and I only had one short walk of about 50m.I saw 3 adult Bald Eagles, each with a single young bird, plus one that could be a juvenile (2year old) but I am waiting on confirmation, the colours and size did not seem to match the bird book. I could see the eagle 300 to 400 m away but the ravens where doing their best Monty Python imitation ahead of me, (run away, run away!!)  I could see the one eagle eating  on a sand bar, way to far for a pic and the Ravens did their thing, and when the Eagle left, the Ravens went down and made quick work of what was left of the fish, and a gull left with what  was left of the carcass by the time I floated there.  Neat but disappointing. I got off the water and changed by 11am and started to walk to Frater Road to head back up to Frater Station.  After 20 min. I got picked up by a fisherman going up to hike in and fish off the Towab Trail,  he said he had been coming for a fishing holiday the week before Thanksgiving for 20 years and this was the first time he had hardly caught any fish. I only had walked about 5 min. from the Towab trail parking spot when a hunting camp owner gave me a ride up to the station and I was back at the bridge in just over an hour.Then on to Agawa Bay campground for a well deserved hot shower.The plan going home was if it was a clear night I would stop at Chutes Prov. Park for some more night shots, if not keep going to Sudbury and wimp out in a motel, it was a great night, but there was not too much hardship, I had taken the seats out of the van before the trip and packed an electric oil heaterJ.  So one more night wondering around in the dark, but with a ¾ moon the lighting was great! So I got some great pics, got to really unwind after emailing the world with the NWPA and that I need to do, and I still have reasons to go back up north again next fall….Get pic of eagle getting fish from river and eagle pic with cliff as backdrop.Hike into more unseen waterfalls,Get pic of Canyon at night with northern lights.Link to pic slide showhttp://nwpa.spaces.live.com/photos/cns!1EF1C112A45DCA8C!549/And when I write a trip guide I will include how to guess the flows based on river flow info from other area rivers.Jeff


posted by: Jeff McColl

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