Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chapleau-Nemegosenda River Loop May 23 - Jun 2 06

- At the municipal town dock, loading up to start the trip!

This was one CRAZY adventure! We are actually glad to back home!! This is usually not what I say at the end of a canoe trip, but this outing was really mentally tough. The reason; the over abundant population of bugs and some lost or obliterated portages. The trip began in the town of Chapleau, continued north on the Chapleau river up to Kapuskasing lake, then across and down the Nemegosenda river down to Borden lake and west back to Chapleau. The 206 km circuit was originally planned as a 11 day trip, but we finished in 10 days and spent the last day in a motel in Chapleau where we took the opportunity to wash, eat, and relax while scratching our bug bites!

- Paddling upriver on the wide expanse of the Nemegosenda river

Of course we knew the bugs could be bad! We initially wanted to head out earlier in May to avoid the worst of the bugs, but unfortunately couldn't arrange the time. Based on the locals, they had told us the beginning of June was usually when the bugs came out, but we all know that "usually" is no guarantee. So considering the trip dates, we were hoping for the best,
but prepared for the worst. And prepared we were!, with bug jackets, a bug shelter, and plenty of bug dope, but regardless, it was still challenging at times. Some evenings, there were so many black flies, the tent sounded like it was pouring outside with them bouncing inside the fly, while at night, the constant drone of innumerable mosquitoes buzzing outside our mesh windows instilled dread at the thought of going out to relieve oneself. I couldn't imagine how the natives and voyageurs dealt with those conditions without the gear we have today! They certainly were a tougher lot.

- Is there any clues to tell you that this route is unmaintained?!!

As to the portages, one would expect rough and overgrown portages on a route that is unmaintained, but a couple were clearly non-existent! We have been challenged by lost portages before and have become relatively good at "rediscovering" them, but the ones we had to deal with utilized all our experience, patience, and trail finding skills. There were 3 relatively short
portages that should have been painless and straight forward , but they were nightmares! Either a logging company or the government clear cut areas where portages ran through and they decided not to mark them. Not only were they not marked but the landscape was also altered so that using the well treaded ground as reference were obliterated! In the last year or two, endless poplar saplings had been densely growing to heights of between 5 to 8 feet, creating a dense and impenetrable wall of green! The most extreme example was a 600m portage that took almost 6 hours due to route finding, trail breaking/marking, and then finally portaging our gear through!

- Running a class 2 on the Chapleau river

But all was not bad. There was many aspects of the trip we did enjoy. My brother and I had a blast running the rapids with the water levels up. We probably could have ran more rapids, but some would have taken too long to scout so some unfortunately were bypassed. Nonetheless, we enjoyed many runs and got to break-in James and Kerry's new green Royalex Nova Craft prospector with some 'character scars'. The girls didn't share the same enthusiasm in respect to the rapids, but they did end up running some when either the portage was non-existent, or it was an easy run. (for the most part!)

- Copious amounts of pollen was scattered along the edge of the river.
Not the ideal time for allergy sufferers!

The wildlife was abundant! (not just the bugs!) We saw over a dozen moose including calves, 6 bears, endless beavers, several otters, muskrats, ospreys (we saw them dive-bombing for fish!), groundhog, few deer, fox, and of course endless assortment of birds from hummingbirds to ducks to hawks. We observed dragonflies metamorphosing on the tent walls, heard
the frogs singing their deafening mating calls, and witnessed flowers blossoming everywhere. Spring is such an awesome time to experience life emerging everywhere after the cold grip of winter that it gives my mind the same sense of renewal and anticipation for another fulfilling year of paddling in the outdoors. There is no better therapy!

- The portage ended here at the top of this berm. Looks like they forgot a portage passes through here!?! This was just the start of our problems.

The weather was great, actually really hot. In some aspects it was nice, but on the other hand it made it somewhat harder to deal with the heat since we were rarely outside the bug jackets or shelter/tents. We did have one major thunderstorm that had us paddle quickly to shore and take cover, but I enjoyed it. I love big storms especially in the bush as you can see, hear, and even feel the energy. Its nerve-racking but at the same time it makes me feel so alive! (yes, I'm a freak!)

- The impossibly green waters of Emerald Lake

I would like to share one last experience to hopefully help others prepare for. We took my brother's MEC Mantis shelter along on this trip for multiple reasons, one not least being bug protection. This bug shelter (nor others, I'd guess) is not totally bombproof. If you have black flies inside the shelter at set-up or upon entering when you open the door, they just gather and fly to the corner and don't bother you. Mosquitoes on the other hand are not as easily persuaded. A few that get in are easy to deal with by swatting and killing them, but what if there are too many!? Especially if you pitch it above grass! My suggestion is to avoid setting over grass as much as possible, but if there is no other options, make sure you bring lots of mosquito coils. We had to wear our bug jackets inside the bug shelter! How crazy is that?! One morning my brother and I were making breakfast in the Mantis while ceaselessly trying to kill the endless hordes of mosquitoes! Our laps looked like a battle field with all the mosquito carcasses lying everywhere! We both took quite a few hits until our reinforcements (the girls) came in. (The girls didn't get rid of the mosquitoes, it just meant the skeeters had more options and lessened everyone else's chance of a bite!) Another good thing to do is smoke the shelter out with mosquito coils before entering to hopefully kill a bunch off. In any case, just be aware of this and prevent yourself from more misery. A shelter is supposed to be just that, a shelter.

- Entering the green wall of hell. After all the work finding a way through, clearing bush and marking the way, we finally were able to portage our gear through.

There is so much more stories to write about, such as how we got cold beers in the middle of the trip, Kerry's dream and her swollen lips, and Marylou being chased by a beaver, but you'll have to take me out for a drink if you want to hear the rest of the stories! All I have to say, is I am glad we are all home safe and sound. I am extremely proud of our small group for surviving another one of my organized canoe trips. (They are all still speaking to me!) It was a huge sense of accomplishment. We all had to endure each other's short fuses under stressful situations, smells emanating from sweat drenched, dirt encrusted, blood stained articles of clothing, and deal with difficult and frustrating challenges. In the end, one extreme led to another - uncontrollable laughter and unforgettable memories! Thanks Marylou, James, and Kerry for the experience. Thank you all for hearing me out!
Cheers, David

- Beautiful dramatic sunrise on Henderson Lake

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Rosebary Lake Loop - Algonquin PP Apr 22-24 06

Taking a breather after one of the many portages

The wait was almost unbearable. Like race horses just itching to burst out of the gates at the sound of the bell, I could barely contain the anticipation of paddling again. I was dying to be on the water right after ice-out, however timing was the challenging part. Predicting water conditions is a combination of factual information and luck based on weather trends, therefore you plan for a set time and then hope for the best. As the days counted down, Marylou and I finally cracked open our containers and pulled out the paddling gear. Just packing felt great!

Imagine that!, even the first portage of the year felt great!

We headed to Algonquin for 3 days to paddle the Rosebary Lake Loop, located at the western edge of the park. Driving east past Kearney, we phoned in our registration and found out we were the first in the area when the park staff asked about the road conditions. The drive in was fine, but there was still snow in patches on the road so it made us wonder about ice on the lake.

Even the portage signs needed maintenace!

Once we got to the put-in, we quickly unloaded like overly excited kids. Snow was evident everywhere, but the river was free of ice and the smooth flowing water was inviting us in. Once we pushed off from the sandy landing, it was pure joy to dip our paddles in the cold dark water and propel the canoe downriver. It really felt good to be back in the canoe.

Trail maintenance is guaranteed if you're the first ones
through a portage in the spring!

We probably didn't have the best weather on this trip. The sun didn't appear until (honestly!) we paddled our last strokes to the take-out, but the overcast sky, pouring rain/drizzle, and cold temperatures didn't faze our awesome experience. I don't think anything could have dampened our spirits. We were just thrilled to be back in the wilderness to kick off the season!

Large ice pans still floating around on Tim lake

We saw all kinds of wildlife - moose, turtle, deer, beaver, muskrat, herons, etc. and even a wolf!, - no, we didn't get a picture of the wolf! I wish we had, but I was just stunned (this was our first ever sighting!). By the time it registered in my head to get the camera out, the wolf was way too far for a picture. With all the wildlife sightings, it just reassured us that old man winter had finally let go of its icy grip!

The demise of one moose means life for many others

There was some large ice pans still floating on Tim lake which lead me to believe the ice probably just went out. It was definitely neat to see, but reassuring that most of the ice was gone. There was still lots of snow in some areas, but it wasn't as challenging as dealing with all the downed trees. (all the snow made for some good snowball fights!) I guess being the first through the area before the park staff had the opportunity to work on the portages is just part of the benefits of having the place to yourself.

Contending with alder bushes while navigating upstream
through the narrow and forever winding Nipissing river

I hope all is well with everyone. We thoroughly enjoyed our first canoe trip of the season and already look forward to our next one. Hope your canoe trip comes soon, or maybe you've already gone!, in which case I hope you had a great one! Looking forward to a great paddling season. See you on the water!
David & Marylou

Even in death there is beauty