Monday, October 25, 2010

Bloodvein River - Part 2 No Two Alike

This portage weaved through a stand of jack pines growing
amongst a thick carpet of moss. What a beauty!
If only they could all look like this!

Like the uniqueness and exclusivity of our fingerprint, no two portages are alike. They all have something that makes them stand out one from another. There are longs ones, short ones, rough ones and groomed ones, and how can we forget about wet ones! Well even though we experienced lots of interesting portages on the Bloodvein, there was another one that made quite an impression on us.

The day started as usual with Lisa and I checking the maps and setting a destination for the day. It was to be a full day of paddling, including eight portages that would eventually get us into Knox Lake. I wondered why that lake was named as such, but I was betting the 1500m portage before it had something to do with it. Besides, I vaguely recalled the outfitter who shuttled us mentioning that it was pretty wet, - great!

We moved along at a steady pace, both making distance and enjoying the scenery. The weather was great, but the oppressive heat was hard to bear at times. Despite making myself drink often to stay hydrated, I was slowly being worn down by the heat. So much so that I even had a hard time taking in food to maintain energy. (It made me feel nauseous.) Late in the afternoon as we got closer to our destination, I knew the last portage, the one to Knox Lake was going to take everything I had to finish. Preparing for the inevitable, I washed down a couple bars with water for some energy, as little did I know, I was going to need every bit of it!

Exhausted and filthy, glad to finish the
first part of the portage!
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

The take-out to the portage was located in a marshy area. The landing was fine and even the start of the trail looked pretty good compared to the many wet ones we'd already trampled. Would we be lucky? I certainly hoped so as we strapped on the packs and optimistically set out. The slightly wet mud trail among the reeds and alders was totally acceptable and seemed promising; that is until we had carried a mere 50 meters. As we both stood gawking at what laid ahead, my spirit sunk.

Leaving dry land, Lisa shot video of me heading
back into the muck for the canoe.
(And that is without a load!)

Stretched out before us was a distinct path of unmistakable, dark and foreboding boot-sucking mud! Clearly it had the undeniable signature of many footsteps gone before. (And possibly many victims!) Like the wet portage earlier in the day, the inevitable began in earnest as the mud pulled us into its depths. Luckily, we didn't go any deeper than our knees, but the biggest issue was the consistency of the mud. It was thick like molasses. We most certainly would have preferred the wetter version as you can walk through it with relative ease, but here each step felt like a foot entrapment. Like a predator not willing to release its prey from its maw, we had to expend an incredible amount of energy just trying to pull our feet out. Considering it was only day two of our trip, our heavily laden packs didn't help in any way.

Resorting to dragging the canoe just diverted my
pain elsewhere. Talk about exertion, listen to
Lisa trying to catch her breath while
shooting footage!

Approximately 300 meters later, exhausted and filthy, we finally saw the end in sight. Hallelujah! It was cause for celebration, but short lived as we decided to go back for the canoe and the other pack before setting off on the rest of the portage. Round two wasn't any better trying to balance the 80 pound canoe through the mud. It was an ordeal to say the least. Almost falling over several times, I put it down and resorted to dragging it. The exertion needed to both drag the canoe and pull my legs out was brutal on my lower back and totally spent me. When it was finally all over, exhausted, I dropped like a sack of potatoes.

The muck was so thick it forced it's way into my pants and
wouldn't come out! Elephant-titis feet!
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

After a much needed rest, the fact remained that we still had roughly 1100 meters still to go, - twice. Lisa saw my pathetic plight after the first carry and graciously offered to carry the canoe on the second run as I was spent. Normally my stubbornness would get me through, but the heat, lack of food and 'mud hell' had me totally beat. Therefore I humbly and thankfully accepted the kind offer.

Some higher power must have either felt sorry that I had to endure heat exhaustion or was turned off by my filth, because at the end of the trail the skies opened up and literally dumped on me! (us) Refreshing to say the least! Maybe the just reward for surviving the portage to Knox Lake. Whichever the case, I know exactly now why the lake was named as such!!

The reward for making to Knox lake alive!
I really did need it!!
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

PS. After the first run through the mud hole, we noted a nice dry trail coming from the left. We thought that this may have been a new trail to deal with the one we just endured. Judging from where it was coming from, when we got back to the original take-out, we actually paddled out into the lake hoping to find this new portage. Once we thought we found it, but after carrying the canoe and pack in, we were soon caught in a massive tangle of downed trees! Sigh! (It ended up being a well worn animal trail.) Wasting time and energy as well as being disappointed, we reluctantly headed back into the mud hole for round two. We never did find out where that newly created trail came from as I didn't have the energy or time to walk it to its end, but if anyone knows, I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Uh-Oh! Its That Time of Year!

Just got back from a canoe trip on a river just a couple hours north of Toronto. At this time of year, as much as I love to go, I always find that the anticipation for trips is a mixture of two emotions. First and foremost the excitement of heading back out on the water, but also the anxiety of what the weather may throw at me. This time of year you just never know what you may get, so things like packing clothes is always a conundrum. "Should I take it or not?", "Do I really need it?", - I've had temperatures this time of year over 20 degrees Celsius to below zero. Of course I could pay attention to the weather report, but you know how that works, often doesn't. (The first night of this trip, the temperature was to bottom out at -4C. It didn't even go below zero!) Anyhow, like gambling you occasionally luck out, and other times you don't. Although, hopefully you are prepared when it isn't. Anyhow, on our drive up Friday morning as we approached Barrie, this is what I saw. See below.

Driving north on Hwy 400 before Barrie, it was
almost whiteout conditions!

The snow finally stopped, but all of the white stuff on the trees
and the ground made driving with a canoe on my
car look a bit ridiculous.

I was a bit apprehensive seeing all the snow, but I knew there was no way I was going to turn around. In the end, the weather wasn't that bad. Even the down jacket I took in anticipation wasn't even used! However, lots of gear was wet at the end of the trip so everything is strewn around in the basement drying out. The bet was a draw this time. That in my books is a win!

Any bets that I'll still get out paddling?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bloodvein River - Part 1 No Two Alike

Some hate them with a passion, and others enjoy them as a break from paddling. Some avoid them like the plague, and others purposely seek them to take them further into solitude. Yes, they are portages. It is a key element in the overall experience of canoe tripping, don't you agree? Despite the multiple feelings surrounding them, frankly if you do end up portaging, they can quite often be the most poignantly impressionable part of the trip!

Portages, - either lov'em or hate'em

Our experience with 2 portages on the Bloodvein left Lisa and I just that. Unforgettable memories. Portages on our trip were for the most part straight forward and uneventful. The map marks the location, the distance, and on the topos, elevation gain or loss that can help you prepare for the inevitable. Well except for the one I accidentally read on the map backwards and couldn't figure where the heck it was!! (we were at the brink of a massive class 3-4 rapid holding onto flooded trees as the boiling water tried to pull us in! - oops!)

Wet portages are not new to me. Whether its wet from stuff falling from above (which includes snow) or from the accumulation of water down below. I don't think anyone relishes the thought of getting wet when they don't have to, but if that's the only way through, you're going to get wet whether you like it or not.

Some of the best scenery on canoe trips are found along
portages. Don't miss out on them!

Early on day two of our trip, we came upon an innocuous looking 400 meter portage. It was wet and mucky like most we had already experienced. No cause for concern except when we came down to an area where the forest canopy gave way. Looking down the 'trail' as far as we could see was dark murky water tightly enclosed by thick alders. Dreading what lay ahead we slowly plodded forward hoping it wasn't as bad as it looked. What Lisa and I both feared begin in earnest, - it kept getting deeper.

As the cold dark water rose steadily up our legs, we then had to blindly navigate hidden roots and debris down below. I was both amused and annoyed that this was a portage! I started to even question if the portage was already finished. (I knew it wasn't as we'd hardly gone 100 meters on the trail.) A canoe could have helped right then but it wasn't with us on our first carry. Watching Lisa ahead I could now see the bottom of her barrel pack in the water. Was it going to get any deeper?! At this point, rather than carry my Pelican case (which contains all the camera gear) I just floated it alongside me.

Struggling along with our arms above the water, we mutually decided to go back for the canoe as it was ridiculous to continue any further like this. The only problem was that there was no place to put our gear. Forging ahead as we were now up to our waist, we finally found a mound of rock off to the side which we pushed through the alders to get at. Dropping off the packs we both shook our heads, chuckled at our luck and waded back into the water.

Here's a little snippet of the lovely wet portage!

After getting the canoe, we did end up 'paddling the portage' a short distance to dry land where we then continued portaging the normal way. The short 200 meters through the flooded trail certainly was not long in any respects, but in terms of depth, it was the deepest portage both Lisa and I have ever been on. I'm not certain whether it would have gotten any deeper, but we were happy not to find out as it was still early in the morning and the water was pretty darn cold.

Dragging the barrels on top of the water was easier than
trying to lift the heavy things into the canoe!

So why would a portage go through a deep flooded trail like this? I'm pretty sure at one point it didn't, but based on the topography it was probably just another soggy trail. Although I can't be for certain, I pretty sure the culprit was a beaver. I am always amazed at the ingenious feats these rodents are capable of, but that day I was unimpressed. The only other thing I was upset about was not being able to get more amusing pictures of the fiasco! Hopefully, time? Unforgettable memories were already being created even before getting on the river!
What next!?! More to come!


- We have since heard from others that had gone through this portage. Lucky for us as it came up to their chest for them!!

Nope, that isn't the river, its on the other side! That in fact
is the portage around a big rapid on the Bloodvein!