Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Lower Madawaska - The Hardest River to Access

A car with a red canoe, late in the night,
lost somewhere in the bush.

When I blog about my canoe trips, I quite often tell amusing or interesting stories that occur during the trip. I mean how exciting would it be for me to write about driving to the access point or home? (Granted, thinking about it now, I do have some interesting stories!) Usually the process of getting there and coming home is fairly straight forward and boring. Ho-hum...yawn. However, a recent trip to the Lower Madawaska River was an exception.

For several years, a fellow by the name of Dave Helsdon (the inventor of the Chrysalis Hammock) has been trying to get me to join him on his annual trip to the Lower Madawaska River for a weekend of whitewater fun. Not having paddled there previously, I was more than eager to go. The problem was that every time he would give me the dates for the trip, I already had plans to go paddling elsewhere! The timing thing just wasn't happening.


Dave Helsdon and I working together at the Toronto
Sportsmen Show for Eureka.

This year though, we finally managed to get our act together and agree on a weekend that worked for us both. Well, until days before the trip when Dave realized he had the wrong weekend! (Don't ask, big mix up.) Anyhow, since Lisa, Ben and Dimitry were joining me, we decided to still go ahead with the trip. The only issue was the access point. The usual start and end points are pretty easy to find, except we were doing the trip a bit different so we didn't have to paddle loaded boats. It was a great plan, but being Dave Helsdon's idea, it relied on his thorough knowledge of the area.

The plan was to drive down an access road to Slate Falls on the Madawaska and paddle across the river to set up camp. We would then head back the next morning to the car and drive to the end of the river where we would meet our shuttle driver. He would then shuttle us to the top of the river where we would start the trip and eventually end the day back at Slate Falls. Phew! Did you get it all?! The problem was finding the road to Slate Falls. No one in our group had ever been there, apparently is difficult to find, and it would also be completely dark. Get a sense of where this is going?


Do you think the fact that grass was growing on the 'road' was
good reason to believe this wasn't an access road?!

Of course we had a map of the river, info of the approximate location of the road including a kilometer marker given to us by the shuttle driver. Despite all this, Dave Helsdon warned that it is still hard to find due to the combination of no signs and an endless number of other access roads. Makes you wonder why we still went ahead with this plan. So off we went after work late Friday afternoon, excited about paddling whitewater and certain we would find it.

Both vehicles set the km marker at zero before heading down Hyland Creek Road. We were to find this road at kilometer 13. It was very dark and foggy (coming from the river) as we began down the road at approx 21:30. The drive along the dirt road with the heavy canopy of overhanging trees and the thick mist casting a eerie glow from the high beam seemed the perfect scenario for a horror flick. Some excitement came from the odd animal quickly scurrying away at our approach, but for the most part it was an uneventful drive. Although, we did note many rough roads leading into the forest, presumably to the river.


We really needed the headlamps to see the trail
to the river as it was so dark.

Just before the thirteen kilometer mark, I slowed down and scanned the left side of the road. We came upon a rough looking dirt road that looked quite probable. With a hint of arrogance, I mumbled to myself about how easy it was to find. Signalling to my friends behind that I was turning in, that attitude quickly wavered the further we drove in. The road had now narrowed considerably and got much rougher with branches from bushes and trees squealing along the sides and tops of the car! I was starting to have serious doubts.


Relieved to find a campsite, we unloaded the gear
in the dark to lug it down to the river.

At one point I stopped and got out to discuss the situation with the other driver. There was no way in hell this was the way. (At least that was what we hoped.) We decided to go on a bit further to rule it out, but when we had to move a downed tree and big rocks started to appear all over the 'road', we knew for certain that this wasn't it. We then had to drive in reverse (which wasn't easy either) until we could find a bit of a clearing before heading back out. Any confidence in my route finding ability was long gone at this point.


We had another situation. A can of beer leaked in the barrel!
(No, we didn't drink from the barrel!) "Hey guys,
do bears like beer?!

Back on the main road, we searched further along until we soon came upon another similar dirt road. Just like before, we headed in until it got pretty bad before heading back out. Frustrated, we now only looked for roads that were well worn since there were rough roads everywhere. We did finally manage to identify Buck Bay Road further on, but that was way off from where we were supposed to be. This same scenario played out for quite some time until we ended up trying to get information from a trailer full of inebriated hunters. According to them, we were now on Green Lake Road and it didn't go anywhere close to the river.

Now more confused then ever, we were at a loss of what to do. Looking at the map yet again, we eventually found a well worn dirt road that got us to a locked gate that indicated the park boundary. Progress! After parking the vehicles, we hiked down to the river with our headlamps and found a rough campsite that we could at least stay at. What a relief that was! We didn't care at this point where we were, (as we still didn't really know) just as long as we could set up camp and get to our shuttle driver the next morning. It was well past midnight as we lugged our packs down to the river in the light rain and fog, but despite being frustrated, lost, confused and exhausted, it was all over. We made it. Finally!


Celebrating the end to the ordeal with the remaining beer from
the punctured can. No use letting it go to waste!

Nestled in my down bag as I turned my headlamp off at two thirty in the morning, I wondered how the rest of the trip was going to play out. It isn't often when the drama of a canoe trip actually occurs before it even starts! Just thankful that it was over, I shook my head and closed my weary eyes.

Now who says driving to a canoe trip is boring?!

tPP out!

PS. Hey Dave, how about next year?
(Shhh, I'll just confirm the dates with his wife first! ;))

Post a Comment