Monday, June 4, 2012

May Long Weekend Tripping


The scenic Gibson River - almost perfect
for a short weekend getaway.

I hate long weekends. Okay, maybe that is a bit harsh. I don't really hate long weekends, but I do hate long weekends for canoe trips. My usual routine has always been to work over the weekend, get paid extra for working the statutory holiday, and then take time off later on. When I go away on a canoe trip, I want to escape all the things that remind me of life in the city - noise, crowds, ringing cell phones, cars, sirens and loud music. I assume many of you feel the same way, but when you have hundreds, if not thousands of people heading out for the long weekend, it's often more difficult to find that piece of solitude. And if you are lucky enough to find it, on the way home, dealing with traffic jams and irritable drivers is enough to make you wonder why you went out in the first place!


Lifting over a small dam near the head of the Gibson River.
 Thankfully there was enough  water to paddle!

So guess what I did this past May long weekend? Yes, I was actually out on a canoe trip! A paddling friend of mine was quite surprised when she found out what I was doing. As she knows how I feel about long weekend trips, she told me to try and relax, drink a bit (as it is a May two-four tradition), and try not to kill anyone. I had a good laugh. So the big question is why? Well, my fiancĂ©e's job requires her to be off every statutory holiday. That means, unless I take it off as well, we will never have a long weekend together. (I quickly surmised that that wasn't a smart idea, seeing that I am about to get married to her.) Since I worked over the Easter long weekend, I decided to compromise. A request was submitted to take Victoria Day off and plans put in place for a canoe trip. With friends also being off from work as well, I was thrilled to have some of them join us for the trip.


 Pretty falls tucked away in a corner of Brothersons Lake.
Photo: Fred Kodjayan

My lack of preparation for the long weekend trip immediately became evident when plans for paddling at Charleston Lake Provincial Park was stymied. I tried to get information on the route and book interior sites a week prior to the departure date. What a big mistake, everything was booked. Considering the weather forecast for the weekend was looking spectacular, I should have known, but as you can see, I'm not an experienced long weekend tripper. Realizing now that other parks sites would probably be all booked, I looked at another alternative - crown land routes. The odds of finding campsites could still be slim, but much better than going to a park where all the sites are booked!

Low water levels meant we often had to drag through bony
rapids that normally could have been run.

The pressure was mounting as I had less than a week to find a route. It had to be relatively close, located on crown land,  moderately easy for our group, and lastly, not too popular. Wait, aren't those the ideal criteria most paddlers look for?! Who was I fooling? If I could pull this off, it would be like having the Midas touch! I was putting myself up to failure in one way or another, but with no choice, I began pouring over books and maps until I found a route - the Gibson River. It was close by, it was on crown land, route not too demanding and I was hoping it wasn't very popular. Mainly because the extremely popular Gibson-McDonald route just west of where we would be paddling would be guaranteed to be a canoeist long weekend nightmare. Besides, since this was a river trip, the shuttle would most likely deter other paddlers. (At least I hoped!) Thinking positively, I informed my group about my route choice.

We had the privilege,...er,....I had the privilege of seeing so many
snakes, including this Massassauga Rattler!
Photo: Ben Albert


One minor (or possibly major) issue that was nagging at me was water levels. The combination of little snow cover over the winter and even less precipitation this spring meant rivers were at record low levels. As you can imagine, I was worried about what we would find, or not find. With no other choice, our party of six paddlers and 2 dogs headed out early Saturday morning. We quickly shuttled the vehicles when we got there, paid for parking, and even had ice cream before we pushed off from the shores of Nine Mile Lake. With moderate traffic to deal with on the way up and only one other group paddling out with us, I hoped this was a good sign. How couldn't I feel optimistic, being that it was a gorgeous day to start a canoe trip.


Bottleneck Rapids - a little tougher to get through, but
 not with teamwork and elbow grease.

Once we paddled to the end of the lake and started down the Gibson river, I was much relieved to find enough water to float us through. The level was down as expected, but other than at rapids which we often had to drag through, I was just happy we could still paddle. The Gibson River surprisingly ended up being a great destination for a canoe trip. The varied terrain that we found ourselves travelling through was thoroughly enjoyable as it was often isolated, intimate and captivating. The river courses its way through marshes, along narrow corridors, down scenic falls, and beside granite outcrops. The wildlife sightings were numerous, especially of the reptilian kind, as we got to see a five-lined skink, a salamander, a big toad, turtles, large tadpoles and lots of snakes, including the infamous Massassauga Rattler. The weather over the course of the weekend continued to be incredible, as we sweltered under the blazing sun. The company was lots of fun, the food plentiful and delicious, and heck, I even drank too! It certainly sounded like the ideal weekend trip, but not everything turned out perfectly.


"Leaves of  three, let them be" - These wonderful foliage graced our
campsite on the second day - which we promptly named
Poison Ivy Point.

Day two was a stark reminder of that. First, paddling the length of Gibson Lake was painful as it was in full celebration mode as people, music and watercraft were evident everywhere. Secondly, the lack of camp sites on the route meant we had a very long haul that day. Luckily we found a campsite just before dark that evening, but being close to highway 69, we unfortunately got to hear all the vehicles whizzing by. Lastly, the unused campsite we found was covered in poison ivy. We even had to burn some around the firepit in order to cook. (We knew the dangers of burning them too, but had little choice.) Despite all this, we managed to end the day in good spirits, especially after filling our bellies with food, rehydrating, and relaxing around the campfire.


High Falls - who would have thought to find such
hidden gems so close to home!

So not everything turned out well, but enough things did go right that I was convinced I would do it again. I probably would do a few things differently next time, but the combination of great weather, scenic route, and good company helped to make the best of a weekend I would normally dread. Canoe trips for me are hard to refuse, but now, the prospect of a long weekend canoe trip seems more feasible with the right planning. Hope you all got out paddling as well!

Cheers,
tPP


PS. Surprisingly, none of us got any reaction to the poison ivy, despite the burning and the dogs walking all through them as well. Phew!



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