Monday, June 18, 2012

"Voyageur Quest" on the French River

It is a crazy idea to paddle  80 km in one long day.  Yet this crazy idea  brought the 7 of us together to paddle a massive chunk of the French River  -   from Wolseley Bay to Georgian Bay - in one marathon day.  Something of a  2012 take on the voyageurs and the historic  fur trade route on the French River.

I’ve always known the voyageurs to be a rowdy, somewhat wild crew who paddled hard  by day and enjoyed  a smoke and sip of something strong at night.  Our approach was  similar  but with the addition  of  steaks, fresh trout  and wine.

Late afternoon Monday, we put in and paddled a few hours to get in the groove.

One of our seven, Peter, is  the definition of a  “ringer”. Peter has been paddling Montreal canoes down the French for decades.  His confidence in what our north canoe could handle was inspiring and  in no time  we were  barreling down  the rapids of Blue Chute and Parisien  with big smiles.

Our 26 foot north canoe looked a little rough with uneven packs, barrel and coolers but we were balanced nicely and  with seven paddlers   moved  at a  good pace.   At one point our big canoe   went over a rock garden and one good sized boulder which stretched the canoe but unbelievably  did not break.  Amazed ,we paddled on checking for leaks which never came.

The French River has amazing camping everywhere and our Monday night site was superb.  After a feast of red meat and shiraz, we sipped spiced  rum  by the fire and talked through our plan for the big day. On the water by 5am and with luck – on the bay by end of daylight.

Tuesday began with driving rain which thankfully quit as we packed out. With a hit of coffee – we were off. The first 5 hours flew by. 30 odd k and feeling good. The portage around Recollect Falls was simple and provided a much needed fuel stop.

And then the west wind kicked in. The forecast called for westerly winds at 25km and  we  felt all of  it.    The canoe slowed but our effort  did not.  The French River really is a series of  lakes and we paddled on through bay after bay.

Mid afternoon – we turned south and got a  wee  break from the brunt of the wind.  In no time we were at the Dallas Rapids- a tricky set but one in  which we were looking forward  to shooting.  But our excitement  quickly changed to concern . The rapid looked  treacherous in one spot . With the early  spring melt , the water level on the French was exceeding low and  at this rapid translated to   the  sharp rocks  below the surface. Rocks that otherwise we could float over in higher water.
So much effort,  head wind and now this  “fun” rapid  was turning out to be our crux.  The gate before the bay. We all wanted to run the rapid but with that can opener – the chance of the canoe being torn apart was real.  The portage was short but  the trails we did see went nowhere and were difficult for  carrying a north canoe. Lining  was no picnic either.  The idea of a difficult portage or line  after such a long day on the river was bringing down our energy. 

There is no reward without risk and with that in our mind a decision was made to shoot “Dallas” without packs and with a lighter weight of just 4 paddlers.

Pete gave us the line and we nailed it  - with a nice eddy turn to boot!

Our spirits soared!  On to the bay!

Our group of 7 hit the Bay an hour after.  The off shore islands protected us  from the   wind  and  we were able  to paddle out to Sabine Island  arriving around 6:15pm.  

 Satisfied and with smiles all around,   we hoisted a drink with a gorgeous view of Georgian Bay and the Bustard Islands.

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