Friday Sept. 12, 6:10pm Western Channel
We started early. Too early. Apparently we were not yet awake by the time we got to Hartley Bay Marina. How else to explain why we left our water bottles in the car.
“Oh well,” I rationalized, foreshadowing a later disaster, “we’ve still got the mugs and the dromedary.”
So. How early? 5:30am. That’s normal for us on long drive years. Which this is. When you only have four days you want to waste as little daylight as possible in the car.
We arrived at Hartley Bay at 11:30. The guy at the permit office/store/everything said “Pickerel River” when I asked about which route to take back. He wrinkled his nose at Fox Creek.
He commented on my map. It’s a classic, he said. The current map features the same geography, but all the campsites are numbered.
“So when you see the marker you know exactly where you are.” There are apparently more campsites now than when my map was made (some twelve years ago). He nonetheless argued against dropping the $17 for a new one. I didn’t want to seem like a spendthrift. I wish I’d bought a new map, honestly. Locating campsites was a bit of a chore and what harm would it have done Hartley Bay to have another $17 in the register?
He also thought we were being ambitious. “Oh, it’s do-able, but I’m just letting you know you’ll need an amount of enthusiasm for paddling equal to the task.”
We paid our $10 per person per night camping fee and headed off.
The marina charges $10 for the privilege of driving down to the dock, taking your 15 minutes to unload and put your canoe in the water. Parking is $10 per day for a car. Trailers and buses are extra. They’ll also rent you canoes, kayaks, stoves and food barrels. The people were really nice and I didn’t mind the fees.
This bit of the French River is pretty straight forward. Martin remarked it didn’t look much like a river. There’s no noticeable current and it’s very wide. It looks more like a really long lake.
A very scenic lake. The first few kilometres out of Hartley Bay and into Wanapitei Bay are fairly cottagey. A lot of the places pre-date the creation of the park, and most of them would seem to be off-grid. And I know the owners are pretty protective of their natural surroundings. For this I am grateful. However to trippers looking to feel like you’re the only human in a 100km radius, you will be disappointed.
So we paddled. The cottages became less frequent. And we paddled. And we paddled. After about 20km, we had reached Robinson Bay, where I’d planned on calling it a day. The site I’d marked was still there. But it wasn’t awesome. It was littered with junk. Abandoned appliances, an engine, broken bottles and more. And it had a cottage just up river and another on an island near the shore opposite. But the next nearest campsite on my map was a couple of kilometres further south, along what promised to be more difficult paddling.
We’d done really well. We had a tail wind pretty much the entire way generally managing between six and seven km/hr. Certainly does a lot for your enthusiasm about paddling of which we will apparently need a great quantity.
The river is very high. “Engorged” the woman at the Visitors Centre had said on the phone. There had been a lot of rain this summer, right up until a couple of days before. The shore is lined with saplings, leaves turning colour, just barely sticking up out of the water that were clearly on land in spring. This part of the river is pretty, but it’s not the stuff of paintings, postcards and such. That will be tomorrow and Sunday.
I really wished I’d splurged on the new map. It nagged at me that there could be a new campsite just 300m further along that would afford us and our cottage neighbours some seclusion, be free of the large chunks of rusting metal, complete with a paddle-up bar.
But we were cold. And tired. So we stopped and set up camp.
Pesto and shelf-stable gnocchi with parmesan for dinner. Two packs of the gnocchi made for a very full meal. Our waistlines might have been better off with a pack and a half. But we’d skipped lunch, so we managed to eat it all. Despite the cold we stayed up until around 10pm, talking around another of Martin’s famous fires. The sky wasn’t giving up any stars and we knew tomorrow was going to be long, with rain and a forecast high of 10C.