French – Pickerel River Trip: September 2014

September 12 - 15 2014

Day 2

Saturday, Sept. 13. Chimney Island (I think) French River. 6pm

We were on the water by 8:30 today, despite getting up around 7. It was a damn hard thing to do to get out of that warm sleeping bag, I tell you. See I’d been nodding in and out of sleep since around 3am and each time out hearing rain on the tent.

“Rain before seven, clear by eleven,” I kept telling myself. “It’ll be fine. Besides, it’s only water.”

Oatmeal, granola, coffee. Then everything into the bags. Mercifully MEC’s Wanderer 2 tent can be taken down while it’s still underneath the fly. Normally I bring a garbage bag to quarantine a relatively dry tent before I stuff it in with the wet fly and groundsheet, but I forgot this time. I had used a dry bag for the tent, so I just stuffed the wet bits loose in the pack and kept the tent in the dry bag. I can report that it worked. The tent was still dry when I pulled it out earlier this afternoon, even though I poured a half a cup of water out of the pack.

It didn’t stop raining for us so we ate and packed under the tarp.

The other bit of bad news was that I forgot to bring a headlamp. So no writing in the tent at night, the late night camp faff-about-put-away done in total darkness. It’s actually a bigger drag than I thought. I generally don’t like flashlights and try hard to avoid using them. But they do come in handy. It’s too cold to write outside – the ink stops flowing after a few lines, so usually I wait until before bed. Now I can’t.

Enough whining about all the things I forgot.

A brief paddle brought us into the French River’s narrow channels and out of cottage country for a bit. We took the Old Voyageur Channel, which, as I recalled, had a few liftovers. Not so much this time. The “engorged” French River turned these into chutes, ledges and drops, also obliterating or submerging the habitual paths around or over the rocks.

A capsize in that water on such a cold day would have really messed up our plans. I imagined us huddling on some miserable rain soaked rock, desperately dousing sopping wood in stove fuel trying to build a fire before succumbing to hypothermia.

We opted to carry around anything that looked like it would require a maneuver or that had enough of a drop that swamping would be a concern. See I also forgot to bring a bailer. In the end, we ran a couple of swifts and one long chute that was fluffy enough to make us ship some water.

We spent most of that morning, near shivering, in full rain gear under unrelenting rain. It would have been a better day to go hiking or the canoe tripping equivalent as constant activity would have kept us warm. But the stop/start of shortish paddles and liftovers had us cooling off constantly.

It was in this context of semi-numbness that we lost one of our cups. I’d kept it out to use as a bailer, running the grey pack’s over-strap through its handle. But as Martin was lowering the pack into the canoe, the strap’s D-clip gave way, slingshotting the cup into the deep, tea-coloured water at the end of a liftover. I probed the water with my paddle but there was no chance of ever finding it.

As we paddled away toward the outer islands of the delta, we were both trying to figure out what to do with no water bottles and one cup. I had To build a fire going through my head. Martin’s idea was far superior. Cut the bottom off one of the wine tetra packs. After consuming its contents of course.

A bit of ingenuity, a bit of make do and the leatherman. Good thing I brought it. I don’t usually. And voilà. Cup. And we are using the top of the tetra pack as a bailer. Good one, Martin.

We have, for some reason, an extra serving bowl. I was going to suggest drinking wine out of it. Ha ha ha. No.

We saw a group of four otters just past Devils Door Rapids. They were poking their heads out of the water and snorting at us.

It was a shame it was so rainy and we were so cold because this stretch of the trip probably has the most fabulous and undisturbed scenery. It is truly gorgeous. But all I could think about was how to keep moving. And I was too cold to hold the camera steady.

I’ll just have to go back.

We rounded the corner of the Old Voyageur Channel and headed east into the Cross Channel. We pushed through a few more swifts, but portaged around Devil’s Door Rapid. It looked like too steep a drop. But Martin wiped out on a rock at the portage, getting a waist-deep soaker, reminding us that portages too are not without risk.

After Devil’s Door, the Cross Channel takes you south and east towards Georgian Bay, just north of the Bustard Islands.

Just after noon we noticed that the rain had stopped. We didn’t dare mention it until 20 minutes later.

We stopped for lunch on Magee Island around 1pm. The stretch between Whitefish Bay and Obstacle Island has the potential to be very tough, I expect, it being quite exposed to Georgian Bay. You really get the idea of how immense the bay is here. I’m told paddling in an open canoe you can be windbound sometimes. But for us, it wasn’t any worse than normal lake paddling, with a mild cross wind pushing us out toward the bay a bit, and waves giving the canoe a slight wiggle. Nothing we couldn’t handle.

I had plotted a course back up Bass Creek and Bass Lake (the suggestion of Welcome Centre Woman) in case the water was too rough. But by 1:50, we’d pushed past the mouth of Bass Creek and the weather was holding steady. Even looking like clearing. In fact as we passed north of Dock Island, we even saw a bit of sun.

Question: what is the small village south of Dock Island? It looks like a half dozen or so white, wood framed houses.

We also saw navigation markers. Lots of them. A public service announcement to earnest wilderness seekers. There are a lot of navigation markers around. We didn’t see that many motorboats today, but it would seem these are boating channels. I see why they’d need the markers and there is a fair bit of settlement around here for whom boat is a principal form of travel. Is there a road into the village of Pickerel River, for example? It doesn’t seem so. If you are willing to avoid this beautiful area just because there are signs of human activity pretty much everywhere, then know that such signs exist.

Campsite markers, not so much. Around here it seems the best way to find a place people have liked camping is to look for a stack of rocks of some sort. There are probably lots of flat places on rocks to place a reasonably self-supporting tent, but we were looking for a place with some shelter. We found it, just after 3pm, near Chimney Island.

Through this part of the delta it really starts to look more like Georgian Bay. The islands flatten out, the rock loses its pink colour, the trees shrink. And to the south, open water, punctuated by blips of islands and their reflections.

The cold and wet feeling though, wasn’t really going away. So around 2pm we started thinking ‘campsite’.

My twelve year old map has a few sites marked on it around where we were looking. And the guy at Hartley Bay said there were more now than there were in 2002, but we didn’t see that many. The markers are small, tasteful dark orange diamonds and can be hard to spot, where they exist at all.

It is an unmanaged park, after all, so one shouldn’t expect the same service and or support as in Algonquin, Killarney or any of the managed back country parks. And the challenge is part of the fun. On the other hand, so is the griping about it.

The site we found seemed to be a well-loved vacation space for two people who it seems were buried there. They’d even set up a clothesline – complete with metal reel. The shrine marker suggested they were contemporary (as opposed to ancient) users of the site, so I’m hoping they and their ancestors didn’t mind us keeping them company for a night.

There are ancient burial grounds around there where camping is prohibited.

We ate around 6:30. Dinner was another Laurie Ann March recipe – Polenta with beans and tomato sauce. The quantities were good. And it tasted great too. Warm, mushy stew. Perfect comfort food. We used more of the parmesan I brought. Still not all of it. French Rabbit still a hit too.

The clouds broke up a little bit in the afternoon, showing a bit of sun, and we had some sun on us while we set up camp, which was truly a blessing. We got the tent fly and the tarp dried out. We even managed to eat most of dinner before the rain ambushed us again.

It made lighting a fire a lot harder, but Martin managed it. And the sky cleared in time to show us a rising super moon and tons of stars.

By this point I’d broken out the long underwear and was truly ‘all-in’ in the clothing department. The temperature was dropping and we went for the tent around 10pm, tired, damp, a bit cold, but happy.