French – Pickerel River Trip: September 2014

September 12 - 15 2014

Day 3

Sunday, September 14, 3pm, The Elephants.

This is the place to camp on this part of the river. Most definitely. More on that later.

We were on the water late – 9:20 after crawling out of bed around 7am – and despite having the no-frills breakfast of oatmeal with granola scattered over it. It’s a good thing I never eat the stuff at home or I’d be sick of it, I expect.

My experiment with the collapsing tripod cloth coffee filter is not going well. It takes too long to pour and as a result, coffee is luke warm by the time it’s ready. I will have to try it at home with a more coarse grind. It’s possible the fine grind that the Bridgehead associate performed is clogging up the works.

It is, however very light and it takes up far less space than those mug mates.

Our route today took us south around some of the outer Outer Fox Islands, through Dead Island Channel and then back up toward Hartley Bay via the Pickerel River.

We were heading around the south edge of the Outer Fox islands and through Dead Island Channel before 10am. The wind hit us from the side and the water was jiggly and wavy, but no hint of danger or difficulty. Your mileage may vary.

After the channel we turned north and headed up the Pickerel River. The Pickerel is a beautiful stretch of water. Kevin Callan’s write-up of this stretch is proof that you never travel the same river twice. There was much less water in the river when he took this trip (at least the one he writes about). The river he describes sounds like a frustrating, long slog, with lots of wet feet, liftovers and slow progress.

Our Pickerel River, engorged as it was, was eminently navigable. Yes, it narrows, and there were four or so liftovers and one portage of less than 70 metres. And it might have been the weather, which was overcast, with some sun but only the tiniest spots of rain, but all in this stretch left us in a much better mood than yesterday.

We stopped for lunch just after noon on a lake just north of the Eastern Outlet. Which was when I got the feeling something was weird with the map. See there were motorboats – fishers – in the channel north of us. And not the sort of tin skiffs someone might stash on the other side of a portage.

Route vs Reality. Map says ‘no’ the river says ‘go’.

“How are they getting in here,” I asked myself between thinking about how good that peanut butter sandwich tasted. “Because my information shows no navigable channel back to the French River.” Okay, my 12 year old paper map was a bit ambiguous on the question, but the Topo map on my GPS was clear: no contiguous water between the French’s main channel and the Pickerel. See?

But around 1pm we paddled up to where the water was supposed to end and there was a wide channel connecting the two, complete with fishing boat. “Is this the way to Toronto,” Martin asked fellow boaters.

The sun was back and the wind came up from the west, right into our faces as we made our way toward Pickerel Bay and The Elephants, our intended stopping point for today.

The spot gets its name from the massive pink granite promontory visible as soon as you round the corner. It’s massive. 20m tall, maybe. And at 1:35 we put ashore, just opposite where we would have emerged had we taken the Fox Creek route. All in, about 19km on the day.

The campsite is beautiful, but the waterway before us has had a regular buzz of motorboats. One every hour or so. Mostly people fishing.

The shorter day (and better weather) gave us time to dry out the tent fly, our clothes and gear. Most importantly was the coveted afternoon cup of coffee, a tradition we began last year when day three ran a little short.

It’s a rattler. We heard it. Trust us.

We also had our most notable wildlife sighting: a Massassauga rattlesnake. Sitting right on an informal path clearly used by many to collect firewood. Martin came very close to stepping on it.

At first we weren’t quite sure it was a rattler. I had been told there is a snake that looks like a Massassauga Rattlesnake but is not a biter and not poisonous. It’s the Eastern Fox Snake.

Martin figured he’d give it a bit of a poke, to shoo it away so that he could collect in safety and without hurting the reptile. Which was when we got the audio cue/confirmation that in fact it was a rattler. Neither of us knew what it means to get bitten by a rattlesnake, so we just walked away.

Post facto note: The West Parry Sound Health Centre is the place to go if you’re bitten. The venom disrupts blood flow and prevents clotting so the biggest problem is internal bleeding. Only two people have died from snake bites in Ontario in the last 40 years but both died because they were not treated.

The Massassauga Rattler is a protected species. It is illegal to kill or harass them. With any luck the appropriate authorities will take pity on us and accept this public service announcement in favour of leaving them be as penance and not launch an investigation. I wholeheartedly support efforts to conserve them and all species with the possible exception of deer flies. This fact sheet has some helpful tips.

  • They’re not into attacking. Bites happen when the snake defends itself. Against being stepped on, for example.
  • Its striking distance is half its body length.
  • It is not likely able to bite through leather or loose clothing.
  • Just because it bites doesn’t mean it will inject venom. Although three out of four times it will.
  • That business you see in movies about sucking the venom out of the wound is rubbish.
  • What helps is to stay calm and inactive.

We checked in on the snake a little later. It was slowing making its way to some form of hidey hole. Which suited us fine. We were happy to share habitat with it and leave it in peace.

Dinner was dahl with rice and wraps (which I think I may drop for proper naan, next year).

I tried an experiment this year in the wine department – the Platypreserve. Rather than subsist soley on tetra pack wine, I thought I’d decant a quality bottle into one of these. And it worked well. Even Martin, one of Ottawa’s most newly minted sommeliers felt it was acceptable.

I think the trick is to take the instructions to heart and remove all the oxygen from the vessel immediately after decanting. MEC sells them for $8.50. Can’t tell you how long they last. But I can tell you they do improve the quality of your wine drinking experience substantially.

In the gear disappointment department, my new Prana zip pants. One slip, one landing on my knee and I have a two inch tear in them. My 13 year old Sportif zip pants have had far worse and endured without tearing.

Post facto note: MEC took the pants back and gave me a store credit, as is their habit. They really are great. Unfortunately Sportif doesn’t seem to make an equivalent pair of sturdy, quick-dry pants with zip-off legs any more.

The evening was great – nice fire to ward off the cold, scotch to warm from the inside out and stars like you can never see in the city. And sleep by 10:20pm.