Bonnechere River Trip

Algonquin Park, May 10 to 15, 2005

Day 3

Thursday May 12th 2005, 7pm, somewhere between Trail 1 and Falls 3, Bonnechere River

What a powerful lesson this has been. I mean, what a total fucking disaster.

Okay. It wasn't a disaster. No major injuries. No near death experiences. We know where we are. We've got all our food and all our gear. We're all still speaking to each other. But boy what a deflating experience. We were supposed to get some 20km down the river to a camp site near the hydro line. Instead we travelled, maybe 6km today?

We are, as they say, in shit behind schedule.

Please note: for a more detailed, less qualitative account of what we did today, see this thread on MyCCR. Look for the posts by The Navigator.

We were up today at 6am. It was sunny but very cold. My shoes were frozen solid. My socks too. The hurry-up breakfast and break camp got us on the water by 8am - all according to schedule. After that, it went all pear-shaped.

The Bonnechere River source was wide and open, gleaming in the early morning sun. For about 200 metres.

Then it narrowed, filled with rocks, dead trees and tall grass. And we experienced our first bushwhack portage. I don't know how long it was. Maybe a few hundred metres.

It started with Nigel bashing through the bush - no there are no signs of what you might deem a "trail" - with his FRS radio and telling us whether to come ahead. We would saddle up and start staggering through the woods. There would be many of these today.

At first, Nigel put up orange line tape as he returned from scouting to mark what he saw as the best route to open water. But the tape was impossibly far apart and the space between too overgrown to suggest an easy way to follow it.

The Bonnechere River Lexicon of Bushwhacking Maneuvers

The Perdita Felicien: wherein the portager lurches over a seemingly innocuous fallen tree at great speed expecting to clear it with ease only to catch a lace, a pant cuff or similar on a branch. A Jesus or Earth Mother Dive may follow.

The Tonya Harding: where in order to maintain balance or momentum the portager propels lower leg forward into rock, log or both, at about shin level.

The Armadillo: wherein the clear line through the bush becomes suddenly a Car Wash, the portager curls head toward chest, tucks arms in, leans forward and stomps aggressively through obstructing branches. A move heralded by judges for its audacity in placing skin preservation ahead of the need to see where you're going.

The Birth Canal: when carrying a canoe, the portager attempts to pass between two trees separated by a distance less than the boat's beam at the midthwart. Athletes are scored based on the speed at which they perform the maneuver and the creativity applied in the process of wiggling through.

Dinglethwacking: ropes or nylon webbing connected to the canoe's front and back that allow the portager to control the canoe are called dingle straps. Holding them taught while going through a Car Wash would seem to be an excellent way of fending off bent branches, but in fact, it merely extends the branches' arc, making the results of their release that much more spectacular.

Car Wash: undergrowth along a river, either where nature is reclaiming a trail or engulfing a river tends to be strong, right to the ground. Branches grow horizontally seeking sunlight, creating a gate effect between trees similar to what you find in a drive-through carwash, but they don't so much buff as flagellate.

Jesus Dive: where losing balance or footing, the portager falls in some direction (extra points for backwards) and reaches out a limb to break the fall only for said limb to contact the pointy end of a stick. Twenty points for palm of hand. Extra points for broken skin.

Mother Earth Dive: similar to the Jesus Dive, but, hands restrained by portaging straps, the portager kisses the earth - with gusto. Ten points for each five seconds of prostration.

The Boomerang: when attempting the Car Wash or Armadillo, the portager is propelled backwards by the strength of the branches.

The Twistoff: when carrying the canoe, the portager attempts to execute a turn only to find the bow of the canoe has gone past a tree. Extra points if your head makes a sound when the canoe hits it.

Some times we took everything in one carry, sometimes we took it in two. Some times it was a "scout-n-carry" sometimes Nigel scouted in advance, until he could find part of the river that seemed navigable, then he'd declare the portage "over" and start cutting a hole in the undergrowth so we'd have somewhere to put the canoes in.

We'd paddle for a few hundred metres and then repeat. We went at this from 8:30 to around 5:30.

On a normal canoe trip day, this would be enough to cover between 30 and 35km. We like to think that today we did 6km. That should give you an idea.

Terry did a face plant on a rock. Nigel and I dumped.

Shall I describe bushwhacking with a canoe and pack? Mmm. Why not. The boat is 16 feet long, almost three times as long as you. It weighs between 45 and 55 pounds. In addition to that you may or may not be carrying 30 pounds of gear on your back.

The ground you're travelling on is lumpy, often covered in sticks, moss, rocks, rotting logs, dead trees and branches. The undergrowth, complete with thorns, prickly branches is rapidly becoming the overgrowth.

Often leaves cover holes, cracks between rocks. You're stepping over knee-high logs, teetering from side to side as you step unevenly over a seemingly endless series of obstacles.

You poke the canoe forward through branches, hoping they (a) give way and don't push you backwards, and that (b) if they do, they don't whip back underneath the canoe where your hands, normally used for warding off such things, are being used to steady the canoe.

With a pack alone, you can turn around, step sideways, deek around an obstacle or back track to where you see a more open route through. With a canoe on, you're committed to whatever path you choose. If you spot an easier route, your 16' turning circle makes it pretty much impossible to take.

Given how fun this sounds, you may be surprised that I preferred it to standing around and waiting. I woke up cold. I started my day wearing popsicles and - especially after I capsized - I spent the rest of the day cold. Moving was the only way to warm up.

It was hard to remain patient as I started to shiver. More clothes. I should have brought more clothes. Everyone else seemed in much better spirits than I, no doubt because they had warm feet. The others were wearing rubber boots. And today I wish I had been too, although my feet would still be wet.

By mid afternoon, we were at a loss as to what to do. We could push on through the bush, or try to find some sort of trail that was on the topo maps and use it to reach the hydro line, after which the river was supposed to be navigable, or we could try to find a trail that was supposedly on the other side of the river.

In the end, we just sort of gave up. Nigel and clothed-John found what they thought was the south shore's trail, but there really wasn't much to favour it over bushwhacking, it was so overgrown. (It would turn out to be useful indeed tomorrow).

Earlier not-naked John had found a relatively flat area (moss covering rocks atop the hill that bordered the shore we were on) and at around 5:30pm we decided to stop moving and camp.

It's getting dark and I'm not quite warm. My sleeping bag beckons.