Bonnechere River Trip

Algonquin Park, May 10 to 15, 2005

Day 5

7:23pm, Couchain Lake, Saturday May 14th

Phew. What a day. Quite the day of ordeals. It started at our usual 6am. I was awake earlier, lying in dread of what lay ahead. This would be the day where we walk more than we paddle. And in that respect it... er... met our expectations. Of course it didn't turn out as we planned, either. But then, does anything?

We paddled a smidge further downstream before we came across another abandoned homestead and changed plans.

See, nothing was where it was supposed to be. It had been days since we'd seen a campsite or portage marker. Portages weren't where they were supposed to be, weren't cleared when they were supposed to be.

Nigel had done an amazing amount of research into this trip. He'd talked to rangers, outfitters, people who'd gone down the river before. He'd got the topo maps forestry management maps together and he had them all in his map case and had waypointed every creek, campsite, swamp, big rock and slow-moving squirrel along our route.

And it didn't matter. Some of the data was "just plain wrong."

Ah well. We had a decision to make. We needed to get about 15km further east today. We could do it along what the owner of Turner's Camp called "impossible" river, then carry our gear across 11km of portages that hadn't been cleared in 12 years. Or we could follow a hiking trail out to a road and follow that 'til it rejoined the Bonnechere at Basin Depot.

It wasn't the original plan, but our day wasted staggering about the thorny undergrowth had soured all of us on the idea of bushwhacking.

And so, at 9:30ish, we began the Basin Depot Death March.

We walked in 15 minute stints, resting together where the first person stopped. This got a little silly after a while as it was usually me who would end up at the front of the pack, and when I stopped, it would take the others between three and seven minutes to reach me.

So I started stopping early and leaving late. But secretly, I wanted everyone to move along faster. Walking along a gravel road is really boring. You have nothing to distract or contemplate save the various contact points between your body and whatevever it is you're carrying. I really wanted it to be over.

But by around 2:30pm, it was over. We arrived back at the shore of the Bonnechere. We were well within the bounds of the usual Bonnechere River route by this point so we anticipated no further bushwhackiness.

Things seemed to lighten up a bit, although there was no chasing away the clouds. The maps said we were facing two portages, neither of which had more than three digits.

It's a funky part of the park. Flat ground, with a lazy river, meandering almost prairie-like through what seemed to be a flood plain filled amply by what I'm guessing were alders, gnarled and leaning out over the river, they appeared to have suffered a lot for their river front location.

Indeed, they looked like the sort of trees that suddenly come alive and grab you. Without leaves, they looked especially spooky.

We paddled through six kilometres of bend after bend, making good time, of course, because the current was with us. There was one saw-through, one place where we had to scrunch down low in the canoe to get past deadfall, and several places where we needed to maneuver past near obstructions, but compared to what we'd come through, it was practically banal.

And there was time to look at the scenery. Except, of course, when we missed the second portage.

The first portage bypassed some unnavigable rapids. We saw the rapids first and found the unmarked take out. According to the maps, the second portage was supposed to be close by, on river right. We kept watch as we rounded corner after corner.

Suddenly, the water just kinda got all wavy-like. We sped up. Before we knew it we were in a rapid. Not a big one - it might have been Class I - but we had to make a few moves to dodge rocks. We took an easy line down the right bank, moved into the middle for a second, and came out without a hitch.

From early on in the rapid it looked passable, but I didn't know for sure. All my whitewater experience has been in empty, bulletproof boats paddling known quantities. So this, despite the rapid's unchallenging nature, made for some nervousness. "What if there's some obstruction that we didn't spot?"

At a certain point, Nigel said "I guess we can forget about that second portage."

Truth be told, that was just fine by me. I felt I'd done enough carrying for one day - or several.

More winding river brought us here to Couchain Lake for around 5pm. This stretch is outside Algonquin Park, but the campsites on the lake have the familiar orange signs.

Naked John, true to form decided to go swimming. Not naked John also gave himself a bit of a sponge bath, but the rest of us couldn't quite bring ourselves to get in the water.

Dinner was my dahl with rice, pita, chocolate and scotch, served sequentially, in case you're wondering.

Most folks seemed to like it, and it's quite possible I could have brought a little more without bringing any back. Everyone liked the scotch, though.

We sat around a fire for a bit, but it started raining again and we headed for the tents around 9pm.