Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, south of Lake Nipissing, July 03-08, 2011

Blog po polsku/in the Polish language: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/07/french-river-dokis-2011.html
More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157627463526200/


In my last blog about your trip on the French River-Dokis Reserve (http://ontario-nature.blogspot.com/2010/08/french-river-ontario-dokis-july-2010.html ) I said that the French River is like a magnet—I never tire paddling on it—and it must be true as less than one year later we’re visiting the same area!

On July 3, 2011, the Sunday of the Canada Day long weekend we were again arriving in the Wajashk Cottages on the Dokis Indian Reserve. We met a Russian couple who had just completed their canoe trip; the lady complained about mosquitoes, but I hardly paid any attention—after all, most people complain about mosquitoes—and most people usually exaggerate.

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, July 3-8, 2011

While canoeing last year, we had seen many very nice campsites and especially one of them, campsite number 117, located in Bob’s Bay, was especially alluring, so this time we decided to paddle there, hoping it was not occupied. The weather was great, it was sunny, hot and humid. We passed a number of campsites on our way and none appeared to be occupied; there were some boats passing by, but otherwise we were hardly disturbed by any human activity. After less than 2 hours (7.4 km) we entered Bob’s Bay—just behind a small motor boat which we thought might be in competition for the site. But yeah! The occupants were just fishing and the campsite was vacant! Indeed, it was a very nice, rocky place, giving us a wonderful view of Bob’s Bay; since it was a blind bay, we did not expect a lot of boat traffic (and we were right—we saw no more than 5 boats there during our stay). Like last year, there were PLENTY of blueberries all over the campsite.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

Having set up the tent, we went for a swim, then spread the tarp to get some protection from the sun and read some magazines. As the evening was approaching, we paddled around Bob’s Bay, circled two big islands and with a considerable difficulty found out way out—it was dark and the passage was somehow narrow and rocky. We arrived back at the campsite after 10 pm and started the campfire. Unfortunately, it was literally impossible to sit around the fire—there were swarms of mosquitoes flying all over us! Even though we sprayed our clothes and exposed skin with Deet, they were still all over us, getting in our nostrils, ears, mouth... Never before have I seen so many mosquitoes! Catherine quickly retreated to the tent despite being covered in a burka style but outfit; I managed to sit outside for a while, constantly waving the hat and towel, each time pushing tens of those insects into the fire, but it was the proverbial drop in the bucket. Soon I gave up too and went to the tent—but before entering the tent, I was accosted by hordes of mosquitoes sitting on the tent, like in a horror movie! Once inside, we spent some time eliminating a number of blood sated mosquitoes, but still heard their noisy buzzing—we were glad our tent’s zippers worked—but not for long, as it turned out—they would fail in a day or so, necessitating the purchase of another Eureka El Capitan tent. Normally when camping, we tend to sit around the fire till after midnight, but this time we decided to start our campfire early, grill the food and get into the tent by 9:30 pm—exactly the time the mosquitoes commenced their attacks!

'aurora

Next day we paddled in the afternoon near Hunt Island, around the islands where campsites number 118, 119 and 120 are located. On August 5, 2011, we took a longer day trip. We departed just after 7:00 am, passed Comfort Island, crossed the river’s Main Channel and stopped on campsite # 126 on Wright Island, near Russell Island, where we set up our emergency tent and took a nap—we were sleepy, but also wanted to avoid paddling during the middle of the day when it was very hot and humid. The tent was quite nice, although I had to bend my knees to lay inside.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

Later we paddled to the Riverview Cottages Marina, bought ice cream, viewed a handmade houseboat a man had built for his deceased wife and paddled on to the Big Chaudiere Dam. There is a 600 m portage—but for hundreds of years another portage, the historic Chaudiere Portage, was used first by the Native People and later by all the other Europeans (early explorers, voyageurs and courtiers de bois), as the most efficient way to avoid the Chaudiere Rapids.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820), a Scottish explorer, travelled on the river at the end of 18th century and thus described the Chaudiere Portage:

In about six miles is the lake Nepisingui, which is computed to be twelve leagues long, (one league=about 5 km) though the route of the canoes is something more: it is about fifteen miles wide at the widest part, and bounded with rocks. Its inhabitants consist of the remainder of a numerous converted tribe, called Nepisinguis of the Algonquin nation. Out of it flows the Rivere des Francois, over rocks of a considerable heights. In a bay to the East of this, the road leads over the Portage of the Chaudiere des Francois, five hundred and forty four paces, to still water. It must have acquired the name of Kettle, from a great number of holes in the solid rocks of a cylindrical form, and not unlike that culinary utensil.

The Portage was still discernible on an aerial photograph taken in the 1940s. Unfortunately, it was almost totally obliterated in 1949 and 1950 during the construction of the Portage Channel. Only the beginning and end of it are still more-less the way they appeared in the past. For those interested in French River history, I recommend “French River. Canoeing the River of the Stick-Wavers” by Toni Harting.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

I just walked about 50 meters along its original path, but it soon it became overgrown and full of poison ivy. Incidentally, we found a fanny pack at the current portage containing a compass and some other personal belongings, but since we could not identify its owner, we decided to leave it where we found it, just in case its owner (who had probably just portaged his canoe) might return looking for it.

Let me diverge here a little bit and bring up a sad story which is somehow related to this trip. Early in 2009 I was contacted by a couple from Poland, Jaroslaw Frackiewicz and Celina Mroz, who, having read the description of my canoe trip on the French River, wanted to come to Canada and do a similar trip.

With Jarek Frackiewicz and Celina Mroz--Brampton, Ontario, July 29, 2009

After exchanging several emails and posting questions in the Canadian Canoe Routes, they arrived in Canada and embarked on a very ambitious journey, paddling in their small, folding kayak the French River, Lake Nipissing, Mattawa River and Ottawa River! I had an opportunity to meet them on July 29, 2009 in Brampton—they were truly amazing people, who had done plenty of canoeing in a lot of countries. From then I followed their blog,
http://blog.kajak.org.pl/wloczykije and webpage http://www.moje-kajaki.net and from time to time we exchanged emails.

Just before departing on this trip I found out that that they had gone paddling to South America. On May 26, 2011 they wrote in their blog that they were starting their trip on the Ucayali River in Peru. On June 21, 2011 they were supposed to arrive in Poland, yet the failed to show up and nobody has heard from them since May 26, 2011. So, while paddling on the French River, it was impossible NOT to think about them—in fact, the had taken this very portage at the Big Chaudiere Dam and then paddled up the French River to Lake Nipissing, so one way or another we were crisscrossing the route they had taken 2 years ago. Since I had no access to the Internet, I had no idea if they were found or not, so the first thing I did upon our return to Toronto was log on and check the website. It’s difficult to describe how devastated I was when I found out they had been murdered by Peruvian Indians while they were paddling on the Ucayali River on May 27, 2011. The accused murderers were apprehended and confessed to this heinous crime.

Back to reality... before 7:00 pm we arrived at our campsite, having paddled almost 22 km, just in time to start the fire and grill the food before the ferocious assault by the clouds of blood-hungry mosquitoes!

On July 6, 2011 we were planning to paddle to Lake Nipissing, but since it was windy, we decided to stay on our campsite and paddle on Bob’s Bay. In the morning a Hobie paddled by us—a combination of sailboat, paddleboat and catamaran (http://www.hobiecat.com/ ). We chatted with its owner who had come to view a family of playful otters up the bay. We also spied a big turtle swimming along the shores of our campsite, not such a rare sight.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

Later I got lucky and caught a Pike—we put it into a strong bag and immersed in the water, to consume later in the evening. While paddling on Bob’s bay, I again caught another pike, but when I saw about to pull it out of the water, I lost it. To beat the mosquitoes, we were back at the campsite relatively early. I prepared by filleting knife... only to find out that the pike was gone! I thought it was a joke at first, only to discover a gnawed gaping hole in the bag. Well, it was most likely the turtle who easily made a hole in the bag and ended up having a feast of his life!

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

On July 7, 2011 we were up just after 5:00 am (thanks for Catherine, of course), had coffee, breakfast and at 6:00 were on the water, paddling towards Lake Nipissing. The weather was perfect (in terms of wind—yet it was very hot and humid) and it was such a pleasure paddling in the morning! We were avoiding the main river and paddled through channels and narrows, passing a lot of bigger and smaller islands (Drunken Island, Bragdon Island, Partridge Island) and cottages, some very charming. Eventually we reached the beginning of the French River at Lake Nipissing—we saw the boundless waters of this huge lake—and I was full of admiration for Jarek Frackiewicz and Celina Mroz who had paddled on Lake Nipissing in their small kayak two years ago! Well, certainly we were not going to follow in their footsteps... although we did discuss going to North Bay!

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, July 3-8, 2011

We paddled to Burnt Island (which had a number of campsites) and were on Lake Nipissing. Not far from us were Target Island, Little Sandy Island and Sandy Island; beyond those islands we could not even see the opposite shore of the lake. Finally we turned left into Canoe Pass (used also by motorboats) and arrived at campsite no. 105 where we relaxed a little—it was a nice area, but quite noisy with all the motorboats using Canoe Pass. Later we went though another passage near Gibraltar Point, around Cleland Island and reached an island where Keystone Lodge was located.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

A nice gentleman told us that we could go to the lodge where we ordered some drinks and food. This fellow and his wife were the caretakers of the lodge and after a late lunch she showed us around. Indeed, the lodge was impressive—it had several cottages for the guests, restaurant with a meal plan as the cottages only had a small fridge, its own generator, a helicopter landing pad, its own newly installed water system, a wood burning outdoor furnace pumping hot water heat to the cottages, a few boat docks (where the “Commanda” sometimes stopped on its way from North Bay to Dokis, dropping off and picking up tourists) and other facilities. She told us a lot of interesting stories about its history—apparently, in the early 20th century it was mostly Americans who came here to spend vacation and also purchased most of the properties on the French River, enchanted by its beauty. One of the tourists who stayed at the lodge before the Second World War was Harry S. Truman and supposedly there is a photograph of him standing just in front of the “Keystone Lodge” sign. By the way, talking about her and her husband’s job, she referred to Stephen King’s novel “The Shining”, which also featured a caretaker with his family who eventually goes mad. In the novel his name was Jack Torrance; the name of the island Keystone Lodge was located is... Torrance Island!

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, July 3-8, 2011

We wished we could have stayed and talked to her longer, but it was getting late and we still had a long way to paddle to our campsite. It took us over 2 hours to reach our campsite—unlike last year, there was no wind and it was a very easy, pleasant paddle. Overall we paddled 36 km—so far, our record.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

The last day, July 8, 2011, welcomed us with windy, unstable weather. After loading the canoe, we basically selected the most direct, yet sheltered route, trying to ‘hide’ behind islands, but we had to rest a few times; the wind and waves started to pose a problem. Finally we reached Chaudiere Lodge, located just vis-à-vis Wajashk. It was not only quite windy, but also very ominous black clouds were gathering around us. We were talking to a young Australian employee of the lodge—and still not knowing whether or now we should paddle or wait out the storm. However, only one kilometer separated us from our destination... and we decided to just paddle! Even though we were paddling against the wind, we reached speeds of 7 km/h. All this time we saw more and more black clouds gathering above us; at one point the temperature must have dropped by 5-7 degrees literally within a second—it was as if I entered an air-conditioned room! Exhausted, in less than 10 minutes we reached the dock. Catherine ran to get the car, I was frantically unloading and carrying our stuff and then putting it inside the car. A gentleman who was renting one of the cottages helped us put the canoe on the roof. We finished the whole unpacking/packing process in a record time and amazingly, just before it started to pour!

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011

On our way back we stopped at an abandoned motel/gas station—the remaining sign showed the price of gas to be 84.9 cents... per gallon (and we just paid $1.36 per liter!). Then we proceeded to the Hungry Bear Restaurant for a late snack—our visit to this place has by now become de rigueur—and finally set out for our 300+ km. to Toronto.

Canoeing on the French River (Dokis), Ontario, July 03-08, 2011


Blog po polsku/in the Polish language: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/07/french-river-dokis-2011.html
More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157627463526200/

5 comments:

  1. to-day is august Ist 2015 ..I sold my cottage 4 years ago on the French River and to-day was a day of reminiscing and I was searching the internet for some memories of the "River" and I brought up your blog(We had owned our cottage for over 50 years..I am 83 years old) I was so excited to read about your trip down(or up?) the River and knew all your "ports of call" what a delight..by the way you paddled past my front door..thank you so much for the delightful blog and making my whole summer ..I am so sorry about your friends that met such a demise (and your pike that you lost to the turtle) the''River is indeed Heaven!!!!

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    Replies
    1. Hello,

      Thank you very much for your comment! I can only imagine how wonderful it must have been having a cottage on the French for so many years-I am sure you could write a very interesting blog about all the interesting things that happened or you witness during that time! In fact, I just returned from yet another trip to the French, this time near Hartley Bay, we stayed on Boom Island and shared the campsite with up to 4 black bears. On my way back to Toronto I stopped at the Trading Post (near the Hungry Bear Restaurant) and spent some time perusing some books on the French-indeed, it's a very special river. And since there are a few stretches of the river I haven't paddled, I think I will visit it soon!
      All the best

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    2. Babsandjo: Ironically I purchased an older cottage in the winter of 2010-2011. It was the small island east of Little Sandy. My wife and I love it. If by small chance this was your cottage, let me know and I would love to share some pictures. gruhlculese@gmail.com

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