Monday, November 2, 2015

CAMPING ON A RIVER, NEXT TO A BEAR CROSSING—BAYFIELD INLET, ONTARIO—JULY/AUGUST, 2014

It is not easy for Catherine and I to find a new place to paddle and bivouac which is relatively close to Toronto, does not require portaging, has parking facilities and is relatively safe to canoe. Having talked to a number people and examining maps and books, we finally decided to try an area close to Georgian Bay.
Ready to go... provided the canoe won't sink!

On July 27, 2014, we left Toronto and one hour later stopped at Barrie’s MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) store. I was surprised that the store did not carry topographical maps anymore. Our second stop was at Pointe au Baril and I when I entered into the LCBO store, it closed its door for the day, it was 4:00 pm. We bought beer and wine; the latter turned out to be not good at all. After a short drive we arrived at Bayfield Inlet; amazingly, the parking was still free—but only this year; according to posted signs, as of 2015, we will have to park at nearby marinas or other private establishments. It was quiet and we did not see anybody around, so we quickly launched the canoe and soon were paddling towards Georgian Bay. It was windy, but the numerous islands around provided ample protection against the wind. Of course, we were paddling against the wind—during our trips, we paddle against the wind at least 80% of the time and I do not remember when was the last time we were pushed by strong winds. Then we turned right and headed towards the River—despite the fact that we changed the direction, the wind was blowing in our faces!

“We don’t even need a GPS,” I said, “all we have to do is paddle against the wind and we’ll certainly get to our destination!”
Finally, we entered the river

There were cottages on some islands and along the shores, but as we got closer to the river, they became quite sparse. The mouth of the river—consisting of a narrow entrance—was constricting and shallow, with many rocks sticking out or hiding just under the water, some still bearing traces of boats’ paint. Almost immediately we found ourselves in a different world! No traces of human habitation, just graceful rocks and vegetation on both shores. Soon we reached a sturdy beaver dam. A water snake, sunbathing on the dam, was staring directly at Catherine and she was afraid it would suddenly jump into the canoe and attack her. Going over the dam would require us to remove everything from the canoe—being much too slothful, we turned back and began looking for a suitable place to set up a bivouac by the river. The east shore was very rugged, the west shore steep, with rock polished by receding glaciers. We came ashore—there were perfect sites for a campsite on the top of the rocks, yet we would have to carry our equipment up—which we did not want to do. Finally we decided to set up the tent on a sloping rock near the water, which was not the ideal location, but at least we would not have to walk up and down steep and smooth rocks; in case it rained, our path would resemble a very slippery slide. At that point I realized that I did not properly secure the canoe and it slowly floated away several meters from the shore. Right away I took my clothes off and swam to get it—besides, it was a great idea to have a quick bath! Before 9:00 pm we had a campfire and grilled ribs. Mosquitoes were terrible. One of our folding chairs collapsed and we had to patch it up. It got quite windy at night and I did not sleep well.
The beaver dam near our campsite-you can see the tent

It was still breezy when we got up and some of our bags were blown into the water. Yesterday we had seen plenty of blueberry bushes with multitude of big, ripened blueberries. We spent about 30 minutes collecting them and each of us brought a big cup full of big, sweet, delicious blueberries and probably ate more than that. We did not need any breakfast. By the way, we decided not to hang our food—the trees were on the top of the rocky shores and most of them were quite small and fragile, making it very difficult to hang a big, heavy barrel.
Our campsite

After the blueberry breakfast we paddled up the river, carried the canoe over the beaver dam and found ourselves on a beautiful, pristine lake—its shores were formed of plenty of rocks and rocky hills and large patches of the lake were literally covered with water lily plants and flowers. It was very windy; amazingly, the wind pushed us this time towards the west (dead) end of the lake, where was spotted another beaver dam. But if we thought we were lucky this time, we were totally mistaken: paddling back, against the strong wind, turned out to be very strenuous, we moved 2-3 km/h, but it was not a long paddle and in no time we reached ‘our’ beaver dam, went over it and got back to our campsite. I spent another 30 minutes collecting blueberries and became satiated in no time.
Our campsite towards the beaver dam

In the evening we grilled the last of our ribs over the campfire—we had our supper earlier to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes which appeared later in the evening. Before turning in, we listened to the news: it was mostly about the war in Gaza and problems at the site of the Malaysian plane crash in Ukraine.
We kept the food in the blue barrel as it was very difficult to find a good tree to hang it

July 30, 2014, Tuesday. In the morning Catherine heard some rustling just around the tent and water splashing, but we assumed it was beavers, muskrats or, unlikely, deer. Around 10 am, while we were still in the tent, we heard lumbering near the tent and then splashing, as if something waded in the water. Because we had everywhere seen plenty of (probably) moose droppings, we thought that it was a moose crossing the river. Catherine got out of the tent and was intensely looking for a moose—so intensely that she almost missed a black bear, sitting on a rock on the opposite shore and staring at her, like the water snake from 2 nights before. I quickly left the tent and saw it too, but by the time I got my camera, the bear was slowly loping into the woods. Later we tried to figure out where it crossed the water and looking at the still wet rock, we determined that most likely it utilized a well-used water passage among the bulrushes that led to the other side of the river—and which passed just a few meters from our tent!
Our reliable canoe

The weather was so-so, on the cool side: cloudy, with some very light rain and possible thunderstorms. We decided to stay put on our campsite and read books. I spent almost one hour picking blueberries and without exaggeration I must have eaten over one liter of them, they were big and plentiful. While getting engrossed in blueberry picking, just in case I was singing or mumbling something aloud—I did not want to startle a hungry bear who might be also enwrapped in the same activity! The evening news was about problems in Libya and the evacuation of the Canadian embassy.
Surrounded by wilderness...

Next day we again carried the canoe over the beaver dam and paddled to the North/Middle Channel—we were surrounded by total solitude, no human-made structure was in sight, only occasional old fire pits on the rocks indicated that people do infrequently visit this lake. It was simply magical! According to our maps, there was a connection to the other body of water, but if there was, it was totally overgrown with weeds, vegetation and possibly blocked by beaver dams. So we just paddled, completely alone, reveling in the utmost beauty, serenity and wilderness that encircled us. There were a few beaver lodges, some probably abandoned. Around one of them we spotted mysterious gel blobs, which appeared out of this world—neither of us had ever seen anything like that before! Later I conducted some research and determined that the gelatinous balls were called bryozoans. They were tiny colonial animals that form jelly like masses, often attached to other objects (pieces of wood, docks). Supposedly fresh water bryozoans are harmless to humans.
Bryozoans

By the way, we saw and/or heard bears crossing the river every day, no more than 30 meters from our campsite, but they were so silent and discreet that I never had a chance to snap a photo of them—and I did keep my cameras nearby! Sometimes we saw a black contour on the rock or heard water splashing—when we looked, all we could see was the rear part of a bear quickly disappearing in the woods.
Water Lily

One day we left the campsite for the whole day and paddled on the bay leading to Georgian Bay. There were a few motor boats, some islands had impressive cottages and the whole area was quite picturesque. When we came back to the campsite, we did not see anything amiss—apparently bears were very timid and not interested in our campsite. As we were unable to hang the food, usually we took the food barrel with us while canoeing.
Finally some civilization!

Altogether we spent 5 nights camping on this lovely river and we did not see one (human) soul in that area, just about 10 black bears. We left on Friday, August 1, 2014 and leisurely paddled back to the dock. [Incidentally, it was the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising which broke out on August 1, 1944 and lasted for 63 days. Somehow I remembered that on the same day 20 years ago, a friend of mine and I had gone camping to Six Mile Provincial Park and after a short wait, we got the last (and worst) available site in the park]. 

As we were unloading the canoe, two kayakers were just ready to depart on their weekend jaunt; they got quite a scare when we told them about the numerous bears at our campsite! On the way back we visited a tourist lodge—and since there were blueberry bushes with tons of big, ripe blueberries along the road, we stopped and in no time our empty 4 liter water containers were full! Locals said it was an amazing year for blueberries due to perfect weather and swarms of black flies which supposedly helped pollinate blueberries. I visited the same place, at the same time of the year, the following year and because of the hot and sunny weather, most of the blueberry bushes were burned by the sun and dry and we only managed to pick a handful of semi-edible blueberries.
The best time of my life-sitting around the campfire and reading a good book!

Late afternoon we stopped in Parry Sound, visited the Hart Store and No Frills, bought some food supplies and headed to the main docks, where we had lunch under the CPR railway trestle over the Sequin River. The trestle was completed in 1907. Tom Thomson, the famous painter and precursor of the Group of Seven, had visited Parry Sound in July, 1914—almost exactly 100 years ago—and painted the bridge and the Parry Sound Lumber Company; the reproduction of his painting was on a plaque near the trestle.




Trestle at Parry Sound, 1914

Tom Thomson paddled into the mouth of the Seguin River one evening in mid-July, 1914. He had come from Go Home Bay, stopping to stay in the South Channel for a few days. Seeing the new CPR trestle, the longest bridge east of the Rockies, and the Parry Sound Lumber Company aglow in the setting sun, he selected one of his 8” by 10” wooden boards, and made this evocative sketch in less than an hour.
Today Tom Thomson is acknowledged as Canada’s foremost painter. Those small wooden boards he gave to friends can be worth more than a million dollars.
What he saw in 1914: Fifty years after the lumbering began, logs, arriving down the river, are trimmed and cut into the mills. The river is dammed; both shores are lined with tramways, thousands of boards feet of lumber piled high, waiting to be loaded in ships. The lumber goes to railheads around the Great Lakes to build the cities of North America and the world. Seven years later, the last of the mills had burned to the ground, and Parry Sound had welcomed the first of the cruise ships with visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Incidentally, in August, 2015 I was trying to locate the plaque and show it to my friend, but could not find it—supposedly it had been vandalized!
One of the best campsites we've ever had!

Although it was a rather short trip, we will remember it for a long time: the area was absolutely pristine and extremely picturesque, unspoiled by any visible human activity. We were able to experience total solitude, interrupted only by ephemeral sightings of black bears and never before had we gorged on so many wild blueberries! I am certain that it was not our last visit there.



Blog po polsku/Blog in the Polish language: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.ca/2015/11/biwakowanie-na-przepieknej-rzece-koo.html

1 comment:

  1. It must have been an awesome trip!

    ReplyDelete