Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Canada Canoe/Kayak Trip, Kapuskasing

Link to MAP of trip. When you click in the link, use GOOGLE EARTH to open file.
The Goggle Earth map has waymarks posted with some comments.

Individual perspectives of the other 7 guys who came along maybe forthcoming, so check back for those.

Taken from the Missinaibi Headwaters website:

"The Kapuskasing River is the neighbour to the Upper Missinaibi, and the downstream continuation of the Chapleau River. Because of the reputation of these other rivers, the fast flowing rapids and waterfalls of the Kapuskasing have remained unknown to most paddlers. In fact, we only know of 4 parties who have paddled the section from Elsas to Kapuskasing in the last 15 years."

We think probably more then 4 parties have ventured down this stretch, but who knows for sure?
The Start. Portage #12 bridge.

The Crew. Getting ready to head out from Jack Pine Rapids in the AM. Day 4.
Meet the Crew:
First the Rookies
Matt works with Tom and Mac and has been on a number of our early spring Wisconsin HE-MAN canoe trips. I don't think he will confuse those with this Canada trip any time soon, though! Matt was always ready with a smile and good story. Rides a Harley so is used to riding in the rain some..... and now canoeing in the rain as well. I think his canoeing skills probably improved a lot in a week, not to mention his portaging skills. Matt won the award for the most and most disgusting bug bites and the best bug net that was barely used!

Kurt is the son of Tom and older brother of Jon. Always willing to lend a hand and pitch in. Great addition to the campfire and van banter when it came to topics of the day. Seemed to be the default escort to get the guys to their tents after a long night of campfire dialog. A lifelong paddler, I think it safe to say this trip extended Kurt's abilities as well and also his self confidence in the canoe, not to mention his swimming skills.....with Dad mostly, it seems.

Jack is the brother of Mac and along with Hubie, this was his second trip with us. First one was 10 years ago. Jack always had a story to tell and a situation from his past that he could weave to give some relevance to any current situation. Always had his paddle in the water and always moving on the portages, he worked hard to try to lend a hand where ever and whenever he could. He had second thoughts regarding his canvas external frame backpack after the 2nd or 3rd day of rain, I believe.

Hubie. If a picture paints a thousand words, then Hubie is that picture. A veteran of a number of Canadian trips with other groups, this was his 2nd trip with us. As mentioned, he and Jack enjoyed their 10 year anniversary of the first time they joined us. They also paddled together well as a team and set the pace a lot of the time. As our only Canadian, Hubie came prepared for Canada Day. Probably the most positive guy in the group. Hubie had more smiles and stories than anyone.....and some were even believable!

Mac is a veteran of most of our Canadian trips and many others locally. Plenty of river savy, a hellva paddler and our Mr. Fix-It Guy. Mac can do it all. Good common sense and energy to go all day, even with a bad back. Without the torch he brought to use in case a canoe needed a quick repair job, we wouldn't have had campfires and warm food more than once during the trip. THE MAN to have late in the evening around the campfire, never a dull moment. Can tell you the temperature plastic burns by the color of the flame..... Career alternative could have been a choir director.

Jon is the guy every expedition such as this needs to have. Strong as a bull and with the mental and physical attributes to go all day, every day, he sets the pace. Willing to do the most difficult or the most mundane of tasks, he does what it takes all the time. With the loudest and most joyus laugh, he made me smile just being around him. Exceptional paddler. Been on all the trips. Can't seem to leave him behind and wouldn't want to. A kayak with a rudder will be required next time, I suspect.Tom, the brain trust behind the group. Started with the vision and desire to head north into Canada. With Tom, nothing can't be figured out. This crew isn't about having a leader necessarily, but if we did have one, it would be Tom. The best canoeist skills of the group. Been known to take a calculated risk once in awhile. Mr. Even Keel in all situations. Anybody that can take the time to figure out how many toilet paper squares per man per day to bring and how many shots of Windsor whiskey per man per day is useful to have around.

Yours Truly.

The Gear:
- 3 Old Town 17.4" Discovery canoes
- 2 Prijon 14.6" Yukon Expedition kayaks (special thanks to friend Tom Rowe in letting us borrow the Blue Bullet)
Met Guy and Kathy, our shuttle drivers, in Chapleau, ON. 25 miles of dirt road north with stop at Missinaibi Headwaters on Racine Lake on our way to the put-in.
Flat tire on the trailer at Missinaibe Headwaters, got copy of detailed map with hand written notes. We figured out later on the river that the notes must have been quite old as the bridge that the map said was at one of the Falls was long gone and looked to have been that way for a long time.
Guy dropped us off at Portage #12, north of Racine lake, on the Chapleau River, which connects to the Kapuskasing River after Kapuskasing Lake. 130 or so miles of paddling expected in 5.5 days. Unknown number of portages of undetermined difficulty was what we had to contend with. We just figured from experience on other similar rivers, namely the Missinaibie, how long it would take, not taking into account wind or weather.
Kurt and Jon dumped and wedged their canoe a few miles from the start. Tom beached the Blue Bullet (kayak) and stopped to help with it being a tough slog out to the boys in the middle of the river. Kurt then soloed the big water to get the canoe down river once they busted it loose.
Jack and Mac also dumped, testing extensively the waterproofness of their canvas packs. Found out how much water beach towels, denim jeans and cotton shirts can absorb.
Before the dump.

Jon ended taking their canoe down while Mac, Jack, Hubie and Matt ended up walking a canoe down the shoreline and using it to keep their balance. Hubie and Matt got caught sideways on a rock early in the run but managed to get it off while staying dry.
Further down, they barely kept the front from nose diving under water.

John guiding down the canoes.
Sailing and fishing.
Camped on Sandy Point Beach in the Lake (wide spot in the river, really).
Jack strung up a clothes line but to no avail as it was too late in the evening to get much drying done.
Hubies’ frozen spaghetti for supper, great stuff!
Hubie and I fished hard, picked up a number of small northern pike we threw back and ended up with only the 1 walleye that was picked up earlier in the day for an appetizer. Figured there were more fishing opportunities to come.
The lure.

The catch. Shoulda got a picture of the bigger walleyes and the northern, especially as they were frying it the bacon grease over a hot fire.....
10 miles first day. Nice current, warm temps and sunny.
Fun despite the mishaps.

Woke up to rain and wet tents, broke camp in the rain.
Saw moose cow and calf along lake shore. Jon kayaked close to them as did Tom and Kurt in their canoe.
First major portage at the end of the lake. Straight up 30-40 yards then a flat of 50-75 yards and down another 30-40 yards. Big water, lots of noise.
Stopped for the night at the end of another long portage . Things starting to get tough.
Had a couple walleyes for supper along with the usual...something in a pot with some kinda meat tossed in...but nobody was complaining.
Paddled across Kapuskasing Lake. Stopped in Elsas
Asked for directions from Quigleys as we lost our most detailed maps. No help from anyone. Still have large overview map and figured from it we were a day behind schedule.
Considered calling Guy to bring the van a day closer, but no phone, no radio no communication with the outside. I didn't like the idea anyway, too many things to go wrong. It is what it is at this stage of the game.
Camped in the cedars, Mac threw the fillet knife in the air after slipping, Jack found it.
2 nice walleyes and 1 northern pike for supper….cooked in bacon grease breaded in instant mashed potatoes. Yum, yum.
Still raining.

Tom and Matt heading downriver.
Hubie and Jack doing the same.As are Mac and Kurt.
Don't forget Jon!

Portage trail almost non-existent. Extremely difficult trudge. Many trees across trail, brush, bugs and up hills and down hills and through creek beds and tangles of brush. We could always hear the river, so we figured we were on the right trail. Mental and physical exhaustion. Hubie had a HUGE pack. Should have gotten a pic of it.

While running rapids, Hubie stuck a paddle between 2 rocks. Jack slid the spare back in seconds and they continued on. Nice move and good teamwork.
Video of the action:

2nd portage of the day at Coulston Rapids. Long tough portage, hard to find and stay on portage trail. Many windblown trees across trail.

After the portage, getting out some lunch...
pita bread, peanut butter and jelly. Maybe a few bugs mixed in, as well.

From the view at the top and from the bottom of Coulston Rapids, Jon and I figured we could make it with the kayaks. It was a great run, but long and tiring, probably ¾ of a mile or better of fairly solid whitewater. Tried to radio back to Tom that if he hugged the right shore he had a good chance of running a canoe solo, but radio contact could not be made. Maybe at the edge of the range of the radios. Tom was deciding to go and tried the radio one more time and we made contact and passed on tips. Tom made it after having his paddle jerked out of his hands at one point. Had his spare close, which was fortuitous, found the original at the bottom of the run. Said it was all he wanted to handle.
Not having to portage the 2 yaks and a canoe was a bright spot for everyone.
Video of Coulston Rapids:

Campsite form Jack Pine Rapids.

Still raining, but it always seemed that during the toughest portages, the sun would manage to peek through just long enough to get the black flies and mosquitoes active not to mention get the sweat flowing that much faster. Crotch rot beginning to emerge, at least for me. Thank goodness for anti-biotic ointment.
Came across two wrecked canoes in this stretch. One aluminum and one fiberglass. Guess they didn't have to worry about portaging them anymore! 60 miles from anywhere, wonder how they got out?

Found maps in food pack, figured we could make it by Thursday evening, thanks to Jon’s map work.
Saw a moose in an eddy. I took a few pics and started to fish when the moose started coming out in the water toward me. Decided to peel out and take off before it decided to get closer. I think it was just a juvenile and just curious. Probably never saw a human or a boat before. Maybe it could pick up my scent.....can't understand why, though!

Hubie and Jack had a cow and bull come out and they said the bull swam across the river in front of them. That must have been cool to see.

Lunch on the river, cheese and sausage. Better to eat in the boats and avoid the bugs than eat on shore and fight em!

Ran into Forest Survey crew of a young guy and gal. They were from the Toronto area and they signed up to spend 2-3 weeks at a time in the bush taking soil samples and counting tree species. They had a very loaded canoe with about 2-3 inches of freeboard with their load stacked up almost as high as they were. I paddled with them for a mile or so as I was hanging back fishing and they told me about the crew of 4 that took 2 canoes out 3 weeks before. They had decided to run the upcoming rapids and swamped one canoe with all their gear. They then decided to line the 2nd canoe and ended up swamping that one, as well and all their gear was lost. They were able to get the 2 canoes back somehow and make it to a predetermined take out to meet their ride. This couple came back in to finish the job.
When we arrived at the next rapids, the guys were lining down the river as no portage was available. Blow down spruce was extensive well off the river with no way to get through the bush. The lining was long, tedious and very dangerous. The guys got all 3 canoes around the point after lifting the gear out at the last rock ledge. I helped Jack get the Blue Bullet (kayak) up on top of the ledge and then over it and helped him launch a little below and off to the side of a set of big standing waves in a tight turbulent chute. I looked it over and decided it was probably doable with the Rocket. Walked back up and stowed my lining ropes, got positioned and decided at the last minute not to wear the helmet camera in case I swamped. Didn’t want to lose the camera.
I figured if I hit the high standing wave in the center of the chute the curlers on each side wouldn't impact me and I stood the best chance of making it. I needed to get out in the middle, though. Decided that I should have enough time to get there from where I was starting so I peeled out.
I got close to the middle but not quite and had to make a sharp pivet at the last second to get lined up straight down the river. It was enough as the roller didn’t affect me much and I hit the standing wave hard. The hydraulic slowed down my speed considerably, but not enough to hold me as I continued down the wave train and to the campsite the guys were starting to put together 100 yards downriver. Did I mention it was raining?

And still raining...

Made it to Old Women Falls, took lots of pics. Best campsite for the view was here.
Hubie in the rain as we arrived.

Top of Old Women Rapids. No, that's not a jug of anything but water, after being purified.
Another view from the top.

View from the middle of Old Women.
Bottom of Old Women Rapids.
Hubie taking a stroll:

Tom and Jon doing the same:

Again, after another day of tough portages, rain and headwind lead to an exhausted campsite at Old Women Rapids. Started drying things out then got out the bacon and starting frying. Soon the Windsor and cigars were out, as well, and the evening got brighter.
Even brighter when Hubie brought out the 18 year old Scotch he stowed away.

Great campsite. Hubie celebrated Canada Day with us by passing his Scotch around and adding Drambuie to make a Rusty Nail for Matt. Kurt escorted Hubie to his tent and along the way Hubie “slipped”. Sure sign of a great evening of spirits, friends and decent cigars.

Mac tried again to teach Jon and the others that were still up the words for J. Edger Swoop and also some other campfire favorites. We ended up joining him in The Salvation Army Song at the end. Boom, Boom!
Mac and Kurt stayed up till the bitter end and Mac got intimate with the last remaining branches on a limb that was in the fire after “slipping” on a small piece of wood laying on uneven rock and again, Kurt helped another guy to his sleeping quarters.
Rained lightly during the night.
Constant thunder of Old Women Falls not 50 yards away (as the crow flies) made any snoring non-existent.

The next day had some nice current:

Bottom of one of the portages.

Leeches were active in the shallows when pumping water or when portaging.

Tom and Kurt tried corkscrew chute and wiped out.

Further downstream, Jon and I went down what seemed like a fairly easy drop and it turned out to be much more interesting than we thought. I tried to get the helmet cam turned on, but missed it. Would have been some nice footage.
Jon went first and hit a side roller that flipped him almost instantly. I saw him go over and about the same time it hit me and I found myself laying on my right side ready to go under. Luckily I had my paddle in the water on the right side and I tried a combo brace and forward stroke and I popped right back up! I could see Jon again, swimming with the Blue Bullet and wham, the Red Rocket was over on it’s right side once more! Again, I did a hard brace on the right and luckily, once more I popped right back up!
This had never happened before, but then I guess I never really tried it before.
I stroked on over to Jon and pulled him to “shore” which was still waste deep water or better. We put one end of his yak in front of me on my spray skirt and he lifted the other end and we were able to get the water out of it. Then, with the Blue Bullet and the Red Rocket side-by-side and with me bracing the Bullet, Jon was able to step up and in.
We paddled upstream to an eddy right below where we entered and then radioed to the guys to line/portage down river left. It was a great kayak experience……mainly that it all worked out well.
Had a number, 3-4 more portages that were fairly easy, as compared to the last few days. That is, once we could find them. Sometimes finding the portage sign was a little difficult.
Talked to Archeologists at Beaver Falls, the last drop we had to portage, that were sifting soil on a point of land, looking for Voyageur remains. They had it all plotted out as we walked through their work and I guess there was a small kind of park there, as well. The last drop was about 20 feet. The main current went to the right, which we couldn't see, but some dropped over river left, that we could see.

Another 2-3 hours of flat water paddling put us in Kapuskasing and a well deserved shower followed by burgers and beer.
The Sentinels:

The Mac Van


Anonymous said...

Great to hear such an intense retelling of the adventure but it certainly isn't good marketing for that river OR your next adventure. Was it the rain, bugs, boring food or crazy portages that sound so discouraging? Just glad I wasn't there. Besides, I already know J Edgar Swoop, and have spent LOTS of time in a big white van. Great work Mark - thanks for recording another fine experience in cold, cold Canada.

Sally McNamara

p.s. Mac is handy when things go amiss. Ask him about the time he changed out the whole drive train on his Gold Wing motorcycle a hundred miles from anywhere (literally) in the wilds of eastern Washington. Only held us up a few hours. Jack was there for that too. He'd be my choice for being stuck on a desert island with.

mark scotch said...

thanks for posting. Seems the Magnificent 7 aren't going to!!!
Some of them have said I didn't leave anything for them to say, I'm not buying that.

As for the motorcycle repair job, oh yeah! we've heard that one already. Glad to hear someone back it up, though!

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