Day One, September 04, 2008. Paddling time: 3 hours 05 minutes. Trip Length: 13.7 km.
We left Toronto at 7:20 am and stopped only once for coffee. Arrived at 11:00 am at the Hungry Bear Restaurant; Mike and Morgan had already been there waiting for us. After a traditional lunch (excellent flame-grilled burger), we drove for about 25 minutes to Hartley Bay House and Marina, where we rented the canoes and purchase park permits. As planned, we were on the water on 01:00 pm. Our goal was to reach a campsite just before the Dalles Rapids. We headed south on Wanapitei Bay, passed the entrance to the Western Channel and took
the Main Channel. At the Elbow we turned right and soon began looking for a campsite. All campsites were vacant, we checked out campsite #624 and the next one (which did not even appear on the map)—they were quite nice, yet we could not find space to set up even one tent. Eventually, we selected campsite # 625, (N45 58 16.2 W80 52 10.3) which had a beach, plenty of space for many tents and enough trees for hammocks. Not far from the campsite were rusty remnants of old machinery, apparently an alligator. Alligators were shallow draft boats, with side-mounted paddle wheels, powered by a 20 horsepower steam engine and provided with a cable winch and large anchor. By using the winch they could pull themselves over land, around portages and up as much as a 20 degree incline at the rate of 1 to 2 1/2 miles per day. And they could haul a boom of some 60,000 logs across water against all but the strongest winds. They were heavily but simply built, making rebuilding and repair easy. We would see several of old shells of such alligators from now on—once they must have been a very popular sight in this area.
In the evening I went paddling solo and caught one pike and one bass, which we promptly grilled over the fire (I might add right now that these were the only fish I caught during the whole trip). In the evening it started to rain, then we saw lighting and eventually had to sit under a tarp to finish our supper.
Day Two, September 05, 2008. Paddling time: 4 hours 46 minutes. Trip Length: 5.4 km.
After breakfast we packed and were on the water; minutes later we reached the beginning of the Dalles Rapids Portage. According to the information on the map, the portage was supposed to be 180 km. long, but we soon realized it was much longer (according to my GPS, at least 310 m.). Apparently it must have been changed since 1995, when I was there for the first time, because I certainly remember it was much shorter then! It took us several trips to carry all our gear; Mike was kind enough to carry BOTH canoes for us. Anyway, the portage turned out to be the lowest point of our trip, perhaps because it was 130 meters longer than we expected, we were not prepared for portaging and had to walk numerous times to bring our gear. Of course, we also stopped to take a look at the Dalles Rapids (when we returned to Hartley Bay House & Marina, we were told that three weeks ago somebody’s motor boat had been pulled into the Dalles Rapids; the boater had not worn a lifejacket and unfortunately drowned). In 1995 I set up my tent on the flat rock just next to the rapids; today at the very spot a marker is erected, saying, “Final Resting Place of Garth L. Smoot ‘Doug’”. Well, you can’t wish a better resting place! After a quick rest we were again on the water. From the Dalles Rapids south the scenery changes, it becomes more rocky and quite scenic with all those interesting rocks formations. After a while we saw the old ruins of a mill at the location of French River Village, which we were planning to explore the next day. Once the Main Channel entered Georgian Bay, we spotted a campsite at the Bluff Point on our left—campsite # 714 (N45 56 30.1 W80 54 00.5). It provided a great view of the French River as well as Georgia Bay. In front of us was Sabine Island; initially we were hoping to camp there, but the campsite had already been occupied. Again we had some problems finding a good place to set up a tent; eventually we had to settle on a rocky, damp depression. An old rusty ring was attached to the rock, another remainder of the extensive logging operations that used to take place in this area; we used it for attaching water container while filtering our water. Every night we saw flashing beacons from two lighthouses as well as were treated to the Northern Lights, which however did not look anything like on photographs; in fact, initially we thought it was the night lights of Sudbury.
Day Three, September 06, 2008. Paddling time: 4 hours 04 minutes. Trip Length: 6.9 km.
The weather was excellent, not a drop of rain! We chose to spend two nights on this campsite, so did not have to go through the packing/unpacking ritual again. After breakfast we paddled to the site of French River Village. Along the rocky shores we spotted a couple of old rings and hooks as well as old, rusty metal parts, hardly identifiable by now. The first structure, still visible from the river, is the ruins of the old mill.
We paddled back to the campsite. Afterward I paddled solo on Georgian Bay, exploring the bays and channels just behind our campsite, trying, in vain, my luck in fishing, and
Day Four, September 07, 2008. Paddling time: 3 hours 20 minutes. Trip Length: 8.9 km.
Our plan was to find a nice campsite east of the entrance to the Eastern Outlet; for the first time we were going to paddle on Georgian Bay, often being exposed to strong winds. However, the weather appeared to be OK and the only problem was navigating among numerous islands and rocks that dot that area; again, the GPS turned out to be invaluable. Once more we passed abundant relics from the days of logging in the delta, including some machinery up on a rock (another alligator, I presume).
Day Five, September 08, 2008. Paddling time: 1 hour 46 minutes. Trip Length: 4.9 km.
Since the scenery around the campsite was so magnificent, I was up before 06:00 am and took a number of photographs in the morning. Some of the rocks exhibited very interesting patters, similar to those on Wreck Island in the Massasauga Park. The wind
Day Six, September 08, 2008. Paddling time: 6 hours 07 minutes. Trip Length: 20.4 km.
We were up at 6:00 am, just in case we encounter strong head winds. By 8:20 am we were on the water and in several minutes reached the Bass Lake Portage, the so-called “Tramway”. The tramway was constructed in the early 20th century so logging companies could transport heavy equipment and machinery, then abandoned, then rebuilt and is now maintained by the Friends of the French River and the Ministry of Natural Resources. There was a wheelbarrow and a cart to carry the canoe, yet it was inoperable, so Mike and Morgan gratefully volunteered to carry the canoe in the traditional way. The area around the portage is very pictographic.
We continued on Bass Lake and then north on the Eastern Channel, where on campsite # 623 had a quick lunch and turned right, passed an old cottage, then turned left into the Canoe Channel. The scenery was very serene, we did not see too many boats and slowly approached Canal Island, paddled south of it and in no time were on Wanapitei Bay, keeping to close to the right shore to avoid the wind. We arrived back at Hartley Bay House and Marina at 02:30 pm. Wow, we made it! Later we drove to the Hungry Bear Restaurant where we had our ‘civilized’ lunch and said goodbye. On our way back to Toronto I stopped to take several photographs of an interesting abandoned gas & service station as well as visited an Indian reserve. We arrived in Toronto about 10 pm.
More photos from this trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157607384417613/