V'la l'bon vent, v'la l'joli vent
V'la l'bon vent m'amie m'appelle
V'la l'bon vent, v'la l'joli vent
V'la l'bon vent m'amie m'attend
The chorus of an old voyageur song about the wind - perfect for Georgian Bay.
French River August 2010
back: Bruce, Ted P., Ted K., Doug
front: Jan, Eric, Bob
7 BRATs on the French River and Georgian Bay.
August 22nd - Getting thereGrundy Lake Provincial Park.
It was a 7 hour drive and 3 coffee breaks from Ottawa to Grundy Lake Provincial Park for an overnighter and supper. Ted K. put on a wonderful supper of rib eye steaks, baked potatoes and wine. What a great way to start a canoe trip. Sadly, there was no potable water nearby so we were forced to drink beer all evening.
August 23nd - It's canoe time!Bruce relaxing in his hammock at the Dispute Island campsite. Tomorrow we head south. After breaking camp and a leisurely breakfast at a local eatery, we headed over to the French River Visitor Centre. I bought a water-proof French River map and we got some good info on potential routes as the water levels were at historical lows. The map had an odd scale of 1/55,000 and didn't have a tremendous amount of detail. It was, however, good for general navigation, had some great sidebars on the history and showed all of the authorized campsites. For navigating, I ended up needing my standard 1/50,000 topos for the excellent detail needed during low water levels.Unfortunately, we didn't spend enough time at their history and geological displays of the area. It was then off to Hartley bay to pay for Park fees ($10.00 per person per day), parking ($8.00 per vehicle per day) and canoe launching fees ($8.00).
We were finally on the water in the early afternoon and heading towards Dispute Island - an easy two hour paddle. It was good to get the kinks out without pushing it. Campsite 704 is fairly boreal so there were lots of trees and room for our tents.
August 24th - Time to find the Old Voyageur RouteBad weather ahead. Ted heading into the Old Voyageur Route We hit the water at 09:30 which was a little late as the weather looked rather ominous with dark clouds. No rain but we fought a strong head wind all the way down the Western Channel. Luckily, as we headed into the Old Voyaguer Route, the sun started to shine and we were hidden from any winds. We'd been told that this route was impassible, but we just had to try as the history of this route was way too important to not to give it our best shot. We were about to paddle the same channel as many illustrious French-Canadians such as Étienne Brûlé in 1610, Joseph Le Caron in 1615 and, of course, Samuel de Champlain in 1616.
Bob and Jan Doug and Ted K. It had us wondering for a while, but we got through. At the first of two liftovers, I went ahead in my skinny solo canoe to make sure that we didn't hit an impassible section. There were some very narrow passages, but I loved it. Beautifully haunting. I ended up singing an old voyageur song that I was surprised I remembered. Thanks to the high granite walls and the echo, it almost sounded like the ghosts of the old voyageurs were singing with me. I'm sure I heard a "Tabernac! C'est chant mauvais, vraiment mauvais" in the echo though. Perhaps a tobacco offering, like I do on my Aboriginal routes, would have improved my ranking with them. This was my special treat for the trip as I got to paddle the route 3 times. Once to check out the route, a second going back to tell the team that it's passible, and the third with the team. I can't imagine how the voyageurs managed to get a 3 ton 35 - 40 foot long canot de maître down this channel. Perhaps they used the smaller canot de nord which carried half the weight and half the number of voyageurs. The channel must be a lot wider during spring runoff. That and portaging 180lb packs over portages at a jog.
Crooked Rapids campsite Typical Georgian Bay granite and wind swept trees Geography can look so different from maps, especially with low water levels. It was a bit of a challenge to find part of the passage from Balis Point to Crooked Rapids. One set of rapids had been reduced to a section of large jagged rocks. So we had our first portage followed by a shallow section. By this point the rest of the team was wondering about my navigation skills. But finally open water and Crooked Rapids where we camped around 4:30. Due to all granite and no soil, we used Georgian Bay tent pegs - cord wrapped around rocks.
August 25th - Off to the BayGeorgian Bay. A quiet campsite away from the constant wind. On the water again by 9:30. Although a map sidebar suggested going south to the portages around Lily Chutes and Little Jameson, we figured we'd at least try Devil Door Rapids. Hey, we're white-water trippers and we're cocky. Unfortunately(?) the Devil turned out to be just a riffle, so it was right into Bad River with no portages. Once through all the granite outcroppings, we were in Georgian Bay and big rollers. The wind didn't help much either. We headed back to the inner channels and out of the wind and rollers. It was a short but slightly convoluted route to campsite 724 via a small passage which we picked because it was hidden from the winds. A way too short a paddle really, as we were camped by around noon. Other than a hike out to the Bay for a look and the sorting of gear, a rather boring afternoon. This site would have been really buggy early in the year and not as good as another wind exposed camp back at mouth.
August 26th - A Change of PlansInto the sun. Wind sculptured tree. Although we got up early on the hopes of getting over to the Bustard Islands before the daily winds start up, no such luck. The winds beat us to it and were blowing well by 8:30. Between the wind and the heavy wind-generated rollers, we decided to hug the coast and head over to the Fox Islands instead. As usual, we kept to the inner channels as much as possible. A nice little channel took us right up the mouth of the French River Main Channel. We crossed over at Sabine Island and, once across, were hidden from the wind almost all the way to Beacon Rock. Both the scenery and the pace were great.
Like a bunch of lizards relaxing in the sun. A wooden land boundary marker from the early 1900s. A one point, we thought it time to pull ashore and stretch our legs. Instead and within seconds, we were all flat on the rocks warming and sunning ourselves. Quite reptile like, so we called the spot Lizard Island. At luncheon on another island, we found an old wooden land claim post/boundary marker from the early 1900s. Apparently many islands are marked this way with a "KGnnnn" stamped in the post.
Ted looking for campsite 920 A view of the quiet bay. Once past the shelter of the smaller islands and into Finger Bay, were back into the winds. I think we were all glad to see campsite 920. A great site in a quiet bay out of the prevailing winds. Jan's supper was fresh carrots, fried potatoes with onions and fried corned beef. The kind of supper a group of hard working canoe trippers could appreciate - much better than the corn and pemmican of the voyageur's monotonous supper.
August 27th - Heading back via Bass LakeBruce trying out his sail. The closed campsite. The winds were, as usual for Georgian Bay, high on the way back - quite the fight for a few hours. It felt good to get into the inner channels and away from the constant winds. Next it was up to Bass Lake via a very civilized boardwalk portage. Finally we were heading north with the winds at our back - the first following winds of our trip! A good paddle all the way up to the Elbow. We had intended on staying at one of the Elbow sites for our last night so that's where we stopped, had lunch and were preparing to set up camp just as a motor boat carrying very friendly Park Rangers who came ashore. They let us know that a nuisance bear had been visiting the 3 Elbow campsites. They tacked up a no camping sign and told us that moving would be smart. Good idea! We then headed further up the channel closer to Hartley Bay. We had lots of time left in the afternoon and closer to the take-out meant for an earlier start time for the long ride home. Our last camp at 611 was good with lots of room although a large mosquito breeding area behind would have made this place hell early in the year. The landing was typical granite.
August 28th - Last paddle to the take-outA typical Georgian Bay granite landing spot. A kettle of broadwing hawks. On the way to Hartley Bay we spotted a kettle of broadwing hawks circling up from a roost. Quite the sight and very unusual. Soon it was Hartley Bay, packing up and the long ride home.
Another very successful BRAT trip. We'll have to go back to Georgian Bay next year as it's a fascinating place to paddle.