Monday, August 26, 2019

New York to Hudson Bay, All Done


We made it from New York to Hudson Bay. We survived the scariest river I’ve ever paddled. Erin and I had fought a few times about rapids, or whatever, but we were closer than ever. This was the most remote, challenging, wild expedition either of us had ever paddled, and it was amazing.
We hitchhiked back to our car in Matagami, drove to Waskaganish to get the boats, and then drove home.
Here are some pictures from Waskaganish.

And here's a collection of nice pictures from the trip.

Day 75

We walked and lined our boats down through shallow rapids off the side of the current down the hill until we got to the lake at the bottom, where with a minimal amount of dragging, we got the boats over rocks, streams rushing between them.

Below, the water was calmer, until it wasn’t. The first set of rapids were shallow. Erin, both taller and lighter, sat higher up and with the better view choose deeper water than I did. Stuck, I got out to pull my boat over pebbles in the middle of the river.

We decided to paddle the first set of larger rapids. The waves rose to about a meter, but the water looked deep and with no major obstacles we gleefully bounced down the center.

The river split into narrower streams around enormous pebbly islands, and where the islands closed in, the water poured fast and picked up height.

Then the river curved back into a single body, but now the right side shot down viciously, the main current forced through a long narrow channel beneath a cliff, and the left side of the river, a shallow rock spiked lake with rivulets of water falling off the side into the wild rush below. We paddled the shallow gradually descending lake, and then climbed down one of the last falls before rocks took the lake over entirely.

The chanel widened slightly and the current slowed down enough to manage. The river widened, and then narrowed a little, and we arrived at the next set of big rapids. Erin thought they looked too shallow, so we paddled down the calmer river right to a short portage over yet more rocks, a short paddle across a calm beside the storm, and then a climb down a rocky wall between falling streams to the river beneath the rapids.

A wide dry river bed full of low growth lead away from the rapids around, what would have been in a high water, the island marked on our map.

Another larger island lay ahead. To the right, the river flowed smaller and cascaded down one set of rapids and then another. To the left, we could not see the rapids, but knew they were there.

We walked down through the river, three sets of rapids on the right, and paddled where we could.

At the bottom, the Notaway still flowed, but calmly.

And then we weren’t on the Notaway any more. Though the water didn’t taste salty, our map said we were in a tidal region. We were on James Bay.

We spotted a couple cabins on the side of the river, and considered stopping. We had about three days of food, but that meant eating mostly stale granola.

We decided to push on. With the wind at our backs, we could make Waskaganish by 8:00pm or so.

The water grew too shallow to paddle easily. We tried heading out to deeper water, but couldn’t find any. At times, my boat deeper in the water than Erin’s, I had to get out and walk. We progressed across the shallow bay slowly.

At one point, both Erin and I both walked, pulling our boats through the shallow water on leashes. Erin shrieked. She’d been dragging her leash in the water, no boat on the other end of it, for the last few minutes without noticing. Her boat floated some hundred meters away. She sprinted through the shallow water before it could complete its escape.

The sun began to set and we put our deck lights on. We’d learned how to read the weather of the region over the summer, together with the barometer on my watch, and knew a storm approached. Maybe any minute, maybe tomorrow morning (It took two days, but it came.)

Erin spotted the red buoy first, while I pulled my kayak on a leash at least a mile from shore. The buoy meant we’d find a channel. We were saved. I walked, she paddled slowly, toward the channel, and from there, we raced.

We paddled up the very bottom of the Rupert River, and arrived in Waskaganish around 9:30pm. Some First Nations folk on the beach helped us move our boats inland with their truck. The town has a couple of tepees set up for travelers like ourselves, and we used an expensive hotel’s bathrooms.

A friendly First Nations man heard about our trip. “You paddled the Nottaway? The last guy who did that had to eat his dog.”

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 51.488860, -78.745829

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Day 74

Though the rush of doom lay behind us, two enormous sets of rapids still waited.

The river picked up speed as more and more islands populated it. We descended between the islands, and the water continued to move faster. Large rocks ahead snaked into what might have been a kayak trap, easy going in and near impossible coming out.

Erin climbed up on one to get a view and try to figure out which way would be safest. We went around the small archipelago to the right. The kayak trap had an outlet, but the water poured out there too shallow, too fast, and too steep.

At the bottom of the lagoon, the water swung around and we took the chanel to the left of the largest island, Ile D’herbomez, coming up fast.

We moved too fast, and it looked like a shelf lay ahead. I motioned to Erin for us to stop at a flat boulder that I thought we could land at. I got there first, came in hard and fast, and climbed onto the rock just as the current tried to pull my boat away. I pulled my kayak up. A moment later Erin landed. She did not try to stop next to the island and climb out. She didn’t slow down at all, and slid her boat right up onto the rock. The speed and volume of the river scared us.

We looked at the shelf below. A larger boulder ahead obstructed much of our view. We decided to walk and portage the boats down the left edge of the river. The forest grew too thick to take out, but we could portage over islands where that seemed safer than walking in the current.

Getting off our island would be hard. If we didn’t go upstream at all, we could easily be pulled into one of the towering boulders, clumps of rocks, or over the shelf. But paddling upstream against this current would take everything we had, and maybe more.

With the best sprint I could manage, I paddled up a tiny shelf, and then let the current whip my bow around as I shifted over to the side where I could stop. Erin tried a different route that took her dangerously close to the towering boulder and a short drop, but faired better not having to climb the shelf.

We walked our boats down the edge of the river, climbed over and down a couple small islands, fearfully walking across the current to get there, until we found some smaller streams separated from the terror of the main current. We came out the bottom of those streams and the river calmed for a bit, until the waterfall.

A large shelf lay ahead, we scouted by climbing up to a thick shrub plain on the left side of the river, and decided we could probably portage most easily on the right. Back in our boats, we crossed the current fearfully, but without any trouble, and climbed up the stone edge of the island. We were able to bring the boats over and down the cliff on the other side without unloading them. Supplies ran low, which made for lighter boats. We paddled across a small lagoon off the side of the rapids, and then portaged again over the next island.

The river widened just a bit before it hit the Canyon of Terror and Life Ending Soul Sucking Horror. We paddled across the rapids and climbed up to the large expanse of rocks that passed between the canyon and the forest.

Lakes and small streams flowed down into the roaring canyon, and the large flat rocks made for an easy if long portage.

Below the first heavy set of rapids, we launched into the canyon, cliffs rose on either side but the deep water made the rapids here just passable. The cliffs abated on the left, and we swung around into an enormous eddy, just before the canyon tightened up again into more terrifying force.

We scouted, and found, past the great flat rocks, an enormous expanse of shallow lakes, grass, and easy walking rocks. Raspberries grew thick, and we ate while we explored. We took the boats onto the expanse, paddled one of the shallow lakes, and then portaged across a line of flat rocks standing above the spread of grass and raspberries.

We descended to the top of the rapids delta, where the water emerged from the end of the canyon and spread out, wildly flying down the side of a rocky hill to smoother waters below.

We made camp on the last of the great flat rocks, and enjoyed our dinner no longer so frustrated by the swarms of mosquitoes. Perhaps there were fewer as the weather grew colder, or maybe we were stronger. More likely the former.

Filling up water from one of the streams coming off the grassy expanse, I lost the black water-bag cap. It floated away and was gone before I could snatch it. We searched the rocks below, but experimenting with the other waterbag cap, figured out it should have floated.

With some detective work, I found it in a sieve of sticks and brush some seven meters downstream. We would finish in a day or two depending on the weather.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 51.084542, -78.777645

Friday, August 23, 2019

Day 73

We launched into alternating light and moderate rapids. Avoided rocks, headed for V’s, stayed close to one another, but not too close, and rocketed down the river.

The river opened up, and became shallow. Large eddies danced behind the many rocks. The landscape descended visibly as we slid downhill with the water.

Then the river narrowed and the rapids picked up again, bigger than before but still manageable. Looking at the water spilling out below us, the left side of the river looked easier than the right where the last rush had spilled us, so we turned our bows upstream and crossed.

Then we were flying forward again, dodging rocks and staying sharp, while straining to see farther ahead. I wasn’t sure, but I saw what might, or might not, have been the top of a shelf. I couldn't get a good look at it from my cockpit while in the race.

With an abundance of caution, we pulled over at some rocks on the left side of the river, and beheld an enormous shelf. Had we continued even a little farther, the hidden waterfall would have reared up and pulled us down.

Small flat rock islands dotted the left side of the shelf, and we walked the boats down the water in between them, and over there surfaces climbing down to lower levels carrying the heavy boats. We paddled what short distances we could as the falls to our right celebrated the wilderness with abandon.

A last section of portage, for which we unloaded the boats, took us across flat low rocks and a few ponds off the river left. We put in at a stone beach at the bottom of the falls where the river widened, but on account of the descent, still rushed and pummeled. Terrifying, we loved it, and rode out to slightly calmer waters below along the route that seemed least dangerous when we’d looked and planned from the rocks above.

The fastest most terrifying section of the river, the wildest descent, was behind us. We paddled onto the next map and finished much closer to shabbat than we would have liked. The river still moved quickly, though not nearly as quickly as it had for all of the last week. We stopped at a hill covered in tall grass, but the rocky ground beneath the grass would make it hard to pitch the tent. We searched a beach, to steep to pitch a tent, and the forest above, too thick.

As the sun descended in the sky, we decided to try the left side of the river instead of the right, now far apart compared to the narrow runs above. The sun shone in our eyes and made finding a site even harder, until we saw a cabin.

Inside, we found mice and the thick odor of mice droppings. Outside, we found abundat raspberries and a perfect spot to pitch our tent.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 51.059397, -78.630188

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Day 72

Rapids and more rapids, until we found a flat section of water, and then a big rapid we’d need to portage around.

We decided to line it. We tied rope to the bow and stern and began pulling the rope along the water as we scurried and leaped across rocks above. Sometimes I walked along the boats in the water, bracing against the current and risking my footing with every step, to guide them through tricky channels or around difficult obstacles. Sometimes the current flowed too strong.

My rope attached to the tip of the stern, Erin’s the tip of the bow. From atop a bolder, we tried to guide the boat between rocks a bit too far away. The current grabbed the kayak, flooded the cockpit, and we held it with all of our strength. The boat looked ready to break, and Erin ready to fly off the rock. The force of the river, boat, and rope working against her, most likely exceeded the 120 pounds she yielded for leverage. Her ferociousness couldn’t help her against the laws of physics. “Let go!” I yelled over the roar of the river.

She did, and the free bow out and, though water logged, the boat went back to behaving like a boat instead of a parachute. This happened twice more. Somewhere in the process we lost the fishing rod I’d made. We should not have lined the boats. It had seemed like it would be easier than carrying the gear, but it was not. It was more dangerous.

Above an island, the river pored over another large shelf. And in the woods, we found a portage trail, or at least, enough of one to make it work. At one intersection, we accidentally followed a moose trail into the woods, but then returned to our path. We stopped for blueberries, and I laid down to rest my back for a bit.

We left the trail to hike across low rocks standing just above the river, and put our boats in the water at the bottom of the rapids. The whole thing took us more time than it needed to. But we were back on the water and on our way.

After shallow rapids across a wider section of the river, we made camp at the top of the next rapids, a mile and a half below. The water again funneled through a narrow section, and some 200 meters of rocks spread out to the right. After climbing across them, we walked through some shallow water to an island on a flat lake. We pitched our tent on a shelf halfway up the house sized boulder.

Beyond the lake, we found a small stream coming out of the woods and refilled our water supply. With all the portaging, and the streams we were now finding frequently, we’d cut back substantially on the amount of water we carried. We filled up enough for the night and the next day.

The sun set over the field of rocks, and the rapids made music behind us. Our boats lay at the end of the portage ready to launch on the morning.

Check out some great pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.947058, -78.368074

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Day 71

We continued our portage. Every couple hundred meters we’d rest our load and head back for something else, or begin a next section. bookm

The small rocks we’d climbed across the day before transitioned into larger flat boulders, and then cliffs, columns, and canyons. We lowered the boats onto a pond and Erin paddled them across. We began to add scouting legs to figure out how to best navigate the often vertical terrain. We searched out the safest descents and easiest climbs, sometimes hopping from one boulder to the next.

Finally, we could see the river ahead of us, and then after our last descent, the riverbed flattened out. We climbed across more small and medium size rocks with poor footing, water moving beneath, until, totally exhausted, five or six in the afternoon, we were able to put in and get back to the business of kayaking.

We paddled two miles of swift water to the next portage. The river poured down a large shelf to the left of an island. To the right, we portaged, climbing down a cliff to flat water below. Between the island and the mainland, the water had too many shallow rocks to paddle, but we pulled the boats along passed the island and beneath the shelf.

With our boats and gear ready to launch, we climbed back up the cliff and searched the thickly moss carpeted woods for a campsite or a stream. We were out of water and tired. We found neither.

Beneath the shelf we paddled manageable rapids, and then found a beach, with a stream. Our prayers were answered.

Oil seemed to come out of the ground. We’d seen this elsewhere, but here it was most pronounced.

We used the ample drift wood to make a campfire, and settled in comfortably for the night.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.949558, -78.278364

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Day 70

About a mile past launch the water roared around a sharp bend in the river. We paddled as close as we dared, and then scouted the corner. If we got really close to the rapids that might pull us to our doom, we’d be able to cut across the rocks for a fairly easy portage.

We found a small notch in the rocks that we could take out at. If we missed it, the current would pull us into doom. I would paddle both boats, one at a time, while Erin waited atop the rocks. To make sure I’d see the notch from the water, I stacked some stones nearby.

The water pulled me down river, I saw the stones late, and pulled into the notch barely in time. It looked different from the water than it had from above. Erin helped me get the boat out onto the rocks, and I walked back upstream to do it again.

The second time I was ready for the notch, and pulled in early. Too close to the side, an eddy pulled me onto some shallow rocks facing almost upstream. I backed out, and without enough time to turn around in the rushing current, backed into the notch where Erin waited for me.

We got the second boat out of the water and began the portage across the enormous boulders. Where we walked along the edge of the forest, we found a thick growth of saskatoons and ate the perfectly ripe berries of deliciousness.

We piled our boats and gear at a small beach just below the rapids.

Light rapids followed. Erin suddenly had trouble maneuvering, because my lure had caught her stern toggle hold. We pulled together and I freed her as our boats were moved swiftly into slightly flatter water.

After separating, bigger rapids came, almost too big to safely paddle down. We stopped halfway through the run and climbed onto a rock to get a better view of the wildness below. We saw that we’d likely find a way through closer to the center of the river, so we paddled out with our noses upstream, and then turned around to aim for the center of one of the river’s V’s. I almost made it. A rock I hadn’t seen clipped my stern hard when I fell onto it from above. My boat would leak slightly at the wound until I could repair it.

But then we were through; Erin faired better than I.

The next set of rapids were fierce, too big to try, so we looked for a portage trail. We found one, maybe, but it was so underused we couldn’t get the boats through. A wide swath of rocks spread some 150 meters or more from the edge of the main river to the woods, and small streams and ponds meandered between them.

With a combination of walking in water, pulling ropes from the rocks above, and paddling we worked the kayaks down mini rapids and over small waterfalls until we had to portage the rest of the way. Climbing small to medium rocks is always hard going, the constant up and down and search for safe footing while carrying the heavy portage weight is an exhausting challenge.

We passed under a tree between a couple of larger boulders, and found a spot to repack our boats and launch from low rocks.

The river curved around a large bend. A wide, low, rocky island stood across the bend from us. Behind it waited a dry riverbed, split off from the running water, that would be our next and largest portage.

I fished as the river rushed us around. We wanted to take the island on the inside, but the water moved fast between rocks and then down a small shelf. The main body of the river on the outside moved much faster and deeper, but we weren’t sure we’d get to our portage going that way.

One of the rocks caught my lure, and I pulled over just before the stream ahead got nasty. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t free the lure from the shore, so holding onto a rope that Erin had the other end of, I climbed well into the strong current to free my lure, and succeeded without dying, though having gotten away with something incredibly stupid, may be the worse for it.

We then did some combination of walking and flying down the stream to the where we could park and portage. The main current went to the right of Ile Interdite. The dry river bed cut a mile long path to the left of the island before meeting up with the current. Were we to paddle instead of hike, a series of death rapids waited for us.

We took the boats out on a pebble beach, changed into warmer land clothing, and began the day and a half portage.

Two loaded duffel bags and hands full of dry bags, and two kayaks, we repeated the 3 legs every 100 meters or so. At first, we climbed over small rocks. Ponds freckled the alien landscape, and as we got farther down we would hear or see small streams moving beneath the rocks.

It rained.

After a few legs, we found an enormous flat rock, easily the size of a football field, and pitched our tent. At the top of it, some blueberries grew in the woods. After hot rice and lentils we climbed into our tent for well earned sleep.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.936548, -78.210106