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 second leg of our 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

Monday, August 19, 2019

Day 69

We woke to find fog covering the river and the wind coming from the south. The wind the night before had signalled a change in weather systems.

We paddled down rushing bouncy water until we arrived at the roaring Cachechekuch rapids. We pulled out at a pebble beach where the river bead split, one path dry and the other charging forward.

We began carrying the duffle bags full of gear down the dry river bed. Climbing up and down the small boulders with all that weight was hard. We sweat and worked. A half mile is a long portage, but at least the rocks got big and flattened out near the bottom. We dropped our gear at the bottom, then looked for an easier path through the woods. We found some blueberries, but no path.

We then hiked back to the boats and the remaining gear. A trip for each boat, and another for gear. As we went back and forth, we tried to explore to find easier ways to go, we found some pretty, shady spots, and small rivulets of water coming out of the woods, but there’s no easy way to carry a kayak half a mile over rocks, and then go back and do it again.

We did figure out that, rather than hike the boats around a pool near the bottom, we could just put them on the water and push across to save time and energy. We also probably could have paddled a bit farther down river before taking out, but didn’t want to relaunch for it.

We finished the portage at 4:00 at a cobblestone beach with sandy sections. Above one section a stream disappeared into the sand just above the treeline. We hiked back into the woods and filled up our 10 liter bags from the pristine flowing waters in beds of thick moss.

Erin had some chlorine packets. Each packet was for 100 liters, so we tried to measure out a tenth of the powder for each water bag.

I made a fishing rod from a stick with my knife. I tied line to a notch in the center, and then coiled it around a V at each end of the half meter long stick. I’d keep it on my deck, and if a fish pulled it off, the wooden branch would float and we’d get it. I didn’t want to tie it to my deck since there was no system to let more line out.

GPS coordinates: 50.87716, -78.10327

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Day 68

Just after launch we had bouncy, chilly rapids, then a calm fast moving section of river, where I noticed that Erin’s day hatch was open and waterlogged. The first aid kit and a couple other dry bags were wet inside, but suffered no major damage.

We arrived at Chute aux Iroquois [Iroquois falls]. The river rushed between cliffs on either side down a wild shoot and around a corner. It is the only rapid on the Nottaway for which there is a proper portage through the woods. We looked for, and found it, above the high rock face on the left side of the river. While old and underused, we had no trouble following the distinct path across the moss bed of the forest.

Because of the U-bend in the river, almost all of which fantastic rapids, the path cut away from the rapids, through blueberries, to a swift moving but flatter river below.

We piled our boats and gear at the bottom. We packed our boats one at a time on account of the tight space in the uneven rocky terrain. After I sat in mine, I found myself floating down river backwards while putting my skirt on. A rock made a concerning sound against my hull before I straightened things out.

We found ourselves against a headwind, but with the current under us in spite of the slightly widened river, we made good time. At the end of that lake, we’d move onto a new map and things would get interesting. That is, even more interesting than they already were. The river would drop 200 meters in the next 43 nautical miles.

The river picked up speed. We weren’t exactly in rapids, but we moved fast in the narrow river. Where rocks breached the surface, waves formed around them. We stayed sharp and constantly scanned the waters ahead.

Then we approached the rapids Cachechekuch. We tied ropes to the kayaks and walked them from the rocky shore until the rapids got too big. The stone ground stood a good three feet above the surface, and we raised the heavy boats with difficulty. We tried to carry the boats across the short portage loaded, but they were too heavy.

By the time we had everything near the launch, it was late and we decided to make camp. The woods behind the rocks were too thick, the rocks mostly uneven, but we found a spot atop the rocky hill near the tree line.

We could not put stakes in the ground, so like many other of the rocky camps we’d made, I used rope to tie the tent to whatever could be found: a small tree, rocks, a bush, and a pointy part of the boulder the tent rested on.

A few blueberries grew around the camp.

That night the wind blew fiercely.

Check out some pictures of Erin eating blueberries on the portage!

GPS coordinates: 50.86935, -78.08346

Friday, August 16, 2019

Day 67

We paddled more fast water, and down smaller rapids, until we got to the next big one: Rapids Longs. Erin and I climbed onto rocks and looked down at the watery excitement ahead of us. Small rapids flowed into bigger rapids forced between two giant rocks on either side.

Erin wanted to start the portage above the medium rapids. I didn’t. I paddle my boat down to the end of the medium rapids, before the huge rapids and then hiked back up to get Erin’s boat. She met me at the take out and we began our portage, first over difficult terrain made up of small boulders, and then across huge flat rock faces.

Small clear fish ponds spread across the rock faces high above the river. Grasses grew where dirt collected.

Past the rock faces we hiked across sharp ups and downs reaching teeth out into the river over the wave train at the bottom of the rapids. The river turned to the right, and there we found a beautiful beach, part sand, part stone.

The portage was almost half a mile and took us just shy of sunset. Tomorrow we’d rest.

Water flowed down rocks near the beach. By removing the nozzle and placing the tip of the waterbag hose against a crack in the rock, we found we could fill our bags with probably clean water.

These pictures area a bit washed out, but so were we!

GPS coordinates: 50.66162, -77.88641

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Day 66

We paddled west. A bear walked along a beach about a quarter mile from us. I started to paddle toward it and Erin said “no.” She was right of course. At the end of the lake, the river narrowed and the water fell. One set of rapids followed another. Where the river widened the water still moved fast, around one bend and then the next, through unbridled wilderness and beauty.

Then we came to big rapids. We scouted them, and found no portage trail. I thought we could paddle them. The river narrowed between a high shelf to the left and cliffs to the right. It poured with fury. But it looked deep, and I thought we would go in, and we would come out, hopefully still in one piece. No rocks was good. There was one rock at the bottom on the right. I couldn’t tell how deep it was, but the steep wave it threw up looked best avoided. We’d have to steer around it.

Erin wasn’t so sure, but finally agreed to try. She would go first, so that if something happened to her I could come from behind and try to help her. I took pictures as she went down, then followed.

I kept an eye on her, until she disappeared from view. I started to panic, and searched the fury for her, and could not find her. I did not focus on where my boat headed until the the big wave and rock on the bottom sucked me in. I sprinted to escape, with everything I could muster, and failed. The edge pulled me up and flipped me over.

My sprint had starved me of air, and as I tried to roll up one way, the hydrodynamic wildness pulled my boat the other, and I did not come up. I tried to get to the other side to roll, as wave train tossed me about, and I couldn’t make it. I wet exit, holding onto my boat and paddle. But I was downriver of my boat, the dangerous side. After a breath, I tried to duck underneath. But the currents underwater fought with my paddle and tried to keep me down. I let go of it and came up above my boat. Where was Erin? I watched my paddle just out of reach get tossed in the waves ahead of me.

And then I washed out. Erin, about 500 meters downriver of me, swam toward her boat. She looked fine. I reentered mine, rolled up with my spare paddle, and recovered my primary paddle from an eddy. Then I went for the girl. She hand rolled up in the water logged boat.

Erin was shaken up. She’d lost her paddle and her boat, and only recovered one. She worried that I’d be upset with her for losing my paddle, but I only felt joy that she was okay. She would never again listen to me when I told her that I think we can paddle big rapids, which was just as well. From there on, the river only got faster, and harder.

We looked for her paddle some, but it was lost. We now had two carbon Gearlab Greenland paddles and one Epic winged paddle. I took a Greenland and Erin the winged. The next rapids were not far ahead. We paddled up against the shore, and took out just above them. The portage would not be hard, and we’d make camp on the big flat rocks that looked over the river, singing a song of boat crushing majesty as it poured loudly, cascading down between rocks to flatter water below.

From this day on, the river was a new thing, a thing of constant portages, exploration, rapids, and fear. At least my back was better. Erin’s infection seemed to have completely subsided as well.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.4954, -77.76319

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Day 65, my birthday!

Today we would try to find the dirt road out. At the end of the day, based on the viability of our exit strategy, my back, and Erin’s mouth, we would decide to exit or continue.

First, we found a small hunting cabin on the east side of the river. Erin scouted the area while I lay on my back on the porch. She returned with raspberries. There was no road here. We got back on the water.

Our expedition route lead to the west. But the water got closest to the highway (11 miles to the north), on a sublake to the northeast. It would take us far out of our way to search the sublake for a dirt road. If Erin got a fever, and I remained cripled, we’d be lost.

We paddled to the northeast, and entered the lake. We crossed to the eastern most side with the ever present western wind at our backs, and slowly made our way around the edge back toward the entrance. We’d search the northern part of the lake until we found it.

But we didn’t find it. We got out a few times when a break in the trees might have been a road, but it never was. Erin trailed our fishing line behind her, but caught nothing in the cloudy water.

As we made our way to the western edge of this portion of the lake, the water grew shallow. Erin got out of her boat to take a break, I floated and waited. I noticed that I had needed much fewer back breaks, every hour, not every 20 minutes.

Erin got back in her boat and noticed she’d lost the fishing rod when she stood up. The rod had a carabiner on it, and I was always careful to clip it. But here on this flat water, Erin hadn’t. We walked around in water up to our knees. I heard a splash some 15 meters away. Perhaps a fish made off with the whole thing. The cloudiness of the water revealed nothing, and so we lost the fishing rod.

We paddled on. The water got so shallow we had to gorilla scoot away from the shore. And as the day ended and we left the sublake returning to our expedition route only slightly ahead of where we’d camped the night before, my back not feeling so bad, and Erin’s mouth improved with treatment, we found a beautiful beach with a dirt road leading away from it.

We made camp.

We hiked up the dirt road to a derelict cottage, windows broken, wood rotting. The road continued past the cottage, but I don’t think anything other than an all terrain vehicle could have traversed it. If we hiked out, we could try to hire someone to recover our gear.

Most importantly, my back was feeling better. Erin thought her mouth was getting better too. We would continue on. There would be no more options for take out until Waskaganish.

Beside the long beach, a rocky precipice overlooked the lake. Behind it we gorged ourselves on blueberries, and then ate dinner while watching the sun over an unforgiving, beautiful wilderness. I hoped we made the right decision.

Check out our pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.29707, -77.48218

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Day 64

Another late start for my back. We hoped the extra sleep and lying down helped. If my back didn’t get better, doom.

We launched our boats onto the waters gently flowing around the island and continued downstream. Every 20 minutes, we broke for ten minutes of me lying on my kayak deck. My muscle pain relaxed to agonizing happiness.

The river widened and zig zagged. Rather than stay with the current we cut straight to hopefully save time, and found ourselves in shallow water against a headwind. We gorilla scooted, much longer than we would have liked, until we turned the corner and were out of it.

We stopped to rest on a sandy spit far from the main shore. I don’t know how long I layed there. This was my fifth day of abject patheticness. Later, as we continued north on the lake, we could dig a paddle down to the bottom to hold our position against the wind when I rested.

Meanwhile, Erin had a problem of her own. An infection had grown in her mouth. Before the trip, I had tried to secure antibiotics from my doctor in case of wilderness emergency, but the doctor did not provide. And now Erin suffered. When I made her laugh, she winced with pain. She no longer spoke in more than a whisper as the infection that started in her cheek spread to her throat.

I stuck a thermometer in her mouth to see if maybe she was coming down with strep, but it showed her as dead. I cleaned it, and stuck it in my mouth. I too, was dead. I’d had the thing for years; it no longer worked.

From 2003 to 2005 I trained and served as an IDF combat medic, and we had an expression. “חובש טוב חובש מאלתר. [A good medic is a creative medic.]” So starting the evening before, I had Erin rub town the painful area of her mouth with alcohol gauze pads we’d brought in the first aid kit. So far, we didn’t know if they worked.

We had read, in our pre trip research, that an old dirt road came to the northern end of this lake. With both of our maladies, we needed to find it. We needed to think about aborting. But that was for tomorrow.

A large beach spread across a point on the western side of the lake. We had a campfire and pitched our tent on flat soft sands.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.22452, -77.46698

Monday, August 12, 2019

Day 63

Lake Matagami turned into the Nottaway as we continued north. Our late start and frequent breaks made for slow going. But the river picked up speed where it narrowed, and we cruised through one set of rapids, then portaged across an island at the second. Enorumouse flat boulders spread out along the edge of the island, and the river narrowed significantly to its left to make a combination of paddling, carrying, and lining a success.

I laid down on one of the great flat rocks to ease the pain in my back.

We launched back into the swift water, but a scant 8 miles into our day, we had to stop for the night. Low on water, we found a stream feeding the river just across from an island with a beautiful beach. We hiked up the marshy area at the mouth of the stream to where we finally found a thin rivulet of clear water.

I frequently had to lay down to rest my back on the short hike. Erin’s boat, not quite grounded, floated away and she had to run after it, but not too far. Shallow water extended a good distance out from the stream. Rather than help, I took a picture.

Where the water became clear we found bear and wolf tracks. A beaver had chucked a tree almost to falling. We pumped water filling our bags, but too much silt clogged the filter making it useless for the rest of the trip.

We paddled to the beach site and made camp. Erin found an old frying pan on the island, and once we looked, we found a few other signs that a regular campsite had been there many years ago.

Check out our pictures here.

GPS coordinates: 50.09088, -77.46577

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Day 62

On Sunday, we launched late, slow getting out of camp because of my back pain. But I intended to paddle through it, and I did for an hour. The tail wind scooted us across the lake and we were at the other side before I had to stop.

I found that lying down on the deck of my kayak while Erin held it secure leaning from hers, I could rest my back without getting off the water.

Across the water to the south we saw a last outcropping of houses which our map said had road access. We could stop here. If my back didn’t get better in a few days, we could run out of food and summer before hitting Waskaganish. We pushed on. My back would get better.

We paddled in 20 minute bouts with ten minute back rests.

The lake turned north and we lost our tail wind. We stuck to the west side of the lake up against the tree line to avoid the beam wind, until we got to a large bay pointing to the southeast. Crossing it was a fierce battle, at times we weren’t sure if we were making any progress at all. Erin fell behind, but I needed to get out of the wind, off the water, to rest my back. I pulled ahead, and second to none, she soon caught up. The closer we got to shore, the more the trees broke the wind and the calmer the water grew.

When finally we made it across the bay, we pulled up to a stone spit, I rolled out of my boat, and rested my back on a large flat rock. Gradually the pain subsided.

We continued northbound. Erin caught a walleye and a pike.

We camped on a beach with an abundance of driftwood. Our fire burned pleasantly when a fish jumped in the evening water. I caught it adding to the already abundant dinner. We feasted and slept under a clear star filled sky.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: ~50.00598, -77.45914

Friday, August 9, 2019

Day 61

We continued down the Bell for a short time, and then completed it as we paddled onto Lake Matagami. Woods quickly surrounded us and the few satellite cottages disappeared behind us. There would be almost none until Waskaganish.

The west wind that had slowed us two weeks earlier now pushed us on. As we paddled east onto the lake we made good time with a swell to surf.

But the time in the car, and on the planes, had done something to my back. Something bad. The pain quickly grew until I could barely paddle. I had experienced this once before on a paddling trip in Greece. If I didn’t stop soon I wouldn’t be able to get out of my boat without falling in.

Erin was sympathetic, and we pulled over at a beautiful beach stretching around a small bay. A stream from the woods cut through the sand. The water in the bay was flat and Erin helped me out of my boat. I lay on the beach on my back as Erin began making camp. Gradually, the pain subsided.

We’d paddled only about 5 miles. Hopefully I’d feel better by Sunday.

Here are some pictures of me and Erin in our tent from that day!

GPS coordinates: 49.83102, -77.63381

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Day 60

In the rain, a Frenchmen staying at the B&B was excited to see us off on our journey and take pictures. When we told him we were engaged, he said “If you guys can go on trips like this together, you’ll always be together. That’s how we did it.” He nodded toward his wife, still in love after some 50 years.

The river flowed much lower than it had two weeks earlier, so the bed and breakfast’s dock now sat on dry land.

We arrived at our first portage after about 5 minutes of paddling. We had scouted it while the mechanic patched out tire, so we knew what to do.

We had to carry the boats only a short distance so we took out the water and the other especially heavy bags. Supplies refreshed, this turned out to be quite a lot. The river narrowed into three necks, each with a short steep drop. We carried the heavy gear down the smooth rock face, and launched just beneath a small waterfall.

Not long after, we found a small wood beside Matagami and a hiking trail to pitch our tent on.

See pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 49.7629, -77.62143

Returning North

In a short span of time, we flew to and from Norway, then drove from New York City to Matagmi. We wanted to resume our expedition with all haste, fall and cold loomed. After a full day of driving north , we slept for a few hours in the car beside a small lakeside campground.

The smell of burning oil had begun filling the vehicle every time we stopped. My eleven year old subaru may not have been up to the task.

At first light, we pulled back on the highway and kept driving.

The GPS took us onto an incredibly bumpy dirt road. The bus we’d taken south had us on paved roads the whole way. We thought we could figure out how the bus had gone, but to go back around could have taken us a couple more days of driving, whereas we only had three or four hours on the rocky road.

I progressed slowly. We saw three other vehicles, a pickup truck going the same direction as us, and a couple flatbeds oncoming taking up almost the entire road. We tried to drive on the less bumpy middle of the road. We found a construction crew working at a bridge, they waved us past.

About 15 minutes out from Matagami, we’d gotten out to use the side of the road, when I heard one of the tires leaking. The car did not yet ride funny, so we finished our two day drive at a tire repair shop at the entrance to town.

Once our tire was patched, we drove to a mechanic to figure out the burning oil. They did something that didn’t make a difference and sent us on our way a couple hours later.

We picked up our boats from the bed and breakfast, packed, and launched.