Posted by: kimmeroo | May 14, 2012

The Pukaskwa River – Day 1 and 2

One of the positive things about being unemployed is not having to ask a boss for time off to go canoeing. I’ll try not to dwell on the fact that my boss was always accommodating and basically never said ‘no’… Anyhow, suffice to say it wasn’t a problem fitting a long canoe trip in this spring. Hopefully a job will start getting in the way of the paddling life of leisure soon, but in the meantime I’ll do my best to enjoy the time off.

We had a few options in mind for this trip.  Option number 1 was the Pukaskwa River, but this trip is fairly fickle when it comes to water levels. You need enough water, but don’t want enough to be terrifying. Too little water and you’re walking. To complicate matters, you’re traveling on the river for about 5 days, so if it rains a lot you could go from good to terrifying very quickly (which happened to Conor the first time he did this trip years ago – read about it here!). Alternatively, if you start at a good but low-ish level and the level drops it could get too low to paddle. Tricky.

Alternatives included the Steele River or a trip in the Algoma Highlands. We were planning to leave on a Thursday afternoon, but water levels were looking dicey (low). We flipped a coin, and two out of three told us to do the Highlands trip instead (it won out over the Steele because it’s a whole lot closer). Okay, settled. For a few hours. Then the doubts started creeping in… were the levels high enough? Could we do it? Would we regret not doing it? We waffled back and forth and back and forth and back and forth… eventually Conor thought to call a friend who has canoed the river a few times (as opposed to kayaking it), and his input was that the level was fine and we should go for it. So we went back to Plan A, dropped the dog off at a friend’s, packed the car and set the alarm for 5am Friday morning.

Day 1 – Put-in to North of Fox River

The alarm went off at 5 and we were ready to hit the road shortly thereafter. Stopped at Tim’s to pick up breakfast to go, and rolled into our friend Chris’ driveway in Wawa just past 8am.  Chris drove us to the put-in off Paint Lake Rd. (near Obatanga Park), and we started paddling around 11am.

One could describe this day as ‘challenging.’ I, however, preferheinous. For much of the day I was questioning our decision to run the river. The start of the river is very narrow and creeky, with steep, boulder strewn rapids. There was also a common issue of sweepers, i.e., trees and logs that have fallen into the river. These are a potentially deadly hazard should you run into them. On wider rivers you can generally go around them without any problems, but on this narrow river there were some that spanned the entire river. Wonderful. To set the stage for the little anecdote I’ll recount shortly, remember that it was also c-c-c-cold when we started the trip, so the sweepers that stuck out above the water were covered in ice. Oh, and we weren’t actually in Pukaskwa National Park yet, so there weren’t any portages. And the shoreline was completely taken over by nasty, grabby alders. Are we having fun yet?

We did manage to bounce down some rapids with both of us in the canoe. However, it didn’t take long to decide that in many cases it was better for me to run the shore (i.e., swear a lot while crashing through dense alders), and Conor to deal with the canoe. When he was lucky he was able to run the rapids solo. When he was unlucky (most of the time), he had to wade the canoe through the (freezing cold) rapids. This is where that little anecdote comes in. One one particularly lovely rapid I was running the shore like a dog, and Conor was wading the canoe down river right. All was going as well as it could be given the situation, until Conor was foiled by a sweeper blocking the river. No way could he get by on river right, where he was, and portaging would have been possible if absolutely necessary but would have taken a long time, and probably required some saw and ax work to make some semblance of a trail. It was possible to get the canoe over the sweeper on River Left, but it was too dangerous for Conor to wade across the river. We finally worked it out that I held onto the canoe, while Conor crashed through the bush and then inched his way across the ice covered sweeper. Once safely on the far shore I threw him the rope that was attached to the canoe, he pulled the canoe over to River Left, and from there was able to get it over the tree.

At this point we thought we might have to go into food conservation mode sooner rather than later…

Oh look, I’m on shore

Conor ridin’ solo

Luckily, the last bit of the day was a bit better. At least we were both able to travel together in the canoe, and there were some fun little rapids we could run. The last one we ran in particular had a fun little chute to end the day on a good note. We were hoping to make it to an island campsite where the Fox River flows into the Puk, but didn’t make it that far. Instead we found a nice island about 10k upstream of Fox River, with a nice view of the last set of rapids. A highlight was seeing a moose coming down to the river for a drink just after sunset. It didn’t stick around long once it realized we were out on the island, but we got a quick look and then heard it crashing around in the forest.

Island Campsite

It got really cold the first night – wet stuff was frozen before we crawled into the tent for the night. It was fine though, we just wore lots of clothes (and hats and jackets and mitts) and got a good night’s sleep.

Day 2 – North of Fox River to Oxford Ledge

The trip really started to improve on day 2. Well, it started to improve with the great campsite on the first night and the rapids leading up to it I guess, but continued to get better on the second day. First and foremost, the river widened and the water levels improved, especially after the confluence with Fox River. The level was definitely still low and we had no choice but to scrub over the bottom in some of the shallow swifts…and actually we had to get out once or twice…but on the whole it was pretty good.

Felt good to be IN the canoe again

The terrain also became rockier, which is nice for finding lunch spots and campsites. We stopped on a nice rock point for lunch.

There was quite a bit of portaging on this day, but that also meant we got to see some beautiful falls and big rapids.

One of the highlight’s was LaFleur’s Dam. There used to be a logging camp at this site, and a wooden dam was built across the river. Both the dam and the community are gone, but there are remnants of each to explore.

Can dump

LaFleur’s Dam

We camped at Oxford Ledge, which was a stunning spot. Conor had fun playing with his new camera. We also tried out our new (well, second hand from a friend) reflector oven to bake pizza and muffin mix for dessert. The verdict? Great, if you like doughy, half baked food… We have since ordered a new dutch oven.

Oxford Ledge

Nice bedrock campsite

Looks good. Looks can be deceiving.

Days 3-10 will come as they come! Sorting through all the photos takes some time.

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