Tuesday, 25 December 2012

 French River - 2003

 This was a 5 day 4 night trip beginning at Hartley Bay down to the Old Voyageur Channel out through The Finger Boards on Georgian Bay, and up the Main Channel back to Hartley Bay. This route is probably about 60 km the way that we paddled out to through the Finger Boards and islands to the main channel of the river. The group was 4 strong, me and my wife Jan and Bob and Allie a couple we had met through CCR and on a trip the previous summer on Chiniguchi and Wolf Lakes. This was the first time on the French for all of us and we were all looking forward to enjoying a unique area of Ontario.

Bob, Allie, Sid, Jan

The trip began from The Hartley Bay Marina on a Monday, we travelled down from Sudbury and we were on the water by about 9:30. It was a gorgeous hot summer day but the forecast was for rain later that night and the next morning. We headed west on Hartley Bay passing summer cottages and a few boats, however it wasn't too busy a morning. We turned southerly down Wanapitei Bay skirting along the eastern shore heading for the Western Channel. As is our usual luck when paddling the wind was in our face as we travelled south. We again turned west into the Western Channel along the north shore of King's Island. A few more boats passed us in this stretch of river going to and from the Attwood Island Lodge and the camps on Pig Island. Once past the camps we pulled up on a stretch of gravel beach and rock to relax and have lunch.

Wanapitei Bay

We decide to push on down the Western Channel about 6 kms to a campsite with a beach about a km before where the river begins to split into the various channels that take you out towards the bay. As per the whims of the paddling gods the southerly winds had increased in strength while we were travelling along the protected section of the Western channel. Upon rounding the corner we were met with a stiff wind in our faces once again so there was nothing to do but put our heads down and our backs into paddling. With visions of a cold beer and a swim at the beach site we carried on only to have the fates snap us back to reality, the site was occupied! 

Western Channel
  We decide to push on through the Old Voyageur Channel and find a campsite along the Cross Channel for the night. We were expecting a front to come through overnight and suspected that the next day might be wet so we decided to push it and then relax if the rains came. There are several channels leading out of the Western Channel and it can be a bit confusing to find the one you are looking for, the Old Voyageur Channel in our case but with strict attention to the maps we found it fairly readily.
Looking for the Old Voyageur Channel

This stretch of water through the channel is one of the most magical stretches of water and rock you are likely to find anywhere. The combination of blue waters, trees and glaciated rock formations worn by water is unique, well worth the paddle to experience. The water levels as evidenced by the high water marks was about 4-6' below spring levels. This allowed for a leisurely paddle through the channel and we only had to lift over the Petite Faucille and line through Palmer Rocks. I managed to take a few pictures through here but spent an inordinate amount of time just looking and commenting back and forth with Jan on the surrounding beauty of this area.

Once through the channel we turned southeasterly along the West Cross Channel heading for the Cross Channel Rapids. The water levels were low through this section and after some confusion in some islands we had to portage around the dry rapids into the High Cross Channel. We paddled along the channel past the Back Channel and The Jump were we elected to set up camp overlooking the Jump. It had been a long day of approx 25 - 26 kms of paddling, about 1/2 of it into a stiff wind. The sky was beginning to look like the expected weather was moving in so we set up our tents (after a beer!), the tarp and bug shelter had supper cleaned up and took our tired and aching bones to bed. The next day dawned overcast and soon it began to rain. We had some coffee and decided to rest for the day under the tarp and out of the rain. The old outback oven came out and hot muffin cake was prepared along with other breakfast delights. Throughout the day various power boats made their way both up and down the river from the Bay and from up river. Some of the boats were Zodiac type craft from larger yachts and sailboats anchored out in the sheltered areas of Georgian B and came to the rapids to play, up the Back channel and down the The Jump. Several boats came down through the rapids carrying construction materials for a camp or one of the lodges and 1 came through carrying a fridge!

Campsite - at The Jump
wonder if it's full of beer?

After another great supper with some wine and a good nights sleep, we arose to day 3 and an overcast morning with blue sky beginning to poke through the clouds with the promise of another sunny day later on. We had breakfast, packed up and over coffee decided to go out through the Little Jameson Rapids to Georgian Bay and head for the Main Channel. The Jamesons were low and as a result we lined through to deeper water and then struck out for the bay. As we rounded a point and headed for The Finger Boards it became crystal clear that what you see in front of you and what you see on your map do not always agree. With the water levels low on the bay there are many more island like rocks and navigation becomes an exercise in picking your way in a general direction and through the deepest water you can find. From time to time you will come across a cairn of rock that points out a turn or channel for you to follow. If the Old Voyageur Channel was unique due to water, trees and rock this area is also spectacular and only lacking in trees on the outer edge of the many islands. Wind and water have sculpted and smoothed the rocks into low wave like formations, quite stunning. However, it all looks much the same and can get quite confusing when you try to pin point your location. 

Below Little Jameson Rapids

Georgian Bay - The Fingerboards

Island landscape
Looking for the Main Channel
It's here somewhere!
After a lunch stop we decided to head for the Sabine Island area where there are several campsite areas. We found Sabine occupied, the island to the east had been badly used and was full of garbage and the site at Bluff Point had a moose carcass in the water. As it was still relatively early we decided to head up the Main Channel past Dalles Rapids and find a site. After portaging passed the rapids we found 2 sites occupied and a 3rd which looked to be low and damp, so we headed another km up to The Elbow and set camp up on the southwest corner site down near the water. This was to be home for 2 nights again, as we planned to do some more relaxing and day trip the area.

evening sun at the Elbow
morning sun and relections

After lunch we paddled down the Eastern Outlet to Bass Lake and the Bass Creek Boardwalk. The boardwalk cuts through some private property and bypasses the Bass Creek Falls. Day 4 and we awoke to scattered clouds and sun. After a hearty breakfast, the morning was spent reading and cleaning gear etc.

Bass Lake
Bass Creek
Bass Creek
Bass Creek boardwalk - not your normal portage

We awoke on our last day to another great sunny day. After packing up we headed up the Main Channel for Hartley Bay in no great hurry to get there as had been a great trip and it's hard to face heading back to the "real" world as it is. As it was Friday we passed several camp groups of teenagers and their trip leaders heading out for their trips. As per our luck on this trip the wind gods again decided that after a relaxing day yesterday that we should again paddle homeward into a stiff wind. I had hoped the wind would allow us to hoist a sail and just cruise back to our vehicles but it was not to be.

Main Outlet - heading for home

With this day being Friday we passed the most amount of boat and canoe traffic that we had seen for the past 5 days. Arriving back at the marina was certainly an eye opener. There was another group of kids getting ready to launch, people heading out on the water taxi to a lodge, and more people waiting to unload their canoes to depart plus several groups trying to pack up and leave after their trips including us. We retrieved our vehicles, loaded the canoes to the racks and headed up to the store for pop and ice cream and then hit the road for Sudbury. Good friends, good weather and fantastic scenery made for a most relaxed and enjoyable trip.

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