Posts Tagged ‘portage’

The Worst Portage EVER

At the bottom and ready to tough it out

At the bottom and ready to tough it out

The Pig, the Hump, the Grind, call it what you will, it is a beast.  Stretching on for 1320 meters and uphill both ways, this stretch of interior that runs between Artist Lake and Three Narrows in Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park is a rock laden ankle-twister.  We had the not so pleasurable pleasure of completing this exercise in masochism both coming and going.  The first time we hiked it, the ground was fairly dry, the air temperature was comfortable and it was sunny.  It still sucked.DSC_0290

You may recall that Fraser and I disagreed as to whether we could claim to have portaged this portage if there was no canoe present.  I’m here to tell you that the point is moot.  I promised all within earshot that I would carry a boat up and over that monster when pigs could fly… and maybe not even then.  Because I will never truly portage the Pig, I don’t have the credentials to weigh in on the matter.  I do however want to express my deepest respect for all who have battled the beast for real and won.

As I watched the worst portage ever get smaller in my rear-view, I was sure that would be the last I’d see of it for, well for forever I hoped.  I was all too wrong.  When we later came to a washed out river crossing and had to make the painful decision to turn around, it didn’t even occur to me that meant having to do battle again.  This time however, the portage was running angry.  We’d get a second crueller kick at the can.

The "are you kidding me?!" face

The “are you kidding me?!” face

The first time we climbed its rocky stairs, it was the worst.  The second time we climbed it, it was the WORST.  After days of rain, the narrowed corridor ran like a river.  The ankle deep water poured down the incline and we were herded straight up the middle by its impossibly deep bathtub sides.  With no escape to higher ground and unable to avoid a total soaker, we could only give in and trudge along beaten by the Grind…in the rain, in the cold and already defeated from our failed hike.  This is however, something that every Ontario tripper must attempt at least once in their career in order to check it off the list.  You can’t call yourself serious and avoid this one.   At the best of times, this portage was awful.  At the worst of times, this was the worst portage EVER.

A little bit damp

A little bit damp

First Family Canoe Trips : Where to go in Southern Ontario

So you want to take junior on their first canoe trip…good for you!  I often get asked for suggestions on where to take the kiddies for their first outing in Ontario.  For a first canoe trip with younger children, I suggest lakes that have paddle in sites to warm up to the paddling experience, or try one short portage into a second lake.  You can get a sense for how your little one is going to “take” to the boat without the risk of pushing it too far.  You can always take a longer trip next time.

The following lakes don’t see super big water like some larger ones and if needed, can have you back to your car in an hour or less.  May I also suggest sticking to the summer months so the water and air are warm and inviting?  If circumstances require that your first trip happens in the spring or fall, remember that it can be really cold and you MUST dress and gear-up for the elements.  Stay warm out there!

all together in one boat

all together in one boat

Algonquin Provincial Park

From the west side of the park near Kearney, enter at Rain Lake (really pretty) and stay at a paddle in site or do a short portage into Sawyer Lake.

Enter at Magnetawan Lake (also on the west side) and portage into Hambone Lake or push on into Ralph  Bice.

Off of the Hwy 60 corridor, you can check out Cannisbay.  It doesn’t feel very backcountry, but it’ll get the family into a canoe and into a tent.

Use the Achray Campground access on Grand Lake and stay, or pull a very short portage (30m) into Stratton Lake where there are numerous sites and you can visit beautiful High Falls, a swimming area with a naturally formed water slide.

Killarney Provincial Park

This park requires a bit more portaging, but you can still go to Bell Lake.  Use the Bell Lake access point and stay, or paddle through into Three Mile Lake.

Two words…George Lake.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Stay on Big Salmon Lake.  The lake has paddle in sites and no portages.

If you have any suggestions of your own for getting out on a canoe trip for the first time, be sure to let me know!  For all those families who are getting out for the first time this year, good luck and have fun!

Don’t Worry Honey…It’s Still Gonna Suck

We were out at dinner the other night and an interesting debate ensued. As you know, our family will be hiking the LaCloche Sihouette Trail in May. Fraser was hyping up the trip for the boys and stated proudly, “now you guys can say that you’ve done “The Hump”!”. The Hump AKA The Grind AKA The Pig, for those not in the know is a grueling 1320m portage that runs between Artist Lake and Three Narrows. It’s a stretch of rocky, ankle twisting, uphill slogging that tends to run like a river in the wetter months (read: when we are going). It is painful and soul crushing and only the most devoted portager (read: crazy, read: Fraser has done it a few times) would do it with a boat on their shoulders.

NOT the Hump/'s way too hard to take a pic and portage it at the same time!

NOT the Hump/Pig…it’s way too hard to take a pic and portage it at the same time!

I turned to Fraser with a look of skepticism. “No they can’t!”. And so the debate begins…

We can’t possibly claim to have done The Hump because we won’t be portaging it, we will be hiking it! Fraser looks back at me and says that he’d like to see me say that to the face of someone who carried the portage pack and not the boat…would they not be able to claim to have done it just because they were boat free?

My argument? Portage packs are WAY heavier and don’t provide the same support, nor are they loaded as impeccably as a backpack that you’d be carrying for days on end. Portaging involves carrying an unreasonably heavy load in an imperfectly fitted pack that while thoughtfully arranged, hasn’t been “Tetris-ed” the way a hiking pack has been. The reverse would be saying that it is equally difficult to HIKE the whole trail with a canoe or portage pack!

We've hiked our share of steep hills!

We’ve hiked our share of steep hills!

We went back and forth on the issue (I truly believe that Fraser agrees with me and was just trying to get my goat) much to the amusement of the rest of the family. In the end he settled the debate with the simple statement… Don’t worry honey, it’s still gonna suck.

And so it will dear. So it will.

Anybody out there done this section of Killarney?  Who do you side with?

Called on Account of Rain

We were sitting at the end of a 2600m portage from Polly Lake into Canisbay.  What had been a steady rain all day suddenly turned into a deluge.  The last of our dry clothes were quickly becoming saturated.  The water was sneaking its way in, wicking up from the bottoms of our long johns and the cuffs of our sleeves.  I gave up trying to hold on to my last dry shirt when a stream of water poured in from off of my hood; a cold gush of water running down my front and pooling at my stomach.  Zach started a round of “put up your hand if…”.  Put up your hand if you wish you could eat some real food.  Put up your hand if you wish you were dry. Put up your hand if you wish you could sleep in your bed.  It was an eight year olds plea to be done, and as I looked around at the hands in the air, I knew that we were all ready to go home.

With the decision made, we sat huddled underneath our canoes turned makeshift shelters to wait out the thunder and lightning.  We watched as great torrents of water washed the dirt down the portage and out into the lake creating a growing cloud of red earth in the black water. When a break finally came, we hustled our way across the lake.  We dug hard, chasing one section of black sky while being chased by another.  We fought to keep ourselves under the one small patch of blue sky that we’d seen in days.  We’d barely reached the shore when the second system hit with a boom and a great downpour of water quickly created pools and waves up and down the beach.  We were done.  We were going home.

low water levels expose rock obstacles

my foot day two

Let me tell you a little bit about what started as a three week, but ended as a two week canoe trip in Algonquin Park.  We experienced some of the most extreme tripping conditions that I’ve ever seen.  Tremendously dry weather prior to our arrival saw a fire ban put in place.  The lack of rain caused the lowest water levels that I have ever seen in the park and turned the creeks into a mix of thick mud and exposed rock.  It was very difficult paddling and in some places required impromptu portaging, dragging, pushing and liftovers of the boats.  It made for very slow and arduous travel and required lots of sterning finesse.  While at times frustrating, it felt kind of awesome working our way through the puzzles.  As friends and family saw us off, we were assured that if we couldn’t have a good old campfire, at least the lack of rain would see little or no mosquitos.  That  was not the case.  At least as the weather turned bad the bites were isolated to my hands and face as the rest of me was covered with a raincoat and pants.

The joke between Fraser and I before we left was that following the recent drought, the first three


weeks of August were bound to set a record for rain and guess what… the two days before we called it quits saw more rain than the entire month of August usually does.  This was great for the park, but a soggy mess for us.  The rain began on our first day and only a couple of our days were dry.  The problem was that with a fire ban still in place it was tricky to dry ourselves out.  Mostly we just stayed damp.  With days starting early and ending late, there was very little time to hang out our clothes and gear and we often found ourselves setting up our tent under the tarp because it was still raining when we hit our site for the night.  Wrinkly toes were the norm.  When we heard that the fire ban had been lifted on day 11, we were thrilled!  I then proceeded to burn two holes in my pants and melt Fraser’s socks in an attempt to dry out.  Oops.

big water on Burntroot

I realize that this is sounding like a hellish trip.  It was not.  Algonquin is a gorgeous park in all weather.  The rain allowed for dramatic skies and even rainbows.  The kids loved that we brought along fishing rods and spent hours fishing the banks of our sites.  We got so deep into the park that there were nights when we were the only people on the entire lake.  We listened to the wolves howling at night and the loons calling across the water.  And the frogs!  There were thousands of them.  They were EVERYWHERE and we all love catching frogs.  The highlights of the trip?  We did indeed manage to find the abandoned alligator on Burntroot as well as the remains of the Barnet Depot Farm.  The water on Burntroot was huge with whitecaps and a headwind, but we all managed the paddle beautifully and it was sunny that day so spirits were high.  I also celebrated doing my first 1000m+ portage carrying a canoe without putting it down and then proceeded to smash that by doing a 2200m!  High-fives all around.  We found a moose skull complete with antlers at the end of a portage.  Very cool.  The boys did an AMAZING job.  Their packs were so heavy that I could barely dead lift them high enough to help put them on.  They doubled-back every portage with us and never ever complained.  They pulled hard water in freezing rain, ate freeze-dried dinners huddled under a tarp, played cards by headlamp in a tent getting pushed around by wind and pelted by rain, all the while smiling and laughing and joking.  They are so hardcore it brings a tear to my eye.


So the trip was not what we had planned.  We are disappointed in not having finished our intended route, but we are not disappointed in ourselves.  We had a wonderful trip full of unforgettable moments and found an inner strength and determination not yet tested to these limits.  Will this experience discourage us in any way from going back?  Just try to stop us.

Last Minute Late Nights

It happens every trip.  We think that we’re prepared but we find ourselves up into the wee hours putting together the last-minute details.  Yes we’re still adding to our packs and we are supposed to hit the road in seven hours.  Just par for the course.  Sleepy starts…

As long as I’m up, I thought I’d share what our packs weighed in at for our Algonquin Park 20 day canoe trip launch:

Food barrel #1 – 59lbs

Food barrel #2 – 32lbs

Dry bag #1 – 35lbs

Dry bag #2 (Zach’s pack) – 21lbs

Luke’s pack – 31lbs

Day pack – 15lbs

Canoe #1 – 51lbs

Canoe #2 – 61lbs

We will be carrying (at least to start) 305lbs of gear, food and boats…plus pfd’s, 5 paddles and the fresh food that hasn’t found its way from the fridge into a barrel yet.  No small feat.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be wonderful.  If you’d like to follow our progress, check out our SPOT page to watch our progress real-time and follow my tweets on our Facebook page too.  See you in a few weeks!


The Escape Route – Algonquin Park July 30-Aug 18 2012

Ahhh. It’s almost time to make our escape. The dogs of work and responsibility are nipping at our heels but I can almost taste the sweetness of freedom.  Here is our escape route:

Put-in at Kioshkokwi L.  P775

Maple Creek  P190, P90, P630, P805, P130

Maple L.  P170

Erables L.  P660, P90, P695

Skuce L.  P450

Little Nadine L.  P955

Little Osler L.  P700

Osler L.  P1830

Nadine L.  P1410

Nipissing River  P850, P1930

Remona L.  P480

Whiskeyjack L.  P25

Robinson L. P1310

Burntroot L.  P75, P40

Longer L.  P300

Big Trout L.  P105, P730

Otterslide Creek  P265, P390, P250

Otterslide L.

Little Otterslide L.  P790

Burnt Island L.

Birdie L.  P160

Alder L.  P2105

Iris L.  P875

Linda L.  P930

Polly L.  P2600

Canisbay L.  P585

Cache L.  P1640

Head L.  P1035

Harness L.  P145

Pardee L.  P10

Lawrence L.  P415

Rod and Gun L.  P510

Lake Louisa  P1725

Florence L.

Frank L.  P320

Rence L.

Harry L.

Welcome L.  P2170, P295

Pen L.  P275

Clydegate L.  P275

Pen L.  P375

Rock L.  P100

Galeairy L.

Take-out at Whitney

If that seems like a long route, it’s because it is. We will be traveling approximately 105km, be doing 49 portages, passing through 39 lakes with the four of us and two canoes over the course of 20 days. There are some small changes that we might make on the fly in order to travel through a couple of extra lakes, but either way it’s going to be an amazing trip! And we’re going to see some parts of Algonquin that we never have before. The only problem with a fabulous extended trip in the park is the part where we have to come home again.

Kids on Parade – Portaging and Pack Fitting

Okay so enough about my portaging experience this past weekend. It’s time to talk about the kids.

zach and the canoes

like a well oiled machine, luke and zach load up














I was so proud of them all.  Boy did they ever carry their share.  We even packed a little bag for Charlotte.  At first she seemed skeptical when we broke the news that she too was going to participate.  Soon enough though, she was lamenting the fact that her bag was so much smaller than Luke and Zach’s.  Don’t worry sweetie, next time we’ll make up for it with a nice big pack of your very own.  She’s gonna need a pack too.  Where else is she gonna  sew that “I paddled

luke’s drybag pack isn’t fully adjustable, but fits fairly well

Frontenac” patch that Steve bought her at the park office?
Experienced guys like ours want to show how helpful they are by begging bigger and heavier loads with each subsequent trip.  Although they would haul whatever we packed for them, there is a safe limit to how much weight a kid should carry.

This begs the question, how much is too much?

Unfortunately there is no consensus on this number.  For everyday school bag use, specialists advise not allowing children to carry more than 20% of their body weight.   Portaging is slightly different in that it is for a short period of time and happens only periodically, not on a daily basis.  I think that a 20% limit is a good place to start though.  If your child is big and strong and has experience, you might try venturing a little bit heavier, but it only takes one misstep with a heavy pack to pull a muscle.  Err in favor of going lighter.  Having said that, how the weight is carried and the backpack you choose as well as how it has been fitted is of paramount importance.

this pack is a little bit big for zach, but is adjusted well

that’s charlotte portaging like a pro













Here are some tips, but you should really have help fitting the pack properly at your local outfitter.

  • wide padded straps reduce pressure points and make things more comfortable (less whining)
  • a padded back will prevent gear from poking against the back (owie), provides back support and helps prevent bad posture
  • padded hip belt transfers the weight load to hips instead of carrying it with the shoulders
  • a sternum strap helps hold the shoulder straps in the right place
  • the pack must fit the back length (not based on height), look for an adjustable back system for a better fit and to get more than a seasons use out of the bag!
  • pack the heaviest items closest to the child’s back to help with balance, and the lightest item (eg. sleeping bag) at the bottom and mid-weight items at the top to avoid a top-heavy pack which is what makes them fall over and get stuck like turtles on their backs
  • compression straps reefed down nice and tight keeps gear close to the body and helps the load from shifting around

Now that you know how to load them up, go ahead and do it.  They are going to love contributing in a tangible way, and you’re going to love being able to bring the bigger Therm-a-Rest again 😉

My Measurements 923-856-974

view at the beginning of portage one

We’re back from our weekend jaunt to Frontenac Provincial Park. It’s a lovely little park

fraser helping me balance before i shove off for the first time

and we did a short circuit of three lakes. As promised, or rather threatened, I followed through on portaging a boat for the entire trip. I’m very proud of myself, and while at the time I cursed every painful step, I’d do it all again. In fact, I AM going to do it again…and again, and again. This was just the beginning of what will prove to be a long portaging career.

We started out at Big Salmon Lake and paddled into Little Clear Lake. The first portage began with an uphill climb. Great. It was pretty muddy and there were some short bridges. All in all, it was fairly level with just a few inclines and a downhill at the end. For a total of 923 meters,

uphill after the bridge

I slogged it out. The entire time, with every step, I cursed my decision to carry the canoe. One of the bulkheads had taken on water and it was much heavier in the back then the front. We hung the throw rope and bailer on the front to help balance it out, but the sloshing water kept throwing my balance off at the most inopportune moments, like while dodging rocks and climbing over felled trees blocking the trail. Fraser strolled behind me with his own boat like a pro all the while shouting out encouragement (you’re awesome, you’re kicking that trails butt!). I love Fraser.

working on my balance

maybe there were more than a couple of hills 🙂

Day two was a paddle into Little Salmon Lake followed by an 856 meter portage. This one almost broke me. Let me put it this way…at the end I desperately shouted at Fraser to get the boat off of me because I was going to throw-up. I wanted to cry and laugh and puke all at the same time. My face was red and I was dizzy. I sat down with my head between my knees. It was fabulous. It’s really great sometimes to push yourself to the very edge of your capabilities.

the end of my first portage!

Day three, the portage out was a 974. The longest yet, and the most technically challenging. The trail was narrow and had little room for walking around the huge mud puddles that came half-way up my calf. At one point, there was a rock-face to my left and dense trees to my right. In an attempt to walk around a jumbo rock smack dab in the middle, I managed to bump the front of the canoe into a tree which threw me backwards. I tripped over said rock in reverse and fell over with a big thud. I laughed myself silly and waited for Fraser to come and rescue me. Near the end of the trail, there was an unmarked fork. Go ahead and guess if I made the right choice. Of course not. Zach went the other way and I heard him call out that he had reached the end. I think I was halfway back to the parking area!

day three - looking pretty with my pfd and fleece wrap with pack strap topper

What I figured out on this trip, is that I am nowhere near being able to pull multiple portages in a day. I also figured out that my bony little shoulders take the brunt of the canoe weight on one tiny high spot, that coincidently turned black and thankfully didn’t fall off. I used a yoke pad of course, but by the third day I triple folded my fleece jacket sleeves to further pad my sore spots. It was on this day that I also wore a pack for the first time while carrying the boat. This was not in an attempt to earn bragging rights. I saw those padded shoulder straps and was desperate to add ANYTHING to further protect the growing bruises on my shoulders.
I’m happy to say that my attempts were successful if not fashionable. Believe me, I threw any semblance of cool right out the window.

In conclusion…portaging a boat is hard. I need a lot more practice and stronger thighs. I must quadruple pad the yoke BEFORE my shoulders get bruised. I hate portaging a canoe. I love portaging a canoe.

A Family Divided – The Epic Trip

It’s finally time.  For six years now we have been loading our canoe with ever heavier cargo, namely two adults, two kids and enough

all together in one boat

food and gear to support us all.   Every year the gunwales sneak closer to the water and push the load limit capacity to its breaking point.  With a ten-year old that stands nearly as tall as his mom and a seven-year old not far behind, this is the year that we have to start a new chapter in the family trip log.  This is the year that we divide and conquer.  We will be taking not one, but two canoes into the backcountry.

portage conditions are not always ideal

This presents a whole host of challenges.  I have never, NEVER portaged a canoe!  I know.  How is this possible.  I have lost track of how many times I’ve been on a canoe trip, but I have always managed to skirt this duty.  Normally, I jump at the chance to prove just how tough I am, but portaging a canoe is one of those things that has intimidated me from the get go.  I’ve carried packs just as heavy, but something about trying to balance that thing up on my shoulders while navigating tricky terrain, arms held above my head and at the mercy of the mosquitos, has never appealed to me.  I could probably convince Fraser to run back and retrieve the second boat.  He’s good that way.  He’s always had to double back for an extra pack.  That wouldn’t be fair though and the guilt would get me in the end anyway.  I’ll be a trooper and start hauling my share.

waiting for Fraser to double back on a portage

This is going to be a “training” year.  In my last post, I talked about doing an epic trip.  Well purely coincidently, Fraser told me about

hauling my share

a trip that he would love to do.  He was thinking maybe two years from now, but my enthusiasm has pushed the date up to next summer.  I don’t want to give anything away, but the trip is going to take 11 days (it could be done in 9, but I like a couple of play days built-in), it involves 31 portages totalling almost 18km and means that we’re going to have to eat some freeze-dried food…blech 😛  Most importantly though, it means that I’m going to have to be well-practiced at portaging the second canoe!  Any guesses where we’re going? what we’re doing?

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