Exactly how long is a "long" portage?

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Feb 29, 2012
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Schenectady, NY
All these discussions of weights, materials and carries has me wondering.
Many speak of "long" portages (not me, I "carry"), but how long is "long"?
Keep in mind that I'm an aging boomer, and I paddle the ADK's almost exclusively, for a variety of reasons that don't belong in this discussion.
With that said, I often carry to waters that require a bushwhack. Sometimes these bushwhacks are several miles.

A mile or two carry on an established trail, muddy, flooded or not, is fairly easy.
I consider a trail carry more than 4 miles to be "long".

So how do you define a "long" carry?
 
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Dec 1, 2012
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Altoona, Pennsylvania
I double portage/carry when I have my dog which is 99.9% so I would say a two mile carry/640 rod portage is long. Long doesn't equate to a difficulty level though.

Barry
 
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Feb 1, 2013
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It's all relative to the nature of the portage and the amount of time required to do it. We have a horrible portage between Abamasagi lake and meta Lake that is only 1.5 kilometres long. The last 750 meters is through a sucking floating bog that stopped floating a few decades ago. One trudges through loon shit that comes up to about the nipples. Travel is measured in inches. Another famous one around here is Diablo, which is also only about a mile long, but due to the steepness of the clamber and the narrow rocky chasm, it has reduced many canoeists to tears. Most ports up here are under two miles, and the trails that were established hundreds of years ago have usually disappeared, so we re-cut them on a regular basis.

Long ports must also be viewed in terms of how many you do each day and the distance travelled. We are often travelling 40 k a day with three to seven ports in the mix. Throw in chainsawing and clearing, and the day turns onto a fairly solid workout.
 
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Nov 23, 2012
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Western Adirondacks
There are many aspects to a portage, as a bushwhacker I am sure you know. In the Adirondacks I would be hard put to find any single unbroken "normal" carry of 4 miles or more. But if you want to make your way into the deep interior of the Five Ponds Wilderness, say to Oven Lake or Cracker Pond, you are faced with several mile-long carries. The first couple of legs are on relatively easy trail, broken with couple of nice small paddling lakes. The last couple are through extremely rough terrain with the remnants and thick new growth consequences of the 1995 blowdown. Same for reaching Pepperbox Pond in the PBW. In that area north of Stillwater Reservoir, specifically north of Clear Pond, the destruction of large trees was near 100%. Now those are tough portages ("carries" in the Adirondacks). So that is one way to look at the "long portage" question.... how many miles relative to degree of difficulty.

Another way to look at the question is how many miles in a single day. Those of us who do the annual unofficial "Cannonball-90" (the 90-miler in a single day), we cover 10 miles of carries in the 18-20 hours it takes to do the trip. The longest single carry is 3.7 miles, bypassing Buttermilk Falls, but it is all on hard gravel and paved roads. Others are of the ~mile-ish variety, on varying types of trails/roads.

Yet another is how far on carries during a single trip? A few years ago (just before the NFCT was established), I paddled and carried a Hornbeck 185 miles from Boonville to Plattsburgh in 7 days. Carries in all totaled 62 miles on that one. It was during a dry hot July, so I had more carries than I expected, especially along the lower Saranac River. The longest unbroken single carry was 15 miles from Forestport to North Lake, along a road. The longest overall (and by far the toughest) single carry was 16 miles with an overnight, North Lake to Limekiln Lake, about half on old uncleared trail, half purely bushwhack.
 
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Jan 31, 2013
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Warren, Manitoba
Length and difficulty are different, there can be short and difficult or long and easy. There is a set of three here referred to as the "Mothers" you should come try during a wet year. Not long by your standards, not entirely difficult, they have their bad spots though. People have spent 2 days on this set getting through in a wet year.

From Siderock Lake to Obukowin Lake.

First is 2.2 km, knee deep mud, cross a creek, flooded section around a beaver pond, flooded section with criss-crossed wood on the bottom, bog at the end.

Cross a lake (1km paddle), start section two, 1.7km, cross the floating bog, up a rock face (45 degree slope) to start, knee deep mud at the top and past the middle section, bog at the other end to get out to the next little lake, jump from laid down log to log or sink to your waist in mud.

Cross the lake, (.5km paddle), last section is 1km. Bog at this end, bog near the other end, quagmire at the end.

In a wet season all these trails can be under water, some have paddled down the trails to get to firm ground. The year we did them, twice in 6 days, it was fairly dry, only about a foot of standing water. 2-3 carries, end to end, two middle aged women, 8 1/2 hours.

Bush whacking here is near impossible, burned over and grown back in the trees are 2 feet apart. Just picking up your load and canoe and walking isn't really going to happen.

Aiken's Lake portage, carried a 72 pound boat 1.8 km.
 
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Jun 12, 2012
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Appleton, Maine
When planning a route for a future trip, I look at the portages to help me decide where to go. If a route has a 1500-2500 meter carry on it, I will do it if it leads to an area I would like to visit. If it gets me off the beaten path faster or saves a shuttle fee, I'll consider the results over distance.

Other times I don't deem the distance worth the effort, so I will pass on a particular long (1500 meter plus) carry.

Last year in LaVerendrye, I wanted to visit a new route opened up, it had a couple of long Portages. A member of a trail maintenance crew said the first two portages where long and wet, the first two lakes mediocre, but the big lake was clear, beautiful and well worth the effort to get there. I didn't get there then, but maybe this year.

In the ADK's I have never done the carry from Lows to the Oswegatchie River. I have been up the Oswegatchie lots and spent enough time in Lows, I'll pass on that carry. Same with the LTL-Lila carries, too much for my heavy outfit and I love the area.
Same with the Raquette River (Raquette Falls), once was nice, too long for me to go back. The Saint Regis Canoe Area is well worth the carries and I plan to combine a trip there with the WCHA Assembly this July.
 
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I think I'm with Bill Mason and Robin on this one, although they may have better justification with a wood/canvas boat...

Carrying isn't fun, if you think it is, you might be insane. I might be a little because the thing I do like about carrying is coming up to a new body of water... there is something exciting about that, even if it's one I've seen and been on before.

I think anything over a mile is long, even on a good trail. And that is just doing a single carry with a sparse bit of gear and a light boat. Just because I think it is long, doesn't mean I wouldn't do more. I'd carry 3 or 4 miles if I had to, or if I thought it was a worthwhile trip... I never have though.

I like the carries in St. Regis Canoe Area and Saranac Lake Wild Forest - some are longish, but most are pretty decent... about the time I start longing for the water again, I see it.

I plan on doing the Headwaters carry from Lows to the Oz this year... we'll see how that goes. Worst comes to worst I'm plop my tent right in the middle of it (of course 150' off trail) if I get tired and take a nap. The Oz will be there the next day! The only reason I want to do that carry is the allure of floating down the Oz and not having to paddle up it :) To me it is much more fun going down.
 
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The longest carry I've ever done is the one from Big Deer Pond over to the Oswegatchie in the Adirondacks. For me the length was long enough. For the people I was with I think it was mentally longer; if that makes sense. The idea of "length" has a lot to do with your mental state of mind and the conditions. I've been on some truly horrible "short" (1/2 mile or less) carries that have been mentally very long due to the conditions and my personal outlook at the time. On the day I went over to the Oswegatchie the trail was dry, the temperatures moderate, no bugs were flying up my nose or in my ears & eyes, my boat (other's were carrying brutes) was relatively lightweight and the only true challenge was getting across the beaver dam that was part of the trail so the only thing "long" about it was the time it took to cover the distance. Hopefully this all makes sense...

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...Be well.

snapper
 
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The hardest carry I remember was the chair rock carry from Cranberry lake to Lows lake in the ADKs. It is listed at 3.5?mi. I think thats wrong. Of course,that day I was held up by a thunderstorm and got a late start,I went the wrong way and had to backtrack 1/2 mi,it was hot,there is some elevation involved,and I didn't stop to drink because I was mad at my wrong turn. The good thing was that the headwaters carry to the Osswagochie seemed real easy in comparison. Some times I get bone headed on a carry and won't stop to rest or consider the option of camping mid-way.
Turtle
 
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Haha yeah. I think one of the best things to remember with a boat on your head is you can always stop and put it down... stop, have a drink, eat some lunch, take a nap... what's the hurry? Well maybe if your knee deep in muck (loon poop?), the bugs are out, and there's no good place to set the boat down... I can understand... but over 3.5 miles I bet there is at least one place that isn't that ;)

Also a lot of trails in the Adirondacks (I don't know about carries) are notoriously inaccurate on the mileages. Between all the sources I typically use I've noticed some pretty good variations in trail lengths. Sometimes they get re-routed... but I have to say I've been on some that seemed a heck of a lot longer than what they were marked as... must be that mental aspect... I don't know? I do know there are a few that are shorter than they are marked... they still feel long too LOL!
 
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Longest I've done is the 1.8 or so from Little Long, past Nellie and Bessie to Long Pond in the St Regis. I did it in one trip, after a heavy rain had reduced 3/4 of the trail to ankle/shin-deep muck. Went in up to my thighs in a couple spots, but nothing that bad, in hindsight... hated it at the time though.

Maybe my view is skewed because I prefer to single carry a portage, but I consider a mile "long". Otherwise, you're just backpacking with a canoe. I do notice that by my 4th day out, I'm a lot stronger, no longer ache from 'new' work, and don't mind them as much... but then it's time to remember what day it is and think about heading home, at least for my 5-6 day trips. Hope to get longer ones in once I retire in 20 years... i'll only be 70!

On a more serious note, I don't really mind them if they're under 300m/yards or so, and I'm not carrying more than 60lbs of canoe and gear... I did the St Regis w/little trouble except the 2 "long ones" (one already mentioned, the other from Ochre to Fish). I had a PBW Rapidfire and about a 30# pack... I had more difficulty getting my 75# canoe and 30# pack over the Low's Upper Dam portage in two trips, due to the unwieldiness of the larger/longer/heavier canoe, than doing the short St Regis ones in one trip.
 
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So many other variables besides length which make a portage (carry) "long". The greatest distance for me was a bit over 3 miles from Andy's Creek to Lower Sister in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness. However that wasn't my "longest". Back in HS, a 3/4 mile portage in Algonquin with a grumman aluminum canoe was real long, plus we double carried it. Then we did it on the way back too.
 
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Lots of great responses guys...I got the general feel for the average committed canoe tripper.

A few years back I imagined a trip up the Newcomb River to Newcomb Lake, read about it in an old E R Wallace guidebook, all state land, no trails, not even a foot path. I convinced a few hearty souls to go along, doing a recon day trip for most of the route before returning a year later with full gear and lofty expectations.

The carries were brutal, the paddling and scenery fantastic, the effort tremendous. The way out they decided to take the established carriage road, all 5 miles of it. Everyone moaned and suffered.
And what has been the "gold standard" of all our experiences?? Yup, that Newcomb River trip has become the measuring stick for all others...
 
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Oct 12, 2012
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Alburnett Iowa
I have thought about this for a couple days now. Best I can come up with in my mind is that a long portage would be one where I had to stop and rest. A short portage is one where I can see the put in from the take out. As I type this it occurs to me that I'm not talking about length but difficulty, which is all I'm concerned about anyway. The portages where I have been travelling in the BWCA average about 1/4 mile in length. I don't need to stop and rest so they are all medium by my measure. At some point in the future I may need to stop and rest on said portage. Then the same portage will be reclassified as long for me.

 
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I grew up in an age of pecks, bushels, acres and feet. I can still see the old school blackboard staring blankly back at me, with imperial units neatly printed in the margins. Our stern but motherly grade 4 teacher would drill us in arithmetic, grammar and whatever. I say whatever, because my attention always strayed out the second storey windows, and across the rolling fields of corn. I couldn't convert roods or pints then, and I couldn't now. When the "evils" of the metric system (according to my curmudgeonly Dad) was introduced, I tried to relearn weights and measures. I still see the world in yards, pounds and inches, but some "evil" metric measures have finally sunk into my day to day reasoning. One of these metric units I now employ is the meter-kilometre. That's how I see a portage, or a carry. As far as what makes a carry distance long or short, I agree that it's mostly in the mindset. I've never experienced the killer distances many of you've covered. The longest was 2.5 km. Because we like to walk together, we tend to cover the entire portage in two inefficient complete carries. When I look at the map before a trip, I avoid the "long looking" portages, but if I really want to see a place, we'll do it. When we did the 2.5 km walk, we stopped occasionally to sip water and admire the moment. I consider the portage as a part of the trip, rather than an inconvenient interruption to our paddling. As a result, our 2.5 was really 7.5 of walking through lovely forest and glades, and on over granite shoulders and marsh boardwalks. It was hot, sweaty and tiring, but the constant recharging of our spirits by drinking in the views, helped the distance melt away into a meaningless measure of meters. I still eye long looking portages on maps with suspicion, but think of roads less travelled, and wonder what I might be missing. As a disclaimer, I have seen photos of boggy wades, and trails called Diablo and The Fat Man, and might happily miss these altogether.
 
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When we have long portages to do, we don't walk to the end and come back for trip two, we cut it into chunks and leap frog through. Usually we try to go 500m at a time, although that usually works out more like 800m, drop and go back for the next load, but walk the second trip 800m past the first, walk back to where we dropped and carry that 800 past the second drop, which usually gets us out to the end. It is more leisurely and less physically demanding than walking the entire thing 3 times.

We did the Mothers because we had a need to get to Obukowin and explore it. It proved to be worth the effort with the fishing and not seeing another soul for 6 days. Besides, we get credit for doing them twice. ;)

We don't discard a trip due to portage lengths. The lake at the other end is more likely worth getting too since the longer portages do discourage others. On our excursions out of Wallace Lake at some point there is a long portage to get further, be it the Aiken's at 1.8, the 5km to get to Obukowin, or even the Crystal Lake to Broken Arrow in WCPP which is 1.8 again. The long ones are out there and unavoidable so we just plan for them. On the way in to Obukowin that year, we stopped and camped in the middle of the second port, in a 2 acre blueberry patch. On the way out we pushed all the way through.

For me, the long ones are broken up by how I feel. If the pack is getting heavy I put it down, rest, then go back for the next trip. The walk back helps rest for what is inevitable since we are in the middle and there is no where to go but forward or back. Christine took a nap on the return trek on the last portage out of Obukowin that year, when we were only 800 from the end, but we two old ladies need to rest more to ensure we get to the other end.
 
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Staging is referred to in Voyageur terms as the Poser. My wife tells me this means pause. Apparently the Voyageurs would pause about every half mile. Of course they were carrying around 180 pounds on their back. On a long dirty port, I will often stage around every kilometre.

I read an account from Duncan Campbell Scott that was very interesting. Duncan was a famous Canadian poet from the late 1800's and early 1900's. However, he was also one of the big wigs for the Department of Indian Affairs. In the summer of 1905, he took a crew of five or six large birch bark canoes and paddled from Lac Seul to James Bay. The purpose was to get all the Native folks on the way to sign Treaty Number 9. Duncan was a confused fellow, on the one hand, he really developed a liking for the Native people hauling his arse over Northern Ontario, and on the other hand, he was trying to extinguish their culture.

In any case, he refers to his Head Guide, Jimmy Swain, a Metis fellow, who at age 67 carried six hundred pounds a quarter mile on a portage trail. I'm pretty sure he wasn't fibbing either.

I'm going to try to limit myself to normal loads this year, I put my back out last year, and it was Hell. One of my older friends who is still an excellent canoe tripper, in his mid 70's, used to council me about moderation in life. Do everything in moderation he would say. I'm starting to catch on, me thinks.
 
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