No photos - explanation later
My son, Dan and I traveled from Maine to St. Lazare QC to meet up with my Brother, Don who was flying from Atlanta to join us. This was to be an early canoe trip for us this year as John, another son, was moving to Minnesota the end of June. His home in St. Lazare, QC has always been the gathering site for our family canoe trips in Canada.
Our destination was La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve. We planned to do a combination of circuit 70 and 78. John did the planning of the route and had planned some white water. I was not enthusiastic about running any rapids, but the route showed only class 2 that were runnable.
We were using our own canoes, an Old Town Tripper and a 17.5’ Souris River Prospector. I was not looking forward to portaging the Tripper. All last winter and spring I had done everything but get in condition for this trip. Everyday I told myself tomorrow I start getting in shape - and tomorrow just didn’t come. To put this in perspective I’m 66 and my brother is 63. Don has always been stronger than I am. John at 36 and Dan at 32 were fit and ready for an adventure.
We got up early, had a hearty breakfast, and said good bye to wives and children in St. Lazare. After coffee outside of Montreal we headed to Le Domain.
We had lunch at Le Domain. It was an interesting sort of buffet restaurant. The people there were happy and welcoming. The food was good.
After lunch John and I went and registered for a trip. We asked if anyone was on circuit 70 and how were the water levels. We were told that the water levels were very high, as much as 6’ above normal and that they were 99% sure no one was using route 70 or 78. She advised us that thunderstorms were expected that day. It was explained that there was some cell phone coverage, but we were on our own. We bought fishing licenses, filled up the truck with fuel, and took off on a 2 hour trip on Route 117, then highway 38 ( a dirt road) that was in excellent conditions, I might add. The scenery was fantastic - lakes, rivers and ponds everywhere.
We crossed a dam on the Ottawa river that was being repaired. Finally, we passed Baie Barker where we would end our trip. We drove a five more miles and unloaded the truck at
Reviere de la Baie. Then the heavy rain arrived, but we were prepared with wet weather gear. We portaged the canoes and gear about 300 meter to the put in, while John drove the truck over to Baie Barker. He ran back through the rain and met us at the “put in”. Previously John had told me that there were a couple of swifts and two class two rapids. He read where one had a portage around it and the other wasn’t too bad. I didn’t want to run any rapids with my Souris River kevlar canoe. John and Dan wanted to run them with the Tripper. When we got to the “put in” though the water was much higher than normal, since spruce trees are not normally aquatic plants.
The first swift was one ripple in the water. The next was the first class 2, but except for dodging one rock, it was easy and fun. The next rapid was supposed to be more difficult so Don and I planned to portage around it. John and Dan would scout it and maybe run it. When we got to this rapid I could see there was no way I was even going to think about running it. It was raging and well over the banks. Don and I paddle to the portage, it was under water. Don reached for a tree branch but the current was so strong Don could not hold on to it - we were off to the races. The canoe was broadside to the rapid and immediately filled with water and tipped us out. I could not get my feet in front of me. My boots and rain pants filled with water and so I was going head first, Don was able to get his feet up in front of him (there are some down sides to this technique as well). I was sucked under the water, popped up to see Don in front of me and then sucked back under again and popped up again without my glasses. I had a floatation device on as did everyone, I was fortunate to have had it.
At about this time John and Dan decided to run it because they though we had decided to. It was not runnable, it was just too violent for primarily flat water canoeists. They hit a rock, flipped and they were off to the races, too. At the bottom of the rapids Don counted four heads and. Thank goodness all of us were visible. I was really beaten up, but Don said he was okay. We both lost our glasses. I can’t remember a lot - somehow I ended up in the Tripper with John. Dan and Don ended up in the Souris River. We lost a few things, glasses, ax, folding chairs and also ruined my camera (therefore no pictures), walkie talkie and binoculars. So if anyone happens to be in the area and sees a beaver with glasses and an ax, they’re ours.
We paddled into Grand Lac Victoria and headed southwest to a campsite on a esker not too far from our portage the next day. When we got there I was really in pain. I had deep bruise on my back, hips and legs. I changed clothes, set up my gear and went to bed.
Dan didn’t realize until he took off his pants that he had a serious gash on his right knee. He needed stitches. John is a Ph.D. and not a medical doctor, but does not mind handling these thing. He found that he had cell phone coverage, so He called his wife, got a hold of his doctor and discussed what he should be done. Dan did not want to quit the trip and convinced John to just treat the wound. John cleaned and flushed the wound, put antibiotic medicine on it, he used butterfly bandages to close the wound and then covered it with sterile bandages. He had Dan put on a pair of pants and duct taped the outside of the pant to immobilize the knee. Dan was simply a good sport about the whole thing. I was asleep so I didn’t observe this, just heard about it from my brother. John cleaned the wound each day.
We slept in the next morning and then got ready for our two portage day. The first portage was from Grand Lac Victoria to Lac Cornelier. We decided at best that we could double carry or maybe even triple carry. We knew Dan would only be able to get himself across the portage. When we got to it, it was pouring rain. The water level height had the portage sign in the lake. I took the first load, and noticed there was bear scat every 30 or 40 feet the whole trail, no exaggeration. I decided to sing while I portaged which I’m sure cleared the path of every living thing. As I neared the end of the portage, there was a pond about 100 yards wide cutting the path off from the end. I left my pack and went back, passing Dan as he limped by. I told him to wait and we’d be back. In the meantime John and Don had gotten the other packs up the trail to the pond too. When I got back to the start of the portage John suggested that the stream that the portage followed probably had enough water to just paddle the canoes up the stream. The portage path was not just covered with bear scat, it was thick mud. Every step was a boot sucker. The idea of paddling canoes up a stream was a no brainer. So John soloed the Tripper and Don and I followed in the Souris River. Don and I asked each other after the paddle up that stream what it reminded us of - we both said simultaneously “The African Queen”. At one point I had gotten out of the canoe in chest deep water to lift it over a fallen tree, when a gust of wind blow a big tree crashing down across the stream about 25 feet in front of us. It seemed like every 50 yards there was a beaver dam.
Two hours later we showed up at the end of the portage. John had made much better time with the Tripper. Dan told me later that all he thought about of while he waited was what he’d do if he encountered a bear. We forgot to give him a bear bell or whistle.
By now the gust of wind that knocked over the tree had turned into a gale when we entered Lac Cornelier. Fortunately, Lac Cornelier is a small lake so even though it was tough paddling we arrived at our next portage to Lac De La Triple Baie quickly. It was not a long portage but it was all mud. We hauled almost all the gear on our first carry. The idea of carrying the Tripper was driving me nuts - the darn thing weighs 85 lbs. I went back to get it, but John zipped back and carried the Tripper. He also carried the Souris River. This was not an easy portage, even if it wasn’t long. I showed up a minute or two latter. John met me up the path from the lake. He said., “ the waves are large, the wind is very strong, it’s 8:00 PM and we have 2.5 miles to paddle to the campsite, we’re screwed”. He thought he’d read a trip report that mentioned an unlisted campsite about a half mile down the lake on an island. We decided that looked to be our best option. I since learned a new term “portage trap”.
The island was good. We set up camp, cooked a hot meal, told some stories and went to bed.
We decided in the morning to change the trip somewhat and skip going up the river which has the Chute Grand - I just imagined getting sucked down that - I was not feeling brave. The wind was still howling when we started paddling up Triple Baie, but after we left the lower bay the wind shifted to our backs. It was a great relief and we just flew. John had told me their would be a swift when we left Triple Bay and entered Lac Lambert. It was just a ripple. Generally Dan and John are stronger paddlers than Don and I. Dan’s injury forced him to keep his leg straight and the Souris River is much faster than the Tripper so Don and I got separated from them.
In Lac Lambert we encountered rollers about 1.5’ high which we were paddling into and the wind shifted so the chop was perpendicular to the rollers. The Souris River Prospector was good in the waves which surprised me, because it feels tippy initially. I noticed that John and Dan had scooted behind some islands leading into a bay and I figured we’d meet up at the mouth of the bay. Usually if we got separated we would use our Walkie Talkies to contact each other, but they were ruined. Plan B, we decided to wait for them to come out of the bay in a small cove in one of the islands that allowed us to see them come out. I noticed that Don could read the map without his glasses and I couldn’t, but I could see things in the distance that he couldn’t. This turned out well for us. In the far distance I spotted a speck of orange, Dan’s jacket, Don couldn’t make it out, but the map showed him where John and Dan were headed. We met up about 30 minutes later at a nice campsite in Baie Kiwedinouajak, which is off the NW edge of Lac Lambert. The temperature had been dropping all day and was now 34 degrees F.
When we got to the campsite we were all freezing, and it was sleeting and raining. We quickly set up our tents, and startedboiling some water. I changed my wet cloths for some cold weather clothes, had some instant black coffee and then John fixed us a meal of spicy chicken and rice which really warmed us up. We went to bed early. I was full, warm and comfortable.
The wind blew hard all night, but it started to taper off as the sun was coming up. The sky was blue when I looked out of the tent. It was still cold, but the sun was warm. The wind was still blowing fairly hard but the blue sky gave us a real lift. After a late breakfast we were on our way. We paddled out of Baie Kiwedinowjak with the wind coming out of the north. When we entered the main channel of Lac Lambert we encountered the wind head on. If this had been the beginning of the trip I would have described it as big wind, but on this day it was just a moderate breeze. Don explained that as the wind shifted directions it meant the storm, we had been dealing with, was passing us by. We pulled over for lunch on the end of a peninsula where Lac Lambert and Grand Lac Victoria meet. It was a rocky ledge and we could walk around. The heat of the sun had warmed up the ledge so we just sat down and ate our lunch, we discussed the location of the next campsite.
Entering Grand Lac Victoria the wind was at our back. We stayed near the shore as we paddled down the lake. It’s amazing how blue sky and a warm sun lift the spirit. About 2.5 miles down the lake it narrows dramatically and after the narrows there are a couple islands. The one nearest the eastern shore has a nice campsite with several good tent sites and what would be a great beach at normal water levels. The campsite had a fair amount of trash and broken glass. We carry extra garbage bags to clean up every campsite we stay at. This was the only one we camped at that needed any cleaning.
After breakfast we broke camp and packed our gear, preparing for the trip home. It was cool in the morning, but once again the sun was warming things up. We took our time and got started probably about 11:00AM.
Paddling across the large opening in Grand Lac Victoria off to the left I spotted a Church Steeple of the Indian Reserevation probably about a mile and half to the left (north). At the opening to Baie Barker two canoes came paddling from an island campsite. These were the only paddlers we saw on our trip. We did see a fishing boat on Lac Lambert. We arrived at the Sepaq Campsite at the end of Baie Barker, John got the car and we loaded up. There was a crowd of black flies there to greet us but on the rest of the trip insects were not a factor.
Heading down highway 38 we arrived at the dam on the Ottawa River, which is also the home of a First Nation Village. The dam, which as I noted earlier was under repair. The foreman of the job told us it would be closed for an hour. We sat in our car, because outside was darkened with black flies. I watched a young women ride her bicycle across the dam (apparently it was open for pedestrians and bicyles) and I wondered how she could stand the flies? Later the foreman signaled us that was okay to cross.
Somewhere on Rt 117 John stopped at a restaurant that he had heard had good putine. It was a happy place. People were laughing and talking. We got an English speaking waitress and ordered. I had baked spagetti and the others had their putine, french fries and gravy - all very healthy. We arrived in Ste. Lazare after dark. My wife was really worried about Dan’s knee and my bruises, so we headed home the next morning.
Some random thoughts about the trip:
1.) I wished I’d had a stocking cap.
2.) Instant coffee which tastes lousy at home is very good on a trip.
3.) Start the trip at Baie Barker if the water is high, don’t go against ones own judgment.
4.) If there are portages of any length take kevlar canoes, not an Old Town Tripper if you’re over a certain age.
Dan’s knee still bothers him, but my bruising healed completely in two weeks. Dan did go to the Doctor when we returned. The doc seem to feel John had done a good job of first aid, but said it should have had stitches.
La Verendrye can give a true wilderness feel and I would like to return in July or August some year when water levels and weather are more likely to be moderate.