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Verendrye Circuit 70, August 2018

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La Verendrye August 2018 Trip Report

It takes about four minutes to walk down to the put-in at the beginning of Circuit 70 and on the way, I met Max and his friend coming out. Max grew up in Maniwaki and could not imagine why anyone would come from Florida to paddle in his backyard! Max carried my canoe down to the water and I gave him some key limes. His enthusiasm was contagious and we spent some time poring over maps. Le Domaine does not have trip maps for this circuit. I had a map from Robin that was pre-marked and Max had also made some notes. Finally, the last pack was lashed in and the canoe slipped into the water. It felt like coming home.

It was a hard paddle into the wind and upstream into the Riviere des Outaousais. Banks were lined with spatterdock. The breeze was cool in the sun. At one point, the river narrows and current piled into a single tongue coming right at me. There was no portage. I snuck up the edge on river left (my right) and then began a ferry. Almost made it, but was unable to correct quickly enough when I hit midstream. Ferried downstream back to river left. Studied my options. I was going to have to walk it up and the water on river left was too deep to wade. So I ferried over to river right and was able to pull the canoe, rock by rock, upstream. I was pleased I still could ferry reliably well and it was a useful skill later in the trip.

By the time I got to the first portage, it was nearly 5 pm; I had been up and traveling for 12 hours. (I had started at 5 am in Maniwaki.) The portage is well-marked, well cleared, and enchantingly lined with mature white birches. I looked for chaga, but saw none. I was going to camp here, whether or not it was an official campsite; any port in the storm. Turns out it was official: one wouldn't pick it as a favorite. Situated on the remains of an old logging road and bridge, the ground was flat but hard as the rocks that formed it. Asters and daisies blooming in an old fire ring. Joe-Pye weed and alder bushes. Cranberries, and conifers.

Next morning I rose early and saw a great demonstration of Homer's rosy fingers of dawn. There were two more closely spaced portages. Short, but repeated trips and picking up and putting down packs was putting a strain on my back. I had practiced carrying a pack walking at home, but I did not figure in the fatigue factor of doing it over and over and over again. My spirits lifted as I entered into a portage free zone.

I was aiming for a campsite on an island in Lac Lambert (the French pronunciation to my ears sounded like LAM-ba,) but after I got out into larger water, I could not match the map to what I was seeing. I kept thinking, I'll just get around this next point and then it will make sense. But it didn't. I have a number of safety rules I adhere to, especially when traveling solo. I know that I can remember and track three "turns" of a route, but not four. So I retraced my route back to where I knew for sure I was, which was the inlet to the narrow part of the river. I camped on a sand bar near the inlet as others had taken the official beach campsite.

The next day I got out the compass and propped it in front of me, so I could take readings and actually know where I was and where I was going. It is amazing how well this works! This day I had a quartering tail wind and by setting an angle, I practically felt like I was sailing up the lake. The wind scatters diamonds across the water, far more splendor than from any stones. My new paddle pushed the canoe effortlessly. I got into a rhythm and remembered what it was like to be young and strong.

A spray of blue caught my eye and I pulled up to an island shore covered with bottle gentians. As my eyes adapted to the rocky shore, I also saw flowering pitcher plants, sundew, cranberries. I felt I had stumbled on a magical rich island. Of course, later days revealed almost all the shorelines were variations on this theme. Memories of that first discovery still causes my heart to leap.

La Verendrye rules restrict camping to established sites and they have done a very good job of confining the human impact to these areas. Anywhere else, poke back into the woods, down an inlet, and all is pristine. I stopped following the circuit and moved into nearby areas. Once off the circuit, you are permitted to make camp at any location and I practice no trace camping: no fire, no broken vegetation, of course no trash, etc. It is quite rewarding because here the birds and squirrels and other life just go about their business as if you aren't even there, assuming you sit quietly for long periods of time.

At one site, a small bird flitted from limb to limb on a jack pine. Contour feathers at the chin and throat were soft yellow and laid so smoothly it was impossible to distinguish individual feathers. Several hummingbirds came up, attracted by the bright colors of the packs. One hovered right off my left shoulder, checking me out as a nectar source, then plunged down to the orange pack and perused it as well. The electric green back caught the sun for those few seconds. Astounding. Another jewel.

That first night in an off-route location was heaven. I slept under the stars in a plain hammock. No bugs, no rain. Hung my glasses from a pine branch within easy reach. Loons called from lakes to the east and to the west and then flew right over me, cackling all the way. I fell into the sealed sleep as water-lilies know. (Edwin Arnold.)

My greatest concern about hammocks was their ability to keep one dry in a raging storm. It was clear from my Suwanee River trip the little bitty excuse of a tarp provided with the Eco hammock was not going to do it, so I had purchased a Chill Gorilla Fortress Hammock Rain Fly with 4 Doors, which was described as "waterproof," and brought it along on this trip. I was camped under some enormous pine trees and the day had turned cloudy. I covered the hammock with my Chill Gorilla Fortress Hammock Rain Fly with 4 Doors. As I snuggled in for the night one of those delightful misty rains began and I felt quite secure and even a bit smug. The rain began falling harder, rattling against the tarp. I was anticipating another deep sleep when a drop of water hit my nose.

And then another and another. Turns out the seam of the tarp runs precisely parallel to the center line of the hammock and the seam continued to drip, on my face. Although I had carefully resealed the tent seams, I had not thought to seal the tarp seams.

And then the wind started blowing, hard. This tarp was not waterproof. The sides blew onto me leaking water right through the fabric of the tarp. In addition, water accumulating at the elevated ropes securing the hammock would run down the ropes, soaking each end of the hammock. It rained all night. No place to regroup or set up a tent.

This is why I do not use down bags in real wilderness situations. I laid my raincoat over the sleeping bag, scooted up or down and around until I found a position that did not include the water drops on my forehead and slept like a squirrel under his bushy tail.

In the morning, I threw everything in the canoe and paddled to the nearest official campsite. The sky was gray and the wind biting. I was very conscious of the dangers of hypothermia. I planted my tent on level ground and retreated into it to warm up, sleep and read. Later I hung everything up to dry. The clouds parted for about two hours in the afternoon and by moving everything around, turning things over and inside out, etc. Finally everything got dry I put a tyvek tarp on the floor of the tent inside and then put the tarp over the tent. It rained again that night, but this time I did not get wet.

Morning brought a raft of mergansers paddling around the point. I learned that young mergansers cannot fly, which is why they scuttle across the water when frightened. Over the duration of the trip, there were more mergansers, loons, kingfishers. The alarm "hoo-hoo-ing" of the loons caused me to look around and yes, there were the bald eagles hunting. My field notes are filled with descriptions of the plants, birds, fish I saw.

Reportedly the most beautiful campsite on the circuit is the one at the Chute, where the river splits into three parts, one of which is a real waterfall. Impossible to take a photo to illustrate the scale of the drop. The camp is lovely, with rushing water on both sides, tall old growth pines and large enough to walk around. There were ferns, bunch berry, Canadian lily of the valley, Clintonia, Trillium. It must be beautiful in the spring with all those blossoms. After the Chute, it is all downstream. After fighting current and the wind, it was like flying. I had plenty of days for exploring and puttering around.

Up till this point, the weather had run in the pattern: clear, cloudy, rain, clear, cloudy, rain. But the next clear never came. It was cold, cloudy and generally wet. I could spend some time in the tent reading; I had several fail safes to make sure I had plenty to read. Unfortunately, all the fail safes failed. I brought the ipad, but managed to forget the spare charger AND the solar charger. I had ordered several used books to take, but I forgot used bookstores do not have two-day shipping and only one arrived before I had to leave.
One day I stayed in camp and when the clouds lessened a bit around noon, I took off in the canoe just to paddle around. I got about a half hour out and the skies just opened up. The boat filled up with water and was feeling sloshy (this is a technical canoe term) and I could just see myself in the water, wet, cold and half an hour from camp. I pulled into the closest shore, waited for the rain to lessen again, and paddled back to camp.

Campsites are numerous and lovely this half of the circuit. Because it was a weekend trip for most, one needed to stop early in the day to get a regulation site. I wanted to stop early, because it was still raining and I was unsure of finding the site (as some had been difficult for me to find.) I spotted an inviting rocky outcrop and headed for it. It seemed an unlikely spot because access was steep. Nevertheless I heisted the packs and canoe up the steep slope. I don't know how to estimate the degree of slope, but it was such that one tends to put the upside hand onto the rock for stability. THEN I found the sign, the little beach and shallow access.

The beach was very shallow and pleasant to rinse off in, even in the cold. I was hesitate to actually go out far enough to swim because of the cold and, irrationally, the fear of gators. I have been too long in an environment in which every body of water likely has gators.

In the evening. I sat on the west side of the rocky outcropping and watched the sun set. I had never seen a sunset like this one: it had Star Trek-like forms and opalescent clouds. No wind. Hardly a sound. Warmth left the air and I turned to go into the tent.

Surprise! A full moon in the east. I had known there would be a full moon at some point on the trip, but I had lost track of the days and thought I had missed it during one of the cloudy nights. I gazed on it with the monocular. Quite dramatic.

This downstream section is so pleasant, the kilometers fly by quickly. I am passing things too quickly to see. There are more loons and eagles. The eagles appeared at the Chute; they like to scavenge for dead/injured fish at the base of the falls. But the loons are on guard and their warning cries often alerted to me to the eagles in the sky. One adult perched atop a pine, looking just as royal as a bird can, surveying his kingdom. This side of the circuit also has more boggy areas with great quantities of cranberries.

Several stretches marked eau vive were not noticeable at this water level. I also had trouble keeping track of the distance paddled because I had gotten used to the speed of the upstream and lake section. At lower levels, there might be rocks to avoid, but nothing difficult.
All too soon, the ingress from the beginning of the circuit showed up on my right and then, there was the portage. My original plan would have me driving the Interstate highways on Labor Day weekend, left two days early.

Coming out onto the road was a surprise. Golden boughs of goldenrod blanketed the roadside, along with white-topped aster and accented with lavender aster. Two weeks ago, there were none. I found wild blueberries, not on the trip, but the way home, by the side of the road; still reminds me of the north woods and the treasures I find there. Perspective, simplicity, grace; a way to live freely and lightly.

In planning this trip, I am grateful for the assistance of my friend Robin who gave me his SPOT and copies of marked maps.
 
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Yes, a very good read and I hope to read more TRs like this. I'm glad you wrote about the natural area and didn't let the details escape. Also glad to read I'm not the only one who spends time looking through binos while out there. And I still have not seen bottle gentians in bloom anywhere around here... thanks for taking the time to write!
 
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Erica,
An enjoyable read. You are an excellent writer. Homer's quote that "Brave Odysseus leapt from bed as the rosy fingers of dawn crept above the horizon" is one of my favorites!

Tony
 
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Thank you all. You are too kind. Now I can back to reading and posting again. I had trouble getting this to come out and so had restricted myself until it got done.
 
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Very enjoyable read, on my way thru this area I never really enjoyed the flora as I did in your report. I need to work on that. Thanks for such a nice TR.
 
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Robin, to see little things, you have to go more slowly than most people want to travel. For me, observation takes times for my eyes to resolve all that is present. Just this afternoon, I was lying in my hammock, looking out at the pond and hanging out and I'd probably been out there 15-20 minutes before I spotted the 3 inch coral bean flower (bright red) practically in front of my nose. I have even more time now for observation since I can't go so fast or as long as I used to. Thanks again for all your help.
 
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You paint beautiful pictures with your words. I'm not sure I am able to slow down to really see and I agree that most people don't want to travel that slowly. Something for me to work on, especially when paddling solo. Thanks!
 
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Thanks, Erica for a wonderful TR. I'm a Fauna & Flora person and the best part of canoeing for me is the return trip on a double carry. For that walk in the woods, my head is on a swivel. I do what I can under load but that return trip I'm off the trail checking out flowers, mushrooms and anything that catches my eye. There's a lot of edibles out there also. I never leave my camera behind.
 
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