Friday, July 13, 2012

Big East River Poling Trip

Ever since carving a traditional canoe pole late in the summer of 2010, I've been slowly trying to learn this new skill. Until now, I've been attempting poling around the shallows of my cottage lake getting curious looks from people warning me to "never to stand in a canoe". One of these folks was my neighbour informing me of this horrible misconception while he was showing off his $2000 stand-up paddle board and carbon graphite paddle!

Anyway, while he seems content puttering around a flat lake on his glorified surfboard my intention has a practical purpose - to use poling instead of having to arrange car shuttles when doing river  trips. Earlier this week I was able to get up north and take advantage of the long summer day to try my my very first attempt at poling up one of the local rivers - The Big East. As a trial run, I brought along my canvas pack loaded as if I was heading off for a few days of camping to see if poling a loaded canoe was any more difficult than my usual empty boat practice. Later this summer I might make an overnight trip in this area, but for the time being, this was just a day trip.

Car at access point - there's space for a few vehicles

Launch point looking downstream
Water levels are low everywhere in the region and the local Natural Resources office have declared an extreme forest fire hazard due to the dry condition. Despite this, the Big East still has enough water to float a canoe even if there are some very rocky shallows where dragging is necessary. Locals typically park a car at the Williamsport Bridge and then, once past a set of easy C1 rapids and some other shallows,  lazily meander rapid-free until they hit Lake Vernon about 4-5 hours away. Very few people ever go upstream at this point since there really is no "destination" as such and there are more rapids and shallows to contend with...perfect for some solitude and poling!

Paddling upsteam

Huge sandy cliffs along the way

Looking upstream for some prime poling territory

Poling up the shallows in still water

Wasn't expecting it, but I came some bank Beaver burrows dug into the muddy sides of the river  at the waterline. Just after taking this pic, I noticed a beaver in the distance swimming across and I managed to get a few grainy shots including its webbed feet right after doing a tail splash.

Bank Beaver burrows on the riverbank

Beaver swimming across the river

Big warning splash with webbed feet flipped up 

Further upstream was a small island where I  pulled up to take a break in the heat. The place was covered in animal tracks. Seems it is being used as a deer crossing site.

Break time on a muddy island

Deer tracks all over
Where there's deer, there's going to be predators. Here's a nice wolf print in the mud....

Wolf print
Eventually got to some rocky swifts at spent quite some time attempting to climb against the increasingly strong current. Set up the camera to take some video and timed photos of attempts...

Lots of rocks under those ripples

Finding the rock free channel

Trying to pole and take a photo - not reccommended!

One particular stretch was a fun area to practice. Spent quite a while going upstream and then turning around snubbing down. By this time the sun was beating down and after realising I had forgotten applying sunscreen, needed the floppy hat to keep cool.

Trying to pole up a channel

Snubbing downstream in the same place
Didn't end up falling out the canoe but did have many close calls. The shallow nature of the river meant that if the canoe got hung up on a rock, I had to step out and reposition the boat. By the afternoon, I was pretty bushed and wanted to take a relaxing nap and dry my feet. 

The silty nature of this river means that there are some impressive sandy deposits at certain bends. Came across a huge sand dune at one point that would make for a nice campsite. Took the canoe out of the water and tried to use the pole, canoe and paddles to rig a shelter for some shade, although by then it started getting cloudy. Here's what I came up with...

Canoe shelter with tarp, paddles, & pole

Lots of driftwood but no campfire today
As a "luxury item", I like to use an old Turkish kilim as a ground cover. After visiting family there back in '06 we picked up quite a few of these beautiful mats and this one has seen its share of family picnics and outings. The wool is warm and cozy and the loose flat-weave of the kilim allows it to easily flapped clean of dirt and sand. Nomadic shepherds there often use layered kilims as blankets, cloaks, and even fold them into a sort of sleeping bag too. A little secret I picked up on a bushcraft forum is to use an old shower curtain as a waterproof lining to prevent dampness from the ground - can't see it in the photo but it is there.

After a relaxing nap, it was time to pack up and head home. The 15footer cedar canvas was recently painted a "froggie green" colour that my son picked. The paint job on the bottom is pretty scratched up but the canvas is no worse for wear. While this canoe is more suited as a lake tripper with its deep 14" hull, straight lines and thick keel, it worked well enough for poling . But despite running aground on some rocks here and there, it held up well enough. 

Here's a short, 3 minute Youtube video of the some of the day's action...


Clarkson said...

Hey Murat,

I love the Big East river ! Normally spend a week of vacation there in the fall. Moose, Deer, bear and Wolf everywhere there ! Did you launch after Mcarthur's chutes ?


Murat said...

Thanks Paul. It's definitely a gem in the area. Showed the wolf print to my wife and she freaked! Lots of wildlife for sure. I was downstream of McAuthor's chute. This time, I launched at the Williamsport Bridge just west of the Dyer Memorial and went upriver. I've paddled the Distress Lake portion in the past and next time will head up river at this point to the old Finlayson dam...lots of shallows up that way I'm told.

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