French River - Pickerel River

CanadaOntarioFrench
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Admin
Trip Date : 
Route Author: 
Unknown
Location Map: 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
70 km
Duration: 
6 days
Loop Trip: 
Yes
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
3
Total Portage Distance: 
420 m
Longest Portage: 
350 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Novice
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Easy
Remoteness: 
Novice
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Unknown
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Start at Hartley Bay Marina - off Hwy 69 at Bigwood
West through Hartley Bay into Wanapitei Bay
South through Wanapitei Bay
West on the Western Channel of the French
Camp night one at any of four locations:
Site at UTM 061950 Crombie Bay Point (very nice)
Site at UTM 062945 (so-so)
Site at UTM 035917 (sand beach, uneven tent area above on grass)
Site at UTM 024907 Echo Beach (sandy beach, pretty nice)
South on Western Channel of French to the Delta
Through Old Voyageur`s Channel, including

The Rock Circus CBR high water or line
Petite Faucille CBR carefully in high water / or P 20 m south side across point / or line
Palmer Rocks CBR high water or line
La Dalle - long, narrow trough - run at any water level
East on West Cross Channel
Cross Channel Rapids (going upstream) line either side or paddle up in low water
East on High Cross Channel
Devil`s Door (large hydraulic in high water - Difficult P 100 m north of rapid, but easier to paddle south around the peninsula. In low water, CBR.
East in East Cross Channel (wide in first section / narrow creek in second with possible liftovers / wading)
East through Georgian Bay (island-hop to stay out of the wind if water is rough)
North on Pickerel River
P 50 m L around small pond
Take first channel to the left after this portage
P 350 m L beside narrow, dried-up channel
(sometimes possible to paddle most of this channel)
North on Pickerel River
Liftover into main east-west branch of Pickerel
West on Pickerel River to Wanapitei Bay
North through Wanapitei Bay
East through Hartley Bay to finish at Marina

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

(Note : Ben Rogers, and his friends Rick and Caroline contacted me by email from their home in England looking for a suitable one-week route to paddle. All were mechanical engineering students celebrating their recent graduation. I gave them some planning assistance and helped them get maps, etc. The following is the story of their trip.)
The Canoeing Adventure of Ben, Rick and Caroline
Location: French River/ Georgian Bay/ Pickerel River
Date: Early July
Day 1
Firstly, we had to get ourselves and kit from Toronto up to Hartley Bay Marina where our canoeing adventure was to start. There are a few options: the best being get someone to give you a lift (!), get the bus which is about $60 one-way and will drop you on the side of Route 69 (not very useful with a ton of kit on your back) and finally, what we did: hire a car. Despite what we imagined it actually worked out cheaper for the three of us to hire a car for the whole week and leave it sitting, unused, while we canoed, rather than take the bus. Once you factor in the convenience of going straight to where we want to go with all our kit and without having to leave Toronto at an absurdly early hour then the petrol costs are more than worth it.
Once at Hartley Bay Marina we prepared ourselves with lots of suncream (SPF15+), stowed (OK, chucked) our kit in the canoes and headed off with a grateful wave goodbye to Richard and Debbie who gave up half a National Holiday to see us off. Thank you very, very much!
Straight away it became apparent that the solo paddler was going to have a tough time on their own in the double canoe. Stowing the kit to the front helps a great deal in pinning the front down although even moderately strong winds would still cause problems. The `C` or `J` stroke proved to be possible and, although a bit of a killer on the arms, would keep the canoe relatively straight. However, this was slower than paddling straight strokes whilst continuously swapping sides and, being keen/stupid Brits, this is what we tended to do. At least we had more time to stop and take photos, "Oh look, Caroline and Rick in a canoe!"
Out of Hartley Bay we headed pretty much straight across Wanapitei Bay (I haven`t got the map with me at the moment so excuse my spelling) to the more Northerly of the two campsites which are close together on the Western shore. We had only paddled a short distance, taking around an hour and a quarter, but it was four o`clock so we decided to call it a day, well aware that our first attempts at cooking, making camp, etc would be relatively slow as is with all things new. The campsite was very pretty - a good introduction to our journey.
Rick saw a water snake in the shallows which swam away as we approached it. They aren`t supposed to be poisonous so we felt brave! Once camp was made, including stringing up the food ropes (about which there is more to say later) we all went for as refreshing swim. Later, Rick and I (Ben) decided to go fishing with our $5 lure (and, of course a license which was a further $15). We trolled up and down with a line out the back of our canoe for 45 minutes. Of course, we caught nothing but there would be plenty of time other evenings and we were optimistic. One point that occurred to us was that we would have to catch a fish before about 6pm in order to be able to eat it for dinner that evening. No one would fancy fish for breakfast the next morning and we doubt it would be very hygienic to keep it till the next evening.
At seven o`clock we settled down to cook our pasta and tuna with tomato sauce. It was quite delicious and we all felt content as we lay back supping our coffees watching the sunset.

MISTAKE! At half eight we were engulfed by the biggest, meanest swarm of mosquitoes we had ever seen. We thought being down by the waters edge was protection enough and that the `bad` period we had been warned of had surely passed (a few had bitten earlier). Oh no! We ran back and forth like headless chickens desperately slapping ourselves and swinging around at thin air. Anyone watching from a distance would have thought we`d gone crazy or, if they were Canadian, would have had a darned good laugh. In between the flailing of limbs we gathered together the food into packs and climbed the slope to where the rope was set out. Oh yes, the rope. Mistake number two was to think we could pull up our full food packs on a single rope. Too much friction meant no matter how hard we pulled and pushed the packs remained only a little over six foot off the ground. All the while we were being bitten in a thousand places and going half crazy because the @!*!@! were crawling over us and our hands weren`t free to even try and stop them. In a perfect world we would set a second rope up (we did have a spare) but what with the Apache war dancing, worse now we were amongst the trees, there was no way we were going to even try. Good luck to you Mr. Bear - if you can stand these mosquitoes you deserve the food.
We raced back to the tent, dived in, shut the screen doors and then quickly killed anything that moved. We then sat there, panting slightly and sweating from our exertions. As we sat there slightly shocked with no one talking we heard the most eerie whine of thousands of mosquitoes filling the woods around our tent. As we lay there we could see dozens covering the net screen doors of the tent pushing their little needles back and forth through the netting (like the knife wielding maniac in Psycho). We heard a howling sound in the distance (wolves?… more likely Loons we later rationalised) then the snapping of twigs outside the tent. Could it be a bear? At this point there was no way I was going out to look. If a bear chose to rip open our tent I was more scared of the mosquitoes that would get in and suck the life out of me than any old bear. I honestly think that you couldn`t survive a night out in the woods with even a small amount of skin uncovered. If you didn`t die of blood loss or allergic shock, the mad crazed war dancing would send you off some high rock or other similar fate. That night we talked in hushed tones feeling isolated and a little vulnerable. All the while, the constant whine of the mosquitoes filled the woods.
Day 2
We awoke around 6.30am to a beautiful sunny day
A quick breakfast of blueberry bagels with peanut butter and jam (Mmm) prepared us for the day ahead. It took about two hours to eventually get on the water, mainly due to inexperience. Later on it was to take us only an hour to get going as we improved. We paddled down Wanapitei Bay and turned right into the Western Channel of the French River.
Despite the number of cottages and motor boats (mostly they would slow down for us) the scenery was awesome. We were also privileged to see a beaver which dove below the surface with a loud slap of its tail as we neared. Half a minute later it came up right next to Rick`s canoe and slapped the water in an explosion of foaming water - I nearly jumped out of my canoe but the look of shock on Rick`s face was worth it!
Water wasn`t a problem but we were lucky. Our silver based purifying tablets took two hours to act and we had only three, one litre, water bottles. It was necessary to re-fill and purify the bottles as soon as they were empty otherwise we would have had problems. This is something we felt we could have planned better so water was always readily available in more quantity. Luckily, three bottles was just enough.
Paddling the solo canoe was harder work and we tended to swap around very one and a half hours or so. Unfortunately, Rick got the last leg just as the winds started to pick up (now about 11.30am) which made it hard going for him. However, an hour later we made it to a pretty sandy beach just above the Delta which was to be our campsite for the night. Having set up camp we enjoyed a refreshing swim and spent the rest of the day playing off the rocks.
I managed to produce a small water-colour memory of the view opposite the campsite whilst Caroline slept and Rick relaxed. We saw another water snake which, this time, came out of the water, sunned itself and then disappeared into the reeds. We also saw some bear scat so made an extra good job of getting the packs up into the trees. Two ropes worked very well without the need for brute strength which had been necessary the first night. We also found it easier to climb the tree in order to loop the rope round a branch because there were too many small twigs making it difficult to get a clear throw. In fact from then on, whenever the throw looked a bit tricky, we would simply climb the tree. Of course we fished but, despite a claimed bite, we caught nothing. Surely, we would soon be successful? That night we ate well and were in the tent well before the night time invasion came. We fell asleep feeling very smug that we had cheated the surrounding hordes out of a second juicy meal.
Day 3
We awoke at 6am exactly to be greeted by the most spectacular sunrise with mist over the water for added effect. After the usual breakfast we packed up and headed for the Delta. Despite our initial worries, navigation proved to OK as long as we kept a close eye on the map and were aware of our position. We saw more beavers and some small otter-like creatures which scampered across the rocks, into and out of the water. The experience was almost magical as we made our way slowly between the rocks in, quite often, narrow channels.
Taking photographs was easy as wherever you pointed the camera you were bound to see something interesting! We encountered only slight increases in flow at the rapids although the Petit Faucille required we portage. Coming out of the Delta we got a little lost, having underestimated how far we had come. However, the view of Georgian Bay was spectacular as in the Delta we had only been able to see a few hundred yards at most and now we could see to the horizon. Needless to say, the cameras came out again. This view was short-lived as we went straight into Root Beer Creek (East Cross Channel), along with a bunch of friendly sea-kayakers. The water was indeed a deep brown colour, full of lilies and the surface alive with insects. There were many shallow sections and lots of push-overs which caused the sea-kayakers to turn back leaving us to head on alone once again. I was quite captivated by this section where the river wound back and forth over shallows with at least one beaver dam.
We were constantly hopping in and out of the canoes which further added to the fun. Once again, we broke out into the wide open spaces of Georgian Bay. It was midday so we felt ready to stop. Lunch (pitta bread and tuna) at one of a pair of campsites at the mouth of a large channel (the inlet with Sabina Island at the top) was a welcome break. The campsite was a very small windswept island so we decided to try the neighbouring island. Rick and Caroline paddled across while I swam. Boy! The water was much colder here than in the river - I swam pretty fast. The second campsite proved to be idyllic with a lovely area for the tent and a fire ring with log bench already in situ. Once set up, we swam and lazed around. My back gave up on me that afternoon causing me a huge amount of pain and severely reduced mobility. However, aside from the frustration, the worst thing was that feeling of helplessness. A combination of youth, over-the-counter pain killers (also anti-inflammatory which was the main reason for taking them) and taking it easy saw most of the problems go away. In fact, I think the problem arose because of my poor sitting posture in the canoe and over the next few days I concentrated on sitting very upright which saw the problem go away in less than two days. Back sufferers beware!
We managed some fishing again with the usual results and our previous optimism was now foundering. Just one fish, pleeeaasee!! That evening we ate a royal meal of potatoes which made a welcome change from tuna and pasta. Unfortunately, the sky, which had been clouding over all afternoon, started to threaten rain. Sure enough, it came but was light enough to allow us to sit outside and eat under a tree. We anticipated stronger rain and, by way of preparation, moved the tent away from the trees (lightning) and onto a sloped rock to avoid water building up. We also pulled the canoes well up and tied them off securely. That night we slept well with only light rain showers now and again.
Day 4
We awoke to a cloudy day with a brisk wind blowing from the North East, the so-called prevailing winds had deserted us. The water was quite choppy with occasional white horses dancing on the wave tops. It was obvious the solo canoe wouldn`t be controllable with the wind coming onto its side so we attached it via a rope and bungee (elastic to you Canadian guys) so it would be towed behind the double canoe. With great caution we set off and crossed a large expanse of water to the other side of the inlet. It was all a bit frantic but we were making reasonable progress and the canoe didn`t seem to threatened by the waves. However, as we rounded the headland to cross the next large bay (I think this was the inlet to the French River Main Channel) the full force of the wind and waves hit us. We battled hard into the wind to try to get up the inlet and reduce the amount of open water we would have to cross. Although we were progressing it was painfully slow and we weren`t able to maintain direction very well. At this point we decided to pull in and see if we could walk the canoes up further. An ingenious (if I say so) use of the food ropes allowed two of us to `fly` the canoes off a windward shore like a kite so we could pull them along without them being bashed against the rocks. See below:
A few hundred meters of this and we had to get in again. Despite the hilarity (I could hardly breathe) of Rick falling backward into a canoe to leave his arms and legs sticking up either side of the canoe, we realised that to push on would be dangerous. The risk of us actually capsizing weren`t great but the consequences of a capsize were. A capsize with an offshore wind would leave us in big trouble. Even if we could have made it out we would probably spend at least an hour in the water which was very cold and would most certainly lead to hypothermia or worse. Decision made, we landed on a likely looking spot and made camp.
At this point Rick thought he saw something whilst collecting wood for the fire - we also saw lots of scat and what we thought looked like a bear`s den. A walk, later on, confirmed our suspicions - we all saw a bear! It looked at us for a moment before hurrying off into the undergrowth. With our hearts beating quickly we made our way back to the camp and read a leaflet all about bears. This gave us some confidence that all would be well although the bit about "fighting a black bear as hard as possible is best instead of playing dead" made us laugh. Still, we were all thrilled to have seen it - we think a small female Black bear, around the size of a large Rottweiler dog. At this point we would have liked to move away from the area but the wind had actually built since earlier and this wasn`t really an option. We prepared the food ropes on a separate, downwind island to be safe but otherwise hoped our usual precautions would be enough. This other island was covered in blueberries (yummy) but also bear scat. We were obviously very close especially as some of the scat was quite fresh. Strangely we didn`t feel scared at all. The small size of the bear and the way it had turned and fled instilled us with confidence that there would be no problems.
Although windy the sun shone for the rest of the day so we made the most of it by playing off the rocks and lazing in the sun.
Swimming was possible but, again, the water was extremely cold. We also went on our last fishing foray. Having spent an hour catching… nothing we caught a rock and lost the lure. That was that. No fish, $20 poorer and a few wasted hours - oh well! That night, before dozing off to sleep, I remember we all felt sorry for the poor bear as a million little winged fiends once again filled the woods with their incessant, eerie whine.
Day 5
Up again at 6am and we were greeted to the start of a most perfect day. Clear blue skies and water like a mill pond spurred us to get going quickly and we were on the water in no time.
We had thought we would make a break for up the Main Channel seeing as we had lost a day but when the decision had to made we felt that we had made such good time and that the weather was so perfect that we should press on for our original route. The trip across Georgian Bay was magical and, because the water was so calm, we headed directly across without hugging the coastline. All around was deep clear blue water often with rocks rising up in the middle of huge open expanses of water but not quite breaking the surface. I took the opportunity to stand on such a rock making it look like I was standing in the middle of an ocean with nothing but blue skies and horizon behind me. It felt terrific.
Almost too soon, we turned up into the Pickerel River and entered a new landscape of rocks and sparse trees. The wind was starting to pick up now so the paddling was getting harder. Nevertheless we enjoyed the gentle turns of the Pickerel as we headed on to the second campsite (of the group of three) which was situated on a bend in the river. It was midday and we were tired from our 17km paddle but pleased with ourselves to have made such good progress and to now be back on track. A lunch of tuna and pitta bread revitalised us enough for a swim in the lovely warm water. Rick and I went some distance, spotting more of the small otter like creatures. Once back, we enjoyed a wash before lazing away the afternoon. As this was to be our last evening we ate a handsome feast for supper. We had a whole 2/3rds of a tin of tuna each! That night we all slept well with full stomachs and tired arms.
Day 6
The morning was overcast and quite cool. We ate breakfast and packed up quickly before heading off for the final leg of the journey.
The water levels were low because what had been described as a shallow passage was definitely a portage. As soon as we had got through this one we were confronted with another bigger portage. It has to be said that we all hate having to get all the gear our of the boats and ferry the whole lot over, quite often, uneven terrain. It was very hot and humid and we were all feeling tired and a little irritable. The river started to narrow here and the lilies eventually gave way to a beaver dam followed by marsh. There was nothing for it but to get out and push/pull the canoes through the mud. All the while we were nearly falling over or getting stuck and all conscious of the risk of leeches.
Strangely, this was actually good fun although we were relieved to make back out into open water once again. From then on it became a slog to get to the end. Our minds were all fixed on getting back and the quicker the better. Respite came in the form of a snack stop where we saw our first chipmunk. Although it was still early, we all wanted to finish - Wanapitei Bay went on forever even though we were paddling faster than ever before and when we turned into Hartley Bay it was some relief. The last few kilometres to the marina saw the canoes going faster and faster until (not unlike Hawaii 50) we were flat out in a mad race to the end (we averaged over 8km/hr for the last five km!) Even though our arms were burning and threatening to give out altogether we grimly pushed on a bit further till the dock was within a hundred or so metres. We coasted in with huge grins on our faces. The whole journey had been an adventure which we will talk about for years to come. We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will definitely be back for more.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 I/2 Delamere 41 H/16 Noganosh Lake
Other Maps: 
French River Provincial Park map - shows all campsites and portages
Photo Gallery
GPS Tracks
Download GPS track: 

Comments

Post date: Tue, 08/19/2008 - 14:45

Comments: 

Just a comment incase you return someday, which I hope you do. I have spent many a week in the French River Delta area during the same time of year. The hordes of mosquitos that come out at dusk +/-, usually disapear again in a couple hours (temperature drop of a degree or two). Daily canoeing lends itself to early turn-in times but it would be worth it to stay up late at least one clear night to see the rocks and water at night. The northern lights also can de quite dramatic from this location. Fishing after the mosquitos have diapeared is almost as productive as fishing when the horde is in full force. Glad you had a good time, hope you return as I know I will.