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PostPosted: August 9th, 2019, 1:53 pm 
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Joined: June 14th, 2018, 1:37 pm
Posts: 68
Location: Lakefield, ON
Route: French River Figure 8 loop which starts and ends at Hartley Bay.

Duration: Three Days (was supposed to be four). For those who are curious, I feel as though strong Paddlers can do this as an overnight-er (although I question why anyone would want to), veterans can do it in two nights, we were aiming to do it in three to try and get some fishing in.

Distance: less than 45km with under 400m of portage total.

Day One

The guy I was paddling with came from down south and I was coming from north of Peterborough, so we ended up meeting up at the service station on Horseshoe Lake Rd. on the 400 highway (South of Parry Sound). From there we drove to Hartley Bay Marina.

The guy I was paddling with forgot his life jacket, so the guy working the front desk - who I think actually owns the place - lent him a life jacket with no extra charge.

Anyway, after we got the gear out and did our last gear checks, we set out around 13:00. We ended up stopping to eat lunch on a small island in the main channel, south of Canal Island. I don't really remember when we hit the water again after we'd finished eating, but I suppose that doesn't really matter as we didn't have a destination in mind and our only concern was that we find a campsite before dark.

As we paddled down the river, we started getting serious about finding a campsite after we came to a spot called 'the elbow.' We inspected every site to the west of the elbow up to the Dalles rapids and found them to all be incredibly buggy and there were obvious signs that all of these sites had been under water for a fairly significant period of time which left the ground muddy. Upon closer inspection at one point, we found that the water levels had to have been over a metre above the ground! We ended up portaging around the Dalles rapids and finally settled on a campsite on the south side of the main channel just before the 90 degree bend in the river toward Georgian Bay.

This site was not particularly enjoyable as it was sheltered from the south winds and the stagnant air combined with the somewhat swamp-y conditions to make a good hunting ground for bugs. I also had to paddle out into the little bay that we were camped on in order to get water which wasn't tannic or silty. Not a huge deal, but not ideal.

We ended up going to bed sometime after dark (I estimate around 22:30, but I didn't have a way of easily checking the time). Prior to going to bed, my co-paddler had noticed that an animal had dragged the skull of a significantly sized pike or musky over to where his hammock had been set up. He freaked out a little, but settled down after I offered to switch hammocks with him. I told him that this was most likely nature's way of paying us back for the damage we had done to a tree while trying to tighten up some cordage for our bug shelter.

There were various visitors to my hammock throughout the night which I assume were various types of rodents and mustelidae, nevermind the biting bugs trying to find a way in. It took a little getting used to and their racket had woken me up at various points in the night. I'm not sure if this is necessary to mention, but I actually had a nightmare at one point where I thought I had heard my co-paddler yelling to me, but I couldn't wake up and couldn't yell back to him. Looking back, I feel like this was an interesting overshadow of the events to come a day later as I very rarely get nightmares.

Day Two

We woke up later than I'm used to (around 8:00) and had tea and breakfast. It must have been closer to 10:00 before we had broken camp and hit the water. I dislike getting started this late in the day, but it worked out well because we didn't have very far to paddle. Prior to leaving we had determined that we wanted to try and hit the campsite which was on the far southern tip of the main channel. The campsite number sticks out in my head and may very well be burned into my brain for reasons which will become clear later on in the report. If you are curious, it was site 719 on the Georgian Bay coastline. It was on the west side of the mouth of the French River main channel. This site had a picnic table and also had a very good spot for stringing up two hammocks side by side.

We had arrived at the site before noon, found that it was unoccupied and decided to take it. We spent the rest of the day swimming, fishing and soaking up the sun (the sun bathing was a mistake from which I am just now mostly recovered from). It was a really great day as far as I'm concerned, even if I flew a little close to the sun and ended up with a wicked sunburn.

I'm not sure when we ate, but we ended up having a small fire that night in our bug netting / bug shirt and without having the bug shelter set up. My co-paddler and I went to bed shortly after dark and I slept through the night until I was woken up by the other guy informing me that he thought he heard something visiting the food barrel. I told him that we would stay still and listen for other sounds. I heard nothing and said that we should probably go back asleep as it was unlikely that animals would attack our food and not make a very big racket.

Day Three

I ended up waking up the next morning shortly after sunrise. I checked the barrel and it had not been disturbed. I started making breakfast and was feeling very good about the previous day even though I knew that I had spent about a half an hour too long out in the sun without a shirt. My co-paddler woke up shortly after I had the water on the boil and seemed to be in good spirits. As we were drinking tea, he stood up and said that he felt nauseous.

I told him that this was not really what I wanted to hear with a bit of nervous laughter.

He then promptly went over to a spot away from the campsite and puked.

I was eating my oatmeal as this was happening and had to steel myself from also puking as I examined what he had puked. It was just the tea and possibly some bile. After this had happened, he had told me that he had woken up with a splitting headache.

I was incredibly confused as to what had happened to him as we had been eating the same food, so food poisoning was unlikely. He hadn't shown any other signs of heat stroke that I was aware of and it was too soon for him to have giardia. We also used a gravity filter and didn't drink any unfiltered water.

My original assessment was heat stroke or food poisoning, but I couldn't figure out where he would have got food poisoning. Did he get it from an improperly clean utensil? This seemed unlikely as we had the bio-degradable soap with us (don't worry, none of the soap ended up in the water) and we had both washed our utensils together and been thorough in our cleaning.

Here was where the gap in my knowledge of potential backcountry illnesses came into play. There is a difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion, heat exhaustion comes before heat stroke and the symptoms are different. The headache and puking were consistent with the heat exhaustion, but I kept calling it heat stroke because I didn't know the difference.

Anyway, as the minutes ticked by, I left him by the picnic table and went over to the rocks out in the sun to try and assess the situation. He followed me over to the rocks shortly after and was not moving fast or elegantly. As he's coming over to the rocks where I'm trying to figure out what to do, the following things are racing through my head:

Do we stay put?
Do I try and flag down help?
Do we try and make a break for it?

I told him my assessment of the situation. I said that I think you have heat stroke or food poisoning. Neither of which made sense to me, but it had to be one or the other by my reckoning.

I told him very matter of factly that he was going to be in for a very rough ride for the rest of the day no matter what we did as he had just dumped all of his electrolytes when he puked and he was going to e sore for at least a few more hours if not the rest of the day. This seemed to have broken what little spirit he had left in him. After he heard that he told me he had to go lie down. He decided (rather foolishly) to go and lie down on some rocks which were in direct sun light. As he moved over there I noticed he was stumbling. I told him that maybe wasn't a good idea and that he should go lie down in my hammock while I figured out a plan of action.

He agreed and went and laid down.

I stood there staring out in the direction of the Key River and finally decided that I was in over my head. I didn't know what was wrong with him and his condition had declined very rapidly. I wasn't confident that we could stay another night at this spot because I didn't know what was wrong with him. I also felt like he was getting worse and I felt like paddling was out of the question.

I then told him that I still have a little over 20% battery on my phone and through dumb luck we had picked a site with cell reception, but we had to use the phone sparingly because the battery was dropping abnormally quick. I decided to pull the pin and call my wife with instructions to get a hold of the park office or the Hartley Bay Marina and tell them that we need help. I also told her our location and a description of ourselves and our gear as well as the symptoms he was experiencing and how I couldn't nail down what the problem was.

My wife handled herself really well in spite of the fact that she must have been incredibly panicked and I am in her debt for the way that she got the job done. She ended up getting a hold of the marina first and the guy there gave her some sort of emergency services number and she was able to get in touch with the staff at Killarney Provincial Park.

After I had stabilised my phone battery on extreme power saving mode, I asked her to look up what to do when you think someone has heat stroke. The message that came back basically said lay down in a cool area, cold compress the warmest parts of the body, give water sparingly and call 911.

I only wish that I could have seen my face when I read that message because I can only imagine the horror I would have displayed when I read the call 911 part. Anyway, I went back over to my hammock where he was laying, checked in and asked him how he was feeling. He had told me that he felt like it must be heat stroke because he had stopped sweating but was feeling like he was burning up.

I rigged up a tarp over the hammock and ensured he had good airflow, then took out the sleeping bag and quilt. After that I went down to the water, dunked some towels in the bay and brought them up to him with instructions to put them where he feels warmest. After that, I went back over to the rock where I had left my phone (certain spots on this site had better reception than others, so I kept the phone where reception was best to conserve battery).

I texted back and forth with my wife with updates and checked up on my co-paddler every 10 minutes or so. Emergency services called at one point and were discussing the options that they had available to them. There seemed to be a lot of confusion in the whole process, they were asking if they could land a helicopter near by, maybe OPP would come from Key River, etc.

We got a message from my wife sometime after 9:30 that the park wardens had left the Key River Marina and that they were en route. An ambulance would be waiting at the marina to take him to Parry Sound. My buddy seemed to be stabilised at this point, which was a relief, but I was also glad that I was going to be extracted from what looked to be a disaster in the making from where I was sitting.

I don't know when the park wardens showed up, but it seemed like they arrived fairly quickly. I had all of our gear ready to load up, so we were off about 15 minutes after they showed up, with all of our gear too!

The ride to the ambulance was really cool for me (not so much for my buddy as he kept puking in his mouth). The Key River is beautiful and was also around the starting point of the Parry Sound 33 forest fire that ripped through the area last year.

Anyway, it took two full days for my co-paddler to recover from the heat exhaustion that the paramedics suspected he was hit with. My suspicion is that he would have been in a full on heat stroke scenario if we had ignored his problems and carried on with our day. It took him at least two days to recover after that. He probably could have recovered quicker as well if he would have went to the hospital and got the intravenous fluids, but he declined that option.

Knowing what I know now, I feel comfortable in my decision to get evacuated out. In the worst case scenario, I probably could have flagged down a motor boat or paddled him in on my own, but I am glad it didn't come to that and that we were in a situation where we could get help easily.

I have no doubt that there are some who will read this and question whether or not it was necessary to get the park staff to help us out. I get that. I still struggle with it somewhat, but I've moved on from the doubts for the most part. I was in over my head and didn't feel equipped to deal with things. Hopefully next time I'll be better equipped to handle these situations.

Looking back, I can see that he wasn't as equipped to handle the sun as I thought he must have been. I would have otherwise cautioned him to be more careful. I had actually spent a lot more time trying to cover up and stay in the shade than he did even though I am arguably better equipped for staying in the sun than he is (as I often work outside). He was relying on sunscreen for his sun protection while I choose to cover up with a wide brimmed hat and stay in the shade whenever I wasn't fishing or swimming.


-I had recently read that it's only a matter of time before something goes wrong while you're out there. My time ran out on this one and I think Wilderness First Aid is going to be moved up on the priority list.

-I think one of those emergency communication devices also just got moved up on the priority list for my wife and I.

-It was only dumb luck that we had cell service. This is actually the first "backcountry" trip (if you can even call the west French that?) I've been on where I had the ability to use cell service and I'm not even sure that I liked it. At one point, my buddy had a message from work come through. :/

-The folks at Hartley Bay take your car keys and then park your car themselves. I think this is to prevent people from taking their cars out without paying their parking fees. As much as it sucks to pay their fees, the silver lining is that you don't have to take your keys into the delta with you. I should also mention that the Hartley Bay Marina staff were very good to my wife when she called them in a panic. They followed up with her afterward and did everything they could to help her out. I am grateful to them for the way that they handled the situation and helped us out of a jam. I would not hesitate to start a trip from there again.

-Bugs were significant on the French this year. The high water levels for extended periods of time have created ideal breeding grounds for biting bugs (which persist until a week prior to writing this -August 8th, 2019). We stayed up passed 22:00 on both nights and the only reason this was possible was because of Watkins cream (28% deet), bug jackets and the bug shelter. I was also occasionally getting bit through my hammock if I leaned on the no-see-um mesh. If you hit the river after reading this, I would go prepared to deal with deer flies and mosquitoes. If you aren't prepared, you could be in for a rough ride.

We Belong to it

Last edited by joshmanicus on August 10th, 2019, 8:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

PostPosted: August 10th, 2019, 4:35 am 

Joined: December 21st, 2016, 2:10 pm
Posts: 105
Location: Courtice Ont
Nice report. It's weird how "bad" trips make the best stories lol. I might have been in Noganosh the same time as you were in the French. There were very few Mossy's (i guess you were hogging them all), however the deer flies were insane.

Being trained in St. Johns first aid I've had conversations over the last couple of years about heat stroke &/or exhaustion. With summers being more extreme & paddlers being sometimes completely exposed this will become more of an issue. Hopefully people will read your thread and take note.

PostPosted: August 11th, 2019, 11:52 am 
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Joined: March 18th, 2019, 7:54 pm
Posts: 269
Location: Brampton
For what it's worth, I would have made the same call. Turns out you were right in your assessment of heat stroke, but you didn't know that. It could have been an allergic reaction for all you knew. Hell, it could have been the onset of type 1 diabetes, my brother had pretty much the exact same symptoms when his pancreas suddenly and inexplicably failed.

Sure, you probably would have been able to stabilize him with a bit of smarts and fortitude. But a decision to do that could have killed him, also.

I never travel anywhere in the wilds without multiple ways of signalling for help - signal mirrors, flares, whistles, air horns, smoke flares, you name it. I'll probably get myself a GPS messenger or PLB soon, they're becoming somewhat affordable. Because like you said, it's only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong. I was stranded once without food or shelter and had no way of signalling for help (besides a signal fire), and I got lucky. I fully intend on never being in that position again.

If you ate today, thank a farmer.

PostPosted: August 12th, 2019, 9:00 am 
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Joined: March 13th, 2004, 8:11 am
Posts: 1163
Location: Northern Edge of Vermont
Electrolyte powder packets are good to have, as part of your first aid kit. I also carry powdered Gatorade in my food barrel. Both can mitigate the effects of heat exhaustion. Thanks for this trip report. You made the right call. Must have been a frustrating and stressful time.

PostPosted: August 13th, 2019, 10:00 am 
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Joined: June 14th, 2018, 1:37 pm
Posts: 68
Location: Lakefield, ON
SteveBoal wrote:
Electrolyte powder packets are good to have, as part of your first aid kit. I also carry powdered Gatorade in my food barrel. Both can mitigate the effects of heat exhaustion. Thanks for this trip report. You made the right call. Must have been a frustrating and stressful time.

My co-paddler's wife was talking about those electrolyte tabs that you can get from the Running Room or MEC. They also sell them at Shopper's Drugmart and probably a number of other places.I am going to look into the expiry dates on those and definitely look into keeping some in our first aid kit(s).

I don't think we'll be stocking Gatorade though. It's a good suggestion, it's just that I'm weary of the refined sugar-y drinks. I've been trying to keep a lid on obesity for my entire adult life and one of the things that I've learned is that will power never wins over easily accessible sugar drinks.

We Belong to it

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