"Anyone who tells you portaging is fun is either a liar or crazy." Bill Mason - Waterwalker
Let's face it. Portaging really hurts. Whether you are carrying over from one lake to another, or avoiding a set of nasty rapids, each trail has some painful characteristic: slippery rocks, steep inclines, bug-infested hollows, boot-sucking mud, and wrong turns. And there's always that particular canoe-mate who never seems to take their share of the load. So why do it? Well, it's one of those necessary evils that come with canoe tripping. That brief moment of pain is the only thing standing in your way of absolute solitude. In the end, the moment you spot that spot of blue peaking through the thick canopy of green, and then realize you're alone in this wonderful place, it all becomes worth the price.
Ways to relieve the pain of portaging:
Playing the Part of Mr. Canoe Head
To some, it's much easier to load themselves up with heavy packs and stumble across the portage than it is to balance a canoe over their heads. But I much prefer to choose the canoe. I'm not all that muscle bound and depend much more on technique rather than brawn. This is why the canoe is much easier for me to handle. Portaging, and most important, lifting a canoe over your head is all about technique, not strength.
To properly lift the canoe up over your head, follow these steps:
The word "portage" is French for "to carry."
Portages are measured in meters, yards or rods.
1 meter = 1.0936 yards 1000 meters = 1 kilometer = 0.6215 miles 1 yard = 3 feet 1760 yards = 1 mile 1 Rod = 16.5 feet or 5.5 yards (approximately one canoe length) 320 Rods per mile (5280 feet)
And you thought you had it bad...
While traveling the historic Grand Portage, Alexander Mackenzie noted in his journal that voyageurs would head off on the 17 mile (30 km) trail with two packages of ninety pounds each, and return with two more of the same weight in under six hours
Two Heads are better than One
If you feel too uneasy about lifting the canoe over your head on your own, then do what's called a two person lift, followed by a one person carry. Have your canoe partner stand beside the canoe near the bow and position yourself an arms length away, somewhere between the front seat and the yoke. Then, both of you grab the opposite gunwale with your left hand and the other gunwale with your right. Flip the canoe over your heads, making sure the back end of the canoe doesn't leave the ground. Now, while your partner holds the canoe up, you slide backwards and position yourself under the yoke. Once you have control of the canoe then your partner lets go and meets you at the end of the trail to help you unload, using the opposite procedure.
The same technique can be used on your own. Just flip the canoe over at the front of the canoe without the aid of your partner. As long as the back end of the canoe keeps touching the ground you are not carrying the full weight until you slide yourself under the yoke.
Also, it is possible to have both paddlers carry the canoe together, even though there's a real danger of you and your partner not speaking to one another by the end of the portage. To keep the arguments to a minimum, make sure not to have the person in the front stick their head up inside the bow. Portaging then quickly becomes a game of Blind Man's Bluff. It's best to have them place the bow plate on one shoulder, enabling them to see where they're going, and then position the other person under the stern thwart or back seat.
Record Breaking Portage
The record for carrying across Algonquin's Dickson/Bonfield Portage (measuring 5,305 meters or 5,802 yards) is 41 minutes, set by Bill Swift Sr. while carrying a canvas-covered canoe and loaded pack.
It was the day I got hit in the crotch with a paddle by a not-so-polite canoeist on a busy portage that forced me to come to the conclusion that no portage etiquette seems exists anymore. I was carrying a hefty 18-foot canoe down the path leading to Algonquin's North Tea Lake. She was carrying a paddle - just a paddle - yet she refused to give the right-of-way. We played chicken and I lost. When I reached the put-in I immediately pulled out my journal, wrote a list of rules for proper portage etiquette on a sheet of paper, and then stuck it on a tree for the next bad-mannered canoeist. This is what it read:
Kevin Callan is the author of eight books including 'The Happy Camper: An Essential Guide to Life Outdoors'. He is a recipient of the National Magazine Award and a regularly featured speaker at North America's largest paddling events.
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