Day 1: July 9-2005
We arrived at the Air Swisha base at Rapides-des-Joachims on the Ottawa River at 3:00Pm after a sixteen hour drive from Wisconsin. Our flights were scheduled for five and six thirty (two flights) but fortunately for us the weather was great and Swisha was running an hour ahead of schedule. We quickly unloaded our packs, paddles, and canoes and divided them in two loads. In the mean time the plane arrived and we quickly loaded up the first load on the plane with one canoe attached on the pontoon. My oldest son Christopher and I were on the first flight heading to Lac St Patrice. Once arrived, we were to put up camp on the Island Hap Wilson referred to in his book. The flight was great! We knew we could have shuttled into Lac St Patrice but opted for the flying experience and we were not disappointed. The flight in the bush plane was very exiting, the wilderness from above appeared so vast. After a twenty five minute flight we smoothly landed near the island and were happily surprised that no one was camping there. The plane quickly took off to pick up the second load that included my wife Deb and my youngest son John. About an hour later we heard the rumbling on the horizon of the 450 HP engine of the Havelin Beaver and soon it landed in plain view of our camp site. My wife and my son paddled the loaded canoe over to the camp and our adventure in the wilderness was about to begin. The camp site was great with a nice rocky shore, a bit small for our large 6 man tent but it was otherwise perfect. We saw a fisherman trolling for fish nearby the island, it was the last human we saw for the rest of the trip. We all went for a good swim before supper (pork chops and hash browns) and we finished the day by listening to the loons while watching a beautiful sunset.
Got up at 6:00 Am and made coffee. Soon after I was joined by Debbie. We sat there on one of the large boulders that made up the shore and enjoyed our first morning in the wilderness. At six thirty we woke up the boys (13&14) for breakfast and discussed the plan for the day. At around 8:30 we shoved off the island and headed over to the main land. Our first obstacle for the day was a dam with a 40m portage. After a 2.5 Km of lake paddling we progressed to a cove where we could hear water rushing through the dam. A man made log fence barred the passage to the dam but at one location a small break allowed us to paddle through. We quickly paddled to the take-out and unloaded our canoes. The portage was not difficult even though the take-in was a bit steep. Shortly after we found ourselves paddling down a little creek that was to shortly join us to the Noire River. The water level in the creek was fairly high and the area that we were expecting to drag our canoes turned out to be a nice CL I rapid. Soon after, we finally reached the Noire River. After a few Kilometers we reached another nice long CL I. At our water levels it was more like a CLI-CLII (#19). After the rapid a nice and rather tall sand dune presented itself, we stopped to take a look and were amazed at how nice the sand was. The sun was out in full strength and it was HOT and ever so often we had to stop and take a swim to cool off. We paddled to km 118 to a site Hap marked E for excellent. The site was great, it had a sandy beach and a shady place under a tree to put up camp. The sandy beach made a nice spot for all of to swim. The site is fairly large and would have room to accommodate many tents. Made supper Wisconsin Bratwurst and camp fries and soon after we crashed out for the night.
Up at 6:00 Am and on the river at 8:30. We were all looking forward to our first major rapids. Soon we reached the rapid named The Wall (#23) where we stopped to scout and decided it was in our reach. I was to run first, while Deb was going to observe me and decide whether or not she wanted to run it. My youngest boy was in the bow, we lined up the canoe to the left of the tongue so to avoid getting plastered against the rocky wall. After the first drop we ended out more in the middle of the run and got a wild ride in the big waves. We took on some water but not enough to cause any problem or concerns. Deb decided that she was not going to run it. The second run was much better, my oldest son has mastered the cross draw and the pry and draw so we avoided taking the center of the main chute and got a clean and dry run. We eddied out on the bottom of the island, river-left to pick up Deb. The kids wanted to stop for a while and play in the rapid, so we took a break and let them have some fun. After they had exhausted themselves swimming against the current we proceeded down stream to Rapides de la Targie. We took a good look at the "toilet bowl" CLIII and decided that we are definitively not going to run it. My oldest son and I proceeded to scout the remaining CLIIs of La Targie. We did not like the first drop and were unable to scout the remaining two. Instead, we opted to lift over/line the CLIII, paddle some and line the rest of the rapids river-left. The campsite at the bottom of La Targie was exceptional and very inviting so we decided to stay for the night. Supper that night consisted of a teriyaki/lemon juice marinated roast beef and fresh potatoes. It was the last of the fresh meals. This concluded another HOT day and we where desperately hoping for some relief in temperature.
Up at 6:00 Am and on the river at 8:00. This was the beginning of another HOT day. We paddled around the bend and encountered Canyon Stair Case Rapides. We scouted the CL II (#26) and ran it without difficulty, we then proceeded to portage our gear from point C to Point D on Haps map, loaded the canoes and ran the CL II section (#27). The last CLII rapid (#28) of Mountain Stair Case proved to be trickier, full of boulders and offering very few options to run it. We scouted very carefully and ran it per Haps recommendation (river left). The heat was exhausting; we arrived on the camp site at Mountain Chute at around 1:00 pm. Deb was exhausted from the heat and was not a happy canoeist. We took advantage of the camp site to have lunch. Later Christopher, my oldest son, and me proceeded to scout the 300 m short cut. The run to the take-out did not seem particularly difficult and could be lined if need be. We walked the narrow rocky and winding trail to the Crack and arrived to the top of the VERY STEEP down hill grade. We took one look and decided that this was too steep for us. I had sufficient rope with us and carabineers but since I was the only one with significant strength in the group any injury sustained on this portage could compromise our trip. We therefore opted for the long portage. We returned to the camp, but not before taking a good look at Mountain Chute. Wow! Would not want to go down there. After an hour or so we finally arrived at the camp site, Debbies enthusiasm for the portage had not improved; it was wise not to push her any further. We put up camp and settled in for the night. The decisions to stay proved to be a good one since a storm was brewing that was followed by a short but intense rain. We were all hoping that this would finally provide some relief from the heat but such was not the case, after the rain the sun came out in full force the air became horribly humid. I made supper for my crew, spaghetti with pepperoni. After supper Christopher and I decided to portage a canoe and perhaps a pack or two over the PASS. We loaded one canoe with a smaller pack and paddled down-river to point B. Christopher took the pack and I carried the canoe as we headed down the trail. Well, I should say UP and UP the trail, the uphill grade seemed to be never ending. We passed a flat area just before the last uphill slope where the mosquitoes were unbearable. We finally arrived at the big rock which according to Haps book was the top of the PASS, we proceeded down hill and left the canoe and the pack just before the steep grade leading back down to the river. We returned quickly back to camp almost running so to avoid the swarming mosquitoes. Once returned to camp I was exhausted and so was Christopher. We sat in our mosquito tent still sweating profusely from our trip and the intense humidity generated from the rain we had earlier. We were all crashed out by 9:00 Pm and had a good night sleep.
I decided to get up early today, 4:30 Am and carry another pack over the PASS before the crew woke up. It was barely daylight; I headed up the trail whistling so to alert any potential bear that might be out near the trail. It was still cool which made the trip more tolerable. I had sprayed myself with mosquito repellant and wore a head net. On the way back I noticed two species of mushrooms that I used to collect in France when I was little, Trompette de Mort and Giroles. I wish I had more time to see if I could find enough of them for a meal. I quickly worked my self back to camp where Deb was greeting me. She had a good night sleep; that made a new person out of her and she was again ready to take on the elements. Christopher, my faithful helper was also up, we loaded the second canoe with smaller items and again we canoed it down to next take-out B, and proceeded to portage it over the PASS. When we returned to camp John was up and Deb had made coffee and breakfast was ready. Deb had also taken the tent down and had packed most of the packs. We quickly ate, after putting the mosquito protection on, we all grabbed a pack and headed up the trail for one last time. Debbie found the mosquitoes, the humidity and the continuous uphill climb quite overwhelming. She agreed that Hap had correctly named this the Portage from Hell. Once arrived to the steep down hill grade we unloaded our cargo. The challenge now was to get everything safely down to the river. The steep grade was still very significant. Portaging a canoe or a pack down was out of the question for us, too dangerous. I had a 100 ft rope and two 50ft ropes with us, we placed the packs in the canoes and wrapped the rope around a tree and attached the other end to a canoe and slowly worked the canoe down the steep grade. I hated to do this to our canoes but this was the only safe way I could see long lives Rx. At 11:00 we were finally back on the water, the portage from hell was done. It was nice to be paddling again. At noon we arrived at Rapid de LIslet. We had lunch at the camp site and then portaged the difficult river section (point A to point B). The portage was easy but the heat was still unbearable we were consuming an average of 15 liters of water a day. We loaded up the canoes and proceed down river looking out for rapid de LOurs. We soon found it and pulled over on the rocky ledge river-left just before the fall. We took a good look at this monster, definitively something I would not want to run, especially after we saw the marking in the honor of the person that died at this location. The kids were exhausted and were complaining of nausea, a sign of dehydration, Deb quickly filtered more water and we made them drink as much water as they could. In a shady area near the fall, we laid the life jackets down on a nice flat rock for them to lie down and rest. John was asleep in a few minutes; Christopher wanted to sleep in the tent. We found a nice grassy area for one tent off the portage trail, it was shaded, just perfect for the night. Christopher crawled in the tent and fell asleep as well. It was about 2:00 PM and we were tired. The heat had been relentless since we started the trip. The boys woke up after a few hours of sleep by then supper was ready (roasted garlic in olive oil vermicellis with chicken). Finally, that evening a storm came through with some big lightning and the temperature finally dropped. What a relief it was!!
Up at 5:30 am. The temperature had dropped at least ten to fifteen degrees, a welcome event. Before we left Deb insisted we have coffee at a boulder next to the mighty rapid. The mist was rising from the rapids and falling upon us. What a beauty! I looked around for the possible portage/put-in places. I did not like the launch at the bottom of the fall, way too many boulders and would require a good forward ferry with some horse power in order to get in the main current. The portage trail along the river was obstructed by several trees at several locations and the path was very narrow and rocky. A lousy portage trail that would require some belly goating to get over the obstacles. When I went back to the tent I noticed another trail on top of the ridge that seamed to followed the river. I explored it and it turned out to be a very good portage trail. After breakfast we portaged the canoes and packs down this trail and we were on the river by 8:00. We had to make up some time since we had covered so little distance the last couple of days (15 Km). It was actually nice to paddle down river for some distance without having to portage. The temperature was warm but very comfortable for the first time. We came to Hunt Club rapid (#42), we ran it without scouting and had no problem. At around Km 60 the boys noticed above a rocky ledge, an old jumping platform as well as a jumping rope. There was no holding them back, they had to explore it. Christopher carefully walked the partial crumbling platform and took a good look. It was high and he was not so sure he wanted to jump anymore. Eventually he overcame his fear and jumped off the 25 ft high platform and hit the water with a big splash. He was screaming with excitement. In the mean time John had made his way up to the platform and was gazing down. The fear got the best of him and he retreated back down with a look of defeat on his face. The disappointment was quickly replaced with the thrill of the jumping rope. We stayed for a while until they where tired from climbing back up the rocky cliffs for the next jump. Finally we got back on the river and ended our journey at 50/50 Rapids after about 37 km of paddling. It was another beautiful campsite perched up on a rocky ledge next to the river. The area was well cleared, just a perfect spot. Road access was visible and the site looked well used. We put camp up for one last time and one last camp supper. The boys were looking forward to getting off the river and returning to the electronic world while Deb and I were enjoying a glass of wine while supper was cooking. We were tired from the long paddle and by 9:00 pm we were all sleeping.
We took it easy this morning, since we only had about 20 + Km to go and I was not so anxious to get off the river, we slept in to 6:30 today. During breakfast we discussed whether or not to run the CL III called 50/50. We all went to scout it and decided this was a good rapid to take a chance. I went down first with John; we did OK until we hit the big waves on the bottom. We progressively took on more and more water as we progressed through the wave train until we were filled up and capsized at the end of the run. Deb did not fair any better, she actually got side ways and rolled the canoe over in the first big wave of the last drop. We had a great time and wished we could have stayed there for a day and run it over and over again. While I loaded the canoe the kids jumped in the waves and let the current push them down river, it was nice to see them having fun. Once the canoes were loaded we proceeded down-river for our last three major rapids Tight Right, Manitou and Rock Jam. We did not scout Tight Right (#46) and had no problem but we took a good look at Manitou Rapid (#48). The waves in the main shoot were too big for a loaded canoe but I noticed on river-left a possible route. John and I went for it, but ended out too far to the left and got temporarily hung up on a rock. We jostled the canoe off the rock and made it through the rest of the rapid fine. Deb did not like what she saw, and opted not to run it. This give me another opportunity to do it right this time. Chris was the bow pilot and we had a perfect run. Next came Rock Jam (#48), again the waves where too big for us to run so we opted to line/lift over. This was a cool area so we took advantage of it by having lunch right next to the fall. From that point on the river picked up speed and was almost a contineous CL I rapid with an occasional CL II for almost 12 Km. We enjoyed the ride all the way down to the Black River Inn (14 Km). We pulled out from the river at 4:00 PM where we saw our first human in six days. We initially planned to go all the way down to the Waltham Dam. But since there were no more rapids, the crew decided to get off one day sooner and take a shower and a cold drink was worth giving up the last 25 km.
General Impression of the River:
Nice clean river with mostly sandy bottom. Current kind of slow especially in the meandering sections. There is a logging road not too far from the river and hearing trucks driving up and down the road is a bit distracting from the wilderness experience. On the other hand the access to the road provides shuttle opportunities and rescue options. At the water level we had (I guess average plus) I felt that most rapids were runable and interesting. Beside the portage at Mountain Chute all other portages are not difficult. When Hap mentioned steep or very steep, he really means it. Both options (the 300m or the 1000m), at Mountain Chute, required rope at least a 100 feet long. We combined overnight sites with portages to reduced extra loading and unloading of the canoes; this give us the impression to have less portages and also spared us from roasting in the sun on the sand bars. The insects were present, especially the horse flies! Beside the Mountain Chute portage area the mosquitoes were not too bad. The camp sites are many if you like sand bars, but the best sites thought were on the major rapids. We only found thunder boxes at Rapide de la Targie and 50/50. Rapide de lOurs has a camping site, it is a bit off the trail on top and on the top of the ridge it also has three portage options. The only water level problem we had was just before the Black River Inn. At this particular location the river becomes very wide, but we did not walk or drag our canoes at any place.
NOTE: All Rapides # and Km are per Haps book.
The fly into Lac St Patrice was nice, we felt the thrill was worth the $, but for much less a shuttle service is available from John Peron, owner of the Black River Inn as well as other outfitters in the area.
Canoes used were Rx Wenonah 17.5 Cascade and 17 Spirit II.
Hap Wilson's book "Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley". The maps are very accurate and nothing else is needed.