Trip coordinator, Tim Turnner (Nessmuk)
May 25-27, 2002
Tim planned this trip due to the lack of bugs this time of year in Ontario, especially black flies, and because Scott and Tammy had never done a trip like this with the kayaks. He would have liked to do something in the Adirondacks but figured the black flies would eat us alive.
Seven intrepid boaters and one mellow yellow lab started on Saturday noon from Seeley's Bay Ontario, about 3 hours north of Syracuse, NY. The put in was a nice quiet dock with great little grocery and hardware store near by and ample safe parking. Beware the promised public restrooms, they were so substandard as to be nonfunctional. After a short paddle through a channel dodging the occasional powerboat, we emerged onto Whitefish Lake and started to make our way north up the channel.
The Rideau Canal is a chain of lakes, cuts, and locks between the Cataraqui and Rideau rivers linking Kingston, Ont. with Ottawa. Tim explained that we were headed "upstream" for most of our trip, and this meant that green buoys and red buoys marked the left and right limits of the channel respectively. We used these buoys to keep our course but we paddled parallel to them to keep out of the way of powercraft. All of the powerboats we encountered both slowed and gave us a wide margin; they were very kind. At the head of Whitefish Lake we came to our first set of locks at Jones Falls. There were four locks, each lifting about 10 feet. The locks are very cool. They are built of wood, iron, and stone and look just like the original ones. Each gate is worked by hand and the lock is flooded via several large winches. Jones Lock has some living history type thing going on that looks cool now that I read about it. I didn't see much from under the canoe. We were too cheap to pay for the ride up, and mindful of the fact that it can take two hours, we carried around on an easy path, set our boats into Sand Lake and stopped for lunch at a shaded picnic table.
We had some wind and chop as we worked our way up Sand Lake. We stayed well West of the channel to use some islands for wind breaks. We hopped upwind and made it to Davis Lock without much trouble. The Rideau Canal web page indicates that camping is allowed for groups at the locks for $10 Canadian. The lock keeper wanted more but we settled on $12.
This is not a wilderness trip. Each lock has flush toilets, picnic tables and BBQs. We made dinner and it rained a little but we just moved in under some trees and let it pass. Later that night, I am told that it rained hard. We stayed dry and woke to a cloudy sky on Sunday.
In the morning the lockmaster said he thought it would stay overcast or get worse, so we made sure our rain gear was near the top of the pack. From Davis we faced a two-mile push over Opinicon Lake to Chaffey's Lock. Again we worked up the West shore hopping from the cover of one island to the next peninsula. This was the hardest part of our weekend; we had wind out of the West and we took some water from the whitecaps. We worked ourselves well upwind of the channel and then turned downwind and zoomed, surfing on the waves. When we made contact with the North shore we found a swampy area with just enough water in a narrow channel to let a canoe through. Eureka! there was Chaffey's Lock. The Lockmaster there asked us "Are ya goin' to portage eh?" One of us said, "No we are going to carry the boats over." After lunch at Chaffey's we headed up through a cut into Indian Lake and then into Clear Lake. The wind was still there, but less of an issue. When we entered Newboro Lake we decided to stop for a rest as the sun broke out. We found a great little island with a picnic table and fire ring. We stayed for a small nap on some moss and had a snack. After our siesta, we got back underway and had a nice downwind reach into Newboro Lock.
We made camp at the lock after paying the $10 (no problem here) and made dinner. After dinner we went into town. The first bar I tried was not my kind of place, it might be fine for you. At the second bar, a cool old hotel, I new I was home. Tim and I ordered two Newcastle Ales and I put $10 Canadian on the bar. The fellow who poured the beer looked at me and said "Oh that 'il be twelve bucks eh." Our jaws hit the bar, but on reflection that is an OK price with the rate of exchange.
On Monday morning some of us took our time getting out of bed, fed and on the water. Some of us got going. I would rather wait in the canoe than sit around in camp. We went up the cut onto Upper Rideau Lake, the height of the canal. Our destination and trucks lay in Westport, a village with a large galvanized church steeple you can see from almost anywhere on Upper Rideau. We made the crossing to the West shore and rounded the point to see the steeple. After making it to the dock we retrieved our trucks and loaded our gear.
If you go:
1. Bring beer with you, or get it at the duty-free shop on the US side of the border. We blew by the duty free shop while trying to get our papers in order. We went to a state store (they don't let convenience stores sell beer in Ontario,) on the shuttle. The beer store had a hundred kinds of crappy mass-produced slop. I settled on a beer from Nova Scotia called Keith's Pale Ale. It was forgettable. You might think I am a beer snob, but I prefer to be called an "Ale Enthusiast."
2. The border was easy going up. At Canadian Customs we were asked where we lived, citizenship, and where were we going and why. I guess the canoe on the top of the truck lent some credence to my tale about camping on the Rideau. I handed him (without waiting for him to ask) a clipboard, with our licenses and birth certificates. This is a good idea, all of the info, right where he can see it and it won't get blown away. He asked about bait and weapons. I told him we each had a pocketknife, and that each PFD had a small knife on it. He asked to see the pocketknives. Coming back was different. It was Memorial Day. We were working our way east up 401 when a mile from the exit we encountered hundreds of cars stopped on the shoulder. There was a line several miles long to get over the bridge to Alex Bay, and US Customs. We decided to keep going east to Cornwall, and enter the US at Ogdensburg. This gambit worked and we got right through.
3. Sun. Memorial Day seems early, but in three days on the water we took plenty of UV rays. Even with sunscreen we got a bit burned. Use your sunscreen early and often!
Camping at Locks is cool. Hot tap water and flush toilets.