Saturday, November 8, 2014

BLOG 78. Nine Adventurous But Not Death-Defying Canoe Trips

BLOG 78. NINE ADVENTUROUS BUT NOT DEATH-DEFYING CANOE TRIPS
by
Cliff Jacobson

When someone asks me to share my favorite places to canoe, I usually hesitate.  After all, one person’s treasure is another’s trash. I like my rivers brimming with wildlife and rapids. And the more remote, the better. But not every paddler shares my love of adventure. Most prefer quiet, easy routes without death-defying rapids and grizzly bears.  So, as a nod to them, I offer these beginner/intermediate level routes which are remote and adventurous but seldom death-defying. Naturally, high water, low water or no water can change the difficulty. The routes are arranged in order and rated (my rating) on a scale of 1 to 10 for difficulty. By comparison, Arctic rivers like the Hood, Burnside and Coppermine would all rate 10.

1.    Buffalo River, Arkansas: Picture the river in the film “Deliverance” and eliminate all rapids that rate above low Class II (advanced beginner).  Add beautiful sandy beaches,spectacular vistas and free-roaming elk. The Buffalo is a federally protected river and one of the few U.S. rivers that allow you to camp and build fires (no fire-pan required) anywhere. There is no development along the route, which will be enjoyed by all skill levels. Canoe rentals are available. You must do this river in early spring if you plan to canoe the upper part near Ponca—which is the most interesting part and the only section that has rapids. Cliff’s rating: 1
Buffalo River, Arkansas. Typical small rapids
 
Buffalo River, Arkansas
2.   The Frost River, Boundary Waters Canoe Area . The Frost River flows out of Frost Lake, which is accessed off the Gunflint Trail. If you follow the main river (my book, “Boundary Waters Canoe Camping” details the route), and take only essential portages, you’ll enjoy a very remote and satisfying experience. The river flows into Little Saganaga Lake. From there, you can circle east and south back to Round Lake and your awaiting car. The river is narrow and shrouded by bluffs—well protected from wind and ideal for solo canoes. There are some small rapids that may be canoeable.  Portages are rigorous but short. Of all the trips I’ve done in the BWCA, the Frost is by far, my favorite. Important! You must do the Frost early in the season when the water is high. Go in low water only if you like to walk. And bring a lightweight canoe! Cliff’s rating: 1
 
Frost River, BWCA
3.    The Steel River is located in northern Ontario, about 15 miles from Terrace Bay. It empties into the north Shore of Lake Superior. I first paddled the river in 1974, with three friends. We had home-built wood-strip solo canoes with two-piece spray covers. The trip is described in my book, “Expedition Canoeing”. There’s a perfect mix of large and small lakes and meandering streams and rapids—and they can all be safely paddled in small solo cruising canoes. Most Canadian rivers are too big and powerful for the little canoes I love to paddle. The Steel is “just right”. You can do the river as a circle route (Santoy Lake to Santoy Lake) or end at the bridge that spans the Deadhorse road—about 30 miles above the Santoy take-out (recommended). A car shuttle can be arranged in Terrace Bay. Be aware that some of the portages are killers—notably the first one from Santoy to Diablo Lake. A lightweight canoe that is capable in rapids is a MUST! None of the rapids rate over Class II, though some are very long. If you love solo canoeing, the Steel will challenge but not overwhelm. A “Steel River Circle Route” trip guide is available from the Ministry of Natural Resources in Terrace Bay. Cliff’s rating: 3
Steel River. Jim Mandle, left; Cliff, right. Cr. Gary McGuffin

4.    The Fond du Lac River is located in the northwest corner of Saskatchewan, just below the Northwest Territories. The draw is trophy fishing, spectacular campsites—many of which are on sandy eskers that run for miles—easy to moderate rapids and few portages, and no other canoeists. The country is fairly open so you can hike for miles without getting stopped by thick forest.  Charter float plane in and out. Northern Saskatchewan rivers are noted for their generally light rainfall and minimal bugs. And the water is warm enough for swimming—or for safety if you capsize. Paddlers should be competent in (long stretches) of class II rapids. As northern Canadian rivers go, the Fond du Lac would be ranked as “easy”. The Fond du Lac is a great “starter route” for those who want to experience the flavor of the far north. Cliff’s rating: 5
Manitou Falls, Fond du Lac River
5.    Cree River, Saskatchewan. Located just below the Fond du Lac, the Cree offers similar scenery and phenomenal fishing. It's not as pretty as the Fond du Lac but it is more remote. The Cree is basically “all river”—only a few scattered ponds provide a flatwater experience. The big plus is that there are no portages. Not one! Rapids rate from riffles through Class II. Some continue for more than a mile. Spraycovers aren’t needed; it’s generally easy canoeing, but you must have basic whitewater skills.  Begin at Cree Lake (headwaters of the Cree). End at Wapata Lake or Black Lake. Charter float plane in and out. See my article, “Canoeing the Cree For Trophy Fish”, on my web-site, www.cliff-jacobson.com.   Cliff’s rating: 5

6.    The Rio Grande River, Texas is not at all like the pictures of it you’ve seen in western movies. The river flows through the Chisos mountains in Big Bend National Park.  Huge hills and deep canyons abound.  Camping and open fires (a fire-pan is required) are permitted anywhere.   There are a lot of rapids on the Rio Grande, some are huge! Go in February when the water is low and the whitewater is manageable in well-paddled open canoes. You can drive to the put-in and the take-out.  Nix worries about Mexican bandits; electronic American eyes are on patrol! Note: Rob Kesselring and I will be guiding a trip on the Rio Grande, Feb. 4-11, 2015. Rob has done the river ten times! Contact Rob (rob@robkesselring.com) for details. Cliff’s rating: 5

Mariscal Canyon, Rio Grande River/Rob Kesselring paddling

Rio Grande River
7.    Noatak River, Alaska.  Here’s a remote river for those with limited whitewater skills. Expect spectacular scenery, easily canoeable rapids and no portages. The river flows through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) so expect to see caribou, muskox, grizzlies, wolves and more.  Access and egress is by charter airplane from Beetles or Cold Foot Alaska.  Pilots won’t carry hard-shelled canoes on the pontoons of their airplanes so you’ll need a folding canoe or raft. The Noatak is well above the Arctic Circle so the weather can be dicey. High water changes this ordinarily easy river into one that will earn your respect. Plan accordingly! If you paddle the lower river to Noatak Village when the salmon are running, encounters with grizzlies are common. You would be wise to bring a gun.  Note: Rob Kesselring and I will be guiding a trip on the Noatak River, July 18-26, 2015. Contact Rob (rob@robkesselring.com) for details. Cliff’s rating: 6

Noatak River, Alaska

8.    The Kopka River is located about 100 miles north of Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Access by float plane (15 minute flight); egress by car. The draw is the spectacular scenery and magnificant waterfalls (11 of them!) which are more characteristic of Alberta than Ontario.  The Kopka is small and narrow, with excellent campsites and fishing.  Rapids usually rate Class II or less. Portages are infrequent and not too difficult, but they are very interesting.  For example, one requires you to drop your canoe 75 feet down a broken cliff face on a mountaineering rope. A new rope was recently (2013) installed. Bring lines for each end of the canoe and a few carabiners. The lower Kopka terminates in what my wife Susie calls “The Land of the Lost”. It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring places on the planet. I’ve canoed the Kopka eight times—it is one of my favorite rivers. Paddlers should have a practiced back-ferry and be capable in technical Class II rapids. Portages aren’t marked or maintained. You must know how to read the river! Cliff’s rating: 7
Kopka River. Looking upstream at the Falls that flows into the "Land of the Lost"
Kopka River/upper river
North Knife River, Manitoba--trophy class fish!

9.    If you’ve ever wanted to canoe to Hudson Bay (what paddler hasn’t?) the North Knife River (Manitoba) is the one to do. Begin your trip on North Knife Lake 160 miles from the Bay.  From the river’s mouth, arrange boat or air transportation to Churchill, 35 miles away.  Warning:  Canoeing Hudson Bay is very dangerous!  Expect trophy fishing and polar bears (!).  Bring a satellite phone and a gun! Highly experienced paddlers only.  Access is by float plane from Thompson, Manitoba; egress by train from Churchill. The North Knife is the toughest of the rivers on this list. I've canoed it three times and it is one of my all time favorites.
                 Cliff’s rating: 8

XXX





Friday, October 31, 2014

Take a Kid Canoe Camping!

"Children are born naturalists. They explore the world with all of their senses, experiment in the environment, and communicate their discoveries to those around them."  The Audubon Nature Preschool
We need more kids in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  Families are the future of canoeing and discovery will pave the way with paddles held high.  At Piragis Northwoods Company we value this future and nurture its growth each summer.  That’s why we stock things like drop in seats and kid’s paddles.  That’s why we make sure the old T-grip no-nonsense straight shaft paddle is available — so that kids can feel like they belong in the canoe and are a vital part of the trip.
No one wants to feel like extra baggage.  Kids don’t want to be in the way, they want to be part of everything.  They have a deep and burning desire to learn by way of application.  Discover by doing.  They want to help pack, carry stuff, and set up tents and equipment.  Most of all they want to explore.
Kids make great ambassadors for wilderness camping too, because you better believe they’ll tell their friends!

I love this picture because you can tell my friend’s daughters are having fun.  They packed fun clothes to have a fun time and they got the most out of their trip.  The colors reflected from the sun on the water behind them deliver the beauty of Summer’s waning hours.
If you’ve got questions about taking a family trip we are happy to help you plan it.  There are family-friendly routes for all ages and we have guides that can make your first trip into the Boundary Waters a smashing success if you want to go that route :)
Most of all we want to say, take courage, introduce your kids to the Boundary Waters early and they’ll thank you for it later.  They’ll find adventure around every bend and under every rock.  In the middle of it all, they’ll discover a love for canoeing, camping and wilderness in ways that we could never hope to pass on through suggestion or encouragement.
They fall in love with the outdoors by experiencing it.
Call Drew or Adam today to talk family trips with the Outfitting guys at Piragis Northwoods Company.  1-800-223-6565
Let’s try to change this mostly true assessment of our times by Wendell Berry:

"Our Children no longer learn how to read the great book of Nature from their own direct experience, or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water come from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens."

2015 Boundary Waters Lottery Dates

Just received the 2015 Limited Lottery Dates and Go-Live Date from the Forest Service for the Boundary Waters:

The limited lottery will be open for applications on December 16th, 2014 through close of business January 13th, 2015. The lottery will actually be run on January 15th and results will be released by January 21.
The lottery includes only the following entry points (letters D, F, and G are day use motor entry points):
·         D Fall Lake and Beyond;
·         24 Fall Lake (both overnight motor and paddle);
·         25 Moose Lake (both overnight motor and paddle);
·         F Moose, Newfound, and Sucker;
·         G Basswood over Prairie Portage

The Go-Live Date for all entry points will be January 28, 2015.

Monday, October 20, 2014

BLOG 77. How to Make a Tumpline For Your Canoe

BLOG 77. MAKE A TUMPLINE FOR YOUR CANOE

Canadians love tumplines. Americans generally consider them torture devices. I just love ‘em! And I wouldn’t own a pack without one. The tump snugs my pack tight against my back and keeps it there—a plus on the level and when ascending hills (it doesn’t work on downhill slopes—the opposite of a hip belt). It takes the weight off my shoulders and transfers it to the strong muscles of my neck. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t stress my neck or hurt at all. I submit that those who badmouth tumplines either haven’t tried them, or they haven’t adjusted them correctly. You can’t just put on a tumpline and go. The strap must be adjusted exactly right for YOU.  Every “body” is different and what works for one won’t work for another. Increasing or decreasing the length of the tump strap by as little as half an inch can make a BIG difference in comfort.  And so does where you place the strap—it goes about two inches above your forehead, not on it. It should not jerk your head back. The “pull” is directly down from the top of your head through your neck.  When I was guiding trips in northern Canada, I always took time at the first portage to show everyone how to fit a tumpline. This paid rich dividends over the long haul. I observed that nine out of ten people who tried the tumpline—and learned to use it right—refused to carry a pack without one.  But some people are like the eighth graders I used to teach: if they don’t get it instantly, it’s not worth learning!

On a similar note, I should add that people in underdeveloped countries have, for thousands of years, carried heavy loads on their heads or in packs supported by tumplines.  The Sherpa’s rely on tumplines exclusively—and these guys portage heavy gear up mountains for a living.  Back in the 60’s, a major pack company gave several high volume mountaineering packs to some Himalayan porters. The porters cut off the shoulder straps and installed tumplines. And of course, African women often carry loads on their heads that weigh nearly as much as them! Need I say more?

What works on packs, works on canoes too. The tumpline described here can be adjusted to reduce the weight on your shoulders from zero to 100 percent.  A 50 percent weight reduction is a comfortable way to go. Unlike rigid leather straps, my trampoline-style tumpline won’t strangle you if you step into a hole. It stays on the boat but it can be removed with one hand in seconds. Here’s how to make one:
             
Trampoline style tumpline. To remove the tump, reach across your body with one hand and disconnect the front strap (S-hook) and peel the canvas back. That's all there is to it!
You’ll need a rectangular piece of canvas, two rubber truck straps and four steel S-hooks.  Snake the straps through wide sleeves sewn in the head piece, and snap them to holes--or loops of parachute cord strung through holes--in the gunnels, shown in the photos below.  Head piece dimensions aren’t critical: mine measures 12” x 18”.
           

Shortening the loops of chute cord tightens the rubber straps and transfers weight from your shoulders to your head; lengthening the cords does the opposite.  I adjust the rig to carry about 60 percent of the weight on my head.
           
If you tire of the tumpline while portaging, just reach overhead and unhook it--and bear all the weight on your “Minnesota” yoke.  You’ll have to set down the canoe to hook up the tumpline again. 
           
In recent years, tumplines have come under fire, largely by Americans who don’t know how to use them and won’t take time to learn.   However, “head carries” are the rule in third world countries, though shoulder straps and hip belts were here before Rome.  Efficiency is the mother of tradition, as any tump-toting Sherpa will attest.  Try a tumpline on your canoe and see if you don’t agree that things go easier  when you use your head.  

XXX





Friday, September 26, 2014

BLOG 76. The Real Dangers of Wilderness Travel Aren't What You think!

BLOG 76. The Real Dangers of Wilderness Canoe Travel Aren’t What You Think!
by
Cliff Jacobson
Karl Ketter, of the famous "Ketter Canoeing" family once said that the useful life of  a canoe trailer is 7 years. The tongue on this one broke while driving 60 mph on the road to LaRonge, Saskatchewan.  The trailer was 10 years old. 
In 1974, I made my first big river trip in Canada. Five friends and I canoed 200 miles down a network of connecting rivers—Groundhog, Mattagami, Moose—to James Bay, Ontario. It rained every day for 10 days; the river was flooded, the bugs were bad, the rapids were long and difficult and the scenery was unimpressive. One of our canoes (that was not tied up) floated away and went over a 10 meter falls. It was damaged but fortunately, it was field-repairable. There were two capsizes, but they weren’t serious. I awoke every morning fearful that some new death-defying event would emerge that day.  But in retrospect, our problems were due more to our inexperience than to real dangers that lurked around the bend.

Flash forward to 1984 and my first Arctic canoe trip (the Hood). I prepared by reading every canoe book in print, not once, but many times.  I envisioned miles of huge, pounding rapids (there were!), giant lakes with ice cold water, charging grizzly bears, hoof-stomping muskoxen and storms that would shred my tent. I had heard that in the days of aluminum canoes, there was about a five percent death by drowning rate on the barren lands rivers. I didn’t want to add to the statistics! The good news is that we would use Royalex canoes which should provide an edge in rapids. Still, fear of the unknown was always there—so much so, that I considered taking out an extra life insurance policy in the event that my worst fears were realized.
 
Mouth of the North Knife River, at James Bay, Ontario. We were sitting on top of a decrepit goose hunting shack when we photographed this bear.
Fact is, just about everyone who probes the unknown has some fear (at least at the start) that their skills won’t meet the challenge. “Fear”—call it mild trepidation—is nature’s way of getting one to slow down and think clearly. Mild fear heightens your senses, keeps you focused, keeps you alive!  I’ve seen signs at the head of rapids along some U.S. rivers that remind people to urinate in the water, not on land. Whitewater paddlers jokingly rate the rapids by the number of urination stops: A one pee rapid rates about high Class II, a two pee rapid rates III-IV. Fear decreases with experience and proficiency. As paddle skills and judgment increase, dangers decrease, ultimately they just become a problem to be solved. It’s similar to learning to drive: Whizzing along at 70 mph is scary at first, but the threat goes away as you become a better driver.

Many of my non-canoeing friends think I’m nuts when I tell them I’m going to canoe hundreds of miles down a remote Canadian river where help is an airplane ride away.  They think I will drown in a rapid or get eaten by bear. When I said I planned to canoe the Rio Grande River—and sometimes camp on the Mexican side—they were sure that drug-crazed bandito’s would do me in. And when I announced my plan to canoe 130 miles across the Everglades, I was warned about man-eating alligators and pythons. They were sure I’d get eaten by a snake! 
 
A campsite along the Fond du Lac River, Saskatchewan. It was 9 am when this big boy strolled into camp!
Truth is, what folks who don’t canoe in wild places generally perceive as  “dangers”, aren’t. Drowning in a rapid is unlikely, being killed by a wild animal is even less likely. Sure, it can happen, but it’s so uncommon that it would likely headline the national news. This, when thousands of people die each day while driving cars and barely receive token mention in the press. In all my years of canoeing, the closest my wife Susie and I have come to dying on a canoe trip was: 1) when a float plane nearly ran us down while taking off on the Bloodvein River, Manitoba. He was going too fast to shut down and too low and slow to clear our canoe. He dove for the weeds and a pontoon missed our heads by a yard. (2) We were snugged against a high bank along the Thlewiaza River, in Nunavut, Canada. There were thousands of caribou on the bank above us. The alpha male was strutting back and forth looking for a place to cross the river. He didn’t see us below him when he jumped into the water. His hooves missed Susie’s head by about a foot!
 
The closest I've come to dying on a canoe trip was when my wife, Susie and I were nearly run over by a float plane along the Bloodvein River, Manitoba. Photo courtesy of Rob Kesselring.
Here are the most common dangers you are likely to encounter:
1) A bad storm that threatens to shred your tent or flood your camp. 
2) Falling and getting hurt while portaging—I once broke my wrist and sprained an ankle.
3) Making a long, open-water crossing on a big, cold lake where a capsize will probably be fatal.
4)    Capsizing in a rapid and losing or damaging a canoe or gear.
5)    Swamping—and wrapping--a canoe while lining it down a rapid.
6)    Canoeing in an area where a forest fire rages all around.
7)    Getting lost in a remote area where help is an airplane ride away.
8)    Running out of food on a long trip.
 
Forest fire along the Seal River, Manitoba. This photo was taken shortly after we landed
The bottom line: DO expect to experience some mild fear when you first venture into the unknown. It’s a healthy feeling, one that will help grow your judgment skills. Your fear will dissipate with each new trip you make, and after awhile you’ll be as comfortable and confident “out there” as you are at home.  

Cliff Jacobson
www.cliff-jacobson.com


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