Wednesday, September 10th
Sunrise on Hale Island
Norm H readying his canoe
Everyone enjoyed a restful night. Wayne started a campfire to ward off the nits and mosquitoes while breakfast was prepared and consumed.
The calm water reflected the shoreline and the day offered sunny, ideal conditions to paddle through the myriad of narrow channels and islands. Through the purling mist, we tracked our canoes down the French River, travelling silently in harmony next to the pristine, unspoiled landscape. Fishing boats near Huntington Island displayed river etiquette by slowing down prior to their approach. At the end of an island, high in a towering pine tree, thick limbs supported an enormous aerie where a young osprey could be seen frantically moving about, perhaps impatient for its next meal.
At the next island, we met a group of 15 eager youths getting ready to depart eastward in their aluminum canoes. As we followed the left side of Jeune Marie Island, a blue heron lurched from its perch and soared in circles ahead of us until we reached the point leading to Commanda Island. An osprey was spotted gliding for prey along the shoreline of a nearby island - perhaps the parent of the young osprey we had just seen in the nest.
Due to the unforeseen health situation of one of the group members, learnt only days before our departure, the initial plan to paddle around Eighteen Mile Island was scuttled. Instead, we reverted to a backup plan already established - we agreed to run some of the rapids on the Main Channel and then backtrack with ample time to trip the Little French River.
Norm H & Wayne running First Rapids
After passing Lochaven Wilderness Lodge, we found ourselves now on the Main Channel of the French River – the current provided a great float while the shoreline was walled with granite and wide, sweeping curves. We approached First Rapids two km later where two fishermen were standing patiently in their boat waiting for that big strike. We ferried out into the fast current and flushed ourselves down the first set of rapids with great exhilaration, followed by an outwash over sparkling gravel and small stones at Second Rapids. At Third Rapids, Wayne & Norm H nearly hit a hidden rock and broached sideways momentarily – some quick paddling techniques righted the canoe back into the current. At Rainy Rapids, the course took the form of an S-shape with boulders, ledges, drops and strong undercurrents. Convinced that there would be too much risk in one area of the rapids, we portaged R3P80.
Ariel view of Double Rapids
Norm R & John passing through Double Rapids
Rounding Pt Edward, we approached Double Rapids and decided to run the main channel, paddling down the center and through a cluster of standing waves, dodging the large boulder on the left and side-slipping to the far left. In doing so, the crosscurrents snatched at our paddles and teetered our canoes from side-to-side on the cresting whitecap – just another reminder of our vulnerabilities.
Ariel view of Blue Chute Rapids
Blue Chute Rapids during the spring
We let our canoes drift, suspended in a surreal calm, as three turkey vultures silently soared among the air currents. The roar of Blue Chute Rapids could be heard in the approaching distance – this has to be one of the most popular rapids on the Main Channel for canoeists. During the spring runoff, the water level is about 10 feet higher because of the 90-degree right turn in the course of the river as the chute squeezes the river water into a narrow channel. We marvelled at the high water lines etched on the shoreline rocks, attesting to their height and strength. It was easy to conjure an image of the thundering and surging water, and of a maelstrom chocked with ice that could crush any canoe.
Norm H & Wayne thru the "V"
Through the "pitch of Blue Chute Rapids
John & Norm R at end of Blue Chute Rapids
We paddled across the mouth of the chute to lay up our canoes upon the rocks and climbed the rocky gorge for a better assessment of the rapids. After the irrevocable decision to enter the fast moving flow of the v-shape through the chute, we bucked in surging waves through the downward pitch to open waters – the run was completed in short order as a result of the steep gradient, but we still "whopped with glee" at the rejuvenating experience. Crossing the eddy line, the canoe bows quickly returned upstream along the river’s shoreline. We went for a well-deserved and refreshing swim at the foot of the rapids in an eddy current.
A well-deserved swim
Drifting with the current, the river was very much alive and the pace quickened as the river narrowed – hundreds of small potholes made during the spring run-off over eons of time could be seen in a particular bluff – very eerie indeed, but also fascinating!
We spent time at a gorge scouting its currents and two pillows situated close together and concluded that there would be too much risk in running it. We returned to the Blue Chute campsite; however, before reaching the put-in, the remnants of someone’s sneakers were observed crushed against some rocks on the riverbed. A sober reminder that this river demanded respect!
Top view of Gorge
View of the French River on top of Blue Chute Campsite
We pitched our tents up on a high, rocky escarpment with the Blue Chute Rapids on one side and a picturesque view of the French River on the other. Ample leftover firewood was available, but it was unfortunate that previous campers had to cut down living trees and tree limbs from this sparse area. No privy could be found, so our garden spade was utilized. The temperature was 35 C and with the mosquitoes and nits out in full swarm, the need for a swim on the upper side of the escarpment was intensified. A rock formation offered an ideal place to jump and dive off of into the clear, deep waters - heaven!
Tranquility transformed the campsite as we stood on the escarpment to view the rising yellow-orange moon that seemed no further away than the back of the next ridge and its ragged outline of shrouded trees situated just above the chute. We flopped into our sleeping bags, grateful for another warm dry night. However, sleeping with the sight and sound of roaring water reinforced the feeling of living in a state of perpetual turbulence.
Copyright by Norm Hooper, December, 2003 http://canoestories.com/french_river