Friday September 12
The day began with the call of a whippoorwill and a moon still sitting high in the western sky; soon, pink and purple hues appeared on the easterly treeline - the reflections of the trees became very distinct upon the Little French River. While preparing breakfast, we could hear the sharp hooting of a barred owl deep within the woods across the river. Then, without notice, there was the ‘rat-tat-tat" sound of what seemed like scattering rifle-fire on the reserve side of the river. We concluded that it was the crashing of a falling tree amongst others as it found its final resting place upon the forest floor.
With mist still waffling, we paddled against the river current, quickly reaching the bend in the river where we walked our canoes over a riffle. We dug deep and paddled hard against the swift under the main bridge that led into the reserve, then out into calmer water where residents at four camps courteously greeted us as we passed.
On three occasions, between the bridge and Free Flow Channel, we were required to haul our canoes over shallow riffles, their swift channels too strong to paddle through. Traipsing over the slippery rocks and flowing current proved challenging and near tumbles into the water was a common experience. We passed fascinating protruding rock formations, our imaginations depicting faces and objects amongst the shadows that would immediately change shape and disappear as we passed by– reminiscence of paddling through the Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park.
Free Flow Channel
Top of Free Flow Channel
We could hear the thunder of rapids in the distance and upon rounding a sharp bend, we came face-to face with Free Flow Channel – the view was vivid and unbelievable. The opening between the high gorge walls was extremely narrow and caused the compressed water to churn and spew through with enormous force. At its base, the gorge widened transforming the water into rapids and strong, curving currents in the small cove – once out of the current and into the eddy line our canoes were easily drawn towards the gorge. We could not get sight of a portage on the Crown land to the left due to the high canyon walls. We were skeptical to use the reserve, but R8P40 was the only path available to reach the top of the gorge. Wayne and Norm H hiked to the top edge of the gorge ledge and viewed the turbulent, thundering water. They could feel and smell the spray of water in the air. The overall distance of the gorge was about 500 feet in length, somewhat disappointing in comparison to the map. At the top of the channel, we exchanged greetings with several fishermen in boats before proceeding on the now wider Little French River.
We skirted amongst the islands, stopping at one to rest and have another swim. The 35 C heat and blazing sun was beginning to take its toll – there wasn’t a whisper of a breeze. We passed a privately owned island where a luxurious four-season home was still under construction. Our pita bread, beginning to mold, was broken into pieces and fed to numerous seagulls. It was amazing to see four or five gulls fight over one piece when so many other morsels were floating around them.
A sense of serenity and timelessness enveloped us as the fabulous scenery changed dramatically around each bend. Nearing the end of the Little French River, four turkey vultures were soaring, gliding, turning and swooping among the wind currents, their wingspan reaching out to at least six feet in width.
The wind picked up, coming at us at varying directions challenging our steering abilities. Upon entering the Upper French River, homes and cottages started to appear. We stopped on Concord Island to verify our map before paddling furiously into stronger winds and bigger waves across the open channel to the southern tip of Wright Island. Once in the lee of the island, we backtracked to explore its only campsite – it was far too rocky with insufficient tent pads. The next campsite on Russell Island was suitable and we had a great view of Sand Bay, the Upper French River, and many rocky islands with sparse trees growing on them. We decided to install the flies on our tents as dark clouds rolled in and the wind increased its velocity, threatening rain; however, the clouds soon dispersed and the sky became clear and sunny.
Russell Island Campsite
Norm H swam to a small island in front of the campsite and laid claimed to it under protests from the others who were rewarded with a "mooning" as a show of defiance.
Norm H staking claim to an island
The moon appeared with an orange glow and then lightened as it rose in the sky while the stars, large and in clusters seemed almost within reach. The flickering glow of our campfire competed with the descending dusk while its smoke hung in banks and wisped over the water. On the opposite shore of Sand Bay, two campfires illuminated the hardwoods around them and reflected v-shapes upon the still, river surface.
Copyright by Norm Hooper, December, 2003 http://canoestories.com/french_river