Saturday Sept 13
At 5:30 am, rustling could be heard in the vicinity of Wayne’s tarp – we learnt later that Wayne’s alarm clock sounded inside his backpack - unfortunately, the clock was still in snooze alarm mode and moments later, Wayne had to crawl out of his tent again to turn it off.
Everyone enjoyed a good rest despite occasionally slipping downward on sloping tent pads and enduring a very warm night. The historical beauty of the French River was all encompassing and stirred visions of a water system used for centuries - first by the indigenous First Nations people who lived across the channel, followed by the numerous convoys of Montreal canoes traipsing up and down the French en mass, sinking their paddles in unison into the black water, their songs echoing throughout the channel as the mighty voyageurs ran the oft-dangerous rapids. It has been a thrilling experience to be able to relive history and touch the country’s past so directly by canoeing the same streams and rivers, walking the same portage trails, and camping on the same shores as the fur brigades did so long ago – we are so fortunate that the French River is a protected Canadian Heritage river.
Early morning on Upper French River
Dawn was breaking with a clammy mist enveloping our campsite. Several loons stirred as fish jumped out of the water to catch their morning meal. The pre-dawn sunrise was beautiful with its pink and purple hues reflecting upon the sparse clouds and, in the distance, a fishing boat could be seen crossing the channel.
It was a bright, breezy morning with clear skies and no sign of rain as we departed the campsite, enjoying a relatively leisure paddle among the islands towards Chaudiere Dam. A danger sign posted at its entrance discouraged us from viewing the dam and its gorge.
Norm H & Wayne at portage on Portage Bay
The portage L9P600 from Portage Bay was in excellent condition – after crossing the fire road, we stored our gear and canoes at the river’s edge on Bruce Bay. Above and below the bridge, we explored the rushing river with its ledges, drops, and rapids and enjoyed the majestic scenery. Wayne and Norm H decided to indulge in a swim before departing. A man and his wife in a motorboat fished in a small bay at the end of the rapids – they had put-in at Woolesly Bay, so we knew that there were no further portages for the remainder of the day.
Drifting with the current, we approached four adult mergansers with their fourteen ducklings, the latter trying franticly to fly away, only to flap their wings and run upon the river’s surface for short distances. A blue heron flew out from a cove on the opposite shore, aiming towards the rapids.
For a moment, an eerie sensation could be felt as we drifted on the gentle current next to the mysterious granite walls – there was a profound scarcity of sound. We allowed the current to guide our canoes through the narrow, Cradle Rapids, but there were no rapids, just the current. Passing in and around bends, we came upon four fishing boats with guides and their passengers from the USA at the entrance to the Upper Chaudiere channel.
We stopped on Boom Island to view the campsite, only to find empty beer bottles and broken glass as well as two fallen trees within the tenting area. Norm H spotted a two and a half foot long water snake crossing the river towards the campsite. The snake, with radiant colours down its side, stopped on a slanted rock when it sensed his presence; however, when the others came closer, the snake returned to the clear water and hid under a large rock lying on the riverbed. Not to disturb the snake any further, as we had already infringed on his territory, we left the area.
We paddled under a slight breeze until we set up camp on Hale Island again with the intention of exploring the Restoule Falls. Before departing, Norm R found the elusive privy, which resulted in Norm H blazing the overgrown trail for easier access.
Norm R, Norm H & Wayne entering Restoule River
Norm R, Norm H & John across from canyon wall
The foot of the Restoule River consisted of a large rock garden with small channels of water finding its way in and around the boulders and eventually out into the bay. We left our canoes and started to leap frog upstream until we located a rugged, twisting trail. Darkness began to descend as we continued to explore - high canyon walls caused our voices to echo and resound high above. Beyond the high 50-foot walls, tall solemn pine trees grew along the upper wall’s edge. The atmosphere became exciting. We could hear the roar of the falls and the rush of the rapids as we climbed further into the interior; and when they came into view, it was exactly what we had anticipated. We were like kids in a candy store – we couldn’t wait to climb into the waterfalls, holding ourselves firmly as the water pulsated over our bodies – a natural spa. We also jumped into the water pool at the base of the waterfall and experienced the strong current pulling at us every which way. At a second overflow, we all sat close together on a ledge and tried to prevent the water from passing through, but without success – there was just too much force. We were positive that our shouts echoed down through the canyon and beyond out into Kesa Bay – this venture was the highlight of our trip. Before returning to our canoes, we gathered enough dry wood for the evening campfire. Unfortunately, we located a campsite at the base of the river with beer bottles spewed everywhere - it was time for a cleanup.
Norm H & Norm R sitting in waterfall
Wayne swimming in waterfall pool
With time on our hands, we paddled further into the cove and traversed over a beaver dam within a dried up narrow that led to a vacant beaver pond. Upon returning to our campsite, we washed out our canoes and enjoyed a leisurely swim.
At the base of the steep embankment where we stored our canoes and climbed up to our campsite, Norm H cut away two overhanging pine limbs considered a safety hazard for anyone passing by with or without equipment – no longer did we have to crouch down and sneak under the limbs. The cutting of the limbs actually enhanced the appearance of the tree and the put-in area. With the cut limbs, Wayne and Norm H used them to sweep the campsite clutter of woodchips, pinecones, etc into piles for burning that evening – stewardship of the land and waterway is of uttermost importance, and as conservationists, we transformed this idyllic campsite and gave it a deserved "no trace" treatment.
We stood on the threshold of two worlds that evening as we enjoyed the almost surreal glow of the campfire as its shifting flames created bizarre shadows amongst the trees. We watched the heavenly activities of a speeding satellite spacelab, a meteorite and the red and green twinkling of two stationary satellites, acting as "modern-day sentinels" on either side of a very vivid Big Dipper, and most likely used for GPS purposes.
Copyright by Norm Hooper, December, 2003 http://canoestories.com/french_river