Dave and Helen Damouth
July 27 - Aug. 1, 1986
The trip to Verendrye was a last-minute decision. We had been there once eleven years ago, but had no maps, no current information, and therefore no preplanning of our route. We left Rochester at 10:20 am July 26, entered Ottawa at 3:15, and arrived at the south park entrance at about 6:00 pm. We checked into a motel just outside the park and then drove on up to Le Domaine (another 33 miles). We acquired a park map and spent a couple of hours struggling with the French, asking questions of the ranger, and studying the bound set of topographic maps. After sleeping on this information, we drove back up in the morning, spent more time studying the maps, and finally registered a route, payed our fees, and headed across the street to buy topographic maps covering the area we would be in. We then drove another 70 miles or so north to our starting point (this is a BIG place).
About the time we arrived at our launching point, we realized that we had done a lot more driving than anticipated, and hadn't been paying much attention to the gas gauge. The last gas station we remembered seeing was back at Le Domaine, 70 miles away, and the gauge was already in the red. The car is new, and I don't have much feel for how much is left. Too late to do anything about it now. Something to worry about all week!
We intended to launch on the Ottawa river below the dam where it exits Dozois Reservoir. On arriving, we found discrepancies between the trails and launching points marked on the map and the actuality, and were unable to find a portage to below the rapids (impassable in an open canoe). Given the pressure of time, we changed our route slightly and launched at Dozois campground at the Northwest corner of Dozois Reservoir, skipping the Ottawa river section. Just across from the campsite is an Indian village, and there were numerous Indians, roaring up and down the road in their mini-ATV's, fishing, and just generally standing around.
By this time it was 3:00 pm and we had frittered away most of a bright sunny day. We headed down the reservoir, making several brief stops to organize maps, look at the scenery, etc, and stopped at 6 pm at a campsite on the first portage (around a dry stream bed marked "navigable" on the park map), having covered about 9 miles. This campsite had a comfortable picnic table with a half gallon of Coleman fuel sitting on it. A heavy wooden fishing rod case was neatly wrapped in plastic sheeting and semi-concealed in the brush. A nearby blueberry patch yielded enough berries to save for breakfast. We built a fire, opened the wine, and grilled a pair of excellent steaks - the last fresh meat for a week.
During the night it clouded over. We ate blueberry/cornmeal pancakes with brown&serve sausages, and watched the clouds get thicker and lower. We got underway about 11 am, as mist and drizzle began. We walked the 150 m portage trail, launched into Lake Allance, portaged 250m to L. Efrit, portaged 500 m to L. Transparent. This lake lives up to its name - the water is remarkably clear, and we decided to try to arrange our schedule so as to camp here on the way back. Portaged 400 m to L. Thalie, then 1.2 km to Grand Lake Victoria, arriving about 2 pm. The previous lakes were all small. (All portage distances are crude approximations scaled off the topographic maps. Distance are not usually marked on the park map, the paths are not straight, and the paths are generally are not shown on the topographic maps).
Grand Lake Victoria is typically half a mile wide, but is about 40 miles long, with several long branching bays. We saw only a small part of it. We paddled about 10 miles down and made camp in the rain at 5 pm, after choosing the least bad of three rather poor sites. The one we chose was apparently the site of a logging camp around 20 years ago. It had been clear-cut and bulldozed down to bare sand, and the second growth forest was just beginning to take over again. I found a broken catepillar tractor tread at the edge of the clearing. Just as we finished cooking supper, the rain suddenly became so strong that we had difficulty keeping the fire going. We went to bed shortly after dark, and listened to rain drumming on the tent most of the night.
We stayed in bed until 9 am, listening to the rain and speculating on the sanity of people who deliberately subject themselves to this kind of abuse. Finally, we decided to pack up and move on. We ate a cold breakfast under the rain fly, packed up, and got underway at about 11. Soon after leaving, the rain stopped. It remained overcast for the rest of the trip, but only sprinkled lightly and occasionally. Fortunately, it was warm.
We paddled down Baie des Missionnaries (called Eagle Bay on the English maps), portaged 800 m. to Graham L. and stopped for lunch at a nice blueberry patch, where we again quickly picked enough for tomorrow's breakfast. We portaged 150 m. to Perch L., 50 m to a small lake, 100 m. to Chartier L. and made camp at 6. These last two portage were shown as a small chute and a class 2 rapids which we hoped to run, but both were impassable due to low water levels. This is one of the spots where the campsite marked on the map was non-existent. After searching unsuccessfully for the official site, we found a flat spot in the forest just big enough for the tent, cleared some brush, and had a cozy and comfortable camp.
Wednesday we were up at 7:15 and underway by 8:40. The wind was strong from the North and increasing. We hoped to get all the way to L. Transparent today, which meant bucking headwinds in a long open stretch of L. Grand Victoria. We decided to try anyway, knowing there were campsites along the way which we could duck into if we got stopped by wind or waves.
The first part of the morning was down Riviere de la Baie, from L. Chartier to Grand Lake Victoria. The map shows several rapids. The first two had too little water to run, and we portaged on easily-found trails. If anyone wants a free snowmobile, we saw one partially submerged in the middle of one of these shallow rapids.
The third was a beautiful class II, about 100 yards of fast black water, with just enough boulders to instill respect - easy and fun. A few minutes later, the roar of water ahead became audible over the wind. When the white water finally came into view, it looked very dubious, but we pulled in to the portage and rock-hopped along shore down the 200-meter length of the rapids scouting a route, finally deciding it looked possible if we hit everything just right. It starts out with a fast chute just wide enough for the canoe. It is class III most of the way - rougher than anything we have ever tried before. After verifying on the map that we would only have to bushwhack a few kilometers out to a forest road when we destroyed the canoe, we portaged the packs across, unloaded all loose gear, stripped down to shorts and T-shirt and put on the life jackets, fully expecting to take a bath half way through.
I pulled the canoe along side the portage landing, climbed into the back, sat down, and promptly did a slow roll into the water. Here we are preparing for running a serious rapid, and I capsize at the dock! I drained the canoe and started over, climbing in very carefully. Helen boarded uneventfully at the other end and we pushed off into the current to meet our destiny. Out here on the water things look much different than from the elevation of shore. The river dropped so fast that I couldn't see anything beyond the first lip. We couldn't even identify the entrance to the first chute we were supposed to enter. We guessed wrong and grounded on a submerged boulder off to one side of the chute and just short of the falls. What a start! I probed with the paddle, discovered the water was only waist deep and the current managable, climbed out, and was able to haul the canoe backwards against the current and off the rock without getting swept off my feet.
At least we knew where to go now. We backed into calm water, reviewed the plan, and set off again. We hit the chute right, accelerated violently, ferried across to the line into the next passage, crashed through the standing waves, and then things started happening so fast that I have no idea whether we followed our planned route or not. Suddenly we were in calm water looking back, with memories lots of prying and drawing to miss the boulders. Somehow, after the false start, we got through dry and without touching another rock. We pulled up at the portage, and after thinking about going back up and doing it again, decided not to push our luck, reloaded the gear, and proceeded downstream. Soon after, we came out onto Grand Lake Victoria and settled into a 2 1/2 hour paddle, about 12 km up wind, to the next portage. The wind had shifted a bit to the east, so by skirting the east shore we were able to avoid the worst of the wind and waves.
Part way up the lake we saw a log in the water near shore a few hundred yards ahead of us. Then I noticed it was moving away from shore, and realized that it was moving cross-wind out into the lake. As we got closer, a pair of knots on one end resolved into ears. By this time we were fairly close, and the log turned to look at us and became a black bear. We stopped and watched, and the bear looked us over then continued on a straight course out into the lake. We looked back and checked its progress as we continued, and when we lost sight of it, it was a third of the way across the lake and still going. This was an impressive swim since the lake was about 1 km wide at this point.
About 1.5 km of portaging, broken in the middle by a small pond, brought us back to L. Transparent where we made camp at 6:30, tired from a long hard day.
Thursday was a lazy lay day. We slept late, read, explored the lake, enjoyed the wildlife, and burned a small mountain of firewood. I finally found time to practice on the soprano recorder I brought along. These campsites were all so seldom used that firewood was available a few steps away. Most of the easily available wood was spruce and cedar, which was only a problem the night we needed hardwood for grilling the steaks. Birch is great firewood, but because of the moisture-retaining bark it rots almost immediately after it falls.
Friday, we were up at 7, on the water at 8:30, retraced our route back out to Dozois Reservoir and paddled back to our car, arriving at the car around 1 pm. Just before arriving back at the car, the clouds started to break and we saw our first sunshine in five days. We loaded up and started worrying about running out of gas. As it turned out, there was an inconspicuous gas pump at Auberge Chez Dorval, only about 20 miles down the road, where we thankfully filled up (at 57.9 cents per liter = $2.19 per gallon).
We made it down to Ottawa in time to find a hotel, clean up, do some sightseeing, and have a relaxed dinner. We had excellent Italian food at a sidewalk cafe while being entertained by a variety of street musicians, jugglers, etc. Later, we went to another restaurant (The Hayloft) and had superb desserts and coffee.
Saturday morning, we ate breakfast in one of many french outdoor sidewalk cafes - croissants, fresh fruit, cafe au lait, etc. After more wandering and shopping, we took a tourist cruise on the Rideau Canal, and then headed for Rochester. Ottawa is a delightful place to spend a couple of days, and can be reached from Rochester in about five hours. We stayed in a decent hotel within walking distance of the central area for $42 Canadian, including free parking. (Towne House, with AAA and CAA endorsements and a 3-star rating in the Ontario Tourist Board booklet). We walked in on a Friday evening with no reservations.
A pair of spring clothes pins, taped to the aft thwart, makes an excellent map holder. A map, folded to fit a large ZIP-LOC freezer bag, is held snugly at just the right postion. I generally left it there while portaging, and it fell out only once when I bushwhacked through an overgrown trail and a branch caught it. I haven't yet found a satisfactory way to implement a map holder for the front seat.
We were very glad that we packed a rain fly - it got a lot of use. Ours is just a 10' x 12' piece of 4 mil polyethylene with improvised grommets in the corners. Plastic clip-on grommets can be purchased, which do not pierce the poly sheet and are quite strong. We had around 150' of rope, a mix of 1/8" and 3/16" diameter nylon and 3/16" polypropylene. Between stringing the fly from (sometimes distant) trees and hanging the food, we occasionally used it all.
Again, it was so easy to boil a few quarts of water each evening that we never drank untreated water and never used our iodine tablets. I suspect that the water is quite safe up here, but the only cost of the insurance was portaging full rather than empty canteens.
>From observing the campers at Dozois, I suspect the fishing is very good at many places in the park - we didn't take equipment.
Except for the swimming bear, we saw no large animals. We saw bear tracks on one portage trail, and moose tracks on most of the trails. Loons provided entertainment on most of the lakes. Many other kind of ducks were seen. The park is supposed to have wolves and coyotes, but we neither saw nor heard them. We had none of the usual problems with mice, chipmunks, squirrels, etc. Apparently these campsites are used too seldom for these critters to become tame.
Eleven years ago, we had problems with an aggressive bear in Verendrye. Since then, we are told, the park management has tried hard to eliminate the problems. Garbage dumps have been eliminated, and bears which are seen near campsites trapped and transported far away or sold to roadside zoos. The traps were described as "large tomato cans on wheels". Apparently, the bear climbs in after bait, the door slams, and someone hooks the whole thing up to a trailer hitch on a truck and drives off.
Gas in Canada is now quite expensive compared to the US. The cheapest unleaded we saw was around $.439 per liter, which is $1.66 per gallon. Tank up before crossing the border!
We found granulated maple sugar in the Farmer's market in Ottawa. Now we can have maple syrup on our pancakes again! (just add a little hot water and stir).