7th July – 10th September 2017
Our expedition from Rossport on Lake Superior to New York City has come to an end but all good things have to finish sometime. It’s been a fantastic trip, we have seen some amazing scenery, paddled on some huge lakes, along some interesting rivers, through some extraordinary locks and met lots of local boaties at play on these great waterways. It’s been an expedition of multiple contrasts. Every day had its own challenges, every day the scenery changed, every day we learnt something about the country and the people.
It hasn’t been a doddle though, we have worked hard to cover nearly 2800 kilometres in 66 days which was a day shorter than my original schedule. It was the continuation of a trip I started a few years earlier when I paddled 3600 kilometres from the Canadian Rockies to Rossport, in Lake Superior, near Thunder Bay
It was probably an ambitious plan for a 66 and a 64-year-old to paddle 2800 kilometres ‘Across Canada’ but I had been paddling for 43 years and already successfully completed many longer expeditions in Australia and had paddled 19,000 kilometres on 5 long trips in North America so I had a good chance of succeeding. For my partner John, he had been paddling competitively for the last ten years and although this was his first long trip he had the stamina, the endurance and the will.
The route. Stage 2. 2017.
To achieve our goal we paddled in 30 lakes and passed through 120 locks, paddled up rivers and down rivers. We fought against the current, the wind, the rain and a huge amount of boat wash and all these elements stirred up the water that we were paddling on. Some days though it was so calm and warm and with the glare of the sun it virtually put us to sleep whilst paddling. Unlike in Australia where the sun goes from the east to north to west, in Canada and the US it goes from east to south to west. We were heading south and east most of the time directly towards the sun which was often quite dazzling.
The first and second stage of the trip across Canada.
Although we experienced so much and brought home so many great memories the fact that we were able to paddle 6 to 10 hours, 36 to 60 kms a day for 66 days at an age of 66 years and not feel any stiffness the following day is certainly one of the greatest things I have achieved. This would have been easier if the kayaks were empty but we had to be self-sufficient and carry everything. With all my clothes, camping gear, food, water, trolley and electronic safety devices I was carrying around 80 to 85 kgs in the kayak and that didn’t include my own body weight. When we first started we carried 25 days of food (25 to 30 kgs) as there were limited opportunities to resupply. The difference between paddling an empty kayak, to one with 85 kilograms of gear inside was massive. Just to get the kayak moving was a huge effort and hugging it up the shoreline was often near impossible.
Some of the gear I carried in the Epic 18 kayak.
5.48 m x 55.88 cm wide (18′). 3 watertight compartments and rudder. 19 kgs – Composite hybrid of fiberglass, carbon fibre, and kevlar.
Apart from camping at locks on the two canals for 10 nights, we only camped in a proper camping site with toilets 5 times. The 51 other nights we camped in the bush.
Equipment list at the end of story.
None of these safety devices and electronics were on the market when I did my 100 day solo trip along the Kimberley Coast in 1982.
The satellite phone was very important for emergency use. With the spot locator we could send our position home or to Dan in Thunder Bay every night. The Personal Locator Beacon, the spot locator, my camera and other safety items, knife, signalling mirror were always in my PFD and worn all the time.
Loaded ready to go. Lunch time at one of the thousand islands in Lake Huron.
My kayak was an Epic 18x fibreglass/carbon 19 kg kayak with 3 compartments, and a rudder. I had used this kayak on the previous trip. John bought a plastic kayak in Thunder Bay. It had 3 compartments and a rudder and although it was at least 11 kilograms heavier it was more durable than the Epic when dragging it over all the rocky shoreline.
John’s kayak was a Boreal, (plastic) 3 compartments and rudder.
To have John (64) on his first big kayaking trip by my side was great. Not only did he keep up the pace, he set the pace and he sometimes drove us on further than we had planned to go. There were a few days that I wished he would stop paddling so we could camp earlier and give me more time to make camp, write my diary, post the day’s events on Facebook, check the maps, have dinner and have a more relaxing evening before it got dark. He also appreciated the scenery, the people and everything around us which was important as there would be nothing worse than having someone with me being bored on such a trip. And appreciating everything around us helped us to keep motivated and interested in the trip.
One of our priorities was to keep healthy which really meant washing regularly, reducing the chance of insect bites and looking after all parts of our bodies, as well as preventing blisters on our hands and looking after our feet which were in soggy booties for 66 days.
We wouldn’t get scurvy in the time we were away but our diet was important as we needed enough energy to get us through 8 or more hours of hard paddling a day. However due to the isolation we were limited to foods that would keep and that would stand up to being pushed into tight places of the kayak between the rest of our gear. Our diet consisted of cereal or porridge oats for breakfast. Tortilla flat breads, cheese slices, jam or peanut butter for lunch and instant pasta or rice meals for dinner. We often finished with a small tub of fruit for sweets and sometimes some chocolate. Between meals or as an energy lift we ate muesli bars, nuts, raisins, trail mix and jerky. These were also used for lunch at times when we didn’t have any flat breads. John also enjoyed bananas and sardines. (We both lost weight during the trip. John lost 5 kgs and I lost about 7 kgs. John’s coming home weight was 55 kgs and mine was 69.3 kgs).
Nuts, dried fruit & muesli bars were often lunch and nibbles throughout the day.
Although Lake Superior and Lake Huron water was very fresh we still boiled or purified it just in case.
On the non wilderness rivers we made sure we boiled or purified or tried to use tap water as much as possible.
Pasta and rice dishes were not the most tasty of meals but they were quick to cook.
We carried a minimum of 10 days of food until right at the end but we started off carrying 25 days of food and I always liked to carry around 15 days of food with me all the times.
For 66 days we were isolated from world events as we heard no news. We were truly in our own world, especially the days we saw no-one. It felt good but when we returned to Australia it was strange to catch up with all the local and world events but for some of the news items we will never know they happened.
Lake Superior Cliffs.
Every stage of our journey had something to offer, the first and second sections on Lake Superior and Lake Huron’s, North Channel and Georgian Bay it was the beauty and the isolation and not knowing what the weather was going to throw at us on these great lakes which seemed to have a weather pattern of their own. High cliffs, massive waterfalls, super clear lake water, calm bays, hundreds of islands, rocky outcrops and shores, rock formations, beautiful beaches and historic sites had us spellbound every day. We experienced thick fog, calm conditions, wild seas, sunny days and driving rain but we only lost one and a half days of paddling because of bad weather which was amazing considering the bad reputation that these lakes have. The majority of boat owners wouldn’t venture on these lakes, especially Lake Superior due to the threat of bad weather and suicidal conditions. Even owners with large power boats we met later couldn’t believe we paddled Lake Superior. It was as if it was this forbidden land. If we had only managed to paddle a section of Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world, we would have been happy as the scenery was so stunning, the beauty so overwhelming, it was like an expedition of its own.
Our journey started in Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior where my friends Dan and Cheryl lived. I had met Dan and Cheryl on my previous 3600 kilometre expedition ‘Across Canada’ and they were storing my kayak and other gear for me for my return. Their home was our base for a few days to enable us to check over my kayak, for John to buy a kayak, to put 25 days of meals together and to buy paddling and camping products that we hadn’t been able to bring with us.
John, Cheryl, Me & Dan.
Our actual starting point however was at Rossport, a small community on the lakes edge protected by islands 185 kilometres east of Thunder Bay. We were lucky enough to have Dan and Cheryl drop us off, they had picked us up and taken Alaine, Leone and me back to Thunder Bay on the previous trip.
The start at Rossport.
Saying goodbye to our friends, who we probably wouldn’t see for many, many years we left the shoreline at Rossport and were instantly hit by the beauty of the islands and the coastline we were following. On our first night we found what we thought was a long-deserted beach but a four-wheel track at the other end allowed 3 people to come down, sit and enjoy a pizza. With half the pizza not eaten the man came across and asked if we wanted it. We couldn’t refuse. It was hard to believe that on our first night out we were sitting in a wilderness on a beach watching the sun go down eating pizza.
Coastline near Rossport.
Pizza delivery in the middle of no-where.
The lake was quite calm for the first few days so heading across bays and out to the Slate Islands Provincial Park 15 kms off the coast, where herds of caribou were said to roam was quite pleasant, however when reaching the islands the weather soon changed as storms started to file through.
From previous experience the lake can be like a millpond one moment and a disaster zone the next. I have more respect for the worlds’ largest lake than most oceans of the world. The average water temperature in the lake is 4.4 degrees so a capsize and a few minutes in the water could be fatal. I had a couple of very quick dips in the lake on my previous trip and there was no way I could stay in the water for more than a few seconds.
Lake Superior is not only the largest lake in the world by surface area, it is the largest body of fresh water on Earth. At the deepest point it is 400 metres and is about 257 kms wide, about 563 kms long and has a surface area of 82,100 square kms. The shoreline measures 4,385 kms but we were only paddling 550 kms of it on this trip.
Pic Island further along the coast was another place we had the chance to see caribou, but we didn’t, we met four paddlers instead of which three were beginners. They were doing a 30 km plus circumnavigation of the island from Coldwell which we thought ambitious for novice paddlers who were having a few issues in the calm water. On the other exposed side of the island the water would be extremely rough by the time they got there. We wished them luck, which we thought they would need.
They told us of a campsite between some small islands across from Pic Island and because we had scheduled to paddle less kilometres in that first week we decided to find the camp fairly early in the day. (John had been touring around Europe by RV for 3 months so we didn’t want to over do it). On reaching the islands to our astonishment there was a current just like a rapid running through the islands. To have a current on a huge lake seemed really strange. It was quite fun paddling down a tiny rocky rapid in a lake and then to follow the flow through a narrow channel and to our campsite. Just as we had made camp we noticed the current started to flow back in the opposite direction. We threw a few sticks in the water and watched them go back and forth with the current every 20 minutes or so.
The water level in the lake increased and decreased in this section like a tide and creating small rapids over the rock bars.
The calm of late afternoon on Lake Superior.
I was pretty used to paddling in all water conditions but the next morning there was a white out. Extremely thick fog had rolled in over night so we couldn’t see much more than our kayak’s bow in front of us which was certainly a different experience.
We had a big bay to cross over to reach the town of Marathon so I set a compass bearing rather than using my GPS. It was like paddling blindfold. I could see how people could go in circles in such a white out. If it wasn’t for my compass guiding us we would have certainly gone in a totally different direction. It was a pretty eerie paddle and when we hit the coastline it just appeared out of the blue a few metres ahead of us.
Thick fog as we crossed a bay by the help of a compass.
Thick fog but at least it was quite calm.
Although we had enough food to get to Wawa and we hadn’t planned to stop to shop before then, it was always best to resupply when the opportunity arose so we paddled over to the Marathon boat ramp, took a walk to town, had some fast food and coffee and did a bit of shopping. John who loves snacking was extremely happy after the fast food meal.
The fog was still thick when we left but we were hoping it wasn’t going to hang around for too long as we were passing some spectacular scenery and coming up to the Pukaskwa National Park, a large wilderness area bound with a significant amount of inlets, bays, cliffs and sandy beaches, and a paddler’s dream coastline. At the night’s camp the coast was covered by a multitude of flowers some just poking out in the cracks of the rocks.
At one campsite the shores were littered with wildflowers.
We had camped early so checking out the flowers was really interesting.
We never saw as many flowers in one place than here.
Our maps showed a gap between the islands but when we attempted to go through it was blocked by sand and vegetation so we retreated.
Paddling through one of the many island groups.
The fog started to clear the following day which was perfect as we were entering the Pukaskwa National Park. Because we wanted to camp in the National Park we had to work out and pay for our camping spots back in Australia. This was the only part of our journey that we had to have planned before we got there. Knowing exactly what date we would arrive at the park was a tricky one but luckily after leaving Rossport we were able to keep to our schedule and entered Pukaskwa National Park on the right date.
The rangers told us that there were very few paddlers paddling the coast so we could choose whichever campsite we wanted to stay at, which suited us better as it meant that we could do more kilometres than we had originally planned or use a campsite that took our fancy at the time.
The park was big and remote, 1,878 square kilometres. There were no roads for miles once we left the park entrance so it was a place that bears do hang out. Black bears, moose, peregrine, falcons. lynxes and wolf packs are found in the park. Six years earlier when we were paddling Across Canada (stage one) we heard of a black bear attacking a woman 45 kms along the coast from the entry ranger station. The woman who had arrived with two others in a small boat was attacked whilst walking and suffered puncture wounds to her right side and lost a lot of blood but she was lucky enough to get back to the park station by boat and taken to Marathon Hospital. If a bear was to attack one of us we probably wouldn’t be as lucky, as it would be a long paddle to reach help.
The coastline in Pukaskwa National Park.
Rocky outcrops Pukaskwa National Park, Lake Superior.
On our first night we met a group of women camped on this long beach. They camped amongst the trees and we camped on the beach. To use the toilet we had to pass through their camp and every time I passed through they would be eating something special and they always invited me to help them eat it. I was having fun tasting their food but unfortunately John didn’t have the same luck when he passed.
The next morning we passed the group of ladies in their canoes struggling against a wind. We never did see them again after that. The coastline was just amazing, with steep cliffs, rocky shores, caves, coves and a multitude of islands. Six rivers entered beautiful coves some culminating with waterfalls. It was hard not to take photos. Camping spots were either on secluded beaches or tucked away in the forest but more importantly most were away from the direct swell of the lake’s waves which meant easier, safer launching. There was also a 60 kilometre walking trail that followed the coast but we only saw two people on it.
Sandy camping beach in the Pukaskwa National Park.
A group of ladies paddling along the Pukaskwa National Park.
A cave in the Pukaskwa National Park, Lake Superior.
We crept up the coast seeing the odd paddler or walker but most paddlers stayed within 30 kms of the park entrance so we were soon very much alone to experience the wilderness. Leaving a sheltered rock slab campsite in a small cove the morning sun brought out the rich colours of the rock and lit up the trees. It wasn’t the most spectacular scene, it was the clarity and stillness of the whole scene that was so surreal even John was lit up. Leaving that calm cove will stay with me forever.
The day had just started and we had already been treated to the great memories of leaving the cove but there was more treats to come. It wasn’t long before reaching the spectacular Cascade Falls, one of the higher waterfalls in the park that flowed directly off a cliff face into the lake. The water cascaded down two rock routes which were separated by rock and a bunch of trees. John paddled over to the falls enjoying the closeness and the beauty whilst I took several photos. We later landed on the rocky shoreline to capture the waterfall from a different prospective. It was hard to leave such beauty, but we still had the lighthouse on Otter Island to venture to.
What a day. So surreal.
Cascade Falls, Lake Superior.
Otter Island was a few kilometres across the bay but conditions were good so it was an easy paddle. We approached the island and lighthouse from the north end. The shores were steep making landing a problem but we managed to drag our kayaks onto some flattish rock. The bright red and white un-manned lighthouse and sheds looked a picture and what a view we had after climbing up from our kayaks. We were so remote, 80 kilometres from the nearest road. It was interesting to see the old machinery and cranes that were once used to bring supplies ashore due to the steep rock.
It was easy to paddle at a slower pace as the high rock shores with its variety of rock formations, rock structures and rock colours had us spellbound. The weather had been extraordinarily good and lake calmer compared with the month previous which we were told had rained and had been windy and wild virtually everyday in June. Having better weather we were able to meander in and out of the islands and bays in relatively comfort. Although we had only seen a few paddlers we suddenly met two large voyageur canoes a day apart with 12 paddlers in each.
It was an interesting shoreline.
We meet two voyageur canoes going in the opposite direction.
Lake Superior Cliffs.
We were still excited when we pitched our tents at our final campsite in the National Park beside the Pukaskwa River, a wilderness river that is sometime rafted by organised groups in high water levels. A kilometre trip up-river to the first rapid gave us a better idea of the flow and how scenic a river it was.
Not far along the coast a rock headland had a perfect side view of a face with a big nose. It instantly reminded me of myself. From here we expected the scenery to be less stunning but how wrong we were, the shores however after a days paddle were less steep but we still found some beautiful areas and sandy beaches.
Although we had moved out of the wilderness park the nearest civilisation was still 80 odd kilometres away and with this section of coast being used less by paddlers and boat owners, due to there being few bays and coves to gain shelter, we were really more isolated and had to be even more careful to keep safe. Although I was thinking more about being safe from the lake or the onshore environment or a bear at the time, it was a few tiny insects that were going to make my life a little more challenging in the days to come.
We were camped on this lovely beach and we couldn’t have wanted anything else to make our stay better apart from having reception to send a few messages. I decided to see if I could get mobile reception by climbing a nearby hill. The insects were pretty bad, possibly because of a swamp nearby, but I wore a head net so I was covered. Then I felt itchy around my face and neck but I thought I might have been bitten earlier and the heat was creating the itchy effect. But it wasn’t that – miniscule insects were getting through the mosquito head net and biting me. I didn’t think much of it at the time, not until a few days later that was.
Further along the coast we came to Dog River which we were told had a waterfall on it and worth looking at. We didn’t really know where it was so we paddled up the river to find it, but we were stopped by a rapid a few kilometres upstream. We retreated and camped back at the river entrance and once we were settled in we decided to try to find this waterfall by land. It was a hot walk on a faint track but after a few kilometres we came across the waterfall. It wasn’t the biggest waterfall in the world but it was worth the walk. A rope at the side of the falls had us intrigued so we used it to climb the rock cliff to check out above the falls. Well what a surprised we had at the top. We continued walking a few hundred metres upstream and found one of the highest waterfalls I have ever seen. Denison Falls was 40 metres high, grand, rugged and seriously impressive although the sun wasn’t in the best location to capture the most striking of photographs.
It has a nose like mine!
This rapid stopped us paddling up the Dog River. Denison Falls was a few kilometres upstream.
Denison Falls (40 metres) on the Dog River, Lake Superior, Nimoosh Provincial Park. Closest town Wawa.
What a great waterfall. My face has started to puff up from tiny insect bites.
Two days before reaching the shores near Wawa I was wondering why my eyes were closing. I thought it may have been sunscreen trickling in my eyes but by time we arrived at the Naturally Superior Adventure Centre where we camped, my face was puffed up like a blowfish. The chemist in town 12 kms away wouldn’t prescribe me anything, only to say – go and see the doctor at the hospital. I did and a 15 minute consultation cost me $520.00. Although we got a lift to town we ended up having to walk 9 kms back to the camp site with shopping in our hands before a First Nation lady picked us up. To put salt in my wounds, the doctor prescribed drugs that anyone could have bought off the shelf. The swelling went down after a week. Thanks to David from the centre for a lunch and a ride into town.
Leaving Wawa heading to Sault St Marie about 240 kms away we hadn’t expected to paddle a coastline with even steeper, higher and more impressive cliffs than what we had already seen. Mixed with a variety of different rock formations, sandy beaches we just couldn’t believe how lucky we were. And the weather was still good to us.
On the day we stopped at Devil’s Chair rock formation we camped at a beach that would rival any beach in Australia. A yacht was anchored off the beach and when we met the owner Steve he said he couldn’t move because a rope was wrapped around the yacht’s propeller and he needed help to get it free. The lake as we found was pretty deserted so he was happy to see us because he hadn’t seen another person for days. When he ask us to help I was a bit worried that I would have to jump into the freezing water and dive under the yacht and cut the rope free, however all I had to do was to pull on the rope as Steve put the propeller in reverse. Doing that the rope came free relatively easy so later we celebrated with a couple of beers. And it meant Steve could now continue his journey.
Cliffs south of Wawa.
Devil’s Chair Rock Formation, Lake Superior.
The wilderness just draws you in.
Near the end of the lake closer to Sault St Marie much of the shoreline was taken up with private dwellings which made camping difficult. When we couldn’t find any public camping, we asked a lady walking on a stretch of beach if she could think of anywhere. She suggested camping on their private beach which we were happy to do. This resulted in meeting Michelle and Rick, their son and two daughters and a friend Harriet from next door. Then there were the two dogs Gunner and Pearl. This also resulted in us having a shower, the first in 16 days, having a beer or two, a cooked breakfast and a take-a-way lunch.
Then after several glorious days thunderstorms raged which limited our movement and after coming to a big open water crossing we decided for safety reasons not to risk crossing it so we spent most of the day at a point watching the weather and the white caps. It never eased so we stayed put.
We found some great places for our lunch spots.
Taking shelter from a storm in the shade of a point.
We left Lake Superior by the St Mary River and passed through Sault St Marie and our first lock. A quick stop at the marina, a Subway foot long and a surprise meeting with yachty Steve, we were off paddling along a narrower waterway that eventually took us through to Lake Huron, which was the next lake to conquer.
Lake Huron didn’t have the same life threatening reputation as Lake Superior but it was still big and like any lake it can pack a punch when the wind picks up or a storm hits. Immediately on entering the north channel of Lake Huron it became apparent that this was a people’s lake as boat owners, water skiers, and jet skiers were zooming across the lake. In the most beautiful places boats lay at anchor as their occupants jumped into the water to swim and enjoy the environment. Two ten year olds were climbing a steep high cliff and jumping off it with their dad in a boat looking on nearby. They were having fun but it looked pretty dangerous to me.
Lake Huron is the second largest of the Great Lakes. It is 183 kilometres wide by 331 kilometres long with a surface area of 59,590 km2. A large bay that protrudes northeast from Lake Huron into Ontario, Canada, is called Georgian Bay and this is the section of the lake we were going to paddle via the North Channel. We were paddling about 550 kilometres of it.
To our dismay rain developed and we spent the next two days fighting the forces of nature. With the rain came the wind and rough seas making bay crossings that little more adventurous. At Thessalon we did a big shop for groceries, enough to last us over the next 15 days. I also picked up a tent pole sent from Australia as one of mine had snapped only a few days into the trip. We tried buying an evening meal but the restaurant was closed at 6.00pm instead we left the town after devouring our first famous cheap Canadian fried breakfast. We could certainly get used to them.
We followed the coastline for a day on the North Channel and then did a few days of island hoping to get to our next destination Little Current. The scenery wasn’t quite as dramatic along the way but it still had some magical places and island hideouts for yachts and power boats to anchor or take shelter. Finding and camping at some of these magical places made sure that our interest in the journey never waned. We had some tense moments though crossing some of the rough open sections between the islands. Sheltering behind some of the beautiful rich ochre coloured rock islands was not only a relief but they were pretty impressive.
A cabin on Lake Huron North Channel.
We had just crossed a very windy, rough bay so it was good to shelter behind such a beautiful rock in Lake Huron.
The islands were a safe haven for yachts and boats.
At the end of the North Channel we stopped at the small town of Little Current to eat fish & chips. We left the town just as the road bridge was being closed for traffic and opened to allow yachts with tall masts to get through. The bridge was opened on the hour if boats were waiting.
Within minutes we entered the bigger expanse of Georgian Bay and power craft and yachts had significantly increased. A solo lady on one yacht was having heaps of trouble with one of her sails. It was all tangled and she was fighting to untangle it without much success. She was in a bikini and looking well-tanned. I thought about paddling over to her to help her out like some sort of hero figure but that was just a dream as the yacht was too high to climb up on and she was going at a speed that I couldn’t reach.
On our way to our overnight destination on Heywood Island we passed a colourful lighthouse, come house on the end of Strawberry Island. It was one of many strange (to us at least) lighthouses that we had seen. Many large boats, the most we had seen on our journey were passing us by. Reaching Heywood Island it appeared that every boatie in the region had the same idea as us as the scenic bays and coves were taken up by every kind of boat and yacht. Those who had jet skis were zipping around, children and adults alike were swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding and just having fun. This was an aquatic playground.
Eventually with the help of a boatie we found a camp underneath a canopy of trees. It even had a long drop toilet, which was a great find when you have been squatting in the bush virtually every day.
From Heywood Island we headed across a bay and between islands to the scenic town of Killarney. The surrounding mountains were impressive but so was Killarney. It was only a small town but there were lots of marinas bursting with anchored boats. John was excited as his wife’s family came from Killarney in Ireland. Our mission was to land, send some unwanted clothes away, do some shopping and have lunch. The channel between the town and an island was busy with boat movements and at first we couldn’t find anywhere to land, then we came across a grassed area between two marinas which was perfect.
We had success in sending our unwanted clothes away to Jenny’s sister in the US but the local grocery store didn’t have many food choices being a tourist town. After fish & chips for lunch it was time to leave but once we had left the scenic and popular boating town of Killarney the boats all seemed to have disappeared.
We were near Killarney and seeing more boats than anytime on the lakes.
The channel between Killarney and an island.
The coastline at first still had some impressive rich red rock cliffs but not as high as the ones on Lake Superior. Further, hundreds of beautiful rock islands were scattered along the coast many were flattish and supporting limited vegetation. They were beautiful and most of the best looking islands were taken up with canoeists and kayakers, the most we had seen so far. We were searching for our own stunning campsite and eventually found one. We saw no other paddlers on the lake after that. With the absence of beaches the flat rock now made ideal campsites as we moved along Lake Huron, however although the camping on rock was cleaner, it was a lot more difficult to tie our tents down.
It was in Georgian Bay that we had to decide which way to get to Montreal. We had a choice of two ways. One was to paddle up the French River, which is supposed to be absolutely beautiful. However there were many rapids that had to be portaged and one long portage over a watershed from the French River to the Mattawa River which drained into the Ottawa River. On the Ottawa River there were several large dams with very long portage’s most stretching for kilometres. Information on portaging around these dams were scarce. There were also many difficult rapids to walk around, in fact the Ottawa River is a playboaters dream with some of the best and biggest rapids in the world. The Ottawa River would take us to Ottawa and then on to Montreal.
The other way to Montreal was to paddle the Trent/Severn Waterway (387 kms) and the Rideau Canal (202 kms). These two waterways were joined by a 130 km section of inland waters of Lake Ontario. This way we wouldn’t have to do one portage but we would have to pass through 45 locks on the Trent and another 45 on the Rideau which could take time. It would be over 200 kms longer but we wouldn’t have to do any portaging and hugging of gear which was quite appealing.
After some soul searching the Trent Severn / Rideau Waterway won out. These two waterways with 90 locks join a huge number of lakes and rivers together and is extremely popular with boaters and people who have a cabin on a lake and there are many lakes and many cabins and mansions on these waterways.
As most of my trips in Canada have been out in the wilderness I thought the Waterway would give us another view of Canadian living, leisure and play and we would meet more people along the way.
We were pleased to have chosen the Trent Severn waterway but we were also extremely sad when we actually passed the French River as it had a lot of voyageau history and extreme beauty but maybe one day I’ll be back to do that route.
Camping on the smooth rock was just heaven, although a little harder to erect my tent.
A calm evening on Lake Huron.
All the different type of rock was fascinating.
Lunch time. I love the rock.
An Otter swims out to meet us.
The coastline continued to surprise us with cliffs, bays, channels and rock islands. Even the colour of the rock and the seams in the rock were impressive. We met two fishermen in a boat and they gave us a fish. We were having trouble finding a camp site but eventually we did. To our joy someone had built a fire pit and left a wire cooking utensil so we were able to throw the fish on it and watch it cook without placing the fish directly in the fire. It was delicious and we were happy.
One day when we couldn’t find a camp we paddled nearly 60 kms. We usually try to do 40 kms plus. We have had thunderstorms, wind, hot days, cloudy days and one day about three days before leaving Lake Huron we got caught in a powerful thunderstorm as we crossed a bay. Then we heard a lady shouting and waving and calling us over to her cabin. We retreated back to her luxurious cabin and although we were extremely wet we were invited in. Her daughter fed us, we rested and chatted for a while and when the storm was over we carried on paddling.
The next day another bigger storm came through and that halted all activity on the lake including our paddle. The lake was suicidal. I was camped on top of a rock and my tent was being battered and how it stayed up I don’t know. I had used rocks to tie it down though. In the morning however I moved it to a more sheltered site. It was our first full day that we couldn’t paddle, all we could do was take short walks and watch the violent lake which was full of white caps. Being so remote I couldn’t send any messages although if we did get stuck we had the satellite phone to fall back on.
The calm before the storm.
We only lost one and a half days because of rough weather. Lake Huron.
The closer we got to the end of our journey on Lake Huron the more cabins we passed perched on the rocky islands, the mainland and on the most beautiful settings. Many were huge and others were your classic old cabin that had been there for years and probably been through several family generations. Although it was summer there were very few cabins that were being used. Even on the islands many of the cabins had power that was sourced from the mainland by under water cables. It must have been a costly business to have a cabin and only use it a few times year. There was also a big increase in power and sailing boats especially around the bigger communities.
After one month of padding on Lake Superior and Lake Huron we finally reached the Trent Severn canal/lake system and our first lock. The only world news we had heard in that month was the shooting of the Australian women in the US.
Although the scenery approaching the lock was quite marshy and low, beyond the lock however was like a new world with massive houses with million dollar views, mega huge boats and a lake so beautiful I could understand why people wanted to live there. On the down side though, it was very busy especially at the weekends so if you wanted peace and quiet this wasn’t the best lake to live on.
Crossing the lake we met an elderly man in a plastic kayak who told us we weren’t holding our paddles right. Put your hands close together, he said, then you will get much better leverage. I tried to say in a nice way that his way wasn’t the right way. A bit further a group of men on a boat gave us a beer.
At the end of the first lake we came to the Big Chute Marine Railway and it was mind-blowing. The railway lifted boats from the lower lake to a higher lake. Your kayak or boat sits on a big platform or in slings and it is lifted clean out of the water and taken up a big slope and over a hill and then sits you in a lake on the other side. What a great ride. To make our life even better we were allowed to camp at any lock for a small fee and camping at Big Chute gave us the opportunity to have an evening meal at a nearby restaurant which was real luxury.
A boat is taken up over the hill on the Big Chute Marine Railway and puts them in a lake on the other side. It was a innovative way to get from one lake to another. There are heaps of small marine railways around the Canadian lake system.
Trent/Severn Waterway is a number of lakes and rivers joined together.
A road is closed and turned to allow us to paddle into the lock.
We were seeing new things everyday. Every lake, every lock, every river was different but that’s what we had been experiencing the entire trip. When you think you know what’s ahead, around the next corner the scenery suddenly changed and that’s what makes our journey so exciting.
The canal was originally surveyed as a military route, but the first lock was built in 1833 as a commercial venture. The government had begun construction when the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 broke out. This led the government to re-examine the project, concluding that the route would have too many locks to allow rapid movement for military purposes. The final sections were greatly delayed by World War 1. By the time the route was completed it covered 87 years from 1833 to 1920 and its use as a commercial waterway was over. Today it draws thousands of boating visitors to use it every year. The total length of the waterway is 386 kilometres beginning at Trenton, Lake Ontario, to Port Severn in the Georgian Bay. There are 45 locks, (this includes the Big Chute Railway) and 15 swing bridges, with roughly 32 kilometres of man-made channels.
Further along the Waterway we camped at the Bolsover Lock, one of the many heritage locks along the way. Heritage locks are manually opened like they were when they were first built. This means most locks had several staff members to turn the handles that let the water in and out and open the gates. Most of the workers were University students working in their summer holidays and they were all very pleasant and eager to help us through the lock. Whilst in the lock we had to hold onto a steel cable that is covered by plastic irrigation type tube to stop us from floating around especially when the lock was filling and there was turbulence. We really didn’t need to hold on but it was a regulation. Camping at the locks felt safer that some spots we camped at along the way, although most of our campsites have been so remote there was little dangers of having intruders. To know we could camp at any lock meant that we could plan our day and know where we were going to sleep that night. The locks were well-kept, most had tables and a good grassed area to erect our tents and toilets so we could actually sit instead of squatting in the bush. Bolsover was a very peaceful place to spend the night and the sunset was impressive. To celebrate Canada 150, Parks Canada wavered the lock fee so it meant that we saved about $90.00.
We were able to camp at the locks in the Province of Ontario which was so good. Bolsover Lock.
At the Fenelon Falls heritage lock and where we camped was a very popular place for boaters to anchor overnight and enjoy a party atmosphere of the beautiful town and other boaties. Some of the people have huge million dollar boats but most stay within 50 kilometres of their home base. We often tried to get information of the waterway or town ahead from them but they usually knew little if they were more than 50 kilometres away.
The lock was in the middle of the town so it was easy to walk to the shops or to find a restaurant. We even bought a few beers and sat in chairs on our beautiful grassed area and just enjoyed the sunset.
The next morning we treated ourselves to breakfast. Three eggs, bacon, sausage, potato, two rounds of toast and all the coffee we could drink for $6.90. And it was delicious. You would pay at least $20.00 or more in Australia.
We had been beer free for a long time but after a hard days paddle they tasted pretty good.
Watching the sunset as we relaxed with a beer.
Boats at Fenelon Falls Heritage Lock. Party time.
When we left Fenelon Falls John started wash-riding one of the boats and keeping up with it for a while. It eventually took off when there was no speed limit. At the Bobcaygeon lock, the town after Fenelon Falls we talked to some people on two jet skis and several kilometres later as we were paddling past Gannon village a lady off one of the jet skis waved and shouted at us to go ashore. We spent one and half hours with Debbie and family being forced to drink two beers and have a mixture of foods for lunch. The fact that we had seen lots of loons, some amazing scenery, and met some great people we were on a high.
When we arrived at the Buckhorn Lock 53 kms from Fenelon Falls a lady gave us a beer and then the boat owner and wife who John had been wash riding came over to say they couldn’t believe we had paddled there that fast. And when they found out that we had paddled from near Thunder Bay, like most people they were amazed so they forced us to drink a bottle of good red wine and eat some delicious birthday cake around a great campfire. Thanks Brenda, Geoff and gang for making us welcome. And thanks to Debbie for lunch and the lady who earlier gave us a beer as soon as we got out our kayaks. It had been a big day, three beers, half a bottle of wine, lots of food and some cake. Then we treated ourselves to breakfast the following morning.
Even if we don’t meet too many locals in our day we always have the friendly lock keepers to talk to. They too were amazed with what we were doing. Many of the lock keepers radioed ahead to let the next lock know we were coming.
Every day the scenery and the waterway changed. Burleigh Falls near Burleigh Lock 28.
The loon was very much a part of our journey.
It’s not just the scenery that is making our trip so rewarding, it’s also the people we meet, admittedly when in the wilderness we see few people and that’s how we liked it, but on the Trent/Severn Waterway we were expecting to meet people which we enjoyed. Then there were the loons which serenaded us at night or when we passed them. What a lovely sound they made. The waterway also had some amazing structures that we encountered along the waterway. We had the Big Chute Railway, a change of height of about 18 metres which was super amazing, the Kirkfield lift lock, (lifts boats vertically 14.9 metres the second biggest lift lock in the world and now we were approaching the Peterborough lift lock, (which lifts boats vertically 20 metres) and is the biggest in the world.
The lift lock at Peterborough was pretty special. We paddled into it to find we were 20 metres up. Looking over the edge of the lock chamber down to the river below was quite an experience and a spectacular view. There are two chambers side by side full of water. When one is lowered the chamber on the other side goes up 20 metres and its a very smooth high ride.
Peterborough Lift Lock lifts boats 20 metres.
How many paddlers can you fit in a lock?
The local paddlers earlier in the year had a crack at a Guinness book of record attempt to see how many kayaks they could get in the lock. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCnCcCfNBJg
On our last decent lake, Rice Lake on this waterway we found a camping ground to stop at. We were camped right next to a Canadian Filippino family having a party. Within minutes they were asking us to join them for a meal and not only that one of the ladies insisted she cook us breakfast which she did. It’s surprising to find who is friendly and who is not. The people you think might be friendly are often not or vice-versa.
Reaching the last lock on the waterway was such buzz and I will never forget the experience. Not because we had gone through 45 locks and paddled 387 kms in 8 days and 5 hours, roughly averaging 45 kms a day, but because Ian, who opened that last lock gate at Trenton played ‘Men at Work’s’ song, ‘Down Under’ over the loud-speaker as we left the lock. It was one of those special moments that will stay with me forever as it was such a perfect ending and such a touching moment to a great paddle through the waterway. I was all choked up and emotional as I left the lock.
The lock doors are opened by the lady on the right turning the wheel.
The water is release or let in by the man on the gate using a handle wheel.
‘Men at Work’s’ song, ‘Down Under’ was played over the loud-speaker as we left the last lock on the Trent/Severn Waterway.
To reach the Rideau Canal from Trent/Severn we had to paddle along a 130 km inland section of Lake Ontario. After our 3 day paddle on the inland waters of Lake Ontario we approached the town of Kingston and the local sailors put on a fantastic show. There were 100 or more student sailing boats on the water but going nowhere because there was no wind. It was a colourful scene but we weren’t prepared for what was going to happen. All of a sudden all the small sailing craft were being towed in by power boats, most 5 at a time. They were coming from all directions across our path. We were passing by the marina that they were heading to. It was like a typhoon or something was on its way and they were trying to get away from it. It didn’t last long, the power boats had the majority of the small sailing boats towed to the marina in fifteen minutes. It was quite a spectacle and quite fun to watch. It was a bit hard taking photos in the wash though.
From the Trent/Severn Waterway to the Rideau Waterway was 130kms.
Sunrise on a section of Lake Ontario.
All of a sudden we had power boats cross either side of us pulling small sailing boats towards shore.
When we arrived in the Kingston town square it was busy with people, more than we have ever seen on this trip so far – there was life out there! It looked a really nice town. The city town hall looked pretty impressive and the busy park was the ideal place to have a break so we pulled our boats up the rocks and John went to find some food whilst I tried charging my iPad battery using the solar panel but the sun went in. It has been a bit hard to keep my iPad, my phone and my camera charged with a small solar panel when on the move and with little sunshine at the time we camped.
John walked back across the busy square in his booties and baggy shorts, and returned with a foot long Subway, a cake and a coffee. What a treat but it was much-needed as we started paddling at 6.10am to ensure we would have time to stop at Kingston and get to the first lock on the Rideau Canal to camp, a total distance of 49 kms.
Having a break near the Kingston Town Hall and park.
We paddled under many of these counterweight lift up bridges most a lot smaller than this one. A boat is about to pass through.
As we were leaving the square a remote-controlled speed boat stopped out on the river. It must have gone out of range of its controller so it was up to me to rescue it. It was heavy than it looked. The owner was very thankful to get it back.
That brings me to another point. At Kingston we are at a three-way cross-road. From here we could have taken a short cut to our ultimate destination, New York City by paddling a few days south on Lake Ontario and into the Eerie Canal which cuts off a lot of miles but we would miss out on a lot of country in Canada.
We also had the opportunity to paddle down the St Lawrence Seaway straight to Montreal but kayaks are not allowed in the huge locks that take the big cargo ships through so we would have had to portage them which wouldn’t be fun especially when you don’t know the areas. Some of the locks were also on the US side which would have created problems for us. The river authorities and large boats don’t like kayaks on that stretch either.
Our preferred route though, although longer was to take the Rideau Canal to Ottawa and then paddle down the Ottawa River to Montreal. So this is what we did. We reached the first lock on the Rideau in good time to camp on its green grass. John placed his gear on the edge of the lock but when the lock was filled to let a boat through it overflowed and he nearly had his gear float away from him.
The Rideau Canal was shorter, narrower and smaller than the Trent Severn with less towns along its way. It supposed to be more intimate and with that and the fact there is camping at the locks I was expecting to see more paddlers but we only saw 3 along the way. If only we had this waterway in Australia.
The initial purpose of the Rideau Canal was military. It was built by the British under the direction of Lt. Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers between 1826 and 1832 to assist the defence of Canada by allowing boats to travel from Montreal to the Great Lakes without having to travel down the St. Lawrence River, in gunshot range of the Americans. It was officially opened in May 1832 and remains in use today primarily for pleasure boating, with most of its original structures intact. It has 45 locks and is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. Both the Rideau and the Trent Severn Waterways are operated by Parks Canada.
Our camp for the night at the Kingston Mills Lock. All the heritage locks were manually opened.
Rideau Waterway is a number of lakes and rivers joined together.
Making camp at Jones Falls Lock the second night gave us the opportunity to have a meal and a couple of beers at Hotel Kenney. When we get the opportunity to have a 5 star meal we go for it. It was our treat. They didn’t charge us for the beers but when we told them they hadn’t, they gave us one free. The following day we had lunch at the Stagecoach Inn, another 5 star restaurant in Newboro and of course to make things come in threes we had a late breakfast early lunch at the Roosteraunt restaurant after topping up with groceries at Smiths Falls.
Further along we had lunch at the Baxter Conservation Park, which unfortunately didn’t have a shop so it was pita bread and jam. Leaving the park we met an ice cream boat heading towards the park. I wondered why children had been lining up. I couldn’t resist the treat so I stopped the boat halfway across the wide river making the children wait a little longer. There is nothing better than eating a tasty ice cream whilst floating down a river.
Can’t beat an ice cream.
Roads were often at locks and the traffic had to be stopped and road swung around to let the boats out of the locks.
At Long Island Locks 23 kms from Ottawa we camped a bit earlier and had a chance to dry our tents and relax in the sun. Here we met MJ who paddled her stand-up-board to the lock and Karen who came to pick her up. MJ kindly took John to the store to buy some beer and before and later we had a good chat. A little later a man called Leno arrived on a stand-up-board. He decided to go for a paddle upriver and he just kept going, I suppose like Forest Gump and landed up at our lock. It was too late for him to paddle back home so he had to get someone to pick him up, but as he didn’t have a mobile to call his brother he used mine. We did 47 kms and 4 locks today.
As we arrived at the first lock of the day, Black Rapids, an epic thunderstorm started. No sooner had we pulled our boats out of the water, two young guys Elijah and Gabriel, who we saw paddling in the opposite direction earlier arrived back at the lock in their short kayaks to shelter. They were heading to Kingston where we had just come from but allowing more time than we did but they would need it as they were beginners paddling short kayaks. Soon after the thunderstorm hit the heavy rain turned to hail. We got very wet. Of course the lock keepers don’t work in thunderstorms so we were a bit concerned we wouldn’t get to Ottawa to do the 8 stairway lock system before they closed. Luckily for us the thunderstorm didn’t last long.
We raced to the next lock and because the road bridge wouldn’t turn to let the boats in they said there would be a delay. We didn’t have to wait long though and we were soon away racing to the next lock. To our surprise MJ who we had seen the previous night was waiting at the lock with a little red parcel, containing some fruit, a tasty cake and a fruit juice. How good was that.
We said our goodbyes and paddled off towards the big 8 tiered lock in Ottawa City. If we didn’t get through the 8 locks which were like a big stairway we would end up having to camp in the middle of the city or having to do a long portage. The long stairway lock is also a tourist attraction right in the heart of the capital city.
There were some interesting buildings on the way to the lock and when we reached it the lock keepers were bringing a boat up but after it went through, instead of taking us down they said they were bringing another boat up and they may or may not get to us that day. They said they would know by 3.30pm but they also suggested we portage. We weren’t keen on portaging as we had gone through every lock on our way on the Trent Seven and the Rideau Canal plus we were not keen of leaving some of our gear that we couldn’t carry on a city footpath whilst walking about 550 metres to our put-in-point. Getting out would have been a problem as well as the canal had steep concrete sides. We sat through another amazing thunderstorm but we were under a bridge talking to a Japanese family who were cruising in a RV around Canada and the US, at the time.
So we waited and about 3.00pm and a 3 hour wait the lock keeper said they were ready for us. The tourists seemed happy to see the locks working as well. Once they got going they were pretty quick. All the gates were opened manually. They didn’t need to open each gate too wide for us to get through and we were much faster than boats moving from lock to lock as we didn’t have to tie or untie. When they realised that the procedure was going pretty fast, compared with taking a boat through they quickened their own pace and tried to break the record. So in under 40 minutes we were down the 8 lock stairway and into the Ottawa River.
What an experience we had on the Trent Seven and the Rideau Waterways and thanks to all those lock keepers who were so friendly to us.
John in one of the 8 flight locks which are all manually opened. It is a 24 metre drop from the first lock to the Ottawa River. Most boats will take 1.5 hours to get through the 8 locks. We were through in 40 minutes.
At the bottom of Ottawa’s 8 flight locks that bring boats up to or down from the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River.
Leaving Ottawa. The impressive Chateau Laurier hotel on the left and Canada’s Parliament buildings on the right.
Paddling by the Rideau Falls.
Once through the last lock gate and into the Ottawa River it was very windy and a bit difficult to take photos of the Chateau, the lock and the impressive Parliament building but we did. It was just amazing sitting there in our kayaks looking at some of the best world-class attractions. If the sky was blue instead of grey it would have been perfect. The last time I was in Ottawa was 6 years earlier after Alaine, Leonie and I had finished our last trip so we saw many of the city sights then. We also visited Montreal and Quebec City. Back then it was my dream to paddle down the locks and see the city views by kayak rather than by a tourist boat and now I have done it.
As we moved under the city bridge and passed by the Rideau Falls another thunderstorm hit us so with haste and with the wind behind us we sped off in pursuit of finding a nice campsite. We were truly soggy when we found a beautiful sandy beach in a park but we were not allowed to camp there so wet and cold we moved on further.
The Ottawa River was 40 to 70 metres wide most of the way getting to nearly 3 kilometres where a lake formed before the Carillion Lock. There were a few small towns along the way with attractive churches and ferries crossing the river. At this point we had Ontario on our right and Quebec on our left. If we wanted to shop or get some information it was best going to Ontario, the English speaking side.
At our campsite about 35 kms upstream of Carillion the shores were rocky and we loaded our kayaks on shore and lifted them down to the water. My kayak was extremely heavy and after I slipped on a greasy rock the kayak was dropped on a sharp rock. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realised it had a small hole in the hull but having a repair kit it was soon fixed.
So far we have been through 91 locks and on the way down the Ottawa River we were about to pass through the highest drop of all locks in Canada. On the approach the lake was extremely rough and we could have easily have capsized. Boats waiting to go in the lock were being buffeted against a concrete wall. Once in the lock we had to be tied to a pontoon, a different way of keeping still in the lock and different to all the other locks we had been through. This lock had a guillotine door and by the time it was opened, after descending 20 metres it took us 45 minutes. Once through the lock the province of Quebec was on the both sides of the river.
Carillon Guillotine Lock. The boats are lifted or put down 20 metres.
Crossing the border from Ontario to the province of Quebec the language changed from English to French. Not only that, in Quebec we could no longer camp at the locks which was a bit of a blow, most signs were in French and the officials felt more official and less friendly. In Ontario most signs seemed to be in English and French. The villages were still pretty and the churches and some buildings were very different in architecture from those in Ontario. After talking to a few people along the way it seemed that there was a divide between English speaking Canadians and the French speaking Canadians. Although most of the ordinary people we met were friendly, it was harder for us to get to know the locals as we couldn’t speak French. We did find ourselves being a little less relaxed in the French province though.
The Ottawa River has some expensive houses along the way. They were so tidy and many had huge lawns. It’s like the same gardener looked after all the houses as they were so neat.
Arriving at Montreal outskirts we went through another lock and were greeted by a very pleasant, helpful young lady who gave us information brochures of all the locks we still have to go through. It’s so uplifting to talk to someone who was interested and pleasant.
From that lock we had to paddle closer to Montreal to a town called Lachine where there was another canal we had to take to avoid the big rapids on the St Lawrence River and reach the centre of Montreal. It has five locks (making our tally to 96 altogether).
We arrived at the town of Lachine on the very windy afternoon on a very bouncy wide river. I rescued, well, towed a sail boarder who had fallen off and was trying to swim with his board to shore in the howling wind. The power boats around didn’t help him.
We were too late to go into the lock system as there was no camping along the way so we had to find somewhere to camp in Lachine. There was a kayak club with big grounds which we thought would be a great place but no one turned up at the club for us to ask to camp. Then we thought about staying in a hotel but they were too far away and most were booked up. We weren’t keen of leaving our gear in the middle of a town either, so we decided to hang around like two vagrants and try to find a spot to lay our heads when everyone in town had gone to sleep. A festival a few hundred metres away didn’t help us to feel we could sleep early. Eventually it was time to find that piece of grass in the nearby park. Unfortunately the street lights floodlit the area but we did find a patch a little in the shadows. John put his tent up but I just slept in my tent without erecting it. We had just got settled in and a couple started letting fireworks and rockets off ten metres away from us. We really didn’t need the attention, it might bring the police, but all was well, they later left and we weren’t disturbed and we even slept a bit.
The locks didn’t open till 9.30am so we had time to find a place to have breakfast. Lachine was so different once you get a couple of streets back from the river front. It was two different worlds. The front area along the river was quite posh but two streets back it wasn’t half as classy. However a restaurant a few street back did a good breakfast and coffee for $6.00 and we couldn’t complain about that.
We started our paddle through the Lachine Canal, passing a few markets, rental kayak places, old buildings, canal bridges and having city views. Again the lock keepers were very pleasant. We even met a couple who had seen us going through a lock on the Trent Severn Waterway.
By the time we paddled the 15 kms and through the 5 locks it was gone 1.00pm. We slipped into a calm harbour with ships and liners at anchor but once we left the shelter of the harbour and got a great scene of the city, things went crazy. Jet skis and power boats were everywhere stirring up the water but worse was to come when we entered and hit the full force of the St Lawrence River where all hell broke loose.
Just about to leave the safety of Montreal Harbour. Several jet skis are about to speed off.
The current was super fast but it was the power boats, jet skis, barges and ships that created such an uneven turbulent river. All of a sudden 10 jet skis screamed by and then power boats started coming towards us about 8 at once and going as fast as possible. The wash created a washing machine mountain of peaking waves that came from all directions. The back wash waves from the walls were massive and created hell. It reminded me of the times I fought the tidal currents in the Kimberley but at least here there were no crocodiles.
When there was a tiny break in traffic we moved over to the right hand side of the river where there were no walls, just rocky shoreline. We ended up near a Disneyland Park and the people on the wild mouse were screaming their heads off. It should have been us screaming as our ride was also close to suicidal. We eventually got away from all the crazy boating people and started crossing another section of river where the ships come out of the lock. Crossing it was another mammoth challenge but we made it into smoother waters and stopped for lunch on shore and made friends with a French Canadian couple.
We have now paddled through 106 Canadian locks in 3 weeks and 3 days. Surely that must be some sort of record for a paddle craft but is there such a record!
After the bumpy ride out of Montreal we paddled 70 kms on the St Lawrence River making sure we kept out-of-the-way of the huge ships that used it. The river was running pretty quick so we made a lot more kilometres than we usually made. Large ships were in the shipping lanes but at most times we could keep well away from them until the river narrowed. The ships however created less waves, then a small powerboat so we were never threatened.
A ship passes but it leaves little wash compared with a power boat.
When we reached the town of Sorel and met up with the Richelieu River we did a big right hand turn and headed directly south, our destination now New York City. It meant that we had to fight the current of the Richelieu River and pass through another 10 locks before reaching the US border. Now we had about 700kms to paddle to New York.
Just as we entered the river and passed parked ships and vertical walls a number of power boats came from nowhere. With extreme boat wash and increased backwash from the walls the river went crazy – it was Montreal all over again. We hung on and finally paddled away from the busy area into more sedate water. It was a Sunday afternoon so every boater was out enjoying the sun.
It was certainly a slower journey up the Richelieu River against the current and through the 10 locks but we finally made it to the US border and Lake Champlain and entered the last section of our expedition.
Things didn’t go quite to plan at the river border. It was simple going through the Canadian border post but when we entered the US border post the officers told us we had to go to the border post on the highway because they didn’t have the electronic equipment to give us an entry stamp. They only allowed US and Canadian citizens through the river border with the equipment they have. I suppose they wouldn’t have too many foreigners paddling across the border.
The highway border post was about 10 kilometres by road from the river so it was going to be a task getting there. We paddled back to the Canadian border post and the two ladies there were extremely helpful ringing a nearby marina and asking if they had anyone there who would take us by car to the highway border and back. Luckily there was a lady who would so it was back in our kayaks for a paddle to the marina which was a 3.5 km from the US border. She only charged us $50.00.
As the minor road didn’t go straight to the border control it was quite a ride so we left Canada for our second time, got our passports stamped in the US and drove back through the Canadian control again. It was a bit of running around but it had to be done.
After topping up with water and having a quick-lunch at the marina we headed back to the US river border post again. This time they let us through which we were happy about. So we had a 20 kilometre drive and a 7 kilometre paddle. If they would have allowed us to walk to the US road border post or given us a lift it was only 1.2 kilometres away from the river border post. But never mind we got through.
We paddle upstream against the current on the Richelieu River for 220 kms and pass through another 10 locks.
An old swing bridge on the Richelieu River
We crossed over the Canada/US border. The white portable building on the left is the US river border control.
Crossing the border though meant that my mobile phone and iPad contracts ceased so from then on paddling through the US section I had to rely on my satellite phone and iPad wi-fi to communicate. It was about 535 kms from the US border to New York City and our finish point.
Although Lake Champlain wasn’t the biggest lake we had paddled, it really tested our skills and stability as the wind howled and the lake went into a frenzy. It was also more beautiful than I had imagined. Pleased to have survived the wider lake we then paddled up the narrower section towards the Champlain Canal and at one point it was pretty eerie, like going through Deliverance country. The Canal at Whitehall which joined Lake Champlain to the Hudson River had 12 locks on it. The canal was the highest point and the watershed between these two points and it was the third watershed we had crossed on our journey.
An island on Lake Champlain.
It was a cold, windy day but when we came across a restaurant at Essex on Lake Champlain John was particularly happy.
It was wet and extremely cold when we went through the first lock at Whitehall. We however had a hot meal which was paid for by the lady we were sharing the table with, but we didn’t know it until we went to pay. Soon after we did some grocery shopping which helped us get through the awful day. The locks were much bigger than most of the Canadian locks and were automatically operated only needing one lock keeper. Again the lock keepers were friendly and had no issues of allowing two kayakers through.
Although pretty straight there was still some beauty in the canal and lots of interesting buildings. Passing a home we were shouted over to have a feed and a few beers. We were made very welcome and told we could camp there that night. John felt that we should get on and as there was a lock a few miles down so we headed to it. On reaching it they were closed for the day and the vertical high walls made it impossible for us to climb to camp on their nice green grass. That meant we had to retrace our step to find a camp. We found one but it wasn’t easy climbing the bank that was thick with bush and small trees. We should have stayed with the family.
Even the Champlain Canal had some beautiful areas.
and some interesting features.
Once through the 12 locks and into the Hudson River near Albany there was no stopping us although we did have to fight the tide on the Hudson when it was coming in as it was tidal from Albany to New York.
Stopping at a fast food van opposite some docks in Albany we needed hot food as it was so cold. The van was run by four sisters who apparently were working for free because they enjoyed it. They had wi-fi so I was able to send a few emails. John wanted some fuel canisters for his stove and since leaving Thunder Bay he hasn’t been able to buy any so one of the ladies drove him around town to a few shops but he had no luck. A little warmer, and bellies full we were quite happy to leave the ladies, the ships being loaded with scrap metal and other cargo and start moving again.
As we paddled further along the Hudson there was still some impressive scenery and mountains in the distance. The river was quite wide at times creating more of a lake. On one of these wide stretches a powerful thunderstorm struck. We just manage to reach the shore to prevent being blown over. It was fierce for a few minutes than calmed. On the same lake a yacht was crisscrossing as a big cargo ship motored towards Albany. The yacht only missed the ship by metres.
At the town of Ploughkeepsie we decided to have a meal in town. We pulled ashore near a closed restaurant and went for a walk finding the perfect cafe for a good breakfast and a place to charge my iPad. We were getting used to a good meal out.
Train lines ran along both sides of the river, the commuter train was mostly on the east side and the goods trains on the west side. Some of the goods trains were massively long. We passed quite a few when they were stopped and sitting on a siding waiting for other trains to come through.
The yacht was lucky to miss the tanker.
Trains were extremely long and an important part of the US transport system.
A lighthouse that helps ships to keep to the deeper channel.
As we passed Newburgh we were watching out for a campsite. Most of the shore was private property. Near Cornwall on Hudson we detoured across to it to see if there was a van park. Nearing it we met a paddler who told us there was a park a few kilometres downstream so we headed to it. There was a long beach and it looked as if a group of people at the beginning of the beach were looking up at the sky and down in the water and praying or something but we talked to them later and they were being cleansed.
We pulled ashore halfway along and found a spot. Huge double Gs littered the ground their three spikes needle sharp. We hadn’t seen such deadly tree nuts. The sky with the dark clouds and the sun setting was stunning. There were nothing but trees on the hills on the opposite side of the river but at night we realised there was also a road when we saw the lights.
It was a good camp and when we left it the river narrowed and the hills got bigger. Around the next corner we came to the first part of the West Point Military Academy. We hadn’t realised until yesterday that West Point was on the Hudson River so we were quite excited to be passing it and even more excited when we turned the next right hand corner and saw some very impressive buildings. Paddling through this area with so much beauty and interest was such a high point.
Not too far downstream we paddled under the Bear Mountain Bridge. This was an important landmark for John. Several years ago John walked the full length of the Appalachian Trail, some 4000 kms and it was at this bridge that he walked across the Hudson. I took a few photos to record him paddling beneath it. A ship motored by soon after.
The Hudson River had surprised me with its beauty, its cliffs, its building and it’s strange lighthouses which keep the ships in the shipping lane, I was expecting a more boring journey on that last stretch. I was even more surprised when there cliffs and hills right up to the New York skyline which we really enjoyed.
Passing the south end of Westpoint Military Academy
John paddling under the Bear Mountain Bridge. He walked across it when he walked the full 4000 km length of the Appalachian Trail.
John enjoys the changing colours of the trees and the moss covered rock.
A grey egret sits on a rock shelf.
Cliffs of Palisades State Park just a few kilometres upstream of New York City, before the George Washington Bridge.
Our last night we spent camped in a wilderness area of the Palisades State Park on the edge of the river beneath a cliff 36 kilometres from our final destination which was 2 kilometres beyond the Statue of Liberty. Only walkers could get to us or see us so we felt really safe.
We packed up in the dark and had breakfast at 4.30am hoping to get away just before light to get the most use out of the outgoing tide. The breeze was pretty strong which proved to be helpful at the start. The cliff line on our right stretched for kilometres and it was stunning even in the little light we had at first.
We could see the George Washington Bridge and the New York City lights behind it but it was still a long way off. The tide and wind helped us along and we were soon paddling under the bridge and entering the New York City zone proper. It was still quite early but we had several kilometres to paddle before we hit the real busy part. The wind was now becoming a nuisance as it was more of a cross wind and making the river rough. We could cope with that as we have coped so many times on our journey, but it became concerning when more boats hit the water and to capsize in New York was not the thing to do.
Passing under George Washington Bridge.
The city seemed to go on forever. Jersey City opposite NY, which I thought used to be more grubby looking was really smart with many new apartment buildings lining the river, although what it was like a kilometre in I couldn’t see.
We could now see the ferries zipping across the river at high speeds. We stayed close to the New Jersey side to keep away from the main river traffic but we still felt all the boat wash from the other side and we still had to cross the paths of the different ferry pick-up points on the New Jersey side. It was a little concerning when we got closer to them. We tried our best to stay well out of their way which was quite hard as they were so fast.
We started passing the main shopping district and the ferries were now at full swing making wake that did create concern. The large ships and barges were creating little wake compared with big power boats and the fast ferries. The wind was still blowing hard creating its own waves so there was little let up for 15 kilometres.
While all this was going on around us I was trying to take photos of the city. I risked capsizing several times to get shots whilst bouncing up and down. The Epic 18 is not the most stable craft to take photos from in rough conditions.
It was impossible to hug the shoreline which would have been much safer due to piers and old timbers forcing us to go further out into the river than we really wanted to go. The rebound waves off the piers and wharfs were annoying especially when the wash of a boat was hitting us at the same time. Fishermen cast their lines from some of these piers which again created a problem because they cast them way out into the river which we had to avoid. John managed to catch two lines and had to back up and untangle and cope with the wash.
Although there were hundreds of apartments on the New Jersey side there was no one sitting on their balconies enjoying the morning sun. It was so strange, it was as if they were all deserted. There were however lots of runners and cyclists pacing the river paths.
Helicopters, ferries, barges and boats start to move as the city wakes up.
We had a bit of relief from the ferries for a very short time between the city and the business district where the tourist ferries go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Then all hell broke loose. Pleasure boats and yachts had now joined the barges, ships and ferries so the river was quite a spectacle if you were viewing it from land.
If the wind hadn’t created a rough river in the first place it might have been a good paddle but I must admit I was feeling a little guilty paddling through the area with so many ferries around but we had organised our pick up point to be 2 kilometres from the Statue of Liberty so we couldn’t just pull out, which was just about impossible anyway with the high concrete walls. The last time I paddled in New York and around the Statue of Liberty and beyond, it was a lot easier with less traffic.
The Central Railway of New Jersey Terminal building was constructed in 1889 but was abandoned in 1967. The Head house (pictured) was later renovated and added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and incorporated into Liberty State Park.
We were willing to paddle to the back of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty Island to get away from the ferries but the area was littered with security buoys keeping all river traffic from going into these areas so we were forced to go around them and around the Statue and in the area of the ferries which didn’t slow because we were there. We tried to creep inside the security buoys to keep away from the ferries but a ferry captain told us to keep to the outside of them. I would have loved to have got lots of photos at this point but it was near impossible as the water was so disturbed.
Then after we had rounded the Statue relief came as we moved away from the river traffic and into a calm bay where our pickup point was located. We had been paddling for 6 hours, 3 of those hours were very stressful through the city area, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone unless it was flat calm, you are in a very stable kayak and there are no ferries around.
We hit the boat ramp and all of a sudden our trip was over. After sixty-six days and the stress of the day, it was now – what do we do? We shook hands, lifted our kayaks on the jetty and waited for Jenny’s sister Elaine and husband Dave to arrive. John being hungry, as he always was walked off to find some food. Returning he was a much happier man. When Elaine and Dave arrived with more food we had a chat, a snack, a drink and loaded the kayaks on the car and then we were off to Princeton to where they lived.
The Statue of Liberty.
Around the Statue of Liberty and into calmer waters.
We now had a week to kill before flying back to Australia so we sorted and cleaned all our gear and John put his kayak for sale on and internet site ‘Craig’s List’. Within a day he had someone interested and had it sold before leaving. I was giving my kayak to Dan and Cheryl in Canada, who a few weeks later were travelling down to Florida and they would pick it up on their way home. Also in that week we visited New York City a couple of times, Elaine and Dave took us sightseeing around the local area and to parks walking their two greyhounds. We very much enjoyed lots of cooked breakfasts’ and meals out, as well as some tasty meals at home.
The day before we were to leave New York, Elaine and Dave drove us to an airport hotel where we had our last two meals in the US in the hotel restaurant.
Many thanks to my wife’s sister Elaine and husband Dave for being there at the end of our trip to take us to their home in Princeton and let us eat, drink and be happy whilst waiting for our flight home and be driven back to the airport a week later.
We couldn’t believe the buyer of John’s kayak was going to transport it through the US traffic like this.
Many thanks to Dan & Cheryl in Thunder Bay, Canada for putting us up and looking after us whilst getting ready for our trip and taking us out to the start of our trip. I hope you get a lot of paddling done in the Epic 18 kayak.
We carried a minimum of 10 days of food until right at the end but we started off carrying 25 days of food and I always liked to carry 15 days of food with me all the time.
Although Lake Superior and Lake Huron water was very fresh we still boiled or purified it just in case. On the rivers we tried to use tap water as much as possible.
Apart from camping at locks on the two canals 10 times, we only camped in a proper camping sites with toilets 5 times. The 51 other camps were in the bush.
Epic 18 Kayak
Spare Paddle – Epic (Never Used)
PFD – Hydraulics Ocean Pro
Helmet – Ace Water (Never Used)
Trolley (Used once)
Deck Bag – Baja Seal Line
Stern Bag – Baja Stern Bag
Bilge Pump – Sea to Summit
Maps – We carried maps as well as a GPS. Scale depended on the terrain.
Paddle Leash – Sea to Summit
Paddle Float – Sea to Summit (Never Used)
Sponsons – (Never Used)
15m Throwline/Tow line (Never Used)
First Aid Kits
Dry Bags – Sea to Summit Lightweight & Big River
Dry Box – Pelican
Booties – Sea to Summit Blitz Booties
Thermals – Wilderness Wear
Gloves – MRS
Cag – I R Ligthtweight & Kokatat Anorak Gortex Tec Tour
Sleeping Bag – Sea to Summit Trek TK 111
Sleeping sheet – Sea to Summit
Sleeping Mat – Therm-a-rest Ultralite
Pillow – Thermarest
Water Purifier – MSR
Tent – Wilderness Equipment Second Arrow 1.9kgs
Stove – WhisperLite International (Note John had a canister stove and it was near impossible to buy them on-route.)
Pots – MSR Titanium
Fuel Bottle – MSR
Satellite Phone – Iridium
Mobile Phone – Iphone
Personal Locator Beacon – ACR Rescue Link
Locator – Spot – We were able to send our position home or to Dan every night.
GPS – Garmin etrex Legend & Garmin Oregon 550
Solar Charger – Biolite 220 mAh
Camera- Olympus Stylus.
Compass – Sylva
Torch – Black Diamond & Petzl
Knife – Victorinox Rescue Tool
Water Bags – Sea to Summit Pack Tap
Water Bottles – Nalgene
Trowel – Coglans
Clothes/ Variety/Rainjacket +
Papers & Passport in dry bags.
Resin & fibreglass
Tape/Bitumen tape/spare parts
For more photos go to Canoeing Down Under Facebook.
Rivers & lakes paddled in North America
I have also cycled 10,550kms and backpacked 1,200kms in the USA