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PostPosted: October 30th, 2023, 10:07 pm 
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My wife and I ran the Pukaskwa River this past May 14th to 26th, then paddled along the coast of Lake Superior to Hattie Cove. We had lots of time, spending 8 days running the river, followed by a rest day, then 3.5 days paddling on the lake. We hired North Shore Adventures in Marathon to pick up our car and drive it to the Hattie Cove campground. Excellent service. The drive in on Paint Lake Road and the Domtar 600 road was straightforward and the road was in excellent condition. The river was at 4.7 m at the start and 4.2 m when we finished at Lake Superior. This was a good level overall, a bit stiff at the beginning, then a little boney towards the end.

The first 10 km of the river starting from the Domtar 600 road bridge lived up to its reputation for being a slog. We could not run several of the rapids due to strainers and logs in the river, including Broken Neck rapids. There were virtually no portages in this section, likely because the alder and cedar is super thick along the shoreline, so we waded and lined most of the upper rapids. We certainly were not pushing hard, but it took a solid 2 days to get to the Pukaskwa Park boundary, 10 km from our starting point.

We had an embarrassing mishap while lining below Koehler Falls, dipping a gunnel and swamping the boat. Unfortunately, I didn’t film the incident. It was not only funny, but it was also a teachable moment in bad boat handling. Although we kept the boat under control, we watched with some concern as three of our packs floated away downstream, leaving us with only our food barrel. Initially I wasn’t too worried about finding the backs, until we walked downstream and saw a log jam across the river, and no packs. I was convinced the packs had been entrapped under the logs, until I found all three of them another 100 m downstream, beyond a second log jam. Somehow all three packs had managed to be pulled under both log jams without becoming stuck. Feeling a little rattled by this adventure, occurring on our second day of travel, and only 1 km beyond our previous campsite, we decided to camp early and reset our ambitions before hitting any more rapids.

The rest of the trip on the river was perfect. Great weather, with one rainy day. Temperatures would dip below freezing at night but hit the mid-teens during the day. Absolutely no bugs or ticks. Some greenery starting to poke through the forest floor. The Pukaskwa rapids are fun, but good campsites are sparse. We had only two memorable ones, by our standards: Lafleur’s Dam and Oxford Ledge. I really regret not running Ringham’s Gorge, as Two Pants Portage, while pretty, is long. We needed 6 hrs to complete it, having to stop several times to cut our way through willows and alder.

The lake is a different experience all together, less physically demanding, but a little stressful (for me) with respect to the wind and opportunities to get off the water. We took a rest day on the lake, on a campsite across the bay from the mouth of the Pukaskwa. All the campsites on Lake Superior are amazing, but this one is very special. We were windbound for half a day in English Fisher Harbour. Not a bad place to get stuck. We could hear hikers on the Coastal Trail, passing behind our campsite. The trail is already busy at that time of year. When we finished in Hattie Cove, the Parks folks told us two other canoe groups followed us down the river. They owe us beer for our trail clearing efforts.

I was a little surprised how many people we encountered in the park in May. A helicopter landed at Lafleur’s Dam, delivering technicians to calibrate the ‘below Fox River’ gauge for the Pukaskwa. Hikers on the Coastal Trail. A Parks boat with a crew of summer students landing at North Swallow River to conduct ecological and water quality surveys. A solo kayaker along the coast. Relatively busy, but it did not detract from our experience.

Link to Caltopo route (drive and paddle): https://caltopo.com/m/30R1L

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVReRLM ... Kfh4AaABAg


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PostPosted: October 31st, 2023, 4:51 am 
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Location: Marathon/Superior
I bungled the first section as bad as anyone last May (including nearly swamping while lining at probably the same spot you did) so don't feel too bad :doh:

We were also surprised to have a party starting at the same time as us (they had playboats and we let them get ahead), had another party catch us the first night, and apparently a school group was coming behind the next day. The route's seasonality really stacks the limited traffic.

I live in the area and have thought about returning with loads of time to make some trails around the worst spots but it's probably best for this river that there's a barrier to entry so I don't think I'd do it. It just takes time and taking 2 full days to chip away at it like you did is the way to go. Great footage, brings back wonderful memories of this amazing place. I rarely go back to paddle the same places but this one certainly warrants it.

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PostPosted: October 31st, 2023, 2:36 pm 
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Location: Manitoba
Thanks for posting the trip report. Looks like you timed your trip well. For whatever reason I get the feeling that there is less river use now, not that there was ever a lot of canoe trippers down the Pukaskwa River.
Great news that the government is maintaining the river gauge. Not many canoe trippers can say they saw the helicopter nearby.
The video was an excellent collection of river and canoeing and camp and map, etc. images.
The upper section is more suited for solo canoes--little in the way of portages, fast current, narrow river with sweepers and such demands a highly manoeuvrable canoe. Having said that, you did have the right boat for the trip, the Esquif Canyon. I've done both, the Two Pants Portage as well as running Ringham’s Gorge. At the right water levels the river was more friendly than the portage. In solo boat, the gorge was challenging, fun and rewarding.
No matter what the camping is like along the river one always looks forwards to Superior because it's truly superior camping.

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PostPosted: November 1st, 2023, 10:25 am 
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Jonathan Kelly wrote:
I live in the area and have thought about returning with loads of time to make some trails around the worst spots but it's probably best for this river that there's a barrier to entry so I don't think I'd do it.


Hi Jonathan, thanks, and I agree for selfish reasons. But the Visitor Experience Team Leader for Pukaskwa National Park was very keen to gather information on the Pukaskwa backcountry. He pointed repeatedly to your very nice trip video. There is a desire to promote the park backcountry to more users and have more information available to them, such as location of campsites, portages, rapid information, etc. At the moment this information is scattered about in different places that are not obvious new park visitors, such as George Drought's very good river guide (out of print) and MYCCR. They can't afford to send backcountry teams to maintain portages or cut new ones, or maintain campsites, so they are very much reliant on users to keep these open.


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PostPosted: November 1st, 2023, 10:34 am 
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Paddle Power wrote:
In solo boat, the gorge was challenging, fun and rewarding.


Thanks Paddle Power, I was thinking a lot of your solo paddling prowess in that amazing youtube series from a few years ago! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUMhCedJpsg

Love the Canyon for whitewater. It was also ideal for the big swells and waves on Superior, and would easily handle conditions that are well beyond my mental comfort zone.


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PostPosted: November 2nd, 2023, 3:30 pm 
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Location: Cambridge, Ontario
Look forward to watching your video. We were one of the groups on the Puk last year. I agree that you timed it pretty well. We had your levels reversed with low water to start and high water to finish. Overall, the gorge is not too difficult, but I'd advise against it in high water to anyone not completely confident in their ability. The gorge narrows right before the series of falls begin and it's pushing pretty good in high water with little room for error to make the eddy on river left before the first drop and the eddy is hard to see from upstream. We had other misadventures in the gorge that were a result of human error trying to bypass the lower falls. What should have taken a few short hours ended up taking the entire day!


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PostPosted: November 4th, 2023, 5:38 pm 
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DougB wrote:
We had your levels reversed with low water to start and high water to finish.

Thanks Doug, would have preferred lower levels at the beginning like you describe. There was no way we could have paddled the upper rapids without serious risk from overhanging trees and logs.

I was surprised to see an old NFB film by Bill Mason, a promoting the Pukaskwa Park, which shows Becky Mason and friends paddling the Pukaskwa much later in the season. It looks to be mid to late June, based on the trees, and the swimming. The flow of the river is much lower; they even run and line Schist rapids, right to the brink of Schist Falls. It seems the river is runnable at lower levels found in May.


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PostPosted: November 4th, 2023, 11:22 pm 
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Location: Mid-coast Maine
Thanks for posting the TR and video!
Why did you decide to port the Gorge?

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PostPosted: November 5th, 2023, 2:47 pm 
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VA paddler wrote:
Why did you decide to port the Gorge?


Hi VA paddler. Good question, one I keep asking myself now. At the time it was because we were concerned it presented too much risk given it was just the two of us out there. Now, sitting at home next to a warm fire, I'm feeling much bolder and thinking we should have gone for it, carefully, taking our time.

Oh well, I'd like to try the East Pukaskwa next, so hopefully I'll have another opportunity to run Ringham's Gorge.


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PostPosted: December 7th, 2023, 3:34 pm 
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swampwalker wrote:
I was surprised to see an old NFB film by Bill Mason, a promoting the Pukaskwa Park, which shows Becky Mason and friends paddling the Pukaskwa much later in the season. It looks to be mid to late June, based on the trees, and the swimming. The flow of the river is much lower; they even run and line Schist rapids, right to the brink of Schist Falls. It seems the river is runnable at lower levels found in May.


Great video, thanks for sharing.

Along the lines above, I'm curious if anyone ever paddles the Puskaska later in the season... like not just June, but even July or August. Naturally Superior suggests water levels of 4.4 to 4.8. Looks like the median is ~4.0 by July 1 and 3.9 by August 1.

I assume it would be very bony and require a lot of extra portaging, lining, and bumping. But is it feasible in theory, or just totally stupid?


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PostPosted: December 7th, 2023, 7:00 pm 
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Location: Cambridge, Ontario
If you're looking for a Superior river in July the Dog is probably a better option.

The Pukaskwa is smaller and the first half would be a problem at low levels. 4.2 is 'just' enough to run long rapids in solo boats.


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PostPosted: December 11th, 2023, 11:36 am 
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Thanks, Doug -- will check out the Dog!


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PostPosted: December 14th, 2023, 4:07 pm 
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Hi Swampwalker.

I just saw your comment about running Ringham's Gorge when doing the East Pukaskwa. Unfortunately not possible as the East Pukaskwa meets the Pukaskwa well below Ringham's Gorge. It's short paddle from the confluence to the final portage to Lake Superior around Schist Falls.


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