View topic - Pontax River Trip June 1st to June 6th / 2012

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PostPosted: June 9th, 2012, 2:00 pm 

Joined: December 14th, 2007, 11:39 pm
Posts: 14
Location: Sault Ste. Marie
Pontax River June 1st to June 6th

I had butterflies in my stomach after the first couple emails with Sam about the Pontax river. The government gauge quit working on May 23. At that time it measured 230 and the area got another two more days of rain after that date. Sam had tried to find other trip reports from paddlers who had experienced high levels. However the highest level he read about was closer to 100. After seeing some pictures of the river, I knew a large wide river like this would open up sneak routes during high levels.

Thurs May 31st. ---- So with butterflies in check off we went, meeting in North Bay we continued on in my Toyota Rav with my canoe trailer in tow. We camped out along the James Bay Highway at one of the many great-designated camping spot.

Friday June 1st ---- Tallula - Sam’s dog rode in the cargo area behind the back seats. Tallula is a cross between and Mastiff and Bit Bull who is very protective of Sam. I’m preying she warms up to me soon before I loose some body parts. It’s 1350 km from Sault Ste Marie to Waskaganish village along Rupert Bay. However the longest part seems to be the 100 km section of dirt road from the James Bay Highway into the village.
We were motoring along sometimes at 100kmh when BAAANG the rear window of my Toyota Rav exploded showering glass over the cargo area and Tallula. We can only speculate that a stone flew off the tire hit the trailer and then up to the window. Good thing the area had just received rain. Clouds of dust billow blocking all road visibility when the road is dry. In hindsight we would have been better off to have Raymond (our shuttle driver) pick up our vehicle at the Pontax crossing at his leisure. Instead we were driving in to pick him up. Raymond is a very friendly resident Native Cree. He gave us plastic and duct tape for repairs and after a few more pit stops we were on our way. The gas station in Waskaganish closes at 8pm with the next station at Mattagami 330km away. I was surprised the gas was only 10 cents more a litre then what I pay in Sault Ste. Marie. Back out the dusty dirt road to the James’s Bay Highway and then north to the Pontax crossing. Finally about 1pm we were paddling down the Pontax to our first rapid 3km away. Very soon I saw our first moose and for the first time in awhile I wish I had brought a camera. We had a very subtle head wind so I knew the moose could not smell me. I took very slow silent strokes so I knew it could not hear me. Yet 50 meters away it began staring right at me as I approached. I always thought that moose had very poor eyesight yet this moose continued to stand and stare at me. With the current the distance between us decreased to the point I was right beside it 8 meters from shore. Suddenly it made a large grunting sound and charged toward me 4 paces. I prepared to pour the power on however it turned and walked back toward shore. Again it grunted and charged out to chest deep water. Never had I seen a moose be so aggressive. In my past life, B.B. (before Buddha) I was a devoted moose hunter and had never experience such behaviour.
And then I noticed in the submerged tag alders the head of a small calf. The calf was struggling against the current and the thick submerged tag alders trying to get up on the bank. About then I yelled at Sam telling him about the calf. When I turned around the Cow Moose was gone. My yelling had spooked it. The current continued to take me away as I watched the calf. I never saw the calf make it up onto the bank. Nor did I ever see the mother Cow. For days after this I wondered if the calf survived or was I instrumental in its death.
This first rapid is over 2km long and at our levels is non-stop class 3+ run. Before making it to the bottom both Sam and I would need to get to shore twice to empty our solo canoes--- Sam and Tullula in a Esquif pocket canyon and I in my Dagger Genesis. With the high water there were plenty of routes to take. However lots of large haystacks and monster holes to avoid as well. We camped for the night at the start of the next rapid Km 112 on a bald rock, river right. Some one in the past has taken a chain saw and cleared a trail the full length of this rapid. Four hundred meters down this trail is another campsite that could handle a very large party.

Sat June 2nd -- On the water and paddling about 9:30. It rained on and off all day, which was fine with me because both Sam and I were wearing dry suits. However about 11:00 am the wind picked up out of the N.E. . Normally in a tandem, I would be thrilled to have a tail wind however paddling in my 13 foot long solo canoe was a pain in these conditions. The canoe just wants to be blown broad side. During some gusts it is impossible to prevent so I just let the canoe have it’s way drifting at 3-4 kmh. We paddled 22 km today, stopping about Km 90. We found a great campsite that could handle a Boy Scout jamboree 20 meters from shore up on the hill on river right. So far no normal portaging instead we drag our loaded canoes. At the first rapid we snuck down river right and dragged 10m around a 2 meter ledge. At the next rapid the high water opened up a sneak route on river left.
CampSite UTM 18U 0308162 5719269

Sun June 3rd – Another dull over cast day. At least the wind died down during the night. We started paddling at 8:30 and except for a 30 min. lunch break we did not stop until 6pm. I am not sure how many waterfalls and ledges we lined or dragged around today. At the bottom of one drop on a creaky run I popped back into my canoe to continue down the sneak route. I got turned broad side on a wave and ended up side surfing over a minute trying to get off. Side surfing in a canoe is similar to riding a bucking bronco. Sam who was standing meters away wished he had it on video and complemented me on my paddling skills. In reality it was my canoe gradually filling with water that helped me get off the wave. For those into Geo-Caching Sam and I left a cache taped to a tree. Location ---Km 79.5 (18U 0298242 –5713433)--- The cache is at the bottom of a mandatory drag or portage around a waterfall on river left. In the Cache are odds and ends a tripper may need (2 tent pegs – fly dope – bug head net –sun block etc -- small book and pencil to sign if you like. The deal is if you need something from the cache help your self however replace it with another item. A very cool idea I got after finding a cache on the Wakwayowkostic River.
We stopped for the night near Km 60 and bush whacked a spot after not being able to find the campsite indicated on our map. The black flies came alive today from their winter sleep. Both Sam and I cooked our meal in a bag and retired to our respective tents to avoid the bugs. I know they caution about the Bear danger of having food or eating in your tent. However with Talulla only meters away I felt very safe.

Mon June 4th -- Beautiful sunny day, the sun rises here about 4:30am and by 6:30 the sun is 30 degree above the horizon. Today during our 33km paddle we will both have some close calls. At Km 37 the map indicated a class 3 run that Sam and I just scouted from our boats. With the high water the wave train haystacks were huge (over 2meters) as well as some of the holes. My boat has 4ft air bags installed in the bow and stern. Also my two packs are firmly tied down in my boat. Even with all that flotation, I found if a bit tense running down thru this rapid with 8 inches of water sloshing about. As I was emptying out in the first eddy I heard a yell from Sam. Sam’s canoe was sunk down in the water to the level of his gunnels. I’m not sure if he was yelling for me, or at Tallula to remain seated. He too successfully made it to shore to empty out. The water in the Pontax is the colour of urine. So dark that visibility below the surface was about 8 inches. I blame my next close call on this dirty water. I went over a drop into a large hole. When I began paddling up the other side of the wave I found my self on a very large rock. I got spun around back wards off the rock and went over the next ledge backwards. Sam behind me thought I was just catching an eddy and thought is was a very cool move.
At Km 34.5 Sam had a very close call. We both stopped in a eddy on river right, to look down the river. We could clearly see an island with 70% of the water going around the river left side. This river left side had a 4-meter pour over with gigantic waves and holes that not ever a adrenaline seeking kayaker would face. The right side we could not see. So I decided to paddle down the centre current and at the point the water split to go around the island I would drive across the current and land on the island to scout. After doing so I could see two more 1.5 meter ledges to navigate on the right side. Rather than try to communicate with hand signals I motioned to Sam to come join me on the island. I would stand and catch him if need be. Sam was nervous about the left side pour over and did not commit to running the main current. Instead he tried to play it safe by staying too far right. Soon he was heading for a large rock in the right hand current. Blame it on the wind that just picked up – blame it on Tallula who stood and change positions what ever he went broad side against this rock. Of course the current grabbed his up side and his gunnel dipped below the water. Sam lounged for the rock and worked him self off the rock. In the process he dropped his H2O white water paddle. This is the first time I ever heard Sam swear. He managed to grab his spare paddle and drive the canoe towards the island. I ran down the bald rock of the island and grabbed his front painter loop to pull him out of the fast current. We both watched as his paddle went over one ledge then the next and then a 2-meter waterfall. Neither of us saw his paddle with a lime green blade come out. How a paddle could get stuck is a mystery however we both crisscrossed the large bay below and never found it. We camped for the night around Km 24 in the front yard of two camps. This is great campsite providing some one is not home. They must be flyin camps because there was no packed down 4-wheeler trail to them.
Location 17U 0672965 5712535

Tues June 5th --- We were treated to a beautiful hot sunny day with big fluffy clouds above. So hot that it was a blessing when one of the clouds blocked the sun. I made a comment to Sam that we have yet to get a head wind. Some how I knew the moment the words left my lips that I had jinxed us. We finished the last class 3 rapids of the trip. All of which were very easy because of the high water. In low water these rock gardens would take some skill to navigate. The river now swings northwest toward Rupert Bay. At 11:30 a wind out of north began, some times gusting 30-35km an hour. It would take us to 5:30 to make it out to Rupert Bay. On the bay with my canoe broad side I was drifting about 1.5 – 2 kmh. Sam was not doing much better. We decided to take advantage of this tail wind and try sailing down the 15km coast to Waskaganish. We lashed the two canoes together with two tree’s keeping them parallel three feet apart. We attached the corners of a blue tarp (4X6) from the dollar store to our bows. Two ropes were fed thru carabineers held up by two other poles. By pulling on these ropes we could lift the sail up. So like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer off we went. We had a little trouble getting around a shallow grassy point; however once past this we made good time. Often on the GPS our speed indicated 5 to 6 kmh. Sam controlled our tack with the paddle while I handled the sail. Several times when I was not diligent the sail got wrapped around our bow and pulled into the water. To clear this mess I now had to reach over across Sam’s canoe.. This was definitely entering into Tallula protective space. Tallula must have sensed it was necessary because I never saw her pearly whites while she was growling. Five Km from the village the inevitable happened, the wind died down. We cut our rigging loose and began paddling. Our progress was very slow against the out going tide so just before dark we camped for the night.

Weds June 6th --- I awoke to a motor boat going by followed by gun shots at a large flock of geese out in the Bay. The water was only 3 meters behind our canoes. The night before we had dragged them up the beach 20 meters from the waters edge. I’m guessing the tide here is 1.5 meters by looking at the high and low water marks. The strange thing is both Sam and I tasted the water in Rupert bay and neither of us could detect a salty taste. We packed up and started the last 4km paddle of the trip. With the outgoing tide and current of the Rupert River against us it took us over 1.5 hours.
I wish I could say that the rest of our trip was a uneventful long drive home. However Sam made a comment about how well my homemade canoe trailer had worked for us. Jinxed No. 2 – About an hour after this comment Sam yelled slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the gravel along the James’s Bay Highway. I happened to look in my side mirror to see Sam’s canoe air borne at least 10 feet in the air. The entire back end of my trailer had broken off letting both canoes go air borne. Sam’s canoe had a little davit out of his stern other wise both canoe’s were fine. We made the necessary temporary repairs to the trailer and finished the drive to North Bay safely. We both must be addicted to river tripping because all we can talk about is our next river trip. In the fall we hope to go back to this area and paddle the Broadback River.

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