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Tumbling Down the Dumoine River
MY CANOE PARTNER (Scott roberts) and I were scheduled to be on the frst bush fight into the Dumoine River’s Lac La Forge. While we stood beside our pile of camping gear, waiting for the Bradley Air Service foat plane to taxi toward the dock, it felt as if we were standing in line for a roller coaster ride at an amusement park. Turns out we were right.
SCOTT AND I QUIETED our grow- ing concerns by chatting about how easy the river should be for us. We had already conquered other wild riv- ers. But the moment our plane lifted off the lake and we caught our frst glimpse of the dumoine river tumbling down toward the ottawa, i immediately popped an anti-nausea pill. Was i crazy! What sort of reason- ing had led me to agree to a dumoine river trip during spring run-off? After 25 minutes, our foatplane landed on the lower portion of Lac La Forge. While Scott and i waited for the other canoeists to arrive we prac- tised our paddle strokes on the open water, hoping to regain our confdence. As well, we considered it a good idea to rehearse our moves without the others looking on. You see, the oth- ers in our canoe party (Len, roy and Rick) had already travelled down the dumoine half a dozen times – all during spring food – and had become masters at manoeuvring through foaming whitewater. Compared to them, Scott and i were mere novices.
It took three fights before all of us and our gear were gathered on the lake. Before paddling to the south end of Lac La Forge, we checked out two logging “alligators” left to rust on the west shore. Late that after- noon we reached the end of the lake. We quickly portaged around two sets of falls (the frst cascade having a 200-metre portage to the right, and the second having a 150-metre portage to the left). After paddling downriver a further half an hour, we made camp. Relatively speaking, it was still early to end the day. But Roy and Rick had planned a birthday celebration for Len.
They produced gifts (a bag of cashews and a Nalgine™ container flled with Brandy) and served dinner of corn on the cob, sourdough bread, fried mushrooms, steaks as thick as dictionaries, and, of course, a cake. then the threesome gathered around our evening fre and told Scott and me hair-raising stories of previous trips down the dumoine, when the water was colder and the rapids were wilder. their reminiscing did little to ease our concerns; i popped another anti-nausea pill before going to bed. on the river next morning, in what seemed like no time at all, the frst rapids appeared. We ran two quick “swifts” back-to-back. Then, after eddying in on the left, Scott and I looked down at the humped-up waves and white froth of what was considered a simple Class i rapid.
Being gentlemen, we immediately declined to go frst and invited the others to proceed. Len and roy paddled down the centre, and then right. Rick, in his fancy solo boat, hugged the right bank all the way down. Scott and i bumped and ground our way straight down the centre, leav- ing behind canoe paint on the rocks, like bread crumbs on a forest trail. embarrassed about our previous performance, Scott and i insisted on acting as probes for the next set of rapids. We approached the drop slowly; i stood up in the stern half a dozen times to choose the proper channel.
“Just keep right!” I yelled, and away we went, bouncing through the largest standing waves, but avoiding the entire collection of jagged rocks sticking out in midstream. We manoeuvred through one more Class I rapid before taking out on the portage for Ragged Chutes. You’ll fnd the 1500-metre rough trail (called Grunt Portage) on the left bank. it avoids three large and totally unnavigable chutes. No mistaking it, the portage lives up to its nickname. However, it’s possible to reduce the carry to only 322 metres if you use a low water take-out directly before the frst drop and a number of side trails that allow experienced canoeists to paddle quiet stretches in between.
Soon after the “triple play” is Bridge rapids – a good Class ii rapid, followed directly by three easy Class is (that’s if the water level is well above the rocks). Before heading down this fun stretch of rapids, how- ever, our gang was hailed to shore by a group of canoeists camped to the right of a decrepit bridge. they had driven a trailer of canoes in over an extremely rough dirt road. Along the way, they managed to drag a fbreglass Prospector canoe behind them for over a kilometre. What a disaster! Their trip appeared over before it had started. We gave them a spare roll of duct tape just the same, wished them luck and continued on our way.
Once past Lac Benoit (a popular fy- in point for a three- to four-day trip) a technical Class i warms things up for what comes next – a Class ii directly before a dangerous falls. You’ll fnd a rough 30-metre portage on the right of the Class II. Scott and I kept upright by staying away from the big standing waves to the left, and then managed to eddy in just before the 70-metre por- tage marked to the right of the falls.
Canoe Eater Rapids
“Canoe eater,” a very technical Class iii waiting not far downstream, proved a different story. the entire run is dif- fcult to scout from shore; a nasty rock garden blocks the upper section. So Scott and I opted for the 225-metre portage to the right. of course, after we saw Len, Roy and Rick all being spit out at the bottom, we knew we had made the right choice. Remarkably enough, another group of canoeists headed blindly down Canoe eater, following closely behind Len and roy. they neither wore, nor even appeared to own, a lifejacket. Watching how they kept their paddles high and dry while plowing through haystacks at the bottom, I knew they lacked any experience paddling in technically challenging rapids.
All of us were concerned about these novice paddlers. Roy and Rick are paramedics and couldn’t allow the beginners to continue on without a few words of advice. After a polite chat, and our crew made a generous offer to help them navigate the rest of the river, the novices told Rick and Roy to go to hell! i couldn’t believe it. i’ve never witnessed paddlers exhibiting such reckless abandon.
We bashed our way through seven more runs before making camp at a site called “the Hobbit” – a place rumoured to hold evil spirits inside the cliff face. The frst and last rapids were shallow Class Is; the middle fve (Sleeper, Double Choice, Snake, Thread the needle and Log Jam rapids) were all technical Class iis. Scott and i blew the third Class ii. the rapid twists its way from left to right and then left again. Just after the initial drop, a side-curler shoved our boat out of the main channel. Scott leaned over to try to draw the bow straight at the same time as a wave of water poured in. A quarter full, we were completely out of control, wal- lowing in the fast water. All we could do was ride it out, bracing and reacting as we went. Somehow we managed to stay afoat until the end.
Spooked from the last run, my partner and I took a rough 120-metre portage to the right of “thread the needle.” this is a scary run. if you mess up, you could easily fnd your canoe pinned on the centre boulder near the bottom. true to form, the others managed the rapid with no problem and then waited patiently for Scott and me to drag our soggy packs and 86-lb Old Town Tripper through the bush. We were rewarded at the end, however, by witnessing the paddling bozos we had met earlier swimming down the rapids – without life jackets of course. The next morning we awoke to the rumbling sounds of Little Steel rapids, situated only a few hundred metres downstream from our Hobbit campsite. Feeling courageous, Scott and I led the way to the brink of a one- kilometre stretch of boiling water. We fushed our way down the frst drop (an easy Class i) and then eddied in on the left to peer at what came next.
Still confdent, I stood up and scouted the best route through the remaining Class IIs. After Scott okayed my choice, we ferried upstream and out of the eddy, then leaned into the current. We were committed to the whitewater wait- ing below. A perfect run; Scott and I fnally had our confdence back.
Near Brush With Disaster
Little Steel Falls, coming almost directly after Little Steel rapids, was a prime objective for Len, Roy and Rick. A few years back, during extremely high water levels, roy had attempted to run the boiling water below the cascade, and had dumped almost immediately.
Earlier that time, Len and Rick had worked their way down to the base of the rapids to be able to toss out a throw bag if roy ran into trouble. When they reached the end of the whitewater, however, only roy’s canoe, paddle and favourite hat were foating in the quiet water. Unknown to them, their partner was pinned underwater by his full-piece rain suit that had flled with water. Miraculously, Roy was able to slice open the rubber overalls with his belt knife. Eventually, he found his way to the surface and grabbed the safety line. to be honest, i would have stayed clear of the rapids below Little Steel
“A quarter full, we were completely out of control...”
Falls if the same thing had happened to me. But not roy; he was determined to make things right. While the rest of us carried over the full length of the 312-metre portage (found along the right bank), Roy just lifted over the frst 50-metres of the portage, then plopped his plastic boat into a pool below the falls and caressed his way through the series of Class iis and Class iiis. We all applauded him from the safety of the portage, and then ceremoniously threw him a safety line as he ended the run still afoat.
Camping for Mountain Goats
You’ll fnd a Class I and voluminous Class ii not far downstream from Little Steel Falls, followed by a number of fun swifts. then the river widens out; here our group thought about stop- ping for a break on a rocky point to the left, until we discovered that the campsite was only suitable for moun- tain goats. So we continued, running Cliff Hanger – a Class II known for its steep rock wall towering high above the base of the rapids. We pulled up on an island campsite in the middle of Burnt Island Lake. the forested hills here are impres- sive; they appear trackless and impenetrable. This wasn’t the frst sce- nic spot along the dumoine. in fact, the entire river seemed lined with pinnacles of rock. But so far the riv- er’s speed had distracted us. When I took time to appreciate the rug- ged landscape around us, places like Burnt Island Lake inspired me with their raw beauty.
A small swift separates Burnt island Lake from another widening called the Gap. Gap Chutes is a Class i where lots of water squeezes you to the far right. An easy Class i follows. on the west shore, just before the rapids, you’ll fnd rustic remains of an old cabin. A wooden cross marks the rest- ing place of one of the river’s victims. We heard Big Steel rapids long before we saw it. There’s a 212-metre portage to the left that avoids a chal- lenging Class iii at the beginning. But Len, Roy and Rick convinced Scott and me there was just a bit of water to contend with. So we followed them over the brink and managed to stay afoat through the biggest standing waves of the trip. Proud of our achievements we pad- dled hard toward the next set – a technical Class ii. two obvious chan- nels lay before us: a wide one to the far left, and a tight turn to the right. We decided to go left, and began ferrying across toward the channel. Halfway, we collided with a rock at a 30-degree angle. the boat just about went over, but a quick downstream lean pivoted us around the obstacle and we conveniently stayed dry.
Shortly after Big Steel, we encoun- tered a collection of swifts. these carried us past cobble beaches and high sandy banks, and then ended alongside a magnifcent, 100-metre high cliff. this environment differed entirely from the rest of the dumoine. It reminded me more of rivers fow- ing into Ontario’s Lake Superior than those into Quebec’s Ottawa Valley. We soon paddled by Sheerway (an active farmstead at the turn of the century), passed under a bridge, and made camp at The Margaret Spry Shelter. the lean-to structure was built by the dumoine rod and Gun Club.
Here we had another birthday celebration – this time for Len’s eighty- year-old mother. obviously, she wasn’t with us on the trip but it provided a great excuse to bake another cake and drink more brandy. Since Len was missing the festivities back home (his mother had insisted he join our canoe trip instead), we forced him to wear a t-shirt around camp proclaiming, “Happy Birthday Mom.” We spent a good portion of day four paddling leisurely down a quiet stretch of water before Grande Chute. We faced only two Class iis: “Z” Rapids and Turner Rapids. On the frst run, Scott and I took the left chan- nel, grabbed an eddy behind a giant boulder to avoid being pushed into a rock garden, and then exited to the right. the second proved more chal- lenging; it had an optional 138-metre portage located well before the rapid along the left bank.
By taking the portage, you can avoid the most diffcult section but Scott and I simply couldn’t fnd the path. So, we took on the entire run. We knew we’d get wet on this one! Paddlers are offered two portages around Grand Chute, both of which begin on the right side of the river. the scenic route, complete with a campsite overlooking the gorge, is straight across from the take-out; it follows alongside the entire drop for 1000 metres. To take the alternative route (measuring 1500 metres), keep to the road until a marked trail heads into the woods on your left.
The shorter path is okay if you’re loaded with packs. But if you happen to be stuck carrying the canoe, i strongly suggest heading up the road. You may not see much of Grande Chute along the way, but remember, you have a canoe over your head. After we completed the Grande Chute portage, rain started pouring down. it worsened as we crossed Lac robinson. So the group decided to make camp.
Head for Shelter, Fast!”
As we drifted above the frst drop on Red Pine, however, disaster struck. A massive hail storm barrelled down the river like a freight train, catching us com- pletely off guard. We all scattered. Scott and i made it to a patch of low hanging cedars on the left bank. Rick headed to a take-out for the 138-metre portage on the right bank. What about Len and roy? Already commit- ted to running the rapids when the storm hit, they went over the frst ledge and dropped quickly out of sight.
Ttwenty minutes passed before the storm subsided enough for us to head back out. Worried about Len and Roy, we skipped the portage and fushed ourselves directly down the frst and second ledges. in retrospect, it was an extremely diffcult Class II rapid. But Scott and i were worrying more about Len and roy than the power of the river. the pair was safe, how- ever, standing at the take-out of a second portage that avoids a dangerous Class iii. Chilled from the rain, we all decided to take the 468-metre portage (marked to the right), and made camp under a massive pine tree. Here, celebrating our last night on the dumoine, we baked another cake – a double-decker with jam in the middle and icing, blue- berries and shredded chocolate on top. then, we toasted the river with our remaining brandy.
In the morning, groggy from too much dessert (and possibly too much liquor), our group started slowly. By 9:30 a.m. we were packed up and looking for a way to deal with what remained of Red Pine Rapids. A rocky Class ii, it sported a ledge extend- ing far out from one side of the river. A rough path continued down from our campsite, avoiding the entire mess, but none of us wanted to wimp out on the frst rapid of the day. Instead, we ferried to the opposite bank and followed an obvious channel clear of the ledge. Then we picked our way through the mound of rocks below.
Next, we paddled easily down a com- bination of swifts and three Class is. But when our group approached a dou- ble-ledged Class ii called examination Rapids—the last diffcult rapid on the dumoine—we all pulled up at the take-out for the 184-metre portage on the right. From there we surveyed the river. The frst drop didn’t seem to pose much of a problem. the dif- fculty arose in staying dry after coming through it and then lining up perfectly for the last drop. With a souse hole to the left and a jumble of rocks to the right, the rapids offered no margin for error. After watching the others make perfect runs Scott and i decided to give it a try. nervously, we launched ourselves into the river, and noticed immediately how much bigger the water looked close up.
Of course, we ran into trouble right away. Being more concerned about what lay ahead, Scott and I hit the frst ledge at the wrong angle. We took on water, and then found ourselves heading sideways directly toward a giant funnel of water. “right! right!” i screamed. But Scott’s repeated draw strokes did nothing to pivot us back into posi- tion. it wasn’t until just before the curling water gulped us down that I realized our mistake. It was me. I was so uptight about what Scott was doing in the bow that i failed to do my job in the stern.
So, with a strong pry I cranked the back end of the canoe around, and we hit the smooth, half-metre-wide tongue we wanted, and then rode the edge of the waves all the way to the bottom. “nice recovery” was all we got from the three onlookers, each of them standing on shore with a safety line in hand. But Scott and i whooped it up like a couple of ecstatic school- boys, spun our paddles over our heads, and then whooped it up some more. Finally the others all giggled, and then applauded our fancy manoeuvres.
Just downstream from examination rapids, a small Class i rapid warned of an approaching falls. A 30-metre portage is cut through the forest to avoid it on the right. After continu- ous swifts, we met the junction of the Fildegrand River, then a breathtaking 180-metre rock face called Bald Eagle Cliff, followed by another scenic falls with a quick 70-metre portage marked to the left. then, we paddled across the Ottawa River’s expanse. Luckily the river was calm when we made the crossing.
Paddling to the other side of the ottawa river proved one of the least stressful times of the entire trip…that is until we reached the other side. Here, i had to tell the others that i had forgotten to explain to our shut- tle driver where exactly at driftwood Provincial Park he was to leave our vehicle. Let’s just say, by the time we found it parked a long way from the beach, I was looking through my pock- ets for another anti-nausea pill. the dumoine river: it’s a thrill, it’s a delight, it’s a panic. Be prepared before you tackle its fast water.
— Kevin Callan has paddled many of the wild rivers in Ontario and Quebec.