Packrafting 200 miles in Canada
By Doug Stembridge.
Following my decision to explore Ontario, I came up with the (apparently not-so original) idea of buying an inflatable kayak to give me more options of independent transport. I had seen many photos of Canada’s vast lakes and rivers. Native Americans and colonials had used these waterways to transport people and goods for centuries and I decided I too should make use of this ancient highway.
So, I set about finding a kayak. Very soon, I hit a major issue: all the craft I saw for sale lacked durability - to the point they were likely to leave me stranded following any damage; or were far too heavy to hike with. I eventually stumbled across packrafts and knew instantly this is what I had been searching for. Most of the distributors I came across were US based, which added considerable expense by way of shipping and tax (some even refused delivery outside the US). Then I came across Longshore International and breathed a sigh of relief - I could get my packraft. The new company was very helpful in helping me select a model and were cheaper than many of their US competitors. Because I was carrying a 60lb rucksack, I opted for a double EX280 which had plenty of space.
Based on the time I had available, I decided to start my journey in North Bay, leaving 200 miles of river between myself and my flight home in Ottawa. I packed my Hennessy hammock, a light sleeping bag, a water filter, two large powerpacks and some spare clothes, sealing everything in canoe bags. I planned to stop in riverside towns every three days for food/rations (and a beer).
I set out on a trout lake with only 18 days to make it to Ottawa. After half a day of hard paddling across the 5 mile lake I was eventually met with the heavy flow of the Mattawa River and floated an additional 7 miles with minimal effort and one small portage. My first night camping was spent on the beautifully secluded pine lake, in the evening I washed myself and my clothes in the lake while my food was cooking. I rose early in the mornings and over the following two days crossed the national park into Mattawa (which apparently means mating of rivers) where the Mattawa River joins the Ottawa River.
I restocked on food and joined the mighty Ottawa River the next morning. The flow was much stronger here and I passed the dam, reaching deep river in a few days. Here I restocked and went for some morning fishing with a couple of rednecks I met in a bar.
Water being held back from the Dam made paddling hard for the next few days and limited my distance, but flow increased gradually as I moved away from it. The flow after the next dam was violent (they had just released it) and sent me hurtling towards my goal at a few too many knots for comfort.
I made it back in Ottawa (just!) in time for my flight and got well and truly hammered, a memorable trip at that!