Abitibi Paddling Adventure 2020 Part 2 (Sept. 7-8)

2020.09.22

We woke up around sunrise on the 7th, got a weather forecast from the satellite, and set to making breakfast. The planned breakfast was stuffed french toast, and the weather was cooperative enough to let us make and eat it before starting any rain — but not to break camp and get on our way. We had to scurry vulnerable things under our tarp as a strong shower passed overhead, before we could finish our preparations to get on our way. Once underway, we had scattered showers and strong, gusty winds pretty much all day. Fortunately, the winds were consistently tailwinds.

Another stroke of good fortune is that the remaining rapids in the section we’d identified as the difficult start to the trip, were neither as challenging as the first day’s white water (though still involved white water), nor did we have to do any real dragging of the canoe (though still enough for me to get water in my boots). A good deal of this is probably because the rain overnight, and during the day (and flow controls at the dam in response to the rain) had brought the water level up in the river by maybe about a foot where we were paddling.

Having logged such a short day the day before that even doubling its distance covered for every remaining day (because we put in late enough that it was a half-day, right?), seemed to put our ability to catch the train back to the car at risk, we decided to put in a lot of paddling, and hopefully make up for lost time.

Also, because the weather was crummy, we decided to just fuel up on some of our assorted candies, instead of having a proper lunch, around the middle of the day (at which point we discovered that we were making good progress). Eventually we passed the confluence with the Little Abitibi river, saw a nice-looking place to set up camp, and pulled in, in the hopes that someone following the GPS tracking pins that we were sending, would look at the pin for our stopping point on map, see “Little Abitibi”, and their mind would immediately follow it with “with the survey crew; and the black fly, the little black fly…”. (Incidentally, the hydro dam whose surveying that song was written about, is the Abitibi Canyon dam, which we passed on our way up to Otter Rapids.)

While we had enough time to make ourselves a proper campfire and a proper dinner before the rain was forecast to set in, we just finished the other half of the charcuterie that we’d started the night before (apparently I provisioned much larger meals than we needed, probably because I was anticipating burning as many calories paddling as I had burned biking across Canada 12 years prior). We still had a campfire, but used it mainly to dry our gloves and socks and whatnot, after the day’s rain and rapids, rather than for cooking.

After turning in and getting a good night’s sleep, we once again rose around sunrise to a slightly cool, but mostly sunny and dry day. The winds were moderate, and we experienced no real difficulties with rapids or shoals. There were still some rapids, but they were generally very easy, and just added a bit of fun to the day.

When we stopped for lunch, we ate the ham sandwiches that had been planned for the day before (in an effort to use up the rest of the ham that hadn’t gone into the stuffed french toast — the left-over ham from this lunch was one of the only provisions that spoiled before we had a chance to finish it off, fortunately it wasn’t much).

It was also on this day that we saw a flurry of signs of humanity. Within the space of a few km, we saw what looked like an outdoor utility cabinet with a solar panel on it, and some fluorescent orange object a few dozen metres away (which we guessed marked the river end of a trail leading to the railway, and there to enable someone to service whatever was in the utility cabinet). We also saw a cabin up on the side of the river valley, and a staircase leading up to it from a large, overturned canoe by the shore, and then we saw a small cluster of cabins, which turned out to be Camp Onakawana.

It’s probably worth noting that apart from this cluster of human sign, the entire run from our put-in, to the Abitibi’s mouth into the Moose river, was essentially untouched wilderness. We didn’t see fire pits (or even burn scars), stacked, organized, or partially burnt wood, cleared ground, cleanly cut stumps or logs (except for one log which looked like it had washed downriver from somewhere else), or a speck of litter. Sometimes I’d imagining someone observing us judgementally, and feel self-conscious, before remembering that we were days away from any other people (except maybe near that cluster of things).

We continued to put in extra distance, so that by the end of the day, we were 60km from our put-in point, and back on track to be able to arrive in Moosonee after 8 paddling days (and a rest day).

We finally had our tacos for dinner, and discussed covering a little extra distance the next day, so we could feel good taking a rest day after that. All of the taco fillings (and the tortillas) were still in good shape, and the tacos were delicious.

As a bonus, the place we stopped to camp had an abundance of driftwood scattered around it, and some of the birch trees were close to the edge of the bush, and had great sheets of bark peeling off them already. Basically, our third day of paddling was an unblemished delight. We once again turned in not long after dark.

Stats:
Sept. 7 distance paddled: 32.5km (13.5km pre-lunch, 19.0km after)
Sept. 7 shortest-path distance: 30km (12km pre-lunch 18km after)
Distance from Otter Rapids at end of Sept. 7: 34km (17km at lunch)
Distance from Moosonee at end of Sept. 7: 109km (126km at lunch)
Sept. 8 distance paddled: 26.8km (14.7km pre-lunch, 12.1km after)
Sept. 8 shortest-path distance: 25.3km (13.7km pre-lunch 11.6km after)
Distance from Otter Rapids at end of Sept. 8: 59km (47km at lunch)
Distance from Moosonee at end of Sept. 8: 83km (95km at lunch)

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