As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit the French River. I had no idea where to go, where to access, what to see, etc and so the trip kept getting delayed. Finding myself suddenly available on the August long weekend and dying to do a 4 day solo, I decided the French River was where I would go.
My awesome friend Kevin Callan had been there and had written about the area in his book Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario. As I sadly didn’t have a copy, he quickly sent me one via post and I had it the next day. Such a wonderful guy! Thanks Kevin! The route he had listed was 83km’s and I wanted to do it. I thought I could but a few hours before leaving, we chatted and I got the feeling I was being overzealous and maybe should do a smaller loop. I still hadn’t seen the official map, so I decided I’d do something else new, WING IT!
I headed to Stephens Butcher Shop in Port Carling to pick up some vacuum packed meats for the trip and the next day with a severe storm watch alert issued by the Weather Network, I jumped in the car with my Delta on top and headed to Hartley Bay Marina.
It took me less than 2 hours to arrive and watching the sky the whole way, I was happy to report, only a few drops of rain and no angry looking clouds. I went into the office and talked to a lovely lady name Sherry, who showed me a map, took all my information and told me how to proceed from there.
Off I went to the Marina down the driveway where I would park by the dock, unload my kayak and gear, and then one of the people there would take my car and my keys and park my vehicle until I returned. Very nice system indeed. Thankfully, there were just 2 canoes loading when I arrived, so I moved quickly and got into my boat and on my way as quickly as possible.
The sky was dark and it was spitting rain on and off but nothing major. The winds were a bit strong but again, nothing major so I kept my eyes on the sky and paddled off into the French.
A few km’s in, it started to rain pretty hard and got very dark. I came across a site and it was not taken, which I found odd. It is a long weekend and there are storm warnings in effect and I didn’t know what, if any sites, I would find open. I stopped at the site to put my rain jacket on and check it out.
The site (613) was very closed in and extremely buggy. It was nice otherwise but I was not happy with my progress at all. I wanted to put in a lot of km’s this weekend and staying at a site only a few km’s in and giving in to a bit of rain was not what I wanted to do. After about a half hour contemplating, and watching the sky lighten up, I got back in my kayak and continued on. I knew there was the possibility of getting stuck in thunder, but if that happened, I’d just have to pull over and wait it out. I was moving on. The weather alert was on until 5pm and it was just after 3. I was not going to stop this soon. No way!
I continued on my way heading southwest through Wanapitei Bay and then down the main channel, watching the clouds and paddling quite hard against the wind. It rained on and off but nothing major. Every site I passed was taken so I had no choice but to paddle to the next area where there were more sites just past the Elbow. I paddled about 15km’s and I was much happier with that than the 3 or 4 I’d completed at the site I almost stopped at, but my excitement soon faded.
As I headed west from the elbow towards Dalles Rapids, every site was taken. It was around 6pm and there weren’t many other sites nearby and I was getting really worried. Did I make a mistake leaving that first site? I paddled by 2 canoes heading towards me and asked them if they were coming or going? They advised they were staying at a friends cottage and that they saw an open site at the portage. I once again got excited and paddled towards the portage, double checking each site along the way, was indeed taken.
When I arrived at the site, my happiness once again faded. It might have been one of the worst sites I’d seen. The kayak would have to be docked right beside the portage and when I walked up to the site, it had looked like no one had stayed there in a very very long time. The trail to the site was overgrown as was the site and it was just a very small piece of land in between two rocks, very uneven and very very buggy. I was not staying here. But, what would I do?
After much deliberation, trying to run the Dalles Rapids, trying to line them, deciding to portage the kayak, deciding to go all the way around to Georgian Bay…. I finally made the smartest choice of staying put. I also realized there were many benefits to camping on a crappy site, like having lots of firewood available and not having anyone around. Sometimes you just have to do your best to find the bright side.
I got unpacked and went for a swim. I had been wearing rain pants all day and it was hot and I was super sweaty. I was so happy to take off those rain pants. It had not really rained enough to warrant them, but it was expected to and it wasn’t easy to put on rainpants while kayaking so I wore them to be on the safe side. In my mind, it didn’t rain a lot because I had them on. LOL.
After my swim and setting up the site, I went to this little bay very close by. I wanted to see if I could get through to somewhere via that shallow waterway, which I couldn’t, but I had to know, and I also wanted to look for moose, deer, beavers, whatever. I didn’t find anything except some gorgeous views and that was enough in the end.
It was pretty late and I was super hungry so I got dinner started. I wanted to cook my steak on the fire, but after it burned on it’s own for a few hours, it had gone out and I just was too tired to get it going again to cook over, so I just cooked on my little stove in the pan. The steak tasted great and I sat in my little cave-like site eating happily.
It soon got dark and the moon came out. It was very bright and left a shadow and I got a nice photo of it and the fire. Then the bugs came out in full force and as there was no wind or breeze where I was, I put away the bear vault and headed into the tent. It was a pretty long day and I was really happy I’d stayed at this site, well, until I started sliding off my mat and into the end of the tent as I was on a huge slant. Sigh, not much I could do, but suck it up. Tomorrow I would get up and head out early and hopefully get something much better. Hopefully.
I woke up Saturday around 5:45 to another gloomy day. As I had no reception, I couldn’t check the weather so I just hoped it would brighten up. I went out for an early morning paddle into the bay close by and saw a beaver, but no moose and no other creatures. It was very calm and peaceful though. I did a bit of fishing but had no bites or nibbles, so I went back to the site to eat and pack up so I could head out on my days adventure!
Breakfast for day 1 was english muffins, bacon and eggs. I was excited for this one and ate it up pretty quickly.
I said see ya later, (hopefully not) to the site that saved me.
Then jumped in my kayak, fully loaded, and headed back out towards the Elbow.
It rained on and off but it was that misty type of rain that was just annoying more than anything. I saw no one on the water and just a few people on some of the sites just waking up. It was 8:30am and I was happy to be on my way, hopefully to something better today!
My plan was to head East towards the Elbow and then go South through Bass Lake, over 2 liftovers, a 10M and a 50M and into Georgian Bay. I would then hopefully find a nice site there for the night. I loved Georgian Bay and this weekends destination was actually a toss up between here and there. With the loop I was doing, however, I still got a bit of Georgian Bay while doing the French, so it was a win win.
On my way from the Elbow to Bass Lake I got to see this little fella running over the rocks. He actually picked up a fish and ran off with it, but I stopped the video to take a photo and BAM! he was gone!
You’d think with a name like Bass Lake, there’d be some bass right? Well, I did too, so I did some trolling while paddling through it, but it didn’t produce any rewards.
I found the first liftover fairly easily and was happy it was indeed just a lift over. The next one though, I had to empty the kayak out and carry it the 50 metres. It was short and easy and I was all alone so I didn’t really mind much at all. It also gave me a chance to make a video of me loading the kayak. (You can check it out on my you tube channel in a few days.)
Soon, I was out on the rougher, windier waters of Georgian Bay and I had to continuously paddle to keep from going backwards and getting blown away. I pulled over once to check the map and see what sites I would aim for and with a clear route in mind, set out once again, paddling hard as a few small whitecaps formed on the bay.
I found some small channels that I could get into and paddle through to get to where I wanted to be and opted to head that way instead of paddling on the rough open water. It was a huge difference and I was happy I’d made that choice and took a few minutes to take a closer look at the map and the area I was in.
I was once again starting to feel worried. I had seen only a few campsites along the way and they were taken. I was pretty sure I was where I thought I was as I was using the GPS on my phone, combined with my map and my compass, but I didn’t see any sites where I thought they’d be. I’d been paddling for about 5 hours and was ready to make camp. I figured most of the sites couldn’t be seen from the Bay and you had to go through the channels to find them, so with one in mind, I made my way paddling through the mazes of rock islands, hopeful the site I’d picked out would be open and awesome!
Then all of a sudden, I found it! Site 724 was exactly where I’d thought it would be and it made me feel so good to know I was actually where I thought I was. It was really cute with one side being very sheltered and closed off and the other end being open to Georgian Bay and the winds and the area I’d need to head through tomorrow. I also got a very small cell signal at the point, so I messaged my mom to let her know I was okay, checked the forecast for the next few days and then went back and unloaded by kayak and set up camp. Soooooo happy! First I needed some lunch!
Lunch today was prosciutto from Stephens Butcher shop and boy was it good! I just put it on a wrap with some laughing cow cheese and mowed down. YUM YUM YUM. I was a happy camper!
After lunch I set up my tent and a firepit? LOL. The campsite had 2 sides to it, the side on the open water and strong winds, and the side that was in the very calm, mirror like bay. There were 2 firepits, one on each side but it was far too windy to set up anything on the side by the open water. People had also been having fires on the calm side but the firepit didn’t look safe in any way and I wanted to protect the land I was on.
I didn’t feel comfortable having a fire without some rocks around it to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to the forest. It was much less windy on this side of the site, but that didn’t mean a gust couldn’t come up and blow the embers out and start a forest fire. I wasn’t going to take that chance. I set up some rocks to encase the fire and when I was done, I set up my tent. It was still raining on and off but nothing too crazy so I just did what I needed to do.
After I set up the tent, I headed out to do some fishing. I caught a mussel and a stick! Damn I’m good!!! LOL. Not a bite otherwise.
But I did see the blue skies heading this way, far off in the distance out in the open water. Hopefully, the sun was heading my way !
I gathered some wood, there seemed to be quite a bit in the area and it didn’t look like this site was used very much. I got a good fire going and then proceeded to make my evenings dinner, since it wouldn’t be fish. I had gotten peameal bacon from the butcher shop and had marinated it in Dijon mustard and maple syrup. I brought a crusty roll that held up well in the bear vault and cut it into 4 pieces of bread to make 2 sandwiches.
It was delicious! I sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet and thought it funny that it was a long weekend and so busy but I barely had seen anyone out paddling anywhere. The evening sky darkened but it didn’t rain again. I went out for another paddle to take some photos. The cloudy sky made for some great pictures and I was in awe of how beautiful it was here. I have always loved Georgian Bay and I was more than delighted that I was camping on it tonight.
When I got my signal back, I found out that there had been a tornado warning posted for where I lived about 4 hours after I’d left.
People on facebook were concerned about my safety and I had not had a signal to even know what was going on. I responded and then headed back into my nice calm sheltered area. I enjoyed the fire for a bit and headed to bed. Another amazing day, this time ending with the best campsite, sleeping on nice flat ground in the quiet of gorgeous Georgian Bay. This was heaven!
I enjoyed a wonderful peaceful sleep and felt great with the progress I’d made so far. Tomorrow I would head back out into the open waters of Georgian Bay and then make my way up a channel no one I knew had ever gone through. I had no idea if I would be able to get through to the Western Channel from there or not, and if not, would have to go all the way back down and around. Would I make it through? Would I finally catch a fish? Would lightening and thunder finally emerge? What other surprises were in store?
Check back next week for part 2 to find out! My video of day 1 & day 2 will be up on Thursday on my you tube channel . Hope you check them out as well!