By Jim Baird
We paddled through still water that reflected the surrounding forest and mountains. It was a beautiful day, and we looked up to see waterfalls that poured down from the alpine. We made slow progress as we took in our surroundings, and it became obvious that we were in no rush to reach the trailhead of the approaching portage.
Duct Tape Hacks
It’s no surprise that duct tape is the means to many a great wilderness hack. Leaving camp that morning, I used duct tape to make a new handle for one of our Nalgene bottles. I also used duct tape to make a handle for my tackle box, allowing me to clip it to a D-ring in the canoe so I wouldn’t lose it in the chance of an upset. It also allowed me to quickly clip it to the outside of a bag when portaging. Anyone who’s taped the top of a hockey stick knows how to spin tape into a rope like I did to make the duct tape handles in the video. (Canadians, are you with me?) Duct tape can solve a multitude of problems in the bush, so make sure you bring a roll along on your wilderness trips. It doesn’t hurt to store a little bit in your survival kit, either.
Reading the Land
While taking pics, and our time, I could see from the lay of the land that there was a big drop in elevation on the way. With topographic maps and GPS devices, we rarely need to use signs on the land to navigate. Keeping and eye out for such things, however, will connect you more deeply with your surroundings while keeping you safer on the river too. In this case, it was fairly obvious the mountains flanking the river on either side dropped out of sight and there was nothing but sky through the tree tops on the banks of the river in front of me. We were getting close to the portage.
Fires are a healthy part of the lifecycle of northern boreal forests and the movements of the animals that live in them. In fact, the biodiversity of northern boreal forests is largely fire-induced and is even sometimes called “pyrodiversity.” A recent wildfire had littered the banks with downed trees which was making it very difficult to find where the portage trail started. We chose a spot we could land the boat, but signs of a trail were nil. Sticking to the river bank for the carry isn’t an option, and we could see that the only way to go was up a steep hill that was littered with burnt, downed trees.
Play Leap Frog
On long portages, leap frogging is the way to go. Also called portaging in stages, this is when you walk a portion of the portage, say a quarter or half way, then you put your gear down, and go back for the rest of it. Continue moving forward in the same fashion, and you’re leap frogging. This insures that you’re never separated from half your outfit by a long distance. And you never have to walk the whole distance with the same load in one shot. It makes things a little easier. Tori and I planned to do this portage in two stages.
Don’t Lose Your Outfit
Since there was no sign of a trail where we pulled over, I used my GPS to mark where we left our canoe and gear before we headed up the steep, tree-strewn hill with our first load. This would make it easier to find our stuff when we returned for the second trip. If you’re not leaving your gear river side, but rather in a random spot on a trail-less portage, say, between two wilderness lakes, there’s a good chance you may not be able to find it when you return for the second load. It takes an extremely well-developed intuition and awareness of the natural world to be able to drop your belongings in the middle of the bush where you’ve never been, and return back to that exact same spot without the use of any navigational equipment. Unfortunately, this type of attunement is lost to most in this generation. If you’re not Jim Bridger or Sacajawea, pack a GPS and mark the location where you leave your gear. If traveling with map and compass, leave your stuff near a noticeable landform, like a large boulder or distinct tree. Flag the spot with trail tape, and mark the location on your map. Then, follow an exact back bearing with your compass on your return. Knowing how to do all this is still important, but the GPS makes life a lot easier. Just make sure you bring lots of extra batteries.
We were well into the afternoon by the time we started portaging. And clambering over the downed trees up the steep hill proved to be a total shit show right from the get-go. I just hoped we’d find what remains of the trail soon.
-- Check out more LESSONS FROM THE TRAIL WITH JIM BAIRD, including Episode 1 of the Côte-Nord Adventure: Getting There, Episode 2: How to Strap a Canoe on a Float Plane, Episode 3: Tips for Dealing with Waves and Bugs, Episode 4: Sometimes There’s a Cabin, Episode 5: Shotgun Whitewater, Episode 6: Maneuvering a Canoe in Whitewater, Episode 7: Cleaning Pike and Brook Trout.
This summer, C&K will be rolling out new episodes of Jim Baird’s Cote Nord Adventure series, presented by Nova Craft Canoe.
About this Series: Come along with Adventurer Jim Baird, his girlfriend Tori, and their dog Buck as they paddle a wild and seldom traveled river of Quebec’s breathtaking Côte-Nord region. Watch the story of their adventure unfold in this 15-part video series as they use and learn a variety of wilderness travel skills, including everything from whitewater paddling maneuvers to axemanship and, when unwanted visitors show up, operating a bear banger. You’ll get to see things from the dog’s perspective too. So grab a paddle, and get ready for a 14-day journey that begins 118 miles from the nearest road.