I pick up the rented Epsilon C200 at White Squall’s Paddling Center north of Parry Sound on Tuesday and then one of its drivers shuttles us up to the north end of Georgian Bay for the start of what will be a memorable paddle down the coast of “the sixth Great Lake”!
2020 Update: While the Town White Squall Outdoor store in Parry Sound is still open, the Paddling Center and the rental kayak/canoe operation where we picked up my rental kayak and the shuttle vehicle with driver is no more in June 2020. Get in touch with White Squall to find out more: 705 746-4936 firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been quite a while since my one and only major kayak trip! Back in 1995 five of us from southern Ontario – we had three solo kayaks and one tandem – paddled along the northeast shore of Lake Superior from Hattie Cove on the west side of Pukaskwa National Park back to Michipicoten. (That’s Puck a saw if you’re wondering!)
It was incredibly beautiful – and occasionally quite intimidating as I watched my fellow kayakers disappear as two-meter waves rolled in. A couple of days we just sat out as the strong wind blew and waves pounded the shore. Lake Superior is a big open lake – the largest freshwater lake in the world – and when that wind is blowing from the southwest there is nowhere to hide! As Lightfoot sings in The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald – “It’s the lake they call Gichi Gumi“! Big Water!
This time it will be the northeast shore of a somewhat more gentle Georgian Bay (Champlain named it “La Mer Douce” on his 1618 map) that will provide the stunning seascape and island scenery. Last summer’s four-day canoe trip with my brother Max around Philip Edward Island at the top end of the bay was my introduction to the area.
We came back raving about the beauty of Georgian Bay and the pleasure of paddling past and down channels created by the countless islands (some bare rock and looking like whalebacks and others partially treed and with great campsites). We were also reassured by the way those islands – supposedly 30,000 in all – can serve as windbreaks and safe passage when the wind picks up.
This week Ken, Rick, and I will put in on the banks of Chikanishing Creek in Killarney Provincial Park. The starting point is about ten kilometers east of the town of Killarney and eliminates some open and exposed paddling in favour of a more gentle start. Rick has done several trips on Lake Superior and Georgian Bay; Ken is a lifelong sailor with lots of Caribbean big water experience. And then there’s me with my summers spent canoeing the interior lakes and rivers of the Canadian Shield! I figure I’m the kayaking rookie and in pretty good hands!
The weather forecast for August 22 – August 30 looks excellent – all except for some rain on the very first day/ Maybe it will be over by the time we set off!
During that timeframe, the plan is to paddle the 150 kilometers down to Snug Harbour at the entrance to Parry Sound. On the way we’ll make our way east on the G’Bay side of Philip Edward Island and past the mouth of the French River, the very first river to make the list of Canadian Heritage Rivers thanks to its association with the voyageurs and the fur trade from the early 1600s to the 1820s.
Then we cruise by the mouth of the Key River and the entrance to Byng Inlet – lots more history, this time of the lumber industry and railroads. Nearing Point Au Baril as the weekend approaches we may see some boat traffic, because of the increasing number of cottages the further south we head.
Both Dillon and Snug Harbour are popular start and endpoints for Georgian Bay kayak trips. While both are close to Franklin Island, Snug Harbour is closer to the many excellent campsites at the south end of the island. Before getting shuttled up to the start of the trip at Chikanishing, we will park our vehicles at Snug Harbour.
The Gilly’s Marina parking lot makes for a convenient – and safe – spot. They charge $7.50 a day for the service. The Dillon Cove Marina up at the north end of Franklin charges a similar fee.
It will be non-stop photo ops as we make our way through some incredible “eye candy”! Most of the shots will undoubtedly be taken from land but I plan to have my Fuji x20 on board inside a waterproof Pelican case as we are paddling so I can get the occasional shot from the water.
We have set aside nine days to do the 150-kilometer journey. If we don’t need the extra wind days, then we’ll get it done in a day or two less!
It is amazing that this beautiful slice of nature – wild, even if not completely devoid of signs of “civilization” – is within a three-hour drive from Toronto and the G.T.A., North America’s fifth-largest bit of urban sprawl! Except for the first day or two, we’ll be close enough to Highway 69 to be in cell phone coverage range for the entire trip! Last year phone calls were even possible in the Philip Edward Island stretch at the top end of the route.
Mostly just to get to know how it works, I am taking along our new Garmin inReach Explorer+ GPS tracker and two-way communication device. It replaces our previous GPS tracker and SOS transmitter, the Spot Connect pictured on the right. We decided to make the switch to the Garmin inReach because it not only sends out messages but can also receive them. The Spot can only send brief 45-character messages; it also requires a smartphone to be functional while the inReach can function on its own.
We also made the switch because of an incident where the Spot initiated an SOS call without our input! It was a total energy-sapping fiasco which, like it or not, came to define the trip. You can read all about it by scrolling to the tail end of this post dealing with Day Two of a recent canoe trip –
Both devices provide real-time tracking information – the GPS location – which is posted at the respective company-maintained website. Below is a screenshot of the page as it looks right now – i.e. empty!
On Tuesday, August 22 our kayaks will be in the water! Until then – some last-minute packing to do. Cramming everything into the kayak’s two main hatches in little waterproof bags will be a novelty to this canoe tripper used to organizing everything in two large 110-liter canoe packs and two large duffle bags!
Update: A fantastic paddle down the Bay coast!
Check out the following posts for maps, info, and pix of our paddle down the coast.
The weather – i.e. the wind and the waves – determined our route – and it will determine yours! Most days I wore the Farmer John neoprene wet suit that I had picked up at Mountain Equipment Co-Op in 1995 for that Lake Superior kayak trip. I’m glad I hadn’t given it away in the intervening twenty years!