At the end of last November, I took a 4 day-3 night trip across the Avalon Wilderness Reserve’s paddling route. This was my third time tackling this journey in three years and first with my new Alpacka Packraft. I had previously test hauled the packraft on a trip this past August. Check out Twelve Days of Bush Living On Your Back for a round up of that particular trek. On this weekend though, my main objective was continuing preparation for a first paddling/backpacking crossing of Newfoundland’s wilderness. That is slated to begin this upcoming Spring, 2017.
For this training expedition, picking late November worked out great in my favour. The water levels were the highest I had ever experienced in the AWR. It was a paddler’s dream. A fall riddled with rain caused the rivers and ponds to swell like a hot apple pie. I would estimate that the depth of water had increased by 2-3 feet since my trip in 2015 (Film: Crossing the Avalon Wilderness Reserve of Newfoundland and Labrador) and 4-5 feet since 2014 when my cousin Brandon LeGrow and I faced gruelling river lining at a time where water was almost absent in the winding pathways.
This time around, my new Cape Shore Water Dog/Black Lab Saku (see Cape Shore Water Dogs, Bough Beds and Leaving No Trace) was also along for the ride. Being it his first multi-day trip in the boat, at the tender age of 4 1/2 months, I was a tad nervous going into it. Not nervous because he would dislike the experience but just uneasy thinking he may be too cold spending long days exposed in the elements. Air temperatures were forecasted to be between -5 and +3 degrees celsius and the water temperature was also bitterly cold by now. Hypothermia was a question for both of us if an accidental dip presented itself. I took extra caution when loading my pack to the raft. The weight needed to distributed evenly to prevent a capsize. I also equipped my spray deck to minimize water from leaking in on my feet, legs and Saku while I was on the water. To combat the cold temperatures while I paddled and he lie dormant, I rigged a pouch out of a sleeping bag case, flannel blanket and garbage bag. He would creep into that under my spray deck and was content as could be. The few times we did get a little damp, I made a point to get the fire going ASAP when we arrived at camp. Some packed away dry tinder made this a quick and easy endeavour. I also made a thick bough bed to raise Saku off the forest floor and closer to the glowing flames of the fire .
My Gortex coat and pants, a liner of cold weather wool and a pair of rubbers kept me at bay from the frigid fall wetness. Although knee high rubbers don’t provide the greatest support or comfort for hiking, they keep your feet much drier than the average boot. In the spring and summer you can afford wet foot travel but in the fall and winter, it is hazardous. As long as your rubbers don’t leak and the water doesn’t go over the top, you are in fine shape. Also, because they are made of rubber, they tend to fit loose. Try wearing a thick sock to make things more snug. Fortunately, out of the approximate 35-40 kilometre distance I had to cover, only about 8-10 kilometres were walking. I could manage that in the rubbers. The rest would be paddling. That was thanks to all the rivers being high and passable as I had hoped. If the place was short of H2O I would of definitely had a bit more tip-toeing to do!
The trip itself began at Mount Carmel Pond off of Horsechops Road on the Southern Shore. It finished at Peak Pond on the Salmonier Line. This was the same route I had took in 2015. In 2014 we left from Cape Pond. These are basically the same routes and meet up only a few kilometres in. You can get a map of these routes at the Department of Natural Resources (709-729-4180 ) building out at Paddys Pond, 5 minutes west of St.John’s. I would imagine other offices around Newfoundland have them too.
I set camp up on Friday the 25th which was a day of blowing gales. The shores of Mt. Carmel was the site and I waited for the predicted calm conditions on Saturday. When the morning arrived I was on the loose by 8:00 am. Days were short now and I wanted to move till 3:00 pm. That would give myself one hour to establish my site before the long autumn evening. By 2:30 pm I had about 17 kilometres punched and decided to set up at a lovely sheltered spot in the Three Rivers area. I spent that night and the following night in the very same location for good reason.
The onset of a nasty Nor’Easter Sunday morning and through the night made plans of advancing that day disappear. I decided to stick it out and build a small shelter to test some of the more primitive skills necessary to survival when limited resources are available. I built a tarp shelter to weather the storm, worked on my flint fire-starting, set snares and even went the day on little food while working moderately. In the future I’ll never know when this situation may arise so I figured I would simulate it. That evening, under brutal winds and rain, Saku and I laid in the shelter till finally calling it quits at 9:00 pm. The worst of the storm was now over and I figured that hopping into our warm sleeping bag inside the tent, was the best option for both of us. On Monday, about 18-20 total kilometres separated us from the finish line.
The next morning I was up at dark and managed a fire with only soaking wet wood and a match. By splitting deadwood to the core I reached its dry inside and used this to whittle small splits and shavings with my knife. Once you create a nice pile of these shavings, a match or two will ignite it. Then slowly add the splits. It is crucial here that you do not use green wood. It is too damp and will not catch until your fire is established and burning hot. Starting a blaze this way always gives me a feeling of both satisfaction and comfort. Knowing that I can get the job done, even in the wettest conditions, instills confidence. After a quick bite I was gone by 7:30 am. Throughout the day I tenaciously plowed down wild rivers and restlessly portaged, towing my 6 pound raft behind me between the 2 long walks. These both averaged about 1 kilometre each. The lightness of the raft made this more of pleasure than it had been in the past with an 82 lb canoe. The ability to transition between ponds so quick with it is a blessing. In all, I had travelled from Mt. Carmel Pond to Peak Pond in about 12 hours of moving time, excluding some short breaks. On a long summers day I think I could do the whole shot if conditions were favourable. Maybe another time. Any takers?
Overall, the outing was a great learning experience for Saku. Getting him used to wilderness travel is a must. And boy, did he ever prove my doubts wrong. That puppy is going to be a warrior. I know he had no other choice but he took this trip like a champ and loved it. He will be a stronger and more resililent dog because of it. For me, it was another stepping stone in my preparation for the 700 projected kilometres that lay ahead of me in the spring. I am gaining every inch I can.
***If you have any more question’s related to this route or other outdoor topics please feel free to email me at: email@example.com
Here is a brief overview of select gear used on the trip:
Alpacka Packraft: After 5 months of continual testing I can confirm that this boat is a beast and is a must for the hunter, fisherman or hiker who likes to get to those hard to reach honey holes. It is also an awesome recreational craft that can provide endless hours of on the water enjoyment for you or your family. Originally built for whitewater paddling, I think this is one of the most effective pieces of gear on the market for the avid outdoorsmen. It isn’t the cheapest but is no different than buying a quality canoe or kayak. They have been proven to last.
InReach SE: First time trying this rig. Loaned it from a friend. Thanks Steveo. Works like a charm. Waterproof. Two way texting. Weather updates. Gives followers your coordinates and location on a virtual map via email, SMS and social media. You can even get an app that links it to your smart phone for easier typing than on the device itself. It also has a 24/7 SOS feature you can utilize if really needed. Your local search and rescue responders will be contacted. This is a part of your package which is not a big expense. Subscriptions can be annually or monthly. There is also an Explorer version that comes with a GPS. Check them out online or at your local Outdoor retailer. This guy ( The Explorer) will be coming on the long haul next year along with a satellite phone that I can make calls with.
MSR Mutha Hubba 3 Man Tent: I can’t say it enough. Bomb shelter. MSR tents are the gear. Lightweight, a flawless quick set up and very weather proof. After weathering half a dozen large scale rain storms, I have not yet got wet. It is also great in the winter even though it is labeled as 3-season. How warm can a tent really keep you in frigid winter temperatures anyways? I will be taking either the solo or two man version next year. I am still undecided.
Kelty 110L Pack: This may be the right bag for my job but not yours. You can fit everything and the kitchen sink in there. I need the room for potentially going 15-20 days without a resupply. Regardless, if you just want to bring a lot of gear on your next outing, don’t be afraid to pick this bad boy up. There are compartments galore and it is as comfortable as a heavy sack on your back can get.
Get out there when you can and tickle your curiosity. You never know what’s around the next corner…
A few photos from the outing: