We woke up to a completely still morning with the sun shining into our tent. It’s hard to leave such a beautiful camp but we were confident that this whole trip was going to be beautiful. The wind had picked up by the time we left so we paddled to the end of Sandfly Lake into another headwind. As we neared where we thought the portage should be, it looked like the end of the lake. Finally, as we drew nearer we could see water flowing behind the tree line so we knew this must be the river.
We pulled ashore to scout Upper Needle Rapids. There were three channels, all roaring, and all way too rocky for us to paddle, we would portage. The portage was pretty straight forward. We had to lift everything up over some rocks, carry it along a trail of flattened grass and then back down a steep rocky slope to the water below. We did the portage quite quickly, three loads per boat and the kids carried some small stuff while eating raspberries along the way. We were very hot by the end so we all went for a swim in our clothes to cool off.
It was a short but very pretty paddle to the next portage at Lower Needle Rapids. This portage looked a lot longer on the map than the first one. Since the first rapid looked fairly big we didn’t expect this one to be runnable so we didn’t take time to scout, instead we all grabbed a load of gear and started to walk down the trail. The portage trail turned out to be really hard going since a forest fire had burned through here three years before. Instead of a nice trail through a forest it was all overgrown with young birch. It was often impossible to see where you were putting your feet over the uneven ground. Struggling along I eventually kicked a stump and got a big piece of bark lodged under a toe nail.
We finally made it to the end after half an hour. Thank goodness Molly had carried water and Dwane had brought a snack bag. We didn’t want to make the kids walk the trail back and forth too many times so Dwane suggested the rapids may be runnable. After a long wait we finally saw Dwane coming around the bend in the canoe, upright. What a relief that we wouldn’t have to carry all our gear and the canoes across that difficult trail.
After a successful second run we loaded the gear we had carried into the boats and paddled down to get to the last portage of the day at Needle Falls. The Needle Falls portage was the shortest. We could almost see the end of it from the beginning. Dwane and I hustled back and forth carrying everything we could. It was quite swampy and we both got leeches on our feet from walking through the mud. The kids enjoyed being on “leech watch” trying to spot them before they could attach themselves.
We ate a late but most appreciated lunch at the end of that portage. Soon after paddling away we got hit by a heavy but brief rain shower. We saw lots of pelicans were roosting along on the rocky islets, and we came across two snakes swimming in the slow moving current below the falls! Stopping in a sheltered bay for break the kids climbed up onto a large beaver lodge, talking excitedly about what the beavers must be doing inside. What their home must be like, with all its tunnels and rooms, and how warm it would be in the winter. I used to worry about the kids breaking through, but Grey Owl’s book says they are built so strong that even a moose can walk over them safely.
The weather calmed down a bit so we headed further downstream and had a wonderful evening paddle. The kids were so happy, sitting up on the bow of the canoe, kicking their feet in the water to keep cool. As we paddled close to the shore looking for campsites Molly spotted a large thing swimming in the water. It looked a little like a skinny spotted sea cucumber from back home, but it was an enormous leech. We finally found a really nice camp on a rocky point. However we had arrived pretty late so it was a bit of a rush to set up everything and eat before the mosquitoes came out. It had been a good day, hard and a bit long but really nice. We fell asleep to the sound of a beaver splashing in the water and the ever present distant call of the loon.