We have been home just over a month now and our heads are still buzzing with the wonderful time we had this summer on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
We are trying to analyze why we found the trip so great. We have made other trips in areas with more spectacular scenery, more remote wilderness and technically bigger and more difficult white water.
Our previous trips have been shorter, as we always had to return to work. Furthermore, especially for the more technical or remote trips, we often paddled in the company of friends. It is therefore difficult to make a fair comparison. In 2004 we paddled as a single boat trip the South Macmillan, Pelly and Yukon river to Dawson, a distance of 850km paddled in 22 days. That is also still a memorable trip 10 years on, so maybe we like to paddle alone.
Our conclusion about the NFCT is that the variation in waterways, the challenges of paddling windy lakes, whitewater, upstream, downstream and the encounters with friendly helpful people we met along the route, all contribute to our amazing holiday.
Beforehand I had a number of nagging issues about the trip.
Would there be sufficient or perhaps too much water in the Saranac river?
Would the wind and wave height prevent us from crossing Lake Champlain?
Could there be a problem reentering the United States in Newport using the videophone.
Information on the US customs site for Newport conflicted with information we had received from the embassy in Amsterdam concerning the necessary documentation needed for re-entry into the US.
The big lakes (Memphremagog and Moosehead) might be frightening. I prefer paddling white water rather than large lakes.
How would health and our fitness cope?
At home I irked at some of the long portages drawn on the maps.
Is Spencer stream really the stream from hell as described by some previous thru paddlers?
In fact none of these issues was a problem. We had luck with the weather which was in general good bar some exceptional storms. However during the huge storms we were always on shore and our sleeping bags and mats remained dry. Most rivers had enough water to make them navigable. The upstream river travel went painfully slowly but gave us a sense of achievement each time we completed an upstream section.
The portages were strenuous but we survived.
In particular I am extremely grateful to Geoff who did more than his fair share of portaging. We both walked twice on non-wheelable portages. On semi-wheelable portages, I normally only walked once, sometimes double barreling with two packs. Geoff on the other hand walked twice on these during the uphill part, once with packs and then again with the canoe.
Do we have regrets?
Maybe that we let ourselves be shuttled over the Grand Portage and past the Dead River. Other portages later along the trail were just as long and strenuous. We also missed a part of the Missisquoi when we got help to get our canoe cart repaired. If we lived close to the trail, we would return and fill in these missing bits like the Dead River with spring water levels. Unfortunately living so far away that is not a practical option.
We are now searching for a destination for next year’s canoe trip of similar length which will match our enthusiasm for the NFCT. Suggestions welcome.