Ontario: Cape Gargantua & Ottawa River
Ontario is Wonderful Place
Ontario is wonderful place that really worth to visit. You can find there freshwater beaches, awe-inspiring wilderness, sailing, canoe trips and many others. Cape Gargantua and Ottawa River are the places you will fall in love if you visit. Read the stories of adventures and make sure it worth to see Ontario on your own eye.
Ontario, Cape Gargantua (Lake Superior). Thirty years later, Joanie McGuffin vividly recalls the first time she saw Cape Gargantua, Ontario. “It was 1983. My husband, Gary, and I, newly married, were in the midst of a cross-Canada canoe trip. Inspired by the history and geography of our country’s waterways, we had mapped out an east-to-west route that linked beluga whale calving grounds in the St. Lawrence with the great Mackenzie River flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Among the maps of traditional North American trade routes, historical journals, and contemporary reads that provided impetus for the journey was a photography book entitled Superior: The Haunted Shore by Wayland Drew and Bruce Littlejohn. I remember this as the only coffee-table book in the home where I grew up.
In the planning of our long voyage, Lake Superior, Ontario was a highlight, though many of our friends were nervous about us paddling there. After all, many mariners feel traveling on Superior is more dangerous than navigating across the Atlantic Ocean. Two months into our cross-Canada voyage, we arrived in Sault Sainte Marie, where the Soo Locks raised us twenty feet to the height of Lake Superior, Ontario. I must admit that it was with trepidation, and Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ playing in our minds, that we paddled out onto the greatest Great Lake. Ontario.
“Fear drove us to fourteen-hour days of paddling. (Our minds conjured images of November gales taking thousand-foot freighters to watery graves.) We dutifully followed the advice we had been given by well-meaning experts: Get up at the crack of dawn and take advantage of the morning calm. So in just ten days, we covered five hundred miles around the North Shore, paddling all the way from Whitefish Bay to the Pigeon River. My impressions, blurred by the exhaustion of this marathon, were of vast water meeting the horizon, beaches arcing into distant headlands, and precipitous cliffs plunging into dark depths. En route, we traversed Cape Gargantua, Ontario. The mainland jutting into the lake was fringed with dark, volcanic islands. Ancient cedars overhung sculptured shoals. Pockmarked gargoyles in twisted shapes, hidden grotto’s, whispering streams, and so much more left a strong impression. We yearned to return.
Ontario. The islands of Cape Gargantua have long held deep spiritual
significance for the Anishinaabe people.
Lake Superior, Ontario
“Six years later, we did. This time we were on a summer-long circumnavigation of Lake Superior, Ontario. After six weeks of paddling counterclockwise along the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan shores, we crossed Whitefish Bay and headed north once again into Ontario waters on Superior’s eastern side. At the north end of Agawa Bay, we revisited the hundred-foot-high wall famous as a rock canvas embellished with dozens of pictographs. These ancient red ochre paintings depicting creatures like Misshepeshu, the spiny-back feline; sea serpents; canoes; and various figures reminded us of the thousands of years of Anishinaabe occupation of these lands and waters. Much of the paddling en route to Gargantua, Ontario (twenty miles farther north) offers little protection from the three-hundred-mile fetch of open water until you reach the screen of small islands at Gargantua, Ontario. This sheltered oasis on an otherwise exposed coast is something that would not have gone unnoticed by travelers through the centuries. These islands have always held great spiritual significance for the Anishinaabe people. It has been a place of excellent fishing, medicinal plant harvesting, nesting falcons, and red ochre gathering. Every time I travel through Gargantua, I have this feeling of many eyes upon me. Perhaps it is just the volcanic geology—dark brown and reddish in color—that feels primitive and alive, like the lava just cooled yesterday. But to me, the silhouetted figures and faces shaped by the pockmarked rock are alive and peering out intently from every crevice and cave.” Ontario.
Lake Superior, at the highest point of the Great Lakes, is the largest, cleanest, and least populated of the five lakes. Cape Gargantua is located in the heart of Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario, a park that encompasses seventy-five miles of coastline. It’s a wild and remote country—paddlers with keen eyes might spy moose, black bear, or wolves along the shore, or the elusive peregrines, which have made a comeback and populate Lake Superior’s shoreline cliffs in Ontario. A caution that every paddler needs to heed, even in summer, is that the open water is frigid, hovering in the low forties. If you go, you should seek out pockets of warm water in sheltered bays. These form the treasured, but elusive, Ontario Lake Superior swimming pools. “The Lake’s cold water creates another bonus,” Joanie continued, “an arctic micro climate where species like Arctic saxifrage and crow berry flourish. And other plants like orange lichens and purple bell-flowers color Gargantua’s shoreline particularly brilliantly at sunset in Ontario.”
Ontario. For the paddler and hiker, there are many routes throughout Lake Superior Provincial Park, ranging from day hikes to weeklong paddling excursions. “One thing I love about paddling at Gargantua is the Warp Bay beach and the coastal hiking trail,” Joanie advises. “If the wind comes up, and you are obliged to stay onshore, there’s so much you can do on the land.”
One of Joanie’s favorite memories of Gargantua concerns a moonlight paddle to Nanabijou’s Chair. “This great rocky throne lies off Gargantua’s northern extremity,” she described. “In low waters, reefs reveal themselves in spidery threads reaching westwards from this monolith. The park’s commonly used name, ‘Devil’s Chair,’ was the product of overzealous missionaries eager to vanquish the Anishinaabe people’s most powerful spiritual allies. But the stories of Nanabijou, the trickster who rested here after leaping across Lake Superior from his home in Thunder Bay, are being revived, as are the traditional ceremonies that have long been performed in this special landscape at Ontario.
“On this occasion, we paddled from the beach at Warp Bay to Nanabijou’s Chair at night, accompanied by a few friends. The lake was so calm and the stars so brightly reflected in the lake, it appeared as if we were floating in the middle of the universe. We took our deerskin drums with us. We lit a fire and warmed them until they were taut. And then we began drumming. With the deep primitive sound reverberating off the rock wall, drifting off into the night, we felt it could’ve been a thousand years ago. As I think back on that night, I can’t help but conclude that our technology world of GPS’s, cell phones, and laptops often distance us from these real-life experiences. Superior’s first-hand teachings about respect for cold water, winds, and weather can never really be learned virtually. Knowing how and when to travel, that’s important knowledge on Lake Superior, Ontario. It is a commonality we share with all the people who have ever paddled here.
Ontario. “People talk too much,” Joanie laughed, “myself included. Speaking out to the night with our drums, not talking with words, trains us to listen more. The whole lake is speaking to us in the sound the water makes against shore. The animals, the birds, the insects, the trees; everything is speaking if we just take time to listen.”
If You Go to Lake Superior, Ontario:
Getting There: Visitors to Gargantua generally fly into Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan/Ontario, which is served by several carriers, including Air Canada and Delta .From here, it’s roughly a hundred miles to Wawa, Ontario.
Best Time to Visit: Longer camping trips are generally done in July and August.
Guides/Outfitters: Several outfitters lead trips in the Superior Provincial Park area, including Naturally Superior Adventures and Caribou Expeditions
Level of Experience: Paddlers should have intermediate skills.
Accommodations: Rock Island Lodge and Voyageurs Lodge; both offer on-the-lake lodging before and after your trip embarks.
Ontario, Ottawa River. “I like to describe the Ottawa as ‘big bubbles, few troubles,” said paddler Jim Coffey. “There’s big white water for sure, but the river’s drop-pool style makes it easy to recover if you flip a raft or someone swims. There aren’t a lot of rocks or other hazards. Depending on the lines you choose, the Ottawa in Ontario is ideal for both entry-level paddlers and white-water ninjas. In addition to its incredible rapids, the Ottawa has great accessibility. It’s only sixty miles from the capital of Canada. In some places, when you’re sixty miles outside the capital, it seems you’re still in the capital. That’s not the case on the Ottawa in Ontario. You’re out in a pristine wilderness region. You’ll see ospreys and deer and pass a great blue heron rookery. People come to Canada to experience the wilderness. They might go to Niagara Falls; the waterfall is great, but it’s surrounded by casinos and wax museums. It doesn’t deliver on the image of Canada people have before visiting. The Ottawa does.”
The Ottawa River in Ontario flows nearly eight hundred miles from its headwaters in the Laurentian Mountains of central Quebec to its confluence with the St. Lawrence near Montreal. For much of its course, it defines the boundary between the province of Ontario and Quebec. As far as the paddling community is concerned, it’s the eight-mile section around the Rocher Fendu islands (near the town of Davidson) that garners the greatest attention. Here, below McCoy’s Chute, the river divides into two channels—the Middle and the Main—and flows warm and clear in a series of chutes, waves, and waterfalls that’s been called eastern North America’s Grand Canyon. The water is very clean and very warm, which adds to its appeal. Ontario.
“The channels are very distinct,” Jim continued. “The Middle is a bit more technical in terms of the moves required; the Main has bigger waves. Most companies run one channel or the other. When I first started operating on the Ottawa, I thought it would be possible to run both in the same day. For me, doing one without the other is like having French fries without vinegar or ketchup. So we run them both. Another nice thing about the Ottawa in Ontario is that it’s always runnable. Whether it has bigger water in the spring or lower flows in late summer, it’s still very navigable . . . though it’s quite a different river. I like to run it in smaller fourteen-foot rafts, which accentuate the intensity of the white water.” Jim prefers to run the Middle Channel in the morning and Main after lunch. He described a few of the Ottawa’s signature rapids.
Ontario. “On the Middle Channel, Garvin’s Chute is the standout. Essentially, Garvin’s is a five-meter waterfall with four different drops, moving left to right: Staircase, ST Chute, Dragon’s Tongue, and Elevator Shaft. It’s a Class V, whatever amount of water is running and whichever drop you choose. When people see Garvin’s, they often remark, ‘It looks like it drops twenty feet!’ That’s because it does. Traditionally, rafters would run it on the left side, but we helped open up the right, which has steeper chutes.
“In the afternoon, we run the Main Channel, and the first rapid is one of the best—Lorne. Lorne is famous for its surfing waves, which draw kayakers from around the world. You ease into Lorne through some Class II+ rapids. When you drop into the first trough, there’s a twenty-foot wave waiting. Our fourteen-foot boats fit on the wave; the front end hardly gets up to the peak. At the bottom, there’s ‘Bus Eater’—a huge hole you want to avoid. Before we enter Lorne, I tell people that we have a 50/50 chance of making it through without a spill. They can walk around if they wish, though, like most of the other rapids on the Ottawa in Ontario, there are no hazards below, just fast, smooth water. You don’t have to be conservative. If this was the first rapid you encountered, you might not want to do it. But as we’ve had a morning on the water already, they’ve built up to it, and most people go for the gusto.
Ontario. “If there’s one rapid that always comes up when people talk about the Ottawa in Ontario, it’s Coliseum. Coliseum has three giant house-size, roller-coaster-style waves. You go crashing through these fifteen- to twenty-foot waves. If you go in the water, you just swim to the right side, where there’s a big pool. By the time they’ve made it through Coliseum, people who started the day as a newbie feel like they’re ninjas. Paddle rafting builds that sort of confidence and sense of accomplishment. You know that no matter how good the guide, you won’t get there without everyone working together. People leave feeling that they’re ready for bigger challenges.”
Rapids are often the sizzle that entices people to take river trips. Yet most people come away with a larger connection. Jim sees making that connection a big part of his job. “As guides, we’re like alchemists. We need to turn a rafting trip—which some people almost view as a theme park ride—into something larger, an entire river experience. We have to interpret the natural and cultural history of the place. Some people see rivers like the Ottawa in Ontario as a resource that needs to be harnessed. We can help them make the larger connection, to give the river, which can’t speak for itself, a voice.”
If You Go Ottawa River Ontario:
Getting There: Most visitors will fly into Ottawa City, which is served by a number of carriers, including American Airlines and Air Canada.
Best Time to Visit: Rafters run the Ottawa in Ontario from late April to mid-October. There’s more water in the spring, less in the late summer, though the river always runs well.
Guides/Outfitters: Esprit Whitewater Worldwide runs both channels in one day.
Level of Difficulty: Beginner paddlers will do fine with a guide; nonguided rafters will need extensive Class IV/V experience. Ontario.
Accommodations: Esprit offers lodging near the river put-in at The Pointe. Ontario Ottawa Tourism lists a host of lodging options.
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