Scouts 5 Day Canoe Trip in La Verendrye

This year’s 5 day canoe trip was Circuit 15 in La Verendrye, a massive nature preserve about 3 hours north of Ottawa that is almost twice as big as Algonquin Park. The 32nd started doing these longer trips almost 10 years ago now because they are more demanding and a greater challenge than the shorter 3 day weekend trips. This allows for a greater opportunity for Scouts to learn about self-reliance and teamwork. The 5 day trip involves packing up camp and paddling every day to a new campsite. This and the longer nature of the trip including portaging really brings out the team spirit in everyone as they all learn to work together.


We met at the school at 8:30 am and were packed and on the road by 9. This year there were 11 Scouts and 5 Scouters. With a stop for gas in Maniwaki it was just over 3 hours to get to Le Domaine, the park office. We got ourselves checked in and unloaded, and just after 1:30 we were hitting the water. We had only about 4.5 km to go to our campsite, but with a lot of novices and a bit of a headwind we took our time and stopped 2 or 3 times on various points to make sure everyone was OK. It was just past 4pm when we were pulling into our camp site - site 11-118 which is the only site on a fairly big island. This is a large site with plenty of different places to pitch tents and hang hammocks, and was the last site we were on in our 2015 trip when we did a different route.




We got our camp set up and a fire going, and by about 7pm we were cooking our supper of hamburgers which we enjoyed with kale salad. Everyone was excited for the trip ahead and we stayed up until about 10 pm sitting around the campfire chatting. In the morning we woke up and got another fire going which we used to cook our bacon and hash. We got cleaned up and packed up, and were on the water at 10:35 am which is a very respectable time for our first morning.


It was about a 4.5 km paddle to our first of three portages and we covered that distance in just over an hour, which is half the time we needed to cover the same distance the day before. Already we were working better as a team and paddling far more efficiently! The landing at the first portage was narrow with a wooden wharf along the right hand side. It was only possible to fit 2 canoes at a time to unload, and the rest had to wait in line. The water was jet black right at the edge of the water, and as the first one out of his canoe Scouter Alan recognized this as a bog. Nonetheless he still managed to mis-step and sink past his knee in the thick pungent muck of the bog.


The first portage was about 400 meters and was rather hilly with a long slow climb and then a quick drop at the far end. The landing at the other end was large enough to line up all 8 canoes and load them simultaneously as we each made 3 or 4 trips back and forth to get all our gear across. Once we were loaded it was a quick 1 km paddle across a small lake to our next portage, which was shorter than the first one but also hilly. Then just a few hundred meter paddle across another small lake where a third even shorter portage awaited us. The entirety of the portages took us almost 4 hours which included a 20 minute break to eat at the end of the first one. At the end of the third portage it was only just over a km paddle out the end of a river onto a huge lake, where our campsite was found only about 500m along the shore. We got our camp set up in the trees behind the amazing sandy beach and started preparing our supper which tonight was “bring your own”.


Most people cooked their supper while Scouters Alan and Eric went out in the canoe to get in an hour of fishing. Not long after they returned the sky started to darken as Alan and Eric prepared their own supper. Some time later when most of the Scouts were in their tents we noticed a rainstorm making its way across the lake from the far side about 5 km away. We quickly made the rounds to ensure everything was secured and batoned down and by the end of that the rain started. And in a quick moment the rain became a deluge and in a quick moment after that the deluge was accompanied by what had to have been hurricane force winds. Tents started to be whipped around as Scouters scrambled from tent to tent to ensure everyone was safe. The winds were strong enough lift 2 of the canoes into the air and luckily Scouters were close by and able to secure them and move them further into the woods away from the full force of the wind. Within minutes which seemed like hours the full force of the winds had subsided and we were left with a serious situation to deal with.



We assembled everyone and took inventory of the situation. It was chaotic to be sure but Scouters worked quickly to ensure everyone was safe and calm. The Scouts could sense this was a serious situation and almost instinctively they all pulled together and worked as a team. One Scouter had been struck by an airborne canoe but fortunately it caused no injury. Everyone else was fine so we did a full assessment of whose tent had gotten swamped and what gear was no longer usable until dried out. We had only about an hour of sunlight left so we had to move quickly. Two tents and a hammock had gotten soaked inside along with some of the gear in them. We emptied them of water and used shop towels and sponges to dry the floors to make them serviceable again for the night. The tent poles were warped from the winds but the tents could still be used. Two sleeping bags had gotten swamped and would not be usable that night. We always carry an emergency barrel on our canoe trips and that includes a spare sleeping bag along with numerous other things, so that took care of one of the Scouts. One of the Scouters gave up his sleeping bag to the other Scout and spent a chilly night cocooned in several layers of clothing. Once we were assured our basic immediate needs were covered we did a quick inventory of the canoes and whether or not there was any damage, and had everyone locate their life jacket. At this point we had mostly recovered from the situation and were ready to head for bed. The hurricane force winds were long gone but there were still strong winds howling throughout the night and into the morning, and as such Scouters took turns holding vigil to ensure everyone remained safe.


In the morning the winds were still howling and blowing directly down the lake onto our beach at the end of the lake. It was clear that there was no reasonable way we could paddle 10km up that lake into the wind to our next campsite, so we began to discuss alternate plans, and what was the latest we could possibly depart should the winds subside. Cell service was sketchy but we managed to contact the park and they confirmed that there was another party who had this site booked that night, and according to the rules we had to vacate. They had found us an alternate site at the other end of the 3 portages back the way we had just come from, but it was a 500 meter paddle cross-wind along shore to get to the mouth of the river leading to the first portage. Due to the geography of the area we were fairly confident that if we were able to make it to there we’d be relatively safe from the wind through to the far end of the portages where our new campsite was. But alas the winds were just too strong and we did not feel that we could make that short 500 meters safely. We determined that 4 pm was the latest we could leave and by that time the winds were still howling strongly, so we made the decision to stay put and explain the situation to the other party when they arrived. We moved all of our gear to one end of the long beach and made the main site available to its proper tenants. Around 6pm the winds started to calm but by then it was too late for us to move anywhere. At about 7:30 the first canoe arrived and it was two young men in their early to mid 20s. They told us there was 10 of them coming and they completely understood our situation and it was fine to cohabitate. In fact they said that while they were making their way from Le Domaine in this mess one of their canoes had capsized due to the severe conditions on the water.


Day three was spent on the beach with no paddling, and the second night on site 15-15 was much more peaceful than the first. The following morning was calm and idyllic. We saw the 10 young men off at about 9am - they were doing today what we were supposed to be covering in two days - very energetic bunch! Our only choice at this point was to go back through the 3 portages and paddle about 5 km up Lac Jean-Pere to site 10-49 which we had booked for the night - though our original plan involved us arriving at it from the other direction. We were on the water at 10 am which was extremely good time getting packed up, and we made it through the 3 portages in about 2.5 hours shaving a good hour off our time two days prior. We were working much better now as a team! Half way up Jean-Pere we stopped for lunch on a small island, and then continued along to find our campsite around 2:45. There was only a launch sufficient for 2 canoes so we had to get each one emptied and pulled up completely onto shore while others waited in line on the water. By 4pm we had camp half set up when one of the Scouters managed to get a data connection on his phone and checked the weather. The forecast showed that tomorrow - our last day - would have winds about the same as the day before when we were unable to travel. Scouters assembled and discussed the situation for about 20 minutes and came to the realization that our best option at this point was to pack camp back up and head straight back to Le Domaine where our vehicles were parked. And worse yet, our best route involved another 400m portage, not the longer route with no portage. This was due to the direction of the wind.


We gathered the Scouts and broke the news to them, and much to our surprise there was not a single moan or complaint from any of them - they knew this was the right decision and they immediately started to work as a team packing up camp and getting ready to load canoes. It was getting late and we were racing against sun down, so we had to cut as many corners as possible. We were all already tired from going through those portages again, and our water bottles were empty at this point in time. It would have taken at least a half hour for everyone to fill their bottles with our water filter pumps, so instead we gave everyone one bottle from our reserve supply, and had them fill their second bottle directly from the lake and we added a chlorine tablet from the emergency barrel. This saved a lot of time and allowed us to be on the water by about 4:50, heading north on Jean-Pere then turning south-east toward the portage. We made it through the portage in record time and even did our good deed for the day by carrying the canoe of a couple of young women who were going the same way as us. We took a lot of short breaks along the way since we’d already paddled a lot today, and even still we were pulling into Le Domaine around 8:25 which means we made the trip in about 3 and a half hours - a very impressive time! We got camp set up and decided not to have a group supper, instead saving our couscous and Indian food for breakfast. By 9pm most were in bed we were so exhausted from 10 hours on the water including 4 portages!


On the last day we woke up at Le Domaine and took our time packing up gear and making our breakfast of couscous and Indian food (we figured it was dinner time in Mumbai, so why not!). This also involved Scouts doing the traditional chugging of the leftover maple syrup (see video). We left Le Domaine around 12:30 and were in Gracefield around 2:30 pm where we enjoyed poutine and milkshakes at La Pataterie. We left there around 3:30 and were back at the school for pick up around 4:45.


Overall our trip was not the one we planned it to be as there were a lot of changes in plans and several emergency situations. However, the very purpose of the longer trips is to give Scouts an opportunity to challenge themselves more so than on the shorter ones, and give them a greater opportunity to develop as a team. We believe the situations we faced on this trip exposed the Scouts to the importance of teamwork, making informed decisions especially around the weather, and planning for emergencies. We hope that by seeing how the Scouters discussed and sought input from the Scouts they learned a bit about how to share opinions, while also respecting the process of making decisions together. Though that is not to say we were better off this way vs the trip as planned. It was a rough trip that we hope we don’t have to repeat any time soon, but we all got home safely and learned an incredible amount about ourselves and our Scouting team.

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Comments

  1. Well done Scouts and Scouters!

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  2. A BIG THANKS to all the Scouters who made this a successful and safe trip. This trip will certainly never be forgotten by those who went on it.

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  3. It was not the trip we planned, but it became a trip we’ll never forget. I am very proud of the way the Scouts (and Scouters) worked together and stayed positive to the end.

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