Monday, July 6, 2015

Kayaking the Gatineau River - Chute du Calumet to Gracefield

Yesterday, my husband and I took the (flatwater) kayaks over to the Gatineau River (la Rivière de la Gatineau) and took them upriver from Gracefield to the Chute du calumet (Calumet Falls). I've charted out the trip we took, and we covered roughly 6km upstream before turning back so that we could catch our ride back to the lake.

This stretch of the river is an easy trip, flat and predictable. The current was still strong; it looked very smooth but if you stopped paddling even for a few moments, you would start flowing back downstream. But this was the only obstacle we had to contend with. For context, I've annotated a map image I took from google, shown below.

Annotated trip map (click to view larger)
I've marked our rough path up the river in a white dotted line. The island near Gracefield, our first stop, had a ton of dragonflies just emerging from their shells, perched on some floating water grasses:

Emerging dragonfly inflating its wings and drying off
As we proceeded upriver, we spotted several herons in the reeds along the shore, and encountered quite a fascinating cliff face that looked like a phenomenal diving point, for those who like such things. Its location is marked on the map. Just beyond the cliff face, I picked up a hitchhiker (who I believe was Aeschna multicolor, the blue-eyed darner) who stuck around for quite some time:

Aeschna multicolor (blue-eyed darner) hitching a ride
My husband waited patiently around while I attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to photograph some of the beautiful damselflies that were hanging around in the reeds along the shore. Combining shy insects with a drifting kayak makes close-up shots very difficult indeed.  I did manage to get a few shots, including of another emerging dragonfly:

Emerging dragonfly (a darner of some sort, I think), wings not yet fully inflated
There were Calopteryx amata (superb jewelwing damselfly) in huge numbers along the river, and I made a lot of attempts to photograph them. I did manage to get a female at some distance with zoom, but it wasn't until we returned to the Gracefield public dock that I was able to get a shot of the male of the species.

Calopteryx amata female
We stopped for a snack on the little island marked on the map, which we have dubbed goose shit island because its little sandy beach on the downstream side was absolutely covered with goose shit -- presumably it is a pit stop for migrating geese. We also contemplated dubbing the island "Poison Ivy Island", since what wasn't sand or rock was covered in poison ivy, but in the end "Goose Shit Island" won out as a name. We found some rocks which were shaded and free of goose shit and poison ivy on which to eat our snack. A female Calopteryx amata overcame some of her shyness, so I was able to get a few decent shots of her. Afterward, we continued upriver to the Chute du calumet (on the map).

Calopteryx amata female
We did attempt to make our way up the Chute du calumet, which is really more of a severe narrowing of the river than a waterfall; there's a stretch of narrow river that leads to an additional narrowing which cuts the already narrowed width down by about a third. I almost made it; I had managed to get up into the upper vee of the water flow, so was out of the turbulence, but just did not have the strength anymore at that point to dig deep for the amount of time needed to break free of the flow (I need to work out more!). So we portaged up around the rocks and then rode down the falls. The eddies and countercurrents made it a less direct ride than the old bridge narrowings I've ridden before on the Rivière de la petite nation (which, having very smooth flow, basically just accelerate you and shoot you out, which is a great deal of fun).

Since it was by that point late afternoon, we decided to make our way back. The trip downriver was considerably faster and easier, so we took it at a leisurely pace and mostly relaxed and enjoyed the weather, which was absolutely gorgeous.

I managed to snap a photo of one strange-looking bird, which we were able later to identify as an American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), which is apparently a rather stout member of the heron family. I've marked the location I took the photo on our trip map as well.

Botaurus lentiginosus fishing in the reeds
I snapped a few photos as we drifted downstream. It really is a beautiful river:

My husband relaxing on the way back downriver
We saw a flock of common mergansers (Mergus merganser) just above Gracefield. Once we got to the dock and beached the ships, I ran about after the damselflies hoping to get a shot of the male. Finally, one held still long enough for me to snap this photo:

Calopteryx amata male
We got back to the lake and set upon our gear with a bleach solution to clean it and ensure that we don't spread anything from the river to the lake. We bleached and scrubbed the kayaks inside and out, the life jackets, the paddles, and our water shoes. This is essential if you bring your boat across bodies of water! Don't contribute to the spread of invasive species or to the contamination of our lakes and rivers, take the time to clean your equipment.

All told, a wonderful trip on a gorgeous day. For those who like river boating but aren't necessarily hardcore enough (or equipped enough) for the famous rapids between Maniwaki and Bouchette, this stretch of the river is very nice and not particularly challenging or dangerous. Perfect for a lazy, hot summer afternoon!

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