The rain wasn’t letting up, not even for a moment. The hot temperatures I was experiencing were replaced by cool, windy, and wet weather. The whitewater section of the Kesagami is tough, and the rain is causing the already high river to swell even more. Lots of portaging is necessary and, because of the high water, eddies at the portage take-outs were very small. It’s harder to land a canoe when you’re paddling solo. And I found it nerve-racking to eddy-out right above a chute. In a few places, I found newer and safer take-outs that’d been created upriver of the original ones. It gave me more respect for the skill of the Cree paddlers, who’s moccasins began wearing these portage trails long ago. Many times I had to land my canoe in a small eddy by jumping out of the boat into the waist deep water. I made sure my approach was very slow and controlled.
Scouting, wading, and lining on top of portaging needs to be done regularly on this stretch of river; thankfully, many of the rapids are run-able. Luckily though, most of the portages are relatively short. However, they’re very numerous. On a few occasions, I searched for a portage trail on the wrong side of the river, and I had to front-ferry over to the other side at the head of a dangerous rapid or falls.
Many of the run-able rapids on the Kesagami are not extremely difficult, the real danger is that they all seem to be shortly followed by a canoe eating falls. Before I made the decision to do anything, I asked myself honestly, is this within my skill set?
The air was cool, the water cold, and the chance of me duping high. Having the right clothing and gear to keep me as safe and comfortable as possible was key.
Here’s a run through of the items I suited up with on this stretch of the trip:
• Long Johns – never go with cotton. Always Merano wool or poly based fabric.
• Long sleeved T-shirt and/or a light weight sweater. Again, never go with cotton or you’ll freeze your butt off.
• Dry Suit – I go with Kokatat. It’s best to have one with Gore-Tex sox as opposed to ankle gaskets. I don’t always put my dry suit on all the way. I often opt to use it as hip waders with the arms tied around my waist. I put it on all the way when I’m running or lining a big rapid, or paddling on a big, cold body of water. It’s best to leave it on if running continuous, back to back sets of class 3s or above, in cold water. Note: while in the remote wilderness, you probably shouldn’t be running any rapids you’d need a dry suit for.
• Water shoes – I use NRS Work Boots. They have vents that allow the boots to drain so you don’t trudge around all day with your boots full of water. Using footwear that has ample protection on the toe and along the side of the boot is key because it will allow you to move quicker and wilt a lot less pain on wet, slippery rocks.
• Felt Soles – for extra traction, I glue replacement felt soles, intended for fly-fishing boots, to my river shoes. It works like a charm to give me superior grip on wet, slippery rocks, and logs. I go with non-studded felt soles.
• Breathable rain jacket – this should be your go-to rain jacket during the day when your moving around.
• Non-breathable rain jacket – if it really starts to pour, put this on over top of your breathable jacket, and you’ll stay dry. Also, reach for it first if it’s raining heavily and you’re hanging out around camp, or fishing. When active in an unbreathable raincoat, condensation and sweat builds up underneath it and gets you wet, so it’s best to wear it when activity levels are low. Choose one with zippered vents.
• Waterproof treatment – before you head out on a trip, treat your rain gear to insure it’s waterproof. Breathable rain gear requires a different treatment product than non-breathable. Buy it at the store and follow the instructions.
• Paddle gloves – I go with NRS Tactical Gloves. The neoprene gloves provide warmth when wet or submerged, but also have rugged grips stitched into the fingers and palms. This makes them useful as work gloves too.
• Wrist watch – It’s always good to wear a watch while on an expedition. The Timex Tide Temp watch I wore on this trip can point to north, tell you the temperature, read the tides, and it can also tell the time.
• Hat – I like a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off my whole face and back of my neck. A hat also helps keep you warm and shed rain. Whatever hat you use, if you’re paddling whitewater, make sure it has a strap for both the front and back of your head, or you’ll loose your hat every time you dump in a rapid.
• Survival kit – assemble your survival kit and pack it into a durable fanny pack.
• Communications device – It’s good to have a sat. com. device on your person should you loose your whole outfit in a rapid. A smaller sat. texting device like the Delorme InReach can fit into your survival pack.
• Life Jacket – I go with a paddling specific PFD by Kokatat called the Ronin Pro.
• River knife – this comes with a sheath that attaches to your PFD. Choose a serrated blade as it’s best for cutting through rope. The knife is key should you become entangled in your spray skirt or a rope when you dump. To make sure it stays sharp; don’t use it for anything other than emergencies.
• Multi-tool and belt – dry suites don’t have belt loops. I still wear a belt on the outside of my dry suit so I can access my multi-tool. I often wear a sheath knife on my belt too. There are a million uses for a multi-tool and the belt helps keep my drysuit in a comfortable position. My multi-tool of choice on this trip was the Leatherman Charge AL.