Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.
Ahhh, the upper Crowe River, or as my wife, Dahee, and I like to call it, Logjam City.
We had a fantastic time paddling Eels Creek the week prior and were looking for another local river on which to spend a covid lockdown exercise day. After some googling, I found a site belonging to "The Couples Resort" that offered suggestions for paddling the Crowe River, just east of Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. We decided on doing their suggested "Rose Island Route" which begins at the spot where the Crowe flows under Rose Island Road, just west of Coe Hill, and ends where it meets up with Highway 504 just south of the hamlet of Glen Alda.
It was a gloomy morning that had some spatterings of rain, but the good ol' weather network was promising sunshine by early afternoon. That was good enough for us and we were on the road in two vehicles before 9am.
As we were driving south on 504 from the town of Glen Alda to leave a vehicle at our take-out point, we found the road gated off and blocked due to construction. It looked like they were rebuilding the bridge over the Crowe. Luckily, the roadblock was only about 300 meters from the bridge and, since it was a Sunday, no workers were there doing their thing. We would easily be able to portage back up to the car; so we parked the car in a safe location at the side of the road and drove to our put-in location on Rose Island Road, about a 15-minute drive away.
Rose Island Road was a gravel road and had a number of significant potholes, so we approached slowly. We found a spot to leave the car safely in the ditch and put in on south side of the bridge. This proved to be a bit tricky because it was a substantial drop from the bank of the river to the water, but with a little deft maneuvering, it was manageable.
The flow of the river was quite strong and, in fact, remained as such for the majority of the route. The week leading up to this trip had had a lot of rain and the water levels were high. We were happy to have made the decision to bring two vehicles, preventing us from having to paddle back upstream.
It was easy paddling, that was when we weren't hauling the canoe over a logjam or a sweeper, and, boy, there were certainly a lot of those. In fact, we had our first liftover within the first five minutes of the trip. In many cases, the high water levels allowed us to scrape and power our way over many of the blockages, but I'm sure it was very hard on the canoe. I immediately regretted not bringing my older Scott Wilderness canoe -- ah, well, I guess the new scratches on the Swift Prospector would just give it character.
For the first half-hour or so, the river snaked in an easterly direction through a mix of cedar and maple forest. It was beautiful country, but the river certainly had a number of meanders and twists. This fact, along with the chewed up stumps -- evidence of beaver activity -- most likely contributed to the number of logs and jams in the river. When there were stretches of straight river, it was a pleasure to paddle.
On a number of occasions, where it was warranted, I pulled out my saw and we were able to cut our way through some of the barricades.
After 45 minutes or so, right before the confluence with the outlet from Chandos Lake, we came to a large sweeper that we thought we might be able to squeeze under, but it was just low enough where we couldn't. Having scraped, lifted and sawed our way downriver, we decided to stop there for a short break and a snack.
By this point, most of the conifers had disappeared and we found ourselves in a swampy area with bare deciduous trees poking out of the water. It certainly lent to a creepy feeling, almost like we were paddling through a war zone.
We arrived at the point where the creek from Chandos met the river and the whole area was flooded over. There were large stumps and silver maples sticking out of the water and it was eerily quiet.
It was then when I happened to glance up and see a massive bird of prey perched on a treetop a few hundred meters up that creek. I wasn't quite sure whether it was a bald eagle or an osprey, but it was HUGE! I'm pretty sure it was a bald eagle. The picture below doesn't do it justice, but when it spread its wings and flew off as we approached, we could really appreciate the size of that magnificent bird. It must have had a wingspan of well over six feet.
Heading back to our course and moving downriver, we had another formidable logjam to overcome by lifting over on river-left. We rounded a bend and then saw that the river, in the throes of spring flood, seemed to spread out all over the place. We knew the general direction of where we had to go, but weren't exactly sure where we should paddle to leave this swamp. It was flooded in every direction as far as the eye could see!
We solved the problem by spotting and following the currents of water moving on the surface. Once or twice it led us to getting grounded on mucky clumps, but eventually led us to the outflow to the east. There, the river narrowed and we could actually make out proper river banks. The topography got a bit more rocky and we were paddling through a beautiful mixed forest once again. It was there, next to a sweeper on a grassy river bank, that we decided to stop and have our roast beef wraps for lunch. It was quite a pretty spot.
Just as we were wrapping up lunch (pun intended), the sun poked through the clouds to make the moment even nicer. Unfortunately, the sun also brought out the first evidence of our yearly little friend known as the black fly. Yes, there it was, barely into May, and the little critters were out already, and biting! They were early this year.
This motivated us to get back in the canoe and moving. The river veered to the south and we meandered in that general direction for the better part of an hour or so. It widened somewhat and logs blocking the way were much less frequent there. With the sun out and travelling through the forest, this part of the trip was quite a nice paddle.
After about an hour, we came upon a nice sandy bluff and decided to pull up there to have a beverage and some trail mix.
Within 15 minutes past this point, we rounded a bend and heard the sound of rushing water. We knew we had come to a set of rapids. The site I used to discover this route stated that there was one set of Class three rapids near Glen Alda, so I assumed this was it. We paddled through the flow fairly close to the set, but upon inspection decided they were a bit rocky for our lightweight canoe and we decided to portage around them.
Soon after this, we could begin to hear highway 620 and knew we were approaching Glen Alda. Along one stretch there, we noticed a couple of tree stands perched about 15 feet off the ground, most likely used for hunting. It made us wonder if we were paddling past a hunting camp.
We passed a number of properties and eventually paddled under the bridge at Highway 620 through the town of Glen Alda. As the sun was out and it was a weekend, there were a number of people working on their properties and we received some waves as we paddled past. From there, it was only a couple of kilometers more to go before we would reach our take-out and we were moving at a relaxing pace. There, some of the river banks became quite high and had some sandy, dramatic drops to the river below.
Just when we thought we had this day trip pretty much licked, we rounded a bend and saw a lovely house high on the river bank. It's owner was out on her deck watching the river. She smiled as she saw us approach and called out, "This might be as far as you go!" while gesturing downriver. We rounded the corner and saw what she was referring to. It was a series of logjams, the largest of the trip thus far, right at a spot where the river banks were steep on either side.
Unfortunately for the homeowner, she did not know who she was speaking to! We managed to get past the first one by climbing the bank on river-right and hauling the canoe up and then dragging it under the overhanging trees. We put back in, paddled another 50 meters and this time did the same thing on river-left. The last one, we managed to deftly sneak our way through the centre by coming in at an angle, standing on a log and hauling the canoe over. By this time, we had had quite a bit of practice at this, having done similar moves about 10 times earlier that day.
Within 10 minutes, we could see the bridge at Highway 504 up ahead and we were soon scrambling up the rocky slope of the construction site with our canoe and gear, heading for our car.
I have learnt that every river has a character to itself and the upper part of the Crowe is a character, indeed. It was an interesting paddle that had a distinct feeling and, despite the challenges of its sweepers and jams, I don't regret paddling it at all. It wouldn't be the first section of river that I'd choose to return to and revist, but I'm glad that I got the chance to paddle it with my wife, who incidentally is rapidly becoming quite a proficient canoe tripper. Hopefully, once this plague finally ends, she'll be ready for a long river trip further afield. I'd like to try other sections of the Crowe and am contemplating a trip from The Gut all the way to Marmora, but that will be another time.
Wanna talk about canoe tripping? Or feel like commenting? Leave a message!