Planning a Shoulder Season Canoe Trip


Planning a canoe trip in November/ December or March/ April/ May, here in the north east, is no easy task. The days of relaxing evening dinners and swimming from the canoe out in the lake have long passed.  The daylight hours are painfully short now and the weather could literally produce anything, from a warm sunshine to hail and snow, often in the same day or even same hour.  Proper prior planning takes foresight to be prepared for any foreseeable circumstance and one thing is certain, the water is going to be really cold!

However, when the opportunity of a 4 day canoe trip presents itself, I knew right away I needed to take it.  The route that was chosen was the Tent Dwellers loop in south west Nova Scotia.  Made famous by author Albert Bigelow Paine chronicling a fishing trip  he and his mates embarked on in 1917.  We however did not have a month but 4 days to traverse a 52 mile (86 km), abbreviated loop of Paine’s trip, through Kejimkujik National Park and the Tobeatic Wilderness Area.  The route had a little bit of everything; crossing big lakes, negotiating technical rapids, portaging and up-stream travel.  

The most important decision that needs to be made before embarking is what footwear to rock while out there.  In my opinion, the best setup is made possible by Kokatat Hydrus 3.0 drypants.  With an attached bootie these pants create a one piece, waterproof barrier between the wet watery world around up and dry, comfortable clothing next to your skin.   I have used this set up on 2 extended wilderness canoe trips in the Canadian north and it has worked flawlessly. A pair of neoprene boots slip over the top of the dry pants attached socks and add extra warmth to the set up but also add protection from abrasive sand and grit that will get trapped inside the shoe.  This is not the only set up, there are as many options as there are people.

Whatever your setup is going to be make sure you have got a super warm pair of socks and camp shoes waiting for you in the evening.  (Xtratuf rain boot) - I like these over crocs or other camp shoes because of their waterproof abilities.  Those holes in crocs will often allow wet, dew covered grass to seep their water right into your previously dry camp socks.

Another consideration which is important when planning a late season canoe trip here in the North east is the amount of darkness one must contend with.  Making sure your headlamp has a fresh set of batteries in it, as it did for us, could make the difference between success and a really dangerous situation.  Daylight hours are short, meaning we had to maximize our traveling time in order to reach our destination safely.   

At sunset of our second day, we had completed our final portage into Big Tobeatic Lake but we still had over 5 miles (8km) to paddle.  We knew there was no hope in getting to our destination before darkness, so we pulled out our trusty headlamps and tried our best.  The irony was that seeing or interpreting the world around us was actually easier without the headlights on.  We used them periodically to check our location between the surrounding geography and our map but otherwise had them off.  It was well past twilight when we found ourselves in the approximate location of our destination, searching for any small sign of human alteration be it a blaze on a tree, a beer can hanging on a branch, parallel sticks, or a trail of some kind. In the end a reflecting tag high up on a tree that gave us the relief we were searching for.  The reflecting element of the tag in combination with our headlamps made the wonderful discovery possible.    

The last element in planning a successful shoulder season canoe trip is having a good weather forecast.  Big lake crossings are always risky, throw in 37 (5) degree water and you had better know what you're doing before venturing out into the unforgiving, exposed surface of a big lake. I always carry along a Garmin InReach on these types of trips. They allow a user to receive a fairly accurate 36 hour weather forecast for pretty much anywhere in the world. This feature has saved our asses in the past when negotiating unfavourable winds on big lakes.

Shoulder season canoe trips in the North East are fickle endeavours but can be well worth the effort in the search of wilderness left all for yourselves.