The Art of the Single Pass Portage

Author:

Bob Aldrich

Outdoor Writer

It is a happy and fortuitous accident  that we, through no merit of our own, live smack dab in the finest canoe country in the world.  The Boundary Waters contains 1.5 million acres of canoeing, and that doesn't even include Canada!  Throw in the Canadian Shield, the geological name for the glaciated area stretching from central Minnesota to almost the Arctic Circle, and you've got more canoeing than any one person can do in a lifetime—and it's right here.

The only problem is, in between the jewel-like lakes, there are portages. 

This stops most of us in our tracks.  Instead of travelling, we get a lake or two in, make a base camp, and sit around.  If this is all you want, then you're set.  But if you want to travel more efficiently, then you need to master the single pass portage.

This means nothing more than getting across the portage in one pass without heading back for a second trip.

Let us imagine two able-bodied individuals on a week trip.  They will have one canoe and three packs.  One pack is the personal pack, containing their sleeping bags and clothes.  This is shared.  Simply lay the pack on its back, put in the 6 mil pack liner (available from any outfitter or good outdoor store) and put the sleeping bags in the long way, vertically.  Stuff clothing and personal items around the bag.

The second pack is the food pack.  Hellaciously heavy in large group trips, with two people this turns into a lightweight, manageable pack.  The third pack is the equipment pack, again, a relatively light pack.

The canoe should be kevlar.  This is a whole another subject, but simple: lighter is better. 

Okay, here we go:  approaching the portage, both canoeists get out of the canoe before it hits shore.  One takes two packs, the other takes a pack and a canoe.  If the canoe carrier can lift the canoe solo, this is easy: they help the pack carrier get on the two packs, one on the back, and the other on top of it, and that person is off.  The canoe carrier dons the remaining pack, flips up the canoe and takes off.

If the canoe carrier needs help getting the canoe up, then both unload packs onto the shore, followed by the canoe.  One grabs the back of the canoe down low; the other grabs the gunwales near the bow and flips the boat up and holds up one end so the other can get under the canoe.  This means that the canoe carrier gets on one pack, takes the canoe and goes, leaving the other to get on the two remaining packs.  Put one on, and then grab the other pack by the top corners—the "ears," in canoe parlance—and flip it up on top of the pack on one's back.  You can, if you wish, put one pack in front, but this makes it difficult to see the trail.

On the other end, the canoe carrier walks into the water, flips down the canoe, puts in the pack, and gets the other two packs from their partner.  Hop in, and you're off.

Master this and the whole of canoe country is yours for the taking.  Instead of walking 100 rods three times (nearly a mile!), you'll walk 100 rods once.  Most of us paddle at about the same speed—it is portaging that slows folks down.  Give it a try and see what you think.

Bob has paddled several thousand miles in a canoe and never double-portaged, except when travelling with his kids.

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