Preston Ciere’s love of the outdoors started when he was a young kid, exploring Ontario’s wilderness. His love of nature evolved over the years to include portaging – an activity that includes taking your canoe out of the water, along with all the items you have in it, and carrying it over to another body of water.
For anybody who took Canadian history classes, you may remember that early coureurs des bois, voyageurs, and trappers used to portage when exploring Canada. Over time, canals replaced portages in areas of high water traffic. However, people such as Preston still enjoy the tradition of portaging the old-fashioned way.
He’s taken this love of portaging and created Portageur.ca – a blog about the subject as well as portaging services for anybody wanting to try it, with help from experts such as himself.
I had a chance to ask Preston Ciere about his love of portaging and some tips for anybody interested in trying out this activity (which I’m aiming to do sometime in the near future).
What is it about portaging that appeals to you?
Portaging is three really fun activities rolled into one – camping, canoeing and hiking. Portaging is not only a great way to get in touch with the outdoors, but with history and the Canadian identity as well. But what it all truly boils down to is that the best stuff is beyond the portage: The best views, the clearest lakes, the tallest waterfalls, and most importantly the most untouched areas. Portages are natural barriers to keep only those who truly want to be there, and rewards their efforts with some of the best stuff nature has to offer.
Tell me about your first portaging experience.
If nothing else, my first time portaging was a learning experience. My friends and I had no idea what we were doing. We brought all the wrong stuff, including a old heavy blue monstrosity of a boat that had no business on a portage, let alone on the lake. Nothing was organized and we made things so much harder than they needed to be, and needless to say we were exhausted on the way in, and probably made it back, not because we had the energy to do so, but because there just wasn’t any other way to get back. It should have been a miserable experience, but there was something about the rhythm of paddling over water, the tranquility of being in the middle of nowhere, and of course the scenery around us that got me hooked. I’ve worked on making it easier ever since, which of course is why I created portageur.ca, to share what I’ve learned over the years – usually the hard way.
What are some of the best places for portaging in Ontario?
This is a tough question because Ontario is just filled with great places, but I would have to say the big three: Algonquin, Killarney and Temagami.
Algonquin Park is the most popular, and most famous place to go portaging for a reason. It’s a huge wilderness area filled with canoe routes, with just enough maintenance and amenities to make things easier on you without spoiling the un-touched-ness. It’s the Mecca of modern portaging culture, and definitely the best place to start if you have never been on a portage.
Killarney Provincial Park and the surrounding area is one of my favourite spots because it’s just so beautiful out there. It’s also well maintained, but you’ll find it a bit more rugged than Algonquin, especially in some of the less popular areas. The view of the surrounding quartzite hills and the brightly coloured lakes make it worthwhile – no wonder the Group of Seven spent so much time there. Brilliant coloured leaves makes going in the fall a great idea, even with the cooler temperatures.
Then there’s Temagami, which also has a rich canoeing heritage as it has been the choice of many summer camps for a long time. It offers a range of comfortable to quite rugged depending on the area you choose to go, and has some really gorgeous isolated spots along established canoe routes. Culturally, the people from the area tend to be more genuinely into, and proud of, the environment around them, which can be infectious and gets you more tuned into the land as you travel.
What are three things that newbies to portaging need to know?
First, portaging is not as tough as you think it is. Or to be more specific, portaging is only as difficult as you want it to be. There are plenty of easier routes to travel, with short flat portages, so plan your first trips around those areas. You also don’t need to go on a month long epic journey across vast distances. Make your first trip over a long weekend, as there are plenty of routes that you can do in shorter periods. Once you have a taste for portaging, you’ll quickly find out how long and rugged you want these trips to be.
Second, take your time and enjoy it. Too many people get wrapped up in getting over the portage as quickly as possible, “getting it over with”, and so they’ll load themselves up put their head down and “power through” to the end. For most of us it’s a vacation, so treat it that way. Often the reason you have to portage over something – hills, rapids, waterfalls – makes for some great views, so take some rest breaks and check it out.
Finally, stay safe. The same standard safety advice for both camping and canoeing apply, for example, bring a first aid and boat safety kits, wear your personal flotation device (PFD), keep your campsite clean and travel in a group. This is especially important because the further you get from civilization, the further away from help you’ll be. An injury will certainly ruin the trip for you, but also those who now have to carry you or your gear back because of it. While some common sense will keep you safe in most situations, another thing you need to remind yourself is to not over-exert or take unnecessary risks, as these are the most common causes of injury. So planning an easy trip and taking your time to enjoy it will, in fact, keep you safe.
Tell me more about the planning services Portageur.ca offers.
While Portageur.ca can provide fully guided trips, we also offer as much or as little help as you want, from resources on the website for the DIY types, to complete planning service that will work with you to set up a route, accommodations,
We’re always working on some fun theme-based trips as well. For example, one is an amateur artist retreat to be inspired by the sites of Group of Seven paintings, and another is a family mystery adventure where you’d be given a map and tasked with finding your next location – and the next day’s map – discreetly supervised by a guide to provide whatever help you might need.
To learn more about portaging, visit Preston’s blog Portageur.ca