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Johnny Molloy

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About Portaging

June 14th, 2013 4:25 pm by Johnny Molloy

About Portaging

If you paddle a canoe enough, you are eventually going to portage. Portaging is the act of carrying your canoe from point A to point B, most often from lake to lake in a wilderness, or around a particularly tough rapid in a river.
Kayaks are rarely portaged, simply because in an area that requires many portages, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, canoes are preferred, primarily due to their ability to be portaged. Kayaks do not lend themselves to being easily portaged due to their weight and shape.
Portaging involves not only your canoe but transporting your gear as well. Portages are measured in rods. A rod is 161?2 feet, the length of an average canoe. 320 rods equals a mile.
Before trying to carry the canoe and all your gear with you at once, start with simply carrying the canoe. One of the most difficult parts of a portage is getting the canoe over your head and onto your shoulders in order to be able to carry it.
First tip the canoe onto its side with the bottom facing you. Bend down, place your knees under the canoe and grab the thwart, then raise the boat to your lap. Now, grab the far gunwale and in one motion raise the canoe over your head and rest the middle thwart or yoke onto your shoulders, facing toward the canoe bow.
Steady the boat with your arms, and begin walking forward, keeping the front of the canoe higher than the rear, allowing you to see the trail ahead.
Sometimes, portage trails can be muddy. Try not to swing around the muddy parts of the trail because it only widens the mudhole. Also, if the bugs are biting, wear long pants and a long-sleeve shirt. Have the bug dope and head net ready. Someone carrying a canoe atop their shoulders and steadying it with their hands makes a great mosquito target!  
Some he-men try to carry not only the canoe but also their gear simultaneously over a portage. The fish may be biting, but who’s in that big of a hurry? Besides, I don’t feel like getting a hernia in the wilderness. I suggest one person carry the canoe, and the second person carry the biggest piece of gear, then both return to retrieve the remaining gear and rods.
On longer portages, do what is known as staging. Carry the canoe as far as you can. When tiring, look for two closely spaced trees between which you can lean the front tip of the canoe, so the boat won’t have to be re-lifted to resume portaging. Then go back and retrieve what gear is left and carry it to the canoe or beyond. Then backtrack to the canoe and carry it forward. The other person is doing this as well with their gear.
Staging allows you to rest and alternate between walking and carrying the canoe or gear. As far as which paddler to portage the canoe, we usually just flip a coin and whoever loses does the first portage, then the second person does the next portage and we alternate portages from there on out. This way whoever gets the hard portages is left to the luck of the draw. It’ll pretty much even out over a long trip.

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