Photo Challenge: Shadow

During this years deer season in Southern Ontario I stumbled upon this old abandoned farmhouse, covered in brambles and steeped in shadow.  I didn’t quite find an appropriate place for this picture among my deer hunting post however it seems this photo jives with The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: Shadow.

Seeing this building prompted questions like: what’s inside this building? Who lived here? What sort of life did they lead?  and more importantly did they realize how great the deer hunting was around them?

These questions that likely will never be answered.  Questions with answers that have been forgotten by time and lost in shadow.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/shadow-2017/

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Southern Ontario Brook Trout

Brook trout hold a place of reverence among many anglers for their colour, fighting ability, and taste.  For some anglers like my dad they have attained a place of reverence among the freshwater species of our province.  As a lad, I can recall growing up listening to him tell stories about fishing for these colourful creatures in the local streams around the outskirts of Bancroft.  By his account they were plentiful, sensitive, yet easy to catch (if you knew how), and a  source of a great number of fond memories.  Personally, I can recall some of our camping trips to Algonquin park where my dad would pull our station wagon over and disappear down the side of the embankment, only to return with a few of these little creatures.  Pan-fried brook trout over a campstove was my first real taste of wild food, and very likely one of the sparks that ignited my passion for fishing for these delicious fish.

Times change, populations grow, and land gets developed.  In turn our, impact to the environment (at least locally in Ontario) sent the population of brook trout into somewhat of a nose dive in many areas.  In the back of my mind I knew that development and things like agricultural run off can effect the water quality of small streams.  But this effect really didn’t hit me hard until my dad reported back after a return visit to some of those streams a few years ago.  I’m told he only caught a single trout for the whole trip.  Sadly I felt like the days of bountiful brook trout were lost.

My best days fishing brook trout have been in the middle of Algonquin park, and in Gaspésie, Quebec.  Fish were plentiful on both trips, however, in each case I had to work extremely hard, and sometimes travel for days, to find the places of historic abundance.  Anytime I tried to catch them locally, I always ended up with an empty basket. After these local trips, my view of brook trout fishing was fairly pessimistic.  My conclusion: good easy local brook trout fishing just didn’t exist any more in southern Ontario.

My pessimistic view changed during a grouse hunting/fishing trip this past fall, after having some unexpected success with the square tails in a not to distant location.  Our goal was grouse, but we ended up pulling several brook trout out of the lakes on the way.  Still uncertain about the fishing, I planned to return one day to fully explore the area.   I reported my success to my uncle who was intrigued and suggested we do a winter trip.  I got to work right away scouring the MNR fish online tool to scout the area, and contacted cottages in the area to secure accommodations.  When the dust settled we had planned a three day trip planned for the area that was not too far for any of us to drive.  I could tell you where we went, but in my experience, half the fun is finding these locations out for yourself.  Fish Online

Day 1 arrived on January 18th, and we met at our rental cottage and prepared the snow mobiles and gear for a days run into the woods.  Although we got off to a late morning start we were still hopefull.  Afterall, there were five of us, two snowmobiles, an array of fishing rods and tackle.  We could cover a lot of ground with that set up.

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We started the trip on the lake where I had some success the previous fall and spread out along the shoreline.  There was at least 12″ of ice wherever we drilled with a max of 14″ in some places.  Simple live bait rigs with gads were the ticket and within the first 30 minutes, I had 3 fish on the ice.  Another two were iced among the remaining members of our group and the fish kept biting.  We ended the day with a respectable 10 fish iced, about the same lost at the hole, and countless more missed hits.  Tired yet happy, we returned to our cottage for a celebratory beverage.

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Fresh fish on ice!

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We beat the sun up on the second day and started our trek back into some of the more remote lakes.  The ride in was several kilometers and things got pretty hairy with three dudes on the back of a snowmobile.  Half way in the three man machine was working a bit hard so we moved one of the guys to a towed sled.  We resumed our trek and made it to the lakes.  Thankfully I was the navigator on this trip which secured me a permanent position on one of the cushioned seats.

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One of the gents with his first brook trout ever through the ice.

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Fishing was tough on the second day, and we worked real hard moving around the lake to try and locate fish.  Our efforts paid off and we racked up another 6 fish on the day, with the majority of them being bigger than the previous day.  Shallow wood seemed to work well for us as well as rock points.  Just like that, another satisfying, albeit hard, day was behind us.

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Having satisfied ourselves on brookies over the first two days, we decided to switch things up on the third day and target a different lake that was stocked with splake.  For those who don’t know, these fish are hybrids between a lake trout and a brook trout.  This presents some added complexity to fishing for them as they have been known to behave like both species whenever the mood strikes them.  With this knowledge in our minds, we varied our presentations with a mix of setlines and a couple jigging presentations in deeper water.  As luck would have it, the splake were feeling brookish on the third day and while exploring the area with a depth finder, I looked back to see that my Gad had disappeared.  Not sure what to expect, I began pulling up my line and eventually pulled my gad right out of the hole.  Seconds later I felt a familiar tug and I set the hook on a beautiful 5lb splake.  I eased the tank up from bottom and attempted to remove the line from the gad so I could use my rod.   Murphy’s law kicked in and the line snapped.  I was left with a gad was in one hand and business end of the line n the other.  With no more time to be gentle, I hauled the fish up and grabbed the fluorocarbon leader.  The fish crested the hole and I took a breath.

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Aside from the interesting fight, I also noted the deep gold colour of the belly of this fish.  Most of the splake I have caught in the past were distinctly silvery, however this one seemded to lean towards its brook trout genes.  I’m guessing the lake may have something to do with the colour.

This splake happened to be my largest of the species to date.

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We visited one more small lake and added a few more brookies to our tally.  All said and done, we caught about 22 brookies and one big splake between 5 of us over the course of 2 and a half days.

Its not the big numbers I used to hear my dad talk about, but its definitely respectable for the size of the lakes we were on and for where we were fishing.  Catching that splake also made the trip real special.

Stocked lakes.  They are out there and are stocked for a reason, so go fish them!  There are so many reasons to target these lakes like the more you target stocked lakes, the less your focussing on natural strains of fish, which preserves the genetic diversity of our province.  Also, part of your license fees go to stocking these lakes so why not reap some of the rewards from a program you help fund.

Cheers from the ice,

Albert

 

 

 

Lumina Borealis

For the most part, this blog is dedicated to the outdoors and related pursuits.  At times it feels like it is solely dedicated to fishing, and in the fall, hunting seems to take the driver seat.  Regardless of the season, this blog does one thing consistently; It promotes Ontario, with a specific geographic focus on the Kingston area.  Its this focus that prompts me to write about non-outdoor related activities from time to time, and this blog entry is a prime example.   Enter Lumina Borealis.

What is it? Lumina Borealis is an interactive, multimedia, multi sensory art display located at fort Henry in Kingston Ontario.  The event began late 2016 and continues on into the winter of 2017.  Tickets are available online or at the visitors centre inconfederation basin, where a shuttle is also available to take you to Fort Henry.

That’s a great description but, what exactly is this event like?  What can you expect when you visit this event?  Here is my account.

We headed west on Highway #2 towards Kingston downtown and made a left at the RMC intersection. After the turning, we began our ascent up the hill towards fort henry and were immediately greeted by gentle music drifting down from the fort.  Despite the cold, this is worth rolling your windows down for as it is wonderfully composed and adds to the build up of the event.   The volume will build and gently beckon you upward towards the parking lot and event entrance.

For those of you not familiar with the fort at night, it offers a spectacular vantage point to view a scenic vista of the city of Kingston.  The view is quite something on its own, but is enhanced by the gentle background music emanating from the venue.

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We presented out tickets which we purchased online  at http://www.luminaborealis.com/ and proceeded down the gangway where we were greeted by the impressive display below.  You can decide to enter the lower fort immediately or follow the slow trickle of people as they disappear into the dark of the moat.

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Encouraged by these cryptic signs we chose to enter the moat.

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Although the whole experience is something to behold, I personally enjoyed the light displays and irregular shapes that immediately greet you in the moat.  It is here where the music, light, dark meet to instill an unshakeable sense of wonder.

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As we progressed, the wonderment grew, amplified by the addition of another sense.  The scent of wood smoke filled the air occupying the area as well as our noses.  This is a full sensory experience that is immersive and reminiscent of winters gone by.  This triggered, as I’m sure it does for many, memories of feeling the warmth of the wood stove at my grandparents house and the overwhelming scent of campfire from many a camping trip gone by.

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For those of you who have come to expect pictures of animals from my posts, fear not, the next pictures are for you.

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The displays are often interactive triggered by standing in a specifc place or by gathering around the fires that demands a group effort from you and surrounding strangers.

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Some are triggered by voice.

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Some require more physical efforts.

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Spend enough time and energy in the centre of the lower fort and you will eventually witness the grand finale.  Another one for you animal lovers. 

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The installation is quite spectacular to behold.  Not many shows or other events play to  your senses like this one does.  Over all, well worth the money to see.  In addition this event is about as kid friendly as you can get.  In fact, its probably better with kids, as their child like wonder at the displays will, I’m sure, be contagious.

Cheers from the Fort,

Albert

Public Land Hunting and Fishing

Public lands are tough.  Fishing and hunting opportunities and often limited due to over use and too much competition.  Or are they?

We decided to figure this out for our selves last weekend.  Dave and I loaded up the car with the canoe, our shotguns and fishing rods and headed north of Kington to the north Frontenac parklands.  Snow had fallen in the Kingston area the day before however it had melted in the city proper.  This was not the case as we approached Parham on highway 38.  Snow had began to accumulate and it as obvious the plow had made its rounds on the roads to the north.

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The snow was a surprise although not altogether unwelcome.  Prints would be fresh and our quarry (grouse) would be more visible.  We continued on in anticipation, admiring the fresh blanket of white and the quaint architecture of small town Ontario.

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We arrived to our destination, parked the car at the trail head and began our hike.  We intended to camp that evening but decided it would be better to get on the trail early and worry about our camp later in the day.  With our hopes high we began our trek with guns loaded and eyes peeled into the mysterious Frontenac Parklands.

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The parklands have long been on our list of properties to visit.  These parklands constitute a large area north of highway 7 from Lanark county west to highway 41.  These lands are a prime example of the Canadian shield where rock outcrops and plutons are common.  Topography is highly variable and the forests contain a rich variety of conifers and deciduous trees.

These lands are also home to some pretty exquisite looking lakes containing all manner of finned creatures.  One of the more prominent of these being the brook trout.  With this knowledge in our heads, we were sure to pack our spinning rigs and so after several kilometers of hiking we stopped at one such lake rumoured to contain these desirable creatures.  To be clear, many of these lakes are put and take, as in they are stocked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  We tied on a couple of small silver spinner baits (panther martins and mepps to be exact) and took a cast into the pristine waters.

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After a few casts Dave sounded off that he had a hit, and a follow and another hit.  Seconds later he had a fish squirming on the bank and our impressions of the area grew.  Minutes later I felt a familiar tug and set the hook on a chunky little brooky.

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These creatures are impressive, for their fight, but also for their colour.  Nothing looks quite like a brook trout sporting some colour on its belly.

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After a couple fish from the first lake, we moved on in search of another quarry: grouse.  We walked for some time taking in the scenery and covering alot of ground however no grouse were seen.  The curse of public land seemed to be on us.  Although I’m not one to put much stock in the metaphysical, the curse seemed as real as the ATV tire tracks we followed along the path.

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We continued to hike along the path for several kilometers, and remained grouseless.    Discouraged we decided to change our tactic by taking a smaller path into the bush.  The path began to petered out into nothing until we ended up hiking in old logging cuts.  With all the small bushes and conifers around we were sure we would scare up a grouse.  Approximately 16 kilometres later, many of which were off the beaten path in the woods, we sluggishly stumbled upon one bird.  One bird which, we were not even close to being ready for.  It seemed we had our answer to the public land question.  We did however manage to get a couple more brook trout for the pan from another little lake, which rounded out are dinner nicely.

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We visited several different lakes in the area and drank in as much of the scenery as we could in one and a half days.  Regardless of how much this place gets hit by other hunters and trail riders, it hasn’t detracted from it’s beauty.

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It also hasn’t detracted from the deer population which seems to be thriving despite the numerous tree stands we encountered.

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North Frontenac is gem.  Its an amazing amount of land generally close to Kingston.   Although it receives a lot of pressure, it remains a great destination for many other activities.  The area boasts several campsites and lots of room to roam free on or off trail.  Bring a topo map, compass and enjoy!

Cheers from the wild

Albert

 

Beginners Guide to Backcountry

At a glance, back country trips can seem mystical and awe inspiring.  Photos of your friends or “favourite blogger”… cough.. retracing the steps of explorers and voyageurs long since gone can be mesmerizing.  The concept of becoming “one with nature” on these trips, is not only mystical and romantic, but quintessentially Canadian.  After all, our country was built on hardy folks who had an unhealthy penchant for spending most of their lives in the backwoods.  Unfortunately when it comes time to actually plan one, the weight of the task can leave you feeling inadequate and unconfident.  Especially if these sorts of trips weren’t part of your youth.

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So how do you go about planning and actually executing one of these trips? I’m sure there are many folks out there who are infinitely more qualified to answer this question, but I’d like to weigh on with a beginners/intermediate’s point of view on the subject.  Here is what I have learned.

Have a Good Plan

Decide how much time you want to spend on a trip. Decide where in the province, country, or even world you want to go. Once you have answered these questions narrow down your search to a specific route.  In Canada, Canadian Canoe Roots  would be your best option.  Alternatively you could look up Trails.com  for trails in the states.  Once you have narrowed it down to a specific route, get your hands on  a map of your route showing the path, portages, portage distances, and topography.  I’m a big fan of Jeff’s maps http://jeffsmap.com/ .  They guy has seen a good portion of the parks in Ontario and has lots of handy notes on his maps.  Not to mention they are fairly current, and best of all made available through donations.  Thanks Jeff!

If your still deciding on what route to take consider your level of physical fitness when selecting a trip that’s right for you.  Consider choosing a trp that is well travelled if your new.  There may be others present should you get into a bit of trouble.

Don’t be a hero and don’t bite off more than you can chew.  A two day trip may not sound as epic as a week long excursion, but its definitely easier and safer. Every year lots of people decide to head into the woods with very little gear or food expecting things to just work out.  News flash, they wont, unless you prepare for it.

Choose Experienced Trip Mates

Personally, I prefer learning by doing and by seeing.  So it worked out when I was invited on my first trip by some seriously experienced trekkers.  I got to learn the ropes with minimal risk to myself.  I recommend this method of grafting yourself onto a trip.  I bet there is nothing worse that being in the middle of a trek running out of food and having no idea how your going to get back and no one to ask for help.

Plan Your Meals

Understand what your dietary needs are and pack accordingly.  Its important to watch your weight here though, and I don’t mean your waistline.  I’m taking weight of your pack.  Bringing a case of beer and fresh steaks may work for a 2 day canoe in trip where you don’t mind packing it in, but that wont really fly on a long haul 7 day trip with numerous portages.  Your not going to want to haul that crap in or haul the remaining garbage out. Consider meals that are light and full of calories like wraps and peanut butter or oatmeal.  Dried meats are a favourite as well.  Basically anything that doesn’t require refrigeration and is light.  Remember, its not the food that usually weighs a lot, its the water present in your food.  Try to avoid bringing meals that contain lots of water and rely more on things like pasta, rice, or oatmeal.  They have a high calorie/weight ratio.

Water

Consider how you will get your water.  A couple Nalgene bottles wont cut it for a long haul trip.  Bring a water filter designed to remove all the lovely bacteria and parasites or use purification tablets/drops.  Simply boiling your water wont save you from a severe case of “beaver fever”.  Oh and avoid drawing water from swampy boggy areas or from near shore.  These areas can be teaming with parasites.  If in an emergency you need to drink untreated water, get it from a fast moving stream or from the middle of a deep cold lake.

Gear

Gear needs are tied directly to the trip you plan to take.  You’ll need at least: a compass, your map (preferably in a water proof case), fire starting equip, pack, sleeping bag, therma-rest or sleeping pad, water filtration or purification equip, minimal cooking gear (preferably pots that fit within one another), a stove or way to cook (something light is great like a whisperlite or similar), life jacket (if canoeing), and assortment of medication (ibuprofen, Benadryl, antihistamines, personal meds).  A bit of rope and a good knife are never bad things to bring along.  Try to minimize gear and reduce redundancies.  Discuss equipment with your group to avoid duplicating gear.  No need to haul 6 camp stoves in when one will do the trick.

Resist the urge to bring along your favourite axe, clunky propane BBQ, or other gear that has no direct use on trip.  Believe me, you’ll only make the mistake of over packing once, especially if you have a few long portages to deal with.

Maintain a dry set of clothes, but don’t bring the whole wardrobe.  Accept that you wont have a fresh set of clothes to wear each day unless you pack them in.  I keep one set of dry clothes for camp and one for the hard day of paddling and hiking.

Organization

Reduce clutter and loose items. Make sure you reduce items that need to be carried in your hands or that are loose.  This makes for easy portages and minimizes lost items.  You will tire quickly of having to pick up a ton of crap each time you move.  Also, one pack containing all your gear is easer to pick out of the water than a mess of gear if you capsize.  As a plus, your pack will likely float minimizing loss of equipment!

Read Trip Reports

Although you may be hoping to experience your very own Lewis and Clark moment once you are in the woods, its likely someone else has been there before.  Use resources such as myccr.ca folks on that sit have piles of information for the new adventurer.  Don’t forget to use Google and read posts like those you may find on your favourite outdoor blog based in Southern Ontario “wink, wink”.  If there is a problem with a trip, someone somewhere is likely to mention it.

Weather

Be prepared for it or plan around it.  Remember as nice as a light rain shower is in the summer, the same rain can be deadly if your travelling in cold temperatures.  Staying dry is key when the mercury drops.

Stay off the water during thunderstorms or in high winds. Likewise, learn your route and constantly be looking to landmarks that indicate where you are. Stay alert!  you don’t want to be the person who misses the portage only to head into a class 5 rapid un-expectantly.

Well that’s my two cents.  I’m not a pro by any stretch, but hopefully this information will help you make some good decisions up front about your trip.  If I can leave you with one thought its this: don’t be intimidated.  This may seem like a lot of things to think about when tripping, but you’ll learn quick.  Start small, be eager to learn and humbly take advice for more experienced trippers.

Lastly, and above all else, enjoy the experience.

Cheers from somewhere in the middle of nowhere,

Albert

Ontario Craft Beer, Cheese, Liquor, and Food

The Wilderness across Ontario is my favourite thing to write about.  But a close second would have to be the province itself.  The area is rich in diversity and is currently nurturing a healthy “farm to table / locavore” movement.  For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about artisanal meats, cheeses, food, beer and liquor made locally with local ingredients, fostering local economic benefits.  I could go on here touting the benefits of supporting this way of life but really, what’s more beneficial than eating and drinking something that a fellow Ontarian has poured their life into?  In my mind, its a no brainer.

So how do you set about finding all these hole in the wall places? I’m sure many of you may have a favourite craft beer you like or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon a some amazing cheese that’s made in the farmhouse down the road.  That’s great.  Now imagine having access to each and everyone of these places across southern Ontario.

Actually better yet, don’t imagine.  This ability already exists in website form.  Check out the following link and discover the taste of Ontario.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0645/5925/files/DiscoveryRoutes_2016_Full_insert.pdf?16132010561433434178

Cheers

Albert

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White Water Canoeing on the Madawaska

This blog could be accused of focussing too much on the Hunting and Fishing aspects of Southern Ontario and I would be hard pressed to refute the accusation.  I mean they are my two favourite past times, which explains why they often make their way to the forefront of this blog.

However I do occasonally get a chance to step outside of my cofort zone and try something new and exciting.  Last weekend was such an occasion as I was invited to a bachelor party which included a white water canoeing component.

The trip took place on the lower portion of the Madawaska starting at the Paddlers coop in Palmer Rapids and finishing some 41 kms in Griffith.  The route took us through the Lower Madawaska River Provincial Park and over several sets of rapids.

The trip started following an early morning of fishing on a small back lake I frequented in my youth.  We camped at the Paddlers Co-op for the night and awaited the remaining 3 members of our group to arrive.  For those who have never been, the Paddlers coop is a great location to get your learn on when it comes to white water.  The facility is a non-for profit organization owned and run by paddlers who really enjoy what they do.  Its also a great place to get outfitted for the river if you don’t have your own gear (https://paddlerco-op.ca/). It’s funny, I’ve spent a ton of time in the Bancroft area as a kid and had no idea a gem like the paddlers Coop existed.

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DSC_0152(ii)Everyone who has ever camped at bon echo or head up highway 41 knows the Kaladar General Store.  There aren’t a whole lot of options for gas in the area and the KGS is a great spot for fuel and odds and ends you may need for your outdoor adventures.

DSC_0161 (ii)Typical foggy morning landscapes from the Bancroft area.

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The first day started with a leisurely paddle from the Paddler Coop.  There are several flat stretches right off the hop just downriver from the Coop.

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Aumonds Rapids (shown above) was the very first set we encountered, and my very first set as a newly minted white water canoeist.  Although it was only a class I in low water, it seemed huge to a newbie.  We did scout this rapid, which in hind sight was probably more for my benefit than safety.  Glad the guys eased me into these things!

But lets not down play the importance of scouting when canoeing whitewater.  Scouting is a vital component of white water canoeing in order to stay safe.  Scouting allows the paddler to assess the level of difficulty of each rapid set and allows for the development of a game plan prior to entering the set.  Rocks can be game enders and since they can be difficult to see from the low angle of a canoe, scouting is critical.  If I haven’t already sold you on it consider this:  Water conditions can vary greatly from season to season or even between rain events and rapids can change drastically over time.

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(View of snake rapids above)

Fishing on the trip was dominated by 1-2 lb smallmouth bass.  They seemed to be everywhere in the river and very hungry.  They also made a delicious addition to our evening meals.

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To be honest, I was pretty terrified of running some of these rapids.  Most were Class I to II however there were some class III rapids, which on paper seems beyond my confidence level.  Good thing the other gents on the trip were pros and more than willing to teach me the ropes.

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(Nailed it!)

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(Above: Dave crushing Rifle Chute)

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White water canoeing has inherent risks, and spilling can be a frequent occurrence.  Thankfully the Madawaska is a fairly forgiving river in the sense that most rapids are followed by slow moving pools which easily accommodates spilled paddlers.  Swimming to shore from these pools is usually fairly quick and easy to do.

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(The author hitting split rock rapids)

River features like rapids and specific rocks often come with weird and quirky names.  Some seem to have no meaning at all, while others are aptly named.  We encountered one such feature ( a rock) in Raquette Rapids dubbed “The Canopener”.  This rock is located immediately down stream of the rapids that canoes often get pinned against, leaving them “open” the current. According to the locals, it can be nearly impossible to remove the canoes from the rocks during high water.

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The addiction to white-water grew over the trip and by the end, I was eagerly anticipating the next set.  Definitely a trip I would do again.

Cheers from the rapids,

Albert