Tuesday morning….and woke up to a wintery wonderland….well at least a covering of wet snow on the ground and the trees….yet I’m still thinking of canoes and canoeing….even thinking of tripping….
I have used a tumpline….as well as a yoke….the tumpline was good especially if no yoke present….many find carved yokes are not satisfactory for portaging….and prefer a tumpline on a centre thwart….
I have a yoke that is not so ‘carved’ on my favourite wood canvas canoe….and I manage quite well with just that….
Photos by yours truly showing detail of yoke in my favourite green canoe.
However my portages tend to be mostly short these days (old age I guess LOL LOL)….if I was doing longer and harder portages regularly I would be very tempted to use a tumpline….
Here are some opinions on using a tumpline to portage:
From How to Portage a Canoe !, is this (although not specific to wood canvas canoes):
First of all the author makes these comments:
Lashing paddles to make a yoke. More of a guillotine than a yoke, when you wipe out. You will wipe out someday…we all do. The lashing shifts around, wastes time setting up, and the canoe will pound your shoulders.
The carved yoke. The purpose of a carved wooden yoke is to sell canoes and its job is done once the canoe leaves the showroom. It is not carved for your shoulders, my shoulders, or the shoulders of anyone you know. Even if it were, it would only fit when the canoe is level. Like any yoke, it is designed to pound your shoulders and inflict pain within the first 100 meters. It is also intended to slice into your neck on your way downhill, and slide off going uphill. Your arm is meant to fall asleep as you grasp the gunwhale to keep the canoe in place. At least if you wipe out the canoe will roll off you.
Then he describes using a tumpline:
The Tump Strap
The weight of the canoe is ultimately supported by your spine, so why not direct the load there as directly as possible? This is why North American Indians first used a leather tump strap over their forehead, tied to either side of the centre thwart. The weight is off my shoulders. Most of the weight is directly down my spine and the thwart rides on my back, behind my shoulders. The tump acts as a leaf-spring to absorb shock as I trek down the trail, or run across during a canoe race. You can jog with this method! I use a felt hat to block mosquitos and protect my forehead from the tump’s force.
The author continues with details on his approach to portaging with a tump.
A tump strap can help spread the stress of the load and stops the canoe from slipping down your back. Take note, however, that a tump may not be for everyone. By resting the weight directly on the spine, neck muscles are essential.
Murat V. wrote the best of all articles online in his excellent Paddle Making (And Other Canoe Stuff) on tumplines and using them to portage a canoe:
In Paddle Making (and other canoe stuff): Canoe Tump Project – Part 3: Using the Rig, Murat mentioned the two articles I had previously referred to….as Murat points out about the article, How to Portage a Canoe !:
This article by a canoe tump enthusiast suggests a contoured centre yoke is a horrible innovation. His method requires the replacement of the “stinky” centre yoke with 2″ diameter round aluminum tubing. Might work for him but not going to happen with my boat.
He continues with a great discussion on the other article previously mentioned,Portaging A Heavy Canoe With A Tump Line from a presentation made at Canoecopia 2007-2008 by Camp Nomingue staff:
This full colour, clearly written article outlines all the technical aspects although they tend to use canvas & cord based tumps. Interesting that their lashing method involves securing the tump cord 1.5 inches ahead of the actual centre thwart.
Camp Nominigue Setup
Since my leather tump is akin to the Northwest Woodsman’s site, I’ve used his photos and accompanying YouTube video,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKmZYdKoYX8, to learn the correct method of lashing it in. The video shows the method for a wanigan first and then for a canoe around the 3:50 mark. His canoe also has a contoured portage yoke just like mine.
NW Woodsman Tump Pics
However, one thing I never quite liked about the paddles being lashed in the claustrophobic space created by sandwiching your head between the blades. While re-reading the classic birchbark canoe text, The Building of a Chippewa Indian Birch-Bark Canoe by Robert E. Ritzenthaler I came across a paragraph (p. 96) describing one native way of using the tumpline. It involved lashing the grip end of the paddles to the centre thwart with the blades pointed towards the bow. The position is such that the the shafts of the paddles are flared away at the yoke resulting in a much more open triangular space. The arms are wrapped around the shafts with the hands loosely griping the sides of the tumpline on the forehead. Here’s the accompanying photo on pg. 95
One Native Tump Method
This last method appealed to me the most. With all tumplines however, trial and error to get it adjusted just right to work properly. While up north for a brief fall getaway, I got a chance to test out the setup. The tump was secured to the yoke with simple hitches but it took me about about 45 minutes of fiddling to finally find the right length. In the end, I figured out that for my boat and yoke, the best measure was when the centre of the tump’s headpiece just touched the bottom of the hull when pressed down with my finger. This will make it much easier to attach/adjust in the future so as not to waste much time.
Laying out; Clove Hitch to Yoke; Re-adjusted length
The slack was used to tie in the grips of two paddles and a piece of 1/2″ wide leather strip was used to secure the blades to the seat. In the end the setup was quite secure.
Grips lashed in; Blades secure; the final setup
Canoe tump portage
The results: I’m totally impressed with the use of tumpline. While my boat isn’t a heavy beast to begin with, the tump and paddle setup really make for an seemingly lighter carry. I walked around the property with the canoe (including uphill) to a parking lot area drawing some funny looks from neighbours and while it wasn’t an authentic bush portage, the tump carry did make a difference on the shoulders. From a safety standpoint, if I slightly shrugged my shoulders up and tilted my head back, the tump would slip off and roll backwards because of the way it was lashed in. A simple hand motion would swing the tump back into place onto the top of the head so it is relatively easy to get in and out if needed.Especially significant was the ability to let go of the paddles and rest the arms while the tump & shoulders balanced the boat. Also, with the bulk of the weight borne by the tumpline, you only really need one hand to secure the boat while moving. To take the picture above, I set up a sawhorse in the driveway, placed the camera on it, set it on a 10 second delay and walked into position, all the while efforlessly balancing the canoe with the tumpline. It may have its critics, but for me, I can see the potential in this piece of gear.
Let me close with a few thoughts previously mentioned on portaging here:
It’s the portage that makes travelling by canoe unique. – Bill Mason
….portaging is like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer: it feels so good when you stop. – Bill Mason
Anyone who says they like portaging is either a liar or crazy. – Bill Mason
Another prerequisite of good canoe country is short portages. Long portages, and by that I mean portages over half a mile in length, are rare and in the entire area there are on the regular routes perhaps not half a dozen of over a mile. On the average most of them are under a quarter-mile and many even shorter, thanks again to the damming of the river systems by the glacier. When you travel down any chain of lakes, your portages invariably follow the beds of the old creeks connecting them, now perhaps only seepages. If the water is high, it is often possible to paddle directly from one lake to another down the old preglacial channels or perhaps make a simple liftout over a separating ledge or gravel bar into the water above.
In the famous canoe country of Maine, portages are often several miles in length, a distance which makes possible means of transportation only by horse and wagon or even narrow-gauge railway. How much more adventurous and satisfying to throw on your canoe and walk quickly across a short woods trail to the next lake. Then you can enjoy to the full the sensation of being on your own and that in the wilds is half the joy of travelling. True, there are other lake regions to the north of us in Canada, where lakes and rivers are as plentiful, but nowhere will you find them with portages of the type found in the border country. The further north you go, the more muskeg you find and with more muskeg goes inevitably lower shores and swampy trails. Only here in the Quetico-Superior do you find them picturesque and beautiful, a welcome change to muscles weary with paddling, a pleasure rather than a chore. – Sigurd Olson, The Evolution of a Canoe Country, in Minnesota Conservationist, May 1935
May your portages be short and the breezes gentle on your back.- Anonymous
The worst portage ever is the next one! – Scott MacGregor
The thought of having to carry all your worldly possessions on your back has been cause to modify the quintessential Canadian adventure canoe trip in terms of how many portages will be encountered. Paddlers now have mutated their own aspirations of adventure by eliminating the “carry”-the fundamental and historical pith of the journey, and choose a route with the least amount of work involved. - from Grey Owl & Me by Hap Wilson
I have no desire for long portages. That’s like saying I desire traffic jams on the 401 when really all I really desire is to get home.
I have a desire for seclusion, for remoteness, stillness and silence, for portability, speed (when …it’s needed), and lightness. The mantra is “Go quietly, Carry little.” As you know, between Wellesley and Sudbury, often it is the long portages that take you to those places. I can go to Algonquin during peak season and not see another human for days, and I can do this simply by using portages that discourage most–and this is right off of Hwy 60.
And, although portages can be analogous to root-canal, they somehow bring depth and character to the trip, while you’re there, but also in memory. Like a pilgrimage, the physical strain wears down the body and opens it up to and is receptive to the solitude and even transcendence that the portage has brought you to.
Portages also represent something that runs counter to our culture of drive-thru convenience and auto-gratification. There is reward thinking about and completing a portage. At the end of the portage I gulp down the water and it may occur to me that I did not click a button to get this far. My body is almost broken, but the air is sweet. Even outside of the canoe world, there is a link between physical work and gratification and contentment. The link, however, is laid bare on some canoe trips.
In one of Olson’s books, he describes his favourite lake, the perfect lake in his mind, a lake that in the past he had spent days portaging and paddling to get to. One summer he decides to fly in, but quickly concludes that his experience of the lake and the area is not the same, is not as deep and meaningful. He is disconnected. To experience or to feel connected to his surroundings, he felt he needed the portages, the travel, the miles of paddling. The meaning of the place is not merely in the physical location, but in the journey.
Olson reminiscences fondly for both lakes and portages:
“I can still see so many of the lakes (whose shores and hills are forever changed after the storm): Saganaga, Red Rock, Alpine, Knife, Kekekabic, Eddy, Ogishkemunicie, Agamok, Gabimichigami, Sea Gull. It seems like yesterday… the early-morning bear on BrantLake, that long portage fromHansonLake to the South Arm of the Knife, that perfect campsite onJasperLake…”
I don’t like portages, but they get me to where I want to go. And out there, it seems that while I don’t like them, they are the tough-lovers of canoe trip: they know better than me in preparing me for the place I am trying to get to both physically and emotionally. – Paul Hoy
It not just about the trail one travels, as much as how one gets there….just as life is not so much about the destination as the journey….even with the portages LOL LOL. And when one gets to travel by canoe through wilderness, then one reconnects with the land….with the water….with the rocks and trees….with the whole environment….and maybe also with one’s self.
Paddles up until later then….and remember that life is not about its destination, but its journey….the journey might be tough, long and winding….but it’s sure worth the walk….or the paddle at least LOL LOL. – Mike Ormsby
As you near the far shore’s portage, you feel fresh, ready to carry the canoe
Over the short yet rocky trail into the next small but distant lake
Perhaps even to a welcoming campsite under the pines
Settling down for the night under sparkling stars
Maybe even catching glimpse of a shooting star or the Northern Lights
The cedar and canvas canoe rolls up onto your shoulders
Not too much weight, a bit more than you remember from last year
Just enough to let you know you’re still alive
You double the carry over so you don’t overdo it
Or maybe it’s just to take more time to see where you’re at
As you rest by a waterfall beside the path, you reflect on the day….on what lies ahead
Still a few hours left before the sun sets….should be a full moon tonight
Maybe you’ll hear the howl of a wolf…. the echo of a loon from a nearby lake
You feel good….at ease….at home….and far from being alone
The canoe and you have journeyed far…and still have farther yet to go
For each trip takes you away from the daily grind
With each paddle stroke, there is definitely a greater peace of mind
So you pick up your pack, walking the last of the portage
Upon arrival, you launch the canoe onto the shining waters
You and the canoe dance on into the remaining daylight – Mike Ormsby
Paddles up until later….and remember as the cedar and canvas canoe rolls up onto your shoulders: hopefully there is not too much weight….maybe a bit more than you remember from last year….but just enough to let you know you’re still alive….
Next time you portage, think of using a tumpline to ease the portage of your wood canvas canoe….maybe even with any canoe….
And think of where portages can lead you….certainly not just away from the crowds….