Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

The One and a Half Method

Preston Ciere

by Preston
September 12, 2010

Portaging can be difficult and to some it’s nothing but a pain to avoid. However you feel about the subject, you have to agree that portages are at least a necessary evil to get you to the best back country areas. There are several ways to lessen their burden. One way is called the “One And A Half Method”.

While the hard core enthusiasts travel over portages in one grueling uber-manly trip, most portageurs will portage by travelling the way once with all their gear, then turn around and walk back to go and get the canoe (or vice versa). Why not? You’re not in any hurry – you’re on vacation after all – and what exactly do you need to prove anyway? Either way, it’s your preference. The trouble starts when half your group wants to do it one way and the rest another. Nevertheless, like most things in life, there’s a middle ground. Here’s how it works:

  1. As a group, everyone grabs their gear, leaving the canoes
  2. The whole group walks half the length of the portage
  3. At the mid point, have half the group drop their gear off to the side of the trial and go back for the canoes
  4. The first group continues on with the gear to the end of the portage, dropping off the gear, then turns back to retrieve the gear left by the second group
  5. In the meantime, the second group will have got the canoes and carries them straight through to the end of the portage

Easy. You’ve done it faster than in two trips without the drudgery of one. (It should also be noted that when we’re not carrying our gear or canoes, we’ve left them off the trail to be courteous to other travelers.) Obviously, the primary benefit to this technique is that you can get over portages more quickly.

Statisticians, computer programmers or general know-it-alls will immediately suggest that if you work out the math, it really should be called the “2” method, in the sense that you’re only travelling the distance of the portage twice instead of three times (1+1/2+1/2). Sure, gold star for you. Everyone else can appreciate that you’ll have a load on your back for only one and a half the length of the portage instead of two full carries. (There’s actually another type of one-and-a-half method: the one where you carry for the first trip and let half your group go and get the rest. But you can probably guess why that’s not the most popular method)

Of course, you may find some minor issues with this method:

  • This method assumes having brought only enough gear that can be carried over a portage in two trips. Then again, you’d still be saving some time since you’d have to go back for that extra gear regardless.
  • You can only really do it properly with an even number of people. This can sometimes be solved by a little organization so that carrying the gear can be spread over more people to free someone up to go back for the extra canoe. If you like mind puzzles, you could also figure out some type of division of work and distances between the number in your group, but that seems like one of those “fox, chicken and grain” exercises – and too much work for the trouble.
  • Another problem might arise if you normally carry the canoes with two people, as you’ll get to the end missing half the canoes. I’d recommend reading about carrying the canoe with one person.
  • Finally, this method seems much less social, as your group is separated a third of the time.

Then again, if all else fails, just do it in two carries. I’ll say it again: you’re on vacation! Enjoy the surroundings and have a snack on the way back for the canoes. I’ve found that there’s too much emphasis on shortening the time on portages and too little on appreciating where you are. How many times have you had a canoe on your head, or been bogged down by gear, watching your feet, too focused on the “chore” of portaging that you completely miss the scenery around you? Take the time to enjoy it. The walk back is a great excuse to take out the camera because more often than not, the very reason you have to portage (waterfall, hills, beaver dams etc.) make for some great pictures.

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