“Anyone who tells you portaging is fun is either a liar or crazy.” Bill Mason – Waterwalker
One person lift
To some, it’s much easier to load themselves up with heavy packs and stumble across the portage than it is to balance a canoe over their heads. But I much prefer to choose the canoe. I’m not all that muscle bound and depend much more on technique rather than brawn. This is why the canoe is much easier for me to handle. Portaging, and most important, lifting a canoe over your head is all about technique, not strength.
To properly lift the canoe up over your head, follow these steps:
Start off by standing amid ship, grasping the gunwale with both hands and titling the canoe so the hull is pressed against your legs.
Then, by grabbing the center of the yoke with your right hand, hoist the canoe up to your thighs. With the canoe resting on your thighs, reach over and grab for the far gunwale with your left hand, just forward of the yoke.
The next part is the most important but also the most difficult. Begin swinging the canoe gently back and forth on your thighs like a pendulum. Then, with one solid motion, flip the canoe over your head, with the yoke landing on your shoulders. Don’t worry. Your head and shoulder will magically locate the yoke on their own. Just make sure not to hesitate. The weight of the canoe will be lighter the faster you flip. Remember: “Right-left-right-flip” and you’ll be fine.
At the trail’s end, place the canoe “gently” down by using the opposite procedure, making sure to lower the canoe onto your thighs first to avoid smashing the hull against a rock.
Two Heads are better than One
If you feel too uneasy about lifting the canoe over your head on your own, then do what’s called a two person lift, followed by a one person carry. Have your canoe partner stand beside the canoe near the bow and position yourself an arms length away, somewhere between the front seat and the yoke. Then, both of you grab the opposite gunwale with your left hand and the other gunwale with your right. Flip the canoe over your heads, making sure the back end of the canoe doesn’t leave the ground. Now, while your partner holds the canoe up, you slide backwards and position yourself under the yoke. Once you have control of the canoe then your partner lets go and meets you at the end of the trail to help you unload, using the opposite procedure.
The same technique can be used on your own. Just flip the canoe over at the front of the canoe without the aid of your partner. As long as the back end of the canoe keeps touching the ground you are not carrying the full weight until you slide yourself under the yoke.
Also, it is possible to have both paddlers carry the canoe together, even though there’s a real danger of you and your partner not speaking to one another by the end of the portage. To keep the arguments to a minimum, make sure not to have the person in the front stick their head up inside the bow. Portaging then quickly becomes a game of Blind Man’s Bluff. It’s best to have them place the bow plate on one shoulder, enabling them to see where they’re going, and then position the other person under the stern thwart or back seat