June 6 – 9
# of portages: 12
Total portage distance: 6485m
Total distance: 35.3km
Remember Coronovirus? That was a wild time huh? Well, luckily for us the government has allowed us to enjoy Ontario’s backcountry again! As this was rolled out we decided to head in as soon as we could.
We decided it would be fun to retrace our first foray into the park and headed to Misty Lake by way of access #3. This was well-trodden terrain and we could basically trace the route without a map, so it meant we could get “out there” without having to worry about serious navigation or planning. I was using a few new kitchen gadgets in the city to lighten the load a bit, but we wanted to see how much our perspective had changed since then. We also wanted to deke north on our way back and explore Queer and Little Trout lakes to extend our trip an extra day.
We planned on getting out early because we didn’t have to stop in a park office to get our permit, and we really hope this trend of printing your own permits continues, but I slept through my alarm. We still got a good jump on the day, setting out onto Magnetewan lake around 8:30am. The paddle through Hambone, Acme, Daisy, and the early Pet was unremarkable. We were just so happy to be back where we loved to be. The sun was shining, but not too hot and the bugs were more than manageable.
The portaging was going way better than we expected or remembered. We only slipped up twice. Once was on the 450m portage to Little Misty when we happened to throw our packs back into the canoe to paddle along the water for 200m before realizing we hadn’t actually completed the portage. Our second misstep was on the 935m to Misty, where I slipped heading down the hill to the lake about 300m from the end. It was disappointing to me because I was feeling good and strong and wanted to do the portage without stopping. Regardless, we spat ourselves out onto Misty and saw an obligatory moose before heading to our site.
We were hoping to get the site we stayed on last time we had come through, but unfortunately it was occupied. Instead we decided to try the site due north of the Timberwolf Lake portage. It had a beach and seemed kind of nice. Indeed it did have a rocky beach, but it was a bit exposed to the wind and not entirely ideal. We went down to the canoe and were going to scope out the map when we noticed something we hadn’t before. There was a rock near our canoe which was covered in bugs. Upon closer inspection, the “rock” was actually a bloated moose carcass! It was a pretty gruesome sight, with the skull peeking through, but the rest of it pretty much together. We high-tailed it across to the island and settled on the eastern-most site.
This is a smaller but still very serviceable site. Not too much in the way of level open spaces, but the fire pit has a great view of the lake and the breeze comes straight in from the lake to take care of the bugs. Being the first time anyone had been through this area, there was plenty of cedar pushed up on shore and dry. It isn’t great for cooking over, but with a cold night on the docket it will help keep you warm. We had a few chicken burritos for dinner and settled into our sleeping bags for our first sleep outdoors in a while.
It was a very cold night for us. I had brought a summer bag which is rated to 0 degrees but was still shivering through the cold of the night. It was a hard sell to get out of the sleeping bags and get the coffee going. We would need to ensure that there was a cache of dry and split wood for us when we woke up the next morning. We had a lazily prepared breakfast of fresh eggs and bacon in a wrap, before setting about the day. We had seen the rear end of a boat heading down the Pet, and assumed it was the people on our desired site so we decided to hop in the boat and see if there was another optimal site.
We looked at a few other sites, but they were fairly overgrown and buggy at this time of year. Definitely serviceable, but I think the island sites (on any of the islands) or the north west sites are the best so far. Our original site was open though, so we haphazardly threw our gear into the boat and relocated to the more sheltered site. I love this site, as it is sheltered but has a view and enough room for a larger group. The people in before us were tidy and left the site nicer than they had gotten it, sweeping around the firepit and stocking some wood. We spent the day looking around the island, fishing, and getting firewood ready for the night. We didn’t want to have a deficit of heat, and we didn’t.
The 3rd day broke cool, but not terribly cold. We slept better, both from physical and mental preparation I think. The sheltered site also kept the wind out, which had been a bit of an issue earlier. We had a cold breakfast of home made granola bars, then broke camp and headed back the way we had come to Little Misty lake. Along the way we saw a different moose munching away near the end of the portage and had to get pretty close to get around him. The climb back up was uneventful, and before we knew it we were at the 2435m portage to Queer lake.
At the beginning of this trail there’s some debris from what looks like an old sled, and from what I know of the areas history I would say this used to be a horse trail dragging logs out in the winter or something like that. The path is wide and gentle, free of most of the energy-sapping pitfalls typical of portaging. If it were a bit more graded it could easily be a cart path. Halfway along the portage there’s a bridge near a pond. We were lucky enough to see two moose in the pond before they got spooked by us and left. It is odd to see a male and female like we did, and I wish I had a photo, but I decided to absorb the experience rather than fumble for a blurry shot or 2-second clip.
Queer was absent of any campers except for one soloist who was full of information regarding the more traveled parts of the park. Apparently Ralph Bice and Little Trout were fully booked up the day before, so we were interested to see what was available one lake over. After a very brief portage, we were on Little Trout lake and looking for a site. I knew a few sites on the north side were okay, so we headed that way first.
The site I wanted was occupied, but everywhere else had nobody on them. We landed on the westernmost site on the southern shore and declared it perfect for our purposes. There was an easy landing, steep rocky dropoffs from another area of waterfront, a western-facing fire pit with adequate seating, and a shelf to use as a camp kitchen. There wasn’t a great spot to put the tent, but we managed. The real issue with this lake is firewood. We spent hours trying to find something that would burn well, taking to land and sea to find fissile material. Our solution was to use an “upside down” fire with large softwood logs on the bottom to absorb and contain heat, with a smaller fire on top with split hardwood to drop coals down. The wood was wet and the flames small, but the heat was steady and the weather was warming up. Dinner was a huge portion of spaghetti with dehydrated sauce. I didn’t think I would make a dent in it, but wound up finishing my meal in about 10 minutes. We then poked the fire until we were too tired to continue and fell happily into our sleeping bags.
I woke early on the last day, not constrained to my sleeping bag because the weather had warmed considerably. The clouds were out and everything seemed grey. We wanted an early jump on the day because we had to cross a bigger lake in Ralph Bice, and didn’t want to get caught in either wind of beating sun. It was supposed to be hot hot hot this day, so we tried to make the best of what clouds we could. Around 7:30am we were on the water, and went on to the easiest day we would have in the park.
The portages from this point on were very well trodden, and with no major elevation changes they were fairly inconsequential. Ralph Bice was nice and calm for us as the clouds started to break up. This was only the second time I had been on this lake, and it was interesting to see it at it’s breadth. I had been solo last time and only seen a corner of the lake. The site I stayed at looked remarkably similar, just going to show that some things change quickly in nature, but if humans keep coming some things never change. By the time we got to Hambone lake, the mosquitoes were out in force. This was what I had been expecting the whole weekend, but was the only time I even considered using the bug shirt I brought. Quickly, to avoid the bugs, we sidled up to the dock on Magnetewan and had the van packed for travel. Whomever found Shane’s glasses case and put them on a rock for us, thank you.