Maple Leaf Lake – Western Uplands Trail

Nov 5-6, 2016
Total distance: 8.8km

Earlier this year, Shane and I witnessed exactly how dangerous water can be in the extreme shoulder seasons, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t spook me a little bit.  Definitely influenced our decision to try a hiking trip into Algonquins backcountry.  Since it’s November we decided to hike to a lake with a known fish population and hunker down for a long night at Maple Leaf lake, the closest lake to the trailhead at Highway 60.

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Trailhead of the Western Uplands trail at Highway 60

I’m green when it comes to hiking.  I know I don’t have the right gear and mindset to take on something crazy long like the Appalachian Trail in the winter.  With that in mind, let’s review my gear and food for the 1 night trip:

  • 1 giant sleeping bag, a Marmot Trestles 0 (good for -20c)
  • 1 four man tent
  • 1 very full gear bag (Whisperlite and fuel, coffee, full pot and kettle, multple stirring utensils, cutting board,  first aid kit, flag, sink, etc. etc. etc.)
  • Hatchet
  • Saw (didn’t use, Shane brought a better one)
  • Toiletries kit
  • Extra clothes (actually, this was the only thing I brought that I used all of)
  • Food bag (with a GIANT box of soup stock!  Why didn’t I just bring a bullion cube?!?!?  I’m dumb)
  • Extra cooler bag with a few odds and sods plus the frozen bean dish for dinner.  This was also needlessly heavy.
  • Fishing gear
  • 1 MEC Scout tarp
  • Much paracord

Why go into such detail?  Because this was the Western UPlands Trail.  Up, and up, and up.  Watching fellow hikers breeze by with traditionally minimal gear was embarrassing.

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Exploring an old dam

The trail was lovely though.  The sun was shining and the wind low.  We walked and admired the few oak and maples that still bore leaves, stopping every few minutes to look at a beaver dam or stream.  We got lost once bypassing a fallen tree as leaves had fallen across the path and we didn’t realize we were wandering.   Before we had become the target of a provincial search though, we found the blazes and were back on our way.

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A nice place to rest along the trail

After about an hour and a half we had made it to the signage leading to Maple Leaf Lake.  Based on videos and photos we decided to stay on the south-central side.  From the main trail, we took a left down-hill, then a right at the next fork (along a boardwalk).  There were two nearly conjoined sites, with an outhouse in the middle extolling the benefits of packing garbage out rather than cramming it down a shitter-hole.  We  settled on the more eastern site as hit had a better cliff-face for fishing.

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Maple leaf lake, nary a canoeist to be seen…

Now that we were there, the toil of packing half of an MEC catalog in became apparent.  The wind was there, and if it turned really biting in the evening we could set up a wind tarp.  The tent was secure, water resistant, and spacious.  The food would be hearty and easily prepared.  Life was a bit more normal.  We set about the usual rigors of camping, then got a drink and started fishing.

We had no luck fishing, and what’s more we knew we’d be searching longer than usual for firewood without a boat.  We explored our little peninsula before heading back up the path in search of lumber.  With many of the leaves down, it didn’t take too long to find good dry lumber with which to keep warm.

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A creek near our site with no real movement, can’t imagine it near bug season.

Lunch was soup, and having warmth in our bellies allowed us to keep fishing and cutting lumber.  Lunch was late though, not finished until around 2:30pm.  It didn’t hurt that we hadn’t gotten hiking until around 10am.  This meant that if we were going to have to have dinner at 6 or so, we would be making it in the dark.  This is not something we’ve ever had to contend with, as we usually eat dinner in the twilight hours of 7:30-8pm.  It was weird.

We had no luck fishing, despite the good spot.  It wasn’t long until we were starting to lament that fact that we didn’t have a canoe.  To get to the other side of the lake would be a mere 10 minute paddle, tops.  On land it would take at least twice as long, with no guarantee it would be any better.  We needed deep water wit ha current to get to the splake we were targeting, and there was no way for us to get there from shore.  Oh well, at least the coffee was hot and we weren’t at work.

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Fishing in vain, as the sun begins setting (at like, 4pm)

The sun set, and were fired up the stove for dinner.  Once again we had a pile of pre-made bean and beef goo.  It was great, but by the time we got seconds, it was already very cool in the November night.  We tended the fire, and by the time it felt late it was only 10pm.  This was a loooonnngggg night.  What made it worse was that the clocks fell back an hour that night due to daylight savings.  It was nice and warm in my sleeping bag though, so I had a lovely time waiting for the sun to come up.

Eggs and bacon were for breakfast, along with with yet more coffee.  We packed up slowly, relishing the strong sun and light winds.  We also were about to learn a hard lesson about hiking.  There’s no such thing as phoning in an out.  We have become complacent with the last day, just throwing everything haphazardly in the bag, knowing that at worst we`d have to lug it over a few portages before it goes back in the bottom of the boat.  This is not the case hiking.  Everything must be folded, packed, and hauled as efficiently as possible.  While we backtracked down the trail, amicably downhill this time, it was still a haul.  In the morning.  Bleh.

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It was truly beautiful weather though, we definitely lucked out.  No bugs, light wind, just a nice walk in the select hardwood section at Home Depot really.  I missed my canoe deeply, this trip added some much-needed perspective regarding how important it is to the enjoyment of my trips.  Not just a means of transport, the canoe is a cargo ship, lumber truck, deep-sea fishing station, and magic carpet.

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Few hours left until dinner

It`s going to be a long winter…

Booth Lake – Labour Day 2016

Sept 3-5, 2016
# of portages: 4
Total portage distance: 1470m
Total distance: 12km
Videolog: https://youtu.be/6M3Qh4HdIA4

Do you believe in karma?  Karma is the idea that any one action will lead to subsequent reactions, usually in a balancing act.  This year has been nothing but rain and cold, with occasional cloud.  This trip was the ying to those trips yang.

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Heading out into the fog

This year, because of math and traffic, it made all sorts of sense for me to forego heading north the Friday night and instead push all the way from Oakville to Shall Lake access point Saturday morning.  Waking up at 2:30am wasn’t fun, but the drive was a breeze!  Honestly, I’m probably going to go this way for many of the next long weekend trips.  I met Shane 3/4 of the way there at a Hortons in Huntsville and we managed to pull into the proper park office at almost exactly 7am.

What greeted us was a thick fog and chilling cold.  I marked the temperature at 3 degrees near the East gate.  Seeing some bass playing in the water near the bridge between Shall and Farm lake I threw in lure and lo!  A little bass.  Good tidings.  We went into the fog, hoping our past experience would let us navigate it fairly easily.  As we rounded the point into the lake, we were treated to wolves howling.  It started as just one lone drone, then built into a cacophonous roar.  From our vantage point in the fog on glass, it was really something special.

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Back on Booth Lake

The portages in were exactly as we remembered them, but with our new perspective on the terms “long” and “heavy”, they were a doddle.  Didn’t hurt that we were pretty much jogging from excitement as the sun started to warm things up.  Getting back onto Booth, glassy and inviting, was like catching up with an old friend.  We were hoping to get the site we were at last time (third from the portage on the eastern side of the lake) mostly for the view and to see if the table we built was still there (seriously, we’d still like to know).  We were disappointed to see we were one of the last groups there, most had come up earlier in the week to stake a claim.

We definitely wanted a westward view of the sunset, so we plugged along to the far end of the lake before checking out the island sites.  It was there that we came on the best damn site we could have hoped for.  Nestled away from every other site, just south of the two sites by the portage to Chipmunk lake, was a grand ol’ site.  This baby had a beach, multiple tables, drying racks, nails to hang stuff, a hill behind it, and a unmarred view from the campfire across  the northern basin of Booth lake.  Sure, if there wind was blowing cold right up main street you’d freeze, but the lake was still and the shade was nice.

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Our hovel.

We took a few minutes to marvel at our luck, then set to work around the camp.  Shane has gotten into the habit of bringing a few hand tools and screws with him to fix up benches and tables, so he went about making the table sturdy.  I tried to make a fire blower.  It’s basically a split stick tied back together with a large opening at one end and a small hole at the other (imagine a large wooden straw).  You blow in the big hole, and the breath is condensed through the pipe to a needle which gets a fire really popping!  Unfortunately, mine didn’t work very well, I definitely need to refine the technique.

The blower came from something I saw on the show Alone, a survival show that I adore.  Another little tidbit from Alone was how effective a Paiute deadfall was at trapping mice.  I figured it might not be a bad idea to see if I could get a proof-of-concept one constructed.  I won’t go into detail about how to put one together, but again I was unable to replicate the effect I wanted.  I was disheartened, but overnight I remembered exactly how it looked on the show.  Within minutes the next day I had it all set up, and I’m a bit more confident now in my ability to gather food without a supermarket.

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Exploring the lake

We did a little exploring later, just to gather firewood and do a bit of fishing.  There was a ton of driftwood dotting the eastern shore, so we didn’t kill ourselves.  We did find a sizable pike in the shallows waters by our site, but couldn’t manage to catch the guy.  I had been up since 2:30am though, and Shane not much later, so it was an early night.  Shane brought a great meal of beans, meat, and potatoes which stuck to our ribs and knocked us both out.

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Waiting for the stars to come out

The next morning we woke up on our own accord to a very foggy lake.  Once again, the cool temperatures mixed with the warm lake to produce an impenetrable curtain over the far side of the water.  We were hoping to go fishing, but it wouldn’t happen until this burned off so we had some coffee and watched the world go by.  Soon enough we were on the water heading south aimlessly.  We had no luck around the closest island to our site, and on a whim started towards “driftwood bay” near the second site from the portage.  The whole way, past the close grouping of sites on the eastern shore, we saw no structure on the floor and it was pretty shallow.  No bites, but the scenery was lovely.  At driftwood bay though, the fishing was marvelous.  there’s a large ridge right off the site there where it drops off and the minnows were thick.  Both Shane and I got our fill and headed back for breakfast.

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Success in driftwood bay

Shane hadn’t slept too well due to a sinus infection of some sort, so he decided to take a nap.  Meanwhile, I played around with making a bowdrill to try and get a friction fire going.  I knew it was going to be a slog and probably wouldn’t work (it didn’t), but I was interested in trying the technique.  You can understand the concept as much as you want, but trying things like this out in the real world are usually the best preparation for the worst-case scenario.  The hottest part of the day was spent idly passing time at the site, swimming, collecting lumber, and taking photos.  After a small lunch, we decided to explore the north basin of Booth Lake.

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Many miles put on the canoe that day

Our original idea was to paddle all the way down to the Tattler cabin and fish the mouth of the river there, but about halfway there we started hooking into bass hiding in the shade of the tall hills.  Enjoying the shade ourselves we decided to slowly fish our way back.  Time flew by and before we knew it we were heading back to the site for dinner.  Tonight was pizza on the Outback Oven, which takes time and care to prepare so we wanted to make sure there would be sunlight to use.  The evening was as sublime as the rest of the weekend and we spent a good amount of time watching the sky rotate as we searched for satellites.

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Not a bad dinner spot

Monday morning came too quickly for my liking.  It meant I had to start taking things down as coffee boiled and we slowly got packed up.  Breakfast was brief, but we dragged our feet putting things into our bags.  We noticed everyone else had the same idea, because when it finally came time to push off there was a sudden influx of boats on the lake.  We stayed near the back of the pack, no need to rush to the portage where there’d be a backup anyways.

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Saying goodbye to Booth lake

At the portage, as expected, there were piles of gear on each side.  We had the benefit of youth and preparation which allowed us to pass just about everyone ahead of us by single carrying.  By the time we were on Farm lake, we had left everyone we saw on Booth behind us.  Seems our increasingly usual long weekend plan of going 20km in a day meant we had increased our average travel speed.  We arrived at the take out and then headed down the road, content that this had been the best canoe trip of 2016 (so far).

Rain – McCraney lake

August 13-14
# of portages: 2
Total portage distance: 3390m
Total distance: 7.2km

Rain…2016 will go down in my books as the year of rainy camping.  Had it been any other weekend, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but the best man at my wedding just accepted a new job in Korea which will keep him busy for years and we hadn’t been on a canoe trip yet.  So despite the rain, we packed up and headed out with Shane for a quick taste of the park.

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Ready to move out

Rain lake lived up to its name.  We got there around 8:30, with just enough precipitation falling to be annoying.  Luckily we’re all amateur meteorologists and knew there was a gap in the rain coming up on the radar.  We unloaded what we could, leaving the packs in the car and took up residence under a tree.  We chatted with a friendly MNR employee who was putting up signs raising awareness over the fire ban.  That’s right, despite the rain there was a fire ban on park-wide!  A large 60-hectare fire was burning on the east side, and it was just coming under control.  He did suggest some fishing spots though, great guy.

Around 9:30, the rain started to subside and we started out.  The lake was calm and the company good.  Before long we came upon the only portage of the trip, a long but easy 1600-odd meter cart path.  It was great!  Wide, clear, and level.  Near the end, you divert from the cart path into Little McCraney.  We caught our breath, changed footwear to sandals, and pushed off from the sandy beach towards our destination.

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Ed getting ready to carry Shane and his pack at the same time, tank mode!

Heading south through a relatively spacious creek, Ed was impressed with the beaver dam we had to lift over.  A helpful couple we passed warned us of low water levels, but at this point in the season it was very passable.  It is a controlled environment though, so I could see trouble with the creek if the system lost 30-odd centimetres.

As we pulled out to McCraney lake, the rain began spitting again.  We decided to take the first available site and make the best of whatever we had.  Turns out, this meant the northernmost site on the west.  It was a small site, with a big root system running through most of it, but there were some dilapidated benches and plenty of trees to strap down a tarp or two.

Making the most of a rainy situation

Making the most of a rainy situation

First thing we did was put up a tarp, so that the gear would be dry, then we could worry about things like food and where to put the tents.  We put all our eggs in one basket with this tarp, using all the rope we had to tie it up, down, and sideways.  By the time we were done lunch, it had started to rain steadily again.

As we busied ourselves around the camp fishing, building/improving benches and rock tables, the rain really came down.  We dug moats to keep the drainage up, but it was a losing battle.  Eventually we were ankle deep even right under the middle of the tarp!  The rain came and went all day, but there are worse places to be warm and (mostly) dry.

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The rain really hampered any plans to explore the lake, which was large and has many features to visit.  Dinner was undercooked.  We left the same way we came.  In almost every way this was a write off weekend, but I’m so glad to introduce Algonquin’s interior to Ed before he left.  He claims to have had a good time, so next time we’re on the same continent I’ll have to bring a portaging pack.

Canada Day: Rock-Harry Lake

Jul 1-3
Rock, Penn, Galipo River, Welcome, Harry Lake
Total km: 40km
Number of portages: 6
Total Portage distance: 5640m
Video log: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9bQZ6GxaEs

Canada day weekend meant 3 days off for both Shane and I, so we decided to take a jaunt to a part of Algonquin park we haven’t been near.  Insofar we’ve barely scratched the southern half of the park, and picked Harry Lake based on trout fishability.

Ready to head out

Ready to head out

We got on the go early and were at Rock lake getting permits at 8:05am.  This was the first time we had been to the Rock lake campground and I was impressed by the relatively remote area.  We didn’t take time to look around though and before long we were paddling down Rock river at the put in to the lake proper.

Rock lake is similar to Cache.  Lots of islands, cottages, and some big water.  There are great high rock points and high cliffs all around the picturesque body of water, very appealing to every kind of outdoorsman.  I got us mixed up because I didn’t look at the map and headed for the first portage I saw, winding up with the canoe on my shoulders before realizing the sign said Rock-Louisa.  Lucky we didn’t go down!

Picto Bay

Picto Bay

A few minutes later we arrived at the actual first portage of the trip, into Penn lake.  The theme of today was uphill, and this delivered a good taste around a waterfall.  For some reason I thought it was only 200-odd meters, but it’s clearly marked 375 and fairly well used.  The opposite side is wide open, complete with a dock.

Dock on the Penn Lake side of the portage

Dock on the Penn Lake side of the portage

Launching southward onto Penn we faced light winds in our faces and had to head east around the two northern islands.  There were large rocks between them and a bog on the west.  Even taking the safe route, we had to be careful of large rocks just below the surface.  The rest of Penn was just a pleasant paddle in the park.  We had beaten the weekend warriors with coolers and heavy plastic canoes, so the lake was quiet and we had the water to ourselves for the most part.  Before we knew it, we were looking for the outlet of the Galipo river and really started our adventure.

A very boggy takeout leads into the Galipo river from Penn Lake.

A very boggy takeout leads into the Galipo river from Penn Lake.

Using Jeff’s map and MarkinthePark’s triplog of the area, we knew to look for moving water in the south end of the bay by a little island/peninsula.  We found it right away, but we’re dismayed to discover it was only an inch and a half deep.  We had to line our way up about 20m of water before we could paddle again.  Before long we were at our second set of falls to go around.

This portage looked very lovely, hosting three falls, but we were in no mood to slow down and take pictures.  Seems like every mosquito absent in the past two months had come to greet us at the rocky take out at the bottom of the portage.  They didn’t let up as we sunk up to our knees in the soupy entrance to the Galipo river either.  We bounded over 4 or 5 beaver dams as we tried to get away from the flying menace.  Within 15 minutes we were on the last portage of the day, heading to Welcome lake.

After a lot of walking, we were finally done portaging for the day

After a lot of walking, we were finally done portaging for the day

Just as we pulled up to the trail, the grey skies that had been overhead all day began to throw down some rain.  Didn’t bother me because I had a canoe-shaped hat protecting me, and Shane had the leafy canopy offering what protection it could.  Single-carrying went very well and we were through the 2.1km  in about an hour.  There’s a broken canoe stand about halfway through and a little boardwalk across an old stick bridge 2/3 of the way along.  The end of the trail dumps you down a steep hill onto a beach, where Welcome lake lapped gently and the rain abated long enough for us to enjoy lunch.

Wildlife along the way.

Wildlife along the way.

After restoring our energy and throwing on some rain gear, we set off northwest to the creek leading to Harry lake.  This creek was longer and easier to navigate than the Galipo, but very buggy.  Despite heavy winds heard on the portage, they were light on Welcome and non-existent here.  We were very glad to see Harry lake unveil itself around the last bend.  With the way the wind was blowing and a general consensus online that the northern sites were in good nick, we beelined to the northwest most site and set up camp.

Finally on site, and with a bit of sun!

Finally on site, and with a bit of sun!

First thing to go up was the tarp so that no matter how hard it rained we would have at least one dry area for ourselves and our gear.  The rain was light or on and off all day except for a deluge in the evening.  The site was wonderful, with plenty of room, lots of tarpablity in the rain, and a nice waterfront of rock which gathered warm sun.  We set about the chores of camping, eventually lighting a fire for dinner.  Tonight was shishkebabs, from a local butcher in Oakville.  We had been up early and retired to sleep not long after sunset around 10.

Dinner on the first night

Dinner on the first night

We slept in as long as we wanted the Saturday morning. I got up and started a warming fire to drive away the chill from the night before then got coffee going.  The allure of coffee roused Shane and we eventually had a pancake breakfast while looking at the glorious morning sun and blue sky.  Before long, we got to doing some projects to make our lives a bit better on the site.  Things like bench repair, table engineering, and firewood collection all got done before noon, and we realized how early we had gotten up in the morning.  I guess we weren’t used to these long July days.

All day looked like this!

All day looked like this!

We spent the day puttering around the site, touring the other sites of the lake, and lounging on the warm and protective granite on the southern coast.  We had no luck fishing from shore and it was very windy on the lake.  Word on the street is that there are brook trout in there, but all we saw were baitfish.  We fired up the Outback Oven for pizza and fresh baked cookies for dinner, and as we munched away we began to hear the unmistakable boom of thunder.

Warm sun baked these rocks, making them great for surveying the lake

Warm sun baked these rocks, making them great for surveying the lake

“Crap”, we collectively thought.  All we need is more rain after the deluge the night before.  Amazingly enough, we must have been just a few km from anything and a giant black-blue cloud floated lazily by us occasionally letting more thunder roll out.  What followed was a lovely calm evening spent around the campfire piled high with premium sunbleached lumber.

Thunderclouds fade into the distance.

Thunderclouds fade into the distance.

We woke early on Sunday, knowing full well that we had a slog in front of us.  We had packed up as much as possible the night before, but we got on the water a little after 8am.  The wind was at our back across Harry and the first creek was less buggy than we remembered, but Welcome had started to blow up.  After a little navigational error, our canoe ground into the foamy beach next to the longest portage of the day.

Getting ready to portage again

Getting ready to portage again

This time the portage was a doddle, although very much warm.  The bugs were out, but the breeze along Galipo Creek kept them at bay.  By the time we were lining through the mouth of the creek in Penn Lake, it was mid-morning.  As we made our way north, we wound up joining into a large convoy heading out.  Aside from the some headwind, it was a lazy and enjoyable out.

Traffic on the way out.

Traffic on the way out.

I would wholly suggest going to Harry Lake, it was a wonderful place to camp and a lovely part of the park.  Every site seemed well maintained and frequented by people who really care for them.  However, the route we took was a bit brutal at this time of year.  In higher water with fewer bugs it would be manageable in a day or two, or alternatively coming in from Louisa.

Ice Out 2016 – Little Eagle Lake

May 7-8
Magnetawan, Little Eagle Lake
Total km: 4.4km
Number of portages: 2
Total Portage distance: 680m
Video Log: https://youtu.be/zzrD9c5qzBw

Shane and I started the weekend at Shane’s cabin in Kearney.  The permit office had only been open for a few days, even less when you consider road conditions blocking Rain Lake access, but it was already hopping.  The lovely ladies behind the counter had said the Friday was busy, and we figured it was because of all the people whose permits had been for earlier this year getting in on the good weather.  Armed with our papers, we bounced down the dirt road to Magnetawan lake.

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Magnetawan Lake looking back from the portage

We were astounded by the amount of cars at the access point!  It was pretty much standing room only, something I haven’t seen at that spot previously.  We decided to make the most of the sunshine while it was out and set out south towards the coveted Little Eagle Lake at 10:30.

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All set for the first portage of the year!

The wind was light and the sun was shining as we came up to the only portage of the day.  It is only a short jaunt, a mere 340m, but climbs around 30m from Magnetawan.  We emerged from the portage sucking wind, but happy to be outdoors after a long winter.

Little Eagle Lake is a small lake, similar to many in the area.  It feeds many other rivers and water systems from its high perch, but is surrounded by gentle foothills.  The foliage wasn’t out yet, but in the fall this would be a beautiful slice of the interior.  The lake isn’t deep either, the anglers bible we consulted put it at around 18′ at the deepest point.  Jeff’s map says there’s splake in there, and we wanted to find them.

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Dinner prep table on site, a nice touch.

But first we had to set up camp.  We knew a cold front was moving in, and rain was on the way.  You can imagine our disappointment when we started to see smoke gently wafting from the point where our site was supposed to be.  We came around to see a group of guys  leisurely packing up, telling us to come back in 45 minutes.  Being as there is only one site on the lake, we were forced to spend an hour or so paddling around the perimeter of the lake, investigating potential fishing spots and exploring the area.  It was still nice out, but we were muttering about the delay.

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Local bushcraft found around the site

Once our fruitless fishing expedition had circumnavigated the lake, the two boats left our site laden high with coolers and assorted gear.  We quickly looked around before unpacking the bags from the boat, excited to discover pre-cut lumber and some bushcraft additions like a table.  As I was about to lift my pack from the canoe, I glanced across the lake and to my horror I saw one of the  departing canoes had flipped!

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Dinner of kebabs and rice, really hits the spot.

 

Shane and I kinda froze and watched as they floundered for a minute, unpacking the canoe and watching the scene unfold.  We thought we heard laughing, but quickly realized that it was cries of distress.  Instead of putting the flooded canoe over the righted one, the crew was towing it to shore about 100 feet away and the people in the water were swimming for it in their boots and lifejackets.  By this time, we had ditched all our gear except for the food (we didn’t have time to hang it), and we were furiously paddling towards the splashing victims and floating debris.

When we arrived at the scene we didn’t quite know where to go first.  There were two people in the water and the other canoe had towed the boats to shore and were getting ready to start their own rescue.  We didn’t know whether it was prudent to gather gear with potentially crucial supplies or help get the people to shore.  Perhaps sensing our hesitation, one of the people in the water screamed to us “Please, help us!”  I’ve never before heard someone in such distress.  We siddled up to him, instructing him to hold on as we didn’t want him to swamp the boat (his motor control was fairly shot by this time).  I could see he was in shock, just barely holding on, so I just kept talking to him.  His name was Tyler (or Taylor, I was excited at this point).  They had been in for 3 days.  We got him to shore and directed him to get out of his clothes and warm, and one of his comrades helped get him to his feet.  We turned and went to help out the other person in the water.  By this time, the second boat has already reached the last victim and was dragging him in.  We got to the boat, and the bearded man paddling told us to hold his gunnels and he dragged the poor lad into the boat as they both cursed but managed.  In total, the guy was in the water maybe 15 minutes.  It took them two hours of warming up on the rocks before they resumed there 3km journey and 340m portage to the access point.

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The flipped crews dries off and warms up across the lake.

If these people hadn’t been wearing lifejackets, they would be dead.

If I hadn’t looked up at that time they might have died.

If they were on a bigger lake, they might not be alive.

I cannot over-emphasize this enough.

WEAR A LIFEJACKET WHEN THE WATER CAN KILL YOU.

The rest of the weekend passed as these weekends do.  We couldn’t go out fishing because of the wind and rain that blew in.  We discovered that a high-quality shishkabob is a great protein for your first or second night.  It went below zero overnight and my new sleeping bag performed supremely.  Shane built a little table out of some junk rope he had brought along for the purpose.

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How many tarps can I fit on my pack?  3 at least.

While I do not consider what happened a tragedy, this was a very scary event that could have gone way worse.  It was a cold, wet, and tarp-heavy weekend.  I loved it.

Fall 2015 – Sucker Lake

September 18-20
Sucker, Bottle Lakes
Total km: 8km
Number of portages: 4
Total Portage distance: 518m
Video Log: https://youtu.be/cZzEeSrubg0

I headed north after work on Friday well aware that it was late in the season and I might have an issue with the light falling, but was undeterred. I knew the area very well having been there twice already and there was rain in the forecast for Saturday. I wanted to get on the site and set up before the rain came down, so that no matter what we’d at least have some dry spots and a bit of firewood. I had two tarps with me, a large green Canadian Tire tarp I use for car camping, and a smaller MEC-brand Scout tarp. I was missing all my ropes though, as they were in the back of Shane’s truck and he wasn’t going to be coming in until early Saturday morning.

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As I pulled into the put-in I was a bit nervous. The sun was already down, and dusk was on it’s way into night. I unpacked the car and headed down the familiar path to the water, and pushed out into a clear and calm night. Knowing which bay to dip east into was a huge help on this trip, and unlike last time there were few campfires to alert me to where I was. Luckily there were few clouds, and the moonlight was wonderful. The portage was quick and painless, even though I was double portaging (it’s only a 90m portage, why not bring all my toys?). Within an hour, it was night, and I was just pulling into site #125.

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Tarp city, Ontario. We used every rope I have.

Lighting my lantern cast a warm, calm light on the site. It looked very much like I remembered, large and roomy without being open. I chose to pitch my tent at the highest point on the site, with the idea being no water would run under it when the rain came and not river would form underneathe. I threw the tarp up over the picnic table knowing very well that it would be moved (using some rope I used to fix a chainsaw pullcord at home), and got a fire going so I could conserve lantern gas. I went to bed early, knowing that Shane would be coming in early, and if there was rain he’d probably want coffee.

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Shane inspects previous storm damage for mineral-rich earth.

I actually set an alarm, a rare occurance for sure. But I got up to a gloriously warm and calm morning and set about surveying my little fiefdom. There was some trash that needed burning (sad), and firewood that needed cutting (happy), but the site I stayed at a year prior was intact. I like that there is a small wall of trees blocking wind from the west, and enough trees to retard it from the north/east, a very cozy place in the shoulder seasons, yet the wate frontage allows for great vistas of what’s around. I had barely put the kettle on to boil when I saw a familiar yellow flash round the island which site #127 is on.

Shane had left his cabin early in the morning choosing to paddle in as the sun rose rather than set, definitely a more agreeable strategy (to be fair, I toyed with the idea of sleeping in my car). I was glad to see him, a fact punctuated when he brought out my carabinered-together collection of paracord. At last we could set about properly tarping the crap out of the place. But first, coffee. We also wound up making a paddle holder out of an ill-concieved attempt at a table. Bushcraft is usually born of trying to make life at least a little easier.

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A multi-purpose holder of things that need holding.

Once we had set up our three tarps (two large ones over the picnic/living area, a smaller one over the tent as a covered ‘porch’), we decided to try out fishing. The past two times we had come the lake yielded great trout, and we were fresh from our trip to McIntosh so we were set up for it. A few passes in our favorite spot only produced one nice bass, and the wind picked up, so we headed back to the site. I was warm and went for a little dip in the cooling waters of Sucker Lake, relishing the late-season novelty of swimming. As I mucked around on the rocks, we saw a duo paddle to the island site we stayed at last year. That was when the clouds rolled in.

To this day, me and Shane have never seen rain in the bush like we did that afternoon. Even though our site was protected and we had set up bullet-proof tarps, we got soaked. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means, but we were glad we had invested money into supremely water-proof gear like our packs and the tent. As we stood under the tent pushing against it to keep water from pooling and to take some strain off the grommets we came to a realization. “Those people on the island barely had enough time to erect a tent, let alone a tarp before this rain came down.” I’m almost ashamed to admit that we laughed hysterically at this thought. There was no aid we could have offered to those poor people at the time, and we were half-drowned ourselves, but the idea of huddling in a wet tent justified our over-preparation for the rain.

As is the way of things, the rain stopped its assault against our tarps in an hour, and soon we were able to walk around the site without having to avoid pools (the ground was remarkably quick to drain actually). By this time, the sun was starting its retreat and we settled down to dinner and a fire. Another couple canoes came into our lake, including reinforcements on the island (who had come down and started a drying rack). It would have been idyllic, but the wind was still up and blowing cold in the September night. Even with a roaring fire and many layers we couldn’t get warm and decided to turn in early after a full day. Once out of the wind and in our respective sleeping bags, we warmed quickly and slept soundly as the tarp fluttered outside.

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The last morning I would have in the bush for 2015

Our morning motto was “up and at them”, we needed to be on the road early unfortunately. As we paddled back across the calm and familiar waterways, we smirked as people put whole tents out to dry in the morning sun, rivulets of water streaming out of the flies. We were glad that out tent had held fast against the onslaught of the rain. The morning was beautiful, too beautiful. I was emotional, reflecting on all the great times I had this year both solo and with friends, old and new. I didn’t want to admit this might be the last time I was out in the trees, floating on my fibreglass magic carpet. But alas, all great things must end eh?  We packed up the car and wished each other well as we finished our last trip of 2015.

It took me 2 days until I had planned the first few trips of 2016.

Labour Day 2015 – McIntosh Lake, Day 2 & 3

September 05-07
Canoe/Joe/Tepee/Little Oxtongue River, Tom Thomson, Ink,
McIntosh Lakes
Total km: 38.4km
Number of portages: 4
Total Portage distance: 5300m
Video log: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag5V0aSU2yM

The next morning we slept in a bit, knowing that this was our vacation day. We had logged many hours yesterday so that today there was nothing to do. It was unusually hot for September, and we wanted to take full advantage of summer’s late exit.

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A misty morning gave way to a beautiful day

But first, our site, at first I wasn’t sold on it. It has easy water access and a wonderful view, but the tent pads are a little closed in by the woods. There is also a large amount of rocks and roots waiting to be tripped over. But by gum if I didn’t grow to love that site! Any more than four people would find it cramped, but for us it was luxuriously expansive.

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Our site as per Jeff’s map

With breakfast and more importantly coffee in our gullets, we set about getting geared up for trout as we enjoyed the morning. Just before noon, we paddled westwardly into the wind and used the wind as a trolling motor. We were set up to go deep, bouncing off the bottom as close as we dared and were rewarded quickly. In an hour, both Shane and I had fish up to the boat, but in a twist of fate both trout spat the hook out just as we could see how big they were (2-3lbs, I swear!). Heartbroken, we headed in for lunch.

Shane is an industrious guy, he likes to build or improve things he sees are lacking. I’ve seen him fashion drying racks, tables, fishing rods, and many other useful things out of sticks, rocks, and twine. This time though, he decided we needed…a chimney? To this day I look at it with a cocked eyebrow and a shake of my head (see below).

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This…didn’t really work.

The day was spent in a wonderfully pointless manner. We went back out fishing, actually getting one IN the boat this time. I went for a refreshing swim in McIntoshs’ clean blue waters, and our fire was a roaring/crackling mess when the “chimney” caught fire. Couldn’t have asked for a better day.

It was with heavy hearts that we packed up the next morning, both of us agreeing that we could easily spend 4-5 days at that site without becoming bored. We had looked at other sites, and even the northern island we adored from 2 years ago couldn’t keep up with the charm of our site this time. We hopped out early to try and beat the rush from the easy-access sites with clear heads and bellies full of oatmeal and GORP.

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Did not want to leave.

Coming back, the portage was a breeze. We basically jogged it, stopping only 3 times to rest our shoulders (last time we didn’t even take the packs off). It’s amazing what not having a hangover can do to your energy levels! The wind was in our faces, making some parts of the return trip a bit less leisurely than we had enjoyed two days earlier, but nothing we will remember too well.

It wasn’t until “The 401” portage that we realized it was a long weekend in a popular holiday spot. Up until then, besides a few small groups and the occasional soloist there was nobody to be seen on the waterways. Now there was a backup of coolers and Coleman branded gear to contend with. We just blew through the portage ASAP, getting out boots wet for the first time on the trip and got out of there quick as can be.

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Last morning, done all artsy-like.

Canoe lake was a zoo, an absolute gong-show. In my trip video I caught 11 other boats on the water from the Potter/Joe fork and that was just the tip of the iceberg. As we rounded into Portage Bay, we had to dodge motorboats, kayaks, inexperienced daytrippers in rentals, and long distance trippers trying to get to Smoke lake. Oh, and the wind was picking up.

But we had made it, aboput 20km before lunch and ready to go another 20 (maybe not). I was just about the best trip I could have hoped for, and renewed my enthusiasm for long portaging as a means to find great camping spots.