Canoe/Joe/Tepee/Little Oxtongue River, Tom Thomson, Ink,
Total km: 38.4km
Number of portages: 4
Total Portage distance: 5300m
Labour Day means one thing, fishing trip! Shane and I decided to buckle down and take a paddle back to McIntosh lake, which we had quickly poked our heads into during a May
24th trip a few years back. It meant about 20km of paddling and a 2.4km portage, but we were more than game for the long haul.
Spending the night at Shane’s cabin in Kearney meant we were on the lake early, but it also encouraged certain amounts of beer to be consumed. We shipped onto Canoe lake at 8:30, and I was VERY hung over. Don’t drink kids, it’ll make you feel like crap. We were very lucky to see a congregation of loons on Canoe Lake, about 20 or so of them just shipping around. As far as researchers can tell, this is usually a social interaction to re-inforce cooperative feeding habits and to show off their little spot in the world. It was really neat!
We got to the first portage to discover we were the only ones there, a first for the Canoe-Joe portage which I affectionately call “the 401”. It was warm and calm on the water, so we made haste to get into Joe. As we made a left at the fork and into Tepee Lake, we started to explore a part of the park we had never been to while still nursing some nausea from the night before. The sites along the Little Oxtongue seemed geared towards first timers, party-seekers, and families with young children. These are usually spots with bear issues and bad litter strewn around them, but such is the plight of easy-access sites.
After filling up on water, we turned north from Littledoe (really it felt like part of the river still) and into the creek providing water from Tom Thomson lake. A very well-used pull-over and we were basically there. T.T. Lake is quite large, and has tonnes of sites on it. We marveled at the rolling hills and picturesque islands that dotted the site, no doubt inspiring at least some of the famous painters work. The sites here were well used, but seemed mostly in good condition. A lot were fairly steep with tough water access, but all seemed comfortable at the very least.
We paddled into the northern bay and stuck a bit to the left (behind the western campsite on the point) to find a shallow takeout to the long walk of our trip, a 2390m portage to Ink Lake. We had a bit of a break here, having completed most of the paddling for the day and made final preparations for the single carry. The first third of this portage was the hardest as it follows a creek and goes up and down a bit. In my hungover state I nearly wept at the sight of a large hill after a small boardwalk. Little did I know that this hill was the end on our hardships. We had decided that no matter how many breaks we took, every step forwards was a good one. At the top of the hill, everything flattened out and the going was easy.
We started to get our legs beneath us and even began passing people who were having a VERY hard go of it. One poor group must have been on the trail for at least an hour by the time me and Shane passed them about 2/3rds of the way down the path. We didn’t see them emerge from Ink lake until well after we had set up camp (~3 hours later). The end of the portage dumps you down a nice set of stairs and onto the sandy shores of Ink Lake, a small pond which gets its name from the tannin-rich colour of the water. We refueled and set out as quick as we could to secure a site in front of the other people resting on the beach.
Ink creek feeds into McIntosh, and it was a great paddle after the portage. The water pushed us along and the technical turns were a welcome change from the long slog of the morning. My hangover was even gone! We soaked in McIntosh as we rounded the last turn and headed east in search of a site. We didn’t have a particular site in mind, but a west-facing one would give a nice sunset, and who knew if an island site might be nice for a change? Eventually we settled on the third site from the south on the eastern side.
Tired but with a feeling of accomplishment we set up camp at a leisurely pace, taking time to put up things we normally wouldn’t, such as a clothesline, preemptively. We fished a bit from shore, but were in no mood to paddle around the large blue lake any more that day. I was a teetotaler that night, and we turned in fairly early.