Magnetawan, Little Eagle Lake
Total km: 4.4km
Number of portages: 2
Total Portage distance: 680m
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.