Fall 2015 – Sucker Lake

September 18-20
Sucker, Bottle Lakes
Total km: 8km
Number of portages: 4
Total Portage distance: 518m
Video Log:

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 (using some rope I used to fix a chainsaw pullcord at home) knowing very well that it would be moved, 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 occurrence 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 water 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 tarp 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.

Vixen Lake – August 2015

August 15-16
Long/Buzzard/Vixen Lakes
Total km: 15km
Number of portages: 4
Total Portage distance: 1098m
Having missed out on a trip farther south than Buzzard Lake, I decided to throw out an easy one amongst my friends and see if anyone was interested in going to Vixen Lake in the Kawartha Highlands. Unfortunately I didn’t sell it well enough and decided I would just make this a short August jaunt to re-charge my batteries with a solo trip. I set out from Long Lake at a leisurely pace, confident in my gear and genuinely happy simply to be outside.

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The portage from Long Lake to Buzzard, easy as pie.

I found the portage south where I had left it, about four kilometers from the Long Lake access point, and loaded up for the easy carry. This path is nice and wide, having seen many feet and a few wheels over the years. It’s easy to see how people with an ATV or just good ol’ fashion elbow grease manage to get their pontoon boats over the 342m trail and to the small dock on Buzzard Lake. The blue, clear water beckoned as I set out in the mid-morning sun.

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Grabbing lumber for later that night.

The northern section of Buzzard Lake is largely open and wind can make paddling it a bit of a hassle when you’re solo so I headed south after taking just enough time to appreciate the view and wave to little kids camping with their parents on the northern sites. I took my time to fish the northern bottleneck where I had been successful in June, not being disappointed with a few small bass. Just enough to wet my appetite for things to come! As I passed the site I had occupied for two days earlier this year I gave the usual courteous hello to a lovely lady in a fishing kayak. Her reply floored me.

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The rounded hilltop on my island.

“Your voice sounds familiar, do you have a Youtube channel?” she asked after replying to my hail. I swear they could see my smile from the International Space Station! Genuinely I was astonished that someone had taken the time. Tina, if you’re out there I STILL tell people about meeting you! We talked for almost an hour (seemed only a few minutes) as the wind pushed us around, trading fishing tips around the lake, discussing the new routes around Kawartha Highlands, and admiring her new-fangled fishing kayak (a Hobie Pro Angler kayak for those who are interested, its catamaran triple hull provided stability and pedal propulsion meant you could pretty much fish all day without taking hands off our rod). It was one of the (read “only”) high points in my life as a internet entertainment producer. Once again, Tina, you made my 2015.

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All day these guys will jump into your boat.

But life had to go on, and I left Tina to try for some trout while I headed down a little path next to the creek which feeds Vixen Lake. It was a little rough actually, but well trodden and short. I put the canoe down by a beaver dam and took some time to gather up some of the abundant lumber around the end of the portage. I was staying on an island, and knowing that this was a well-used part of the park figured it would be better to gather wood while it was just lying around. Pushing out through the weeds down the creek into the lake, I looked at the sheltered bay awaiting me and though “Hey, that looks like prime bass territory.” I had cut my chops fishing just on the edge of weeds like these and was hopeful. One cast was all it took before I was rewarded with a fishy compatriot. Pleased with myself, I headed straight for my site to set up camp.

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A beautiful evening.

The little archipelago upon which site #440 is located is scenic, if not a little busy. My neighbors to the east were there in a motorboat, but effectively hidden from view unless we were both in boats or exploring the proper parts of our respective islands at the same time. I found next to no lumber on my site, which I had expected. The site itself is wonderful though, with tonnes of living space, no fewer than three separate places to drag up a boat, and two great swimming areas. I had a little rock to the western side of the picnic table that I called “The Dock”. It was about a 3 foot deep pool next to a point of rock which was wonderful for fishing, swimming, and reading. As I was about to dive off though, I spotted one of the bigger snapping turtles I’ve ever seen meandering the waters, which put a damper on that activity.

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An idyllic morning.

The most wonderful part of the trip was the mid-afternoon weather and fishing. It was one of those lazy afternoons that only Mark Twain could properly describe. Also, if you’re looking for 1-2lb bass without even trying, the northern islands of Vixen lake in August are your jam. There was a good smattering of rain at dusk, but other than that this was as great a one-night trip as one could ask for.

Solo Trip through Southern Kawartha Highlands – Day 3

June 24-27
Triangle/Buzzard Lakes
Total km: 22
Number of portages: 8
Total Portage distance: 3571m
Video Log:

Day three was a bittersweet one for me, as it was the last one of my trip. I had planned for another two days, but I was told there would be 20mm of rain the next day and my fiancee was really pushing to go to a late screening of “The Princess Bride”, which is one of our favorite movies. So I’ll preface this whole article by saying that Rob Reiner is directly responsible for me cutting the trip short.

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Looking north from my site, centered is site #424

*Meanwhile, at Buzzard Lake* I woke up to my best morning yet. It was a “rest day”. where I’m not supposed to do anything but relax. I slept in, well past dawn and sleepily got around to starting coffee on my stove. The site has a large strip of sheet metal bent over some logs to give you a nice prep table away from the picnic table, and I took full advantage of it. Breakfast was oatmeal, which is what I usually eat. It’s light and easy to cook, while providing many great health benefits such as regularity at the thunder box. I decided to spend the morning tooting around the lake and plying my trades.

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I headed north first, fishing every bay and trying not to get snagged. Buzzard was where I had my best luck, particularly around the northern bottleneck, grabbing some bass around 1lb. They were in season the next day, so I was “hoping for some trout officers”, but was pleased with what I got. I also hopped onto some sites just to see what they were all about. Site #423 was wide open near the fire pit, with no good tarp possibilities, but was nice and sheltered in the back where you could set up tents. A good site for warm June or early September to be sure, as long as the weather was good.

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A beauty day, I was in heaven

I also scoped out sites #424 and #425. Both seemed like prime spots. They had plenty of room to bring your boats up and great views of the sunrise (if you’re into that). I’d say those were the best sites on the lake no that I can think about it. Around noon I paddled back into my site and had a little lunch, wrapped pepperettes with tomato and cheese. I spent the rest of the afternoon chopping wood I gathered and reading “The Hobbit.” It wasn’t until about 4 o’clock that a series of calls and texts to learned weather people (i.e a pilot friend who knows more about weather than most meteorologists) convinced me that tomorrow would be miserable at best and dangerous at worst.

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Just before packing up, looking south

Begrudgingly I set about packing up. Literally everything I had brought was out and deployed, so this took longer than I had expected. I also shot some movies showing my displeasure (see the Youtube link above). It wasn’t something I did lightly, and it wasn’t because I was scared, I have promised myself. But I have seen storms like that in the area, especially in the woods. They are damned scary. They can crush cars. They can paralyse kids. It’s not a manly thing to get out of their way, but I think I made the right choice to run to my fiancees waiting arms.

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Car is mostly packed up, heading out with fond memories.

So drew to a close one of the best solo trips I’ve ever had. I portaged great distances without tire, I saw wildlife, and I ate food fit for the gods in my eyes. I regret nothing about the trip and can not wait to get back to that part of the world.

Solo Trip through Southern Kawartha Highlands – Day 2

June 24-27
Triangle/Buzzard Lakes
Total km: 22
Number of portages: 8
Total Portage distance: 3571m
Video Log:

I awoke to find the same idyllic scene I had fallen asleep to, not a ripple on the water or cloud in the sky. I eagerly got some food on the go, knowing I’d need some calories to burn. I had decided to go as light as I could comfortably go this trip, so I didn’t have a frying pan to cook my eggs opting to hard boil them. I did however splurge by bringing along my new plastic french press coffee maker (from MRI). It’s now my go-to means of making proper coffee out in the woods, and I didn’t want to bring instant. With breakfast in my belly, I packed up what I hadn’t been able to the night before (food, tent, etc.) and kicked off as early as I could.

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Morning on Triangle Lake

For this trip I brought two paddles. One was a large “voyageur” style paddle that I could j-stroke with and just cruise, while confident that I could push off the bottom with it. The other was a bent-shaft paddle, famous for being great at pushing a lot of water efficiently, while being garbage at j-stroking or steering in general. The reason I brought this duo is so that if I dropped one, I wouldn’t be up the creek and if the wind got rough I’d be able to at least move forwards right into it. Seems to have worked so far!

The portage through Cherry to Turtle was easy, a bit weedy at the Cherry end, but as long as there’s no traffic I don’t see too much cause for getting muddy. Turtle lake is amongst the most remote lakes in Kawartha Highlands, and to be honest, it’s not really worth the trip. It’s reedy and a mosquito breeding ground from what I saw, and there are prettier lakes which at least seem more remote. Bass fishing was great though, and I managed to pick a couple bigger ones out of the channel leading to the longest portage of the trip, a 993m walk to Stoplog Lake.

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My favorite portage in the whole wide world!

I have to say, I love this portage. Everything was clicking for me that morning, and after a short bout of video-taking at the portage head I was off. This path didn’t seem as well used as others this trip, and while there were a few branches slapping me in the face, I made short work of it. I am genuinely proud of the fact that I made it in one trip, no stopping (see the attached video for my jubilation). I took a bit of time to rest my shoulders before being pushed onto the lake by industrious mosquitos, and I headed across Stoplog.

Stoplog reminded me of Smoke Lake in Algonquin for no other reason than it looks vaguely like it on a map. I’ve never even been to Smoke Lake, and I kept calling it that in both my head and the outakes of my videos. It is a pretty lake for sure, with large stone structure in the south. I took the time to admire it as I saw a canoe take off towards Mountain lake down the portage and didn’t want to run into traffic with a canoe on my head. After a lazy 5 minute paddle I was on the hard ground again, using a new portage. It was so new I had to mark it on my map in pink, and was the first to use a newly built bridge over a creek (more on this later). This portage was a bastard, genuinely tough. A lot of ups and downs, including one big up. The path is exposed on top, making it very hot as you bake in the sun. I was tired from the previous journey and 1.5 carried, dropping the canoe about halfway through.

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At the end of Mt Bastard. As it’s marked on my map (Stoplog-Mountain).

At the end I took a bit of time to rest and refuel with some GORP and water. Mountain lake is relatively new as a signed canoe route, with only one site on it. Being new, it’s a bit more overgrown than most people would like, and it seemed a bit buggy in June. It was isolated though, worth it to get to if you’re in a pinch for privacy. The lake itself is very lovely, with large cliffs adorning the northern side. These speak very well of the trout fishing I’ve heard to happen here.

I caught up to the people in front of me at the eastern portage from Mountain to Buzzard lake, lo and behold it was the friendly MNR rangers again. They had been working tirelessly for the past 24 hours trying to clean up more sites. It was they who told me I was the very first person to use their bridge between Stoplog and Mountain, and I gave a lavish review of its sturdiness and elegance. A quick conversation was more than enough human interaction for the day though, as it started raining at the end of the flat and easy portage just as I set out to find my site.

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My site at Buzzard Lake, nice and big!

Site #426 on Buzzard lake is a very “used” site. The whole lake is always popular as I’ve learned in subsequent trips, and I can see why. It’s very close to the put in and the portage is very easy. It’s a perfect lake to introduce people people to canoeing and the basics of camping. That being said, I was at a loss for firewood. I gathered a little bit at the end of the portage, but only managed a quick little bit more before calling it quits. The rain was heavy enough to merit a tarp, and I knew that the next day was a rest day, so I set about making the camp as comfy as I could.

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One of many gorgeous sunset photos I took this night.

With the tarp hung, I spent the day fishing from shore, putting up the tent, reading, and just busying myself. Dinner was rehydrated spaghetti (one of my favorites!) and life was as good as a lazy camper can have. A quick/small fire was all I could afford that night, and I went to bed wary of a beaver munching on a large downed pine not far from my camp.

Solo Trip through Southern Kawartha Highlands – Day 1

June 24-27
Triangle/Buzzard Lakes
Total km: 22
Number of portages: 8
Total Portage distance: 3571m
Video Log:

I had a bit of time on my hands, so I decided to try for a 5 day solo trip taking me into new parts of one of my favorite parks in the area, Kawartha Highlands. I had been to the northern sections of the parts multiple times, and nothing out there really had an appealing loop for a 5-day, so I put in on a sunny day mid-week at Long Lake.

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Setting out on long lake

This was my first time on Long lake, and while it’s aptly named (took me a bit over an hour and a half I reckon to reach the first portage of the day), it is gorgeous. Basically copy and paste what the western arm of the French river looks like. Sure there are a good number of cottages and boat traffic on it, but that’s more confined to weekends. Aside from an MNR boat heading into Buzzard lake and a few other canoes, it was just me out there. I headed west towards Compass Lake on my way to Triangle Lake, where I was spending my first night.

I met up with the two young MNR rangers as they caught up to me at the portage to Compass, and learned that they were going around to as many sites as possible before the summer rush started in earnest in an effort to clean them up, dig out the fire pits, and generally do housework. They were double portaging as they had to carry chainsaws, shovels, and other bags of goodies with them into the deepest regions of the park. Really seemed to love their job though, and I can’t blame them!

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Looking out on Compass Lake from the boat cache.

The portage around Compass lake is marked as two, but it really one large one around a beaver- created pond (you MIGHT be able to get through in really early spring), and it’s just north of 350m. It’d take you over a beaver dam on the south side if you know where you’re going, but I took the route less travelled and stayed to the right along some sloping rocks. I found my way to a boat cache on the western side of the beaver dam and decided to have lunch as I waved to the confused looking rangers. One of the benefits of camping in Kawartha Highlands is that you get cell reception almost everywhere, so I didn’t have to bring a locator beacon to let my family know I was okay while I munched on a pre-made sandwich. Sated, I loaded up the Ewok and wiggled my way through the weeds until I was on Compass Lake.

A strong wind blew me through the genuinely quiet lake and delivered me to Crane creek’s portage. I took this time to remark how different this park always seems from portage to portage. Gone were the cottages and motorboats, replaced by calm and serene waters. The second portage of the day was very steep and downhill, making me cuss as I repeatedly hit the back of my canoe along the ground. I was grateful to be going down, but knew I’d be heading back up the next day. Crane creek is a nice little paddle in June, not shallow or quick, just perfect for a solo paddler in a small canoe.

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The large beaver dam on Crane Creek, definitely not a lift over

I lifted over one beaver dam halfway through the creek, but definitely couldn’t over the second. It looked about 8′ tall! Also, it was covered in sharp boulders. There was nothing to it but to portage the short distance around it. Be careful here not to get too complacent in your footing, as small trickles from inside the forest make their way out across the rocks and get quite slippery! Within minutes I was onto Cherry Lake.

Cherry and Triangle lake are very much the same lake (at least in June). The two are “divided” by a narrows that any boat can make it through. I could see lots of little bass playing in the shallow water and threw my line in. I was rewarded with a multitude of little hits, signifying that the tiny fish were too small to actually take my bait. I found my way to site #530 on Triangle lake and began setting up my little vacation spot.

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On Cherry Lake, saquatch adjacent.

The usual chore of gathering wood I could just about forego because of our friendly MNR staff, who had made it there recently and left me with plenty of chainsawed logs and branches. Life was good as I settled into an evening of chicken and rice and the sun set gently over a scene from a picture book. There were even loons there! As I was chopping up the logs a bit more so as to fit in my fire, I heard a large sound across the bay I was in. It was large enough to lift my head like a deer hearing a gunshot in the distance. I kept sawing. I heard it again, kept sawing. I heard something cry out in pain, followed by a large “chuffing” sound. I’ve actually got it on film, followed by me saying to nobody in particular “well, that’s terrifying”. I renewed my efforts to be as loud as possible while sawing lumber.

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A great evening

I wasn’t bothered the rest of the night though, and turned in for a very fitful sleep knowing that the next day I would be up to the longest walks of the trip.

Triplog: Kawartha Highlands – Oct 4-6

This trip could very likely be my last of the year, so we wanted to make the most out of what we had.  Unfortunately, all we had was a weekend, and it looked like it was going to be a soggy one.

View from the site

View from the site

We decided to head to the Kawartha Highlands again, getting into Bottle Lake, then taking a short 80m portage into Sucker Lake.  It was an easy paddle, less than 4 kms, and this was just perfect.  I planned this trip to maximize our time camping, and avoid getting our boots wet with early October coldness.

Fall colours

We decided, regardless of work or setting suns, to get our site on the north side of Sucker Lake by Friday so that we had all of Saturday to relax.  I was paddling in solo, and my friends in the other canoe were about an hour ahead of me.  I managed to fight the good fight against traffic, but I was still pushing off shore after 7 o’clock in October, well after twilight had set in.  It was an interesting experience to be sure.  My eyes fully dialated, allowing me to use every little scrap of light that was in the air.  A few people were on Bottle Lake, and that gave me some campfire beacons to navigate with.  Everything was going well until I hit the portage.

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Only 80m long, I could have fallen up this portage, and I made very short work of it.  Coming out the other side, I saw a blinking light in the general direction of my site/friends, and I was overjoyed to see them so close!  I packed the canoe up and hopped to getting to them.  Unfortunately for me, they weren’t signaling me from shore, but had rather come to see if I needed help.  It was a welcome sight, don’t get me wrong, but paddling to the site afterwards resulted in a very deep darkness.  It was cloudy out, and had been drizzling as I put in from the parking lot, this meant no stars.  There was no moon.  I could barely differentiate between the trees, the sky, and the lake.  It was very disorientating!

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But we got to site 120 easily enough, and set about putting up camp.  The boys had already strung up a tarp and put up the tents, so there was little to do aside from comfort stuff, but none of us had eatten yet and I had all the food in my canoe.  Dehydrated turkey, pasta sauce, red pepper, and eggplant solved that problem!  We spent  the rest of the night catching up, tending the fire as best we could, and thinking about what we’d do on Saturday.

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We slept in a bit, rousing around 9AM, and got the morning chores out of the way.  Coffee, breakfast, looking at the lake which night had hidden before…it was a lazy start to the day.  But as is prone to happen, we went fishing just before noon.  The waters were warming up, and we didn’t want to miss any activity!  A couple friendly bass and sunfish later, we decided to check out some sites around the lake, see what we were missing.  The island site (#127) seemed nice enough, but it was site 125 that blew us away.  It had enough space to house an army, a lovely privy location, and some really neat features (there was a tree that grew all sorts of wierd ways).  If I could reserve that site, I would have.  According to the wardens that came by (first time I’ve had one look in KH), someone was booked on that site, but they never showed.

The root I'm standing on is still alive and well!

The root I’m standing on is still alive and well!

We headed back to the site for a quick bite of lunch and to stoke the fire.  By this point, we’d found some perfect logs for cutting up and chopping, and we made a point of cutting one or two pieces up when we had a chance.  It was a very tough log, so going was slow, but we were in no rush.  By the time night would come around, we had a tremendous stack of wood to keep us warm.

Plenty of firewood, even left some for the next folks

Plenty of firewood, even left some for the next folks

We had a quick lunch, and were soon out fishing again, this time in a part of the lake the wardens had pointed out.  I was solo again, and was getting no luck trolling, but the other crew was having some luck.  I headed back towards the site, as it was clouding over again (although we’d had lovely fall weather until then!) and tried my luck in the shallower side of the lake.  When the other canoe started back, I’d given up to take a bathroom break and stoke the fire up again.

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Dinner that night was pizza on the Outback Oven.  I adore that thing.  I can’t think of a more decadent and delicious meal when you’re 10 miles from nobody.  The others were impressed as well I think.  The coup de gras was some lake trout the other canoe had run into, cooked to perfection over the fire.  We cajoled about the year long into the night, and went to bed happy as clams.

Shane cleans up around the firepit with a paddle we all hate.

Shane cleans up around the firepit with a paddle we all hate.

Over the course of the night though, we heard the unmistakable noise of wind picking up.  The flap of a tarp and the creek of trees and leaves made us all tense when we woke up around 7:30.  It actually wasn’t that bad, there were no white-caps and the wind was going with us!  The weather networks were calling for lightning around noon, and the wind seemed to be getting worse by the minute, so we forwent breakfast in exchange for a quick coffee as we packed things up while we were dry.  Luckily we got the tents down before the drizzle started (ain’t nothin’ worse than a wet tent in your bag!), and got going around 8:30.

Bryan, with no luck from the site, but plenty in the canoe.

Bryan, with no luck from the site, but plenty in the canoe.

Not much else to say about this trip, it was a great one.  We lucked out on weather, brought all our toys to play with, and had some luck fishing.  I just hope I can get one more trip in before the ice starts up.

Trip Report: Kawartha Highlands

Anstruther to Serpentine Loop
Anstruther, Rathbun, North Rathbun, Serpentine, Copper Lakes
Total Distance:  ~20km
Total Portaging Distance: 2710m
Video log:

I’ll take what I can get this summer when it comes to camping trips.  Because of work commitments, it seems that I’m stuck with simple weekend trips, and I’m more than happy to do them in lieu of one or two big ones.  This weekend took me back to the Kawartha Highlands in search of its northernmost sites and to conquer its longest portage.

Me and my friend Dan headed out of the GTA on a stormy Friday night, heading to my parents cottage in Haliburton.  We got hit very briefly by an intense cell of rain, wind, and hail, but it didn’t last long (a minute or two) and we weren’t phased!  The next morning though, we woke early and got to the put-in as fast as we could and discovered this…

Poor fella, what a bad way to end a trip...

Poor fella, what a bad way to end a trip…

This truck was good and squashed, and the rest of cars in the row were tight behind the trunk.  I definitely parked (and will continue to park) carefully, and very aware of branches and trees that were at risk of falling.  Looking out over the lake made my heart sink a little bit too.  It was windy and Anstruther lake is looonnnnggg.  Nevertheless, we pushed out into the foot and a half swells and headed into the breeze.  Things were a bit tippy with the wind, but our shoulders were strong and we went up the lake to our first portage.

There are a lot of cottages on Anstruther Lake, with pontoon boats and wakeboard boats whipping around.  “Uh-oh” I thought, “I’ve taken us on another trip where we’ll be able to hear trucks, boats, and ATVs,” but once we got through the first couple portages…nothing.  It was almost magical.  After the first portage, we started to lose the motors, and there were only a few cottages.  After the second portage, there was nothing.  I even remarked to Dan, that it felt legitimately remote up in North Rathburn Lake less than 3km from the cottaged lake.  Terrific part of Ontario, accessible from the GTA, and easy to get to.

From North Rathburn Lake, we took the 1411m portage to Serpentine Lake.  This was the longest portage I’ve single carried with a canoe and a pack and I’ve got to say…it wasn’t that bad.  I had to put down the canoe for a few minutes here and there, but we got through really quickly and I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to double carry it.  The wind was going with us on Serpentine, so we drifted lazily to the site and pumped water, refreshing ourselves in the great weather.

Campsite 221.

Campsite 221.

Our site, was, amazing.  It was a rocky little island near the portage to Copper lake, with two ‘levels’ to it.  One where you could pull the canoe out and then up a small hill to the firepit, picnic table, and tent pads.  Being as we were basically right on the Canadian Shield, I couldn’t stake down my tent for the first time (with this tent in particular).  Because the wind remained high we tucked a few rocks into the corners of the tent, which seemed to keep it stable.

We then set about camp, exploring our little slice of paradise.  We cut up wood for the fire, set up out food-hanging system, went for a swim, fished a little…all the fun stuff!  Dinner was rehydrated ground turkey and spaghetti sauce with some vegetables we’d brought thrown in, and I once again failed to bring enough vodka.  I seem to either bring way too much, or not nearly enough.  This time it was enough to make one good stiff drink, but I wish I had another for the fire at night.  Oh well, you live and you learn.

Our wood gathering really paid off.  We had plenty left for the next people coming through, and this fire burnt down entirely.

Our wood gathering really paid off. We had plenty left for the next people coming through, and this fire burnt down entirely.

The next morning we got up and running after dawn, mostly because the full moon obscured when the sun was coming up (which is usually a great alarm clock).  We didn’t hurry around camp, the wind had changed and we didn’t know what that’d do to our return paddle, and the sun was shining bright!  Bacon and eggs with cheese definitely helped bring our spirits even higher.

Once we had packed up and cleaned up the site we’d loved so much, we pushed off across the short paddle to our first portage.  Today we were going over more portages than the first day, but A.) They were all short, and B.) They were all downhill.  After the first portage I was pleasantly surprised by the creeks in and around Copper Lake.  It reminded me of the 5-foot wide streams in Algonquin park.

The creek between Copper and Rathburn lakes.  Nice little paddle.

The creek between Copper and Rathburn lakes. Nice little paddle.

This day was characterized by short paddles, broken up by well-worn portages.  It was really a fun time, and the sense of adventure often absent in these weekend trips was certainly there.  By the time we got back to Anstruther lake, the wind had died down and it was a gorgeous paddle back.  We got everything packed up in the sawdust created by a crew which had cut that poor pickup truck out from under a tree, and headed down the road.