The cold winter month of February found Harold and I planning another canoe trip. After much deliberation we decided on the Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve as our 2006 canoe trip destination. For this trip report I am not going to lay our in detail how each day went. Instead I will try to remember some key events and let the pictures do more of the talking.
The Trip Plan
Click here for a detailed map of our planned (not actual) route. The original plan was to start out at Davidson Lake early on Monday morning. From Davidson we would make our way through Coleman, into Bain and then through Bagley and into Wilson Lake. After spending Monday night in Wilson we would head up through Snowshoe Lake and up the Bird River towards Chase and Midway Lakes. Tuesday night would be in Chase Lake. On Wednesday we would head up through Midway Lake and take a very rarely traveled series of portages into Kangaroo and Eden Lakes. Wednesday night would be either in Eden or Wingiskus Lake. On Thursday we would head out of Wingiskus back down to the Bird River. Thursday night would be in Snowshoe and Friday / Saturday we would head back down the route we took to get in or do a different route back to Tulibi Falls on Bird Lake.
For reasons that will become clear, we did not end up taking the Kangaroo / Eden / Wingiskus route but instead we spent some time in the Eagle River before heading back home. This ended up being a rare, out-and-back canoe trip rather than a more traditional loop. This was not too surprising as the only reference we could find for the Kangaroo portages was in some backdated kayaker journal from some years ago.
[The actual route we took with approximate camp sites marked by the night we spent there (i.e. "1" is Monday). ++]
The overall route and Eagle / Snowshoe (E/S) terrain was challenging and fun. The portages were not very well maintained and in places there was a lot of blow down. Since this area isn't part of a provincial park it is not maintained with tax dollars and this is obvious. We didn't encounter any other canoeists except for one other guy the whole time. It was a very remote trip with no room for emergencies. The fishing was good overall, but the bugs were some of the nastiest I've ever seen.
Monday July 10 2006
[Our first 1.5 days were spent traveling from Davidson through Snowshoe. This route line is slightly wrong as we went from Davidson to Petch to Reynar, not directly from Davidson to Reynar. ++]
[On the narrowing of Davidson Lake on its eastern edge, already fishing!]
[A great start.]
[At the end of Davidson Lake]
[Interesting (and very short) portage into Petch Lake from Davidson - look at the elevation difference!]
[Getting used to portaging again... Note Jon's bare feet? That was a theme on this trip!]
[The Eagle / Snowshoe Conservation Area beckons - this is Petch Lake.]
[Fishing along the route to Raynor from Petch.]
[Catching fish in Petch Lake.]
[Finishing a short portage along the river from Petch to Reynar.]
[Finishing the portage into Reynar Lake from the creek running out of Petch.]
[Catching fish in Reynar Lake]
[Having lunch (at 14:00) on Monday somewhere on Bain Lake.]
[Gear on a portage]
[A cozy camp on Wilson Lake]
[A majestic Bald Eagle]
[Gorgeous evening lighting as we explore Wilson Lake.]
[Monday comes to a close around a very cheerful bonfire.]
The Bad Bugs
THE BUGS!! Whew! They were actually very, very nasty on this trip. We were originally quite hopeful that they would be limited because during the day they didn't bug (pun intended) us much at all - it was too hot! At around 21:00 on the first night we got an idea of what the rest of the evenings would be like. It starts with a droning sound. You can literally hear them coming out of the bush! First you get one bite that you dismiss with a casual flick. Then another. Then another. Then you make the mistake of going into the bush to relieve yourself away from camp and when you come out you bring along a mighty host of blood-sucking, high-whining, fast-flying friends and the peaceful night is ruined for you and everyone else!
The bugs were so bad that we couldn't even handle them with spray. We had mosquito nets and jackets on, but that was excruciatingly hot in the warm weather, and didn't even help! Eventually we would just go to bed after smoking a few cigars and trying to drown it out with a few drinks didn't work any better.
Mosquitoes weren't our only enemies from the bug world. Once we got into the Eagle River portion of the trip, we didn't even get relief during the day time heat, as the black flies started feasting on us - especially our ankles. They took chunks of flesh out of us and although spray worked temporarily, you would either sweat it off, swim if off, or scratch it off while portaging. Not to mention that with open sores from the bites, spraying yourself with bug spray hurt like h-e-double-hockey-sticks. The flies were almost worse than the mosquitoes because they really hurt and you are never fast enough to actually kill the little buggers so there's no satisfaction there.
Tuesday July 12 2006
[Chilling in camp on Wilson Lake Tuesday morning before starting the day. It's gonna be a hot one!]
[Already a warm morning as we paddle out of Wilson towards Snowshoe.]
[The portages are still reasonable, but not as used as WCPP.]
[Getting more bushy!]
[Trying to navigate down a small creek that's been dammed off by beavers. Jon maintained flip-flops on this one but his toes suffered!]
[Baking under the relentless sun.]
[Another portage - now they're getting nasty. This is between Snowshoe and Chase Lake.]
[A lot of work when combined with heat and bugs!]
[Can you say "rustic"?]
[On the way to Chase Lake]
[Our camp on Chase Lake was delightful, very open and with the promise of the breeze keeping the bugs away. Alas, this didn't happen but some good bugs helped us here!]
[Vern making supper]
The Good Bugs
I never thought I'd write a section on 'good' bugs but here it is. One night we were all standing around trying to avoid the hordes of mosquitoes when Jon started shouting out. Jon is always making noise about something or another (!) so at first we simply ignored him but he sounded so excited we went to check it out. It turns out that when Jon went over to his canoe, near the water, a bunch of huge dragon flies found him. They also found the armies of mosquitoes around him and immediately started a feeding frenzy!
I've never experienced or even hear of anything like that before or since. Hundreds of huge dragonflies surrounded us, swooping in like world war II planes on a strafing run to decimate the biting mosquitoes. There were so many of them that there were regular mid-air collisions and you could hear them crashing into each other clumsily. They would delicately pick mosquitoes right off our faces! It was an amazing display of nature helping nature. We were the attractant for the dragonflies supper and they were our saviors for one night. I'll never forget it.
Portages and Turning Back
As I eluded to earlier already, the portaging was a mix of pleasant strolls on solid Canadian Shield granite and torturous bushwhacks through, over and even under dead fall. There were quite a few portages (40-50) in total. Because the Eagle-Snowshoe Conservation Reserve is not maintained by Ontario parks staff, the portage trails are only kept open by volunteers or through usage. Obviously this area does not see a lot of visitors because we hardly saw anyone else (less than 10 people all week) and some of the trails were just nasty. The portaging was hot and our packs were very heavy with all our supplies. Thank goodness the long ones were marked and we never had navigation issues - we always knew where we were.
So why did we have to turn around from the Eden / Wingiskus loop? We arrived at the first portage into Kangaroo Lake under a hot mid day sun on Wednesday, July 12. We were very surprised to spot a green, solo-sized canoe tied to a tree at the trailhead. There was fresh orange flagging on the trees and it looked like someone had been busy clearing the trail. We started unloading the canoes and proceeded up the very rough trail, following the orange flagging and appreciating how recently cleared it looked.
It didn't take long before we encountered a bushman. He was a bushman in every sense of the word. We were all in shorts and t-shirts but he was wearing heavy pants and a long sleeved flannel shirt to keep from getting bitten and scratched in the thick bush. He had a canvas sack thrown over his right shoulder and in it were all manner of trail clearing tools. He held a large axe in his left hand. He glanced at us cautiously as we barged past him on his freshly marked trail. Something about his look made me stop to engage him in conversation. It turns out that we were on a trail to nowhere! This guy has been coming to this wilderness for a month every summer for years. He temporarily traded the burdens of a civilized world for the hardships of maintaining trails and camping alone in this vast wilderness. Contrary to appearances, we had much in common.
As soon as he warmed up to us the bushman explained that our route would not go. We might make it into Kangaroo Lake - with great hardship - but anything beyond that was not maintained and had not been traveled in years. Since a major storm 3 or 4 years ago the trails were all impassible, if not gone entirely. What great fortune to have run into Mr. Bushman! As we reluctantly trudged our gear back to the trailhead we marveled at the incredible odds of running into possibly the only human being who knew for sure that our intended route would have us stranded in the bush, either wasting a whole day of bushwhacking or worse, not finding out till a day or two later when we would have to come all the way back! As we paddled away from the little bay we were already looking forward to exploring the Eagle River and possibly even the Talon River. Little did we know that we'd be turned around a second time this day...
Ok so we couldn't do the Eden Lake route. We would head up to the Talon River instead, to explore that area. (Incidentally, we've since paddled through Talon Lake multiple times in 2009 and 2011). We stopped for lunch somewhere along Eagle Lake, past Midway Lake and on the way to the Talon River. It was very very hot and in the 35 degree heat we all sought shade for relief. After lunch we decided to paddle back a ways and look for a campsite for the night before heading out to explore the area a bit further. I glanced back one last time at our lunch spot as we bent into the paddles and my breath stopped for a second. Where there was clear blue sky not an hour before, there was now a very distinct and obvious column of smoke billowing up from the thick forest just behind where we took our lunch break! We found a good vantage point where we beached the boats and watched in amazement as a wildfire grew right before our eyes.
We were all growing a bit concerned as our situation seemed to be getting a bit out of hand. First there was the blocked route that we very nearly got suckered into trying. Now there was wildfire and even though we could probably run away from this one, who knew where the next one would pop up in this ridiculous heat wave? Since this conservation area wasn't patrolled or managed by the parks system we didn't even register for our trip - so no one really knew we were even there - or where we were! (We found out later that a complete backcountry travel ban went into effect the day before our fire but since we weren't registered we didn't get evicted. This explained why earlier in the day a small float plane kept passing over our campsite - they were probably wondering who the heck we were and making sure our campfire didn't spread.)
With concern on our faces we piled into the canoes and headed away from the growing inferno towards Chase Lake to set up camp for the night. That afternoon and night the fire continued to grow on the horizon and the sunset was spectacular against the rising columns of thick smoke. The setting was surreal as we hammered Walleye like never before and gave little nervous glances to the northeast every once in a while. Little did we know that our adventures were far from over and within 24 hours the fire would be long out and we would be shivering, wet and freezing cold!
Wednesday July 12 2006
[A small stream we portaged around between Chase and Midway Lakes.]
[There are some cabins on Chase / Midway Lakes]
[Trolling under a scorching sun]
[Nice fish Vern!]
[Time for swim.]
[Looking back after lunch and spotting a wildfire!]
[Impressive column of smoke - and scary!]
[We grow concerned as the fire quickly grows.]
[Back to Chase Lake for the night on Wednesday - outrunning the fire.]
[Cozy camp site on soft moss.]
[Camp on Wednesday evening.]
[Fire growing in the distance.]
[Hamming Walleye under the threat of wildfires!]
[Gorgeous sunset thanks to the fire on Wednesday night.]
We woke up early on Thursday, July 13 to a hazy, smoky morning and a couple of loons freaking out at each other (lovers quarrel, I guess). We couldn't see the column of smoke anymore, but that wasn't a big comfort because now we were enveloped in a thickening blanket of smoke. Even if another fire started up we would probably not notice because we didn't have any views of the horizon anymore.
As we paddled up the Bird River in the early afternoon, after a morning of portaging and fishing at waterfalls along the route, the faint rumble of thunder alerted us to an impending storm. We kind of got excited because we needed the rain and the land obviously needed it too.
The sky got darker and darker as we completed the last of a series of portages and made our way into the larger lakes system around Snowshoe Lake. As we paddled down the last section of small stream we realized that the lightening was too close for comfort and bailed out of the boats to a hastily constructed tarp-shelter to wait out the storm. The storm moved through quickly, smashing us with rain, lightening and peals of thunder. As it moved off to the northeast we continued paddling.
Suddenly Bill shouted. I didn't even hear what he said but I didn't need to. As we turned the corner into a large bay off the lake I looked straight up at a sight I'll never forget. The only thing I can compare it to is a cloud-shaped bullet train. A dark, and very distinctly green cloud was racing southeast straight at us! It was towering hundreds of feet high and was racing against the storm that had just passed by! It was the most obvious example I have ever seen of two pressure systems colliding. It was also one of the scariest things I've seen.
You have to remember that we are sitting on the water in see-through boats in the middle of nowhere. You feel like a sitting duck, only you're not waterproof and you can't fly away. You can only paddle and pray that the next bolt of lightening doesn't strike you. We all started paddling like crazy for the nearest chuck of land - a tiny island in the middle of the bay. We were all moving at a frantic pace because it was obvious that we were in for a heck of a storm and it was racing at us like some doomsday mushroom cloud. Harold stared barking out commands as we made shore and we all dug in. There was a small cliff that had its back towards the impending storm and we cleared a small area at its base and strung the tarp tightly so that it wouldn't blow away. The canoes were pulled up as high as we could and then as the storm exploded around us we dove under the tarp. Eric didn't even have time to grab his jacket out of the canoe!
The storm absolutely pounded us with more rain in an hour than I've ever seen. Sheets of water came down and even in the small bay there were whitecaps and swirling waves. Trees were bent from the wrath of wind as we sat nervously under our tarp and tried to laugh off what was happening. During the storm, Jon went out to the boats a few times to empty them of water because they were filling so quickly! Finally the storm passed, and we all got out of the shelter and hesitantly started out in the canoes again - looking for a campsite for the night. It didn't take long and we were again running for shore as yet another powerful storm bore down on us! This time we all got soaked and after the deluge we knew it was time to quit paddling and warm up. Storms were all around us as we paddled furiously down the shoreline looking for a campsite. It took quite a while to find one and even then it wasn't very much but we made it work. Just as we were finishing supper another storm chased us to our tents for the evening.
Needless to say the forest fire threat went down considerably!
Thursday July 13 2006
[Now we're with the current, running a small rapids back to Snowshoe Lake.]
[Checking out the route.]
[Our first clue that some bad weather is coming.]
[And now we in it!!]
[Getting hammered by the storm]
[Cold and worried but also glad we found shelter.]
[Rod helps Jon get back under the tarp after emptying the boats of rain water.]
[The storm is past, but we will encounter more of the same.]
[Yep! Back under a tarp - now we're all soaked.]
[Bailed onto a random chunk of rock - waiting for the next storm to hit - which it did!]
A Bear Encounter of the First Kind
After spending a day drifting down various bodies of water we came to back to Wilson Lake for the last night. We found an excellent campsite on a point of land just across from a large island and set up camp. We were just finishing supper when someone noticed a mother black bear and her cub across the water on the island, walking along the shore. We all ran out to take pictures and look and they soon disappeared back into the bush. We went back to eating supper. All of a sudden Eric made an alarming noise. The bears were swimming across the water straight for our camp! As the others took pictures and yelled, I quickly retrieved my bear-bangers. We had never used these on a bear before - only as fireworks on the last night! ;-) As the bears retreated again, I let loose a banger. It sailed across the water and blew up with a huge BANG right over the cub. The poor thing jumped out of its wits and that's the last we saw of those bears! (We did spend a rather nervous night there though, especially Rod and I because our tent was right where the bears were trying to get to...)
Friday July 14 2006
[Our camp site that we hacked into the bush on Thursday night - surprisingly good!]
[A lovely day drifting out of Snowshoe Lake.]
[Stopping for lunch on Friday]
[A nice tent spot on Friday evening back in Wilson Lake - at least 'til the bears came out to play...]
[Mama bear and cub retreat back into the bush.]
[One more look back from mama bear before disappearing back into the bush.]
[Another gorgeous sunset.]
The Good Stuff
Not that the bugs, nasty portages, storms and bear encounters weren't "good stuff" but there were a lot of memorable, pleasant, non-panicking moments on our trip too.
The fishing was fantastic - some of the very best I've seen. Rod caught the biggest pike and Harold the biggest walleye. We had some days of too many fish to possibly count and others that were a bit slower. One evening stands out in particular. As a forest fire raged about 15km away we were catching copious amounts of walleye in a shallow, weedy bay with a towering column of smoke rising into the sky above. Sometimes we'd have two fish on the lines in each boat - it was a lot of fun!
The scenery was spectacular as always. Bald eagles and Turkey vultures kept us company every single day. Loons serenaded us to sleep at night and woke us back up in the morning. We saw less than 10 other people all week and only 1 canoeist. Our cell phones didn't ring because we didn't have them along and we didn't care. We all shed pounds and worries for a week and that is why we'll keep coming back. Even with the bugs. The storms. The portages. The bears.
We were yet again reminded that in losing a bit of comfort we gain much more of ourselves.
Saturday July 15 2006
[Breaking camp on Saturday morning.]
[Interesting granite sidewalk on a portage on Saturday.]
[The view from portaging with a canoe on my head!]
[Another gorgeous day, finishing up another portage.]
[Lovely summer day on the water.]
[Another canoe trip comes to an end.]