DAILY JOURNAL by Al Bayne
Mike & Travis Brown Ė Mike & Travis (14) live in Iowa where Mike owns and manages a mail order business. Mike lived in St. Pierre for about 3 years in 1982-84. He then moved to Briercrest, SK where he worked for several years before moving to Iowa. This was Mikeís and Alís 21st year in a row to go on a canoe trip together. Travis joined the trips when he was 7 so this was his 8th year.
Doug & Martin Wightman Ė Doug & Martin (15) live in Dryden, ON where Doug pastors a church. Several years ago Doug had taken Alís Wilderness Leadership course through Providence College and has been canoeing with him ever since. This was Martinís 4th year.
Timo Gosselin Ė Timo (15) is usually accompanied by his dad, who couldnít make it this year, so he was Alís partner. He lives in St. Pierre. This is his 3rd year canoeing with me.
Tim Friesen Ė Tim owns an Insurance Agency in Steinbach, and lives in Grunthal. This was Timís first year canoeing with me and his first major wilderness canoe trip.
Don Koetke Ė Don is a retired RCMP, who now drives truck for Penner Trucking, and he lives near St. Pierre. This also was Donís first year canoeing with me and his first wilderness canoe experience. Tim & Don were tenting & paddling partners.
Al Bayne Ė This was my 20th canoe trip to White Otter Castle. It is a great place because there is a lot to do and see. The routes in, offer a variety of the best of the Canadian Shield. Plus the scenery is spectacular, and the extended beaches are pristine, and you usually have them to yourself. The route we took this year is the same one I used when I taught Wilderness Leadership, and it is the same one I took my family on 8 years ago and featured in my book, "Bugs, Sweat, and Fears".
On this trip we travelled with 4 canoes, and 4 tents. Click HERE for our Menu
Note: Marc & Ginette Desharnais from St. Pierre were also on a canoe trip to White Otter Castle about the same time as us. They departed on June 25th, and were visiting the Castle the day before we arrived. We never did see them, but knew they were in the area somewhere. Some of the photos in this journal were taken by Marc and used with his permission.
2.5 kms 1 portage
Six of us departed from St. Pierre at 6:30 am. Mike & Travis had arrived at my house from Iowa the day before and we loaded the gear and canoes the night before. Timo came running down the road at 6:30 am on the nose, he said he had almost slept in. The boys rode with Tim Friesen in his Prelude. We stop at Tim Hortonís in Stbch for coffee only to discover Al is the only coffee drinker (apparently). Although we had run into some highway construction on hwy #1 we still arrived in Dryden around 11:45 am. After getting gas at the Petro Can & lunch at the Subway we picked up Doug & Martin at their home. We already had a borrowed canoe for them because Dougís canoe had gunnels showing signs of dry rot.
A month earlier on a 4 day canoe trip to the Vermillion Bay area the transmission of my car was overheating. My son-in-law had since installed a transmission cooler, and we had no car trouble.
[Note: 2 weeks after we returned there was a news item that a beaver damn broke and washed out hwy #1 near Kenora. Traffic was delayed for 12 hours. I was thankful that didnít happen when we were travelling as 12 hours can put a big dent in our allotted time.]
The 8 of us arrived at the kick-in spot Ė the Turtle River Bridge on hwy #622 in NW Ontario at about 2:30 pm. After unloading we parked the cars about 1 km down the highway as it was the only place we could find to pull off the highway. We paddled up river about 2 kms to a set of waterfalls. Normally we camp at this portage (225 meters) on the 1st day, but the area is very sheltered and the bugs were bad. We decided to continue upriver until we found another campsite that was more open. Before we left, the boys started fishing below the falls and Martin caught a decent sized bass (3#ís?). A short paddle later (.5 kms) we chose to camp on an island in the middle of the river that was not heavily treed. The light breeze that was blowing helped keep the bugs away.
|Al Bayne enjoying the view looking up the
at the end of the first portage
(click pictures to enlarge)
|Martin with his first bass and the first
fish of the trip,
caught at the first portage
(click pictures to enlarge)
As soon as camp was set-up Timo and Travis went swimming. They would go to the upstream end of the island jump into the current with their pfdís and float to the downstream end. Travis later caught a bass and a pickerel off the island. Martin filleted all 3 fish, and de-boned them, ready for the fry pan.
[Note: This is the 1st trip I have been on that we ate fish every day, but one. I guess fishing was good, or the fishermen are getting better. Probably the latter as there are greater fish encounters yet to come on this trip.]
After supper most of the men decided to have a swim, or a wash-up. Watching the boys having a good time swimming made me think the water was tolerable, however it was numbingly cold. A sponge bath was the best I could do. Mike snorkelled along the shoreline, but didnít find anything exciting.
[Note: This was the coldest water I have ever experienced on a canoe trip in July.]
The food canoe was tied by Mike to a dead-head in a back eddy out in the river and it sat comfortably in place in the back current, all night. About 7:30 pm the wind went down, the mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums came out thick and aggressive. By 8:45 everyone was in their tent to avoid them. It then rained off and on through the night. Tim & Don somehow got some water in their tent. I suspect the tent fly isnít long enough to keep out rain.
[Note: Normally in all my years of paddling I have found the biting bugs to not be so bad out in the wilderness. This year was different we encountered problem bugs throughout the whole trip. Some places worse than others, but no place free of them. We didnít encounter any flesh flies this year Ė thank goodness as they were such a nuisance other years.]
Timoís quote of the day was taken from a label inside our tent; "cooking inside this tent could be dangerous". Timo found this hilarious as in "well yeah", like "duh".
18 kms 3 portages
The morning was pleasant, everyone feeling good, breakfast & camp take-down went fast and we were on the water paddling by 8:45 am. I only make a small amount of coffee, as Doug and I are supposedly the only connoisseurs. However, suddenly almost everyone decides to drink coffee. Before the trip Don said he only drank decaf so I brought him some decaf instant, which never got used the whole trip. I decide Iíll make more the next time.
Al thinks he knows the route by heart and offers the maps to anyone who wants to practice navigation. Travis takes the challenge. When we arrive at Pekagoning Lake there is a big discussion on where the river enters the lake on the other side. For some reason it is one of those locations that the map and the lake donít look the same. Over the years almost all of my students failed their navigation at this location. We are mostly stopped to take a break before we cross the lake, and the direction discussion keeps us entertained. Once most of us agree on the right direction we set out.
After travelling about 6 kms up the river from the lake, we turn off into a small crooked, shallow creek that is flowing through a swampy area. We paddle up the creek (which is teeming with minnows) until it is too shallow for the loaded canoes. We then get out and walk the canoes up the creek to a small un-named pond. The pond has only a few inches of water over several feet of bog. If you push your paddle straight down you canít find bottom. As you paddle across the pond, the disturbance causes large bubbles of methane gas to surface out of the yucky bottom. I call the pond the Witchís Cauldron, because of these bubbles, the fact that there are a lot of dead trees surrounding the pond, and the area has an eerie look about it. At the far side of the pond we gunnel-up and have some fruit leather (compliments of Mike Brown, who made enough for each of us to have a roll every day of the trip. They are made by drying jello and apple sauce.)
We then take a short portage (200 meters) to the next lake, which is very small and also doesnít have a name. After crossing we have difficulty finding the beginning of the next portage, apparently it hasnít been used and is overgrown with weeds. When we do we discover it, there are also large trees down across it. Mike and I saw enough branches to allow us through. After this portage (250 meters) we are on Kenoshay Lake. This is a long narrow mostly L-shaped lake with several long dead-end bays that also can present navigation challenges to the novice.
It is at this lake that I spot a flower growing in the swampy areas that I have never seen before. It is very prominent as it is taller than the swamp grasses. Mike picks one for us to analyze. The outer petals are leathery in appearance and are brown on the outside, with reddish hues where it meets the stem. Each hollow, mustard colored leafless stem is about ľ inch in diameter 24 inches tall and has one flower. The outer petals form a bowl with a Ĺ inch opening on top. Inside the leathery bowl is a bright yellow pin-wheel shaped, plastic looking flower (pistil?) that moves up and down on a single central stem, like a tube sliding inside another tube. When you raise the yellow flower you see what is probably the stamen underneath. They are lime green, unusual in appearance and at first look like small green worms. The whole flower seemed like a major obstacle course for bees. Maybe it is one of those plants that traps bees, and devours them. If anyone knows what these flowers are I would like to know more about them. They almost seemed pre-historic. There were dozens in this lake, and it is the only lake in which we spotted them.
We paddle to a breezy point on this lake and stop for a lunch of soup and crackers. It is about 1:00 pm. Over the years I have had lunch at this very same spot many times. During lunch Timo filters me a litter of water. It is at this point that I realize he has kept my water bottle full since the beginning of the trip. Great partner. He continues to keep it full.
After lunch we distribute a bag of GORP to everyone and journey on to the next portage, which is about 5 kms away. The beginning of the next portage is challenging, but the rest of it is a walk in the park. The shoreline at the beginning has standing room only for 1 person and goes pretty much straight up behind where you stand. It takes team work to get the canoe unloaded, and get it out of the water. Once across the portage (325 meters) we are at the West end of Dibble Lake.
(Note: The last 2 years we were camped at the East end of this lake, and this is the lake the boys re-named Dribble Lake in my honour Ė honestly I didnít think anyone paid any attention when I took a pee break).
The shoreline here is 3 levels of terraced flat rock. Mike and Doug place their tents on the level nearest the lake, while Don and myself place our tents on the 2nd terrace overlooking the lake. This is a very roomy campsite that could accommodate 20 or more tents. We have lots of space between tents. Martin is the 1st one in the lake for a swim. Someone had built a square of logs around the fire pit for sitting on, but we didnít use them as most of us had taken chairs (equipment that has only been added in recent years). Travis & Martin catch a bass each.
After we eat supper a motor boat pulls in to the portage and 2 guys get ready to carry their gear back to Kenoshay Lake where we had just come from. One of them, Dave from Kansas, comes over to visit us. We offer him smokies and beans and he runs up to our kitchen level and devours them. When we ask him about his buddy he says not to worry about him, besides he is already down the portage. Dave visits for awhile, he informs us they caught no fish and then departs.
It is a beautiful calm evening and of course that means the bugs are back. Again we go to bed early. Again it rains during the night, and this time Timís sleeping bag gets wet. Confirms my suspicions about that tent fly.
Today we phone home on our satellite phone to get the Canadian election results.
Timoís quotes of the day: "Truth doesnít care what you think", Mike was challenging us in our thinking about the certainty of Godís truth. "This isnít my first trip", spoken by Travis whenever someone commented on how well he seemed to know Alís camping system.
Guy phones to talk to his son, but Timo is out of sight Ė out fishiní. We get some more election news. (Note: We turn the phone on every night from 7-8, when we remember)
Martin doing super dishes on the middle rock terrace at
|Dibble Lake in the
evening, notice the green food canoe
anchored in the bay in the right of center background.
18 kms 2 portages
We got off to a late start probably because we each had 3 pancakes and they take time to cook. Originally I was packing for 10 people, and some of the meals never got down sized. I make extra coffee, but again it all disappears. (Donít they know I get cranky if I donít have 3 cups?) Once we are heading East we determine the NW wind is brisk enough to sail us down the lake. I break out my large Cdn flag, and using paddles as masts we construct a sail. The wind takes us a couple of kms down the lake, before we lose its force from the islands that we pass by.
After sailing & paddling a total distance of 6 kms we take a fruit leather break on an island with a great campsite that I have used in other years. After our break we journey another 2 kms East and then turn South for 2 kms. When we are closer to the portage we do an on-water swap. Timo gets into Mikeís canoe, and Mike gets into my canoe. Mike and I then journey to a campsite on the East side to prepare lunch for everyone, while the rest go to see a waterfall on the West side. It takes about 20 minutes to boil the water for soup. Tim and Don spot several eagles and turkey vultures along the shore, and when they investigate, they discover a moose carcass in the lake on which the birds are feeding.
|Four canoes being propelled down Dibble lake using a
Canadian Flag to catch the wind. Tim's sleeping bag
(in foreground) drying out (hopefully)
|Moose carcass along shoreline. I know, no picture of the
unusual flower, but a picture of a rotting moose Ė must
be a guy thing.
The wind begins to increase in strength, and the group has a challenging paddle over to our lunch site. Travis and Tim do some fancy paddling in the large waves and make a perfect running turn from a NE direction to a SE one, in between 2 large waves. I tell them I am impressed.
The portage is only 4 minutes down wind from the lunch site. After we complete our soup we head for the portage, and find it in excellent condition, no mud holes, and no fallen trees. There is an old trapperís cabin near the end of this 400 meter portage, which the guys enjoy investigating. This portage leads to another one of those small lakes with no name. Because it is only 1.5 kms to the next portage we take our time, so we can get rested, but we get on the water right away because the south end of this portage is out of the wind and the bugs are thick and hungry. We will get forced to use repellent yet.
The next portage (850 meters) leads us to White Otter Lake, and it is also clear of fallen trees and mud holes. Life is good. These last 2 portages usually have downed trees and mud holes. There is a man and a woman in a boat fishing near the end of the portage, and we chat with them a bit. We find out they are Mark and June from Atikokan and Toronto and they are camped where we had hoped to camp.
We spend some time at this location, to get rested up, and to view the series of waterfalls that cascade out of the lake. I find some large rocks that are peppered with dime sized black crystals. I have no idea what these crystals could be.
[Note: Everyone makes at least 2 trips through every portage, and occasionally someone has to make 3. This is the longest portage we will do on this trip, and it being close to a km it is a work-out. When Timo and I were portaging I would take the canoe, my bum pack, and pfd, he would take his pack, the tent, the paddles, his pfd, and anything that was loose. On the 2nd trip I would take my pack, and he would carry the equipment pack. Travis often carried 2 packs at a time, one in front and one in back. Martin and Doug took turns carrying their canoe, as did Don & Tim. The boys did a lot of work this year.]
We are now about 5 kms from the Castle. Paddling is enjoyable as we have the wind in our back for the first 4 kms as we head south down the lake, the last portage of the day is behind us, and there are no bugs out on the lake to harass us. We then turn East and paddle 1 km to the White Otter Castle campsite. Sure enough the couple we met are camped in our usual & favourite spot, but there is an almost equally great spot 50 meters from them where we will spend the next 2 nights.
This time we construct a shelter over Timís and Donís tent with a tarp and bungee cords, in case it rains again. This lake is about 10-12 inches higher than it usually is according to my calculations. I placed my paddle on a part of the beach that is usually above water, and the paddle was about 10 Ė12 inches in the water.
The Castle is about 350 meters down the beach. There are normally 3 trails to get there. The first one is under water along the shore this year. The 2nd one is 10 meters back at what I call the ice flow impact line, and meanders through small pines and brush along the shore, while the 3rd is higher up and back from the shore in amongst the larger trees. The entrance to the 2nd one is blocked by a huge pine that fell down out of the forest behind it, so as part of our contribution to taking care of the area we (Mike) sawed off the huge branches, and cleared the path. Mike has dominion over the wilderness by doing most of the work.
|White Otter Castle
2004 photo by Marc Desharnais
Click Here for information about Jimmy McQuat
|View from the castle tower. The
larger island in the
middle of the picture behind the small island is where
the caves are located.
I needed a swim, after all that portaging and paddling, but the water was so cold, and I was tired so I convinced myself it could wait until tomorrow. Hopefully my tent partner would agree. He and Travis had already been in the lake. Even Martin who doesnít like swimming went in for a quick dip. This was also laundry day. An opportunity to get the swamp & sweat out of the portage clothes
After supper we walked over to meet our neighbours, Mark & June, and we got more election news. We also find out he is a software writer, and she is an interior designer. They are polite but donít encourage us to stay so we let them alone.
Something gets into Travis and he becomes like a family of beavers. He brings a huge pile of dry sticks for firewood and saws them into 1 foot lengths. I finally succumb and put on repellent, and try to get everyone to use a new product, Natural Causes that I am promoting. This is the worst bugs have been at this location in my many years of being here. As usual most of us are in bed early.
Once in the tent Timo and I laugh about all the events of the day as he makes up stories to write in his journal, and contradicts all my contributions. After awhile everyone yells from their tents for us to shut-up and go to sleep. Obviously they are jealous because they canít hear what we are laughing so hard about Ė party poopers.
Timoís quotes of the day; "The squeaky worm gets the grease, and a rolling stone is worth 2 in the bush", says Doug & Martin, waxing wonderful words of wisdom as we paddled along. "The reason I paddle so straight is because I have a gyro-scope installed in my head, and the price I pay is the headaches and listening to the humming all day"; says Al in response to Donís observation about how straight he paddles.
6-8 kms climb 1 cliff
We awake to a cool morning, most guys put on a toque (I wore mine all night). We decided to climb to the top of some cliffs that were about 1.5 kms north of the campsite. They loom about 250í over the lake, and the view of White Otter Lake is fantastic. On the way over we run into Mark & June our neighbours who are fishing in a bay near the base of the cliffs. Mark tells us that a large jack keeps breaking his line and he has lost several hooks. Thatís all Travis needs to hear and he breaks into a fishiní fever. While the rest of us climb (scramble) up the side of the cliff, he paddles around also trying to catch the big fish.
I find myself huffing & puffing and needing to take breaks as I work my way to the top. I donít remember the climb being this difficult when I was last up here 12 years ago. Once at the top we just sit, enjoy the view, and wish we had brought up some fruit leather. We can see the fishermen straight down below us, and we can see many kms up and down the lake. It was worth the climb. The lake is calm, and it is a clear day. A little hot for climbing, but at least no one still has their toque on.
This is part of our view from the top of the cliff
overlooking the lake. The long narrow light colored
line in the upper left of the photo is the sand
bar under the water that we call the Blue Lagoon.
Travis with his 27.5" jack, the first big one of bigger
things to come.
After we climb down we head for an area I named the Blue Lagoon for a swim. It is a sand bar that is about 4 meters wide and 500 meters long. The water is only knee deep until you get to the end and then it drops almost straight down into what appears to be a bottomless ever deepening blue hole. By the time I get to the end my legs are numb from the cold water, but I canít go 2 days without a bath, so I just grit my teeth and bear it. On with the soap, off with the scuzz.
About this time Travis shows up with a 4# jack with someone elseís hook in his mouth. When Mark returns Travis shows him the hook, and he confirms it is his, but there is still a bigger jack out there. Travis agrees as he also had his line snapped off.
After lunch while some of us nap Travis and Timo head back to the fishing hole. When they return Travis announces he has something for us to see. He is right it is a large jack. We have no way of weighing it, but I do have a tape measure and it is 27.5 inches long. We find out later that based on its length it probably weighed about 7#. Incidentally it also had another one of Markís hooks in its mouth.
Mike and Don then baked 2 chocolate cakes in the reflector oven, and followed that up by baking everyone a 6" pineapple, pepperoni, mushroom, extra cheese pizza. What a feast. We were so focused on eating we forgot to put on the parmesan topping. Timoís quote of the day was, "there is no room on mine or Mikeís pizza for any topping anyway"; said Don once the parmesan had been discovered. The cooks always get self rewarded with extra large pizzas on these trips. As a treat they also gave the Big Kahuna pieces of jerky on his. I took it as a compliment. (Meaning behind name Big Kahuna is explained later in this journal)
The guys made many visits to the Castle to marvel at the structure, and to read the story of the builder. We hung up our large Canadian flag on some trees along the shore to celebrate Canada Day, and Martin played O Canada on his harmonica while we all sang.
The entrance to the cave where Jimmy McQuat
wanted to be buried.
The beach at sunset in front of our campsite at
WOC featuring our Canadian flag.
I take Tim on an evening paddle. We visit the caves that the castle builder wanted to be buried in about 2 kms south of us. Then we visit a small tall island that has Pukasaw Pits (vision quest pits). We paddle about 4.5 kms in total. The evening is beautiful and the lake is calm.
Some of us discuss our route options for the return trip. We decide to head north and push to Dimple Lake tomorrow, and then push all the way to Bending Lake, the day after that, and have another lay over day. The other options are to return the way we came, or to not push and not have another lay over day.
Travis and Timo stay up late and confirm that Don and I have finally managed to synchronize our snoring.
Travis caught 2 jack and 1 bass and Martin caught 2 jack and 1 bass.
10 kms 4 portages
We were on the water by 8:45. Before we started paddling Al shared with emotion his positive experiences of being in a Christian menís group in the winter, and encouraged the other men to consider one for themselves.
Our first portage of the day is 3 kms straight north of our campsite. Most of the distance of the 450 meter portage is made up of 1 meter long poles laid out to form a walkway over a bog. The portage is in great condition. No wet feet, and no obstacles. We are now in Nora Lake. To avoid the bugs we quickly load and get out on the water where we enjoy one of the chocolate cakes left over from supper the night before, that still has the foot-prints of a red squirrel with chocolate covered paws who tried to steal it the night before
Within a few minutes we are paddling past the campsite we stayed at the last 2 years, and discovered after we got home that Marc & Ginette Desharnais from St. Pierre were camped there the previous couple of days. It is approximately 3 kms to the next portage, but first we have to wrangle the canoes through some rocks and logs at a narrows.
The next portage is in 2 stages. The 1st stage is about 200 meters and half of it is a ramp built out of timber and logs that is put there to help snowmobiles get over the rocks. Some of the nails are loose, and some of the boards are rotten making it a dancing kind of experience. The portage ends at a very small pond, which is only 60 meters in diameter. On a warmer day we would swim across pulling the canoe, but today we paddle the short distance.
Before starting the 2nd stage we hand out the fruit leather. The next stage is about 550 meters and goes through a large puddle and then through a bog. I donít even try to stay dry on this one. I just slog pretty much up the middle, only trying to avoid the deep holes.
We are now at Patricia Lake. After a 2 km paddle we stop for lunch at another campsite that we have frequented in the past. We then paddle .5 kms to another portage that is 400 meters long and takes us to our destination for the day, Dimple Lake. To our surprise we are at the campsite by 2:30 pm, a couple of hours earlier than expected.
|Marc & Ginetteís Nora Lake
campsite approximately 2 days before we passed by here
photos by Marc Desharnais
We had thought it would take us longer. As soon as we are set-up the boys go fishing, and Timo finally catches a bassĖwhich will be his only fish on this trip.
The Dimple Lake campsite has a friendly rock shelf that drops at a slight angle into the lake making it a good place to have a bath. The water seems warmer in this lake, but still too cold for swimming.
In the afternoon we spot another canoe group leaving the portage. They paddle around the lake for awhile then head for a rock face .5 kms North of us. Travis & Timo immediately take off to find out who they are and what they are doing, secretly hoping they are girl scouts. The report is they are 6 adults and 2 dogs from Thunder Bay, who were hoping to camp at our site. This lake is only 3 kms at the widest and has only 1 suitable campsite for a group. The boys say they camped on top of the rock face and installed a rope to help them get up and down. Not my idea of a good campsite Ė probably not theirs neither.
|Ginette Desharnais standing on the snowmobile
ramp of stage 1 of the portage to Patricia Lake
(hey Ginette, whereís the canoe?)
- photo by Marc Desharnais
|Travis tops his last big catch by landing a 34.5 inch
jack which we find out later is about 12#ís. Ė
Way to go Travis Ė but stay tuned, the kid
isnít finished yet.
Don starts to not feel well after a nap. He is sore in his lower left abdomen. After some stretches and a walk he throws up. No one is sure what is troubling him Ė perhaps all the physical endurance is catching up with him. We monitor him often, in case it is something serious and we need to get him out in a hurry.
We send the boys over to invite the neighbours for símores after supper, but they are still setting up and not wanting to go visiting. After we go to bed we get a big thunder storm and it rains, but this time Tim & Don stay dry.
Travis catches 3 bass and 1 jack; Martin catches 2 bass and Timo 1 bass.
As we ate kd, tuna & bass Timo got his quote of the day, "Tuna for the big Kahuna"; Big Kahuna is the name Mike laid on me on a previous trip to honour my great wilderness leadership abilities. At least I chose to take it as a compliment. However the "Big Kahuna" has humbling circumstances yet ahead of him on this trip.
27 kms 1 portage 8 sets of rapids
In the morning Don is still not feeling very well. Mike decides to paddle with Don and puts Travis with Tim. We donít get on the water until about 9:15 and our neighbours are long gone and out of sight.
We paddle 3 kms to the Jac Saga Creek where there is a Canoe Canada outpost. As we near the cabin a float plane lands too close to us for comfort and picks up some people. Don says he is feeling alright so we donít charter him a ride out.
Normally at this site we portage the canoes 50 meters through the yard of the outpost, however my diabetes specialist Dr. Lyn Stevens, and another of my paddling buddies, Borden, both informed me before this trip that portaging is unnecessary as you can paddle right through on the creek to Jac Saga Lake. It turns out they are right. How could I miss this. I mean how many times have I been through here. Never too old to learn something new, but humbling as I taught both Lyn and Borden the basics of wilderness canoe camping.
After paddling .6 kms we are across the little lake and are heading downstream for 4 kms on the crooked, scenic Jac Saga. We spot lots of brown trout in the creek and the fishermen unsuccessfully try to catch one. The creek has about 5 beaver dams that are fun to shoot through with the canoe. The creek runs into Dibble Lake very close to where we had lunch on day 3. From here we back track, part of the route we came in on, - West for about 2/3rds of Dibble Lake before we turn North and take a different route back. Timoís gyroscope kicks in and he gets a brain wave, he says, so once we complete this trip we will have travelled in roughly the shape of a figure 8 and right now we are at the center. I assure him heís right and again I am impressed. He has always had a great head for navigating.
For the 1st time on this trip we are paddling against the wind which is coming from the NW. Thankfully it is not blowing too hard, yet thankfully it is blowing because it is beginning to get hot. We arrive at the falls between Dibble Lake and Smirch Lake at noon, and decide to have lunch there. The portage is only about 75 meters. Our previous neighbours are there fishing, and practising paddle strokes in the rapids below the falls. We visit back and forth as we wait for the soup to cook. They are going to camp on the big island on Smirch Lake while we are going a long way passed there to Bending Lake. We are both relived there will be no competition for campsites.
Someone has to keep a close guard on our lunch pack, as one of their dogs is very interested in it. He seems to be focused on the beef jerky. Mike made jerky out of 15# of beef and we ate jerky everyday. In fact we had about ľ of it leftover at the end of the trip Ė leftovers seldom happen on a canoe trip.
Both of our groups depart from the falls at about the same time. We pass them as they are closer to their campsite and they are dawdling along, while we have a long way to go and we are motoring.
While crossing Smirch (4 kms) it becomes very hot and humid, and we notice huge thunderheads swelling in the NW. At the end of Smirch we come to the 1st set of runnable rapids. I do a quick teaching, before leading the way down. Timo and I eddy out, tuck ourselves behind a rock and signal for the next canoe to go through. One by one everyone makes it through, and enjoys the experience.
The next set of rapids is also runnable, but is technically complicated, in fact it is the most difficult set that we will attempt to navigate. After some instructions on what to do and where to keep the canoe everyone has the option of portaging, Mike & Don chose to walk. Timo and I lead the way again, and 2/3 rdís of the way through we are too far to the right and we nail a rock head-on. The powerful current quickly swings our canoe backwards and we complete the set in reverse. The Big Kahuna is again humbled. At least we didnít upset. Martin & Doug then come through Ė perfectly. Excellent example of paddle management. Martin approaches the heavy water with a cross bow draw, to pull the canoe right out of a big roller and switches to a paddle side left draw when the water tries to push him to far to his right. Should be on a training video. Travis and Tim then come through and follow my example, as they hit the same rock, and also finish the rapids going backwards. They came very close to upsetting, but donít lose it.
As soon as we finish these rapids the sky begins to darken and produce very loud thunder. We recognize that some time soon it is going to pour, but we decide to keep on paddling towards our campsite. Doug suggests we be ready to head for shore with a tarp, we agree.
We shoot another 4 sets of rapids over a 2 km stretch and then the river widens into a lake. The place where the river exits is hard to find on this lake as it does a switch back and the outlet is not discernable. Timo and I head up a bay and after going halfway we decide we must have made the wrong turn and we head further up the lake. The thunder is more frequent, and the sky is very dark. About the time I realize I have missed the outlet the sky breaks loose and dumps on us. We all paddle to a stand of trees along the shore, we jam the canoes into a marshy area and run 10 meters into the bush where we hold a tarp over our heads, while it pours so hard our view of the canoes is obstructed. Then the wind blows at gale force and because the canoes are not secured we are concerned they might blow away. But after a few minutes the wind & rain let up and we can tell from the high volume of mosquitoes that are suddenly under our tarp that the worst of it is over. Timo and I lead the group back to the route we had earlier abandoned and find the rivers outlet. Gyroscope must be rusty from the humidity Ė need WD40. This little navigation mistake cost the group an extra 2 kms of paddling, on an already very long day. Once again the Big Kahuna is humbled before his peers. I know I will never hear the end of this error. Is there no mercy?
Two more sets of rapids are shot before the river enters Bending Lake. We arrive at our campsite about 5:30, all tired, and some very wet. But the good news is we are going to stay here 2 nights.
This campsite is on a fabulous sand beach. It is almost an island except for this 40 meter wide strip of sand that runs back to the mainland. At the mainland there is a fishing lodge that used to be closed but now appears open. Tim goes to investigate and brings me back a diet coke. He says we can stay in the Lodge for $50 a night each. Everyone declines. I canít wait to get to bed after supper, but I am also lonely so I try to phone home on the satellite phone, but canít get through. Probably the cloud cover is obstructing the signal.
Mike has a hard time getting the supper fire started but eventually succeeds.
|Bending Lake campsite Ė kitchen area||Mike walking past Dougís canoe & tent at the
Bending Lake campsite.
Travis catches 1 jack, and 1 bass.
Timoís quote of the day, "Quit lilly dipping"; this is an expression used to describe someone who lifts their paddle in and out of the water, but isnít actually producing any momentum, we wonít mention any names except to say he is an Al Bayne wannabe.
0 kms 0 portages
Today is Sunday and his is the 1st day we sleep-in. It rained during the night and was quit cool. During the day it continues to be cool and rainy. Not a great day to be at the beach. Don, Mike and I hike up behind our campsite to locate an eagleís nest we had seen from the lake. We eventually find the nest but determine it is empty.
Timo and Travis spend time fishing, while most of us take naps. Don is still not feeling well so he hikes over to lodge to see if he can get a ride out, but the owners had left about an hour earlier. He then arranges to rent a room for the night in the hopes that a warm shower and a good nights rest in a real bed would help him feel better. After he is gone for an hour we hear a motorboat leave the lodge and then return 10 minutes later. We decide we had better go to the lodge and make sure Don is all right.
The caretakers name is Junior he lives at the lodge and traps in the area. We have an interesting visit with him, before he blurts out that we will have to wake up our friend and tell him he canít stay at the lodge after all. When we pressed him for an explanation, he said he had just boated to another nearby lodge to get a phone to call his boss. The boss said if we wouldnít stay there last night, then we canít stay there tonight. I asked if he told his boss that Don wasnít well. He said he did. So we woke up Don, gave him the bad news and walked him back to the campsite. We are still not sure what that was all about, as it didnít make any sense. Seemed to us like they were throwing an easy $50 away. Junior also informed us that the temperature would be dropping to 5 degrees that night, and it did.
In the afternoon Timo led us in worship and Doug led us in a devotion about Fathers and Sons using the Biblical example of God and Jesus. Again I had an emotional sharing about my own positive relationship with my father. In hindsight, seeing that my Dad died shortly after my return it almost seemed that God was emotionally preparing me for the news of my fatherís death.
In the late afternoon I attempt to tell the group canoeing stories, but Timo has heard them all before, so he tells them for me. He tells them just like me, complete with a healthy dose of embellishment. After supper the boys decide to play poker - quite the contrast to the earlier church service. They are pathetic at it, so I decide to teach them some poker etiquette and rules. I end up losing my canoe, my tent, and my kitchen pack to a couple of 15 year olds. Fortunately it was all for fun, but humbling none the less. I thought the Pastor would intercede on my behalf, but he said they could use a Kevlar canoe, and an El Capitain tent, and he encouraged his son to keep up the good work.
No fish caught today. Still canít get a phone signal due to cloud cover.
Timoís quote of the day, "Sand, sand everywhere; sand, sand in my hair; sand, sand over here; sand, sand over there; sand, sand even in my underwear"; obviously this situation came about as a result of camping on such a sandy place. When I got home I was still cleaning sand out of everything, and probably will be until next year.
20 kms 0 portages 3 sets of rapids
We break camp and are paddling by 8:30. Don says he is feeling fine. On the way here we tracked the Turtle River straight North, but at Bending Lake near our campsite it makes a hairpin corner and heads straight South paralleling itself for 7 kms before it begins to veer West.
We shoot 2 sets of rapids without incident and cover 8 kms before 10:30. We are making very good time.
About halfway to our campsite we encounter the last set of rapids. These are not as complicated as they look, but they do look pretty wild. We pull over to the shore while I confer with the experienced and explain to the novices how to negotiate this set, and what path to take. I also advise everyone to take out half of their gear and portage it, and that the bow person should kneel behind the front seat to give the front of the canoe maximum buoyancy. I guarantee everyone they will get wet from the spray, as they hit the white haystacks at the bottom of the tongue.
Travis and Mike go through as slick as professionals, and only pick up a quart of water. Timo and I go through, almost lose it, and pick up a gallon of water. Martin and Doug approach a little too far to the right, but manage to do a successful recovery. Don and Tim shoot through and when they hit the haystacks at the bottom, the canoe veers right, they both lean left, lose their balance and over they go.
|Mike & Travis shooting the last set of rapids.
Down the tongue and through the haystacks.
|Martin & Doug shooting the last set of rapids, a little
too far to the right of the black tongue, but they
manage to successfully complete the run.
Don & Tim shooting the last set of rapids Ė notice
how far Don is back from the bow. If he didnít sit
this way when the nose dove in it would
take on lots of water.
Don & Tim (barely visible) soaking-up the
wilderness with their tipped canoe.
At the 14 km mark for the day, we pass the creek we had journeyed up on the 2nd day of our trip. Around the 16 km mark we meet a group of Americans heading upriver. There are 13 of them, most of the canoes have 3 people. As they go by we learn they are from Texas, Oklahoma and all the way up to Minnesota. We encourage them to stop and talk but they just keep on going. I should have pulled out the fruit leather and the beef jerky, that would have stopped them.
Don has decided to head home a day early, and Tim has agreed to drive him. He wants to get checked out before he has to be back on the road. Their plan is to paddle all the way to their car today instead of camping one more night. They are often up to a km ahead of the rest of us as we continue our journey down the river.
We spot some desk sized boulders sitting on the edge of a rock face about 20 meters above the lake. Travis, Timo, Martin, & Mike decide to climb up and try to roll them off the rock face into the lake. Turns out when they get up there, that they are more the size of a small room that you might put a desk into. They are not able to budge them, so no water show for those of us waiting below. Martin calls it a male testosterone time-out.
We arrive at the campsite (which was our first nightís campsite) about 4:00 pm. We unload some of the camping gear that Don & Tim are carrying and then Mike and I accompany them to the portage to give them some help getting out in good time.
When we return to the campsite we have a surprise waiting. The remaining guys have the kitchen all set up, Mikeís tent is up, and so is mine. I am impressed for the 4th time on this trip.
Travis catches the grand daddy of jacks Ė 37" (that is almost a meter!!!) which we find out later is 15#ís Too big to eat, would feed 12 or 14 people, so it is released.
It is a very peaceful evening, with an outstanding sunset, a perfect way to end our trip. I phone home and explain to Barb that Don & Tim have left early and tell her I miss her.
Guy phones us again and this time gets to talk to Timo.
Travis catches 1 bass, and 1 jack. Martin catches 1 bass.
Timoís quote of the day, "This is the greatest campsite we have had"; this was said by Don at absolutely every campsite we stopped at, including the one we spent our last night at, which was also the same one we spent the 1st night at. Don also said at every meal; "this is the greatest meal we have had out here." A camp name for Don could be Mr. Enthusiasm. Don also often volunteered to do dishes, get firewood, fetch water or anything that needed doing.
2.5 kms 1 portage
We depart before 9, and at the portage Timo decides to portage the canoe by himself. He succeeds. He also decides to stern the canoe back to the car, again he succeeds. It wonít be long before he can take me on a trip. It wonít be long before Iíll need him to.
We find the car unvandalized, and the canoe Tim left hidden behind my trailer in the bush not stolen. All positive signs.
I phone home and leave a message for Barb that we are out of the woods, everyone is safe, and we are on our way home. I always do this so she knows.
After we load up I change into clean clothes, throw my camp cloths in the trunk, Mike slams the trunk shut before I realize the car keys are in the pocket of the jacket I put in the trunk. After looking everywhere and trying everything we realize we have no choice but to break into the trunk, Mike begins working on the lock with a leatherman, but it is not strong enough, and the end breaks off. We need something stronger. I decide to check the truck that is parked in the ditch nearby (probably belonged to the Americans we met earlier as it had US plates). To my surprise one of the doors is unlocked. I send one of the boys into the back to look around and they find a tire iron. "God Bless America". Mike is able to remove the lock completely without damaging the trunk. We then stick the leatherman back in and pop the trunk. No one bothers to ask Mike where he learned to do that. One final time the Big Kahuna is humbled.
We are on the road and spot a large black bear striding down the highway Ė other than the crazed chocolate legged squirrel, and the dead moose, this is the limit of our big game viewing . We arrive at Dougís house about 11:30 am. After getting gas and lunch at the Husky the 4 of us drive to Steinbach where we have supper and we are home in St. Pierre by 7:00 pm.
I have to echo Donís theme. That was the best canoe trip I have ever been on. I know I said that last year, and the year before, and before that, but I really mean it. It doesnít get any better than that.
Don and Tim arrived home about 10:00 pm. Don felt better the next day so he didnít bother going for a check Ėup. He left the day after we returned for a truck haul to Niagara Falls. He has been trucking in good health ever since.
I was able to manage my blood sugar at acceptable levels. It helps to have a diabetes specialist who understands how paddling & portaging will affect levels. Before departure she revised my insulin dosages, and gave me guidelines on what to do in different circumstances. If I got low I was to take 6 ju-jubes until I could access some food. If I got real low as in blacking-out, I was to instruct my buddies to pour syrup into me. They hoped for the chance but never got it. If I was high I was to take one extra shot of quick acting insulin for every 3 points my blood sugar was over 7. I was to make sure I didnít cook my insulin by letting it get hot or leaving it in the sun.
I had one incident that required some ingenuity. One night before going to bed my levels were 3.9 Ė very low. It was already dark, and the food was already anchored or up a tree for the night. I could eat ju-jubes but I didnít think they would last through the night. Then I remembered my wife had packed some glucerna bars for me in my bumpack for exactly this kind of situation. (A glucerna bar is a meal substitute for a diabetic.) I ate one bar, took no insulin, and in the morning my level was 7.6 which is acceptable.
It is a nuisance having to take levels up to 4 times a day, pop pills, and shoot insulin several times a day, but I am glad having diabetes doesnít prevent me from going paddling in the wilderness. Fatigue is the biggest side effect with which I have to deal. Not having the energy to do all the things I would like to do each day, and not contributing a full share to all the work annoys me. However, not being able to go would annoy me even more, so Iíll have to accept the lesser annoyance.
Update: Timo has done a search on the internet and has discovered the flower we encountered on Day 2 is a member of the purple pitcher plant species. There are many varieties but our plant fits the description of one that is said to be found in parts of Central Canada. It turns out it does eat insects, but it is not called an insectivorous, but a carnivorous as it also devours small frogs. Little critters that are attracted to it get stuck inside, and the rain and/or dew is laced with an enzyme that dissolves the victims. For more info go to GOOGLE and type in purple pitcher flower in the "search for" blank.
Copyright 2005 by Al Bayne