8 participants, 4 canoes [adults: Al Bayne, Gerry Lahaie, Henry Klassen, Mike Brown, Doug Wightman] [teens (15-16 year olds): Travis Brown, Martin Wightman, Timo Gosselin]
A few years ago friends, who were moving to Zambia (Stu & Kiera Rowat ĖTaylor), loaned me their topographical maps of Woodland Caribou Park. They had recently been there and had marked campsite & portage information on the map. My paddling friends and I decided that 2005 would be the year to visit this wilderness park on our annual canoe trip.
Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is in NW Ontario. It is located North of Kenora and West of Ear Falls & Red Lake and straddles the MB border on itís West side. From a MB perspective it is East of Bisset. Manitobaís Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park & the North end of Nopiming Provincial Park parallel Woodland Caribou along the MB - NW ON border. It is roughly a rectangle shape and is about 85 kms from North to South and 45 kms West to East. The Northern boundaries include the headwaters of the Bloodvein River that flows into Lake Winnipeg.
The portion of the Park we paddled was in the extreme SE corner. We would have seen less than 5% of the Park. The Park is a designated wilderness park, it is remotely located, and permits are required to visit. Our 7 day (6 night) trip for 8 people cost us $342. There is also a maximum group size limit of 9 people. We will be travelling in a large circle through small narrow lakes, up or down small streams, and following narrow channels that connect lakes. The largest lake is Kilburn which on the average is less than 1 km wide.
Five of us departed from St. Pierre, MB on July 4th at 6:30 am in two vehicles. We picked up Henry just outside of town, and headed for Vermilion Bay, ON where we would pick up the Wightmans and their canoe (they live in Dryden). We stopped at the Ontario border for a relief break only to discover the hissing of one of our trailer tires as it went flat. Turned out it had picked up a nail. The 2nd spare to my surprise was also flat, so I decided that on the way we would go into Canadian Tire in Kenora and buy a new one as a back-up. Unbenounced to all of us Canadian Tire had closed their downtown store and opened a new one on the edge of town. These delays were putting us behind schedule. But, little did we know there was bigger delays coming.
We were supposed to meet the Wightmans at 10:30 but didnít get there until 11:00. After loading their canoe and gear, getting fishing licenses, and being sports store tourists we headed North to Ear Falls. On arrival there we picked up our Park Permit at the Four Seasons Sports Store Ė very friendly people. They advised us the road West of Ear Falls to Woodland Caribou was washed out, and our only option was to travel North to Red Lake and travel a logging road South West from there. We are not sure but we think this added an hour and a half to our travel time.
We had lunch at a restaurant in Ear Falls that was referred by the Four Seasons (the owners twin sister). The food & service were excellent. After departing, the lead vehicle spotted 4 bears (2 adults & 2 cubs) along the highway. We travel with 2-way radios so they advised us to be on the look-out and we were able to have a good look at them.
The road out of Red Lake to our kick-in at Leano Lake had some minor washouts, and was close to being impassable in several locations, but we hadnít come this far to turn around. Several times we had to stop, get out and assess how to manoeuvre the eroded road (apparently it was no longer being maintained as the logging company was finished logging in this area). Eventually we were at the Leano Lake parking area, where there was about five other vehicles.
DAY 1 1 portage 3.5 kms
In order to access the lake there is a 60 meter portage from the parking area. The trail is wide, in good condition, and primarily dry. The ramp area is muddy and is too tight for 4 canoes. As it is already 4:30 pm we are quick to unload and start paddling. The sky is overcast and there is occasional very light rain.
Because the bugs were so bad at the kick-in we decide to take the screen tent we had brought along. As we depart a group from Wisconsin arrives in the parking area Ė but we donít encounter them again in our travels (they would be paddling in the opposite direction to us).
The first campsite is supposed to be .5 kms away, but we couldnít find one there. The next one is 1.5 kms away so we head for it. As we approach we notice a canoe pulled into the woods. Before we are out of our canoes a man with "Park Warden" written on his shirt presents himself. We talk about campsites and he gives us an option that is on an island, back 1.5 km in the general direction we had come from (I hate backtracking but the Warden wasnít offering to give up his site).
He then introduces himself as Dan, and introduces his assistant Maureen. This is followed by examining our Park Permit & fishing licenses. . This is the first time I have been checked by a Warden in 25 years of canoeing (that will not be the only 25 year first on this trip). After a brief discussion on portage trail conditions & advice on fishing limits we depart for the campsite.
We find the campsite easily and set-up quickly. We have 4 Ė 4 man tents (even though we only have 2 men per tent, we like our space) and there was exactly 4 tent spots and each of them was tight for our tents, & one tent was a little close to the fire pit. We didnít think, at the time, that this was a great campsite, but it would turn-out to be one of the best. Bugs are not bad so we donít set up the screen tent (in fact we will never set it up on the whole trip).
We exchange paddle partners over the course of the trip but we keep the same tent partners Mike & Travis; Doug & Martin; Gerry & Henry; & myself & Timo. Timo & Travis often paddle together.
After a late supper (8:00 pm) of beef patties, potato patties, mixed veggies, and fresh fruit we anchor the food in a canoe and go to bed early. We carry a satellite phone mostly for emergencies and are supposed to turn it on from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm every night so our families can reach us, but we completely forget the first night. Our original plans were to be in the next lake, but we had lost too much road travel time. It has been a long day.
Travis caught 2 jackfish, (under 2#), which he released. The lake water is light brown in color, like tea. This is caused by tannic acid which is produced by decomposing vegetation such as spruce & pine needles. Rain and spring run-off transfer the tannic acid from the soil along the shore into the lake. The fish even took on light brown hues. Every lake we would canoe through on this trip was light to dark brown.
DAY 2 6 portages 21 kms
I get-up at 6:00 am to discover Gerry already has the fire going, the water for coffee hot, and the food canoe retrieved. The frozen eggs & the bacon are thawed. I mix up the eggs with the diced vegetables to make omelettes. One of our early in the trip luxury meals. The sky is still overcast, but there is no rain, and it was a dry cool night.
Martin catches a very thin anemic looking jack that would weigh less than half a pound, but was still a foot long, he releases it.
We are on the water paddling by 9:15. Fifteen minutes later we pass the Wardenís campsite but there is no one there. We can hear a chain saw in the distance and suspect he is already clearing the first portage trail. Another 10 minutes and we are at the portage, where the Wardenís canoe is moored. The portage is 400 meters (for those that are used to paces and not meters you can add approximately 40%, according to Henryís paces, the tallest guy in our group Ė that would make this portage 560 paces), it is in good condition, thanks to the chain saw. The portage ends beside a creek in a very boggy area. I can also attest that the bog is at least 2 feet deep.
The next portage is only about 50 meters away, and is 120 meters long. The 3rd portage follows after a brief 100 meter paddle. It is basically a 25 meter drag through past a set of rapids, over some swamp grass. We donít unload the canoe for this one, but just pull it across the grass. Doug & Martin decide to paddle through the rapids, instead of dragging the canoe, and they make it with only a couple of minor rock encounters.
The creek then opens into a small pond and we paddle for 1.5 kms to the 4th portage. The pond ends abruptly at a waterfall. As Henry and I are positioning the canoe for disembarking I feel the current grab the canoe, and I get a little excited commanding Henry to paddle hard. We overcome the current and avoid going backwards over the falls. This portage is 100 meters. Near the end a large tree has fallen across the trail. It is too low to go under, and too high to go over. I place the canoe on the tree and slide it forward as far as I can. I then go under the tree to the other side and pick up the canoe. When I go to put the yoke on my shoulders it gives way. A close examination shows that the ends of the cherry yoke have become soft and the bolts that hold it to the gunnel just pulled through. We continue to travel with it that way. Mike says he has a plan and will fix it once we make camp.
We are now in Kilburn Lake, which is also heavily influenced by tannic acid. As soon as we start paddling an eagle lifts up off the shore and flies low right in front of us. Kilburn Lake is in the shape of a U. We travel straight South for 7.5 kms then make a hairpin turn and paddle North for 4 kms paralleling the area we just paddled. This is the lake we had hoped to camp in on the 1st day. We have arrived at the lake about noon. We decide to paddle for a while before stopping for lunch.
After 5 kms (45 mins) we stop at a smooth rock outcrop and make a pot of soup. Gerry pulls out his GPS and gives us information on how far we have gone, our top speed, and our average paddling speed. Turns out we are averaging close to 7 kms per hour while paddling. That is a good speed, we are encouraged. While we enjoy our soup a large seagull perches in a black spruce over our heads. I have never seen a seagull perched in a tree before. I try to convince the boys that it is really an eagle in disguise (as it did have a white head), perhaps a mutation of some kind. Martin is fishing unsuccessfully and I advise him that the seagull has no confidence in his ability as it appears to have fallen asleep.
In our travels we realize that this lake is at a very high water level as there are several pines along the shore that are standing in water. We also realize that the tannic water plugs our filters very quickly. We have to clean them after filtering every 2 litres of drinking water. Usually we can get 6 Ė 8 litres of purified water before cleaning. Also the filters donít completely filter out the color and our drinking water is the color of very weak tea. Another observation we make at this point is that this is not dynamic Canadian Shield country. The land is relatively flat, and the rock outcroppings are sparse, and not towering over the lakes. As well we havenít seen any white or red pine trees that tend to grow very large. The predominate trees are black spruce and jack pine and they tend to grow crowded and are a shorter, narrower variety of tree.
After lunch while proceeding North on Kilburn we spot 2 canoes and a tent on the East shore about .5 kms away. We donít see any people movement. Because we are making great time and it is early in the day we decide to push on to the next lake, Middle Kilburn, to look for a campsite. I break out a small bag of GORP for everyone.
The portage in is 150 meters. It begins going uphill and opens on to a meadow of tiger lilies, wild roses, and saskatoons (I think weíve died and gone to a Saskatchewan prairie oasis, but we know better Ė heaven is in the Canadian Shield wilderness). Because my yoke is broken, Henry and I tandem the canoe. We both find it awkward and difficult as we are each pushing or pulling one another out of sync. Middle Kilburn is less than 2 kms across, and we donít spot any good campsites so we keep on going. The next portage is 80 meters into Upper Kilburn Lake. We are now definitely ready for a campsite as it is close to 4:00 pm.
The site we locate is on a rocky point. There are 3 tent sites, but only 1 that will tightly fit one of our tents Ė trees and rocks all around. We find a location further back and higher up on the same rocky out cropping that will accommodate the other 3 but they are almost touching one another. This spot has a nice roomy kitchen area down by the lake, and flat rocks that extend into the water making it an ideal bathing site, although they are slippery. After 6 portages everyone is interested in bathing, and washing some of the grunge off our clothes. Twenty-one kms and 6 portages is a big day in our experience. I have done up to 24 kms in a day, but without portages. What I am used to is 12 Ė 15 kms and 2 Ė 3 portages.
Supper is smokies, Gerryís home baked beans, instant potatoes & Timoís artfully prepared vanilla pudding. Everything in the cooler except some fruit, cheese, pepperoni, & sausage is now thawed or eaten. We know from experience that the cheese & processed meat will last several more days if we keep it out of the sun. The cooler becomes the place we store empty containers and empty plastic bags, and because it smells of food it goes in the food canoe every night. This is almost the end of our non-dehydrated meals.
Mike begins to repair my yoke with rope, but Gerry suggests wire would be better, and he produces a coil of stove pipe wire. Wire is better, and they do an excellent job of reattaching the yoke. It holds for the entire trip. Iíll have to add wire to my list of things to bring in the future. Somehow Gerryís coil of wire got placed on his hat (like a hat band), which was on his head and he spent considerable time looking for it. Eventually we broke down and told him where it was.
While Travis & Timo are out fishing we prepare the anchor bag and load the food canoe. The boys know the drill, when they return they take out the food canoe and anchor it. They think we donít know that they help themselves to the candy snacks, that are in one of the food barrels. Small price to pay for reliable help.
Travis catches 2 jack (one of them about 3.5#ís the biggest he will catch on this trip), and Martin catches 1, all 3 are released. The boys see a bluejay, some ducks, & some loons.
DAY 3 6 portages 9 kms
I am up at 5:45 Ė whatís that about? Ė just in time to watch Gerry bringing in the food canoe. The morning is showing promise, as the clouds are breaking up. Breakfast is red river cereal, craisins, and English muffins mmm-mmm good. Travis doesnít like this particular cereal so he sleeps in Ė too bad Ė it is my favourite Ė Iíll have seconds.
We start paddling at 9:10 am and head West. The first portage is in 2.5 kms and involves a steep climb, it is 100 meters in length, and basically dry. Timo says Gerry doesnít like it, but I donít find out why not. I mean whatís not to like, you get a break from paddling, and you get reminded that there are still bugs in the bush, and that you still sweat when you exert yourself. The 2nd portage of the day is on the side of a very short paddle across a pond. I decide that if we get out of the canoe, remove some rocks from the bottom of the creek, we can walk the canoe through. It works, but the area is very rocky, and still involves a fair amount of work. The 3rd one is even a shorter paddle away and is 30 meters long. It is a flat grassy area, but not boggy. Quickly & easily done.
The sky is blue, a light breeze is blowing, and we have a 4 km paddle before we encounter another portage Ė life is good. The area is more picturesque, with more frequent rock outcroppings. I like this particular area we are travelling in a lot. I like the idea of being in an area that has 3 portages on either end Ė kind of guarantees seclusion (turns out seclusion wasnít a problem as we never competed with anyone else for camp sites on the entire trip). If it wasnít so early in the day Iíd opt to camp in this area.
The boys had reminded me that Mike had brought enough home made dried fruit roll-ups and beef jerky for snacks everyday. We break them out as this is the perfect location to snack while paddling. (Mike mixes jello with apple sauce, dehydrates the mix, and cuts the resulting fruit leather into stripes that are then rolled up into thumb sized morsels of delight.)
The next portage presents itself soon enough and is 150 meters long. I canít remember any details about it. The fifth portage is a 3 minute paddle and is marked as 175 meters. Mike heads down it first. We expect him back as it looks flat and it is not that long. Eventually he returns with the warning that we should be prepared to get wet. The portage is overtop swamp grass sod that in effect is a floating bog. As you step, you sink. The idea is to move quickly, donít linger, and try not to step into a hole in the vegetation. If you hit a hole you could get wet up to your yenyaw, or fall down and get totally wet such as I did.
Mike almost never gets his feet wet, but when he returned he had his pants rolled up, and mud covering his legs. Donít ask me how but Travis made it through both trips with dry feet (maybe 3 trips as the boys often made extra trips to help out Ė everyone is expected to do at least 2 trips on each portage). There is one more portage left for the day and because it is the longest and is only .75 kms away we decide to have lunch and take a break. I ask Timo to find his camera and get a picture of Mikeís muddy legs, but Mike catches on and quickly washes them.
Lunch again is soup, crackers and condiments. We enjoy a devotion entitled "So Billy Can Go Fishing!". After the 6th & last portage we will hand out 2 granola bars each to tide us over until supper.
Most portages so far on this trip have been in good condition. They havenít experienced a lot of traffic so they are not always easy to spot. We did spend a little bit of time trying to locate some of them. Also many of them will only accommodate one canoe at a time at either end for loading and unloading. The first paddlers to arrive, quickly empty their canoeís load, and portage the canoe across to get it out of the way. The backpacks are placed out of the way to make room for the next paddlers. The arrangement Timo and I have is that I carry the canoe, and he carries the heavy kitchen pack. We then each return for our personal packs, paddles, water bottles, and sometimes some elseís odds & ends. Itís a co-operative event.
Mike is the first one through the last portage. We are now at Paull Lake 15 kms from and almost straight West (as the raven flies) of our first campsite at Leano Lake. We are as far away from our kick-in as we will get on this trip. Mike purposefully doesnít wait for us, he heads out across the lake to begin the process of looking for a suitable campsite. Timo and I also check out a potential site in the opposite direction. It has a great kitchen area, and swimming area, but I can only locate 3 tent spots, and 2 of them are questionable. By the time everyone has loaded and we rendez-vous, Mike has only one site for us to check out. The rest he says wonít accommodate our tents. The one we investigate has a series of small flat terraces, that will accommodate our large tents. The kitchen area is narrow & crowded with trees, but the swimming / bathing area is good. We decide to look no further. Gerry & Henry pick the lower terrace, Mike & Travis and Timo & I choose the 2nd terrace, and Doug & Martin set-up on the top one. If Mike or Travis fall out of bed they will land on Gerryís tent which is right under them. My tent is not only on the same level but is also very close to Mikeís, and we had to roll a large boulder out of the way so my tent would fit.
We are set-up by 3:30 and while the boys swim, most of us do laundry. It is a perfect drying day, sunny and a light breeze. Timo & Travis take my canoe out in the lake and practice upsetting and doing in-water recoveries (in deep water they can flip my upset canoe Ė the lightest one on the trip at 47#ís Ė out of the lake in a way that it lands upright void of water Ė Iím impressed) . Mike goes snorkelling and reports that this lake, like the others is not very clear. I think everyone baths or swims to get refreshed. Gerry has a bug free nap beside his tent. We donít need the bug tent, but even if we did there isnít a space big enough to set it up.
Supper is spaghetti and sausage, followed by no-bake oreo cheese cake with cherry topping. This year I remember to get out the parmesan cheese (in past years I have usually forgotten). Gerry however forgets to put in the spaghetti sauce flavouring. Just before he serves it I spot the packages under some kitchen containers. It is not too late. The flavour is good, but the consistency is a little dry. It is the kind of situation that at home you might not eat it, but out in the wilderness you will fight for seconds.
A card game breaks out and Martin loses at elimination (as has been his experience every year). I had shown the boys a basic card trick several years ago on a trip to White Otter Castle, and they havenít been able to figure it out, and it has been driving them crazy ever since. They made me repeat it over and over with hints on what to watch for until they finally got it. I practically went in slow motion. Anyway, now that they have it, I swore them to secrecy. "Never give a trick away", I warned them, "it is only a good trick if you leave people puzzled just like I left you puzzled all these years".
It is a lazy evening with lots of visiting. Travis catches 4 small jacks (which he released), Timo continues to never catch anything. Henry who had planned on fishing isnít inspired by the small sizes, and limited quantities of fish. He will seldom even attempt to fish on the whole trip. He says he thought this kind of remote wilderness would have lots of action with large fish. Mike & Gerry never fish,and Doug & myself may on occasion fish, but donít on this trip.
Timo discovers tiny bright orange mushrooms, and large (6" diameter) light brown ones. No Ė we donít attempt to eat them, although fresh mushrooms would have improved the spaghetti sauce. Timo likes to get to sleep before I do, because I snore continuously and loud, but I go to bed before him every night, so he comes up with ways to keep me awake. He will come to the tent and ask me contrived questions, or pretend he needs something, making a big commotion in the process. If I were asleep when he came to bed he would wake me up with the pretext that I needed to help him complete his daily journal. This is a bizarre process, because he makes up stories that make me look bad, and I counter with complimentary embellishments that make me look good and we end up in good humoured arguements. The guys in the other tents on ocassion ask us to shut-up and go to sleep (anything that makes me look bad has been removed from this journal, all observations about Timo are true).
DAY 4 3 portages 13 kms
We are up at 6:30, a little later than usual. Breakfast is coyote, wild rice, oatmeal pancakes with bits of dried apple. Very good! There is a line-up for seconds, and each of us gets at least one and a half 8" pancakes. Very filling.
Before we depart Travis catches a very large leech Ė biggest I have ever seen (about 6-7" long). We spend some time examining it as I had recently learned that all leeches are amorphidites (that is they have both male & female organs). We are not successful in identifying any organs and let it go.
We are loaded and paddling East by 9:10. It is a beautiful day, Paull Lakeís North shore is very scenic. After paddling about a km a brisk breeze begins to blow and pushes us along from behind. This is the perfect situation, great day, great scenery, and the wind in our back. It is just over 5 kms to the first portage. We are there too soon.
The first portage is supposed to be 60 meters, but the water levels are high and the only obstacles are 2 beaver damns. The 1st one we paddle over, and the 2nd one we open up a hole in the middle and drag the canoes through.
The 2nd portage is only .5 kms and we have trouble locating it. Gerry says he sees what looks like a game trail, and gets out to investigate. The trail after a few meters goes straight up a rock strewn hill. Gerry follows it to investigate. In a few minutes he is back confirming that it is indeed the portage trail. He says it reminds him of a shorter version of the portage we call the ladder, which is located on the West end of Stewart Lake in the Spirit Lakes area. This portage is 175 meters long, and other than the climb it is not a difficult one.
The 3rd portage for the day is a stoneís throw away (the portages on this trip are often in close clusters of 3), and it will be the longest one of our trip at 425 meters. It begins with a gentle slope leading up to a vast rock outcropping that has no growth on it. From under the canoe it is difficult to discern the trail, until I notice little rock cairns that someone has placed about every 10 meters as a trail guide Ė nice touch. I am about to experience another 25 years of canoeing, 1st . Being checked by a warden was the first 25 year 1st on this trip, and the second 1st will be an accident that results in my being injured.
On the other end of the bald rock the slope is not as gentle. As I begin to pick my way down, my right foot slips from under me as I pass a table sized boulder, and I begin to fall down. Instinctively I let go of the right side of my canoe and reach for the boulder on my right to steady myself. It keeps me from falling down the hill, but the canoe comes down hard on my right wrist which is supporting me on the rock. I immediately throw the canoe off my shoulders and grab my hand. I know it got hit hard, but surprisingly I am not feeling a lot of pain. It swells up instantly doubling in size. My first thought was Iíve broken my wrist. Doug is right behind me, and quickly puts down his canoe and runs to assist me. My medic-alert bracelet is in the way of the swelling, and has tightened and is digging into my skin. Doug removes it with some difficulty. Mike is then on the scene. He asks me to move my hand up & down, wiggle it back & forth, and then rotate it. I follow his directions and it works without pain. He says if I can do that it is probably not broken and he advises me to go and soak it in the cool lake water (heís not a Doctor but he is convincing that he knows what he is talking about).
At the end of the portage there is a 2í drop off into the lake. The only way I can get my hand in the water is to lower myself into the lake and sit on a submerged rock in the lake Ė like a toad on a lily pad. I feel like an idiot sitting in the lake while everyone else is working (I know itís a guy thing), Doug brings my canoe, and someone helps Timo portage my gear. I keep moving my hand back & forth in the water expecting it to hurt any minute, but it doesnít. Gerry calls everyone to the lake side and he prays for me. Once all the gear is portaged the guys help me load my gear and board the canoe. I cautiously try paddling, first on my right side and then on my left. "No pain", I announce still expecting that at any moment I will get a shot of pain. The swelling is so great that I am convinced that there must be major damage.
We decide to have lunch less than a km later on a large island that could be on the extreme South West end of Jake Lake (it is not named on the map but it connects with Jake lake via a 4.5 km long narrow channel). Gerry loans me a wrist bracelet so I can limit my wrist movement (he is wearing one to help with a tendon problem he is having, and he has a spare in his pack Ė fortunately it is for the right hand). He also gives me a 600 mg ibuprofen pill to reduce the swelling and fight the inflammation. (I continue to paddle & portage the rest of the trip, with no discomfort, and once home an x-ray confirms no breaks, no fractures. After Iím home my arm turns black & blue from my fingers to my elbow, the Doctor says I have damaged my tendons and muscles, and will take awhile to heal.)
This is the spot where we can decide to take the long way out and head North to Mexican Hat Lake or travel East to Jake Lake. We decide because of the extra 9 portages (one of them 800 meters) to take the short cut.
Lunch today is cheese, dried fruit, pepperoni sticks, and blueberry bagels. While we are having lunch the South wind starts to blow really strong. As we will now be travelling in a North East direction the circumstances are perfect for sailing. I pull out my large Canadian flag and we cut 2 dead skinny trees into 8í lengths for masts. The flag has grommets and ropes in place just for this purpose and is quickly and easily secured to the poles.
Once we are back on the water we gunnel up the 4 canoes, and the 2 outside bowsmen each hold up a mast. The corresponding sternsmen hold a rope that is attached to the top of the masts to help hold the masts up straight. The sternsmen of the 2 middle canoes provide whatever ruddering is needed, while the bowsmen hold the canoes together. Instantly we are cruising. Our speed is beyond what we could paddle. We have a great ride, and have a great time visiting back & forth, eating fruit leather & beef jerky.
Before long we are at our destination and begin to look for a campsite. The 1st locations we check are not adequate. After handing out the GORP for the day (which is a step-up from day 2 as it now has gummie bears added to it), we decide to divide up and check all potential sites on both sides of this end of Jake Lake. The 2-way radios come in handy as we communicate our findings to one another. At the other end I check a site that looks promising, but it has only 1 great tent site and only 2 marginal sites. Timo spots a potential site across the lake, we radio Mike to keep going East before he crosses to our side, and check it out. He does and calls us over. The waterfront and kitchen area are great, and the whole point is like a park. The tent sites are tight. Three of the tents are right beside each other. Our tent is further away, and has a low spot in the middle. Timo and I fill the low spot with sphagnum moss, because if it rains (and it does rain in the night) it could fill up with water as the site is on a slight angle.
By the end of the trip we agree that this is the best campsite of this trip, not great, just the best of the trip. Travis catches 2 jacks in a row shortly after we arrive, but he releases them as this is pizza night and we donít need the extra food.
Speaking of pizza, Mike & Henry make 6 exceptional 6" pineapple, pepperoni, mushroom pizzas, and 2 extraordinary ones by using the reflector oven. With the help of Gerry they also produce 2 perfect chocolate cakes complete with icing. What a feast. It just doesnít get any better than that. Timo says, "Over the top, Mike has outdone himself". They were close to 2" thick, and perfectly cooked. Gerry feeds me another pill, as he will do twice a day until the trip is over.
Martin catches another small jack and releases it. The boys discover flakes of mica in some rocks and spend most of the evening prospecting (they didnít strick it rich, but they had a great time). The adults discuss laying over here for 2 nights and pushing to get out at the end, or continuing to move each day. Because there is still at least 8 or 9 portages left we decide to cover at least half of the portages on day 5. The plan is to paddle until we find a great campsite.
Later in the evening, even though we are still full, we eat peanuts in the shell, and I hand out the 2 remaining apples and 1 orange. Martin carves a futuristic likeness of me in his apple, gives me a quick look, and then devours it. I repack all the food containers and eliminate one complete pack. Travis does dishes Ė probably the first & only time on the trip. Timo has been keeping track of my daily sugar level readings, and he reviews his record of them with everyone as we sit around the campfire. The readings when I remember to take them are within acceptable range. Twice I needed to take in some sugar as I dropped too low, once was in the night, and the other was on a day when we had a late lunch (I carry a small container of candy in my medicine kit for these occasions).
This spot could accommodate our screen tent, but the bugs are not pesky enough to warrant setting it up. Timo also begins to count the number of deer flies that get tangled in his hair Ė today it is 23. No one else is having trouble with deer flies in their hair (of course a few of us have a good reason for that, and I donít mean that we are wearing hats.)
DAY 5 7 portages 10 kms
I didnít take note of the time we were up today, but we are expecting an easy day, the weather is perfect, and no one is in a hurry. We have oatmeal & raisins cooked by Martin & Doug, along with English muffins (no sign of mould yet). My hand is still working fine, swelling is down a little, and Iím not experiencing any pain. We had a thunderstorm in the night, with only light rain, and this morning the sky is blue, and it promises to be very nice. We clean our tin cans out of the fire pit (we put them there to burn any food particles or food odour off of them) and flatten them with rocks so they take up less room in the garbage bag. We observe that throughout the trip, the fire pits are free of other peopleís garbage, and the campsites are also clean (something that we donít always experience on our trips Ė we often carry out other peopleís garbage).
We are on the water by 9:40 and our 1st portage of the day is only 5 minutes away. It is short (40 meters), and easy, although the entrance and exit are unfriendly. We are now travelling in a South Easterly direction heading back towards Leano Lake.
The 2nd portage we are able to pass through without unloading the canoes (according to Timoís journal, frankly, I donít even remember it Ė maybe it wasnít a portage Ė I donít think we can count it). The real 2nd one is 200 meters and ends at the top of a beautiful waterfall. We take a break here and enjoy the scenery. The falls have a major split in the rocks at the top right where the water cascades over. It is obvious that in the winter the ice will widen this gap until eventually a whole section will break off and tumble to the bottom. The falls are about 5 meters wide, 12 meters high and fall almost straight down.
The 3rd portage is just over a km ahead. The area we are in reminds me of the Manigotagan River area of Manitoba. The pinkish rocks are partially bare of vegetation and border both sides of the brownish water of the river. We chew on beef jerky as we travel. This portage is 150 meters and is not difficult.
Shortly after this portage we spot the perfect place to stop and have lunch - a rocky point with a couple of pines for. Today we have soup again, with crackers and condiments. Must be getting near the end of the trip, the jam, & cheese spread are almost gone.
This is a very pleasant location and we linger. I present a devotion entitled "Snagging the Snake". Timo notices purple pitcher plants along the shore, which are carnivorous plants that eat small frogs and insects of all sizes. We had seen them for the first time last year. The flower is a brownish red and the petals are leathery in texture. They have up to five leaves at their base that are hollow and they are shaped like spouts on a tea pot. Inside these botanical traps are enzymes that attract and kill little critters that the plant feeds on. I suspect the pistil of the flower also is a trap as once an insect enters the flower it can slide down and trap the insect under it. Sounds nasty, but adds a lot of colour to the swamp, and intrigue to the wilderness.
After lunch we paddle through a shallow boggy area that releases multiple bubbles of methane gas as our paddles disturb the decomposing vegetation that is layered under the water.
The 4th portage is only 15 meters, and we take out 2 packs and carry the canoe half loaded across. As soon as we are back in the water we encounter a beaver damn. Timo, Travis & I open it in the middle and pull the canoes through. This is the 1st beaver damn I have seen where the beavers have used pine bows. They usually avoid evergreens (Iíve been told they donít like spruce sap, or the taste of pine tar).
The 5th portage starts at the bottom of some picturesque rapids, and offers us a choice. We can portage about 30 meters, portage across the shallow river, portage another 30 meters, and portage across the river again; or we can just do the first 30 meters and walk the canoes 50 meters up the river. It is hot and walking up the river getting wet & cooling off is more appealing to me.
The 6th portage is 80 meters Ė there is nothing about it in Timoís journal, and I cannot remember it Ė must have been uneventful. The 7th portage is 150 meters. We had been looking for a campsite along the way, but never spotted one, and we decide that this will be the last portage for the day. We paddle south to a small lake that is not on our route and is un-named. We divide up and look for campsites. Doug & Martin investigate an island that looks promising, but has no tent sights. I check out a point that has a fire pit, but it has only 2 tent sites. Mike radios that his site also only has 2 sites, then shortly after he calls back to say, that there are 2 more sites back in the bush. We paddle over to look. In order to get to the 2 bush sites it is necessary to cross a low spot that has .5" of water in it. The bush sites are large and very mossy, but the bugs are thick. Timo & I, and Gerry & Henry take the back sites. The front sites are very close to the kitchen area and the waterfront, but they appear to be large enough. In order to get to our sites we have to walk right alongside Doug & Martinís tent. Hope our coming & going doesnít disturb them.
Timoís deer fly count is up to 32 for the day. When he goes swimming I through him my camp suds, and suggest he tries shampooing his hair, as possibly the problem is that his short brown hair smells like a moose. I also tell him that I will do all his work duties for the day (except making pudding which he enjoys doing), and that he should consider sleeping in the next morning. He is delighted.
Supper is KD & ham, with English muffins, and chocolate pudding for dessert. In the evening the boys makes símores, and I dig out all the odds & ends of snacks that are left over.
Beautiful perfect evening. Travis catches 5 small jacks, and Martin catches 1 Ė all are released. The 3 boys explore every nook & bay of the small lake we are camped on. I decide to start preparing for going home and shave my 6 days of whiskers.
DAY 6 2 portages 8 kms
Iím up at 6:15 and I remind Timo to sleep in, breakfast is buttermilk, wild rice pancakes with bits of cut-up dried fruit. Mike does a supreme job of cooking them Ė even the 1st one isnít spoiled. We use up all the butter & we run out of syrup, but I share my sugar free syrup with some, and others resort to honey, jam and/or peanut butter. Again we each get an 8" pancake and a half. Great breakfast.
We break camp at 9:45. The 1st portage is only 1 km away. It is only 15 meters. If someone spent a couple of hours with a shovel, it would be a drag through. We each take a pack and then carry the half-loaded canoe through. We have now entered Bunny Lake. We had decided that if we spotted an excellent campsite we would spend our final night in this lake, but nothing appeals to us. About a km to the North we think we can see tents, so we donít explore that end of the lake. Instead we continue East towards the portage that will lead us back into Leano Lake. The 2nd portage is about 2 km from the 1st and is 300 meters long. The entrance is not friendly, so while the canoe is still in the water I pass the packs up to Timo. We then lift the empty canoe out of the water and manoeuvre it up the small hill between several trees. The trail itself is in good shape. There is evidence of chainsaw sawdust, and we suspect that Warden Dan, and his assistant Maureen have been here. The exit is flat and the canoes can be loaded while they sit in shallow water. On the trail we noticed several different footprints of various sizes in the mud going both directions. This is the first time we noticed recent use of a portage trail by people. We suspect Bunny Lake is a destination for many people.
As soon as we start paddling we meet a canoe with 2 people who are going towards the portage. We attempt to engage them in conversation by asking them how far they are going, but they only give us a vague answer, and donít even slow down, never mind stop. So much for wilderness etiquette.
We travel East for about 2 kms down a narrow channel that will lead us to the Northerly end of Leano Lake, just before the lake we approach a beaver damn. I notice a low spot in the middle of it, and I suggest to Timo that we just put on some speed and shoot right over top of the damn at the low spot. We both paddle hard gathering great momentum, and just in front of the low spot we are aiming for, there is a rock that is submerged about 2" in the water. We see it too late, and come to a sudden grinding stop right on top of it, with the front of the canoe hanging part way over the damn (almost get whiplash). The only way off is for me to get out and stand on the damn, while I wiggle the canoe off of the rock. The other paddlers (except Doug & Martin) avoid the rock, and get over the damn by standing on the branches and dragging their canoe over.
We investigate 2 campsites, but one has a tent at it (possibly the 2 guys we met earlier), and the other one appears void of tent sites. We then take a GORP break. This is the greatest GORP of the trip as it now has smarties in it as well as the gummies. Everyone agrees on what tasty "Good Old Raisins & Peanuts" I make. We decide to go to the camp site we had on the first night, and then send 2 canoes to travel further & investigate the site the Warden had when we first met him. It is determined that our original site is the roomiest. So we make camp. It is a hot day with a brisk south wind that helps keep us cool & also keeps the bugs back in the bush.
We avoid having a campfire as the wind would blow the smoke and possibly sparks on one of the tents that is very close to the fire.
Lunch is the last brick of cheese, dried fruit, bagels, beef jerky, and whatever is left of the condiments. The boys play cards and Martin finally wins a game of elimination.
We have our traditional last day supper that is prepared by Chef Martin. It consists of rice, ham, & pineapple plus anything left over. Martin choses 2 onions, bacon bits & the parmesan cheese. He rejects the barbeque sauce and the lemon. The resulting dish, which he named Hawaiin Pilaf is very tasty. I forget to put out the soya sauce which we bring specifically for this meal. We finish up the English muffins & bagels.
I talk about Timoís grandmother who I knew quite well (Gerry & Mike also knew her). She was one of those very special people whose choices in life set a good example for us all. Our talk is interrupted by a electronic ringing.
We get 2 phone calls that evening. The 1st one is from Gerryís wife, and Timoís dad. Diane tells us among other things that the town of St. Jean is flooded, and that friends of many of us had a baby, and Guy tells Timo that they are looking forward to his getting home. A little later my wife, Barb calls. She wants us to know that London subways were bombed and that there were terrorist alerts issued for Canada. She didnít want us to be too alarmed by the news when we hit civilization. Mike, who lives in the States is very troubled by the news of more terrorist attacks.
This is the only night that we donít anchor the food canoe. The food is almost all gone and the food packs are not heavy. There is a jack pine with a branch big enough to support the weight and high enough to be out of bear reach.
This is our last evening, and everyone stays up late. Eventually we light the fire to heat water to do dishes even though the wind is still blowing, and the boys finish the símores. Travis catches 2 small jacks, and Martin catches 1 Ė all are released. Timo has only 3 deer flies today (good old camp suds). It is a hot night and no one needs a sleeping bag. I thought of taking the fly off my tent to allow more air to circulate, but it was also the kind of weather that produces a thunderstorm so I didnít. I should have as there was no rain in the night.
DAY 7 1 portage I km
Trip Total: 26 portages 65.5 kms
I donít recall what time we got up, but Doug cooked us oatmeal & strawberry flavoured craisins, along with some pan fried bannock biscuits. We donít light a fire and just grunge the dirty dishes, as I will wash them when I unpack at home. We depart at 9:30 and have a devotion called "Casting" on the lake.
We are completely loaded and ready to start driving by 10:30. The parking lot has 4 vehicles in it, all different than the ones that were there on day one. I phone the Four Seasons Sports Shop in Ear Falls to find out if the shorter route is open. They inform me the wash-out is being worked on, but is still impassable.
Because the lake area near the parking lot is muddy and swampy we decide to bath in the first clear stream that we encounter along the challenging road to Red Lake. We find the right creek just before Red Lake and everyone washes and puts on clean clothes.
We are in Ear Falls for lunch at 2:00 pm. I phone home to advise Barb, that we are out, we are safe, and to give her an ETA. After Ear Falls my car develops a shimmy and Mike determines the belts of one of the rear tires has let go. He drives it to Vermilion Bay, where we change it. Doug & Martinís family is waiting for them when we get there. We are quick to say good-bye, get refreshments and get back on the road.
We have supper at Tim Hortonís in Steinbach about 7:30 pm and are at my house in St. Pierre about 9:00 pm.
I expect the big question on everyoneís mind is, "Did you see any caribou"? No! we didnít. The warden told us it was calving season, which we thought was a little late in the summer season Ė but we also donít know anything about woodland caribou. He also described their scat, and their footprints. We saw no tracks, no sign, & no sightings. We did see plenty of moose tracks and moose sign at almost every portage trail.
This is the 3rd year we have taken a screen tent and I think we have only used it one night. I started taking it after the year we encountered hoards of flesh flies. I think next year we will leave it at home. Thanks Henry for carrying it through most of those portages.
The drive in and out took too long for us. In some sense we only really had a 5 day trip, as day one & seven were mostly spent travelling in our vehicles.
But now we have been to Woodland Caribou and it can be included in our list of great adventures & challenges we have experienced.
Where to next year guys?? I already have some ideas, but Iíll e-mail each of you with those in January.
Your fearless leader (or as you have named me The Big Kahuna)
PS: Any mistakes in this journal are as a result of mis-information in Timoís journal, or are indications of my memory lapses, or they are intentional.
Copyright 2005 by Al Bayne