Sun. Sept 8
Route Paddled: Kioskkokwi Lake, to Little Mink, Whitebirch and Waterclear Lakes
Distance Paddled: 9 km =-5.5 miles
Distance Portaged: 2350 metres (2.4 km x 3 = 7.2 km OR 1.5 x 3 = 4.5 miles)
Weather: 30+-Degree C and high humidity
6 am - Norm H, "brimming over with enthusiasm", began his morning routine and caused enough of a disturbance to become more of a challenge for the others, who were content to sleep in for another half hour than the awaiting challenges of the forest, rivers and lakes of the Algonquin interior! The mist on the lake was beginning to diminish as the sun slowly crept over the hill beyond the train trestle. To the south of the lake, several loons could be heard bantering back and forth and there was a promise of a clear sky. John and Wayne cooked a breakfast of french toast with maple syrup, sausages and hot coffee while the two Norms worked in unison to decamp and stow the equipment into the canoes. We departed at 8:30 am on a calm Kioskkokwi Lake - the wild ruggedness of the landscape was now beginning to draw in around us, its peace and beauty seeping deeply into our souls as we gently paddled onward.
As we proceeded out from under the train trestle and onto the open expanse of the head pond, we were overwhelmed with the sight of at least 40-50 loons clustered in various groups. Some, keeping an observant eye on us, were wailing out a chorus of mournful cries while others exploded simultaneously in mass, running on the lake’s surface for great distances before finally taking flight as we approached, only to ski back down on the lake a short distance away. Two streamlined black heads suddenly popped up beside Wayne and Norm H’s canoe, ruby red eyes glinting in the sun and then plunging back into the dark depths of the lake.
We were prepared to "slug through" expected muddy areas as the water level was noticeably at least two feet below norm. Our first experience was to be on our approach to the entrance of our portage (1P730) to Little Mink Lake where we were forced out of our canoes after grounding on the lake’s bottom. We waded over logs and sandbars and enjoyed the coolness of the water as we guided our canoes away from the obstructions.
This year, we packed diligently and eliminated all but the most necessary items, making the two-trip portaging much simpler and easier than in past years. Everyone carried their own personal backpack on the first trip while the smaller backpacks, containing the food supply, tents and kitchen utensils, were transported during the second trip with the canoes.
Little Mink Lake, narrow and short distant, is bordered by a dense, coniferous forest. As we made our way to our next portage (2P1300) to Whitebirch Lake, we passed a stand of tall, vivid green bulrushes swaying and rustling in the breeze. Upon our approach to the entrance of the portage, we could hear the pleasant sound of a gurgling creek. It was an easy-going trek through the boreal forest until we reached an intersection; to the right laid a steeper path that led to the top of the escarpment, well rutted with roots, rocks and depressions. The heat became menacing and while we rested before returning for our canoes, we took the extra precaution to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
At Whitebirch Lake, we went for a well-deserved swim. It was here that we met John Leto and his wife from Ohio – this was his 14th canoe trip to the park, but their first to the northern region - they were on their way to Mouse Lake. Our route plans were identical; however, they were one-tripping the portages with John carrying a small backpack and the Kevlar canoe (45 lbs) while his wife carried the larger backpack. Any doubts our group may have had in regards to our two-tripping portages were quickly out-weighed by our decision to enjoy some well-deserved luxuries.
We paddled peacefully along the beautiful shoreline of Whitebirch Lake, aptly named for the stands of white birch that were beginning to show telltale signs of autumn colours in their foliage. On the opposite side of the lake, wind-sculpted pines, hemlock and black spruce characterized that hillside. We paddled close to the shore searching for a bit of shade; however, escaping the direct sun and intense heat soon became a useless effort. Halfway down the lake, Norm H & Wayne’s navigational techniques changed abruptly and now consisted of zigzagging between a large boulder and the mainland to narrowly miss several rocks hidden just beneath the water’s surface. A warning to Norm R & John did not come soon enough as their canoe immediately screeched to a halt upon two large rocks. To avoid capsizing, Norm H & Wayne paddled alongside their canoe and gently tried tugging John’s canoe off the obstructions, but to no avail. Norm R stepped out of the canoe and gingerly stood on one of the rocks, freeing the canoe with, thankfully, no damage. This would not be our last occurrence.
At the portage to Waterclear Lake (3P320), Mrs. Leto, with backpack in hand, picked up her canoe and literally dragged it up and over the rocky embankment to higher ground. We stared at each other in awe! The first two campsites on Waterclear Lake were not suitable for installing our two tents and this left us concerned with only one campsite remaining. As we crossed the lake towards a small cove, we couldn’t believe our good fortune – it was five-star rated with deep, clear water for swimming, steps leading up to the campsite, two excellent tent pads, plenty of firewood, and benches in front of the campfire with a superb view of the lake and an evening sunset.
Tired from the heat, none of us felt ambitious enough to set up camp right away; instead we allowed ourselves to be enticed and rejuvenated by the clear waters of the lake – we went skinny-dipping! Undeterred by our presence, water bugs were everywhere gracefully skating upon the lake’s mirror-like surface.
Before coming on this trip, pork chops were wrapped in newspaper, put in Ziplocs and placed on ice in the cooler overnight in the vehicle. They were still cold upon our arrival at the campsite. The juicy meat now sizzled in the frying pan as its fragrance wafted throughout the campsite, tantalizing the taste buds. We all knew that the rest of the trip would entail dry foods, so we savored the moment as we ate each gratifying morsel.
Some quality "down time" was spent watching Wayne demonstrate the art of tying knots. After supper, the two Norms explored a nearby wetland by canoe in search of wildlife, sighting a Canada Goose flying low over Waterclear Lake and later, a red-headed hawk soaring high in the sky. The setting sun warned us of another heat wave the next day and was quickly replaced by a constellation of stars and a quarter moon in a clear sky. We sat around the flickering campfire until it became a pile of orange, glowing coals. Sleep came quickly.