Triplogs / Triplog#9
This was originally a 4 nite trip up to Hiram Lake, with my brother Mike. This trip was cut short due to my poor planning. Embarrassing it might be to reveal this fact here, yet I find it important to point this out, as a learning guide for others to pick up on.
I've put down Hiram Lake as Access#9 - Rock Lake, simply because this is how the reservation was made.
Since I wasn't entering through an official access point, the reservation staff had difficulty in trying to find the lake on their map for me to reserve it. Since Rock Lake Access point was the nearest, I thought it best to keep it simple.
Getting to Hiram Lake is a different story altogether. There are actually two ways to get there. There maybe more ways, but I know of only two. Finding the official route to Hiram Lake, is tricky in itself. If your driving along Highway 60 coming from the west, just after the East Beach Picnic Ground, look for the Sanitation Station sign-age on the north side of the highway. This is where campers with trailers and RV's, can purge their sewage in a safe manner, as well as provide access to the 4595m portage to Blackfox Lake. North of the station is a narrow gravel road that leads a very short distance into a spacious gravel parking lot. It is here that the portage is marked on a gate blocking vehicle access from going any further. Previous to the trip I had posted inquires regarding the portages to Blackfox, Redfox & Hiram Lake. What I was told was both surprising and disappointing. I was informed that the beginning of the portage to Blackfox Lake was flooded, and that I'd have to paddle the portage! Weeks before the trip, I was leaving the park from a 3 day solo trip to Fork Lake, and decided to scout out the portage.
Section of the Official Routes Map - Official route to Hiram Lake
Walking past the gated entrance to the portage to Blackfox lake, I discovered an open area within 20 meters of the gate. This area had been bulldozed over, and looked pretty ugly, there was a swamp to my right as I approached the flooded trail ahead. Sure enough the water was at least 3 feet deep, perhaps more. It was hard to tell, as the trail curved out of my view, but looking at the terrain from a distance, it could be surmised, that with all the choking Alder present, as far as the eye could see...the flooded beginnings to the portage went on for quite a distance.
The other route to Hiram Lake, the one that my brother & I ended up trekking thru, is accessible from a road next to Sunday Lake. Driving along Highway 60, coming upon Rock Lake Rd(south side), turn north off the highway into the parking lot of the "Big Pines" trail. Here you'll see a dirt road (rocky in many places), leading up a hill and turning north. Follow this road for about a kilometer or so, where you'll come to a gate, blocking vehicle access from progressing any further. Just before this gate is in fact a small widening of the road and a trail that leads down to Sunday Lake. Here you can park your vehicle, and access Sunday Lake from this point if you wanted to camp on Sunday Lake. We had picked up our permits at the West Gate eariler, and parked our car a few meters from the gated enterance to the 'Dogsled' trails.
Outlined in Yellow, We followed the Dogsled route
Note: Avoid the shortcut outlined in Red
My brother and I unloaded and carried our gear around the gate, and started our journey. The path is simply an old logging road, thus traversing it with a canoe was relatively easy going. As we departed, a truck pulled up and 4 guys climbed out. We quickened our pace, not knowing where they were going, but fearing they would be on our lake. We wanted first pick. Memory fades with time, and thinking back it is hard to be accurate with timing on this trip. I didn't have a digital camera at this point, as I now use my camera with it's date & time stamp feature to keep track of when and where I was. No matter, the weather was fine, and within about 30 min. or so, we came upon our first junction. The "Crossover Junction", was marked by a signpost(facing the wrong way), leaning up against a tree on the west side of the road, here there was a muddy incline leading up to the trail to Blackfox Lake.
We continued on, passing the "Ramp Junction". A previous inquiry and response by a fellow "AA'er"(algonquinadventures.com regular), warned that taking this path from the Ramp junction to the Spruce junction(outlined in red, on map#2), was inadvisable, as it passed thru a not so dry swamp. We pushed on, my brother complaining, begging for a rest. I was tired too...Mike was carrying the pack, and I with the canoe.
I wanted to wait till we got to the 3rd Junction. I figure it was about 50 min. by the time we reached "Poplar Junction", down went the pack and canoe...we took a 10 min. rest while scanning the area. There is a field on the right, with a outhouse sitting in the middle, minus the toilet paper of course. As we were about to get going again, the four guys from the truck, passed us by. They were not carrying their canoes, but pulling them on homemade carts, made out of what looked like cross-bike wheels with plumbing for a frame. I asked where the fellows were headed. "Hiram Lake!" they said, "Hey, were going there too", I said. A looked of puzzlement crossed everyone's face...I think both parties here were expecting to get some seclusion. After all Hiram lake is not easy to get to. We examined each others permits, when it was verified that things were on the up & up, the gang of 4 headed past us onto Hiram Lake. "Oh Well", I said to my brother, "Looks like we get stuck with the crappy site on the lake". I had planned to grab the south site, on the point, as indicated on the map. We pushed on, passing by garbage and an old boxspring from a bed, rusting in a creek...charming..."I'm not packing that thing out!", I said.
Mike(pictured) & I taking a break at Poplar Junction
We came upon "Bab Valley Junction" and made a left turn onto a very muddy and wet road. Exhaustion was starting to set in for me and my brother. It was reported that taking this route to Redfox Lake, was 6 perhaps 6.5km...taking it all the way to Hiram Lake's north end was on the order of 8 or 9km. Carrying a canoe around for 4 or 5 km's even on a road(compared to a traditional portage trail), is tiring, soon my canoe started to feel like I was carrying a car.
It was probably past 3 hrs into our journey that we came upon the "Spruce Junction". Here exhaustion claimed it's first victim, my leadership skills. Refusing to put the canoe down and wanting to push for Redfox Lake, I asked Mike, who was not buried underneath a canoe, to look at the map, and find out which way to go. Well guess what? He picked the wrong way. Who's fault is that? Mine. I'm the leader. This was Mike's first time to Algonquin Park. I should've taken charge and studied the map myself and both with Mike, instead I foolishly let Mike decide our fate, forgetting his inexperience.
So we headed off in the wrong direction, crossing a bridge, and started to descend down a hillside. down and down we kept going. I put the canoe down and started to scout ahead, something wasn't right. Finally I came to a meadow...only it wasn't a meadow..it was a dry swamp, only it wasn't dry...boggy it was. Now I was really confused. This sounded like the place I was supposed to avoid, but I thought we went around it, I thought to myself. I told mike to leave his pack behind. We crossed the swamp, feet soaked thru and thru, and came upon a road, I went left at the fork in the road and missed the sign-age, and continued on, feeling more and more confused and having a sense of deja vu. Within 10 min. We came upon Poplar Junction! Ahh for the love of......!!!!!! @##$!! We had gone the wrong way, were now going in a circle, and my feet were soaking wet. We were tired and I was getting hungry. We looped around back to Spuce junction, over the bridge, picked up the canoe, Mike grabbing the pack. and headed back to Spuce Junction. Once at the Junction, we headed off in the correct direction. Within 20 min. we came to a trail leading off the road...no sign-age, no nothing.
This time I had a good feeling, as we careened onto this new trail. Minutes went by and we came upon the two carts the group of four had passed us by hours earlier. The trail became steep as it sloped downward...within 30 meters of the lake, it became downright muddy. Passing thru to the shoreline was tricky as each step had to be tested, if we weren't careful, a shoe might be lost or a canoe come crashing down. Finally after almost 4 hrs since we had left our car, we slogged thru a muddy and weed infested boggy shoreline and launched upon Redfox Lake.
Looking North up Redfox Lake
So far the weather was fabulous, it was sunny and very warm, ripe for blackflies. We were prepared for them, as we had brought netting along, but not quite the manner in which they suddenly appeared. Within seconds of launching onto Redfox Lake, hordes of what I first thought were water striders began to appear on the water surface. Suddenly they took flight, "Blackflies! put your netting on quick Mike!", I yelled. We both dropped our paddles, and fumbled to put our netting on. Then paddled and paddled and paddled...within minutes we left the little devils behind and took our nets off, and enjoyed the paddle up the lake, under a sunny blue sky. A close one it was!
My tempoary fix: Finding the portage should be easier now
In less than 20 min. we arrived at the 710m portage to Hiram Lake. Coupled with exhaustion from an already extra long trek with a canoe on my back, this portage seemed like a devil of one. Every step seemed rocky and off balance, there were some blowdowns to overcome, but in about 30 min. or so we reached the friendly shore of Hiram Lake. As we paddled up Hiram Lake, we passed by the south site, which was of course occupied by the fellows that had passed us by eariler. Oh well...onto the north site, as there are only 2 sites on the lake. As we approached the site, I became just a little bit confused as I was looking for both the campsite sign and the portage sign. All I could make out was one sign..that looked yellowish...so where was the campsite? We paddled to the sign, and realized it was the campsite sign, faded by the sun. As we pulled up and got out, we found the portage sign on the ground, torn off by wind I assumed as it was intact, and didn't have the look of being senselessly vandalized. I could see where the sign had been, but didn't have enough duct tape to wrap it around the tree, as the tree was a very tall pine, with a massive trunk. So I taped the sign to the same tree as the campsite sign was nailed to. Another tall pine, but with a trunk that was not as wide, and I had just enough duct tape to fix the sign up. This done, we set up camp, got a fire going, got the dogs on the fire, and looked out over Hiram Lake. The lake itself is almost heart shaped. There is quite a bit of deadfall around the shoreline of the lake, so much so that it seems ringed entirely by deadfall. The southwest corner of the lake has lots of submerged deadfall as well, as I discovered the next day, while fishing, as I my line became tangled up 3 times, before I gave up.
Hotdogs cooking while we enjoyed our view of Hiram Lake