Something wicked this way comes...
I woke up at 6:15am and made my usual breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. I was surprised to find the campsite thunder-box in poor condition with its lid removed and part of the seat missing; Once the lid is gone the rest of the structure quickly starts to rot. I found this unusual as the lake was on a regular maintenance route and thought such infrastructure might receive better attention.
I think most of the attention was spent on keeping the portages clear though. For the entire length of the trip so far, all the trails had been in excellent shape, speaking in the matter of blowdown removal that is. Park staff had (And always have) done an excellent job in maintaining the backcountry trails.
As I packed up and prepared to leave camp I found a knife without its sheath. I don't often find things of value while in the backcountry, but a knife is among one of the most useful tools one can have. So, I packed it away carefully and departed at 7:35am.
The morning was warm with partial overcast as I paddled silently down the lake and arrived at the take-out for Lower Spectacle at 7:45am. The 155m trail is an easy one with the put-in being muddy and grassy. Late summer low water levels made the launch more muddy then usual though and I launched onto Lower Spectacle Lake at 8:00am.
Lower Spectacle Lake seems roughly the same size as Upper Spectacle Lake and is surrounded by pines, a much different appearance then its neighbouring lake. The sun shone weakly through a partial overcast sky as I paddled quietly across the lake, noting as I did that the North shore campsite was occupied by a group with at least three canoes that I could see.
I enjoyed the silence of the morning and in less then fifteen minutes I passed unnoticed into the narrows that lead to Carcajou Creek as I exited the lake. The narrows were shallow and I slowed my pace to avoid spearing any rocks. A few minutes pass and I emerged from the narrows. To my left was a portage that led back to Grand Lake and to my right was my path to McDonald Creek.
Briefly, I realized that if I had needed to exit The Park early, I could go left and be back at access#22 in less then two hours. Fortunately, I had no need or desire to leave early and paddled right along Carcajou Creek heading for the portage to McDonald Creek.
I arrived just before 8:45am to a wet grassy take-out. The spongy terrain enabled me to drag the canoe further up to firmer ground where I was able to prepare for my carry-over. I noticed the portage signage was hanging by a thread and was ready to come off at the next gust of wind. To the untrained eye, the portage might be missed by someone in the future if the portage signage was removed by the elements.
I geared up and single-carried the portage. I don't remember much about it, except that it was heavily forested and had some shallow climbing to it. I completed the carry-over in short order and launched onto beautiful McDonald creek at 9:00am.
I paddled the narrow winding creek barely two minutes when I reached a beaver dam. The dam was a welcome sight as the water levels on the creek had been low. Crossing over the dam, I floated upon deeper waters as the creek began to open up.
A wind sprang up as I paddled further up McDonald Creek. I was really enjoying the paddle though as the creek widened even further as the forest melted away, giving way to bog. There was the occasional rocks poking up through the creek and I wisely stayed in the middle as best I could (The wind was pushing me around).
By 9:25am I came to wide area that was choked with aquatic vegetation. There also seemed to be two directions to travel as it was impossible to tell which way the creek flowed. The better looking option seemed to be for me to go right. At this point I have to congratulate Jeffrey on his Algonquin Map. His map clearly showed the route I needed to take to get through the maze of vegetation, which I might add was for me to go left, through the mess of aquatic growth.
Following the map, I managed to work my way through to another body of water that was open and free of vegetation. A loon swam by as I pondered where to go next. There didn't appear to be any visible route or creek flowing into the body of water I was trying to escape. By 9:40am I noticed an area of dense pickerel plant growth and reeds. I paddled into the garden and spied a small beaver dam beyond.
I eagerly paddled through the thick plant growth, forcing my way up to and over the small dam. Five more minutes and I was back on the creek again and it was really starting to get good; High banks of reeds and alders closed in. The creek came closer to the forest edge as it began to twist away from the bog.
At one point I passed by a sandy shallow bank on my left. I resisted the urge to land; It had the makings of a portage but given the lay of the land and going by the map, I knew it wasn't the right orientation for the portage to be located; It was the wrong hill it would be going over.
Minutes more and I saw a bay on my right and a tall pine on my left. Looking at my map I figured this was where the portage was supposed to be. It looked like the creek continued on ahead of me, veering to the left, but I was supposed to go right. Looking over my right shoulder I noticed a portage sign in the distance about 20m away, nailed to a small tree.
Getting out I surveyed the trail and discovered that there is about a 50m walk through marshy terrain. This walk was more like hop-scotch, as I hopped from one perpendicularly laid log to the next, as a makeshift boardwalk of sorts was laid-out enabling one to cross the marshy beginnings of the trail, till the portage reached firmer ground.
Even though the water level was low, I got my feet wet walking through the shoulder-high grasses, carrying over my packs first. Soon, I reached the end of the marsh where the trail entered the forest. Another 10m of mucky trail and I was on firm ground ascending steadily up a hill, the time was 10:25am.
The trail was overgrown, obviously having been used rarely. I enjoyed this sort of trail for I felt truly alone as I hiked my way up the portage. For the most part I could not see the path, so I just followed my feet. The trail itself is a never-ending steady climb up a long hill. There was some rock-hopping required to get by some really muddy spots at some steep sections, but over-all the trail was in good shape with almost no blowdowns to contend with.
The trail had many different species of fungi present and I tried to photograph them but the mosquito situation along the trail was brutal, as well the shakiness of my hand with carrying the packs made it impossible to get a good picture.
About thirty minutes into my carry I dropped my packs and headed back down to retrieve the canoe. The return carry with the canoe was uneventful, except for the clouds of mosquitos that congregated up there under the canoe with me. It made for a hellish carry.
By the time I arrived back at the packs, I was in misery, covered with sweat, multiple itchy bites and fresh cuts. I broke down and pulled out some bug juice and sprayed myself silly. Once I was covered with the bug goo, I sat back to take a break, fuelling up on water and a few fruit bars, my fresh cuts screaming in irritation at being covered with the bug juice.
I paused in my break to look at my surroundings; Much of the forest was deciduous and had been for much of my travel up the trail. Though the portage itself was clogged with undergrowth, some of it was blackberry and raspberry bush, the latter of which did a wonderful job of shredding my exposed ankles, thus the fresh cuts I mentioned earlier.
On several occasions I spotted some moose scat along the trail but never did see any moose. I hadn't seen moose since Roundbush Lake and doubted I would see anymore for the rest of the trip as moose weren't as common on the East side of The Park as they were on the West side.
I picked everything up and continued on, single-carrying. This didn't go on for long as the continuing climb and the ferocity of the bugs taxed my strength. I dropped the canoe after barely one hundred meters as I began to skirt what seemed like a ridge as the trail moved through the edge of a softwood stand, the terrain to my left sloping away from me.
By 11:50am I had reached an area where the trail descended towards and skirted a beaver meadow. In the distance could be seen a creek. Not on any canoe route, the curious side of me wanted to explore that waterway, hoping to go where no one had gone before! I still had a long way to go for my destination that night was Clover Lake, I had no time for side-trips. Roughly five minutes later I crossed an old logging road, followed it for about 20 meters, then made a quick, short descent to the Turcotte Lake put-in.
I immediately dropped my packs and headed back for the canoe. The return journey was uneventful and I launched onto Turcotte Lake at 12:45pm. The lake wasn't much too look at under the dark cloudy sky. Almost the entire lake was covered with water lilies and I had the distinct impression it was a shallow lake, more like a pond. The wind that had sprung up earlier on McDonaload creek was gusty and had increased in strength by the time I crossed Turcotte Lake. I was quite happy to complete my crossing to get out of the wind.
By 1:00pm I reached the 130m portage into Guthrie Lake. I decided to go easy on myself and double carry the short trail. By 1:15pm I launched from the grass and rocky put-in on Guthrie Lake. From the vantage point of the put-in, I was protected from the wind but I could see waves being pushed into the bay that I was now paddling out of. The wind was quite strong as I paddled onto the main part of Guthrie Lake under a forbidding looking sky.
By 1:30pm I had fought my way to a large rock that sat about 50 meters from shore. As I rounded the rock, I noticed that the water was very clear and shallow, loaded with large round rocks. I headed for the shoreline behind the big rock, making my way to a cabin located there, hoping for a chance to explore the cabin and the immediate area.
I looked for a suitable location to land amid the rocky shoreline and found a fallen pine in which to 'dock' with, some distance away from the cabin. The choppy waters made my landing tricky and with some work I was able to secure the canoe to the tree and waded my way onto the rocks and then onto shore.
I followed a small path to the cabin where I found a large white pine lying next to it. The crown of the tree having caught the roof as it came down, damaging it severely. Inside the cabin I found holes on both sides of the roof, where immediately below those holes I found the floorboards rotting. The cabin was empty for the most part with most of the furnishings being scattered outside about the cabin's walls.
The cabin stank of mouse urine and something else unidentifiable. The cabin creaked as I stood inside it, listening to the wind outside. I had the feeling that I shouldn't be there, that there was a sense of urgency - That I should get moving. I left the cabin and walked west looking for a campsite on the lake. I saw an island which looked to have a campsite, but I could not see any official campsite signage from my vantage point.
The sky darkened further and I obeyed my instincts and returned to the canoe. Two more portages and I'd be on Clover Lake. I got in the canoe and paddled hard against the wind. I had little time to take anything but blurred images of the lake. There was a nice medium sized cliff face along the lake's eastern shoreline but my efforts to photograph it failed in the rough waters. Guthrie Lake had a very pretty appeal to it despite the deteriorating weather conditions. I could see why a cabin had been built on this lake; It was the prefect sized lake, had a nice shape about it and was out of the way of other canoe routes.
By 2:15pm I had landed at the steep rocky take-out to the 120m portage to some unnamed pond. There was quite a climb up and over to the other end of the trail and so I decided it was time to eat my lunch of tuna and cheese. I also filtered some water from shore; It had been too tricky in the windy conditions to filter the water effectively out on the lake.
By 2:40pm I launched on to the pond and on any other day I would've been happy to paddle around and explore her. However, I just wanted to get it over with. I had the feeling that it was going to start raining any minute and I wanted to get my hammock up before the rain hit. I took a few pictures of the pond which I thought was quite pretty and finished the crossing, landing at the grassy take-out for the 660m portage into Clover Lake, it was just past 2:50pm.
Feeling a sense of urgency more then ever, I single-carried the semi-rough trail. The beginnings of the trail had a few immediate dips and climbs but after that the trail smoothed out somewhat. I completed the carry-over and was ready to launch on to Clover Lake at 3:15pm while I paused to look at the worsening conditions I faced.
It wasn't weather I was encountering; It was a storm! The bay that I was in, that I was to launch from had wind and waves being funnelled into it. I wondered what it was like on the main part of the lake? I held back for several minutes thinking of what to do. Should I launch or camp at the portage?
I decided I would launch and see what happened. If it got too bad I could turn around and come back. Clover Lake is a good sized lake and I hadn't been on a lake this size since I had crossed Barron Lake several days earlier. Clover Lake was also quite round in shape; There'd be no hiding from the elements while out on its waters.
I launched at 3:20pm and was immediately pushed backwards. After a few seconds I collected myself and was able to maintain the canoe. But that was it, I was paddling and going nowhere. The shoreline bobbed up and down uncertainly next to me as I pondered my next move when suddenly there was a lull in the wind.
I paddled hard and was beginning to make headway as I slowly made my way out of the marshy bay. The pace was agonizingly slow but within about five long minutes I emerged onto Clover Lake proper and boy was she angry! The lake was awash in whitecaps and huge rolling waves. I'd estimate the waves were over two feet in height. The dark grey sky was mirrored by dark grey waters and I had the most unpleasant feeling in my stomach.
The wind had lessened somewhat and all I really had to contend with was the huge waves. I paddled out paralleling the shore but from a distance of about 20-25 metres as the shoreline was quite rough and dangerous looking. The shoreline was studded with rocks galore and as well the water clarity of the lake was astonishing. I could clearly see that I was in shallow waters and with the lull in-between the huge rolling waves I'd come unnervingly close to some of those huge rocks on the lake bottom.
Those rocks posed more of a danger then the waves did in my mind, so I moved even further out till the rocks dropped away but I was getting too far out for my liking. It was a fine balance of terror and reason. I rounded a point and miraculously the wind died, enabling me to paddle forward closing in once again on the shore and keeping an eye out for rocks.
My uneasiness was mainly because of the canoe. I wasn't that familiar with it in rough weather (The Cisco Bay crossing was the roughest so far and that was timid by comparison) and once I was out in the open water I was amazed at how well the canoe handled through the waves. My own personal beastie of a canoe was a lumbering freighter and it was slow to turn with little freeboard. Jeff's canoe was a dream and I bobbed through the water with growing confidence. In a way that I've rarely felt in very rough waters, a momentary feeing of being wild and free overtook me - I felt a moment of exhilaration. What a rush it was!
I had decided to head for the nearest campsite which was on my side of the lake, no messing around; Only a fool would paddle across the lake. By 3:45pm I heaved a really big sigh of relief as I paddled by the lovely rock shoreline of the campsite that would be my home for the night.
By 3:50pm I had made a rough landing - Getting soaked in the process and pulling the canoe up on the smooth rock, eventually carrying it inland and over-turning it and tying it off to a tree. Next, I set-up my hammock behind the fire-pit between two pine trees.
The campsite was beautiful, sitting atop an outcropping of rock with a commanding view of the lake. Most unusual about the campsite was the presence of several oak trees, a welcome but rare sight. The fire-pit was gorgeous having an excellent bench system and well constructed rock fire-pit that faced the lake. I set-up my hammock and collected some firewood as it began to rain ever so lightly, nice timing! By 5:10pm I decided to re-hydrate some chilli for dinner and that's when all hell broke loose; A chipmunk arrived on the scene and he was one tenacious little fella!
While heating the chilli on the stove, the chipmunk attacked my kitchen kit, extracting a plastic spice bottle and running off with it. When I finally located the little guy and the bottle I had found that he had chewed right through the bottle and was feeding on the spices within. I surrendered - The chipmunk had won that round, he was now welcome to the spice.
I spied a hole in the ground next to one of the pines my hammock was attached to. While looking for the chipmunk (He had disappeared), I saw the little fella emerge from the hole and crawl into my open canoe pack. I immediately ran over and grabbed the canoe pack while the little rodent leapt for freedom, landing on the ground and making a break for his hole. I found a rock and stuffed it in the hole effectively blocking the entrance to the little chipmunk's den.
Minutes later I found the little devil next to my food bag that was sitting on the bench. The guy was starting to become a problem. It got to the point where I dumped everything that I was not using into my canoe pack and shouldered it, carrying my pack around camp. Here I was, guy the size of… Outsmarted by a tiny chipmunk.
I think the chipmunk was starving for the next thing I knew I found him attacking my fuel bottle. Of course he'd never get that unscrewed or bite through the metal. However, the chipmunk was quite adept at dragging my fuel bottle around and I had to confiscate it from him before it disappeared into the bush.
By 6:30pm I had a nice fire going and soon it started to drizzle rain. Not enough to scare me into my hammock but enough to make everything outside wet. It was around 7:00pm that the wind died completely and the lake became calm for the most part. It seems I had arrived at the lake at exactly the wrong time for when I made camp the wind had become noticeably weaker.
By 7:30pm the humidity levels had soared and the mosquitos had come out early and they were really bad. There wasn't even a drop of wind. Calm before the storm, I speculated? By 8:00pm I could hear thunder in the distance, to the northwest of me, which meant it was probably coming my way. Bright flashes of lightning lit up the sky behind camp. I climbed into my hammock awaiting the onslaught of the storm.
Ever since I had started my ascent up McDonald Creek earlier in the day, I had been ascending all day long. Now on Clover Lake I felt like I was on top of the world for the continuing sounds of thunder and the echoes of it down in the valley below me magnified its powerful voice. It sounded to me like a war was coming my way. It was quite incredible. However, that was only the beginning.
The storm never hit. It just seemed to stay down in the valley below, passing me by. About thirty minutes later came another storm, this time from the Southwest. I could see brilliant lightning and decided to step out of the hammock for a better look. I was amazed to see brilliant steaks of forked lightning light up the southern sky at an almost continuous rate. It was a very active thunderstorm.
I crawled back into the hammock. By 9:00pm I could hear another storm again to the northwest of me. It sounded much louder then the first one, but again the storm seemed to pass me by… Insane lightning lit up the Northeast sky. Storm #4 came from the Southwest again and it too passed me by. The lightning show that it was putting on was phenomenal!
By 10:00pm storm #5 struck and there was no mistaking where it was going, right over Clover Lake. For the next three hours I endured heavy rains and severe winds as lightning crackled around me. I practically jumped out of the hammock (Got hung up in the process) as one bolt of lightning struck very near to me. The storm's intensity was unbelievable - I wished I was that chipmunk, safely tucked away in his burrow.
Around 11pm, the heavy rains penetrated the hammock as water began to trickle in by my toes. It was hell outside and I decided to tough it out by putting a towel in the corner of my hammock to plug the leak. By 1:00am the storm passed and I crawled out the hammock and watched as storm #6 travelled up from the southwest again, blowing by the lake. In the East looking towards the vicinity of Ottawa, the sky was busy like fireworks, as lightning lit up the sky and distant thunder rolled around from many directions. It had been quite the wicked night of storms, one that I will surely not forget. It is right up there on my list of top 5 storms I've experienced not just in the Park, but in my whole life.
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