Slogging through the solitude!
I woke up and stepped outside, it was 7:10am. I was quite tired from lack of sleep and was slow to move around. The sky also had the same sleepy if not tortured look about it, as if it too were tired and beaten-up to move on.
I set about the task of making my usual breakfast of oatmeal barf and coffee goo, I was starting to get sick of eating the oatmeal everyday now. I wanted bread, fresh fruit… Eggs! Yeah that was it, I craved eggs with some nice juicy, super greasy bacon in a fry pan. Sigh. I turned my back for a few moments, eating my pathetic breakfast when I heard some scurrying behind me. Turning around I found the resident thief making another attempt at my fuel bottle.
I finished my breakfast and set about the task of packing up as Mr. Thief was at it again, inspecting every item that was left out in the open. It really was becoming bothersome, like having to chase after a kid high on a sugar rush.
It was just after 8:00am that the sun peeked though the cloud cover. To the Northeast big patches of blue sky appeared, my mood improved and I became more energetic. It was by 9:00am that the sky cleared up. I was all packed up but was not ready to leave. I didn't want to leave, I wanted to stay and paddle around the lake, explore her nooks and crannies. There was a long island about 200m or so from the campsite and another island beside the campsite where I had landed, giving the lake a beautiful look that morning.
The water clarity looked inviting and indeed the drop-off from the rocks along the campsite's shoreline begged for a swim. I found the rock slippery under the water as it was covered with a dusty algae growth, that when disturbed created a cloud that made the water murky.
I headed to the landing where the water was shallow and had a bath there, with my canoe pack and all the rest of my gear beside me. Guess who was watching me nearby when I emerged from the water? I finally departed the campsite at 10:00am. I felt refreshed and although I had gotten a late start on the day, I felt energized and ready to move on.
I got to say though that as beautiful as the lake and the campsite were on Clover Lake, that chipmunk was a real problem. What was really nice was the oak trees that were on the campsite. There was only about five or six of them, but they seemed out of place so far on the East side of The Park. One tree in particular was merely a tree trunk with a few leaves sprouting at the top. I had never seen so much oak on a campsite.
I paddled across the lake letting out my fishing line as I passed by the long island. Ahead in the brightening sky I could make out the distant yellow sign of the portage leading off the lake. My line caught on something and I quickly began to reel in and then whatever was there suddenly disappeared. It could've been a log or a fish. Could've been many things - I'll never know.
I paddled onwards nearing the opposite shore, reeling my line in, I passed by a campsite that was near to the portage. The water there was sandy and shallow and the campsite looked rather pleasant. It even had a kitchen table constructed. I paddled on and landed at the sandy shallows of the take-out for the Pogonia Lake portage, it was 10:20am.
The 440m carry-over to Pogonia Lake was a semi-rough one, but I was able to easily navigate its trail in a single carry. The heavily forested section at the beginning of the trail smelled wonderful that morning, the night of heavy rains bringing forth the fragrant smells of pine and cedar among a host of other earthly scents. It was 10:37am by the time I put-in to a sunny and marshy looking Pogonia Lake. Navigating through the marshy beginnings, I emerged onto open water and paddled east, passing a lone loon along the way. Minutes later I reached a beaver dam, looking over its construction and even stepping out on it for a quick tour.
By 10:55am I arrived at the East end of the lake at the take-out for the portage into Grass Pink Lake. I geared up for the single carry and headed into the forest. The trail was overgrown but easy to follow till I went around a fallen yellow birch tree. The trail seemed to disappear and soon the canoe got hung up in tree branches above me. The canoe whined in protest at my attempts to carry further into the forest and I paused, considering my options. Finally, reluctantly, I put the canoe down and had a look around.
Looking back at the fallen tree, I spied a mini-portage sign (Those tiny yellow diamond shaped signs) nailed to it. The sign was indicating the trail direction that I had just traversed. So I looked in the opposite direction to see a muddy uncertain looking trail next to a muddy stream as it twisted its way through a dark forest.
With the uncertainty of the new trail, I left the canoe behind and proceeded with just my packs, scouting the portage. It wan't long before I exited the forest, coming upon a beaver meadow and a portage sign. Again the sign faced the other way, indicating the trail ahead (behind me), the way I had just come. So where was my sign? Where on earth was I supposed to go?
I pulled off my canoe pack to get a closer look at my map. I seemed to be right where I thought I was; The map showed a small lake with a portage going around it. Only there was no lake and no portage around it! I looked at the meadow, following with my eyes what seemed to be an animal trail of sorts heading across the vast open field. In the distance perhaps 400m or more in the shadows of the forest ahead, I could make out the tiny yellow marker of a portage sign. Then I remembered the conversation I had with the wardens a few days prior. So this was the interesting trail I was to encounter?
I wondered what it would be like trying to cross the meadow in the spring? Would there be enough water to paddle or would one find themselves shin deep in mucky water? I tossed my pack onto my back and walked into the meadow, it was 11:20am. As expected my feet got wet as the meadow was not dry at all. My footing though was quite good, as I only sank a few inches with each step.
Occasionally, my path would find firm land as the trail skirted the 'shoreline'. At one point I bushwhacked though a pine sapling stand then re-emerged onto the meadow. Minutes pass, then I lost track of the trail I had been following and improvised, making my own trail across the field. I was about halfway across when I stumbled upon a new trail that took a sharp right turn towards the southern side of the meadow. I blindly turned and followed this new course when about 12 steps in I suddenly sank up to my thighs in muck.
I tried to climb out but I was stuck fast. I had a vision of someone coming through the meadow the following spring and finding my bones along with a shredded backpack. It was almost laughable, but I was in trouble and yet I could see know no way out of my predicament. I wondered what Les Stroud (The outdoor survivalist) would do? I knew right off the bat what Les would do; He wouldn't panic and so I relaxed, I had time to think this through, after all I wasn't sinking, I was just stuck. Suddenly, I had the urge to pee and cursed my predicament. First things first; I had to get my canoe pack off my back.
I did that, tossing the pack beside me when I got the bright idea to use the pack as a leverage to haul myself out. It worked! Slowly, I pulled my legs out of the muck and with a great sucking sound my legs came free and I rolled myself onto firmer ground, dragging my pack away from the trap! Woohooo! I was free!
It was then that I noticed my wristwatch was gone, no way I was going back to look for it! I also happened to notice I had three leeches on one leg and another big fat one on my foot on the other leg, it was lodged in my sandal. I ripped the ones on my leg off, but the one on my foot refused to come off and started to bleed heavily. I gave-up, deciding to continue on and dealing with the pesky leech later on.
I continued along the meadow making a beeline for the portage sign. My progress becoming more sloppy for as I closed-in on the forest at that east end of the meadow the more water I encountered. With about 30m to go I found a trail that had some old logs thrown down for a foothold above the now ankel deep water, finally getting past this I arrived on firmer ground next to the portage sign at 11:36am. It had taken me just over fifteen minutes to cross the meadow, no speed record but I had made it safely across... Barely!
I considered dropping the pack and heading back for the canoe but decided against it, I had to make sure the rest of the portage didn't have any nasty surprises. I carried on through the forest as the trail progressed over hilly rocky terrain, passing a small stream which eventually led to Grass Pink Lake. Minutes later I arrived at the put-in, the time was 11:46am.
I took a break finishing the last of my water and headed back down the trail and to the meadow to get back to the canoe. It was hot now crossing the meadow as the sun beat down upon me. I took almost an hour for me to head back and do the return carry for it was a real hassle for me to turn the canoe around in the forest and hauling it across the meadow. At one point I lost my way following my own trail! So, making a new trail I nearly walked into another mud-hole, but recognized the possible trap ahead and backtracked.
Finally, by 12:50pm I launched onto a body of water that led to Grass Pink Lake proper. A two minute paddle brought me to a small but high beaver dam which I crossed and put me into the marshy waters of Grass Pink Lake. Working my way through a thick dense layer of lily pads I noticed a trio of otters on the edge of the lily-pad patch that were slowly paralleling my course. They obviously were curious about me but kept their distance.
Click here to view a panoramic image as entered Pink Grass Lake
I emerged onto clear waters paddling to the far shore where a lovely pine clad rocky outcropping was located. Supposedly, a campsite had once been on this lake and it was there that seemed to be an ideal spot to have a campsite. I turned around heading towards the North end of the lake where the water again became chocked with aquatic vegetation., I paused to filter some water before I hit the floating carpet.
It was just past 1:00pm when I entered the mess and spent the next sixteen minutes slogging my way through it. It was hot, sweaty, slow work. By 1:15pm I reached a beaver dam with the portage signage on the opposite shoreline. The sign incorrectly indicated that the portage was 10m. In fact it was more like 35m as I had to cross the dam, work my way uphill slightly then down onto some dangerously slippery rocks and into a crreek bed, working my way over to a flat rock to put-in to what I considered unnavigable water.
I launched at 1:22pm and in the space of about 25 meters bottomed out. I grew tired of trying to pole my way though what was becoming muck as the water levels became unsustainable for a canoe. I then tried lining the canoe from shore, but I kept sinking into the surrounding soft soil. I was getting fed-up with the situation when I realized that it was nearly 1:45pm and I hadn't eaten lunch. No wonder I was getting grumpy.
I emptied the canoe and then pulled the canoe up on 'shore'. I sat down on a big rock and ate two salmon and cheese pita wraps, along with a trail mix bar and a few pepperette sticks. As I ate my lunch I looked around, surveying my predicament. Basically I was sitting on the shoreline of a nearly dried up pond. Whether it was from a burst beaver dam or it being typical summer evaporation, I did not know. What I did know as I began to scout my way around the shoreline was that I had to portage to get to the portage!
This statement seemed silly but that's what it was; I had to walk around about 250m or so to a beaver dam that I had to cross, to get to a tree that had a portage sign indicating the trail was ahead somewhere. The intervening terrain after the dam was very rough and then I hit the raspberry bushes. My partially healed ankles winced in agony as fresh cuts were etched into my flesh. They felt like razor blades. Ouch!
After several minutes of bushwhacking I emerged from the bushes into the forest and onto a worn single-track trail. I had found the portage! I back-tracked and grabbed the back-pack, heading back to the portage proper. As I was nearing the dam, I saw several vultures circling overhead, I counted seven of them as they began to circle directly over me. It was hot out, I was sweaty and nearly out of water again. I'm sure I didn't smell great but resented the fact that the vultures were already considering me a meal. I pressed on trying to ignore the signs of doom above me.
Once again it was into the ankle crippling raspberry bushes then once more into the forest. The trail became smooth and was a joy to traverse; It was nice to get out of the hot sun. Minutes later the trail left the forest, skirting the edge of a marsh as it went through more raspberry bushes and hard packed earth.
At 2:25pm I reached Little Tarn Lake. The sign there said 400m to "Pond". In reality it was more like 750m, maybe even 800m to Grass Pink Lake? I would've been better off carrying everything across from the "10m" portage all the way to Little Tarn Lake, instead of mucking about in the dried up pond. You just have to improvise as I did.
I returned for the canoe and headed back to the lake. I launched onto Little Tarn Lake at 3:00pm, out of water and very thirsty. I paddled out onto the open waters of the lake where I promptly filtered several litres of water. As I filtered the water a loon swam nearby and approached the canoe as it began calling. The loon was about three canoe lengths way, calling almost continually with a tremolo call. I finished filtering the water and moved onwards heading for the lone campsite on the lake, my destination for the night.
The loon moved ahead of me and continued to call. Obviously, the loon was upset with my presence on its lake and was letting me know it. This continued till I paddled by the campsite where I stopped to examine it from the canoe. It had been breezy on the lake and as I looked at the campsite a strong wind was blowing through the campsite. The site itself was open and on a hill. I wasn't too sure if I wanted to camp there or not. The lake itself was pretty with a nice hill to my right with some cliffs on it and lots of Canadian Shield rock on the opposite shoreline.
I knew that I had a rather lengthy 4.3km portage the next day and thinking this through, thought it might be better to be camped on Tarn Lake where the trail started so that I might be able to carry the canoe over this afternoon, thus saving me some hassle the next day. My decision made, I paddled past the campsite heading for the narrows that led to the next lake. As I approached the narrows, the loon came back - now more vocal then ever. I hope I wasn't disturbing a nest somewhere, I thought to myself. However, I didn't see any of this and I arrived at the grassy narrows just before 3:30pm.
The narrows were actually quite wide, but this didn't help matters as the amount of clear navigable water quickly dwindled as the waterway became choked with aquatic plants. My progress was slowed by the considerable effort required to pull myself through. Think of paddling through molasses! Wisely, the loon did not follow me.
Soon the narrows became 'narrow' as the banks closed in on me. The thick carpet of plant matter making it more and more difficult to paddle; My arms were getting sore. At one point I hit a small log-jam that took me several minutes to get across as the whole situation was a tippy affair, stepping out onto sinking, rolling logs. I eventually made it past the obstruction, noting as I did some nice small cliffs on a ridge to my right.
The whole area; ever since Guthrie Lake had been getting more and more rocky. Now I was seeing more and more cliffs. Nice. The sky had grown overcast and I said good-bye to the sun for another day. It didn't feel like it was going to rain, I just knew the clouds were there to stay. As I crossed a beaver dam at the narrowest of part for the waterway, I heard four rifle shots to my left, probably a few kilometres away.
Odd, I figured someone was poaching; Illegally hunting in The Park. I hear it is quite prevalent in Algonquin Park and am sorry indeed if that is the case. I paddled on and soon Tarn Lake came into view, it was 4:02pm. There was a very high hill with some tall cliffs showing on Tarn Lake. As I was admiring the view I paddled onwards, never taking my eye of the imposing ridge. I was suddenly startled out of my hypnotic state when I struck a beaver dam.
Crossing the dam made things worse, for the water level was even lower (I was going down stream) and now I had to contend with forcing the canoe through mud flats. I came around a bend and stopped. There ahead of me beyond about 80m of mud and aquatic plants was Tarn Lake proper, fresh open easy paddling waters. It was so close, yet so far. There was no visible trail through the mess ahead of me so I had to make my own.
For the next twenty minutes, I huffed and puffed as I would grab the canoe gunnels in front of me past the yoke, stretching my body and then pull my body forward, this had the effect of pulling the canoe through the mud. It was very similar to being on one of those rowing machines.
This process of using my body as leverage to get the canoe through the mud worked, but my progress was slow, the process very tiring. It was during these pauses to catch my breath that I noticed a cow moose on the opposite shore to the right of the cliffs. The moose was feeding by the shoreline and seemed disturbed by my presence for it moved up from the shoreline the closer I got to the lake proper. By 4:23pm I had broken free and entered clear waters and noticing as I did so the moose move off into the forest.
I paddled towards the lone campsite on the lake, passing by the immense cliffs above me. As I did this a red-tailed hawk (Thanks to fellow paddlers on the forum for identifying the bird of prey) would frequently dive from the top of the cliffs screaming, heading for a flock of ravens. The red-tailed hawk never made contact with the ravens, but it seemed very upset with them and almost continuously launched attacks at the ravens, harassing them endlessly. Not being knowledgeable about birds, I did not understand the behaviour but watched entranced nevertheless.
By 4:45pm I arrived at the lone campsite on the lake and liked what I saw. The site had a very wild quality to it as it was hidden among a stand of trees with a stream gushing down from the ridge above next to the campsite. That kind of rushing water sound would be perfect, the kind of sound that lulls one to sleep, drowning out all other sounds like twigs snapping in the forest at night.
There was no direct way to walk to the portage from the campsite; It was too far away over marshy ground and so I abandoned the campsite and paddled over to the portage. I was surprised to see an exposed bank as I landed at the portage take-out. I paddled through a mess of pickerel plants landing in muck; dry lake bottom. The lake appeared to be nearly four feet below the bank of the shoreline, the water was that low. Interestingly, I discovered the remnants of runners from an ice-sled stuck into the now high and dry exposed bank. Something that probably would only be seen during low water levels. As I unloaded the canoe I heard four more rifle shots coming from the same direction, now on my right as I faced westwards across Tarn Lake.
I moved onto the portage and found a few trees inland just a few meters from shore about 10m off the portage. I immediately hung up my hammock and re-hydrated some chilli. While waiting for the chilli to rehydrate I looked out onto the lake again and was astonished to see a canoe coming onto the lake! I had thought I would see no one, for I had been going through some really quiet parts of The Park. I watched as the canoe approached the moose (Which was now back onshore feeding) the occupants hoping to have a close encounter.
After this the canoe moved to the campsite and I could see that it was two guys as they unloaded, setting up camp for the night. I usually don't go off my itinerary but when I have, It would be on a lake with many campsites and during a time when there is minimal traffic and usually deeper in The Park. Part of the reason why I didn't camp on that site on Tarn Lake was because it was the only one on the lake. One never knew if someone might come along and claim it, I just didn't expect it to happen there!
I never purposely paddle to someone's campsite to converse with people, as I respect people's privacy in the outdoors, but this time I did. I was very curious to know my fellow paddler's experience through the afternoon portages. I just had to know! I paddled over and hailed the two guys. I stayed in my canoe, announcing that I was surprised to see the two on the lake coming from where they did. I then related my experiences that day and explained that I was curious to what they thought of the route they had just paddled through?
The guys told me that they had camped on Guthrie Lake the night before (While I was on Clover Lake) and that they had the mother of all thunderstorms for many hours pass over them. I nodded in understanding. I asked about the meadow. That was a surprise! They also mentioned that they did see what looked like a fresh trail through the grasses and had no problem getting across it, although the route was unusual.
How about after Grass Pink Lake? "Oh yeah, we had to portage to the portage!" Yup! They also mentioned the mud flats. One of the guys had jumped into the muck on Tarn Lake and was up to his shoulders, pulling their canoe through. That would never have worked solo and I am glad I did what I did. I thanked the guys for quenching my curiosity.
I mentioned to them that I was camped on the portage and was going to carry my canoe over tonight and head up in the morning with my pack. They had no idea of the climb that they had ahead of them and I told him about it, a look of concern crossed both their faces. That aluminium canoe they had looked heavy! I bid the guys farewell and headed back to 'camp' then ate my chilli and prepared for the carry over.
At 6:50pm, I set off 'up' the trail - the 4,305m mountain portage to St. Andrews Lake. My goal was to carry-over the canoe, thus making my portage crossing the next morning and easy affair. I knew it was going to get dark soon so I had no ambitions about making it all the way to St. Andrews Lake. My plan was to make it as far as a logging road that was about 4/5th's of the way to the lake.
There's no pretty way to say this but the climb up from Tarn Lake is brutal! You are literally climbing up a mountain. For approximately 30 minutes I climbed non-stop up a twisting never-ending hill and I was chugging along at a respectable pace too. Right from the trail-head, the portage ascends becoming steep as one goes further up.
I feel that the climb though not shallow was not that steep either. It was just tough. For several minutes along the climb a mountain stream followed along-side the trail crisscrossing it as I went further up the mountain.
Despite the toughness of the ascent the trail itself was easy to follow, being well worn for the most part till I reached the top. It was there that the portage crossed several swampy areas. It was along these swampy zones that the lack of boardwalks made the crossing a gamble. During one of the longer crossings of about 25m in length, a rock that I had hopped onto rolled, sending me into knee deep mucky water. The other problem was that the light was fading, as the sun was setting.
At 8:10pm I finally arrived at the logging road. Crossing the road I continued on into a dark forest for another minute before finding a spot to hide the canoe in some bushes behind a few trees. I also had my day-pack and strung that up in a tree. Saving me from carrying the additional weight the next day. The day-pack contained one litre of fresh water and the last of my gorp. I marked the spot on the trail with a rock and turned around, heading back for camp.
Not five minutes into my return it became too dark to travel. I put on my headlamp and continued on, travelling through the now pitch-black forest as the headlamp illuminated my way. I had never travelled along a portage at night before and doing it solo on such a long trail was risky and I began to feel uncomfortable as I moved back along the trail. A bird of some sorts 'cawed' behind me, continuing for several minutes. The call sounded creepy.
I was moving quickly at a pace that was not conducive to night travel but once I hit the rocky, muddy sections of the mountain stream I had no choice but to slow down. The trail was easy to navigate though with only one large birch tree having blown-down. It was a fresh blow-down and I suspected it was from the thunderstorm of the night before.
Success! I arrived back at camp shortly after 9:00pm. The whole process taking just over two hours and a half hours, not bad! I climbed into my hammock and passed into an uneasy sleep.
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