Pulling up to Little Turtle Lake, I step out of the car and take a couple deep breaths of the crisp, fresh air that I will be surrounded by for the next four days. Under a bright sky of mixed clouds, the shoreline of the lake is splotched with the green of the conifers and the yellow, red, and brown of the deciduous trees, already a bit past their peak of autumn colour. After all the difficulties faced over the course of planning this trip, finally all that remains is to toss my bag and barrel in the canoe and push off. A sense of tranquility comes over me as I slide away from shore; I am pulling away from the scramble of everyday life and can leave it behind until the end of the trip.
The banks of the lake scroll by as I paddle along, navigating around a beaver dam to arrive onto Adams Lake. Across Adams is my first portage of the trip, a short hundred-metre haul over to Sawmill. Paddling over Sawmill brings me to the first significant portage - five-hundred metres to get to Shark Lake, my destination for the night. Taking my bags and paddles first, I manage to set off in the wrong direction almost immediately, following a narrow side path skirting along the actual portage trail. I eventually work my way back over, deposit my load on the banks of Sawmill Lake, and turn back to get my boat. Perhaps not the best suited to solo trips, my sixteen-foot Paluski canoe is no feather weight, a fact exacerbated by my failure to properly balance the stern, allowing the boat to try to lean forward as I carry it. I make it through the portage, though not terribly gracefully or comfortably.
Despite the difficulties, I am soon navigating my way along Shark Lake to my campsite. The weather has held nicely so I set up camp and built a fire as the sun settles low on the far shores of the lake. Over the fire is a pot full of my homemade turkey chilli, heating up and filling the site with a stomach-rumbling smell. Dinner is over far too soon, so I sit reading by the fire for a while before turning in, enjoying the cool night.
I awake to a bright morning with a sky carpeted in grey, forewarning the snow that will soon fall. It begins to sprinkle lightly as I push off in my canoe, dusting the ground as I carry my gear from Shark to Vixen Lake. Vixen poses the first (but not last) bit of challenging paddling of the trip. A long narrow lake, I have to quickly learn how to manage the wind that seeks to push me off course. On the far end is a short portage to Buzzard Lake, which greets me with a stiff breeze in my face. The wind strengthens steadily as I paddle up the lake, sometimes trying to push me off into the middle of the lake, sometimes shoving me up against the bank that I hug for relative shelter. The snow is coming down harder now and visibility shortens significantly. Both factors conspire into making me paddle down the east arm of the lake, instead of forging ahead northwards towards the portage trail.
It is a tired paddler with cold feet that finally clambers out of the boat to portage to Long Lake. At the other side, however, my spirits are revived by a snack and the realization that I will now be paddling with the wind, a welcome change. A few lakes with short portages and beaver dam pull-overs speed by with the wind’s help, and soon I am paddling along the shores of Cox Lake towards my home for the night.
It is a transformed landscape that stares back at me from my site, every bough and rock blanketed in snow, with more still falling gently and silently. With limited wood to be found in the surrounding trees - and none of it dry - I discard attempting a fire for the simplicity and efficiency of eating a cold dinner. Luckily my menu doesn’t require cooking, so it is no major inconvenience. With snow falling and the wind gusting, I turn in early to let the weather run its course.
Friday morning is bright but cloudy and cold. The snow has stopped sometime during the night, but everything is still covered in it, reminding me more of past winter camping trips than any canoe excursion I’ve ever been on. I break camp swiftly, staying bundled up until I reluctantly change into my cold, damp paddling gear. I haven’t been paddling long, only ten minutes or so, when the sky suddenly clears and the sun pours its bright rays everywhere. The landscape is transformed instantly from dark and silent to gleaming and fresh. The sunlight goes to my head, and alone in my canoe I laugh aloud with sudden joy.
At the far end of Cox Lake is the longest portage of my trip, slightly over thirteen-hundred metres over to Cold Lake. Setting off with my bags, I stop short about two-hundred metres in to examine some fresh bear prints crossing the trail in the snow. The prints can only be a couple of hours old, the contours well-defined and the ice underfoot just barely frozen. The rest of the walk goes without incident, a pleasant hike through woods coming alive as the sun burns the snow off the boughs. Coming back with the canoe goes much more smoothly than yesterday. With the boat properly balanced this time; the portage feels shorter than I was expecting.
Upon arriving on the shores of Cold Lake, however, I notice for the first time the wide extent of snow-covered mud flats where there should have been water. A narrow, weed-choked channel of very shallow water is the only open water until the mud gives way some four-hundred metres ahead. Aspiring to keep my feet as dry as I can, I first attempt to lead the loaded canoe along the channel with a rope attached to the bow. This proves ineffective, however, so I eventually step into the boat and pole it, gondola-style, along the diminutive waterway. Even that soon becomes too narrow and shallow for me to be in the boat. With a sigh, I commit to getting down and dirty with the mud and hop out. Progress is better with the snow allowing the canoe to slide easily over the ground. It is still hard work for me, however, pushing the canoe as I stomp along through the knee-deep mud.
Finally, a full two hours after getting out of my boat on Cox Lake, I feel the ground disappear from under me and my boat begins to float freely. Happily, I have very little in the way of additional portages today, and I am quite content to sit and paddle after my efforts of the morning. Arriving at the junction between Cold and Gold Lakes, I cross out of the park and spend the next couple of hours passing by cottages. It is afternoon by the time the shores around me open up to mark my entrance to Catchacoma Lake, the largest one on this trip. I skirt along the east bank of the lake until I reach a bay leading to a small, man-made dam.
After a short portage around the dam, I find myself back in the Park, paddling my way up Bottle Creek, known for its diversity of riparian vegetation. My intended campsite for the night is on Sucker Lake, two lakes to the northeast of the creek. When I reach the end of the creek, however, I pass by a couple lovely campsites on its northern shore. It is still early, but the beauty of the spot as well as the opportunity to dry out my tent and clothes in the sun prompts me to change tack and pull over early. I am rewarded for the decision with dry(er) gear and a gorgeous sunset.
I crack an eye open on Saturday morning to hear the familiar pitter-patter of rain on the fly of my tent. Since I am already very close to my pickup point for later today, I decide to lie in and read the rain away. I finally hit the water around eleven or so, with no particular goal for the day besides exploring the area before meeting Bretton at four o’clock.
The rain abates, leaving a grey sky and trees wrapped in a fuzzy layer of mist. The wind dies down too, leaving the surface of Bottle Lake mirror-like. I take the opportunity to break out my camera to take pictures and shoot footage, something I have been reluctant to do so far out of protectiveness for my gear. I head up the lake, paddling as far northwards as I can, following the ‘S’ shaped channels formed in the vegetation-choked tip. A beaver dam finally pulls me up short, turning me around to slowly float my way back down the lake to the meeting point.
Getting out of my canoe for the last time, I try to put the trip into perspective time-wise. On one hand the trip felt short, the days of paddling and portaging blended together to a certain extent. On the other, though, the distance travelled and the experience gained had me feeling older and more tried than before, making it feel like I had been out for more than those few days. Either way, as I sit in the car home, I decide that it will always end up being too short a time spent in the woods. With my paddling season likely over for the year, my thoughts now turn to the approaching winter; bring on the snow!
Contributed by: Noah Korne @NoahKorne
Originally from Montreal, Noah now attends Trent University in Peterborough and is majoring in Conservation Biology. He is an outdoor enthusiast and has extensive experience canoeing, backpacking, winter camping, and kayaking. This last summer he also hiked 1800km of the Appalachian Trail.
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