Here is the continuation of Mike Kinziger’s solo canoe trip through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, in Ontario, Canada. This third week brings physical and mental challenges like none he’s experienced so far. If you missed the first two weeks, you can find them in the Trip Tales Archive.
WEEK Three (26 Lakes including Lightning, Constellation, Royd, “Caribou” and Irvine)
September 13th (Sunday) – Camp # 15
Very foggy again…and then I spotted the whale…only it wasn’t a whale, just a large rounded white rock in the lake in front of my campsite. I packed early but decided to wait until there was adequate visibility, I didn’t want to miss the portage. In the next no-name lake, the sun popped out and I threw out a lure and caught a pike in 30 seconds…and then no sun or fish until late in the afternoon. The clouds were those cumulous type, but they had a threatening dark lining. I stayed ready for rain all day… but it never came. The next stretch of land and water was exhilarating, challenging and frustrating. A short portage…OK. Neat little narrow stream winding through a marsh with rock walls on one side…fantastic! And then, the stream sort of petered out causing the paddler (me) to pull the canoe through the marsh about 200 meters…Very difficult! But finally it was a joy to paddle into the next no-name lake.
The combination of the 15’4” Wilderness canoe and the heavier duty straight shaft paddle make this stretch a fairly good paddle. I can’t imagine longer boats or tandem teams in some of the water that I have paddled. (Someone wouldn’t be happy.) There were four more no-name lakes and eight portages between Joey and Constellation Lake. Today I was able to paddle a very special and beautiful section of country. After each corner, I turn and each portage that I complete…I can be almost 100% sure that I am the only one out here.
The electronic devices have been a source of frustration. They don’t seem to be able to take a solar charge. The camera re-charges but only provides me with about ten photos before it needs recharging. The Kindle seems to be “belly-up”. All is well; I still enjoy my own company each day.
Here’s a section of the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park map. Camp numbers marked on the map correspond to the numbers next to each day’s heading in the story. Click on the map to go to another page with a copy of the map that you can zoom on for more detail.
After the map loads, your cursor will be your guide point to trace the route in the larger image. The trip starts and ends at the left-center edge.
September 14th (Monday) – Camp # 16
There is a hint of autumn in the air. I observed it on the “marsh portage” where I dragged, pulled and pushed a 30-inch wide canoe down, over and around a 15-inch stream for a quarter of a mile. There was time to stand and look around the marsh. The tamaracks are beginning to change color. Lots of colors of greens and yellows and I especially admire the smoky gold.
There are a number of concerns to be aware of when selecting a campsite. In this part of the world, there are few places where man has visited for an extended period of time and mostly just canoes pass through on their way to who knows where. In other words, one cannot count on locating a place where someone has been before.
|When I look for a campsite, there are three areas that must be present: 1) a flat sleeping area for the tent; 2) a tarp area…this requires trees and a flat area…the tent is usually close by or at times under the tarp and 3) a kitchen area where the campfire and cooking and “warming the body” will take place. In addition, I prefer a campsite with morning sun as opposed to evening sun. I also need to be protected from the wind which usually is most severe from the north or west. Therefore, my choice campsite should have a southern or eastern exposure. A good canoe landing with easy access to water is preferred. In addition, a good firewood supply makes a site more desirable. I rate all of my campsites on a scale from “0” which is poor to “10” which is the best possible site. I have never camped in a “10” site, preferring to believe that I will reach that “10” at the conclusion of my life.|The campsite on Constellation Lake – lots of room to spread out here. © Mike Kinziger
There is also the LNT (“Leave No Trace”) ethic. When I pack to leave a site, there should be little evidence that I intruded on the wilderness space. Fire rings are a concern. I remove them from most sites except the sites near portages or from the “established” sites with those monstrosity pits. There are times when completing a portage on the end of a large lake that a paddler prefers to set up camp rather than venture out into the big water. I leave those fire pits for future paddlers…for their possible emergency.
The sun was out in its full glory. I connected the Kindle to the charger and then set out on a paddle. I portaged over to a small but seldom visited lake. The surface was glass. I fished around the entire lake with no luck. I returned to Constellation and fished the entire south end of the lake, again with no luck. I returned to the campsite to discover that the Kindle appears not able to be charged. It’s been in direct sunlight for five to six hours. I will have to accept the fact that there will be no reading material for the duration of the trip.
The weather and water were ideal for mid-September. I decided to break camp and set up at the north end of Constellation. I zigged and zagged around numerous islands and approached the north shore but could not locate a suitable campsite. I quickly completed the 30-meter portage to Royd Lake. In a matter of 30 minutes, I had on the stringer two five-pound pike and a nice three-pound lake trout. To add to the excitement, I lost a very large lake trout when I could not land it into the canoe. I will eat well tonight. The campsite that I found is the best one yet. It sticks out on a bottleneck in Royd between the north and south ends of the lake. Two fire pits, one near the water and one more protected from the wind. Two great tent spots. Lots of firewood. It’s only 3:00 p.m. Time…trip time, is becoming a concern.
Common Loon – often thought of as a "bird of the north country," where they breed. They can also be found along our coasts in the winter. © Mike Kinziger |There are days, like today, that moving from one place to another is like a dream. I never seem to get too much “canoe time”. I love the feeling of the paddle and the movement of the canoe through the water. I attempt to paddle as quietly as possible and get upset with myself when my paddle inadvertently “bangs” the side of the boat or when my canoe stroke is noisy. Today was a day to move and yet with all of my delay tactics (fishing and exploring near the old camp), I am still here at my new camp in mid-afternoon…and still the water and canoe seem to be calling me for more. I am currently a week ahead of schedule. The weather that I have experienced to date has been extraordinary, much better than anticipated. I will paddle again this evening…just for fun. When I planned for this trip, I never considered that my expected finishing time frame might not coincide with the completion of my route plan. I am not in a hurry. I’ve just been handed some of the nicest weather and paddle conditions possible.|
September 15th (Tuesday) – Camp # 17
It’s a very calm morning. No dew, which is usually a forewarning for inclement weather later in the day. I made coffee in the “on water” fire pit to maximize my early morning view. Again, at this hour, the lake is a mirror. The sun will not arrive for another hour due to my location. Not to worry, I will get plenty of sun today. I sit with binoculars at my side. The elusive moose, caribou and black bear have found a way to not show themselves as I travel through their environment. I remember an old saying…”for every animal that you see, fifty have seen you.” I’m as quiet as possible (it’s easy when you’re on a solo). I see and hear plenty of loons but not always on some of the lakes that I expect to find them. They will be leaving soon for Mexico. Will it be after the next cold front? Eagles have been sparse since the first day on Siderock. They are totally absent on the burned out lakes and seem to avoid the new growth jack pine. The geese continue to migrate south; sometimes the sky is filled with multiple flocks honking as they pursue their winter destinations.
For now, I will enjoy the remaining time that I spend at this campsite, reorganize a few items and perform some slight first aid…but always in the back of my mind is the water and the canoe and with paddle in hand, it’s a beckoning!
Upper Royd Lake is like a dream come true for a paddler. If “vision overload” is possible, today was one of those times. I slowly paddled around an intricate group of islands with attention-grabbing rock walls. The boat wove a haphazard pattern, as if it had no place to go. It seemed to get more stunning with each corner turned. The channel north leaving Royd Lake forms a connecting corridor to Murdock and Larus Lakes. It was possible to see people today. It didn’t happen. I will return to Royd Lake again on a future trip.
|I traveled through seven no-name lakes today, each with a portage. Some were OK, some were muddy, and one…the last one did not exist (or I couldn’t find it). I ended up bushwhacking 300 meters through a boggy marsh with down trees and shoe sucking mud. I was exhausted and it was getting late. I had an idea of where I was going to camp and as I turned south toward that landform, I spotted a mature woodland caribou swimming. I paddled closer as the caribou exited the lake. It stood broadside on a rock outcropping for me to observe. Paddler looking at caribou… caribou looking at paddler. Quite a sight. My campsite is 50 feet up a rock face looking west. The morning sun will arrive late, but that’s alright. Caught a few fish today but they were small and quite honestly, a night without fish will make me appreciate them more on another day. The chicken noodle soup, broth and jell-o will serve as dinner tonight.|View from camp on Royd Lake. This lake is one of Mike's favorite ones so far. © Mike Kinziger
September 16th (Wednesday) – Camp # 18
The elusive woodland caribou, adapted to the boreal forests of North America. They are threatened in Ontario and recreational hunting is prohibited. The only herd of this subspecies in the U.S. is in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington and is listed as endangered. © Mike Kinziger |Caribou Lake (that’s my name)…It’s morning. Just writing the name down on paper and thinking about spotting this elusive animal puts a smile on my face. Imagine…the sixty-ninth lake that my boat has visited, the constant surveillance of shorelines and marshes…and then…what appears to be a large multi-limbed branch moving quickly in the water? The antlers slowly appear as the animal emerges from the lake and the caribou stands broadside and watches us (the boat and me). Who knows, maybe over a breakfast of Labrador tea, the caribou is still in awe of us?|
I’ve been alone, but not lonely, for 17 days now. I’m good with this feeling. The one emotion that I do miss is laughter…the kind of laughter that has your eyes watering, your sides aching and your knees nearly buckling under. I have laughed. The sound of the loons, sometimes described as mimicking giggling girl scouts (no offense to the loons), that puts a smile on my face and a happy feeling running through my body.
The paddle today went well and quickly…a gusty southwest wind helped me along as I traveled northeast. A couple of portages and then the most important decision of the trip. My travel plan included a trip on the “lost portages to Irvine Lake.” The problem is that the portage route is not on the map and I could not locate it despite traveling up and down river for two hours. Eventually, I climbed a 45-foot high ridge and walked laterally to the river in hopes of locating the portage trail. No luck. Decision time: 1) camp and look again the next day; 2) portage to the east to Murdock Lake and skip the Irvine Lake portion of the trip; or 3) bushwhack up over the ridge to find Irvine Lake the old fashioned way. If you know anything about Mike Kinziger, you know that I decided on option #3.
Let me set up the logistics necessary for this action to be successful. Once over the ridge, there is a pond about a half mile to the west. That pond connects to a small lake further west by a small stream. The small lake then connects to a larger small lake by a stream about one half mile further west. And finally…that larger small lake connects to Irvine Lake by a stream about three-forth of a mile further west. And so…the adventure within the adventure began! Getting the canoe and gear to the top of the ridge was exhausting. Once on top, there were numerous ridges, most running north and south but occasionally a little west (west is where I needed to go).
I began the search for the pond. I would carry as much as possible along the ridge, drop it off and go back for the canoe and the other pack (much like portaging). Every two or three stops I would check my GPS and compass. After awhile, I realized that I wasn’t making significant progress. I was essentially going back and forth on the ridge where the walking was easy…but here’s the thing, this is what happened. Twice, not once, but twice, I “lost” my canoe or I “lost” my gear. I must have spent two hours wandering all over those ridges looking for my “stuff”, often walking in circles. Very frustrating. I had no water. The small black flies were in my eyes and ears…everywhere. I was not making good decisions despite telling myself to make good decisions. And it was getting late in the afternoon. It did occur to me that I might have to camp up on the ridge with no water.
I then changed my plan and started walking shorter distances between moves and I moved more directly west. Through trees, scrubs, and marsh…west was my destination. Back and forth, back and forth. By then my legs were cramping up badly. I was certainly dehydrated. But finally I could see the pond. That last 100 meters was literally walking up to my mid thighs or waist, every step, until I reached the shoreline of that pond. Multiply that times two. It felt wonderful to be back in the canoe. I paddled to the middle of the pond and filled my water bottle. I must have “downed” two bottles full (I usually avoid taking water from a pond). The sun was nearly down. There was one rock on the shores of the pond. That rock became my home for the night. What would I have done without that rock? What would I have done if the weather had deteriorated? A quick refried beans meal and I was in the tent to sleep and recover. I slept well except for continuing leg cramps.
September 17th (Thursday) – Camp # 19
Confession…I didn’t really sleep very well. I kept waking and reviewing how I got to where I was and then the “what ifs” surfaced. Lots could go right, lots could go wrong. Two things for certain…I do not want to make the same mistakes as yesterday and I’m determined to get to Irvine Lake. There was heavy dew on the tent when I crawled out of my sleeping bag…that was a positive sign. A quick cup of coffee and oatmeal and that rock is possibly free of humans forever. I paddled to the outlet stream which was really a bunch of trickling water flowing through a thick alder swamp. So there I was, back to the shore and the woods carrying gear through some difficult terrain while attempting to parallel the marsh. It wasn’t far but it took 1½ hours…exhausting work. Up to the hips in water to put the canoe in the small lake and I was off to find the outlet stream.
|There was none! There was none! The next larger small lake was further away then all of the distance that I had covered since leaving the river the day before. It seemed as if attempting to parallel these marsh streams by “marching” through the woods was taking too much time (besides becoming frustrated when gear/canoe get lost). It was middle morning. Slightly less than one mile to get to the big small lake. Why not just pull the canoe through that marsh? That’s what I did or started to do. But that proved too difficult. Pulling the canoe with the heaviest pack on my back and then going back for the second pack worked for awhile. But it was slow going and almost every step my feet would disappear knee to waist deep in the marsh.|Ground fog and shadows on Irvine Lake. © Mike Kinziger
My GPS indicated that I was heading in the right direction but I was not making sufficient progress. Somehow, I dragged and carried the canoe and gear back to the woods and ridges that paralleled the marsh. Back to plan one. Just keep moving. Don’t stop. Small trips. Keep the red waterproof bags elevated so they could be seen from a distance. Take a compass and GPS reading every two carries. It took all morning and a significant amount of time in the afternoon but I reached that larger small lake. My legs were virtually covered in blood from all of the cuts and bruises. I was exhausted in a way that I have not experienced in ages.
On the positive side…I remembered that this “large” small lake was supposed to be a connection lake for the lost portage route to Irvine. Skeptically, I paddled to the outlet stream realizing that I still had a mile to go. The outlet was small at first, about the width of my canoe but I was making progress. I dreaded the scenario of having to again pull the canoe and gear if this stream “dried up”. Best news of the day…the stream got wider and flowed into Irvine. It is difficult to describe what that felt like. I did it! I appreciate more every day out in this wilderness the ability to cover miles via the canoe. I paddled out into Irvine Lake. I dipped my water bottled in the lake. Irvine tasted wonderful. It was late afternoon. I paddled east and then south looking for a campsite. Along the way I caught two walleye and then spotted the best campsite of the trip.
As I look back, I am thankful for my persistence, for being able to remain relatively calm, for the compass and GPS and with the weather for cooperating with me. The first thing that I did when I arrived at camp (besides emptying the canoe) was to do laundry. All of the clothes that I had worn over the past two days needed cleaning. I soaked and scrubbed each item. I didn’t bring soap on the trip. A clothesline was set up using my painter ropes from the canoe. I hung everything to dry. I set up my tent wearing only my dry camp shoes. I then took the empty canoe back out on the lake. It was relatively calm and I paddled about a mile along the shoreline and around an island. It’s quite a stimulating feeling paddling naked out in the middle of this special wilderness. I even caught two more walleye for dinner. The fish and beef stew sure hit the spot.
September 18th (Friday) – Camp # 20
I slept as if I hadn’t slept in days. Recollections of the past two days are becoming memories. I probably won’t be complaining about established portages for the rest of the trip. My body needs to heal, especially my legs and feet. This wonderful campsite will be my home for another night. I plan to explore and fish today. There are a few items of gear that require repair.
The big pike that Mike caught on Irvine Lake. The hat brim shades out the big grin. © Mike Kinziger |The winds from the southwest were strong today and made on-water time difficult. I did head out to the calmest shoreline, PFD securely on. My goal was to reach the southernmost portion of the lake. Before I could get there, I had a stringer full of fish…. three nice walleye and a ten-pound northern pike, my largest fish of the trip. Fishing from a canoe is a challenge. I have a Yakima mount secured to the thwart in front of me with a “Scotty” fish pole holder attached. This allows me to fish while I paddle…it’s called trolling. When a fish takes the lure, I grab the pole and slowly work the fish to the canoe. I attempt to tire the fish out so I will have an easier time grabbing the fish when it nears the boat. I have no net. |
In the meantime, the canoe is quite vulnerable to the wind. On its own, it will turn sideways in the troughs which can easily capsize the boat. I tend to not fish in big water or big wind. I reach down with my right hand and must locate the gill slots on each side of the fish and squeeze tightly and lift the fish into the boat. The fish does not enjoy cooperating. Still holding the fish, I grab my pliers to remove the treble hooks. I then grab the stringer to attach the fish to a thwart. Towing a fish along the canoe impedes progress. I usually look for a landing with flat rocks. Once there, I use the fillet board attached to the inside of my canoe with Velcro. There is also a fish carrier bag attached in the canoe where I place the fillets until evening dinner. The fish carcass remains on the rocks as carrion for birds. With so many fish for dinner, I will supplement my meal with mashed potatoes and gravy. It will be a very filling meal.
September 19th (Saturday) – Camp # 21
The waves continued to collide with the rocky shoreline all night long. It seemed with every splash that the rain fly on my tent would rattle and made that sound that tarps make when the wind is blowing. I didn’t sleep well and was excited for morning light. My immediate concern was being able to launch the boat into the wind and be able to safely paddle out of Irvine Lake. Once I reached the northern section of the lake, the wind slightly subsided and the walleye became very active. In fact, the waters in this lake seem to support a very vibrant walleye population. I ended up releasing quite a few fish.
The interconnectedness of all of these water venues: lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and marshes…that interconnectedness sometimes overwhelms the paddler. Today was one of those days. Big lakes to bays to channels to small streams to no-name bodies of water…on and on. It’s mind baffling and along the way there are marshes and sheer rock walls. One never knows what to expect around the next bend…but the canoe keeps moving and before you can adjust or prepare you’re experiencing new terrain, new sights, new smells and new sounds. It’s sort of magic being out here alone…a dreamer’s solitary confinement.
I found a nice little campsite just outside the start of the winding passage to Twin Lakes. The fire pit, tent area and canoe landing are all almost touching…right on the banks of what I call Rhino Lake (it’s really a no-name lake). I’m still healing from the bushwhack decision. I counted more than sixty cuts or scratches on my legs. My arms and hands also have scrapes and cuts. But on the positive side…my feet seem to be healing.
Mica Mountain, Idaho
To be continued…