Here is the continuation of Mike Kinziger’s solo canoe trip through Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, in Ontario, Canada. This fourth week finds him setting milestones of latitude and longitude, thinking of loved ones and celebrating his birthday in the wilderness. If you missed the first three installments, you can find them in the Trip Tales Archive.
WEEK Four (10 Lakes including Irvine, Twin, Bigshell, Olive, Linge, Young and Larus)
September 20th (Sunday) – Camp # 22
Happy birthday Deanna…Happy birthday Cooper! It’s easy to get melancholy thinking about those you love when there is so much time for thinking. I believe it was Aristotle who believed that the highest form of leisure was contemplation. To date, there has been considerable time to think and reflect on life. My favorite John Denver song, “Poems, Prayers and Promises” starts out with the line, “I’ve been lately thinking about my life time…” There seem to be so many “triggers” that propel me back…a bird, a sound, a sight, the way the wind blows, the quiet or sitting around the fire. I know that I am a visitor here but there is an attachment, a comfort, an inner peace, tranquility…at least for the moment.
|I pen these words to these pages at dawn…maybe even before first light. A fire, coffee, a comfortable chair and a lake out before my eyes. I love the color of the morning…the shorelines with trees and rocks appear black, the water takes on a silvery-white hue and the fire flickers alive with bright yellows and reds. And slowly, but surely the sun will rise and my body will feel its warmth from the glow. And so it is on this birthday day…the ones I love the most in life are connecting and talking and going about the day the way days tend to go… except that there is a dad, a husband, a son and a grandpa spending a little more time today thinking about those that are special to him…those who provide meaning, contentment and love in his life. Life is good!|Chair out on the point. A great place to greet the dawn. © Mike Kinziger
Late evening…how can so much happen in one day? It was supposed to be a day to travel seven miles up and around a picturesque small creek. The wind and stream flow would be with me. That’s the way it started. I savored every minute of it. And then a surprise…a cute little waterfall with a short portage. There were downed trees on the portage path so I walked around the carnage only to create my own. One of my biggest fears on the trip was hornets or yellow jackets. Well…I stepped on a nest and all hell broke loose. It didn’t help that I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I dropped my pack right in the middle of that very active hive in my haste to “get the hell out of there.” When all was retrieved and I was back in my water haven (the canoe), I counted seventeen stings…all on the back of my legs except for one on my left hand, which swelled up and made it difficult to hold the paddle for part of the day.
Bright side…it could have been worse! I continued up that beautiful stream with bird life, especially the ducks, in abundance. But the high pressure system followed me. It was the kind of wind that would have made a layover necessary on most lakes. I did have to enter one lake and get into that “wind” situation briefly…but mostly I was in small water.
View up Larus Lake, one of the largest Mike visited.
© Mike Kinziger
|Visiting Twin Lakes and spending two days there was on my agenda. I found the outlet stream and attempted to paddle up that trickle of water to the lakes. I pulled and yanked and broke limbs and ripped out brush until I was stopped about 100 meters from the lake. I got out of the canoe and walked along the shoreline to the banks of Twin Lakes. Another decision time. There were two factors that weighed heavily in the action that followed: 1) I had learned a lesson from portaging gear and canoe through the woods and did not desire to do that again on the trip; and 2) the wind was so strong on the Twin Lakes that I would have not been able to get out on the lake until possibly late in the evening. So…rather than wait out the wind or cross dry land, I paddled back to the main channel knowing full well that there were about seven more miles to paddle to get to Larus Lake. |
The stream that I paddled on to Larus was wonderful. I eventually entered Larus with the wind howling and blowing and making me very nervous. I grabbed the first rock with a flat spot that I could find and that became my camp. I used my camp stove for the first time to prepare mashed potatoes, gravy and a side dish of refried beans. And by the way…Larus Lake is long and wide…perhaps five miles long by three miles wide, with very few islands. And I will need to cross it. I wonder how I will sleep tonight?
September 21st (Monday) – Camp # 23
Autumnal Equinox …days will start having less daylight and more darkness. This day turned out to be another day to remember. There are three parts to the story. The waves continued to hit the shoreline close to where I was attempting to sleep, although they did calm down considerably. I packed at 5:30 a.m. and left my camp by 6:00 a.m. I needed to head north on Larus Lake…about five miles as the crow flies. The surface of the lake was unpredictable. There was a little wind but the water was inconsistent…. like a bunch of toddlers splashing in a wading pool. It was a wise decision to leave early but one does get the feeling of being a bobber floating in a very big pond. I got to the north shore and celebrated with breakfast…hot coffee and granola.
Both portages out of Larus were long, over 500 meters each. The first one required the paddler to walk through 400 meters of that “shoe sucking”, ankle-to-knee-deep mud. There was a brief paddle across a small lake to the next portage…and guess what? The map stated that the next portage was the wet portage. I had to shake my head and laugh. But that portage wasn’t as difficult as the first and it did get me to the next large lake that I had been worrying about…Thicketwood Lake. What a beautiful lake! The first thing that I noticed was a small, rocky island in the bay. The shorelines were rock covered in all directions…what a panorama! If the wind had been like it had been the past few days, I was prepared to camp and leave again early the next morning. But clouds had rolled in and Thicketwood was relatively calm. Taking advantage of the conditions, I paddled east for almost five miles with plans of camping at the end of the lake.
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.
As I approached the far eastern end of the lake, I could see from a distance a float plane, a shoreline camp and a bunch of young and older people…it may have been a church or scout group. Disappointed, but not deterred, I by-passed the crowd of campers and decided to paddle further east up the Sabourin River. Little did I know that the Sabourin was flowing toward me (I probably knew that) and most important, I didn’t realize that this sweet little river didn’t support camping, unless one was willing to camp in the marsh or the woods. So…I paddled on through marshes and moving water, over numerous fallen trees, under tunnels of branches until I came to a 30-meter portage which by-passed a long Class I rapid.
What I observed then made me lose my breath. A tornado that I had read about had blown through the park in July or August. There was a swath of destruction on both shorelines which made it impossible to walk through. I had no choice but to line my canoe up the rapid. Of more concern was the destruction. I have no idea how a tent, tarp or camper could survive in a condition like that. And here I sit writing in a journal barely one-half mile from all of that chaos. And there seems to be a storm on the horizon. The no-name lake where I camp possessed the first rock and first decent place to camp in the four miles since I entered the Sabourin River. I am happy to be here but even more relieved that Larus and Thicketwood lakes are behind me.
September 22nd (Tuesday) – Camp # 24
A north wind blew through camp last night…that’s not a misprint. A high velocity north wind blew through camp last night. I was prepared. The tarp was erected to deflect a direct north wind. Dry firewood and all of my bags, gear and tent were under the tarp. The canoe was tied to a couple of trees. I awoke to cool air and the sounds of ducks. This was the first cool day of the trip. The heat in the form of fog was rising across the panorama of my view looking east. Spectacular! Hot coffee, a clear sky and the morning sunrise warmed this old and battered body. This has become a more respected campsite.
|As I reflect back on the past week of travel, it seems certain that my chosen route is not frequently traveled. That is especially evident on the portages. It’s been relatively dry for the past three weeks. Yet, on the portage trails, the only tracks are those of moose or caribou and of course …me…as I return to make a second portage trip. No human has walked these trails in September! The Sabourin River is becoming quite the challenge. The current seems to be getting more rapid. There are more and more down trees across the river that require the “balancing act”. That’s when the paddler pulls alongside of a tree perched across the river, gets out of the canoe and stands on the tree and pulls the canoe up and over the obstacle while balancing on the deadfall. Most often the canoe cannot be pulled along the side of the tree which requires more balancing to move over the top of all of the gear to reach the log…but you get the picture…and it’s fun for the first dozen times…but there is a limit!|The logs in the Sabourin River were challenging obstacles.
© Mike Kinziger
The scenery along the river has also changed since earlier in the trip. There are actually hardwood stands…places where the deciduous forest is more prominent than the pine. It’s a great time of the year to view huge birch trees and small beech and even maple. The Sabourin River also starts to narrow as I reach the source, which I believe is Bigshell or Olive Lake. There were four portages today…easy compared to most that I have walked but each one today by-passed a clear and fast moving rapid. One in particular was spectacular…It may even be called Sabourin Falls. I could hear it a mile away. A loud sounding rapid always gets my heart racing. I get extremely excited, especially when it gets into view. I realize how fortunate I am to be able to access places like this.
Bigshell Lake was my goal today. There are some sheer rock formations on the south end of the lake. I paddled immediately under them, thinking perhaps that there might be pictographs. I located a campsite on the east shore…a very convenient place with most of the elements that I look for in a site. The weather was cooler today but I experienced another beautiful day and will sleep well again, especially after a dinner of Louisiana Gumbo and fresh walleye.
September 23rd (Wednesday) – Camp # 25
It’s a chilly morning on Bigshell Lake. I even had to break out warm socks and long underwear to stay warm in my sleeping bag. I guess that is why I’ve been carrying the cool weather clothing mile after mile. And speaking of miles…today will be a “work day”. There are eight scheduled portages on the route to Olive Lake…and they are long ones. My estimate is that I will travel over land nearly 3 ½ miles today…and the same fate awaits me tomorrow if I attempt to reach Linge Lake.
The bounty of wild blueberries was delicious. © Mike Kinziger
| I arrived at Olive Lake a couple of hours ahead of my schedule. The portages today were the best of the trip…high and dry…and get this…blueberries so thick on the vine that the berries are laying on the ground. I ate to my heart’s content and picked a pint that I will save to eat on my birthday. I kind of wish I would have brought pancake flour for that occasion. The stream that I paddled today is a continuation of the Sabourin River, although it’s hardly a river anymore. It’s very narrow (canoe width), winding and still with good current…it’s a challenge. A person has to immensely enjoy canoeing to enjoy paddling upstream on the Sabourin…or maybe it was a test? |
The good news is that eventually my route returns through Larus Lake. Ever since I portaged north out of Larus, I have been gaining elevation. The wind was blowing steadily as I entered Olive Lake. It would have been a chore to paddle south. Almost immediately near the portage into Olive, I could see a well-used campsite sticking out from the shoreline. It will be one of my favorite sites. To the far south there is evidence of a recent burn, but it’s beautiful right here. I had time to do a few chores and even took a swim. As I was standing there air drying on the far end of a rock that juts out into the water, I realized that I didn’t even check to see if there was anyone else in sight. It’s been more than three weeks without seeing a canoe…but that’s one of the reasons that I am visiting the Woodland Caribou. I will enjoy this evening.
September 24th (Thursday) – Camp # 26
A perfect September morn. It was seasonably cool. The fire had hot water boiling in minutes. I sat by the fire warming but realized that the only sounds on this calm morning resonated from the crackling of the burning wood. With coffee and chair, I moved to the end of my peninsula and sipped and listened. Can one tire of the song of the loon? Or can one not be tempted to pick up the fishing rod when fish rise in the glassy water? Do people ever just watch and listen to flocks of geese as they migrate? Can you hear the sun rise? I know you can feel it. There is a more permanent warmth that comes from the sun then from a fire or hot drink. Last evening in the twilight, a bull woodland caribou began the seasonal ritual of looking for mates with a bugling that went on for at least an hour. He thrashed and called and even splashed in the water. It was quite a performance. How fortunate to be able to experience these types of phenomena.
The wind picked up velocity quite early, which resulted in a quick exit from camp. Olive Lake, at least the southern portion, is a labyrinth of bays and peninsulas that requires scrutinizing the map and compass work…but it’s fun to paddle through…even the burned out sections. The last mile on Olive found the canoe heading a mile and a half into a fairly strong wind. The channel heading southwest was reached and calmer water prevailed. The rest of the day…it was beautiful. It was spent paddling very narrow no-name lakes and portaging between them. Seven portages…slightly more than four miles carrying gear through woodland on some of the nicest trails that I have experienced to date. No wonder I’m tired…that’s more than eight miles of portaging in two days.
I reached Linge Lake. It’s large…and it’s forgettable…nothing special. I may have found the only camping area …at least on the north end of the lake. I did catch seven pike today. I released them all. My meals even without fish have been very good. I believe there is a spectrum of people who fall somewhere on the “Live to Eat” vs. “Eat to Live”. I eat to live but do enjoy fresh, non-processed foods or foods fresh from the garden. Tonight it was Spanish rice and fish. As I reached in my dinner food sack to retrieve week five meals, I found a birthday card. Outside contact! The card sits in my tent waiting for this old paddler to turn 62 in the morning.
September 25th (Friday) – Camp # 27
Milestones…my 62nd birthday…This one spent alone in the Woodland Caribou wilderness. Other trip milestones have been reached over the past few days. On the evening of the 24th day of the trip, I reached the northern most point at my campsite on Bigshell Lake. On the 26th day of the trip near the end of Olive Lake, I completed a few sweep strokes and the canoe would not head any further east. When I looked at the map and realized that these two benchmarks had been reached, there was for the first time a feeling that, “I’m going home. I’m heading home!” That may be the reality, but navigating through this wilderness keeps me glued in the moment…not the future. There is the map to read, portages to locate and cross, camps to find and set up. Everything I see and hear…everything…I experience for the first time. This 62-year-old body and mind cannot absorb it all. There is an overload…an overload that occurs every few hours, every day, every week and for the entire month. And for the record…the southernmost point was reached on the 5th day in Irregular Lake. The start and finish at Wallace Lake are the western milestones.
If Mike Kinziger could select any activity to perform on his birthday it would be canoeing…and the canoeing today again was special. After saying good-bye to Linge Lake, the route entered Knox Creek. What a beautiful, small, clear and winding stream it is. There were portages (five) but most of the day was spent meandering downstream…Back and forth, back and forth. The canoe moves so effortlessly…so smoothly, especially with a well-placed cross draw and the current at my back. A great paddle on another perfect weather day.
Now get this. I am spending the night of the day that I turned 62 on Young Lake…is there any irony there?! I’ll wake up on Young, drink Young…look Young? I’m perched about fifty feet up on a bald rock looking northeast. My tent is pitched on six inches of soft green moss. Three perfect size walleye were caught right in front of the camp. And…the morning sun may be spectacular. Quite a birthday in 2009!
September 26th (Saturday) – Camp # 28
Clouds in the sky and a rather warm evening last night. This view, as the morning comes alive, is mesmerizing. My goal today is to arrive at Knox Lake…the challenge… lack of a topo map for the travel route. Ten Canadian topographic maps were acquired for the trip. Unfortunately, there are two sections of my route…perhaps ten to fifteen total miles that are not on the maps that I purchased. I will have to rely on the Provincial Park map and my GPS. The GPS Canadian map series was also purchased for the trip. Most of the travel today will be on Knox Creek, which makes route finding an easier task. Today is also the end of week four. The mind and body are holding up well. The only ailment is the swelling in the left foot big toe. I can’t complain. So much could go wrong…so many possible injuries…sprained ankle, a serious burn, a poke in the eye, depression, or any number of bodily functions not working. I’ll take the big toe!
|Young Lake to Larus Lake! That’s right, Young Lake to Larus Lake. Call it exuberance, opportunistic, safety or fear driven…call it what you want, but call it a long, long day on the water. The scenario: threatening weather in early morning and ahead of me over the next two days…two of the largest, longest, widest and potentially most dangerous lakes where wind or severe weather could cause extended layovers. That thought sat in the back of my mind. This paddler prefers calmer water, smaller lakes and gentle breezes. Leaving Young Lake, with an eye on the sky. Knox Creek becomes clogged and weed chocked.…good bird life but not a particularly good paddle. About two miles before Knox Lake, the creek gets narrow, fast and creates a challenge to maneuver around the numerous 90-degree bends. In short…the kind of paddling that I enjoy. I was ahead of schedule (remember…no map) and there was a “calm” in the air. A calm of high clouds, very light breezes and excellent travel conditions.|Bloodvein Falls – majestic, powerful, beautiful.
© Mike Kinziger
I had recently entered the infamous Bloodvein River. The Bloodvein eventually flows into Lake Winnipeg and is known for its challenging whitewater. The Bloodvein runs fast and clear. There are three rapids to portage before the Bloodvein flows into Murdock Lake. Each of those waterfalls are majestic, powerful, beautiful… the kind of waterfall that draws one to sit on the banks as close as possible to the falls to ponder river structure…standing waves, holes, eddies, gradient and all of the turbulence and chaos that allows the river to make the sound that is unique to each rapid. I suspect that much of the “upriver” paddling that I had endured up the Sabourin was lost quickly from the big gradient drops in these three rapids.
At the mouth of the Bloodvein, where it enters Murdock Lake, I was able to paddle to within 50 feet of my first moose on the trip. Unbelievable…It took 28 days to see a moose. A bull and cow were together with the bull making grunting and deep throated mating calls.
Moose in the water along the Bloodvein. They’re the largest member of the deer family and the animal many think personifies the north woods. © Mike Kinziger |Murdock Lake…perhaps nine miles of open water half of it heading west and half heading north…the two directions where the wind can be most ferocious. With fairly calm winds, the canoe was pointed west, the compass was set up to assist staying on course and the paddling begun (as if I hadn’t paddled far enough that day). About four miles later, the canoe turned north. Conditions were still excellent and five more miles were finished. Sigh of relief! Murdock done! At the end of Murdock Lake, the search for a campsite began, with no luck. The lake ends by flowing into a swampy stream that flows for about a mile before it enters Larus Lake.|
Along that stretch, I was able to observe clear pictographs on a steep rock wall and two more moose, again about 50 feet away, but without the guttural sounds. Still hoping for a campsite, the last portage to Larus was reached. It was a long one…750 meters. It was getting late, weather still threatening. No choice! Another mile of paddling on Larus, still looking for a campsite and a “sort of” place to camp was found. It was vulnerable to a huge storm, but again, little choice. The tent went up, the headlamp went on, a cup of granola and that’s about as much energy as this old body could muster in one day. Young to Murdock to Larus… And now I will sleep thinking about the pending storm and the five mile crossing of Larus Lake. Never a dull moment.
Mica Mountain, Idaho
To be continued…