Friday, June 13, 2008

Bug bitten and loving it

Nikita and I just returned from a two day canoe trip into Sunrise and Blueberry Lakes. I had planned on being out for four days, but the bugs were horrible, rain was coming, and I'd accomplished what I'd set out to, so we paddled back home last night. On Wednesday Anna dropped us off at noon on Cassels Lake. We headed into Sunrise Lake. Sunrise used to be in the middle of a huge old growth white pine forest, but it was intensively logged in the 1970's. Now there's a remnant ring of huge pines hugging the shoreline.

My task was to find and reopen the portage from Sunrise to Tucker Lake. At Tucker I would meet up with a portage reopened two weeks ago by my friends Neil and Murph. With the two portages reopened, it will be possible to travel from Sunrise to Blueberry Lake. Thanks to my friend Mike at Ancient Forest Exploration and Research, Blueberry is famous for its hiking trails through old growth pines (the loggers never made it that far), but in the past was a dead-end trip. Now it will form part of a loop, hopefully making it more popular.

The portage landing was easy enough to find (even had a lost water bottle from Camp Kilcoo). But the trail quickly petered out, indicating to me that people have been trying to use this route but could not find the trail. The portage does show up in Hap Wilson's book Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Temagami.

Woefully short on flagging tape, Nikita and I started off. The first part of the trail was easy to follow, as it tracks up between two steep hills. Once over the saddle the trail was more difficult to find. Flagging the whole route was a matter of following old blazes, finding patches of the original footpath, and using intuition to connect the dots.

I work at a pace of about 100 m/hour, so after a few hours of work on Wednesday, we camped on Sunrise. After dinner (steak and red wine) we paddled around the whole lake to escape the bugs.

Thursday dawned sunny, and after a few more bug-bitten hours, Nikita and I were through and on Tucker Lake. We lingered on Tucker, thankful for a breeze to keep the mozzies at bay. Neil and Murph's portage to Blueberry was easy to find, but it was obvious that they had done a tremendous amount of work to push a trail through. They used a similar technique, using axe blazes and bits of footpath to recreate the original trail through thick, thick bush. Unfortunately, they did not have a saw, so had to leave quite a few 4-6 inch diameter trees in the middle of the trail. That makes portaging a canoe extremely difficult. After getting my canoe to Blueberry (often sideways to squeeze between the spruces), I spent another two hours just sawing out trees with my little handsaw. It was backbreaking labour.

Now Nikita and I were on Blueberry Lake, bloodied and beat, but triumphant. To my knowledge, that was the first traverse of this route since the 1970's, just after the Dept. of Lands and Forests stopped maintaining portages and campsites. It was 6 pm and we could have stayed out another night, but the bugs and the gathering storm clouds convinced me to head for home. We portaged back to Cassels Lake. I ate dinner while drifting across Cassels, a light east wind at my back. Never had red wine and smoked mussels tasted so good.

Now I would never advocate drinking and boating, but I downed a half-litre of merlot and lazily paddled the 10 km back to Temagami in the gathering dusk. If I ever develop Alzheimer's disease, just sit me down in front of a TV playing an endless loop of Temagami shoreline passing by at paddling speed.

What's the point of this long, rambling post?

After my winter-from-hell, there's nothing better than getting out in the bush, getting my hands dirty on some much needed portage maintenance, and spending some quality time with my doggie.

I've put a few photos from the trip here.


Anonymous said...

Wow Bob, great pictures and wonderful adventure! See you in a week!! yay!!

Anonymous said...

I'm officially over $2500 now!! Up to Huntsville this weekend for the Muskoka Long Course Triathlon. Wish me luck! Nice pics. Nikita is a great camping partner!