With another long weekend fast approaching, it was time to devise a new plan. A 5 day solo canoe trip was in order and I wanted it to be as awesome as my Algonquin trip had been. It would be hard to surpass but I believed I had the groundwork for another epic journey!
After many nights of planning and consulting a few people who knew the area, making revisions and calculating kilometers and portage meters, I finally settled on a route. I would start at the Hwy 6 access point at the Widgawa Lodge and make my way 19km’s to Little Bear Lake for night one. From there I would head over to Great Mountain for night two, then Howry Lake for night three and spend the last night on Murray with a day trip over to Nellie Lake, then back out via Charlton Lake to the access point.
It was a pretty ambitious route with 14 portages, the same amount of my Algonquin trip, but the distance of them would be about half. I also had an additional 30 kilometers of paddling on this trip, which would turn out to be a bit of a hindrance, but we’ll get into that a little later.
I worked a few hours in the morning and then headed out to Widgawa Lodge where I’d get my permit and put in. I would be in a big rush to get the 19 km’s of paddling in, along with 2 portages and arrive at my site on Little Bear before dark. After I got my permit, I was working on getting on my way and ran into Bruce who follows my blog. He was very kind and helped me carry my gear to the dock and even took a photo and a quick video for me before I shoved off. Always nice to talk to people in person who watch my videos and read my posts. Thanks so much Bruce for taking a few minutes to talk to me! It was really great to meet you!
The water was very calm at 2pm when I left the lodge and I paddled hard to get to my first portage, which was an unofficial one, 455 metres going from Charlton Lake into Cross.
I actually overshot the portage as the sign was on a tree that was on the ground but backtracked and eventually found it. I wasn’t sure what to expect with it being ‘unofficial’ on the map but it was a normal portage as far as they go, going up a steep hill then going back down on the other end.
Once I made it through that portage I was on Cross Lake and it was fairly small. I had some shallow rapids I had to get out of the canoe for and pull it through, then came up to some waterfalls to go around.
I had to do a small unexpected portage up and over some rocks that were a bit steep. Sometimes the little ones can kick your butt just as good as the big ones!
Soon I was back on my way and arrived at the dam.
It was another small portage but wasn’t very difficult which made me happy. This portage was only 165 metres and I went up and around fairly quickly and soon was back on my way, paddling frantically to get to my site before nightfall.
Fall had finally arrived here and the colours were simply glorious. I did my best to get some photos but it was difficult as I needed to paddle hard and fast to get to where I needed to be. But, I couldn’t miss out on a few photos. I just kept saying over and over, ohhh that’s so pretty, just one quick pic! LOL
Time kept ticking and thankfully the winds were down and I had mirror in a lot of the areas I was paddling in after Charlton, like the Whitefish River. If there was a strong wind, I would never had made it to my site on time so I was very grateful, even in some areas, to have it somewhat behind me. Thank you Mother Nature!
Happily at 6:45 pm I found my site on Little Bear and I had made it! I was elated that I made it on time. I did have a backup plan in place in case I didn’t make it, but I was grateful I didn’t have to use it. About 12 km’s into the paddle there was some crown land and if need be, I would’ve stopped somewhere there for the night and just had a longer day the next day, but thankfully, I didn’t need to put that plan into action. I had arrived!
I quickly set up my tent and gathered a bit of firewood before dark. There was a good amount of dead fall and I was happy someone had also left a few significant pieces of wood for me to cut up. As it was expected to start raining overnight, I set up my tarp over my tent. This way, I would be able to keep my tent dry and pack up all my gear underneath it and keep everything from getting wet, then make breakfast under it and pack up the tarp.
Once I got everything set up, and still before dark, happily, I got a fire going and started dinner. Tonights meal was hawaiian chicken and I was excited to see how it would taste. I had gotten a bunch of freeze dried packaged meals for my Algonquin trip and they were all really good so I was hoping the same for the meals I got for this adventure!
The rice meal was okay. It was a bit spicy which I was surprised at but I guess I couldn’t really be. The package actually didn’t have a description of what was inside, just Hawaiian Rice. I assumed it would be sweet with pineapple and it was, but it was also spicy. I ate as much as I could and then closed up the package and put it into the bear vault. I had had a migraine for a few days now and I just didn’t feel like eating a whole lot. I knew I needed the energy, but I could only eat so much.
I listened to some podcasts I’d brought on how stuff works, which were fairly entertaining and then looked over and suddenly noticed a big bright light shining over where Little Bear opens up to Big Bear, the direction I’d have to go in the morning. I thought at first it was a boat, then a cottage, then realized it was the moon!!
It was the most beautiful moon I’d ever seen. It was enormous and sitting right on the horizon and it was the a really pretty color. I was in total awe!!!
I took a bunch of pictures, but honestly couldn’t capture exactly what I saw. It lit up the campsite the whole evening and cast shadows and was pretty spectacular. I don’t think I will ever forget it.
I sat by the fire for a bit enjoying the podcasts and then headed to my tent. I was exhausted from the 19km paddle in and was ready for a good rest. I put everything away in anticipation of tomorrows rain. Some forecasts said we would get 15-20mm’s and I was a bit concerned about the accumulation, but I’d triple waterproofed all my gear this time so I was fairly certain I would remain mostly dry this trip. Little did I know, the rain would not be my concern at all this weekend.
During the night the rain began to fall, and it fell hard. I woke up several times to the noise of the rain and the tent shaking from the wind. It was incredibly windy, like super super windy and I knew this was going to cause some issues with my travel plans. When I woke up I went out to survey the situation and the rain had slowed down quite a bit by then, but the winds seemed to be getting stronger and stronger. Not good at all.
I made breakfast and checked over my route. I had decided yesterday that I would reroute myself today for my trip to Great Mountain. Goose Lake was impassable, I had been told and it would just be a very very long portage. I wasn’t interested in that, especially since I had another option, so I had looked over that and checked and rechecked it.
The route would now take me through Little Bear, Big Bear, then I would portage into Van Winkle, portage into Cat, portage into Howry, then paddle to Gem, through the creek and over another portage into Fish and then one more portage into Great Mountain. I calculated this would take me about 5 hours, 6 if I had wind or issues, but shouldn’t take any longer. The wind had other plans for me though.
After breakfast, I sat in my tent and hung out. I listened to some more podcasts, looked over my map and had a few naps while I waited for the wind to calm down. Worst case scenario, I would have to skip my trip to Great Mountain and stay here for another night, (I had known the site was open and had checked all of them the day before). Then I would just proceed to my site on Howry Lake for night 3. I waited and waited and around 11:30 I woke up from a nap and noticed I didn’t hear the wind howling any longer.
I went out and took a look around and things seemed much calmer. It was still windy but it was manageable wind, not crazy wind, and as it wasn’t noon yet, I believed I still had time to make it to Great Mountain before dark. I would have to move quickly but, I was pretty sure I would make it, so I packed up my stuff and left my site on Little Bear and began the days journey, 14.5 km’s and 1930 metres over 6 portages, with double carries, that would total 5790 metres of walking.
By 12:30 I was on my way and even happy as the current was taking me exactly where I needed to go. Unfortunately, that would be short lived. The first 15-20 minutes of paddling was fine. It was still windy but nothing too serious and I paddled hard to get across the lake, then the winds got stronger and I was having a very hard time controlling the canoe. It was trying to go sideways and spin around and due to it’s weight, blow in the direction opposite of where I wanted to go. I got scared and almost took a spill, but recovered and paddled over to the shore. From then on, I stayed close to the shore and it got a bit less difficult as I continued on. I prayed things would get easier, but again, had a back up plan if they did not. I knew that almost every site today on my route was not booked and so if things got bad, I would just stop at one of them and stay the night. If someone came I would leave and go to another, or share, but I was fairly certain that it being open the day before, and with the weather as it was, meant no one new was coming now.
I was very happy when I arrived at my first portage, just a 190m trek into Van Winkle. In Killarney fashion, however, the first third of it was directly up hill. It was a bit of a struggle but I made it and even saw a grouse along the route. I was happy to get onto a new lake and hoped the winds would be better and they actually were, but I would come to find them unstable for most of the day.
I crossed Van Winkle easily and landed at my next portage going into Cat Lake (480m). It was pouring on and off but wasn’t really a problem. It had started actually just after I’d left the site and now I seemed to feel like I was on a normal canoe trip! haha! The rain fell, then stopped, then the wind would pick up, then stop and it would continue taking turns throughout the day. Luckily for the most part, I was currently pond hopping and the rain and wind were fairly insignificant over the portages.
I had purchased a pair of water proof socks, suggested by some people who followed my pages and I couldn’t have been happier with them. I had muck to go through and my feet were totally unaffected and best of all, no possibility of getting leeches on my feet. I had had a pretty bad incident with them at the end of my last canoe trip and did not want a repeat as the leech bites I’d had still were not healed after 4 weeks. Thanks to everyone who suggested the socks. They are amazing!
Cat Lake was quite beautiful, well, of course, they all were, but Cat was when I first got some good glimpses of the mountains and they had mist rising from them which was really quite spectacular. I stopped to take a look and treat some water to drink with my Purinize. I had been using this for most of the summer and found it really handy on these portaging trips especially. I had an Xtream straw tied to my canoe and while paddling I would just stick it in the water and drink, but for the portages, I would fill up my nalgene and put the drops in and wait an hour and then would always have drinking water. It actually tasted perfectly normal too which was a big thing for me because I love my water.
After my portage and short paddle through Cat, I landed at the portage into Howry Lake (665m). This one was a bit tough to find and was hiding in a corner, but I found it and was happy when I did. The day was getting long and I was still rushing like crazy, both paddling and portaging. I was making good time and the weather continued on with the rain and winds, on and off, but mostly wasn’t too bad overall. It was also fairly warm out so that helped a great deal. It never seems as bad being wet and in the rain when it’s not freezing cold out.
The portage into Howry was 665 metres and wasn’t too bad at all. Most of the portages so far were fairly decent, a few had some steep ups and downs but nothing incredibly difficult. From Howry I would have to paddle about 2 km’s into Gem Lake and I was a bit nervous about that section of the trip. I was told Gem was very shallow and I might have issues getting through, so I was anxious to get past that area.
The paddle through Howry was a bit windy and I didn’t take any photos as I couldn’t stop long enough to do so without being blown around. I was happy when I found the 130 metre portage into Gem. I couldn’t locate a sign until I got out of the canoe and went looking for it, but it was there, set back from the shore posted to a tree.
Once I was on Gem Lake, my spirits were lifted. It didn’t seem bad at all and I could see mountains in the distance and it was actually quite pretty. Once I got to the end, however, I found out why I had received the warnings.
At the end of Gem Lake was a very long shallow creek that led to a portage going into Fish. I had been making decent time up until this point and was happy with my progress but that all came to a halt when I got to the creek. The creek was beautiful for starters and I love padding in small creeks, but today, this was not the case. The creek had 2 liftovers, which were no problem. I was worried I’d bank the canoe in the creek, but I did not, it was shallow but passable. Great! The problem with the creek I had was the length of it. On the map it shows as a straight line and runs maybe a kilometer. In reality the creek is a very very long winding waterway that probably runs several kilometres or certainly seemed like it did! I literally was going left and right and not straight across and it took me forever to get through.
I had not anticipated this and it slowed me down huge. A section of the route that I thought would take me about 10-15 minutes to get through, took me almost an hour.
And just near the end of it, I got lost in the maze and stuck and had a heck of a time getting myself back out of where I was and on the right path again. When I got to the end of the creek, finally, the canoe banked about 20 feet from the shore. I got out quickly as I was now getting to the point where I was in a very very huge rush. The water was only a few inches deep but the mud was not stable at all and when I got out to pull the canoe the rest of the way, my feet sunk up to my knees with each step, grabbing my legs and feet and trying to hold them there forever. It was just like the mucky quicksand I’d been in in Algonquin, but under water and it took me some time and patience to get out of there and head over the short 90m portage.
I made it, but I had lost a lot of time and was now set back almost an hour. I was loosing all hope of making it to Great Mountain. If Fish Lake was too windy, I would definately not make it before nightfall and I was starting to doubt that I would accomplish my goal. Still, I continued on.
Fish Lake was pretty windy, but I paddled as hard as I could possibly paddle after all I’d done so far today. With sore arms from yesterday, I told myself I could do it and I could make it and pushed myself, stroke after stroke, while the wind did it’s best to thwart my efforts. Screw you wind, I’m making it to Great Mountain and you won’t stop me! I’m determined …. or crazy? I actually stopped the canoe at the island site on Fish about a kilometer before the portage into Great Mountain. It was a lovely site, it was 6pm and I was sooooo tired. I could just stop here. I knew all the sites were open for the night and it wouldn’t be a problem. Just stop, I said, why does it matter and then I shook my head, calculated the time I had left before dark and continued paddling like a maniac all the way to the portage to Great Mountain. I set a goal, I have to achieve it. Go , go GOOO!!!!
I made it to the portage and it was 6:23. The portage was only 375 metres. I could get through the portage double carrying in less than a half hour. I had this. The site on Great Mountain was less than a kilometer into the lake and as long as it was open….. (praying….) I would be good. I gathered my gear and headed over the portage pratically running over it. When I got to the other side, I was totally deflated!
The entry into Great Mountain was muck. Maybe 50 feet of shallow muck to get to the lake. WTH?? Are you kidding me? I couldn’t do anything about it now. It was too late to go back to Fish and I was committed to this plan. I had to go on. I went back and got the canoe and did a balancing act on logs to get as close to real water as possible. In the condition I was in, that wasn’t easy. I had only eaten a half a sandwich and a handful of chocolate covered almonds since I’d left the site. I was tired, hungry and weak but I had to go and I had no choice now. The mud pulled me in but I fought back and made it through as darkness began to set in on Great Mountain. (here are some photos I took the next day as I wasn’t able to at the time to show you, but it was not sunny and happy looking at this time! lol)
I separated my paddles and pushed myself over and over again through the mud until I became free, only then getting stuck on top of logs in what I named the log cemetery. (another photo below from the following day…hard to see but the water is littered with logs and branches and stumps, easy to get stuck on top of)
It was like I suddenly couldn’t catch a break, but I left myself no other choice at this point. Finally I was through and in open water and just as quickly as the happiness and excitement came in, it went right back out. The wind came up and started gusting and it was strong and I had no idea where it’d come from. It was very present on Fish but this was a whole different thing. I paddled through the entrance of the lake and got to the point where I was fairly certain the site was close to. Just around the point. (again another photo from the following day as I wasn’t able to barely paddle let alone take a picture at this time.)
This is the point above that I tried so desperately to get around to get to the site on Great Mountain. Looks so pretty the next day in the sunshine, but at the time I made the attempts it was hurricane windy and almost dark out. I paddled and the wind just took me backwards. Over and over again I tried to get around the corner and finally I had to admit defeat. I made several attempts then to dock the canoe at the shore. It took me 3 times before I finally did it and when I did I wanted to kiss the ground. I unloaded the canoe and carried it right up into the forest and tied it to a tree in 3 spots. I later found out the winds were up to 56km gusts. Guess that explains a lot. (photos below again from the next day).
Darkness was approaching quickly. I got my headlamp on, blew up and turned on my Luci Lantern and got to work. I found the flatest spot possible in the most sheltered area I could and set up my tent as night blew in. The sound of the wind was deafening and I couldn’t believe I had little repercussions where I was standing, but I was truly grateful.
After I got everything set up, I tried to settle myself down a bit. I was pretty tense still and wished I’d had a good stiff drink to consume. Luckily, I soon discovered I had something just as good, an internet signal. One beautiful bar! LOL. I sent a message to my mom who hadn’t heard from me since early afternoon the day before and messaged a few people who assisted me in re-grounding myself. I changed into some fresh clothes and got comfy and decided to use the wind to my advantage and hang up all my damp clothing from the warm rainy day. At least the wind was good for something right?
Eventually, I got out the stove and boiled some water to make dinner. I had planned on having my turkey dinner on Monday for thanksgiving, but I decided I wanted it tonight, and tonight I could have whatever I chose. I felt I deserved that after the day I’d had. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped and after eating about half of it, as hungry as I was, I couldn’t eat any more for fear of getting sick. Instead, I pulled out the Chocolate Mudslide I’d brought and made that!! haha!
It was around 10pm by the time I ate the decadant dessert and I was wired for hours afterwards, but wow, was it ever delicious. I didn’t quite eat the whole bag, but I came proudly close! I sat and engaged on social media for a while feeling more and more relaxed, reading comments from amazing people who were replying to my post and sharing stories of similar situations and confirming stopping when I did was the right thing to do. It helped immensely and I am truly grateful to everyone who offered a kind word.
As I sat listening to the wind howling, I looked up and once again noticed the brightly lit up globe in the sky in front of me. I didn’t make the effort to go to the waterfront to take a photo but just snapped one from where I was sitting inside my tent. I was honestly way too tired to move. I checked the forecast again and at that moment it said we were experiencing 39km wind gusts. I honestly believe it was much higher at the time but that’s just me. The forecast for the morning said we were expecting 56km wind gusts. I guess I didn’t have to move from the spot I was on, as technically, I wasn’t even on a site, so not to much worry about there. I guess we would see what would happen when I woke up, but for now, I had to try and rest my overworked body.
Eventually, I laid down and closed my eyes in an effort to get some sleep, the sound of the wind so loud I almost put my earplugs in, but was too tired to reach for them. That night I dreamt of howling winds and slept with anticipation of the next morning and what would follow. Finally sleep came which led me to what would happen next on Sunday morning…..
Check back next week for part 2 of the second half of my adventure in Killarney!
For a sneak preview of the video series, click here to see Part 1, being published Thursday! (Part 2 – Friday)