I’m a big fan of sequels. I like following good things up with more of the same, only bigger and with louder explosions. As far as I’m concerned this makes the Fast and Furious franchise one of the cinematic masterpieces of our time. Every time Vin Diesel squints into the distance and mumbles something about family while driving a car backwards out of a plane, my heart melts just a little and I start counting down the minutes until the next installment. In that respect, you can consider this post a sequel to my Canoe Lake to Canisbay Lake post as the trips themselves happened on consecutive days. As such, I am guaranteeing more lakes, more portages, more bugs and above all else, more Vin Diesel references from this post. So buckle up.
Prior to this trip I had been to Cache Lake a number of times, but always just for dinner at Bartlett Lodge (which I can’t recommend enough). Bartlett is on the first island across from the Cache Lake parking lot, little more than a 30 second boat ride away. As a result, my mental image of Cache was of a very small lake with delicious desserts. It turns out that mental image was incorrect. This time, I was joined by my brother-in-law who has significantly more tripping experience than I do and is also very capable of reading a map, a skill that seemed to completely desert me that day. So it was very good to have him along, otherwise I’d probably still be paddling around Cache Lake trying to find my way through the islands that dot that lake. Fortunately, thanks to his guidance, we ended up at the Hilliard Lake portage with a minimum number of wrong turns.
Hilliard is the first of 7 lakes between Cache Lake and Cradle Lake. There are a grand total of 2 campsites across those 7 lakes. I imagine this lack of sites is because most people prefer not to camp on bug infested quicksand lakes that smell a bit like a fish tank that really needs a good cleaning. Or maybe just because the people who would have cleared out the campsites were carried off by mosquitos while crossing the portages between the lakes. But I get ahead of myself.
The portage between Cache and Hilliard was my first hint that this trip was going to be different from the day before. Where the portages along the Source-Canisbay route are fairly flat and well maintained, the portages down the western side of the Cache loop are a bit rougher, buggier and certainly have more changes in elevation. By the time I was across the Hilliard portage I had acquired a small but devoted following of mosquitos and black flies and fallen flat on my face when a root jumped out of nowhere and tripped me. Hilliard itself is nice enough, although I don’t think I’d ever want to camp there. It seems more a lake you paddle through on the way to somewhere else.
The next lake in the chain, Delano Lake, is not that somewhere else. Like Hilliard, it’s nice enough, but not what I’d consider a great stopping point (I have seen some pretty gorgeous sunset shots taken from the Delano’s lone campsite, so it’s probably not as forgettable as I’m saying it is). The portage out of Delano is 900+ m and it starts with a steep uphill that never ends. Well, until it does, on a tiny little “lake” called South Canisbay that is mostly memorable for the shin deep mud you have to wade through for the last 10 metres of the portage up from Delano¹.
Mohawk, Little Mohawk and Plough Lakes are all … fine, I guess. I don’t know. By this point I was a bit sick of small lakes and long, buggy portages so I probably wasn’t feeling as charitably towards them as I could. There aren’t any campsites on any of them, and I don’t think there are really and decent places to pull up on shore and have a swim. So … yeah. Maybe take a jetpack over these ones? That’s a thing, right? Jet pack canoe tripping?
Cradle Lake is a return to deeper, wider lakes and a great place to stop for lunch. There is a campsite on the south shore of the first part of Cradle Lake that has shoreline on both Cradle Lake and Bonnechere Lake and makes for a fantastic unofficial portage if you’re going that direction. Which we were. We pulled up on the site for lunch and debated whether the water was deep enough to do some clifflet (really, really small cliffs) jumping. It was. But only in the sense that any amount of water is deep enough for cliff(let) jumping. If the question was “is this water deep enough to do some cliff(let) jumping without breaking every bone in your body?” The answer would be a heartfelt “no”, probably whispered through a full body cast if you only figured it out after jumping.
After lunch we left Bonnechere for the southern part of the loop. It took us across Phipps, Kirkwood and Pardee Lakes (with a stopover on Lawrence Lake). All four lakes are quite nice, especially in comparison to the smaller ones that we’d been on for most of the morning. One thing to note, the portage between Bonnechere and Phipps says it’s 175m, which is I guess technically accurate. However, after that 175m there’s at least that much again, if not more, of mostly dried up creek and soft ground you have to continue carrying across. Depending on how heavy your boat/gear is there’s a spot about halfway down the creek where you can put in (which we did) and push your way out. But, regardless, don’t be fooled by the relatively easy looking portage shown on the map.
The portage between Pardee Lake and Harness Lake, however, is a relatively easy looking 145m portage that comes as advertised. The trail is in good condition and there’s even a bridge over some falls at one point, which makes for a nice view. I think. There was a canoe on my head. Harness itself is one of the lakes in the Park with both backpacking and canoe tripping campsites. The Highland Backpacking Trail runs along parts of the eastern shore of the lake, and there are a number of sites set back from the water for backpackers. Fortunately, the only site on the eastern shore that’s marked as a canoe site also happens to be the best site on the lake². So, take that backpackers. I highly recommend stopping on Harness, and that site in particular if it’s available. Maybe even if it’s not.
Head Lake was the last new lake on this particular trip. The highlight of this lake is far and away the small waterfall tucked away in a bay in the south-east part of the lake. My daughter pointed out that one of the rock formations in the falls looks like Darth Vader’s mask and she was totally right. So from now on those falls will be known as Vader Falls. There are two sites in that bay, one of which I’ve heard is called the Honeymoon site because of its seclusion, proximity to Vader Falls and if you stay there when the moon is full a magical jar of honey appears at midnight. The other site doesn’t have a name, but it does have a long hike up from the shore to the camping area. I guess you can call it the Honeymoon’s Over site, because by the time you actually get all your stuff up there you’ll probably be arguing with your partner over who was dumb enough to pick such an inconvenient site.
A quick word about the portage between Head Lake and Cache Lake: It’s long. And feels even longer at the end of a full day of tripping as opposed to the beginning. I don’t have any advice for how to fix that. Maybe the jet pack thing again?
Once again, it was a fantastic day on the water. I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been getting with weather so far. All in all, I’m glad we did the whole route, but I don’t know if I’d ever have to paddle the west side of the loop again. I definitely have to check out the falls on Head Lake and the site on Harness again. You should too.
47 down, 53 to go.
New Lakes Paddled: 16
Total Lakes Paddled: 17
Total Portages: 16
Total Distance Portaged: 8.655 km
Total Distance Covered: 27.4 km