This post is a continuation on from my previous post, A Night on Ragged. It covers the second day of my three day trip starting from Canoe Lake, down through Lake Louisa and up to the Lake of Two Rivers. It also, hopefully, covers some handy tips for how best to approach a portage called the “double devil’s staircase” (Don’t). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I left the Ragged Lake portage having dropped off my daughter and brother-in-law on the Smoke lake end of the portage. I covered Ragged in detail in my last post, so the only thing I’ll add here is that Ragged is larger than I thought. It took me a while to paddle to the next portage, giving me ample time to think about all the things that could go wrong over the next 24 hours (bear, tornado, bear tornado etc.). At this point, I was now on my own with nothing but a canoe, a paddle, a pack, a tent, a water bottle, a map, some food, lifejacket … actually, I had a lot of stuff. Just how much stuff would be driven home to me when I reached the portage between Ragged and Big Porcupine.
The portage between Ragged and Big Porcupine is called the Devil’s Staircase. That’s because someone, the Devil presumably, decided that nine circles of hell weren’t enough and literally built a staircase into the never-ending hill up from Ragged to punish unsuspecting canoe trippers. This was my first fully loaded portage of the day and I have to admit I wasn’t as careful with how I attached assorted loose pieces to my pack. The net result is that I had a full Nalgene smacking into my leg with every step up that hill, my bailer kit wedged into my lower back and a renewed determination to have the Park take a second look at my proposal to install Canoetapults on every portage.
There are two options if you’re making your way south on Big Porc. The first is to paddle the entire lake, which involves a long curve around a peninsula near the northern end of the lake. The second is to portage across that peninsula. I decided on the second option and was pleased to see that the changes I’d made to my pack after the Devil’s Staircase disaster (no hanging crap, better distribution of weight inside the pack) made the carry over slightly less pain inducing. Slightly. Following the portage I still had to paddle the bulk of Big Porc. It’s a very pretty lake with what look like some decent campsites. Well worth the extra portage for anyone looking to get a bit more adventurous on an overnight trip.
The portage between Big Porc and Little Coon is tricky at first. The approach to the portage is a bit swampy and actually offers you two choices when you arrive, kind of like a choose your own adventure only with more mud and less (hopefully) opportunities for untimely ends to the story. There’s a sign on some semi-solid ground that supposedly marks the start of the portage. There’s also a small creek that runs past the sign towards what looks like the actual start of the portage. I get the feeling that no matter which one you pick there’s going to be a lot of swearing in your immediate future, but I can say unequivocally that this will definitely be the case if you decide to trust the sign and pull up on the semi-solid ground, which I did. About ten feet past where the portage starts the ground goes from being semi-solid to not-solid, otherwise known as mud. Really deep mud. Under a thin layer of water. Teeming with leeches (probably). I ended up having to put the canoe down, lay it across the mud puddle and use it as a bridge. This happened three times in about thirty metres before I came to a deeper pool and a second portage sign that I imagine would be more relevant when the water is high enough to follow the creek past the first sign. Regardless, it was a tough, and time consuming, start to the portage. But no leeches! So, that was good.
Little Coon Lake has the distinction of being the last place I saw another tripper until I reached Lake Louisa. It also has the distinction of being the start of the Double Devil’s Staircase portage that links Little Coon and the Whatnot Lakes. This portage is another steep climb, complete with switchbacks and stairs built into the hillside. It also has a bench and a canoe rest at the top of the path, both of which contributed to the “so, maybe I’ll just live here from now on?” feeling I was having by that point as the prospect of carrying the canoe another step had become about as attractive as this dog.
After the Double Devil’s Staircase I passed through Upper Whatnot and on to McGarvey Lake. I had a great tailwind on McGarvey that let me have a snack while being blown towards my next portage. McGarvey is a good sized lake with only a few campsites. It’s also something of a crossroads in that you can head north, west, south or east at various points along the lake. Given this access, and the fact that it’s a very nice lake, I was a bit surprised not to cross paths with another trip or see anyone on the campsites. For whatever reason, this really drove home the fact that I was out there alone and once again my brain started helpfully flipping through its mental scrapbook of all the terrible things that could happen, up to and including me becoming the star of the Algonquin Witch Project. By the time I arrived at the McGarvey-Lemon portage I was half convinced that when I checked back over my Go Pro pictures at the end of the trip I was going to start seeing a blurred figure in the background of each shot, watching from the woods, waiting. The good news is that totally didn’t happen. The other good news is that the fear of flesh-eating forest demons bursting out of the woods is a great motivator to get you across a portage.
The portage ended with no forest demon attacks at a small put-in on Lemon Lake. Lemon Lake is tiny, but beautiful. It could go 12 rounds with Lake Louisa in a cage match to determine which lake on this route was the prettiest. Lousia would win, but only because it snuck a chair into the ring and clocked Lemon Lake when it wasn’t looking. I expect part of Lemon’s charm was that the clouds that had been creeping in all afternoon seemed to break up as soon as I hit the water, bathing the lake and the surrounding forest in warm afternoon sun. The breeze that had given me my tailwind on McGarvey whispered through the trees and by the time I had crossed to the next portage all thoughts of forest demons had disappeared and I was once again feeling nothing but peace and excitement at what was to come (also hunger).
The portage between North Grace and Louisa was to be my last for the day. It was also to be my longest of the day. I have to admit, I was equal parts happy and unhappy by this point (So, neutral, I guess). I was happy because I couldn’t wait to get over the portage and onto Louisa where I was staying the night. I was unhappy because by this point I’d been travelling for five hours and the last thing I wanted was to do another portage, especially not another long one (well, probably the last thing I wanted to do was coat myself in honey and ask an angry bear to slow dance, but you get the idea). That being the case, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I made it across the portage. And I was flat out thrilled by what was waiting for me on the other end.
If you asked someone to describe a perfect Algonquin evening on a perfect Algonquin lake, they’d probably come up with something pretty close to what I found on Louisa. I arrived as the sun was making the transition from late afternoon to early evening. The entire lake was bathed in a warm glow, the kind of natural softening that you could never replicate no matter how many filters you tried. The sun glinted off the waves beneath small puffs of white cloud overhead and a moderate tailwind pushed me away from the portage and out onto the water. I’ve heard from many people who have travelled through the Park that Louisa is one of their favourite lakes and it’s easy to see why.
I’d been told by a couple of people that the first campsite on the southern shore after the portage was excellent so I tried for that first. Unfortunately, someone else had gotten there first and it’s generally considered “not good” if you pull up to someone’s site, pack them up and shove them off with a multitude of threats and incoherent screams. So I didn’t do that. This time. Instead, I paddled onwards, hoping that one of the two single island sites in the western end of Louisa would be free. They weren’t, but one of the sites on a double occupancy island a bit further down the lake was free. After a quick inspection (firepit: check, flat ground: check, signs of either forest demons or angry bears: uncheck) I decided this would be a perfect place to stop for the night.
It’s also a perfect place to stop for this post (see what I did there?). My next post will finish off this trip. Until then, enjoy the heck out of your weekend.
72 down (to this point), 28 to go.
New Lakes Paddled: 7
Total Lakes Paddled: 8
Total Portages: 8
Total Distance Portaged: 5.145 KM
Total Distance Covered: 22.4 KM