This post is a continuation of Barron Canyon Bound – Part 1. If you haven’t read Part 1 I highly recommend going back and checking it out. Unless you’re a good looking rebel who plays by your own rules, in which case, by all means read it backwards.
Booked that site on Cork? Great. Let’s continue.
The first thing you notice about Cork Lake is the sheer rock wall rising along the eastern shore. It runs the length of the lake before petering out towards the south end into a smaller set of ledges that are perfect for jumping (the water is surprisingly deep in many places right up until the shore). Cork’s two campsites are located at this end of the lake and we chose the southernmost. It’s a wide, flat site separated into a series of ledges almost like terraces. Toothpick straight pine trees dot the site, spaced just far enough apart that you can tie up a good tarp structure in a couple of places. We chose a spot on a small ledge about five feet above the water for our tent and rigged up a tarp above it as the forecast had been calling for heavy rain that night. I then spent the better part of the next hour jumping off the ledge in front of the tent, scaring the (seemed like hundreds) of fish that kept gathering in the water there. We ate dinner with our legs dangling over the ledges, watching the sun set over the western shore¹. Not long after the sun disappeared, I followed suit, worn out from the day and acutely aware that the next day would start with a 2 km portage over to Length Lake.
The next morning found us at the start of the Cork-Length portage in the pouring rain, looking at an uphill climb over slippery rocks and wondering if maybe it’d be better to just go back to the site and sleep for another six hours. What followed was one of the most miserable portages in my life. The entire thing is uphill, and we’re not talking about a gentle climb either. About a third of the way through I was wondering if the portage designers had been drunk when they laid out the route. About two thirds of the way through I was wondering why I’d ever wanted to visit this part of the Park in the first place. By the end of the portage I was ready to chop up my canoe for firewood and build a (well contained) signal fire to flag down a passing helicopter for a lift back to the car. Sadly, the canoe was made of Kevlar which totally doesn’t burn, so we were forced to keep going.
Length Lake is, contrary to its name, not that long. The entry to the portage down to Cork is somewhat hidden from the lake, almost as if the portage itself knows it’s hot rocky garbage and doesn’t want you to use it. It was a quick paddle across Length followed by a short portage over to Marie Lake where I got my first leech of the summer. That required some quick leech-specific surgery followed by a not very quick carry from Marie to St. Andrew’s. This portage wasn’t quite as bad as the one between Cork and Length, but it had its challenges. The final descent towards St. Andrew’s Lake could get a second job as a double black diamond during ski season. It is steep, rocky and slipperier than a greased pig running from a luau. All I can say is that I’m glad I wasn’t going the other way. So, to recap, so far my morning had consisted of: rain, leeches and a set of portages from somewhere worse than Hell. Super Hell, I guess. Things could only get better though, right?
Remember Blowy, the Wind God? Well, he hadn’t forgotten us. He had very kindly arranged for a nice wind to come up and blow away the rain clouds as we made our way back across St. Andrew’s. Unfortunately, that same wind resulted in a significant headwind all the way down Stratton. There are few things more frustrating than feeling like you’re moving backwards with every forward stroke². It took almost twice as long to paddle Stratton as it had the day before, and by the time we arrived at our next portage we were both exhausted. One thing, there is a set of natural water slides in the High Falls area. You get to them by paddling up the bay at the eastern end of Stratton. We weren’t able to visit them this trip as we were short on time, but I’ve been before and they are a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours.
We decided to go out through Johnson and Berm Lake on the theory that this would be a bit faster than paddling all of Stratton and it would cut down on the amount of time we had to spend battling headwinds. This was a sound theory, and would have been proven wildly successful if we hadn’t spent a good half an hour looking for the final portage out of Berm Lake. The map shows the portage to be very close to the put in from the Johnson Lake portage, but it is not marked at all. We paddled up and down the shore looking for the put in before giving up and just pulling up close to one of the backpacking trails. We never did find the portage, but the trail we followed put us right out in the parking lot, which was very much appreciated as I don’t think either of us had any interest in paddling another inch that day.
Despite the challenges of the second day, this was a fantastic trip. I can’t recommend Cork Lake enough and it was great getting to see a part of the park I don’t usually get to visit. This is one of the prettiest parts in an already beautiful park, so it’s no surprise that people rave about it. If you get a chance, go see the Canyon and the Cascades. Hang out at the water slides and stay on Cork Lake. Just make sure you take plenty of signal flares in case you need to flag down a passing helicopter on the Length Lake portage.
93 Down (to this point), 7 to Go.
New Lakes Paddled: 12
Total Lakes Paddled: 14
Total Portages: 19
Total Distance Portaged: 8.895 KM
Total Distance Covered: 35.40 KM