This is the conclusion of my Into the Wind trip log. The New York Times has not called it “a stunning tour du force of love, loss and the ties that bind us” but they’re welcome to do so if they want. It’d be super inaccurate, but I can’t control what the New York Times writes. Yet. For part one, click here.
We ate lunch at the Lake La Muir end of the La Muir/Deer Yard portage and contemplated what was left of our day. The trip up from Merchant had been the portage heavy half of the route, and I was looking forward to settling into the canoe without having to think about getting back out any time soon. Our destination for the evening was Hogan Lake, which lay just one lake east from us. Sounds like a pretty easy rest of the day, right? Well, yes and no. Despite Hogan being only one lake away, we had almost the same distance to cover in the afternoon as we had had in the morning, because Lake La Muir never. fucking. ends. We finished up our meals, packed the boat and pushed off, whereby I immediately realized one seldom considered benefit to portaging: you don’t (usually) get a headwind on a portage.
Remember how it had been pretty windy on Merchant, and how Hemlock was basically a wind tunnel? Well, being the crack wind scientist that I am, I figured that since we’d now be heading east instead of north maybe the wind wouldn’t be as big a hassle. Except it turns out that my wind science degree is actually just a thing I drew on an empty pizza box and I failed to take into account two important considerations: 1) while we were in fact travelling eastward, we were also still travelling north for the first half of our La Muir paddle. This meant that we were still dealing with a headwind and, in the time that we’d been enjoying our lunch at the end of the portage, the headwind had called up all its headwind buddies and invited them to come party on La Muir. 2) Drew’s Law of Fuck This Nonsense I Hate Everything proves that no matter which way I am paddling I will always be paddling into a headwind, so changing directions didn’t matter. At all.
The waves were high as we paddled away from the portage, and only got worse when we rounded a corner and moved out of the protection of the nearby shore. I’m not one to exaggerate or blow things out of proportion, but these waves had to be at least ten feet high, and were probably filled with sharks (also, there was definitely some whitecap action that wasn’t super welcome given that our boat was still loaded to the brim). Interestingly, I found the weight of the boat actually helped a bit. Instead of bobbing up and down on top of the water, the waves kind of broke around the bow, making for a slightly smoother ride. So hooray for overpacking?
Despite the help from the extra weight, keeping us straight was still an effort. The wind would wait until I thought I’d found a nice rhythm then subtly change direction just to fuck with me. It took some time, but eventually we got close enough to the far shore that some of the wind was cut. Of course, saying we’d reached the far shore isn’t the same as saying we’d reached the end of La Muir. Once you reach the end of the main body of La Muir there’s this very calm little narrows area that connects to a (not so) little mini-lake that used to be called Mud Lake and, after Mud Lake, a stretch of river paddling that leads into the portage. On the map, neither Mud Lake nor the river look like long paddles, but they don’t exactly feel short in real life. This is particularly true when you paddle into Mud Lake from the protection of the narrows and the headwind you thought you’d left behind in the main part of the lake comes back to life like Jason Voorhees. Fortunately, the Mud Lake headwind was a true headwind instead of the head/sidewind we’d had a few minutes earlier. Dealing with wind face on made it somewhat easier to paddle against. Somewhat. I have no pictures of my paddle through this part as my GoPro had run out of batteries and I was too busy cursing the inventor of wind to take pictures with my phone. So, basically, Mud Lake exists and it’s windy. So windy.
We reached the end of Mud Lake and paddled into the river part that leads to the Hogan portage, grateful for the protection the narrower shores gave us from the omnipresent wind. This was a pretty part to paddle as it funneled down to the portage landing. The trees on either side are a mix of cedar and, um … not cedar, both living and dead. There are some big rocks poking out of the water near both shores and, at the point where the portage begins, there’s a floating mass of sun bleached logs strewn across the river like the world’s largest game of pickup sticks. At first I thought we were going to have to paddle through that mess, but then I noticed the dock just off to the left of the logs and breathed a sigh of relief that turned into a semi-snort of pain about halfway through. By this point my legs had been pretzeled under me for the better part of an hour and my back was trying to convince them to join it in a bloody yet glorious mutiny, so all I really wanted to do was get out of the boat. Which is exactly what we did.
The portage between Lake La Muir and Hogan is really nice. It’s wide, mostly flat and easy to follow, although it does hit you with a fun little Choose Your Own Adventure decision near the La Muir end of the carry. You get out of the boat at a massive dock that seems kind of out of place this deep in the Park. You then follow a sturdily built boardwalk for the first 100m or so until you get to the end, and here’s where I got a bit confused. Like Luke Skywalker staring at Darth Vader’s outstretched hand on the catwalk underneath the Cloud City, there were two paths we could follow at that point. One veered off to the right from the boardwalk and one continued on in the direction of the boardwalk after it ended. Both looked perfectly legit and there was no sign indicating which is the proper way to go. Dan had gone ahead of us with the boat so that when we reached the fork we had no idea a) which was the correct path and, b) which one Dan had chosen. We decided to take the right hand option and, because we’re good path guessers, it turned out that it was the correct choice. We later found out that Dan had decided to take the left hand path, making him a bad path guesser, except that path also ended up being the correct choice. There’s a point about halfway through the portage where, as was prophesied by the Spice Girls lo those many years ago, the two paths meet and become one. After that, it’s a pretty easy carry the rest of the way and before you know it you’re at the Hogan end of the portage, staring out at a small creek and wondering how they could jam so many bullrushes into such a small space.
The paddle out through the creek took a bit longer than I thought it would, but that’s pretty much always the case as far as creeks are concerned, because creeks are awful. Eventually the creek turned into a wider, swampier (but still plenty deep enough to paddle) pond type thing before finally emptying into Hogan Lake. The first thing I noticed about Hogan was that the far shore can, unlike so many lakes in the Park, actually be called the far shore. It’s a loooong way to what looks like the eastern end of the lake, and I’m pretty sure that what looks like the eastern side of the lake is only about halfway to the actual eastern end of the lake. The second thing I noticed was the awesome looking set of cliffs along the south shore, just past the bay leading down to the Big Crow portage. I imagine the view from up top of those cliffs is spectacular and I’d love to go back some day to climb them. The third thing I noticed was that if I didn’t stop admiring the views and start focusing on keeping the boat from tipping, the wind and waves were going to give me a whole new, mostly underwater, set of views to check out very quickly.
The paddle across that first part of Hogan was probably the most nerve wracking of the trip. The wind was coming from the east, giving the waves plenty of time to strengthen as they swept down the lake towards us. Our destination was the island campsite at the mouth of the bay leading down to the Crow portage. In the grand scheme of things, the site isn’t too far from the creek/beaver pond leading to La Muir, but we still managed to take on water a couple of times when we hit a wave at a bad angle or when my terror tears flowed too freely. We pushed through and, despite the waves and the weeping, eventually made it to the island, pulling up on the wide, rocky beach of what is now one of my top five sites I’ve visited in the Park.
I can’t say enough good things about that site on Hogan. The views are phenomenal, the site is in good shape and that wide, rocky beach is great for swimming. The fire pit and kitchen area are perched towards the top of a decent hill. This gives you a good view in many directions allowing you to admire the sights and, I suppose, get ample warning about any invading forces approaching from the south, west or north (you’re screwed if they come from the east though). The height of the island cuts the wind nicely, meaning that even with the wind and waves raging on the main body of the lake, we had a perfectly calm patch of water in front of us for swimming and watching loons do their loon things.
The only slight downside to the site is that the site literally has a downside. Thanks to the slope of the island, there aren’t a ton of level spots to work with when you’re looking to pitch your tent. You might end up sleeping on a bit of an angle, which isn’t awesome. You also might end up settling for a spot that is sorta level but that you’ll find out the next morning has some very specific drawbacks (here’s a handy tip: if you’re lying in your tent at night thinking to yourself that you smell particularly terrible for only the second day of a trip, maybe check to make sure that it is in fact you who smells, and that you haven’t pitched your tent beside a semi-frozen pile of human shit.) (Here’s another handy tip: don’t shit on camp sites). We passed a pleasant evening watching the stars, enjoying the campfire and being generally unaware that someone had taken a dump in the middle of our site at some point. Eventually I crawled into my tent and passed out, grateful that I’d brought my cold weather sleeping bag with me as the temperature went down to -1 that night.
We were packed up and off the site in good time the next morning. Our destination was the Opeongo end of the Opeongo/Proulx portage where our water taxi would (hopefully) be waiting. It was a beautiful morning. Pockets of mist rose up off the lake and the wind was, for once, nowhere to be found. The water was calm in front of us as we paddled south to the Big Crow portage and our first, and biggest, challenge of the day. At 3,750 meters, this portage had been looming in the backs of each or our minds for the entire trip. It turns out that 3.75 KM is a long way to carry anything, let alone a canoe and a pack. We’d decided that we would take turns with the boat. Each of us would carry until we got sick of listening to the other two talk about how great it was to not be carrying the boat, then we’d hand it off to the next guy. It was a great plan in theory, but Gordon screwed the entire thing up by picking the boat up on the Hogan end and not putting it down until Big Crow like some kind of portage shredding ninja.
One benefit of Gordon taking one for the team was that I got to really enjoy the Hogan to Big Crow portage, and it’s actually a pretty nice hike sans canoe. It starts off tough. Coming up from Hogan there’s a lengthy uphill section that throws like three fake flat bits at you before actually leveling off. After that it’s actually pretty smooth sailing, er, portaging. You cross a cart trail, then wander through a picturesque bit of forest complete with a nice boardwalk across some swampy parts. I wouldn’t want to play canoe chicken with someone coming the other way on those narrow bridges, but if you’re the only one on the path it’s a pleasant walk. Next you cross the cart trail again and tell your buddy who’s carrying the canoe that he’s almost done. About a kilometer later you meet up with the actual cart trail (which means there’s about a kilometer left to go) and realize that second cart trail you crossed was actually a road and that your buddy was nowhere near done when he crossed it. Next you feel grateful that your buddy has no energy left, what with all the canoe carrying he’s done, otherwise he’d probably strangle you for inadvertently tricking him into carrying the boat for the entire portage.
Trick or no trick, Gordon was a beast on that portage. When we reached Big Crow he put the canoe down with the smile of someone who has a) just accomplished something pretty impressive and, b) knows that they’re not going to have to carry a boat again for the rest of the trip.
The wind was back as we set off onto Big Crow. It was, of course, still a headwind. If you’re keeping track, at this point we’d paddled west, north, east and south, all of it with a headwind because that’s just how paddling works. Big Crow is another big lake, but it didn’t capture my imagination the way Hogan and La Muir did. The shoreline was kind of boring and even the tall cliffs at the south end somehow didn’t seem all that special despite looming impressively over the bay that connects Big Crow to the Crow River. We talked briefly about hiking the unofficial fire tower trail to the top of the cliff, but with the wind slowing us down and having just done a pretty lengthy hike, we were more interested in finding a site on Little Crow to pull up on and have a snack.
Little Crow connects to Big Crow by a small stretch of the Crow River. There are only three sites on the lake, all bunched together along the eastern shore. I didn’t love the look of the first two we passed, but the third was actually pretty nice. The site runs along a series of small rock ledges overlooking the lake. There’s a great western view from the fire pit and a nice set of swimming rocks where you pull up your boat. Gordon and Dan heated up some chili by those rocks while I explored the site a bit. The one knock against it would be that it looks like a well used spot. There was plenty of debris around the edges and someone had kindly left the next site user their non-flammable garbage in the fire pit (Dear everyone, your campsite’s fire pit is not a garbage bin. If you can’t burn it, transmute it into gold. If, for some reason, your alchemy skills are rusty, pack it out). Apart from that, it was a nice little site and a great spot to have (first) lunch.
Once our mid morning chili craving was satisfied we got back in the boat and paddled up the Crow River. It was unexpectedly slow through this part. The nearby shore cut the worst of the wind but, unfortunately, there was a surprisingly strong current ready and waiting to tap in as soon as we let our guard down. On the bright side, our slow progress meant we had plenty of time to really appreciate the scenery around us, including following a grazing heron who played bumper cars with us for about half the river. Every time we’d get close enough for me to fumble with my camera in the hopes of catching a picture, it would take to the air and fly just a bit further down the river, giving me the finger as it went.
We eventually arrived at Proulx Lake where the current happily handed us back off to the wind. We stopped at the first site on the eastern shore to get out and stretch our legs. As far as sites go, it was fine. I guess. It’s a smaller site, with a couple of tent spots and a pretty basic fire pit. The Thunderbox is surprisingly close to the site proper, so at least you don’t have to worry about getting lonely while you’re using the bathroom. I probably wouldn’t use that site as a spot to stop for more than a night, but it’s definitely serviceable enough to stay over on your way to somewhere better.
Legs sufficiently stretched we got back in the canoe for the homestretch. Proulx is built kind of like an upside down T. We paddled down to the three way intersection at the south end of the lake. From here you can go east towards a couple of campsites and not much else, west towards a bunch more campsites and the Proulx/Opeongo portage or back the way you came if the idea of getting back to civilization becomes too much to bear. We turned west, and that’s when it happened. The wind changed. The breeze shifted ever so subtly and all of a sudden instead of dealing with yet another variant of a headwind we were speeding towards the portage, the wind at our backs like we were starring in a mid 90s period drama on CBC. I swear I saw a pig pass by overhead, enjoying the tailwind as only a flying pig can (it may have been a seagull). It was beautiful. And, since it will probably never happen again, I’m going to treasure that memory for the rest of my life.
We rode the wind into the Proulx/Opeongo portage like the conquering heroes that we were. The only thing between us and a sweet taxi ride down Opeongo was a 1.4 KM portage that could also be split into two shorter portages with some swamp paddling, if we were so inclined. We were not so inclined. We picked up our gear for the last time and started across with springs in our steps and a canoe on our heads. This was an awesome portage. The only thing remotely difficult about it was the length, and maybe the crippling fear that it was too good to be true and we were going to round a corner and find ourselves faced with a rickety rope bridge over a chasm full of hungry wolfbears. That didn’t happen. The majority of this carry is along a cart trail. This meant that the path was wide, flat and clear. The only time it turned into an actual portage is when it went around the small pond near the Proulx end that looks like a great spot to get a leech, but otherwise exists only to slow people down. All in all, it’s not a bad way to end a trip.
We came out on the Opeongo end with more than an hour to spare. Dan made us second lunch and we passed the time chatting with another tripper who was also waiting for the taxi. Once the taxi arrived we loaded our gear with just a touch of regret. It was an awesome weekend and it was hard to believe that the trip was over. I really enjoyed seeing the lakes north of Opeongo and hope to get back up there soon. The big water views are incredible and the kind of thing you just don’t get paddling around some of the spots closer to the west gate. I’m looking forward to getting back to check out that site on Hogan again (those cliffs aren’t going to climb themselves) but next time I’ll probably try to avoid sleeping next to a pile of pooh. Maybe.
Oh, also, there was a headwind on Opeongo, but that didn’t bother us one bit.
Thank God for water taxis.
202 down. 328 to go.
New Lakes Paddled: 10
Total Lakes Paddled: 11
Total Portages: 10
Total Portage Distance: 13.2 KM
Total Travel Distance: 46.3 KM