Islet in the Sun

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This picture is totally unrelated to the paragraph beside it.

I dropped my backpack on my kitchen floor the other night. This wouldn’t usually be something worth writing about. I’ve got three kids. I drop backpacks, or have them dropped on me, on a regular basis. One might argue that it would be more unusual for me to be not dropping a backpack on the floor than it would be for me to be dropping one. Anyways, TLDR, I dropped my backpack on the floor and usually that wouldn’t be very exciting. But, usually, I wouldn’t have a can of bear spray go off inside that dropped backpack. This time … well, yeah.

Here’s a fun piece of advice, if the only possible liquid thing in your backpack is industrial grade pepper spray, and the inside of your bag is inexplicably wet when you open it, don’t touch the wet stuff. And, for God’s sake, don’t sniff it.

Anyways, now that my hands have stopped burning and I can breath again, let’s talk about the time I went to Islet Lake.

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Blue skies. Bug Gear. Can’t Lose.

I pulled up to the Rain Lake access point under beautifully blue skies and the promise of an actual, honest to God, warm day (unlike the many, many, unwarm days that had preceded it this spring). I had a solo swift Keywadin 15 from Canoe Algonquin strapped to the top of my car and a cloud of mosquitoes following close behind, licking their lips like so many tiny vampires. Unfortunately for those bugs, I learned my lesson last year. Along with a pair of very fashion forward zip off pants, I was also rocking long sleeves, a bug jacket and enough bug spray to qualify me as a chemical weapon. I got out of the car, laughing derisively at the mosquitoes, and immediately started sweating under my layers. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to get the canoe off the car and onto the water. There was a nice little breeze blowing towards me as I set off, chasing the bugs away and drying the rivers or sweat pouring down my forehead. I paddled away from the dock with one tremendously ambitious goal for the day: to find a place with enough of a cross breeze that I could hang my hammock for a couple of hours and read a book.

I’ve never paddled out of Rain Lake before. I passed through it, but only to get from Sawyer to Casey, so I hadn’t really clued in to how long the lake is. The stretch between the access point and the main part of the lake is … fine. It’s basically a glorified river broken up by one wider area where you can peel off and head down to McCraney Lake if you’re in the mood for a 1.6 KM portage.  The scenery along this part is interesting, I guess, and there’s a cool little island about a kilometer in that dominates the middle of the river and is itself dominated by a single red spruce (I think. I made it my goal this year to learn how to identify trees beyond “yup, that’s a tree. Probably”. I’ve got a book and everything. It’s all very exciting) (update: it wasn’t a red spruce. Probably a white spruce. On the plus side at least it was a spruce. Probably.) but beyond that I don’t know if I ever really need to paddle that part of the world again.

That being said, even if I don’t want to paddle it I can always hike it some day. There’s a section of the Western Uplands Backpacking Trail that runs along the south side of Rain Lake which … I don’t know. I don’t mind portages, in fact I kind of like them, but the thing I like best about them is that they end. To me, hiking is just signing yourself up for a never ending portage/blackfly endurance challenge, and I have no idea why I’d want to do that for more than a couple of hours at a time. (Also I’ve seen both Desolation and Backcountry. I know how hiking trips end). Prove me wrong, hiking enthusiasts. Prove me wrong.

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Paddling into the main part of Rain Lake

By the time I reached Rain’s main area the nice little breeze from earlier had turned into a less than nice, not so little, headwind. It wasn’t enough to make paddling too difficult, but it was enough that I was glad I was only going into the wind as far as the portage up to Hot Lake. There are a few campsites around this part of the lake, including one very nice one on Rain’s main island that comes complete with its own fireplace and chimney for all your Santa Claus hosting needs. I passed it on the way to the portage but there was someone on it, so I couldn’t get out and explore.

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It looks worse than it is.

Pulling in to the portage leading up to Hot Lake can be kind of daunting. There’s a wooden staircase built into the side of the hill that goes up, then goes up some more. While the stairs end fairly quickly, the uphill doesn’t appear to go away nearly as fast, and you can be forgiven for wondering if Hot Lake is worth all the (anticipated) effort (spoiler: it isn’t, but Islet is). Some of the stairs are also built for a mythical race of portage giants who don’t mind a three foot step up to the next level (you know, the same portage giants who built the Algonquin pyramids). The good news is, once you actually start the portage, it isn’t nearly as bad as you think it will be. Sure, it’s uphill, but it’s a manageable uphill. There are some mucky bits along the way, but you can get around those if you don’t mind crashing through the bush like a drunk moose for a few steps.

Hot Lake is small and cold. Basically, everything about its name is a lie. It’s more of a lakelet than a full blown lake, and it’s definitely not fed by some underground hot spring. Still, the scenery was quite nice for the (very short) paddle across to the next portage, a 455m carry over to Islet that was pleasant enough as far as I can remember.

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Hot Lake. Here it is. Enjoy.

By the time I reached Islet Lake I’d been on the water for just under two hours. My goal was to get to the island campsite in the middle of the lake and, hopefully, find a bug free spot to set up my hammock.  I’d never been to that site (or that lake) before, but I’d heard good things about the island and was looking forward to checking it out. The wind had picked up some more, but now it was behind me as I paddled south(ish). I stopped briefly to check out the point campsite just past the portage, but aside from a really nice canoe landing/swimming/bug buffet area, the site itself wasn’t that exciting. The fire pit and tent spots are further into the woods and fairly closed off from the water. I guess it would be well sheltered in bad weather, but it felt kinda gloomy on what was an otherwise beautiful day. Also, it’s currently occupied by a metric ton of black flies, and they don’t seem to be planning on moving on anytime soon.

I pushed off from the point site and drifted down Islet towards the island site, swatting some hitchhiking mosquitoes, eating a sandwich and letting the wind do most of the work. By the time I washed up on the island’s shore the sandwich was gone and so were the bugs. I got out of the canoe, took a quick look around and realized that I’d found the perfect little slice of sun drenched paradise in which to hang my hammock.

I can’t say enough about how much I liked this site. It’s compact, room for maybe a couple of tents at most, but it’s got everything you could want. A nice fire pit area, great swimming, great views, a set of pines on the island’s northern tip that must have been put there by the hammock gods and, most importantly, no bugs. The wind that had been so helpful in getting me to the island, was doing a damn good job of blowing through the island as well, keeping it relatively bug free and quite comfortable despite the heat of the day.  I hung my hammock, took a swim, shrieked a little because the water is still very cold, and then basically did fuck all for the next two hours.

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The view from my hammock.

Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t live in my hammock forever and that I’d have to start thinking about heading back. At this point I was left with two choices, I could go back the way I came or I could make it a full loop and go down through the Weed/Way lakes to McCraney, then back up to Rain. This would mean a few more, and longer portages, and about 5 extra kilometers of travel, but it would also let me cross some more lakes off the list that would otherwise be inconvenient to get to on another trip. Pre-hammock nap Drew had been all about completing the loop. Post-hammock nap Drew was feeling very relaxed and had no idea why pre-hammock nap Drew had been so excited about spending any more time than was absolutely necessary battling the bugs along a bunch of low maintenance portages. Eventually, post-hammock nap Drew dragged his lazy ass out of his hammock and dragged pre-hammock nap Drew kicking and screaming back the way he had come.

So, yeah, I went back by way of Rain Lake.

Along the way I stopped and checked out a few of Rain Lake’s campsites and I have to say I was presently surprised. For some reason my mental image of an access point lake campsite is basically Los Angeles, post Skynet, but with slightly fewer Terminators. I just figure the sites will be overused and beaten down and, I guess, crawling with intelligent machines hell bent on eradicating the human race. I’m happy to say that none of the sites I visited were in such dire straits, and I didn’t run into a single T-800 the entire trip. In fact, a couple of the sites were actually quite nice.

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Algonquin’s pizza oven.

By far my favourite was the island site with the chimney that I’d noticed on my way up to Islet earlier in the day. By the time I came back to Rain whoever had been on the site had moved on, so I was able to pull up and check it out. It’s a fantastic spot. The chimney is attached to a fireplace (as chimneys are wont to do) that sits in the middle of a clearing that must have at one point housed a cottage or a lodge or something else that uses a chimney (like a chimney factory maybe?). There’s tons (and tons) of space for tents, the island is huge, you’ve got great western views, great swimming, your own private beach … I could go on, but you get the picture. I could easily see myself coming back to that site with my kids, setting up shop for a couple of days and maybe doing a day trip with them up to Islet.

The site due west from that island one, on the tip of the point at the mouth of the river, is also nice enough, although in a much more unspectacular way. It’s more what I would expect from an interior campsite, but it’s definitely a decent option if the island site is taken and you can’t scare the inhabitants off by pretending to be the ghosts of whoever built that fireplace. There are a couple of tent spots, some decent spots for swimming and the fire pit has a good, if somewhat obstructed view of the island, so you can gaze out at what you’re missing.

The final site I checked in on was the one just west of the point site along the river. Of all the sites I visited on this trip, this was easily my least favourite. There wasn’t much in the way of a view, the site kind of feels like it’s just been plunked down in the middle of the woods and getting up and down from the canoe landing kind of sucks. Also, it smelled funny. It probably doesn’t help that by this point I was getting pretty tired and I’d just spilled 2 litres of water in the bottom of my canoe. Anyways, I checked the site out, made a mental note to never visit it again, and hopped back in my canoe for the access point and home.

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Looking homeward from site #5

The rest of the paddle went uneventfully and I pulled up to the dock about seven hours after I’d left. I met a father and his two teenage sons who were getting ready to set out for a few days and exchanged a few quick hellos with the cloud of vampire bugs who had so kindly waited for me to get back. Eventually, after much cursing and swatting, I got my canoe back on my vehicle and was headed back down the road.

As far as day trips go, this was a really nice one. I usually try to push myself as far and as fast as possible on these things, and it was kind of nice to take things at a different speed for once. I really enjoyed the trip out of Rain, and Islet, at least the island site on Islet, is a fantastic spot to visit. I get the feeling that this summer may hold a few more shorter trips like this one in store; if they’re even half as good as this one it’ll be a pretty good summer.

img_8940205 down, 325 to go.

New Lakes Paddled: 2
Total Lakes Paddled: 3
Total Portages: 4
Total Portage Distance: 2.31 KM
Total Travel Distance: 15.8  KM

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2 thoughts on “Islet in the Sun

  1. Thanks Drew, as always entertaining & informative.

    Like

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