It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a group of men in possession of a good saw, will saw the shit out of a bunch of logs. – Jane Austen, probably.
My final trip this year was another weekender with some buddies from work. There were four of us: myself, Rob, Todd and Nigel. This was Nigel’s first time out with me, Todd’s second and, somehow, Rob’s fifth, despite his last trip being this one and his first trip being an overnight in October where the thermometer hit 1 degree. This was meant to be a pretty low key weekend. We were heading in from the Shall Lake access point and setting up on Booth Lake for both nights. We’ve done similar trips the past couple of years and we’ve gotten pretty lucky with good weather and great sites.
This would be my second time leaving from the Shall Lake access point and my first time visiting Booth Lake. My last trip out of this access point ended with us portaging out along a logging road in the middle of a sleet storm, so I figured there was a very low bar for the weather to hurdle for this trip to be an improvement. That was good, as my gear had only just finished drying out from the weekend before’s Rock Lake loop and my rain jacket was threatening to move somewhere with shorter hours and better working conditions. The good news is that we got yet another fantastic site for the weekend. The bad news is that I haven’t seen my raincoat since we got back, but yesterday I got a postcard that was just a picture of it giving me the finger in front of a sandy, sunny beach. Anyways, yeah, it rained a bit.
We arrived at the access point mid afternoon and were greeted by cloudy skies and a fun little sign in the permit office warning that it was windy as fuck on the water (not an exact quote, I’ve cleaned it up for public consumption). We pushed off into the narrows at the start of Farm Lake wondering just how bad things would get once we were on the open water. I had visions of us getting blown backwards after every paddle stroke and somehow ending up on Crotch Lake. Fortunately, once we reached the main part of Farm Lake it became clear that while it was true that the wind was blowing pretty hard, it also happened to be blowing in the same direction we were paddling.
It was a tailwind. An honest to God tailwind.
I’ve heard stories about tailwinds, spoken to people who swore up and down that they’d once met someone who knew someone who’d had a tailwind, but I didn’t believe them. At this point in my tripping career it felt like I was more likely to run into Bigfoot (which is a thing that will happen one day because Bigfoot 100% exists) than I was a non-frustrating-as-hell wind condition. As we paddled out onto Farm I felt like Indiana Jones the first time he drank from the Holy Grail: 95% of me couldn’t believe that I had finally found something I’d searched my whole life for, 5% of me was waiting for my face to melt off (or, more likely, the wind to change direction). But the wind didn’t change and my face didn’t melt and it ended up being a great paddle across Farm.
Before long we were through the main part of the lake and onto the stretch of river that leads to the End of Steel cabin and the Kitty Lake portage. It’s a nice little paddle, the river is a bit on the shallow side as you leave Farm Lake, but the scenery along the way is pleasant enough. I’m pretty sure we saw a heron at one point. And, if we didn’t, then I bet someone at some point probably has. It seems like heron country (maybe Bigfoot country too? Please?).
The portage over to Kitty Lake is very short and would probably be skippable in higher water conditions. Paddling across Kitty doesn’t take long and isn’t that exciting. There aren’t any campsites on the lake and, frankly, even if there were I probably wouldn’t want to stay there. Booth Lake, which is only a very easy 600 metre portage away, is so much nicer. So let’s talk about it instead.
We arrived at Booth about 10 minutes before the rain did. Booth is a pretty impressive lake. It’s big. You could stuff a handful of Kitty Lakes into it and still have room left over. You paddle out of the east and slowly turn north to see a large, open stretch of water in front of you (well, the amount you see depends on how much rain you’re trying to wipe out of your eyes. We didn’t see much). That open area looks like more than enough to be a good sized lake, but in truth it’s only about half of Booth. Beyond the open area to the north is a short narrows, then the lake doglegs west and opens up again into something about the same size as what you’re paddling through.
Our goal was a very specific site on Booth’s east shore that I’d heard was awesome. I’d checked with the permit office when we arrived and found out that there was only one group ahead of us on the lake, so I was already mentally preparing myself to be super pissed off when that group had grabbed the site I wanted. Except, they hadn’t! We passed a group on one of the first sites at the southern end of Booth, and while I envied their sheltered tent spots and tarp setup, I didn’t envy their terrible decision to not push just a bit further up the shoreline. Because, if they had, they would have found what we did: a fantastic beach site on its own private stretch of shoreline with lots of flat ground for tents and some amazing views. We also found rain. Lots of rain. But I’m pretty sure that other group found that as well.
It wasn’t a hard decision to make that site our home base for the weekend. Along with the beach and the views, the site had a good kitchen set up, a great fire pit and a nearby supply of dry(ish) wood to put in that fire pit. Nigel and I were a bit ahead of Todd and Rob, so we got unloaded and set about stringing up the tarp near the fire pit. This involved tying a bunch of knots. Here’s the thing about me and knots: I’m not very good at them. My general approach to knot tying is to just keep twisting pieces of rope around each other until I run out of line. It usually ends up holding okay, and so what if I need a jackhammer to get it undone at the end of the weekend? That’s a problem for future Drew. Fortunately for the integrity of this particular tarp structure, Todd actually knows a thing or two about knots. Once he and Rob arrived he showed us a really simple hitch knot that let him tie the lines taut quickly and easily. The end result was a tarp setup that, for the second week in a row, was the greatest tarp setup in the history of the world.
Once the tarps were up (we also put one over the nearby counter area) we took advantage of a break in the rain to get our respective tents set up and find some firewood. I was a bit concerned about what the firewood situation would be like as it was September and we were on a very easily accessible site on a very easily accessible lake. This combination would usually mean that any wood within a 700 kilometer radius would have been scavenged long ago. But I guess the Camp Fire Gods were on our side that weekend, because finding decent, dry wood was surprisingly easy. A short walk back of the site is a graveyard of dead, dried out Balsam Fir just itching to be tossed on the fire. I’d brought along my Agawa Canyon Boreal 21 saw and we gave it a pretty good workout cutting some of those dead trunks into burnable lengths. That saw was the secret MVP of the trip; Booth Lake hasn’t seen that much wood cutting since the days of the lumber barons.
Once the tents were set up and the fire was going we settled in for a night around the fire. The thing about that particular site is that the view of the lake from the fire pit is spectacular. It’s spectacular because it’s built very close to the beach, with nothing much between you and the water. On a clear night, this would be wonderful. On a windy, rainy night it’s slightly less wonderful. See, there’s a semi-circle of very solid log benches on the land side of the fire pit and it was over these benches (and partially over the fire pit) that we’d set up our tarp. The meant that, since the rain had decided to set up camp with us for the night, we spent most of the time huddled under the tarp. This would have been a great plan, except that the breeze had shifted while we were setting up and was now blowing from the west. As a result, the friendly onshore breeze was now delivering us intermittent mouthfuls of heavy smoke along with the occasional sideways rain shower when things got gusty. This made for a very active evening as we basically ended up playing musical chairs every time the wind changed direction. On the plus side, all that up and down made for a great leg workout and helped me justify the metric ton of dark chocolate and cherry trail mix I consumed between the end of dinner and when I finally crawled into my tent.
There was a pretty impressive thunder storm that night. At times it felt like I had my own personal thundercloud directly over my tent. I love overnight storms when I’m out on trip. Despite the fact that the only thing between me and the driving rain is a couple of centimeters of hopefully waterproof (and definitely not lightning proof) fabric, the crash of thunder and flash of lightning is somehow very soothing. At times the the walls of my tent were lit brightly enough that I half expected Richard Dreyfuss to stumble out of the woods carrying a plate of mashed potatoes and waving to the alien spaceship that must surely be landing on our site. Sadly, there were no aliens and no Richard Dreyfusses so I eventually went back to sleep, hoping that the storm would blow itself out by morning.
The storm had indeed blown itself out the next morning. Unfortunately, the wind that had blown the storm out clearly had no intention of going anywhere. It was a steady, strong onshore breeze that made the prospect of paddling across Booth to check out McCarthy’s Creek, which had been my original plan for the morning, pretty unappealing. Instead we hung around the campsite, taking it slow and waiting for the wind to die down.
While we waited we discovered that we had less stove fuel than we’d originally thought. This wasn’t ideal, as it was the kind of morning that demanded at least two or three cups of something warm. Our fire, which would have had to go down quite a bit to be considered roaring, seemed as likely to melt our pots as provide us with boiling water. Todd, who quickly became the runner up to the saw for MVP of the trip, cleared out a side section of the fire pit and used one of the site’s grills to create an awesome little coal stove. The wind actually helped here, as it funneled right through the coals, keeping them bright and orange and boiling the water faster than if we’d been using my gas stove. The net result was a pot that wasn’t covered in black marks from the smoke (there is nothing I hate more than the greasy black layer than burns onto the bottom of a pot when you cook over a fire) and multiple cups of coffee/hot chocolate for all.
The wind never did die down. In fact, it seemed to get stronger as the day progressed. For much of the day there were some pretty impressive white caps rolling from west to east on Booth. This didn’t make for ideal canoeing conditions and I pretty quickly realized I’d have to give up on my McCarthy Creek plan (as well as my much less likely Mole/Godda/Ryegrass loop plan). Instead we focused on keeping ourselves entertained around the site. We used the saw to cut through progressively bigger and bigger logs, walked along the shoreline to check out the campsite immediately north of where we were staying and spent some time throwing a hatchet at tree, then dodging out of the way when the hatchet bounced back like a goddamned rubber ball.
I don’t take a lot of rest days, predominately because I start to go nuts if I stay in one place for too long. I much prefer to spend each day moving. Even if I’ve scheduled two nights in a row somewhere, I like that in between day to include some kind of significant day trip. With that out of the cards I worried that I might start to go a bit stir crazy over the course of the day, but in fact the exact opposite happened. As the day wore on I found myself relaxing in a way I don’t usually while on trip. It was kind of a novel feeling to be heading into the late afternoon in the Park and not be semi-exhausted and soaked through with sweat. I don’t think this will become my go to trip plan, but maybe I won’t be so quick to count out the occasional rest day for future, longer, trips.
But, also, everything in that previous paragraph is kind of a lie because by about three o’clock I decided that white caps or no white caps, I needed to get out for a paddle.
The other guys decided to hang back and not dramatically increase their chances of an impromptu swim, so I was solo on this paddle. I pushed off from the beach and promptly got pushed back onto the beach by the wind. After a couple of unkind words for my canoe, as it was clearly the canoe’s fault I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted, I managed to get my bow pointed north. As I mentioned earlier, Booth narrows at about its midpoint. Our site wasn’t all that far from those narrows and, as I got closer, the proximity of the far shore made the wind more manageable. Not completely manageable, but definitely better than it was on the wide open water.
I had originally thought I might paddle out into the north part of Booth, maybe even hike up to Chipmunk Lake, but the wind had other plans. As soon as I passed through the narrows it picked up and strongly suggested that I check out a nice little site on the eastern shore instead. The site, the third last one on the stretch along Booth’s east side, was definitely worth checking out. It basically seemed like a slightly less impressive version of our own site. It had a beach, but it wasn’t as big. It had a decent view, but it wasn’t as good as ours. It did have a pretty impressive fire pit, and enough flat ground to sleep an army, but all in all I’d definitely pick the site we stayed on over that one every time. Also, the Thunderbox is directly below two very dead, very partially fallen trees, making it the current holder of the Best Place In The Park To Get A Log Dropped On You While Also Dropping A Log title belt.
I decided my best bet was to stick in the narrows. I crossed to the west shore and paddled slowly south. There was a small island directly across from our site that marked the point where the wind went from sort of paddleable to definitely dumpable. I stuck the bow of my canoe past the island’s south end, watched the front of the boat instantly rotate 90 degrees, and decided to just enjoy a nice float back to the campsite. The wind was happy to oblige and pretty soon I washed back up on our beach, ready to saw some more (so much more) wood and enjoy the rest of the afternoon from a more stable seat.
While the wind never went away completely, the clouds finally started to break up as darkness fell. The result was a very nice sunset and a beautiful, star filled sky. We spent the night feeding the fire, chatting and generally enjoying the feeling of not being rained on or smoked out.
The next morning brought the last day of the trip and one of the coldest September swims I’ve taken. I’d gone in the day before, but I swear someone must have been dumping truckloads of ice cubes into the lake all night. As awesome as a beach is, it also generally means wading out to reach swimming depths. Every step between the shore and the place where it gets deep enough to dunk your head is punctuated by a new, and slightly higher, part of your body suddenly going numb. The good news is that, once you’re done your swim, the air that previously seemed kind of cold and windy feels positively tropical in comparison.
With the sky clouded over once again and the promise of a burger somewhere on the horizon, we decided to pack up and head out. Along the way we stopped to check out another of Booth’s sites (site 2 in the campsite inventory, feel free to check out the campsite report there because you’re never going to want to visit it in real life), but apart from that and a brief moment where Nigel and I thought we could push ourselves across a shallow sandbar through sheer force of will (we were wrong), it was a pretty uneventful paddle back. We had the current going with us (as well as the rain! Which had decided to paddle out with us) and as a result the return trip felt faster than the paddle in. Before long we were pulling up to the stone beach at the Shall Lake access, sad that the trip was over but looking forward to a little bit of climate control.
All in all, this was a great trip. It was fun hanging out on the site and getting into some camp craft-y type things (I can call sawing shit in half camp craft-y, right?) and I really enjoyed the chance to explore a small part of the Park in greater detail. I also really liked that site on Booth, and would love to go back there in July or August with the kids. Booth seems like it’s tailor made for family trips. It’s easy to get to, there are quite a few great sites and if you can score one of the beach sites the swimming is fantastic.
217 down. 313 to go.
New Lakes Paddled: 3
Total Lakes Paddled: 5
Total Portages: 4
Total Portage Distance: 1.47 KM
Total Travel Distance: 15 KM