Day three of our loop out of Kiosk started an awful lot like day two. We woke up early, packed up quickly and were back on the water before 8 am. Originally, we had planned on staying on Manitou for night three, but something had come up and it looked like we were going to have to try for Kiosk that day. Just in case you don’t have your map handy, Biggar to Kiosk is about 34-35 KM. That’s a pretty daunting day. Fortunately, unlike the previous day’s 17 KM between Maple and Biggar, most of the distance between Biggar and Kiosk is over the water. That made the longer day seem doable. Hard, but doable.
We pushed off our (awesome) site on Biggar and pointed our canoe west. Even though it was well before 8, the day was already hot. The sun followed us across the water as we paddled towards our first portage, a 190 m carry onto Hornbeam Lake. When we pulled up at the portage takeout I got out of the boat and braced myself for the expected onslaught of bugs. If the day before had taught me anything it was that dry land = bug hell, and I had taken that lesson to heart. My bug jacket was on top of my bag and ready for emergency access, I was coated in bug repellent to the point where I was probably a walking biohazard and I was already pre-crying over all the bites I expected to get. Which is why it was almost disappointing when I realized that 30 seconds after stepping out of the boat I still hadn’t acquired a second skin of angry, biting deer flies. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any bugs around at all. Not wanting to jinx it, I grabbed my pack and the canoe and basically skipped across the portage in relief.
The bug free-ness of the morning held as we pushed off onto Hornbeam. This is a cool little lake. There’s a small waterfall separating one half of Hornbeam from the other, and a short 50 m portage to get around that falls. If you didn’t want to do the portage I suppose you could try paddling it, but I feel like the six foot drop from the top to the bottom would be pretty hard to navigate. But what do I know? We took a couple of minutes at the waterfall to take some pictures and admire the view, before pushing on to the far shore and the start of the 305 m portage over to Mangotasi.
There’s a shallow area between moose bay and the rest of Mangotasi Lake. The air, which hadn’t been all that bad so far, felt absolutely dead the second we paddled into it. I don’t know if it was the smaller area or the shallow water heating up in the sun, but I swear it was five degrees hotter in that little spot than it was once we were out onto the main part of Mangotasi. Mangotasi itself didn’t seem all that spectacular. There are a few sites available here, and one of them actually looked pretty nice, but I don’t think I’d make this lake a destination. It seems pretty shallow and a bit weedy along the shore. If I was looking for a spot in this area I’d probably stay on North Tea or push on to Biggar.
Speaking of North Tea, it wasn’t long before we had paddled the length of Mangotasi and were onto North Tea (there’s no portage between Mangotasi and North Tea, just a shallow narrows. Hooray!). We stopped at a really nice site just past the narrows for a quick break and a snack. This was a pretty great spot. It’s big, on a point, and seems to get a nice breeze. The fire pit is up a small rise, as are most of the tent spots, and it’s got great views towards North Tea’s western arm. I would definitely go back to that one if I were coming through that way again.
Once we were done with our snack, we pushed off and continued on our way. The day was still quite calm, and we made good time heading towards Manitou. We had decided to use the 585 m portage over to Manitou as opposed to the shorter 455 m option because we had heard that the waterfall along the 585 path is really nice. This, it turns out, is true. In fact, calling it really nice probably understates it. It’s really really nice (my O.A.C. English teacher would be so proud). There’s a campsite about 100 meters into the carry. You can put your boat down there and cut through the site to get down to the falls. Just be careful, because once you do you may never want to leave. The day had heated up again, and I don’t think I have ever seen anything more inviting than that curtain of water rushing down the rocks. I found a nice spot to sit under the falls and just let the water pour over me, washing the heat away (I love sitting under falls, but there invariably comes a point where I start to wonder if this is going to be the exact moment that an Algonquin Anaconda gets washed down the river and onto my head). We eventually, reluctantly, moved on. The rest of the portage went well and we were soon paddling onto Manitou.
By the time we pulled up on the beach we were both pretty tired. We’d paddled something around 25 KM in just under 4.5 hours. I got out of the canoe, took about two steps and dropped backwards into the water. I stayed there for a while, enjoying the coolness and wishing that I could somehow get the access point to come to me instead of the other way around. Once we were cooled down we made use of the site at the northern end of the beach for lunch and a rest. I have to say, sitting on that site, eating some dehydrated lasagna, was the most comfortable I’d been all trip. There was plenty of shade by the fire pit and there was a pretty strong breeze coming down Manitou and blowing through the site.
Eventually we realized we would have to tackle the last 10 kilometres or so between us and Kiosk. This included a 1.3 KM portage from Manitou onto the Amable du Fond that I had been dreading all day. Memories of the three KM+ portages from the day before kept flashing through my head and all I could think about was the bugs. Still, we had to do it, so I picked up my pack and the canoe, braced myself and set off down the path.
So, from here on out things are going to be different from my usual posts. Coming back across Kiosk I made a bad judgement call and it put us in a significant amount of danger. I’m not really at the point where I want to write jokes about it. Some things you just can’t find the humor in I guess.
Remember I mentioned the wind blowing through that site on Manitou? Well that wind was blowing in a pretty big damn storm. As we started to cross the main part of Kiosk we could hear thunder in the distance. What we should have done was stop, find a spot on shore and wait to see what happened. But I was .. Stupid? Arrogant? Ignorant? I don’t know the right word, probably some combination of all three. The thunder was far away, the sky above us was still blue and I figured it would take us ten minutes at most to get across the open water.
The problem was, we only had five.
For those of you who have paddled Kiosk, you probably know the rocky seagull island in the middle of the lake. We were paddling on a line with it, the wind behind us. We were probably 150 metres from it when I realized what a mistake I’d made. The wind, which had been a nice tailwind when we started, was picking up and those clouds that had seemed so far away were a hell of a lot closer. I heard it before it hit us, this rushing, roaring wall of wind that turned a worrisome situation into a complete nightmare. All of a sudden the waves around us were three feet high, rain was pelting us, lightning and thunder were crashing overhead and our boat was being pushed around like a bathtub toy. We got swung around 90 degrees so that we were suddenly broadside to the wind and within seconds waves were lapping over the sides. I am saying this without a touch of hyperbole: I have never been more frightened in my life than I was in those minutes as our canoe was being blown sideways, the waves were doing everything they could to swamp us and I was realizing that the situation was completely and utterly out of my control.
I really don’t like reliving this, so I’m not going to go into detail about the next few minutes. Once we stopped fighting the wind and the waves and let the boat tell us what it had to do to stay upright, we were able to regain a small degree of control. We managed to get to the seagull island, where we pulled up onto the rocks and huddled against them, hoping like hell that the boat wouldn’t be ripped from our hands and one of those lightning strikes wouldn’t find us. The only good thing about the fury of the storm was that it blew itself out almost as quickly as it blew in. It felt like hours, but it was probably only about 15 minutes before the rain slowed, the wind calmed and the lightning moved on.
We waited til it was safe, got back in the boat and paddled like crazy for shore. I’ll be honest, I’d hoped that writing about this would somehow make it seem less frightening, but right now my stomach is tied in knots just thinking about it. I don’t know what would have happened if our boat had gone over. We were wearing life jackets, so I like to think we would have been okay. But I don’t know that for sure. And that’s scary.
I did take a few things away from the experience that might be useful if anyone out there ever finds themselves in a similar situation.
1) Don’t f*ck with thunder. You know, nine times out of ten I might have been right in my assessment of the weather. That storm wasn’t a typical thunderstorm. I read that another part of Ontario saw unconfirmed tornadoes that same day. Rob drove through it again on his way back to Ottawa and got hit with hail. I saw a post from someone who was on North Tea that day who was looking for a new tent because the storm mangled theirs. It doesn’t matter. Assume that every storm is atypical. To repeat, don’t f*ck with thunder.
2) If you get caught in the middle like that, don’t fight the wind. The closest we came to tipping was when I was trying to keep the boat headed in the direction I wanted to go, not the direction it wanted to go. As soon as I started concentrating on just stabilizing us and working with what we had, it got a bit (a very little bit) better. Maybe this isn’t the best advice, but I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason we didn’t dump. Well, that and …
3) Be comfortable in your boat. I’m a good paddler. I’ve been paddling for decades, I’m strong and I know my strengths and weaknesses. Despite all that, it took every ounce of ability I had to keep us from going over, and if I’m being honest, I think that was more about the canoe than it was about me. We were paddling a Langford 16.6 Prospector. It got pretty banged up on those rocks, so I took it in for repairs on the way out. I spent some time talking with one of the guys at Langford and told him what had happened. He explained that this particular canoe was designed for exactly those conditions. I don’t think this was just him taking advantage of the moment to make Langford look good. I’ve paddled a lot of canoes in rough water (never as rough as this though), none have felt as stable as that one did.
4) One more time: Don’t F*ck With Thunder. We shouldn’t have been out there. That’s on me. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Anyways, that’s a bit of a grim end to this trip report. Pants wetting terror at the end aside, this was a great trip. I got to see a part of the park I’ve wanted to visit for a few years, I sat under three different waterfalls, our campsites were awesome and the swimming was fantastic. I’ll get back up to Kiosk at some point, but when I do I can guarantee I’ll be sticking closer to shore.
233 down. 299 to go.
New Lakes Paddled: 11
Total Lakes Paddled: 15
Total Portages: 21
Total Portage Distance: 12 KM
Total Travel Distance: 65.6 KM