Welcome to Day Three of my four day trip from Rain Lake to Canoe Lake in early August. Day One took me from Rain to Islet by way of Little McCraney, McCraney, Way, Wee and Weed Lakes. Day Two took me from Islet to Misty by way of Cranebill, Moccasin, Bandit, Wenonah and Muslim. Day Three is where I turn south and start heading for Canoe Lake, let’s see how many potentially haunted cabins I find along the way!
I woke up to another perfect morning. Seriously, the weather on this trip was incredible. Once again the sky was clear, the water was flat and the air tasted fresh. I packed up from my Misty site and set off on the third leg of my trip, a backwards “L” (otherwise known as a J) down and over to Brule Lake.
This was going to be an easier day than Day 2. It’s only about 10 KM between Misty and Brule, with five total portages, only one of which was (barely) over a kilometre. I got going early anyway as I’d rather kill time and relax once the day’s travel is done, not before, and I was on the water before 8:30.
The paddle across Misty was really nice. I was the only boat on the lake and I stopped about half a dozen times to just sit and enjoy the calm. At one point I passed in between a couple of small islands that were barely more than bumps sticking out of the water. What they lacked in size they made up for in activity. There was a heron standing guard on each island, watching over the channel between them like (dammit, this would have been a better place for the Lord of the Rings Statues of Argonath reference) soldiers on sentry duty. Along with the heron there was a family of ducks waddling in and out of the water and doing whatever it is that ducks do. One of the herons took off before I passed between them, but the other turned to watch me go with a look that let me know I’d gotten off lightly this time.
The portage in between Misty and Timberwolf is a relatively straight forward P845. I got my pack across to Timberwolf, then went back to Misty for my canoe. A group of three women had just pulled up and were unloading their gear. We chatted briefly, then I grabbed my canoe and went back across to Timberwolf.
Timberwolf was another awesome paddle. There was still no wind and the water looked flat enough to walk on. I’ve always thought Timberwolf looked like a nice destination. It’s sandwiched in between two large lakes (Misty and McIntosh) with many, many sites on them. Timberwolf, despite being only a bit smaller than the other two, has just six marked sites. It looks like a good spot to spend a night or two, particularly if you want to get a bit more seclusion.
As much as I like seclusion, I was not spending the night here, so after once again making a few stops mid-lake, I continued on to the Timberwolf-Mcintosh portage. This is a short portage, just slightly over 400 metres, but it makes up for that shortness by making you climb pretty much the entire way. Once again I took my pack across first and, once again, when I arrived back at the start of the portage I ran into that group of women getting unloaded. We chatted a bit more and then I asked them where they were headed.
It turns out that they, too, were going to Brule for the night. The thing about Brule is that there are only two campsites on the lake. That meant, stay with me here, that whichever of us got to Brule first would have their choice of campsite while second place would end up with second best.
In that moment, everything changed. Whether or not they knew it (they didn’t), the race was on. I became a man of focus, commitment and sheer will. Basically, I became John Wick, except instead of taking out a Russian mob syndicate I was trying to win a race the other group didn’t know they were a part of.
Outwardly, I gave no sign that my competitive instincts had just ramped up to “unreasonable”. I just nodded and told them that I was headed there too. Then I set off back up the trail to McIntosh, walking calmly until I was out of sight then leaving a me shaped cloud of dust halfway up the portage as I hoofed it the rest of the way.
The wind had started to pick up on McIntosh. It was coming from the west. Not a huge problem as I was hugging McIntosh’s western shore, but enough that I couldn’t do as many stop and floats without getting blow gently sideways. That wasn’t a problem though, as I was now begrudging every lost second as a second my competition was potentially gaining on me.
Despite my newfound urgency, I couldn’t help but stop and check out one of McIntosh’s western campsites as I paddled past it a few minutes later. It was hands down one of the coolest looking sites I’ve seen. It’s at the tip of a small point (or maybe it’s an island, it’s hard to say from the map). The front half is a huge shelf of bedrock that gradually slopes down into the water. The back half has a wide, flat area for tents and there’s a really nice fire pit set up in between the two. I loved that site. There were even a couple of trees near the front that looked tailor made for my Aerial tent. After looking around for a few minutes, I moved on, albeit reluctantly. At least I’ve got a new site to add to my Algonquin bucket list.
I was through McIntosh and onto the portage over to Straight Shore in short order. This was a P655 that looks deceiving as you paddle up to it. The portage take out and first fifty feet or so of the trail are mucky. From the landing it looks like you’re about to settle in for a 600 metre mud run. It turns out, however, that once you get through that first 50 metres the mud completely dries up and is replaced with a very dry, but very uphill trail that climbs for most of the trek over to Straight Shore. It’s as though whoever designed that portage had just been introduced to the inclined plane and was like “yes, this!”
Despite the climb, it wasn’t a terrible carry and I was soon setting off onto Straight Shore Lake. Straight Shore is a well named lake. It does indeed have a straight shore. It also had my first headwind of the trip. It wasn’t much of one, but I did notice the difference after two days of no wind or tailwinds. Regardless, Straight Shore is a small lake and it wasn’t long before I was pulling up to the P1015 over to Rosswood.
This portage takeout looks gross. It’s swampy and surrounded by a whole bunch of dead and newly cut trees. The takeout is a good indication of what’s in front of you over the next kilometre. This portage is messy. There must have been a crew through recently, because the entire length is littered with cut branches and maple saplings. On the one hand, it’s great that the Park is keeping the paths maintained. On the other hand, it would be better if once they’ve cut down those branches and saplings they cleared them off the trail instead of leaving an obstacle course of tripping hazards and stabby things. To top it off, there were a couple of mud pits along the way that required some creative footwork and resulted in some near mud baths.
This portage was also where I, briefly, lost the lead in the race for Brule. I’d run into the other trip at the start of the McIntosh to Straight Shore portage same as I had on the two previous carries: at the portage take out as I came back from carrying my first load over. Because Straight Shore to Rosswood is on the longer side of things, the other trip had had enough time to get loaded up and started down the trail before I met up with them. I’m not going to say I ran back to get my boat from the Straight Shore side, but I probably could have made the national power walking team if they’d been holding tryouts on that portage.
I caught back up to the other trip at about the midpoint of the portage and was soon back in the lead (again, in a race in which I was the only knowing participant). Rosswood was another small lake that did not take much time to get across. The west part of Rosswood ends in a small, lily pad choked bay that, later in the season, might be impassable. I base this on the fact that there are two portage take outs to get to Brule, one at the foot of the bay and one near its mouth that’s marked as the “low water portage”. Fortunately, water levels were just fine, and I was able to use the regular portage takeout. Or, more accurately, I confused a small opening in the shoreline with the regular portage takeout, bumped and poked myself a bunch while unloading, muttered terrible things about whoever put that takeout where they did as I loaded up, then realized I had stopped about 10 metres shy of the actual (very nice!) takeout when I walked past it.
I didn’t spend much time dwelling on my mistake. The portage between Rosswood and Brule is only 175 metres and I was quickly over it and pushing out onto Brule. At this point, the other trip was nowhere to be seen. I gave myself a quick pat on the back for being the most incredible competitor in the history of everything, then set off towards Brule’s south end, where both campsites are located.
Brule is an interesting lake. It’s western shore is lined by the Arowhon Road which services, among other things, Camp Ahmek, Arowhon Pines and Brule’s lone cottage lease. The north shore is home to that cottage and, if you look hard enough, the remnants of the town of Brule that used to line that shore. The road isn’t frequently traveled, the camps and resorts are all closer to the highway and there is a large gate a few kilometres earlier that prevents unauthorized people from driving through, but I find just the presence of the road goes a long way towards pulling you out of the whole secluded wilderness mindset.
As I mentioned above, both campsites are in Brule’s south end. One is high on a set of cliffs on the south shore and one is on small, rocky bump where Brule turns back into Potter Creek. I decided I’d take the rocky bump site. I felt bad taking the bigger site when I was solo and there were three of them. Besides, it looked, at first blush, like the rocky bump site would be fine.
Maybe I should have waited for a second bush, or a third blush, because that rocky bump site was not fine. It was small, buggy and exposed. The site is set on an uneven slope, with a couple of flat spots and a smattering of tree cover towards the top of the site. The day had gotten progressively hotter and, thanks to the short distance to travel from Misty and my desire to get to Brule first, I’d arrived on the lake at midday. That meant I had about six hours of full sun overhead, and not a ton of shade. That didn’t seem to bother the bugs, which, thanks to the site’s proximity to Potter Creek, were noticeable (and aggravating) for the first time all trip. Also, there was a snake. And snakes are terrible. On the plus side, the swimming from this site was decent. I know, because I did a lot of it over the course of the afternoon, both for something to do and as a way to stay cool.
Around 4 o’clock I got back in my canoe for a quick side trip up to Lily Pond. Lily Pond is north of Brule. You get to it by portaging along that access road I mentioned a few minutes ago. My map showed that the site of the old Brule rail station was somewhere along that road and I was hoping to find some remnants of it, but either I’m not very observant (that sound you hear right now is my wife nodding vigorously) or the ruins are completely covered over, because I couldn’t see anything. I did find an old one room cabin that looks like it has seen better days. It’s right beside the road and the front wall is open. There’s an old bed inside and a few decades worth of debris. I thought there was a better than 50% chance that it was haunted, so I moved on quickly. Lily Pond itself was … well, it’s a pond. And there are water lilies. Can’t say much more about it than that.
I made my way back to the site, ate some dinner and did one more paddle around Brule while the sun set. As dusk settled in, the bugs did too and I made an early retreat to my tent. Despite the letdown of my site on Brule, it had been a good day. I enjoyed the trip down from Misty and I was looking forward to heading home the next day. I read for a while, then fell asleep to the sounds of a loon calling in the distance and mosquitoes bumping up against my fly. I woke up to something much louder happening, but we’ll talk about that tomorrow.
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