I woke up at 5:10 a.m. to the sound of something very big and very close enjoying its morning bath in Potter Creek. I’m not going to lie, it was mildly terrifying. Don’t believe me? Ask my Fitbit, which recorded my heartrate going from zero to ‘drumline on speed’ in less time than it takes Nicholas Cage to steal a car. I couldn’t see outside the tent without moving, and I didn’t want to move in case whatever was out there heard me shift and decided to investigate (my Thermarest is super comfortable, but it creaks like a wooden floor every time I shift on it). I lay on my back in the near dark, heart pumping, trying to decide if I was listening to a bear or moose. I settled on some bloodthirsty hybrid of the two, let’s call it a Boose, and held my breath as it splashed closer and closer.
Fortunately, whatever it was didn’t find me interesting enough to investigate. It splashed around for a few more minutes then retreated into the woods. The sound of it crashing through the trees grew steadily fainter until the only thing I could hear was the thumping of my own heart.
In retrospect, my guess is it was a moose. That little stretch of creek is kind of ideal as far as a moose watering hole goes. There’re lots of water plants, and moose are noted connoisseurs of water plants. That’s better than a bear, but frankly I wouldn’t want either wandering around my site.
It turns out that having a weed eating forest cow (or a chipmunk on steroids) stop by at 5 a.m. is an exceedingly effective alarm clock. I was awake, and there was zero chance I’d be changing that state any time soon. I decided to make the best of it and get an early start.
I was packed up and on the water by 6:30. As I pushed off from the site I realized I’d forgotten how much I love early morning starts. When I first started back up with paddling, I was an up with the sun tripper. Over the past few years I’ve been giving the sun more and more of a head start each morning. I don’t know that I need to go back to every morning up at 5, but it’s definitely a worthwhile thing once or twice a trip (of course, in the future I’d probably prefer less sweaty terror as part of that early morning wake up routine).
My site was about a minute’s paddle from the portage down to Potter Lake. That portage, like the one up to Lily Pond, was along the Arowhon Road. In other words, it was flat and easy. I did spend a not insignificant portion of the 725 meter carry wondering if I was going to stumble across whatever had been near my site earlier, but the only wildlife I saw was a really proactive chipmunk getting a jump on the day.
The sun was just poking above the trees on Potter’s eastern shore as I finished the portage. It hung low in the sky behind a thin film of cloud, a gauzy ball of orange fire promising another beautiful day. I paddled across Potter’s north end through ribbons of rising mist, the lake perfectly still and nothing in my ears but the sound of my paddle cutting the water.
It was fine, I guess.
I decided to tempt fate and do a quick side trip from Potter over to Bear Lake. Bear is part of a cluster of small lakes just east of Potter that don’t have any campsites on them and are accessible by short, low maintenance portages. I’d passed through a couple of these a few years ago and now seemed like a good time to complete the set.
The P360 between Potter and Bear felt longer than I expected. I think the Joe Lake portage has ruined me for short distance carries. I expect every single one to be little more than a road between two lakes, and for some reason I’m always surprised when it turns out that the portage is, well, a portage. In this case, the Potter/Bear carry is clearly a little used path. It was overgrown with tall grasses and prickle bush for the first part and ended in a fun little hopscotch game of mud, roots and rocks.
Bear Lake itself was quite pretty. It seemed like it’s a shallow lake, which might be why there’s no campsite on it, because otherwise it would be a great spot for a site or two. It’s certainly big enough, and just paddling around I could see a couple areas that would make for great sites. My guess is the bears demanded Bear Lake be kept free of human settlement as part of the peace negotiations following the Bear Wars of the early 90s.
It’s a short P125 from Bear Lake over to Hanes Lake, the last of the little lakes I hadn’t seen. While the portage isn’t that long, it was long enough for me to startle a pheasant (or a grouse or a … well pretty much anything, if it’s not a chickadee I’m not going to recognize it) who in turn startled the heck out of me when it took off from the underbrush. Hanes Lake is small but pretty in the early morning light. I took a minute to appreciate it then headed back the way I had come.
Once I was back out on Potter I turned my boat south and started for home. I stopped briefly to check out a couple of the campsites there as I paddled past. The first, a small site on Potter’s east shore just south of the Bear portage, was fine. The second, a nice little point spot at Potter’s halfway point, was quite good. This would easily be my choice if I were to stay on Potter. It’s got a nice view south on Potter, a couple of decent tent sites and is open to the water without feeling exposed.
It took me about 20 minutes to paddle the rest of Potter. I’m going to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of that lake. It’s long and narrow and the scenery is uninspiring at best. The best thing I can say for it is that at least it’s not Potter Creek.
I don’t like Potter Creek.
This probably isn’t fair to Potter Creek. From 30,000 feet, it isn’t a particularly challenging creek. It’s not super long. Water levels are, for the most part, reasonable, and the beaver industrial complex hasn’t fully gotten its teeth into the area. In other words, there are worse creeks. But, and this is important, on this particular morning I wasn’t looking at Potter Creek from 30,000 feet. I was looking at it from about 5 feet 10 inches and I wasn’t thrilled with what I was seeing.
The portage onto Potter Creek from Potter Lake is a 740 meter carry along the road (it would be completely unmemorable except I ran into an adorable little turtle along the way. Well, adorable but also further proof that the turtles are everywhere. And they’re taking over.). The put in onto the creek is a bit mucky but not terrible. You get in the boat, push off into the current, then immediately get out again as your canoe grounds itself on a shallow bit a couple meters downstream. It’s not the end of the world, the shallow part ends pretty quickly, but it slows you down. Maybe that’s the best way to describe Potter Creek: it’s not the end of the world, but it slows you down.
On my way downstream I managed to hit every slightly submerged rock and stone there is. This was a good test of the durability of my new canoe (super durable, it turns out), and also a good test of my patience (not as durable). At certain points those water levels that I said were reasonable a few minutes ago became decidedly unreasonable and I ended up having to get out and guide the canoe across and around sunken mine fields of sharp and slippery rocks. The middle part of the creek, in between the large beaver dam about a third of the way down and the P360 about 2/3 of the way down, was particularly frustrating. Here water levels were quite low, and the number of obstacles higher. There were more twists, more turns and more dams. The alders crept closer on both sides and I ended up with quite a few mouthfuls of alder and spider hop-ons as I made my way through.
It wasn’t all bad though! I got to follow a heron for a good stretch of the creek. It would see me coming, fly about thirty meters downstream then land and wait for me to catch up. When the water was deep enough, the current was good, which made the parts that I did manage to paddle go fairly quickly. On top of that, I was able to bypass both of the small intra-creek portages along the way by hopping out of my canoe and guiding it downstream. I love it when I can do this. It feels both refreshing and like I’m putting one over on the Tripping Gods. Of course, the Tripping Gods are vindictive jerks, which is why I wasn’t surprised to find one last alder/downed tree/spider blockage waiting for me once I was over the P360 and heading back towards wider waters, but all in all it could have been worse.
How worse you ask? Let’s find out!
It turns out that the Tripping Gods didn’t satisfy themselves with that one obstacle as a punishment for my hubris. As I passed under the old rail bridge that, in my mind, marks the end of Potter Creek (despite it continuing on for another half kilometer or so), I noticed that there was a bit of a breeze blowing in my face. By the time I reached the remains of the car bridge that poke out across the mouth of the creek a few hundred meters later, that breeze had turned into a wind. By the time I turned the corner onto Canoe Lake, that wind had turned into a goddamned jet stream blowing directly in my face.
That was a frustration.
Canoe Lake in a headwind is not fun. Well, no lake in a headwind is fun. But there’s something about being so close to your goal and having to scratch and claw for every inch of progress that’s doubly galling. It took me the better part of an hour to paddle the rest of the way home. I ended up having to use Little Wapomeo and Wapomeo islands as wind breaks. By the time I arrived back at my in-laws’ dock my arms were on fire and my back was checking the classifieds for better job opportunities elsewhere. I gratefully pulled up to the dock and then collapsed on my back, half in half out of the canoe, while my muscles unclenched.
And you know what? I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Every minute of it. The double carries, the Potter obstacles, the headwind on Canoe, it was all worth it. This was an awesome trip. Probably one of my favourites. I loved my sites on Islet and Misty. I loved exploring a new part of the Park. I loved the ruins just before the Cranebill portage, the views on Misty and the calm on Timberwolf. I swam on this trip more than on my last three trips combined, I got some quality sitting by the water time each night and I slept like a baby (well, until the Boose dropped by).
This summer might not look how I thought it would when I started planning this spring, but it still looks pretty damn good so far.
263 down, 269 to go.
New Lakes: 15
Total Lakes: 22
Total Portages: 21
Total Portage Distance: 12.580 KM (Except, it was actually 40.155 KM thanks to the double carrying. I hate double carrying).
Total Travel Distance: 89.89 KM