Thursday, July 23, 2015

Trip Log - Day 2: Wendigo to Cedar Lake, Canada Day 2014

go to Prologue       go to Day 1      Day 2    go to Day 3    go to Day 4

We had intended on being up and out as early as possible, but rushing the morning on a camping trip is so hard.  The day was dawning with sun, a bit of cloud and the portage across the bay beckoned.  Fresh eggs with bacon was breakfast, we didn’t make the bannock.  We packed up camp and launched the canoe.  As we got closer to the other side of the bay, we saw something swimming in the lake.  It was too short for a water snake, too bumpy for a water snake and light brown.  As we got closer and it saw us, it pulled a U-turn going back towards the shore.  It was a chipmunk!  It was one of two swimming chipmunks we would see today.

A note about the portages on this trip:  when we were planning this trip, discussing the route, talking about using these unmaintained portages, I made it clear to LT that I would probably only be able to walk them once, I would not be double-carrying any of them.  I would never have been able to manage that.  So while I was resting on one end of the portage, LT was walking back and returning with either the canoe or his bag.  He was doing three times the work I was and not getting rest, water or food as he should have been.   (I did carry my own bag the whole way that probably weighed in at 50 pounds.)

Portage #1:  We could hear the water of a stream dropping into the lake as we landed at the portage.  So far, so good.  It wasn’t a bad spot to get out of the canoe.  The following table shows our portages for the day:

Portage #
Length of Portage
Starting Height
Apex of Trail
Ending Height
1 to Merganser Lake
2 to No Name Pond
3 to Kabibonoka Lake
4 to Mishimokwa Lake
5 to Cedar Lake

Difficult put-in
The put-in on the other side wasn’t as good.  The lake was jammed at this end with floating logs.  The ground wasn’t stable getting to the water either, with weedy mounds, hard to get your balance when loading a canoe.  LT does all the loading and unloading – all the heavy lifting.  I do appreciate this and try to tell him often.  We had to unwedge the logs to get the canoe moving forward on the lake.  Merganser is a pretty lake and before long we were at portage 2.  The put-in was okay.

Portage #2:  This was going to be our longest portage we’d done to-date.  The 5th portage scheduled for today would end up being the new record.  Today I did not want to overheat, I had worn my bathing suit, long pants, my lovely bug hat and a bug shirt I had also made myself.  Being able to sew has its advantages.

We had been examining the map and discovered that this trail would partially follow an old road!  Piece of cake, right?  Nope.  The “road” was hip deep in full regrowth.  There wasn’t a path at all.  There was an advantage in that the ground was flat and solid under the growth.  We stopped a couple of times to take a break but the bugs were bad.  We were in the perfect storm of bugs.  The triumvirate of blackflies, mosquitoes and deerflies.  We forged on until LT suspected that we’d gone too far.  We put our bags down and retraced our steps a bit.  Aha!  There was a path in the woods to our right that we needed to follow.  The portage sign was down, just a teeny bit of yellow sign was stuck on the tree.  LT has a sharp eye.

As I originally recorded this more than a month after the trip, I didn't remember the exact times we were arriving at these various portages.  The put-in on No Name Pond was also log-jammed.  The previous one had just been a job of moving a couple of floating logs.  This one was tougher we had to lift a log to free a log that was blocking our entry to the lake.  It took a bit of jimmying, but we finally succeeded.  We were trying to ensure we were drinking enough water and taking enough breaks.  I certainly was managing to do that, as LT was doing all the extra walking when he was doubling back to get the canoe.

Portage #3:  this one was a bit shorter,  but it had the highest apex point. 
Kabibonoka Lake wasn’t that big.  I made the paddle 3 times as long as I had forgotten my hiking poles at the put-in.  LT was kind enough to circle us back to get the poles. 

Place where we saw the second swimming chipmunk
Portage #4:  this one was also bit shorter, when we first got to the end, I took out the stove to make Kraft Dinner for lunch at the campsite on Mishimokwa Lake.  LT was starting to flag a bit.  He wasn’t drinking enough water.  Hindsight is 20-20.  We certainly know now the mistakes we made this day.  And there were a few.  He came down the hill with the canoe to a hot plate of KD.  He couldn’t eat it.  I misunderstood when he asked about filtering water.  I said we should just get the water when we loaded up to go to the other side of the lake.  We prefer to get water from the middle of the lake instead of the shoreline.  He wanted to stop and boil the water.  I didn’t understand what he meant until we got to the other side and he took the stove out to boil our largest pot full of filtered water.

Coming up to this shore we saw our second swimming chipmunk.  We were starting to get a bit nervous, we were slower moving today than expected.  It was at this spot where LT had flipped over the canoe on the ground and he pointed out a dozen leeches on the white underside of the canoe.  Ewwwwwwww! 

LT took on the boiling of the water.  Camping pots are flimsy to handle and as he was pouring the water using the clamp-on handle he dropped a lot of the water on the ground.  I told him I was okay to drink the filtered only water.  I had some antibiotics with me, I felt I was immune. 

Beginning the longest portage
Portage #5:  We looked up the hill to this 2660m portage.  It was not a clear path, there was growth to greet us.  We would climb 35 meters up and we would come down almost 100 meters on the other side.  We started on this trail. 

This portage promised something that had been giving me anxiety for weeks.  The notation reads “Swamp (No Bridge)”.  I have seen Youtube videos of people wading through hip-high mud.  I could not see myself doing this.  I had woken up at night lying in bed wondering what this fresh hell would be like.

But before we got to that point, we had a lot of ground to cover.  I started singing to myself - I needed to motivate myself to forget about this tough slog.  Before we knew it, we were almost at the halfway point.  We had arrived at Acanthus Lake – but we did not know that.  LT was in charge of the map and determining where we were going.  He misread the map at this point.  We left our bags up on the trail going down to the lake.  We came to the bottom of the lake and it wasn’t clear that we were supposed to either cross the lake in the canoe or carry it around.  LT went back on foot to see if we’d missed a turn-off.  He was expecting a swamp, not a lake.  With waist-high growth, the path could have veered off and we might have missed it.

When he was gone, I found a portage sign close to our side of the end of the lake facing the other side.  He got back, said we were on the right track, but he was still disoriented.  I showed him the portage sign.  He tried walking along the bottom edge of the lake, it was rocky, not a path, we could not see a portage sign on the other side of the lake.  He went about halfway and came back saying that it didn’t look like the path.  He decided to go back and get the canoe.  He left the map with me.

I examined the map and realized that we were on Acanthus Lake.  I decided to take my trekking poles and walk the full end of the lake to the other side.  Then I found it!  I found the other portage sign and it was facing down the lake, it was not visible from our side (which is a silly place to have it as no one would ever be coming to this portage from the other end of the lake!).  If it had, we would not have felt so lost.  I went and got the bags and brought them to the bottom beside the lake.  I had a snack and something to drink.

When LT came back he did not have the canoe.  He wasn’t doing well.  He was becoming dehydrated.  He said he’d left the canoe about a third of the way back.  I explained how we were okay, I knew where we were and told him I’d go get the canoe.  He followed behind me eventually and helped me load the canoe.  He walked behind as I carried it through the woods to the top of the hill going down to the lake where we both carried it. We saw our third moose here, a cow.  She was further down the lake feeding.

It was relief, but it was frightening for me.  LT never falters, he’s my rock.  We loaded the canoe, crossed the short distance, unloaded, left the canoe behind and set off to walk the rest of the path.  This is where my memory fades somewhat.  It was getting darker in the woods.  It was probably close to 6 p.m. now.  We both soldiered on, LT was still feeling weak, but he’s a trooper.

Then we found it.  The Swamp with No Bridge.  It was a black muddy spot in the trail that had some very slippery logs laid on it that were not affixed to anything.  I started using my poles to find mud that wasn’t deep.  At times it would sink 3 feet down.  I was doing pretty good, following LT’s guidance ahead of me.  But having a 45+ pound pack on my back, when I started to lose my balance, I could not stop from falling.  I fell on my left side and I started to howl.  LT rushed back and helped me up.  A few steps later I fell on my right side.  The only way I could get back up was if LT picked me and my pack up, while trying to stand on slippery logs.  He fell.  I think we both laughed at that point.  

Like I said, I’ve been trying to erase most of this memory from my mind and I’m being successful.  Also I stepped into a soft spot where my leg went 2 feet into the muck.  I’ve seen those quicksand shows on TV.  Quicksand isn’t what we think we know from our childhood cartoons (cartoons were nastier in the 60’s), quicksand is often in swamps.  I pulled and pulled trying to keep my Keen sandal on my foot.  I was successful, my foot came out with my sandal on. 

The path was starting to go downwards.  I could see sky through the trees.  I kept saying, “we’re getting close, we’re coming to the lake!”  But we weren’t.  We were going down through the hardwood forest, down the side of the mountain.  We finally did come out at the train track at Cedar Lake.  I dropped by bag on the track and walked to the water to take off my shoes and wet my feet.  I had worn a blister on a toe that was bleeding.  But we were out of the woods!  Literally, but not figuratively.  LT wasn’t doing very well. His dehydration was starting to really affect him.

He was not going up that path to get the canoe tonight.  We would not be able to make it to a campsite along the lake’s edge.  There was a flat piece of ground at the end of the portage by the tracks and that is where he started to put up the tent.  But even that small task ended up being too much for him.  He’d pushed through when he really had to and he didn’t have anymore energy left.  I opened his chair, told him to sit down, and I finished putting up the tent.  He didn’t want me to put on the fly, but there were clouds (and it did rain later on) so I did.  I should have waited until he’d cooled off somewhat. 

The bugs were ferocious.  I had gathered water at the edge of the lake.  It was covered in light green floating stuff, probably pollen of some sort.  I filtered 4 litres and started boiling it for him.  I made him a cup of sweet tea, but it was hot and he could not drink it.  I filled his bottle with hot water and set it outside the tent on his side so he could bring it in when he was feeling like he could drink it.  Being dehydrated and having only very hot water to drink is not a good combination.  I gave him some ibuprophen and a magnesium tablet.  I did not hang our food bag.  It was getting dark and I wasn’t good at that particular task, it was something LT always did.

Impromptu campsite
We did not have dinner, but I brought a few snacks into the tent in case he felt like eating later on.  By now he was suffering muscle cramps that were a 9 out of 10 on a pain scale.  They were double –teaming him, his leg would cramp in the calf then immediately cramp in the quad muscle as well, for both legs.  He even had muscle cramps in his abdomen.  I felt like there was nothing I could do to help him.  I had my bug hat in the tent and I was trying to fan him to help with the heat inside the tent.  When we looked up at the peak of the tent, there were thousands of mosquitoes gathered outside of us, smelling us, it was like being in a horror movie.

Eventually we both fell asleep after his water had cooled enough for him to drink some of it.  

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