We planned to set out from Ottawa on Saturday morning, aiming to be at the outfitters at 8 a.m. when they opened. The alarm went off at 5 a.m. It took a while to get out of bed. We took turns prepping stuff, packing the cold items, making tea for the road, cooking up eggs for wraps to eat in the car, feeding the cats. No showering, no hair washing, no perfume and I think LT doesn’t even use deodorant while out in the woods. We were anticipating that the blackflies would be out and very hungry. I wasn’t looking forward to several days without washing my hair. I have very fine hair, it looks limp pretty quickly when I skip a hair-washing day.
It took us longer than we expected to get out the door, we were off schedule by 45 minutes, but arrived at the outfitters at 8:15. We stopped at the Sand Lake gate to get our permit and some wood. Our previous experience showed us that Grand Lake may start out like glass in the morning, but quickly ruffles as the wind picks up in the morning. We got to Access Point 22 at the Achray campground and joined the others setting off. Fortunately there’s quite a bit of space at this access point. We were on the water before 10 a.m., however the ruffles were working their way up into waves, not whitecaps, but as we cut into them, my nerves were jangling. I sit at the front of the canoe and had a real sense of how much the canoe was bobbing.
|Looking up Grand Lake|
After about 20 minutes of paddling, my nerves calmed down, but didn’t disappear. After half an hour we stopped at an empty camp site to have our lunch of fresh sandwiches, cut fruit and delicious cheese. The rest of our meals would be from dehydrated foods, except for tomorrow’s breakfast of eggs and bacon.
After lunch we got back into the canoe and continued up the lake. There is an abandoned rail bridge about 2/3 up the lake. No biggie. However it was a strange configuration. The bridge had been built on ground extended into the lake and the opening was only about 12-15 feet wide. The lake is pinched into this space and there seems to be a drop of about a foot. We had to navigate the middle of the opening, avoiding rocks and climbing up the drop. I got a little freaked after two failed attempts. Being at the front gives me a different perspective and I’m working on building my confidence in the canoe after having had bad experience. Third time was the charm as LT talked me through it. Holy crap I had to paddle with every ounce of strength I had!
We had chosen a campsite that jutted out on a little promontory, we thought it would give us some great sun in the morning. Ah, but we were not the first ones to arrive. It was occupied. I voted for the site closest to the portage at the top of the lake. I would do anything to avoid having to cross the windy lake. It seemed like those last few kilometers were the longest. We came around the bay, spying the portage, but not seeing the site until the last minute. It looked good. We landed.
|We'll take it!|
On the plus side, there was a breeze keeping the bugs off. On the negative side, there was a breeze that required a good jacket and helped me to burn a lot of calories over the next 18 hours trying to keep warm. The site is really nice, the trees have some major spikes in them, railroad spikes. I feel very sorry for the trees and I would never hammer either spikes or nails into them. However, I was happy to use the ones that were already there. There was a chest high table built between two trees that was perfect to use for a kitchen. There was a great flat spot for the tent.
I’m all about making this experience as pleasant as possible. In anticipation of hoards of blood sucking insects, I had invested in the Eureka! Bug Shelter and Tarp (VCS). We put that tent up as well. Then we took it down and moved it to a different spot. Turns out, we never used it at all. I’m starting to call it our “Bug Insurance”. Erect the thing and the bugs bugger off!
We had hauled a bag of wood from the park gate, LT was planning on a great campfire that night. Originally to scare the bugs off, but with the evening breeze, albeit a bit less stiff, the fire would be mostly for pleasure.
Dinner was pasta with spaghetti sauce and various dehydrated veggies (mushrooms, celery, corn, peas) and dehydrated ground sirloin. LT made some savoury bannock, which I had added oregano and parmesan cheese to. We both have Whisperlite stoves, their simmering properties are limited, we’re going to have to hone our bannock skills. Dessert was dried angel food cake chunks with rehydrated strawberries in warm syrup and chocolate sauce (made right in baggie and drizzled on top).
I had explored around our campsite, okay, yeah, I was looking for the thunderbox, and discovered the abandoned track behind our site as well as the ruins, which were just four log-type lumps on the ground completely covered with moss and growth. When LT had assessed the site earlier, he had found the thunderbox turned over. It looked like a bear had flipped it, probably looking for food someone had thrown down there. He flipped it back over for me, he’s so thoughtful! After dinner I suggested we walk the track to the portage site, then walk the portage to see what the next day held. We did the walk and it was rather pleasant. The track smells strongly of creosote. There was relatively fresh bear scat, both between the campsite and the thunderbox, and along the track. The portage was really a forest road. The put-in at Clemow Lake looked a bit swampy, but we’d manage. There’s a drop between the two lakes, nothing major for the portage walk, but a nice sound at the top where the water flows from Clemow into Grand.
The following picture (from Jeff’s maps) shows our campsite on Grand Lake, with the ruins behind the site, and the train track, leading to the portage, over to Clemow Lake. Also circled is the campsite we had the following night.
|Our home for 2 nights|
That afternoon we had seen another couple canoe to the portage and with only two sites on Clemow Lake, we knew we would not be able to choose the next day which site we would take.
|Sunset top of Grand Lake - hydro tower visible|
Thursday night I hadn’t slept well at home. I drank some pop late at night forgetting there was caffeine in it. Friday night was spent at LT’s, it’s very comfortable, but combined with the early wake-up call and Christmas-Eve-like nerves, I didn’t sleep well again. And the wind blew and blew and blew Saturday night. I wriggled and wriggled (usually I toss and turn, but in a sleeping bag in a small tent I need to alter my movements). I had worn a long sleeved cotton shirt to bed with underwear and socks. I have a Chinook sleeping bag that zippers from the hip up to the top, however it is like a jacket zipper. I had pulled the zipper up without engaging it with the opposite set of teeth. My bag wasn’t closed as I thought it was. LT had given me one of his precious silky Ranger blankets. I had placed it on top of my silky sleeping bag. But two silks make a “Not”. The slippery Ranger blanket had slid to one side where it had zero contact with me.
Finally at 2 a.m., still awake, I was like an overtired 3 year old, I was beside myself. I sat up in the tent (one cannot stand in it), and burst into tears. LT awoke as I sobbed that I was “soooooooooosooooooooosoooooo cold” and “soooooooosoooooosoooooo tired”. My twisted logic then stated that I would never make a soldier. It only took a few minutes before I gathered my dignity and fished out my fleece shirt and put that on. Then I put the Ranger blanket inside the sleeping bag. And I figured out how to properly zip up my sleeping bag. With LT curled up behind me, I finally fell asleep. The next day when I apologized, I noted to him that in almost one year of knowing each other it had been the first time he’d seen me cry. He responded that technically it was dark so he hadn’t actually seen me cry. Yeah, he knows how to make me feel better.