04-Aug-2003 -- Almost every year, Mark and I go on a canoe trip, somewhere in Canada, often when our good friend Steve Wunch visits from Israel. When we found out about the Degree Confluence Project we tried to find one that had not been completed, and that would be accessible via canoe. We originally were going to tackle 47N83W, but that is another story.
The trip started off early Sunday morning, August 3, 2003, with Mark and I picking up Steve, and driving approximate 730 km north and west from Toronto. The drive went smoothly without incident, and we arrived at Healey Bay on the east end of Lake Windermere, at about 6:40 p.m.
Our plan was to overnight at the Happy Bay fishing lodge at Healey Bay, and then head out the next morning, with a tow west about 20 km to the dam at the other end of the lake. From there we would portage into Kathleen lake, paddle another 7 km to another dam, lift over into the Winderemere River, paddle upstream about 2 more km, and then head out on foot the final 390 m to the CP. You can see the west part of Kathleen Lake and the beginning of the Winderemere River if you click on the topo link. Our route takes us between the Shoals Provincial Park, and the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, the largest preserve of its kind in the world.
When we met Bob and Sandra Zimmerman, the owners of the Happy Bay lodge, Bob convinced us that there would be time before dark that evening for him to give us the tow to the other end of Lake Winderemere. We sorted out our gear in record time as darkness was approaching, and were on the water by 7:30 pm with our canoe in tow behind his small motorboat. Fifty minutes later we were at the beginning of the portage to the next lake. The clouds were threatening rain, so we set up camp right at a clearing right at the beginning of the portage, without wasting much time.
I prepared dinner while Steve and Mark set up the tent, rain tarp, and the sorriest excuse of a fire. (Ok, so it had been raining all day, and they didn't have much time to find dry wood.) It started raining again in the middle of dinner, as predicted, so there wasn't much else to do but crawl into the tent and try to get some sleep for the next day's activities.
We woke to another cloud covered sky, but with anticipation of obtaining our second confluence for Mark and I, and first for Steve. By 9:30 we had portaged the canoe and a days worth of supplies, including GPS, batteries, spare compass, over the 340 m trail to Kathleen Lake.
At the end of the trail we found an old rusted steam Alligator. These fascinating contraptions were used in the lumbering days to haul the logs across lakes. (See notes below for a further explanation of an Alligator.)
It took just over an hour to paddle the 7 km to the west end of Kathleen Lake. Just before the end it started to rain again. Time to put the rain suits on. The lake ends at an old dam, probably used to control the water level during logging days. We were able to lift the canoe over the dam, and were pleased to find a nice set of rapids below it.
With a quick scout for the best route between the rocks, we were able to shoot most of the rapids, until we noticed a 1 m (3 ft) drop at the very end. We pulled up to the left shore, and lined the canoe over the worst of the rocks at the bottom.
The river widened out, and we had a short paddle of about 1 km to the point from which we would start the hiking portion of our quest. Just before we landed, the rain started to come down even harder. Just our luck! We did a quick check of the GPS and it told us that it was a mere 396 m to our CP. Piece of cake, or so we thought. We were further than that from the stage when we went to the Rolling Stones concert in Toronto a week earlier. We took the map case, the camera case, and some water and headed out at 11:50. The rest of the gear was left by the shore under the inverted canoe, to keep it out of the rain.
We found ourselves in a very dense mixed Boreal Forest of fir, birch, and maple among other trees. We have done plenty of hiking in Ontario before, but all of that had been on trails of various descriptions. This was really our first opportunity for bushwhacking. We soon learned where the term bushwhacking comes from. Every time the person in front pushes through a thick part of the bush, the (wet!) branches spring back, and whack the next person in the face. It was a good thing that we had our rain gear on, so we didn't get too scratched up.
It actually only took about 45 minutes to get to the CP. About 10 minutes before the point, the GPS started to complain that the batteries were low. (I realized later upon inspection of the saved tracks that it had been left on overnight by accident.) No problem, we had extra batteries, right? Well yes, we did, they were in my pack. And where was my pack? Back at the canoe. Duh! And the compass? In the same pack. Double duh!!
Despite the denseness of the forest overall, there was a very small clearing at the CP and we were able to get good satellite fixes, and nabbed the elusive "all zeros". The GPS display indicated that the reading was accurate to 6.4 meters, and that we were at an Altitude of 441.5 m. There wasn't much to see, just trees, trees, trees, and more trees.
We took a heading using the GPS's built in compass pointing back to our starting point in a southeast direction, turned off the GPS to save batteries, and headed out. After a few minutes we did a check on the GPS, and found that we had been going SW instead of SE. We changed our plan, and chose to keep the GPS on, at least until we were sure we were moving E. We just hoped that the "low battery" indicator was similar to the "E" on a car's gas guage, meaning there was still enough juice to get us back. There were a few tense minutes... thinking we would be lost in the woods like Hanzel and Gretel, but eventually we could hear the sound of the rapids in the Windermere River, and knew we were on the right track. By keeping the sound to our left we made it back to the river within 10 m of the canoe at about 1:40 p.m.
Even though it had stopped raining by this point, the ground everywhere was wet, so we ate while floating in the canoe. Since you can’t shoot up rapids, or at least not easily, Mark carried the canoe up the 500 m portage trail back to Kathleen Lake. Then it was just a matter of paddling 7 km back across Kathleen Lake, and the short portage back to the campsite. We arrived at the camp around 5:00 p.m. The sun came out just long enough time for a quick swim. Once again we had to finish dinner under the tarp thanks to the rain. (Well, at least it wasn't cold.)
It rained all night but stopped just in time for breakfast. We packed up the wet gear and started out at 9:30 for our 20.7 km paddle back to Healy Bay. It seemed like every half hour it would start to rain so we would put on our rain gear. Then it would stop, and we would get hot from paddling, so we would take off our jackets. But then it would start to rain again, and so on...
Just as we neared the lodge, we managed to catch a loon call. The haunting cry of the loon, echoing off the shore is quintessentially Canadian. We even have a loon on the back of our One Dollar coin. I think that it is the magical cry of the loon that brings us out on canoe trips, away from the city, summer after summer.
The rain started again in earnest, just as we landed at the Happy Bay lodge. We headed to the town of Chapleau to return the canoe, and splurged on a night in the Les Trois Moulin (The Three Windmills) Motel where we thoroughly enjoyed their hot tub and sauna.
On our way back home, we stopped to check out the access to 47N 83W at Rocky Island Lake. Our car odometer registered 1750 km for the round trip, which included the side trips into Chapleau and Rocky Island Lake.
Notes about “Alligators”:
The Alligator was used for towing booms of logs across lakes to the sawmills, a task which had earlier been accomplished using horse-powered winches on rafts. Powered by a 20 hp steam engine and equipped with a powerful winch that carried a mile of steel cable, the Alligator could tow a boom of over 60,000 logs across lakes against all but the strongest winds.
The Alligator got its name from the one outstanding characteristic that made it unique among tug boats and that made it practical for use on small northern Canadian lakes: it was amphibious. Using its powerful winch and
strong cables, the Alligator could pull itself over land, across portages, from one lake to another, while the logs were floated down small streams or transported overland via a system of jackladders and flumes to the next lake in the chain. The Alligator could climb grades as steep as 20 degrees and, with a good crew, could travel up to 2.5 miles (4 km) per day across country. It was invented and manufactured in Ontario, Canada.