i had the time of my life – day 4 and 5

Rosebary Lake, May 18

Warm morning, dawning pink on the horizon. Bittern galunks for a mate, white throated sings of her sweet Canada, two Canada geese honk their way low over the water, woodpecker works for her breakfast, and the requisite grackles and red wings punctuate the marsh with their nasal trills. The morning choristers beyond these – too numerous to count.

Out of the tent before 5:30, the glow of daybreak inviting me to bear witness to her secrets, I am awake early, despite the grueling day that was yesterday, after which I was certain I’d sleep forever. A subtle sunrise, with no clouds to catch her, but still the pinks cast their nets over the water.

In bed last evening by 9:30, I suppose I did get my full 8 hours, except for those moments @1:30, when I woke for a drink of the stars- my first real opportunity of the week with our early bedtimes and the fullness of the moon.

A loon calls, the beat of wings overhead strums, two red squirrels chase one another through dry leaves, a dozen or so mosquitos alight. The sun now peeks her orange eye, just a glance over the edge.

Yesterday, we also rose early, about the same time as today and were on the water by 6, just as the sun made her appearance. Beginning the day in such tranquil beauty, we paddled where beaver and otter play. We saw none of the latter, but noted much evidence of their presence – scat on logs and burrows in banks. We spotted a few white-tailed deer in the marsh, the first I have encountered here. Though I have heard reports of moose swimming across this river, moose by the dozens in these stretches of water, we have not yet been graced by one. Who would guess that such a large creature could be so elusive? Size does not necessarily make for boldness, I suppose.

Perhaps they are here even now, in these woods over my shoulder. Certainly the evidence on this campsite, piles and piles of mooseberries, at least a half a dozen between our tents and the fire ring! would indicate that could be so.

Back to yesterday- we continued our morning paddle along the Nippissing through the marsh to where it intersected with Loontail Creek, then along that creek to the portage into Latour Creek, which narrowed as it wound its way to the end of its watery trail, which by this time was no more than a beaver run through the bog. The beaver run petered out such that we could not seem to make forward progress at all, and so we decided we surely must have missed the portage sign and turned back. Back to a point on the map where we took our bearings from an inland pond and an entering creek, we paddled, then turned back once again. For an hour we searched (crossing the same creek-spanning log 3 times) until back into the petered out run we pushed through, lining the boat near the end, and at last caught a glimpse of the portage sign.

That portage took us 3 hours (including several rest stops and a lunch break, where we cooled our feet and poured water over our heads, then laid back in the grass for a nap) The uphills and downhills tested our stamina and our strength. When we finally got all of our gear across, we were dreading the final 450 meter portage of the day, which we could see across the small Floating Heart Lake from where we sat. We were so very tired and expecting more of the same from that next portage – hills and muck – but fortunately for both our bodies and our spirits, it was straightforward, flat and dry! , for which we truly gave thanks. Landing on Rosebary, we opted for the first site we came to and crashed!, cooked a quick dinner on the backpacking stove for expediency, drank several mugs of rum and went straight to bed.

I have just made a trip to the box on this site, upon which we landed as if shipwrecked, as if it was a miraculous desert island and not at all the ‘poor site’ we had been warned that it was. Perhaps because of its reputation, folks have largely abandoned its use altogether, for the trillium grow in abundance amongst the trout lily and viburnum surrounding the box. So spectacular is such small beauty, and so easily overlooked in search of the grandiose. (such as those elusive moose)

Later, early afternoon, at the end of the portage around the falls from Tim River to Tim Lake.

The wind gusts are phenomenal here and so we are waiting, perhaps for even a few hours until the (hopefully) quiet waters of late day, before crossing this shallow bay whipped up by those blasts. Who knows, perhaps we will be taking a midnight paddle from here. That full moon I bemoaned earlier in the week could be our friend now.

The morning’s paddle up the Tim River was breathtaking, with light and shadow taking turns on the hillsides like children at play, illuminating the fresh green and yellow leaves of spring’s awakening. The marsh at their feet was alive with color as well. Two Bull Moose, munching along the shoreline right next to our site as we paddled away from camp, added to the magic of the morning.

Except for this wind!!, which made of a leisurely up river paddle a significant physical chore, such that even before we arrived at this end of the portage trail, it had stressed our weary bodies. Each day, except the layover day on Grass lake, has had its challenges.

The first of the boats, with which we have been waiting out this afternoon blow, has made passage across the windswept bay. I am less confident after watching them cross than before they did so. The second boat, a solo, paddled by the man, a strong experienced paddler, with whom we shared the campsite 2 nights ago, has just set out across the bay too. He has been blown off the course he suggested he would take, and has had to tuck in behind some tufts of marshgrass. The clouds on the western horizon look ominous now, which is no real surprise, given the strength of these winds. We shall continue to wait.

I have moved over the lip of land at the water’s edge to the other side of a logjam dam, where the water flows and cascades over the rocks. Here there is no wind at all. As I lie back, I can watch the clouds flow overhead, cascading in a way too, I suppose. I wonder what is behind them that has made them build up to crash over the edge so.

Though I am protected here, I can see, across the falls, the grasses lying down almost horizontally in the wind. Still, I can relax here without monitoring and fretting quite as much. Deirdre has lay down in the canoe for a nap.

The insects are abuzz on this side, away from the wind. My guess is there was a hatch in yesterday’s hot temperatures (the ones that encouraged Deirdre and I to pour bottles of water over our steamy heads). That, as well the pollen in these prolifically and suddenly budding trees, seems to allure them. We watched the fish leap from the water to snatch at those insects this morning. I expect this morning’s escalation in bird song is not unrelated.

Later, 9 Pm, Tim Lake campsite

We wound up staying at the end of that portage until after dinner, which we cooked on the stove in the lee of the embankment, where those blackflies (my virginal experience of them) munched on my forehead, beneath the brim of my hat. They behave like gnats in a way, except for those flesh tearing bites, and they too seem to prefer to be out of the wind.

We had to hunker down underneath the overturned canoe to ride out the thunderstorm that finally rolled over us, rocking the boat several times and bending trees into bows over our heads. It was an experience unlike any i have had her before, and I am grateful for it.

Perhaps we should have set out earlier, when the others took their chances, but the paddle would’ve been arduous in that wind and we have been exerting ourselves so strenuously these past days. I don’t know that we’d have had the energy or the endurance at that point. After that rest, during which Deirdre dozed and I journaled, and refueling, we were refreshed and antsy to get back on the water. That was just about the time we heard the first thunder clap and rumble in the distance. We felt quite fortunate that we weren’t out in that storm with no place to put ashore.

Finally, during a lull in the storm, we set out, and by 7 o’clock made it here to the first campsite on Tim Lake, with its sweeping view, windswept though it remains. After setting up our tents for the night, we sat silently together, soaking it in, for a half an hour or so before bed. I was grateful that we had already made dinner and did not have to cook and clean up after making camp. Finally, a rainbow graced our goodnights, fleetingly though, as those clouds rolled back in shortly thereafter. The wind howls in the trees even now. Both of us wish for a calm morning and a graceful goodbye.

The Tim River is really remarkable and I would love very much to visit it again someday soon, perhaps paddling the opposite direction next time. I do hope Deirdre will join me again. I fear that this trip may have discouraged her. I cherish her so as a companion and willing partner on these trips. We shall have to be more careful about our planning in the future. I was anxious about this trip before it began. My instincts and experience were perhaps correct. Still, I would not take it back for anything! What a journey we have had.

Sleep now. So very necessary. Good night.

Postscript. The next morning, we woke to a light coating of snow on our tent’s roofs, before we packed up and paddled our way out of the Park. What a wide range of weather and experiences we had on this trip. I am still smiling inside when i think of those days.

for days 1 through 3, look here

I had the time of my life – day 3

Day 3, May 16, Grass Lake

Quiet morning in camp.

A raspy raven squawks, an intermittent bird twitters, a distant blue jay caws, an occasional breeze rushes the pines, an early insect buzzes my ear. Beyond that, beneath that, before and behind that, silence.

It is already noon on this slow morning of repose. We have only within the last hour finished with our breakfast after lingering long over coffee and conversation. A stroll along the marshy edges enveloping our point, along the river and the inlet, revealed the morning quiet to be the providence of not only the human but the creaturely mood as well. Along an animal trail through the forest, just up from the river’s edge, I followed for some time with my camera finding few photos but many signs — heaps of moose droppings– and much dry wood for the fire.

The marsh is a painter’s palette of earth tones, orangey rusts tipping the brushes of budding twigs en masse, taupe strands of last summer’s grasses lying down in a canvas mat even as this spring’s bright green blades reach for the sun, and of course the ever present evergreen forest offering both shadow and backdrop, not to mention shelter. The farthest ridges show hints of yellow and reds in the new buds of birch and maple, both mimicking and hinting at the autumn array that will paint those hillsides in October.

Otter trails line the waterway here, though I could detect no other signs of their presence, so perhaps they have left (or not yet returned to?) these waters.  Time will tell, I suppose.  Many beaver lodges enroute yesterday appeared to be either deserted or washed out and the few that I noted along this stretch of the river appeared to be flooded as well. I imagine these banks were filled to the brink a week ago.

I am content to be here, no matter, listening, observing, touching, smelling, breathing. Still at last. Even closing my eyes, not seeing a thing, brings pleasure and peace, as the breeze blows loose strands across my cheek, the fragrance of dried grass fills my breath, and the song of birds lilting from across the water caresses my ears.

Later.

Studying the map, I note that we are 8 hours (our travel time) from the last party we saw on Big Bob Lake and at least 6 hours from the next lake, upon which we will camp tomorrow.  There were just three campsites along the entire stretch of the Nippissing through which we paddled yesterday, the last one just ½ hour’s paddle back from here, but none of those 3 sites were terribly appealing, being directly on the portage trails around rapids as they were.  Perhaps one might crash there for the night while passing through, but I can’t imagine setting up camp there.  I am thinking that it is unlikely that anyone will show up here with a reservation for this campsite tonight. I truly hope not since we made the decision last night, after two long 8 hour days of paddling and portaging, to take a rest and recovery day before embarking on yet a third one, although we do not have a permit for this site. We simply could not push through. Emotionally and physically we needed a break.  If someone should show up, we really have nowhere to go (there is one more campsite farther along the Nippising before the portage into Loontail Creek which we could move to if necessary, probably 45 minutes paddle from here) but we shall deal with it if that should occur.

I so much love this site I would make the trip in to it again in a heartbeat, even through that alder thicket in the full leaf!  Somehow I expect that even in the height of the summer paddling season, this site would feel remote and wild, in some respect precisely because of that thicket. However, it is evident that others have been here before us already this season. As with many other sites we passed through, there is a makeshift, bushcraft shelter erected by campers, likely finding themselves storm-bound during the torrential rains and snow that fell here only one week ago. Today, though, I am stripped down to one layer, and have had to go for my cap to protect my eyes and face from the sun.

Tomorrow looks to be another long day. We have been taking about 1 ½ times what the map indicates our travel time should be. Tomorrow’s route indicates a travel time of 4 hours and 40 minutes, but there are 3 portages in there, one quite long, and that is where we lose most of our time. It will surely be another physical day for us, but we hope to be up and on the water by 7 so that we may at least be able to make camp before dinner!  We’ll dig through the food barrel this evening for a breakfast that we can grab and go without needing to cook or clean up and make our morning coffee tonight, keep it warm overnight in the thermos.

… but now the fragrance of dry grasses, picked up by the breeze, invites me to pay attention to here and now. THIS slender blade of bright green, THIS orange bundle of blossoms, THIS sparkle of light on that wind kissed ripple, THIS hint of shadow on the page promising the sun’s reemergence, THIS star-shaped moss, THIS pink and green granite perch that extends a view from both sides, THIS everchanging, moment by moment, layered sky, THIS thread of silk hinting at the hidden hundreds I caught a glimpse of last evening in the low angled rays of twilight, THIS eager peeper beginning his serenade at three in the afternoon, THIS ‘Sweet Canada’ whistle that has become such a song of endearment to my ears.

THIS.

 

I had the time of my life- day 2

Day 2, May 15, Grass Lake

Another long, long day…but oh my goodness, what a splendid one it was.

The day began cold, so cold that it invited us to linger in the warmth of the tent and then begged us to don all of our layers—wool base layers, wool pullovers, fleece zip ups and down jackets.  We arose early, around 6 am, grateful for both the hot coffee and the warm breakfast of rice pudding.  

After packing up camp, we were on the water by 9. By the time we were on the Nippissing River, an hour later, the sun was peeking through departing clouds, and when we stopped for lunch, perched upon sun-drenched rocks next to a rapid we were stripped down to one or two layers. Drinking in that warmth and pleasing view refueled us as much as did our meal.

There were numerous ( 6 or 7) portages along the way today, though all of them were under 200 meters, some as little as 60. Because of the swollen waters, we were able to bypass one portage altogether (though we may have left a bit of paint on a few rocks) and to line the boat through half of another, but every trail we took seemed to be ridden with blowdown, making some of the simplest of portages ridiculously difficult.  

Then came the serpentine twists and turns of the alder thicket-lined Nippising river. Often paddling complete U turns, we likely covered 3 times the distance we actually traversed. At times we had to duck into our boat to make passage, and often we were scratched and wacked by the branches as we passed them by.  So much fun! , though I can’t imagine what it is like to make passage there when the alder are full of their summer growth!  Luckily though we were able to slide over every beaver dam we encountered because of the high water levels, which likely saved us quite a bit of time and work at the end of the day .

We saw no wildlife today, save water fowl and other birds- warblers, wood ducks, mergansers (male and female), loons, Canada geese and the like. Again, we noted a plethora of moose scat. In fact, there is quite a bit of it here in our campsite, too, along with a healthy dropping of hair-infused wolf scat on the trail to the box. We imagine he was letting us know he was not happy that humans have returned to his territory.

We understand why he fancies it so. Feeling a bit weary and uncertain as to how long the remaining twists and turns shown on the map might take us, we had paused after the last portage of the day for a late afternoon snack to refuel, just in case. Having passed by quite a few campsites that were less than inviting along the way, we were quite delighted, then, to round that last corner so soon and to spot the orange campsite tag, like a neon sign announcing the location of heaven, on its welcoming tree. We could almost hear the choir of angels singing, so inviting was that sight.

This campsite is just so incredibly amazing – secluded and peaceful, with both sweeping and intimate views of the river, the marsh and the spruce bog beyond. Red pine-needle carpet for our floor and alpine notched hills for our walls, the water stretches long on both sides.   The feeling of remoteness about this place, which takes at least 2 full days of paddling and portaging to reach, is so very remarkable.

The peepers are singing quite impressively this evening as the night darkens. I soon won’t be able to see to write, the first stars have already turned on their lights.  I expect that dark dome to be ridden with stars tonight and I hope to stay awake for at least a taste of its wonder, though I’m not at all certain I will last until those sacred hours. Eight hours on the water and trails, many of them quite physical, pulling boats over logs and up river banks, trudging up hills and hauling gear over fallen trees, not to mention the steering of the canoe around all of those hairpin turns . My entire body has gotten a workout today!.

But here I am now.

I am feeling quite sleepy. Without a fire, I am growing quite chilled, as well. The stars will have to wait…

 

 

I had the time of my life- day 1

Day 1, May 14, Big Bob Lake

We worked so very hard today. I’d expected this first day to be grueling, as there was no place to stop and make camp after committing to that first 400 meter portage, north out of Tim Lake, until we arrived at this one, two 400 meter and two 800 meter portages later. Much later, as it turned out, as we arrived here (slogging down the lake in the midst of a heavy downpour) around 4:30, some 8 hours after having put in to the water this morning.  Today’s exertion was really the extent of my capabilities. We were both beat upon making camp.

Cold too. D had taken an unexpected plunge getting the gear out of the boat at the start of that very first portage, the entrance of which was blocked by a recently downed tree making the unloading of the boat a bit more tricky than usual. And though we unpacked the Billy Bag then and there so that she could change out of her wet things immediately, the insides of her boots were wet and so her feet, too.  She retired to the tent for warmth as soon as we had cleaned up our dinner of chili, which we’d  quickly rehydrated upon making camp while we took some hot tea into our bellies and then heated hastily over a small fire. Had the rain not relented after making it to shore, I think we both would have been in our tents as soon as we made camp, eating gorp, perhaps, for dinner.

It is now 8 o’clock and I am propped up, writing in the warmth of my own tent in the dimming light of the day. I am set up in a sheltered area where it is obvious that a weather-stranded camper must’ve also taken shelter at some point during these last weeks of inclemency. There is a pile of wood and evidence of a fire back here….

We were up early, had a leisurely breakfast of granola in the cabin at Edgewater Park Lodge and were on the road before 8.  Arriving at the access point to the Tim River, it took us some time to unload and repack the car and then load up the canoe for travel. The paddle to Tim Lake along the Tim river was enchanting in the swollen waters. Already we noticed that were going to be slowed a bit by the taking off and putting on jackets and underlayers with the clouds passing so quickly overhead, sometimes dumping rain, sometimes revealing a warm sun.

Tim Lake appears to be a gem of a lake, with its large island in the center creating a sense of intimacy for a lake of its size, and I admit that I second guessed myself many times about our route. Should we have continued through Tim Lake to reenter into the Tim river where it empties on the opposite shoreline, taken that short 120 meter portage and made our way eastward to Rosebary Lake rather than heading north into Big Bob and the Nippissing River? Only time will tell, I suppose, as this trip unfolds.

I do expect this will be the more isolated, wild, and remote route, which is something we both appreciate. I knew this would be an aggressive endeavor, though when I discussed it with D, she wanted to stick with the plan. We’ve been trying to map out a route into the Wolf Marsh along the Nippissing that D has been eyeing on the map for some time. Though we don’t have the number of days required to make it there on this trip, it will be good to test the waters.

Still, I think we would have been fine today had it not been for the slick conditions of the trails, so impacted by these weeks of rain. D lost her footing a second time on that very first portage, slipping on a root and landing face first on the trail. Until she got up I was anxious that she might really be injured, but she was just checking in with her body. It seemed that her smaller daypack, which she’d hung on the front of her body, had cushioned her fall. There were several more slips and tumbles, by both of us, throughout the day, though D’s boots seem to be especially slippery. The roots and wet mats of leaves make for treacherous footing, and the muck is slick as well, especially on sloping grades.

It rained off and on throughout the entire day, beginning at the lodge this morning at 7. Though the forecast had called for it to abate by mid afternoon, we had our heaviest rains after lunch, which we took before we embarked on the two back-to-back 800 meter portages on either side of the tiny West Koko Pond.

The forest floor is thick with trout lily, too, and so our eyes, needing to be attentive to each footfall, were also blessed by it. The trillium are just beginning to bloom as are the Spring Beauties.  There were so many tracks of moose to follow and we thought we identified a bear track, too, along with a smaller weasel-like track which may have been marten. Piles and piles of mooseberries littered the way. Surely we will be greeted by one before our time is up here.

This site has an enticing long view to the west, though the heavy cloud cover seems to have precluded any opportunity to view the sunset this evening.  A gull broods on her nest atop the granite islet just offshore from our campsite. Her partner swoops in from time to time to roost on the remains of an inukshuk left behind by a camper. Turtle eggs have been dug up on the bank of our campsite’s landing. So much evidence of life everywhere.

The peepers are just beginning their evensong, the loons their evening serenade, and an occasional raven puts in a word or two. Overhead, the wind continues to rush through the treetops, though the tent has stopped flapping now, as the system seems to be lifting. I am cozy enough in my down quilt, though my nose is getting quite nippy. I will soon blow out the candle. It is almost 9.

At once, I notice a subtle glow lighting the side of the tent. Like opening the curtain to a symphony, I pull back the tent flap to reveal a stunning sky, peach in color and mirrored in the waters below.  Stepping out to grab a quick photo, the sky turns to dusk just as quickly. What a grace it was to have noticed, to have opened to that gift.

Closeby now, a white-throated sparrow whistles her clear ‘Sweet Canada’ response to another somewhere across the water, where the peepers chorus crescendos into a fully voiced lullaby. Someone splashes into the water below.

I can hear D snoring softly from her tent up above. She was so exhausted tonight I do hope tomorrow makes all of the work of today worthwhile.  

I should close the journal and simply be…the day has been so very full .

I am suddenly quite sleepy too.

 

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