Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Romantic Portage, 11-13 August 2006, Algonquin Park

The Route: via Entry Point 3
Day 1: Magnetawan Lake - 135m - Hambone Lake - 55m -'pond'- 420m - Daisy Lake - Petawawa River - 135m -(along Petawawa)- 450m -(along Petawawa)- 805m - 'pond' - 140m - Moccasin Lake - 440m - Bandit Lake - 540m - Wenona Lake, the first campsite
Day 2: Wenona Lake - 540m - Bandit Lake - 440m - Moccasin Lake - 185m - Juan Lake - 450m - Jubilee Lake - 550m - Sawyer Lake - 310m - Rain Lake - 1200m - Casey Lake, the second campsite
Day 3: Casey Lake - 1185m - Daisy Lake - 420m -'pond'- 55m - Hambone Lake - 135m - Magnetawan Lake

The Voyagers: Hassan and I
We had arrived home late Monday night from our weekend in Algonquin with the gang, and the two of us loaded up the Jeep and headed North again on Friday morning for what I have dubbed The Romantic Portage. We left Toronto late, around 9a.m., since I had to show Hassan's Dad our photos from the previous weekend, and because we slept in, cursing ourselves for having drunk a little too much in the pub the night before (but it was fun...!!) En route we HAD to stop at Bass Pro Shops for fishing rod, licence, lightweight fleece for me (lucky, too, cuz the nights were much chillier this weekend than last), and a very pretty rosewood-handled knife - for slicing salami, not slitting deers' trachias.

We arrived in Kearney, just north of Huntsville, around 1:30, and since we didn't have a route reserved upon arrival, we set that up at the Ranger's Office. Up the dirt road to the Magnetawan Entry Point and we were in the water about an hour later.

Our first day was amazing and difficult: five hours of canoeing/portaging to Wenona Lake, predominately via the Petawawa River. Many of the portage entry points were muddy but the walks through the forest were incredible and at the end of the trek we were always rewarded with something gorgeous --
like a small waterfall or a family of ducks that allowed us to follow them or a friendly, fearless frog welcoming us to the next stretch of water. Along the Petawawa I saw my first moose in the wild: there were two (either a cow and calf or two cows); we could hear them in the forest, and could make out their massive bodies between the trees but they were hidden enough that photos weren't possible. We floated, hushed in the canoe, happy to be in their majestic presence.

Wenona was gorgeous. We were on the only campsite on this lake, and despite setting up camp as the sun set and my grumpiness from hunger and nicotine jonesin', it was easy to feel at ease here. The moon rose like a forest fire over the trees as we ate our boil-in-a-bag chick pea curry (did I mention I will never eat buillon and noodles again?). Loons sang mournfully and no bugs flew. Mubwayaka and I,
Wenona, rested here, thanking the Great Spirit that we will return to the lake that I have chosen as my Algonquin name in three weeks' time.

Day 2's route was the same as day 1, as far as effort and distance were concerned but we had more time to do it. At the end of our first portage between Wenona and Bandit, I turned around and, to my surprise, Hassan was not right behind me with the canoe. He arrived a few minutes later, and I asked him if he 'felt something' along the route. He hadn't just then as I had - a definite sense that someone was directly behind me, carrying something heavy (like a canoe...) - but the night before he had heard whispers and assumed that it was me saying 'hi' to a passing portager; this would have been strange, anyway, since we were the only people on this trail, and no one had passed him first since he had gone ahead of me, for once. As our last portage the night before, and thinking, perhaps, the aforementioned grumpiness was my problem, I had dismissed the whispers and feelings of being followed as a I sped along with my 70lb pack in anticipation of stopping for the night. I also remember thinking great, I can't even escape from ghosts in the wilderness. But, first thing in the morning with a good night's rest and a full belly on my side, and still the feeling of being followed (although the whispers were quieter and more distant), it was a relief that I wasn't completely alone with these sensations of not being alone.

At the end of Moccasin Lake, three otters popped up to say 'hi' and check us out. A huge turtle floated in front of the canoe at the portage exit into Juan Lake, where we were only allowed to speak Spanish, but this didn't last since we met a family of four Anglo humans - both kids under 10 - doing the same route as we were but taking a week to do it instead of two days. We leap-frogged them during the next 24 hours between Bandit Lake (we had passed them en route to Wenona the night before) and Casey - our destination today. Casey has 3 campsites, we landed on the last unoccupied one with plenty of time to relax, swim (great swimming in both lakes we camped at) and eat awesome pasta.

Wildlife seen during this trip: moose, Great Blue herons, otters, ducks a turtle, lotsa fearless frogs
(one actually swam up and posed for me as I crouched for water at Wenona's edge), loons, ducks, one very indignant crow on Daisy Lake, the most beautiful leech I've ever seen: green on the top, orange on the bottom, a casual dude resembling an underwater leaf in the wind who pretended to not be interested in us at all.

I have also, in the past two weekends, become fascinated by mushrooms -

they grew everywhere,an interesting aspect of an already incredible landscape, and I now want to learn more about them.
There were very few bugs on this trip, the only mosquitos were the few we encountered on the longer, inland portages, and even they were sluggish; it's so satisfying to flatten the little bastards as they land on your shoulders, and such a relief to not deal with them especially after last weekend's battle in the hammock. And! we're quite sure there was a bear in our camp on Casey, checking things out after we had gone to bed. To top it off, Hassan woke in the middle of the night hearing a growly breath and a large shadow outside the tent caught his attention...as his eyes and ears adjusted he realized that the shadow was the canoe's in the moonlight, and the heavy breathing was just me. Of course, Hassan is the only person I know who would realize this only after he had started to unzip the tent in an attempt to get a closer look...

Brave Hassan
of the North!

On the way home we leapfrogged a landcruiser with two girls and a guy in it, waving each time we passed each other along Highway 11. As we hit traffic south of Orillia we decided to stop in Barrie for food and brew and pulled up alongside the cruiser to ask them to join us. It turns out we had met the dude on Friday at the Ranger's office on our way in; he was on his way to a folk music festival just outside Kearney. Kismet? I think so. Bryson and April, originally from Cape Breton but now based in Toronto, and Tessa, an Australian singer/writer who participated in the festival, joined us at Jack Astor's just off the Molson Park exit, for steak and draft. The perfect end to a perfect weekend. The drive home to Toronto was pretty chilly in the Jeep - no doors and only a canoe for a roof - but it was cozy under the blanket and we bundled up under our rain gear to cut the wind; the MP3 kept us occupied finding just the right music.

Was it romantic? Oh, yes.
Would I do it again? Oh, yes.

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