So, we got up early, 7am (I know a lot of experienced campers get up in the middle of the night and head out so they can get to the put in when the permit office opens, but in our defence, Chris works nights. I didn't think asking him to start a trip on an hours sleep was very fair) and got our permit by about 10:45. We were expecting the bugs to be bad, but pulling into the parking lot at the put in, and seeing the mosquitoes swarming the car didn't seem like a good start.
Chris unloaded the canoe while I carried the packs and loose gear down to the water. Once he had the canoe in, I held it against the dock while he put the packs into it. I had mosquitoes going down the back of my pants, up the sleeves of my sweater, and I kept thinking maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe we should have waited a few weeks...
Once we were on the water, it was fine. From the boat launch, go to the left. There's a sign across the river, to the right is Whitefish Lake, to the right, Rock Lake.
We made good time, and though it started to drizzle about 20 minutes into the paddle, we were too excited to care. I've camped at Rock Lake before, in the campgrounds, but everything looks so different from out on the water. The buildings that line the right bank were actually mostly very nice little cottages, not run down old shacks like I thought they were when looking at them from the opposite shore. We both decided we were super jealous of the people that get to use them.
Finding the portage into Pen Lake was pretty easy. Chris speculated over each cliff we saw, wondering if they'd be good cliffs to jump from. We obviously didn't stop so he could swim down at each of them and see if there were rocks jumbled a foot below the surface of the water, but I'm pretty sure it's on his to-do list.
The bugs hit us again once we got to the portage, so we didn't take the time to head down the little paths to the water falls. I wish we had. I didn't end up taking many pictures on the whole trip and now that I'm home (and safe from mosquitoes) I'm kicking myself for being such a wuss.
It was hot, humid and mucky on the portage. I'd made the mistake of putting my lifejacket on under the backpack so I wouldn't have to carry it, which proved to be a big mistake. With the lifejacket on, I couldn't get the pack straps to sit right and the right one kept sliding down my arm. With Chris close behind with the canoe, I knew I couldn't just stop (or I'd end up getting cracked in the back of the head). Finally I let him go by me. At this point, both straps had slid down and were caught in the crook of my elbows so I had no choice but to stop and bounce it back into place.
By the time we got to the end (it's only 375 meters) I was thinking this whole interior camping thing isn't as awesome as I'd been led to believe. Maybe I'd be okay with just sticking to campground camping from now on. Then Chris points and says, "look, cow moose with a baby." and yep, in the small marsh about 40 feet from the put in, there was a moose with a baby. My doubts about canoe camping were erased in like .4 seconds and I was back to "this is the most awesome thing ever!"
I photographed them while Chris went back for the other pack. I figured I'd get some pictures then go back and help with the last of the loose items, but I didn't think the moose would be there too long. I guess I'm used to the ones on the side of the highway...they are there for a little while until someone drives by honking a horn or a motorcycle goes by and the moose takes off. After we got the stuff into the canoe, we paddled a bit closer and they couldn't have cared less.
So, the plan was to find the site mentioned in a trip log as having a sandy beach, since I'm not really big on just jumping into deep water...I have a fear of weeds...and snapping turtles...and muskie. Okay that sounds dumb, I know, but I grew up working in my grandfather's bait shop, and heard all kinds of stories...most of which probably weren't true. Since there were several other parties heading into Pen Lake behind us, we paddled quick to find the site...hoping it wasn't already taken. We found the site easily enough, but it was very closed in and all I kept thinking was there would be no chance of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay. So we moved on.
We spotted a point with a clump of big pines and what looked like a sandy beach nearby, but upon drawing closer realized the site was already taken. There was one of those coleman brown and beige tents up high on the hill, the tent Chris and I had almost bought, but it blended in so well, we didn't see it until we got really close. A few minutes further down the lake, Chris spotted another moose on the western shore, with two babies. We detoured over and photographed them. The mother seemed pretty determined to gorge herself and barely stopped eating to look at us, though she was careful to move herself so she was between us and the babies.
We crossed the lake again and ended up taking the last site on the east side. The rocky shore made unloading a bit of a pain, but we managed and set up the tent and tarp. At first we were going to set up closer to the water between two big trees, but then we looked up and saw a lot of dead branches. Since the weather was forecasting storms we weren't sure it would be safe. Having just gone through a bad storm in Killarney, Chris was more worried about the tent blowing into the lake than the possibility of branches falling on the tent.
The site was kind of...rough? I don't know how to describe it. I've read a lot of trip logs and watched a lot of youtube videos of people's canoe trips and all the sites seem to have these benches around the fire pit, lots of open space...this one was all hill with no where to sit in front of the fire pit and this weird tripod thing someone had rigged up over top of the fire with branches and bright green string. I'm sure they thought it was clever, but it just managed to look kind of junky. We didn't take it down, but I couldn't help but wish it wasn't there.
After we set up, we sat on one of the rocks overhanging the shore and ate some snacks (apples, kielbasa and crackers, and Chris pointed out that he could still see the cow moose and babies across the lake. Then he pointed a little further to the left and said he saw another moose there. So we got back into the canoe with the camera and fishing gear and headed out to see if he was right. My eyes are bad so I couldn't tell if he was just seeing a dark rock or an actual moose. Turned out he was right...it was a big bull moose with the start of some nice antlers and the loveliest chocolate brown fur. I'm so used to seeing moose in the spring, when they all look ragged and grey, so this was a nice change. He didn't stick around once we got closer.
Even from across the lake we could hear the rush of white water from this area, and decided to try and find the first portage that leads to Welcome Lake. It looked like just a big marsh until we realized there was a section with a good current so we followed that until we got to a rocky pile and couldn't go any further. Okay we could have. There was a small sandy mucky spot we could have used to life around the rocks but the problem was, battling against the current was a pain when in most places there was only 2 inches of water. It was impossible to dig my paddle in and get a good stroke because I'd just sink it into soft sand. We ended up turning around and heading back to see the mother and twins.
On our way back to the campsite, we noticed a neon green canoe heading down the lake, and as we got closer realized they were clearly making their way to our site. In fact, when we got there, they were trying to decide the best place to land the canoe until they noticed our tent. I felt bad. It would suck to haul all your gear out of the canoe and then realize the site actually was taken. The two young men in the canoe were from Montreal, and though we couldn't tell them anything about other sites that might be available, we did let them know about the moose across the lake.
I pumped some water then Chris fished from the boat while I paddled toward the portage into Clydegale Lake. The lake was so calm it was easy and I was able to practice my j-stroke without worrying about waves or wind. Chris had no luck fishing, but we did run into the guys in the neon green canoe again, and they invited us to coffee in the morning after thanking us for telling them about the moose. We didn't go, the bugs were so bad the next morning we didn't even make breakfast, but it was nice that they offered. I always read about that kind of thing in people's trip logs. A lot of the time in the campgrounds, people barely acknowledge you when you walk by. The only real interaction we have with neighbours is when someone is leaving and they come over and offer us the last of their firewood, or we offer them ours.
I hauled out the vital stove and made bannock and spaghetti for dinner. Usually at home when I make spaghetti, I never have enough water, and I'd seen online that the easiest way to make it in the back country was to cook the noodles and rehydrate the sauce all at once. I didn't fill the pot to a crazy high level, but it still ended up being spaghetti soup and had to be boiled down more than I'd thought. Still it was tasty. I'd added a bit of garlic powder and italian seasoning to the bannock mix and it was really yummy. Chris had gotten a good fire going, which helped keep the bugs at bay...there was no breeze at all. Funny how on our last trip, we were cursing the wind as it kept blowing the tent over, and now we were praying for even a wisp of breeze.
We went to bed around 10:30 and spent the entire night listening to the buzz of what sounded like a billion mosquitoes. It seriously sounded like we were at a race track, or were being attacked by angry bees. Even worse, because the tent was so small, it sounded like they were right in our ear all night. But the worst? The no-see-ems. Oh my God. It was super hot but we had to hide in our sleeping bags just to keep from getting bitten all over. Just when you start to doze off one would bite. I don't think I fell asleep until 5am. By 3 I really had to go to the bathroom but there was no force on earth that could get me to get out of the tent into what sounded like a horror-movie swarm of mosquitoes. I finally got up at 6 and afterwards, took some pictures of the lake.
|Early morning on Pen Lake|
It looked like it was going to be a gloomy rainy day, and I hoped it wouldn't rain the whole time we paddled home. The lake was very pretty though, calm and mirror flat, it almost looked haunted with the mist and haze. I crawled back into the tent (the bugs weren't as bad as I'd feared but still pretty horrible) and slept until 9. By then the sun had come out and it was hot and humid. We had originally planned to stick around until after lunch, but we were so tired and the bugs were so bad we ended up making tea, skipping breakfast and heading out with some granola bars and Snickers to eat in the canoe. While chris was rolling the ropes from the tarp he said he counted twelve mosquitoes on the knuckle of his baby finger. I almost asked him why he thought counting them was a good idea when the smart thing to do would be to swat them...but maybe it was just being so tired that had him losing common sense.
Momma moose and her twins were back out in the bay. (just to the right of the island in the picture...the bull moose was in the bay to the left of the island the day before) so we crossed over and saw them again then headed up the lake. It was pretty busy on the water. Lots of people in rental canoes. We figured a lot of them were day trippers, maybe camped in the Rock Lake campground.
As we neared the portage we both got our bug hats ready, only to find no bugs! Weird. Lots of people though. There was a group of 8 young men just finishing the second leg of their portage. Chris had thought we'd brought too much, but these guys had 4 canoes loaded down. They even had 2 big Rubbermaid containers. I didn't feel so bad after seeing that.
By the time we got in sight of the Rock Lake campground we were both done in. No sleep, the heat, and only snacks to fuel us, we just wanted out of the canoe and into the water. It seemed to take forever. Luckily, there were no bugs at the boat launch either, so we loaded up, and headed to Pog Lake campground for a quick swim. I'm not sure if you're supposed to use campground beaches if you aren't staying at that campground, but Rock Lake's beach was over run with geese and baby geese. Neither of us wanted to get attacked, and the prospect of swimming in an area with that many geese didn't appeal. We could have gone to the Two Rivers picnic area but were too hot and icky to wait. We only swam for about 5 minutes, just enough to cool off, then headed to the Two River's store for some lunch and a cold drink.
Despite the bugs it was an awesome trip. I had three wishes for this trip, hear lots of loons, see moose in a setting that wasn't the side of the road, and camp in the interior. We managed to do all three at the same time...listened to loons while on our interior campsite watching moose across the lake. I did learn a few things...
1. Ladies, if you are going to be wearing a bug hat...tie your hair back! The whole portage, while the pack was sliding down my arms and I was worried about Chris ramming me with the canoe, my hair kept falling in my face. Trying to hold the paddles and camera bag in one hand while sticking the other hand up the mesh to tuck the strands behind my ears was not easy. I couldn't see and kept tripping over rocks and roots.
2. Bring some kind of flag or something that you can hang near the water so if your site is sheltered people can tell it's occupied well before getting there, saving fellow campers extra paddling. Early in the day it's not so bad, but I would hate to be arriving late, paddling all over the lake trying to find an empty site...then get to one that looks empty but isn't, and having to paddle all the way around the other side.
3. Before the trip, we went to Canadian Tire and looked at the bug screens you just hang from a tree. We both thought they looked kind of flimsy and we'd be okay with just bug hats. I think if we'd had something like that (wanna look into the parawing backpack tarp/screen thing) we would have eaten breakfast, had dessert after dinner and maybe stayed for lunch. I had packed some quinoa salad stuff for lunch the second day, but I barely had the patience to boil water for tea that morning.
4. If you are going when bugs are going to be bad, taking food that is super quick to make is the way to go. Maybe if we'd taken a different stove it wouldn't have been so bad. I could have left it simmering and walked around as at least when we were moving the bugs weren't as bad, but with the vital stove, I had to sit and keep feeding it sticks. Don't get me wrong, I love the Vital Stove, it works really well, but you do have to sit and feed it. Also, breakfast was supposed to be oatmeal, but not instant. I'm not a fan of instant oatmeal, but the thought of getting eaten alive while cooking oats that take 15 minutes to simmer was not appealing. Not only that, but it would have been messy to clean up. Scrubbing the pot would have been no fun while fighting off mosquitoes.
5. Interior camping is just as awesome as I'd thought it would be. Despite my initial misgivings on the portage, it really was a wonderful trip. We learned a lot, saw so much wildlife. At one point in the night we heard this noise that sounded like a screeching rooster. I did some looking online when we got home and we think it might have been an adolescent barred owl. It sounded like this but more screechy like these baby barred owls. Chris said it sounded like someone at the next site over was murdering a baby. We also heard loons, wolves and lots of frogs.
I can't wait to do this again, with the kids along...but maybe wait for the bugs to die off a bit...