Sunday, July 13, 2014

Trip Log: Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park -Head Lake to Fishog Lake - July 11-12, 2014

 The kids first canoe camping trip!  They've been waiting so long for this and were so excited to go.  I on the other hand, kind of dreaded it.  Not because I didn't want to canoe camp, but if you read my last post about the route, and the portage, you'll remember I was nervous about the dog's behaviour in the canoe and on the hilly (cliffy) portage.  I wasn't wrong.  But let's not skip ahead.

One of the Gull Rocks on Head Lake
We arrived at the put in around 1:00 and hauled all our gear down to the water.   Right away, we realized one of our fears wasn't unfounded...fitting all our gear, plus two kids, a dog, and us, in a 14" canoe was a logistical nightmare.  I had the big pack in front of me in the bow, and the Pelican camera case between my knees.  I couldn't really kneel properly.  The tent went under the yoke, Squatch and the kids two packs went right behind me, then the 30L food barrel, Bubbie and Biscuit went in front of Chris.  We have two kind of big, bulky sleep pads, Chris stuffed them in the little space behind the stern seat and used them as a back rest.  Neither of us were comfortable paddling.  Chris had to contort himself with every stroke to avoid bopping Bubbie on the head and I kind of looked like in the movies when a 6'3" man is using the toilets in a my knees were up by my ears.  To make things even more interesting, Biscuit was so excited he kept running from side to side, standing on the gunnels and biting the water.  This meant every two seconds we had to adjust our weight to counter balance 40 pounds of hyper dog to keep us from tipping into the middle of the lake.  Surprisingly though, he barely noticed the gulls and terns attacking us as we paddled by the rocks in Head Lake.
Waterfall on Head River

Finally we made it to the river and within minutes, Bubbie had lost her hat and we had to back paddle to get it.  Biscuit decided Lily Pads were the enemy and nearly jumped out of the canoe to bite them as we passed.  Finally we made it to the portage, and as I'd feared, I nearly fell multiple times as the dog dragged me up the hills.  I shouldn't call them hills, because a hill I could have managed.  It was the sections that were more like 6 foot tall rock walls where you had to pick your footing on little ledges that made it interesting.

We made it to our site at 2:30, and thankfully it wasn't taken.  We had picked it out the day before, with a few others as back up choices.  Chris had wanted to pack up the night before and leave super early because he really liked that site and was sure it would be occupied.  (Actually it was a good thing we got there when we did.  Boaters from cottages passed a few times both days we were there and we could hear them say things like "darn there are people there!")
Kitchen set up on our site

The site is pretty damn awesome.  There's a huge clearing near the back where we set up the tent. We brought our big 6 person, 2 room tent which I knew is kind of big to carry over the portage, but Biscuit is prone to pacing in the night...he likes to get a bit of a snuggle with everyone and our 4 person tent is just barely big enough for us...we'd be getting stepped on all night if we'd brought it.  We'll have to use it for other trips because not all sites are going to have such a huge tent pad, but for this one, we took advantage of the luxury.

The fire pit was ridiculously huge.  I think it must have been 5 feet across.  The site had a really nice kitchen area where someone had built a plywood and 2x4 counter with a lower shelf for storage.  Someone had left a chair and some saw horses there.  There was also a wine rack!  Talk about luxury.  I'm guessing fishermen use this area a lot and that's why there's so many improvements.  One site on the lake has a floating dock.  We almost went there because it would have been fun for the kids, but the mosquitoes on that site were pretty bad the day before.
Enjoying the "hot tub" 

The first thing we did is...go for a swim.  It took a few minutes to decide where to swim because there are several possibilities.  There's the shady sandy area where we pulled in the canoe, an area of shallow rock ledges that drops off right at the point (we called this area the hot tub), and on the other side of the point, a rocky area that goes out a few feet then drops off.  They tried them all out while I took pictures.

We had let Biscuit off his leash to see how he would behave.  I was pretty sure he'd take off and I'd spend the whole time there worried about getting him to come back.  It was a big surprise that we didn't have that problem at all.  He ran like a crazed thing over the whole site, but when ever one of us called he came right back.  Once swimming was over with and everyone was cooled off, we set up the tent and broke out the trail mix.  The plan had been to have Kraft Dinner for lunch, but we all decided to just nibble on snacks then have dinner.

Dinner that night was pasta shells with chunky vegetable sauce.  I only have one pot in the mess kit I bring but I decided to use the pot from my old rice cooker as a second pot/bowl.  Its the perfect size, except I need to get Chris to rig up some sort of handle.  I hadn't brought any oven mitt, or work glove and ended up having to use a sock to pick it up.  We ate supper on the rocks looking over the lake.  It was awesome.  Other than one fishing boat we hadn't seen anyone on the lake all day.

Little small mouth bass
While I did dishes, Chris and Sully fished.  We'd only brought Chris's fishing rod but next time will bring the kid's as well.  Chris caught a few small mouth bass, not too big, maybe 6-8 inches.  Sully had a bigger one on the line but it jumped off before he could get it in.  He's completely hooked on fishing now, no pun intended.  Chris lost one of his lures on a log but the next morning was able to get it back. As the sun began to set, the fish began to jump.  Some were good sized fish, others more like minnows.

Chris got a big fire going and the kids (I include Chris in this) toasted marshmallows.  We had brought their Grampa's Fire Forks...which worked well until Bubbie let her stick catch fire and the fire fork fell in the fire.  Biscuit kept trying to steal the sticks while they were toasting marshmallows on them.

Sunset on Fishog Lake
As it got closer to sunset Bubbie tried to film the sun going down but the memory card filled up before the final event.  Chris went to hang the food barrel and the branch he'd gotten all ready with the rope snapped.  By now it was pretty dark in the bush, but he managed to find another tree to hang it in...then the problem became the rope.  Dollar store rope isn't a good choice when hanging 30lbs of stuff in a tree.  The mosquitoes were also really bad.  I sent the kids into the tent with Biscuit while I put out the fire.  The problem with a huge fire pit?  It takes a crap ton of water to make sure the fire is out.  I swear I hauled 10 buckets up and even though I could pick up the logs, there was still a lot of crackling so I got Chris to do a few more once he got the barrel hung.

When we finally got into the tent, we realized we hadn't set up the sleep pads at all, which was not fun to do while the dog was walking all over them.  We got ourselves all sorted out and Bubbie realized she had forgot to pack sleep pants.  We had only brought small sleeping bags (the kids had fleece liners) so I let her wear mine and I slept in shorts.  We were all a little chilly that night.  Not bad, just enough to wish we had another light blanket.

I was thrilled to hear Whip-poor-wills singing!  As a kid, we used to hear these every night we could sleep with our windows open and I hadn't heard them in almost 15 years.  Everyone else was less than thrilled.  They found them annoying and kept asking when they would stop singing.  At one point in the night, there was one right outside the tent.  I could hear it moving around and singing a few feet from my head.  Around 10ish we heard what sounded like waves lapping on shore but there was no breeze and the lake had been like glass.  I got up and looked out the window.  It was two canoes paddling past.  I would not want to be looking for a campsite here in the dark.  There's no signs, you just have to look for evidence of prior use, like a fire pit.  We also had a few fireflies hovering around the tent most of the night.


Biscuit woke me up around 6, I didn't have my watch so I don't know the exact time.  He went out, did his business, then we went back to bed until 9.  Breakfast that morning was instant cookies and cream oatmeal for the kids, with hot chocolate.  Chris and I had a camp version of an oatmeal recipe I make at home.  The original is from the vegan cookbook Oh She Glows and is super yummy.  Chris had coffee and I had tea.  While I cooked and cleaned up, Squatch fished and lost one of Chris's lures.  He quickly got changed and went hunting for it when Chris offered to pay him $5 for the service.

Bubbie and I sat in the "hot tub" after breakfast.  This was the area right at the end of the point where the water was only about 6 inches deep.  When it's sunny, it's nice and warm.  It wasn't really sunny there yet, but it was nice to just sit quietly and watch a boat full of people swim on the opposite shore.  When Chris and I had explored the other day, that rocky ledge was covered in goose poop, so I'm not surprised these people were disappointed not to be able to use our site for their swimming.

Squatch got a lesson in knife safety from Chris so he could try whittling with the little pocket knife he got for his birthday.  He made himself a tiki while chris made a chess piece and a little surf board.  Bubbie and I did a bit of packing up of the things in the tent while they did this.  We had brought enough food for 2 days but weren't sure if we'd stay that long.  The weather was calling for storms on Sunday, and we didn't want to pack up and paddle back in the rain.

We had lunch, the KD we didn't make the day before.  The kids were going to have Mr. Noodles, but the rice bowl pot tipped and spilled half the contents on the counter.   I'd balanced the vital stove on a flat rock, but it wasn't quite big enough.  With no handle to support the pot, it was pretty tippy.  She ate the half cooked noodles anyway.

We decided to just stay the one night, and by 4:06 we were heading back across Fishog Lake.  Since I didn't know when the following day it was supposed to storm, we didn't want to risk it. We were a little more organized on the portage and I ended up just letting Biscuit run free across it.  He'd "attacked" the water so much on the short paddle he had to pee so bad when he got out of the canoe he ended up peeing on his leash.  Once we got to the lake, we saw that the water was a crazy mess of waves and white caps.  We probably should have pulled into the site at the river mouth and waited a few hours in the hopes it would calm down.  We had enough food to stay if we had to, but once we got out onto the water we couldn't turn around without capsizing so we just kept a steady pace, turning into the waves when they got big, but taking advantage of brief lulls to get us more in the direction we needed to go.  It took an extra 45 minutes to paddle than on the way in, but we made it.  Poor Biscuit had to pee so bad he actually settled down for the second half, and the wind kept the gulls from attacking us.

It was quite an adventure and the kids had a blast.  Once we made it to shore safe and sound, everyone was elated (not to mention relieved...especially the dog who leapt out and again peed on his leash.)  We all decided we have to do this again soon...only next time we'll keep the paddle short at least until Biscuit is a little more calm in the canoe.

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