Day 2

Laura Lake, 9/25/10, 9:50pm

So much for our easy day.

Awake at 7am, on the water by 8:45. Sky overcast, but clouds relatively high up, compared to yesterday. Wind absent. Mood buoyant. We chased back the oatmeal, granola and powdered milk cereal with some coffee. On the water, we head up Wolf Lake, with an occasional glimpse of sun.

We saw a party of four boats on Dewdney going the other. Way. “You’ve got the harder paddle today.” they said as they passed by. We weren’t quite aware yet just how much harder. But that was a fair perception.

The sun broke through enough to cast a shadow and long enough to be noticed. But after Martin’s discovery of trip karma weather predictions yesterday, I dared not say anything. I felt a tinge of warmth on my back, but in an instant was gone, its departure punctuated by more spitting rain. but it was a glorious moment. The only such one all day.

Once we hit the the southeast arm of Chiniguchi lake someone decided to turn up the wind. Nasty nasty wind. And the temperature dropped. It was maybe 12C?

We made our way up the Southeast Arm, straining against the wind as it pushed down the channel.

We thought - despite all a this - that we’d cross Chiniguchi Lake and climb the Elephant, a prominent ridge on the west shore. I’d blocked out our trip days to allow us a couple of hours to make the scramble up to the top. But the wind and waves were seriously eating into that time.

Part of me thought we were daft, what with the gale and all, but part of me - my feet namely - was cold and figured a good scramble up a ridge would fix that like three hours of near-standing still paddling had solved the problem of cold hands.

Well, I blew it. Despite having a GPS with the route mapped, the topo map, and Brian Back’s narrative map, I took a wrong turn. In my defense I will say only that I feared losing too much ground and being turned sideways to the waves if I took my habitual map break. And the batteries in the GPS chose mid morning to expire.

So I took us to the right of a peninsula when I should have gone left. It was around noon I realized this and I pulled us into the leeward side of a point to take stock, take a breath and make lunch.

Martin, much to my great relief was pretty sanguine about all this. He seemed more concerned about squeezing crunchy peanut butter out of the narrow end of the plastic reusable tube I'd packed it in. Smooth next time.

Lost the Elephant in the clouds

I changed the GPS batteries and discovered good news and bad news. The good news: we were actually on track to reach McConnell Bay, our intended destination. The bad news? The Elephant - now obscured by low-hanging clouds - was now about 3km south and behind us. I'd given us an extra 6km of harsh paddling to do if we wanted to climb the hill. Oops.

I was shivering. The prospect of an extra hour or two of paddling - mostly into a 30km/h wind was not inviting since the possibility of having a nice view of the area from atop the ridge seemed slim and the best we could hope for would be to get down there and back, then up to McConnell bay by nigthfall without swamping. In the end it was a bit of a no-brainer.

We decided to leave the Elephant for next time. We pushed northward to McConnell Bay, arriving about 1:30.

We were still being drizzled on and despite the most inviting looking beach campsite, we opted to keep going. Sitting around in the rain waiting for dinner time is not my idea of camping fun.

Now, dear readers, I should pause to remind us all that the Chiniguchi River system is not a park. It’s a combination of crown and private lands. There are efforts afoot to make it a park with all the attendant protection and maintenance that affords. But it is not yet a park. So all the portages, campsites, waterways etc are maintained by volunteers. Scout troops, students, wilderness aficionados, etc.

I say this to demonstrate that I am aware of the effort and sacrifice made by these folks and to let them know - should they be reading this - that I am enormously appreciative of their work, despite the fact that I am about to complain at length about the portage that connects McConnell Bay to Laura Lake.

It’s an over-the-hump affair, connecting two water systems, from what I can tell, and at 700 or 850m (depending on who you ask), not particularly long. But that swamp in the middle? Holy shit. Seriously? No way.

Well, that was my reaction anyway. It’s about a 40 or 50m stretch, maybe two thirds of the way through the portage. And it’s a swamp. Maybe in summer, when it’s drier, maybe when one attempts it when the preceding 48 hours haven't brought record rains down on the area, it’s fine.

But it was not fine when we saw it. At some point in the possibly distant past someone built a log bridge or just threw some logs down in the muck. But for us, most of these were immersed beneath murky brown water, indistinguishable from the swamp water right beside it that dropped at least thigh depth.

Compared to this, the deadfall on the first bit was a walk in the park. There seemed to be no easy way around it. The swamp appears to extend through the valley between the two lakes for 1km in either direction.

So I scouted it to make sure we were indeed the right place. The telltale faded line tape told me we were. Damn. Better to be lost, methinks. I went in thigh deep once or twice on the scout. I told Martin this one might be best done in two passes. I took the canoe next. I made it across. The boat really does act like a balance bar - you know, like a tightrope walker might use, but pointing the other way.

Martin took the heavy pack and made it unscathed.

It was the third trip - with the food/kitchen pack that did me in. A misstep, a lurch and there was I up to my ass in swamp. If the pack hadn’t blocked my descent into the mire I might still be there. The eeew factor was substantial. And with the chronic rain and cold there would be no camp laundry.

By the time we were through all that the clock was edging past 3pm and the rain was edging us closer to depression. The northern island campsite on Laura seemed too exposed for the sort of day we were having. We pressed on south. The next site, marked on Brian Back’s map as a small site looked better, but it is indeed small. One passable tent pad, another that rates somewhere between desperate and ‘you can’t be serious’.

No thunderbox. But that should come as no surprise. These small island campsites are mostly moss and rock. Nowhere near enough soil to dig a pit and nowhere far enough away from the water.

In retrospect I can say the best camping along this stretch seems to be on Evelyn.

We put in close to 4pm, with the rain giving us just enough of a break to get the tent up dry.

Dahl with rice and naan went down well and in sufficient quantities. I nail this one every time, I must say. And in the Chiniguchi tetra pak wine derby Frisky Zebras beat Long Flat – handily some would say – comparing favourably to a Sydney Syrup.

And Martin got us a fire going again, which I used to mask the swamp stink of my pants with a good coating of wood smoke. The socks really got the worst of it, though.

As we started running out of wood and energy, we retreated to the tent around 9pm. The forecast suggested tomorrow would improve and even offer sun and we saw signs of it everywhere. The barometer rising, a clearing of the sky, anything to give us hope that the weather would break.

Chiniguchi portage marker: Some of the portages have these.

Chiniguchi portage marker

Detail, Falls, Wolf-Dewdney: Found some colour.

Detail, Falls, Wolf-Dewdney

McConnell Bay - Laura Lake: We have no idea what awaits us.

McConnell Bay - Laura Lake

After the portage: The swamp thing

After the portage