Sunday, July 5, 2020

Trails, bushwhacks, caves and rain. Had it all. Six days in the West Canada Lakes.

Day one: Met Shannon at the trailhead parking on Haskell Rd. As we were getting ready another vehicle pulled in with six other hikers. The weather for the next few days was not favorable, after that the forecast is too far to predict. All geared up, we set out along the NPT towards Spruce Lake. Today would be about ten miles. The trail here is quite familiar to me yet I always seem to rediscover its less obvious features which were lost in my memory. Small drainages, large rocks, obscure side paths, etc... A lot of past memories come back vividly, of meeting people on the trail and other experiences from past adventures. So far the weather was perfect. Not too hot, nor rainy. We played leap frog with the other group a couple times. Seemed like more, but it was really one group and a solo thru- hiker. Some of them were going all the way to Placid for their 30th anniversary, the others were hiking with them to Wakely. I offered some hints as to nice places along the way and mentioned the flooded section just north of the Carry lean-to.We made decent time and arrived at Spruce Lake #2 by early afternoon. There were two guys who had hiked in for the day and were just leaving. The lean-to was mostly clean. Some plastic spice jars on the floor had been chewed on, and a few cans of chef boyardee on the shelf. I ate my first late lunch, set up camp and gathered firewood. Our packs were a tad heavy carrying six days worth of food. Since we were coming back this way in two days, we would secure a bear caninister with our food off trail for the second half of our trip. Made a small fire to dispel the bugs. On it we poured the oregano and garlic powder from the containers to get rid of them.Amde a nice smelling campfire. We were both in bed before the sun went down.

Day two: Since we had been expecting rain, and didn't get any I figured we were ahead of the curve already for the trip. No complaints here. Sicne we had gone to bed early, arising with the sun still allowed for a lot of sleep. We didn't need to rush either as today was only another ten miles or so. Nearby we hid our bear canister and continued North on the NPT. At Sampson Bog we passe by the hikers from the previous day. We chatted a bit and crossed the waterfall without the bridge with ease. Not long later we stopped for a snack and they caught up with us. One of the older women mentioned she was worried about the flooded section and had considered turning back. We hiked with them a short while as I re-assured her it was not as bad as she thought. Just not fun. I said I would have felt extremely guilty had she turned around. A few others had mentioned to Shannon the concern from this woman as well. Again we found ourselves ahead of the group. Took a long lunch break at South Lake. A southbound hiker was swimming near the bridge just up the trail. The bridge here is beginning to show some wear. Still structurally sound, but will need some maintenance in the near future. This would not be a fun crossing without a bridge.

As we passed by the side trail to West Lake Shannon marvelled at the sign. I had forgotten about it. We signed in at the register near the old ranger station and french louies fireplace. The reroute trail from many years ago had been quite a mess. Due to all the dry weather it was quite easy. Passing by Mud Lake I remembered last year's shorelinme search for the old campsite to no avail. A few blowdowns in the area are tough to duck under. Found an almost brand new hat on one of them. I picked it up figuring it was part of the groups ahead of us. We caught up with them at the bridge over Mud Creek. They said the hat was not their's but maybe the southbound hiker. We said we were heading to Cedar #3 lean-to, they said they were considering either #1 or #2. I told them #2 (Beaver Pond) was the nicer option. When we arrived at the fisherman's lean-to we found it surprisingly empty. It was early still though. We set up camp and I read the log book. A few entries mentioned how nice the privy was; Shannon disagreed vehemently. As it was early we put togther day packs and hiked back up the trail to the NPT and then took a bearing to French Louie's cave. It had been a few years and I have never come at it from this angle. A few herd paths going in the approximnate direction made travel a wee bit easier. As we began the up hill portion something didn't feel right even though I was now looking at my compass more diligently. We paused and I realized we were on the wrong upslop of the rise. I must have gone right past it and was now going up the wrong side of the hill. Fortunately we weren't lost, just not where we wanted to be. This side of the hill had quite a few large boulders which makes following the cvontour around difficult. A few steep sections to drop through. Both fun and annoying at the same time. As we came around the correct side, the sky changed and a few drops of rain began. We cozied up near a gaint rock which provided enough shelter for Shannon to put on her pack cover. Not wanted to fuss around in the rain looking for the cave, I took a bearing back to our starting point. The rain was just a few drops and the terrain was looking more familiar. I said, let's just bend around a little farther to look. We did this twice and sure enough there was the cave. I pinned a waypoint on my phone to share with Andy as I never had the exact coordinates. Shannon took some photos. A shot a bearing back and followed it more closely this time ignoring the herd paths. Hit the NPT six feet from where we started. Trust the compass.

Back at camp I took a swim as I was a bit dirty after two days of hiking including the short bushwhack. The water felt great. Made a nice dinner of tortelinni with pesto sauce. I put in some of my lunch pepperoni. Will have to have this one again. Aside from the small sprinkle atop cobble hill (the real one) we have had perfect weather. Shannon climbed into bed early. I ribbed her a bit for it, and 5 minutes later also climbed into my bag.

Day 3. Was a little cooler last night. No complaints. After breakfast we decided to finish the french Louie loop instead of back tracking. This would make today significantly longer by almost 60%. With very light packs we figured it was not a problem. We set out and had a couple miles of nice hiking. Soon the rains came. Not just a little rain, but buckets. Last time I saw rain like this was when Andy and I had camped near Wakely. I had to hike without my glasses as the water was too much. The rain stopped abrubtly and the sun came out. A little bird chirped moments before hinting at he possibility. I was not looking forward to crossinbg the funhouse bridge with the rain like that. The middle section is at a 45 degree angle and with rain probably not very safe. With the sun, it had dried mostly when we got to it. We got to hike almost dry to the Pillsbury lean-to where we had lunch. The sun was out drying off our packs. Noisey Ridge across the lake started to live up to its name. Clouds were low over the ridge and the sound of rain pouring over the forest could be heard rumbling. We were finished with lunch so we headed back to the trail hoping the westerly winds would push the system past us. It didn't and minutes after getting back on the trail the thunderous rains we heard over Noisey Ridge were soon upon us. Shannon's pace quickened. She later joked she was "trying to outrun it". Again my glasses were off. Due to Shannon's pace we arrived at Sampson Lake in about an hour. The rains subsided for the most part which meant I could now wear my glasses again. With two miles left to the next junction and half our daily miles behind us we were making decent time. As we hiked towards the NPT my mind wandered to whether Dan would be waiting for us, or we would arrive before him. He was hiking with Kristi the last few days in the Pharaoh Lakes region and planned to meet us at Spruce #1. A short break at the junction, then back on the trail we hiked the previous day. Momemts later two thru hikers came by. For the rains we just experienced they were in good spirits. We chatted a bit about their next few miles and inquired as to their planned destination. They said the tent site at Mud Lake. I told them I did not think that site exists having looked for it many times. Not to mention with these storms searching for a not so obvious tent site would certainly sour their trip. I gave them information about the lean-tos and sites a mile before it and recommended a couple. They had spent the night at Fall Stream and I suppose were looking to avoid lean-to areas, I hope they heeded my advice.

Over the years the trail maintainers for this section of the NPT have put in a lot of time construction bog bridges over the wettest sections. The logs wwere slippery due to the rain, the rocks were not much better. Shannon had already slipped on the logs and I on the rocks rolling my ankle. Hoping to not have it too sore in the morning. Just after Spruce #3 we gathered up our bear canister and carried it to Spruce #2 to pack them for the last eight tenths of a mile. Shannon also took a couple of the chef boyardees to have for dinner. As we approached Spruce #1 I saw a man heading towards the lean-to with an armful of wood. I called out, "hey Dan-O". He had arrived at the lean-to about an hour before. He was surprised we weren't there yet, but figured I said I would be there. Since Shannon and I were crashing in the lean-to, Dan set up his tent nearby. Not long after the rains came again. Another torrential downpour. All the wood in the area had been soaked so Dan was waiting for me to do the fire. I was not feeling like it, so he used the torch to get it all going. Took a bit of time but soon he had enough to cook his dinner. Using the fire, he dried out some wood and stashed it under the lean-to. Not being very hungry I had a small cup of soup. 3 days in and I had already skipped two dinner entrees. We stayed up later than usual, might have even made it to 9pm. It rained all night long.

Day 4. Up with the sun, well daylight. Sun was not shining. Everything was wet even the air. Dan had stashed a bit of dry wood but I wanted to test myself. I gathered wood from the soaking wet forest. I found a dead birch tree which I stripped off some bark, and a downed spruce from which I gathered some fine twigs. I made a base with some dry punky wood froma stump and built the fire. With enough small stuff to dry the bigger stuff I got the fire going using a single match. Is always good to practice for when I really need it. With the fire now going strong I heated some water for coffee. Dan and Shannon were now up. It wasn't raining but the air was still wet. Then it started raining again. Then it stopped. Then more rain. Basically this was the entire day on and off rain. Dan went fishing while Shannon and I rested after yesterday's long day. During one of the breaks in the rain I hiked back to Spruce #2 to check out a side trail and pick up the last can of chef boyardee. Dan returned with a single fish which did not survive being hooked otherwise he would have releaased it. He had the fish as a snack, I made myself some stroganoff and we went to bed.

Day 5. Dan wanted to check out a trout pond a copuple miles away and I wanted to check out a section of the outlet river from a failed bushwhack attempt years ago. I found a 1903 map which showed a trail to my desired location. I had no delusions this trail would still exist at all. Looking at the map we determined there was not way for us to bushwhack together and then break off, so we split up. Dan went to the trout pond and Shanon joined me on my off trail adventure. We paddled the glassy surface of the lake to the far corner where the old map showed the trail. Shannon tried taking photos of the newts in the water. With the canoe stowed on the far shore, we donned our day packs. Even though it was not raining we put on rain pants due to the wet underbrush. The old trail followed a generally straight bearing up to the shoulder of Spruce Lake Mtn. I was slightly concerned about our path as the map showed it running right through a marshy area. With the compass calibrated to the correct bearing we headed off into the brush. I was careful to follow the bearing after the ordeal the other day. A lot of false drainages heading in almost the right direction could easily get me off track here. First up and over a small rise and then the marshy area. I was expecting it to be alot larger. A large step over the creek running through it and we were back in a mossy spruce forest. Another climb ot the shoulder and shot another bearing which would eventually bring us to the river. The side of the mtn was quite rocky and travel was not that easy on the downslope. We did cross a very nice drainage with good water. As we continued down the river would be joining us. I could hear some rapids just off our bearing. Evetually I broke off the bearing and headed striaght to the water. We were well east of our desired spot on the river but the sound of the rapids was like s siren call to me. We had some lunch on the rocks and then headed downstream. A stillwater section came into view but the edge of the river was brushy. We ducked back into the woods to go around the obstacle and were soon on the other side of the stillwater. It was too small to be our target. I said I wanted to head downstream for another 20 minutes. Back in the woods and through some dense spruce for a short while and then back into hardwoods and witchopple. Then the true stillwater target appeared. Looked just as I though from scouting the aerial photos. We spotted an old coffee pot in the woods but no discernible place to camp. The large marshy section between the forest and the river's edge was not to bad to walk through so we opted for that. There were peninsulas of forest poking into the marsh. I kept setting my target to each of these. None proved to have a good view. I saw an eagle fly from one of the trees. Eventually on the last one, I could see the edge of the river as it made a northerly bend. It had only taken 5 minutes to cross the last marshy section so I told Shannon I just needed to get to that spot. So we trudged off through the marsh to the river's edge. Finally, I had made ot to the spot I had seen on the map and in the aerial photos. There was a great view looking down river with one of the Twin Mountains in the background. We took some photos and then with the time check we needed to start heading back. I had wanted to explore more here but it will have to wait for another time.

We headed back through the marsh. Following our tracks wasn't so bad but when we went around the peninsulas the grasses were tall and moving through them just sapped our energy. we could hardly wait to get back into the forest without the drag of the grasses and bushes. I reversed my bearing knwoing we would be taking a slightly different route back due me turning off the bearing to the sound of the river earlier. While following this bearing travel was easy. At times it felt like a trail but likely just wishful thinking. Regardless, the direction of travel had us moving through easy terrain even as we gained elevation up to the shoulder of the mountain. This route had us slightly more west and we passed by a nice cliff face. At the shoulder I adjusted the bearing to match the change in the "trail" as we did on our way to the river. As we approached the swampy section it looked much larger than it did the other way. Looking at the map, the trail was supposed to go right through the center. I wondered if earlier we had just hit a small arm of it and got lucky. Steppoing into the spongy mass the grasses here exacerbated our weariness. I knew we were just a tad west from where we crossed before so I headed to that edge of the swamp. Ducking intot he woods for abut and then out to he small section of swmp. We did not see the exact spot we crossed earlier but it must have been close. Up and obver the hill and back to Spruce Lake was all that was left. Not wanting to walk right past the lake on the side of a ridge, I cheated a bit to the east. At one point Shannon realized she lost the rain cover to her pack. We headed back up the hill for a few hundred yards looking for it. She could not recall the last time it was on her pack. We felt bad leaving it in the woods. Soon the lake was in view and because I had cheated east we were east of our target. Shannon waited here while I followed the shoreline to the canoe and paddled to where she awaited. The winds had picked up a bit so the lake was not glass like earlier but still an easy paddle back to camp. It was now dinner time. Shannon got the fire going while I cleaned myself up at the water. I commented how refreshing it was so Shannon also decided to go. We were just finishing eating when Dan arrived. We figured he would be back after us as he was planning on fishing the pond. He caught a few fish and prepared then for his dinner. We shared the details of our adventures with each other and by the time we went to bed it was close to ten. What a great day.

Day 6 was just packing up and heading back. We hiked with Dan for about 2 miles until the junction to his trailhead and we continued on to ours for another 7 miles. At the cars we cleaned up and heasded home. When I stopped for gas I texted Justin the photo of the stillwater to see if he could the location. I should not have been surprised he got it on the first try. Maybe he and I will head back there and do some more exploring.

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