Of course we knew the bugs could be bad! We initially wanted to head out earlier in May to avoid the worst of the bugs, but unfortunately couldn't arrange the time. Based on the locals, they had told us the beginning of June was usually when the bugs came out, but we all know that "usually" is no guarantee. So considering the trip dates, we were hoping for the best,
but prepared for the worst. And prepared we were!, with bug jackets, a bug shelter, and plenty of bug dope, but regardless, it was still challenging at times. Some evenings, there were so many black flies, the tent sounded like it was pouring outside with them bouncing inside the fly, while at night, the constant drone of innumerable mosquitoes buzzing outside our mesh windows instilled dread at the thought of going out to relieve oneself. I couldn't imagine how the natives and voyageurs dealt with those conditions without the gear we have today! They certainly were a tougher lot.
As to the portages, one would expect rough and overgrown portages on a route that is unmaintained, but a couple were clearly non-existent! We have been challenged by lost portages before and have become relatively good at "rediscovering" them, but the ones we had to deal with utilized all our experience, patience, and trail finding skills. There were 3 relatively short
portages that should have been painless and straight forward , but they were nightmares! Either a logging company or the government clear cut areas where portages ran through and they decided not to mark them. Not only were they not marked but the landscape was also altered so that using the well treaded ground as reference were obliterated! In the last year or two, endless poplar saplings had been densely growing to heights of between 5 to 8 feet, creating a dense and impenetrable wall of green! The most extreme example was a 600m portage that took almost 6 hours due to route finding, trail breaking/marking, and then finally portaging our gear through!
- Running a class 2 on the Chapleau river
But all was not bad. There was many aspects of the trip we did enjoy. My brother and I had a blast running the rapids with the water levels up. We probably could have ran more rapids, but some would have taken too long to scout so some unfortunately were bypassed. Nonetheless, we enjoyed many runs and got to break-in James and Kerry's new green Royalex Nova Craft prospector with some 'character scars'. The girls didn't share the same enthusiasm in respect to the rapids, but they did end up running some when either the portage was non-existent, or it was an easy run. (for the most part!)
The wildlife was abundant! (not just the bugs!) We saw over a dozen moose including calves, 6 bears, endless beavers, several otters, muskrats, ospreys (we saw them dive-bombing for fish!), groundhog, few deer, fox, and of course endless assortment of birds from hummingbirds to ducks to hawks. We observed dragonflies metamorphosing on the tent walls, heard
the frogs singing their deafening mating calls, and witnessed flowers blossoming everywhere. Spring is such an awesome time to experience life emerging everywhere after the cold grip of winter that it gives my mind the same sense of renewal and anticipation for another fulfilling year of paddling in the outdoors. There is no better therapy!
- The portage ended here at the top of this berm. Looks like they forgot a portage passes through here!?! This was just the start of our problems.
The weather was great, actually really hot. In some aspects it was nice, but on the other hand it made it somewhat harder to deal with the heat since we were rarely outside the bug jackets or shelter/tents. We did have one major thunderstorm that had us paddle quickly to shore and take cover, but I enjoyed it. I love big storms especially in the bush as you can see, hear, and even feel the energy. Its nerve-racking but at the same time it makes me feel so alive! (yes, I'm a freak!)
- The impossibly green waters of Emerald Lake
I would like to share one last experience to hopefully help others prepare for. We took my brother's MEC Mantis shelter along on this trip for multiple reasons, one not least being bug protection. This bug shelter (nor others, I'd guess) is not totally bombproof. If you have black flies inside the shelter at set-up or upon entering when you open the door, they just gather and fly to the corner and don't bother you. Mosquitoes on the other hand are not as easily persuaded. A few that get in are easy to deal with by swatting and killing them, but what if there are too many!? Especially if you pitch it above grass! My suggestion is to avoid setting over grass as much as possible, but if there is no other options, make sure you bring lots of mosquito coils. We had to wear our bug jackets inside the bug shelter! How crazy is that?! One morning my brother and I were making breakfast in the Mantis while ceaselessly trying to kill the endless hordes of mosquitoes! Our laps looked like a battle field with all the mosquito carcasses lying everywhere! We both took quite a few hits until our reinforcements (the girls) came in. (The girls didn't get rid of the mosquitoes, it just meant the skeeters had more options and lessened everyone else's chance of a bite!) Another good thing to do is smoke the shelter out with mosquito coils before entering to hopefully kill a bunch off. In any case, just be aware of this and prevent yourself from more misery. A shelter is supposed to be just that, a shelter.
- Entering the green wall of hell. After all the work finding a way through, clearing bush and marking the way, we finally were able to portage our gear through.
There is so much more stories to write about, such as how we got cold beers in the middle of the trip, Kerry's dream and her swollen lips, and Marylou being chased by a beaver, but you'll have to take me out for a drink if you want to hear the rest of the stories! All I have to say, is I am glad we are all home safe and sound. I am extremely proud of our small group for surviving another one of my organized canoe trips. (They are all still speaking to me!) It was a huge sense of accomplishment. We all had to endure each other's short fuses under stressful situations, smells emanating from sweat drenched, dirt encrusted, blood stained articles of clothing, and deal with difficult and frustrating challenges. In the end, one extreme led to another - uncontrollable laughter and unforgettable memories! Thanks Marylou, James, and Kerry for the experience. Thank you all for hearing me out!