Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Queen Elizabeth What?!

Intrigued by this piece of wilderness? Here's a small  
 peek of this southern Ontario park

I don't understand the logic of naming a large tract of Ontario wilderness after a monarch. It was supposed to be some Conservative (political party) promise, but come on, the correlation? In fact, the only part of the name that has any relevance is "Wildlands", but even that is a stretch, as many parts of this unmaintained park is dotted with boats, cabins, and even float planes. In any case, leave it to the politicians to do something that doesn't make sense. Now the rest of us have to rattle off the awkward park name when speaking about it. Queen Elizabeth Two Wildlands Provincial Park, got it? Yeah sure.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 Wildlands is characterized 
 by wide swaths of marshlands,... 

Now that I got that out of my system, I can talk a little bit about what the park is actually like, since I spent six days paddling through there. The park is unmaintained as yet, and therefore still probably not in the condition it will finally be in when it's officially operating. I left the trip with mixed feelings, but despite my reservations, I still plan to head back there again. There isn't close to as many canoe routes as let say Killarney or Algonquin, but the park has real potential. Being the second largest park south of Algonquin, (after the Kawarthas Highlands), and a landscape that is interconnected with ribbons of blue, a topo map and curiosity is all that is needed to make your own adventure there.

...punctuated by sporadic up-thrusts of granite.

I heard about this paddling destination often in passing and by accident, but never took it seriously until this year. While working at the Outdoor Adventure Show, I briefly spoke to park superintendent Tamara Flannigan that oversees the broad area which includes the QE2W. (That's my short form now.) She gave me a little information on the park and some possible routes, which she was able to cram onto a small sticky note that even included a map she drew. When I finally decided to head there, I requested some more info from a follower of my blog who'd been there. (Thanks Adrian) He sent me an email which included a link to a site that even had a google map with info on portages and campsites! I printed the topos of the area and proceeded to overlay the info from their site to my maps before heading out. (Thanks to Brad and Wayne Jennings of

An over abundance of aquatic vegetation and low water levels
often made route finding challenging

All the routes in the QE2W park are pretty much there and back. Although in time, based on the topography, I'm pretty sure someone will loop some of the routes together. Anyhow, the routes themselves are not too long, nor are the portages, so my plan was see every route that had been mapped or marked out in the park so far. But as you may have surmised from the last post, it didn't go as planned. First off, the water levels were very low. Many of the interconnecting routes are through creeks, marshes, bogs and ponds. Let's just say those ribbons of blue were very very thin to almost non-existent. There was a disproportionate amount of hauling, heaving and grunting instead of paddling. Secondly, some of the portages are easy to find, but others, didn't even seem to exist. The low water levels didn't help either as the take-out or put-in's were not normally where they would have been. My experience with locating portages certainly helped and ultimately I did always manage to find a way through, but they weren't always ideal. Although admittedly, sometimes they were actually better.

Survey tape found along the portage
helped to guide the way

 Occasionally we found rock cairns too

Brad and Wayne Jennings from should be applauded for their efforts to open up routes by marking the portages with survey tape, but they forgot one major thing. They did it in early spring when there was no foliage or new growth. Come summer, most, if not all signs were obscured or covered. Even when you did find a marker, you couldn't find the next one. Secondly, we are all different in our route finding abilities, so naturally my choice of travel which I thought was ideal, was not what Brad and Wayne chose. So as you can see, an inordinate amount of time was spent trying to find a way through, besides clearing the brush as we went. 

Often this was what we had to work with in trying to find a way through
Can you see the survey tape - you can't from further back.
How about a trail? Don't think so!

And let me tell you about the bush. I don't know if it has to do with this particular region, but like I mentioned in the last post, the profusion of vegetation in this park was incredible. I often felt like I was in a rain forest! I don't ever recall seeing so many shades of green. It was all very beautiful and healthy-looking, but the downside was trying to navigate your way through. We were often waist to chest deep in greenery. My saw was most inappropriate for this, other than a few downed trees that we had to clear. We really should have had bypass pruners or clippers instead to deal with all the vegetation!

The combination of heat, humidity and the profusion of
greenery made me believe I was in the tropics!

So dealing with low water levels and route-finding, combine that with brutal heat and humidity, (Did I mention deer flies?) you can see how the the rate of travel slowed right down to a crawl. Anita asked me a couple times about the rationale of pushing ahead, which was certainly valid, however, being one to not easily give up, we still did. One phrase I think I ingrained in her head was, "It will eventually open up", as we pushed on ahead. Thankfully, each and every time, it did. Phew, I didn't want to tarnish my reputation!

 Taking a much needed break to rehydrate and down some
 bars before heading out through another stretch
 of barely-paddleable marsh

An unmaintained park means sometimes you have to provide
the 'maintenance' yourself to get through!

During our trip, at times I felt totally isolated - far from anyone or anything. A lot of the campsites have fire pits with hardly any charred wood to show in it. Unlike Temagami with its known network of portages and First Nations inhabitants, was there similar travellers here? Or were they ambitious fishermen/hunters and I am just romanticizing about historical inhabitants in the area. In any case, it really felt good to be here, like I was in some lost paradise. The only downside is that it is never too far from signs of modern man. Cabins were found in many waterways and along portages. Aluminum boats were frequently found at the start and end of portages. We even witnessed several float planes landing and taking off! I could only fool myself for so long. As much as these things disrupted my sense of wilderness, surprisingly, I still enjoyed being there. 

We weren't the only ones that enjoyed this place. We found
this plaque at the base of a concrete dam.
6-8-25   5-10-90

One of the real charms of this park is that there are numerous bodies of water linked together by some sort of water. If you are adventurous and have a map/GPS, this could be the key to creating your own isolated, out-of-the-way route/campsite. Who knows what may happen or change when the park starts being maintained, but for now, if you don't mind roughing it a bit, or finding your own way, there is much to discover and enjoy in this southern Ontario park. Despite everything that happened on my trip, it certainly captured enough of our hearts, that Anita and I plan to definitely head back there again!

Will we head back to this park - definitely. Was it all worth it -
 you bet. At least you won't forget the name!

Hope you've all been out paddling and enjoying
the incredibly hot weather!