Sunday, June 23, 2013

Revisiting the Queen - Part 1

After my first canoe trip through Queen Elizabeth Wildlands 2 Provincial Park last year, I came back with mixed feelings. There was enough wilderness in the park that intrigued me, but all the float planes and cabins put a damper on the enthusiasm. Even the name of the park was bizarre, as I couldn't understand the correlation. Yet despite this, the lure to go back was nagging at me. I decided another trip was in order to satisfy my curiosity, especially since I didn't get to see the east side of the park.

Setting off on Head Lake to 
revisit QEW2 PP

Since my trip (and the subsequent blog post), Brad Jennings of explorethebackcountry.com sent me a nice email and we have since corresponded several times. Brad and his father Wayne have continued to map potential routes in the park and have generously shared that information with the paddling community. This is great for adventurous paddlers like myself, looking for new routes to explore - with the other bonus being that the park is close by. I know there are other paddlers, especially Jeff McColl that has helped Brad with this work. So with the same mindset, I hope to assist him where I can with any pertinent information that could be added to their already informative map.

Getting the flavour of the park last time around, I was well prepared to expect the same conditions, if not worse, since I also wanted to venture a bit off the known routes this time. Brad informed me before I left, that some of the route I was taking was better signed and cleared this time. After starting from a different access point this year, H1 (on Brad's map) we paddled east across Head Lake and made our way into to Fishog Lake for the first night. It was a short day as we left after work and we wanted to rest up for the route that lay ahead. Little did we know, the adventures that laid before us.

Enjoying the light show with the setting
sun on Fishog Lake

The next morning, we headed out of Fishog Lake in a northeasterly direction. We were to follow a chain of portages that would get us into Red Boat, then Coburn, and eventually into Scrabble Lake. Needless to say, it didn't really pan out that way. (Does it ever?) True to Brad's words, the signs were there, but being late spring and what seemed to be the lack of paddlers through this area, there was still a lot of growth. This often times hid the pink flagging tape that was to be our guide, so we took out our pruner (Yes, they work amazing for clearing trail!) and saw, and cleared/reflagged the trail along the way.

Evidence of Brad & Wayne Jennings work
in the park with the portage signs

One notable portage that took us out of a pond and into a narrow creek had Anita questioning the logic of its take out. Only being 290m, it was wasn't very long, but the start was straight up a boulder strewn incline. Brad mentions it in his map, but despite the forewarning, it requires stamina going up and deft footwork balancing over and around boulders. I took it as status quo, being familiar with this kind of portage, but Anita wasn't impressed. I guess it didn't help that she was hauling more than half her body weight on her back. In any case, as this area is rimmed in by high granite, there really wasn't any alternatives - yet.

Scrambling up the steep pitch of boulders

Travel-wise, on the water and off, it went fairly smoothly. Actual trail time took longer than usual, only because I was doing moderate trail maintenance and re-flagging as we went along. We had lunch on Red Boat Lake, before setting off on a 650m portage on ATV trails to Coburn Lake. It was supposed to be a straight forward carry; supposed to be. ATV trails are pretty evident, like how can you miss the furrows created from their big wheels? Also, we had to turn right at the Y-split, otherwise, we would end up on the 950m portage to Clear Lake. We started with hardly a second thought, as we knew exactly which way to go and and figured we would soon be on Coburn Lake.

Anita catching her breath at the top of the climb.
Can you tell she was thinking
happy thoughts?

I have to say, I hate following ATV trails. They don't go from point A to B in the most efficient way, much like an actual portage trail would. I don't want to go snaking from one side to the other, nor go up and down inclines, because I have a gas-powered engines to effortlessly get me there. I know at times, they do have to go around obstacles, but just like paddling through oxbows, you realize you just travelled double the distance. Not to begrudge the trail fun factor for ATV's, but do that with a pack and canoe on your back, it isn't fun. Give me the fastest point from one body of water to the next, without scaling Everest, much like how the First Nations people did it. Am I asking too much?

The Coburn Creek crossing - Teddy 
prefers shuttle service

Signage in terms of the faded pink survey tape was sparse at best. I think I saw maybe two strips? I'm sure Brad, nor anyone else bothered much with signage, as the ATV trails should have been somewhat self-explanatory. The little I did see gave me confidence we were going the right way, despite thinking we should have arrived at the lake by now. As Anita and I were doing one and a half carries, I sent her on ahead as I went back for the canoe. When I finally caught up with her, she was crossing a wide creek. At this point I knew for a fact, we were way beyond the 650m distance, if not double, but a wide creek crossing too? It was definitely still an ATV trail, with the purposeful rock placement in the creek. We put our stuff down after crossing and I pulled out the GPS that I was using for the first time. According to the map I printed, we actually do cross Coburn Creek. It seemed we were lower down based on the GPS, but because I had scribbled the approximate line of the portage on the topo map, I really couldn't be sure. It certainly seemed we were in the right place, but the distance travelled seemed awfully wrong.

Anita and Teddy recovering at the Coburn Creek crossing - 
this after our long fruitless march
 along ATV trails

You know when you get the feeling something is wrong, but some of the interpreted information is correct, you force the unknown to make sense? This not only makes you feel better, but makes the illogical, logical again. I now assumed the 650m distance was actually from the Y split, so the actual length of the portage was much longer. Ta-daaa! All fixed! So off we went, continuing along the ATV trail, thinking the lake would appear soon. I sensed we were heading in the wrong direction again, but the trail twisted and turned and soon had me flummoxed as to which direction we were actually headed. When again I was certain we were well passed the required distance, I pulled out my GPS and was shocked to find we were heading southeast, not north! Seeing my wife labour under the large pack as she came up yet another incline towards me, I thought I was going to be in BIG trouble.

Looking up Coburn Creek and optimistically
thinking THIS was the  key to getting
to Coburn Lake

Surprisingly, she was totally okay. After I took her pack off, and gave her water to drink, I explained the good news. I said with 110% confidence, that we were going the wrong way! She said she wasn't surprised. She sarcastically remarked that it was normal that I would take the longer and harder way around and laughed. (Phew! I thought I was going to become bear bait!) After a little break, we turned around and headed back to the Coburn Creek crossing. On the way back, with more than enough time to ruminate, I had devised the next plan of action. We would abandon the ATV trail and forge our own way to Coburn Lake - up Coburn Creek. Anita just shook her head.

Stay tuned for Part 2!


Post a Comment