Excerpted from Messing Around In
by Hugh Groth
here for more information about MAIB)
It did not start out to be a race.
We had no intention of such an activity. It just seemed to happen
to us. We had driven north nearly 500 miles the day before and
stayed at the nearby Hungry Bear Motel in order to get a relaxing
start the next morning, launch our canoe, load the gear, and paddle
to Killamey Lake. There we would find a campsite and enjoy solitude
and beautiful surroundings. We had been here before, so we knew
just what to do and right where we wanted to go. We hoped our
favorite site would be available.
day was perfect. The sun was shining, there were few clouds, and
there would be a light breeze at our back as we began. We arrived
at the Visitor Center check-in station, confirmed our reservation,
received the usual pack-in, pack-out and can and bottle ban information
and were given our specially numbered trash bag. As we were leaving,
a young couple drove up with a canoe on their car, clearly with
intentions similar to ours. We waved.
A word about our reservation might
be in order here. Killamey is a large provincial park in northern
Ontario with many clear, beautiful lakes set among pink granite
cliffs and white Quartzite mountains. It is a canoeing paradise,
with well-maintained (for the most part) portages between many
lakes that form a wide variety of lake chains to suit almost any
ability and interest. Motors are not allowed.
Most of the lakes are dotted along
the shore with widely spaced, secluded campsites. Many of the
sites are beyond shouting distance from the nearest neighbor.
Known as backcountry sites, you purchase the rights to a site
on a lake, or within a lake group. Specific sites are not reservable.
You paddle to your destination area and hunt up an unoccupied
site somewhere on the lake.
However, all canoe routes in the
park are not equal. In some you may not see many mountains and
others can have long, difficult portages. The most popular route
tends to be to, or through, Killamey Lake, which is clear and
stunningly beautiful. That is where we were headed.
Lest this begin to sound too good
to be true, you ought to have a little more information regarding
the camping. First, there are no docks, often not even a reasonable
place to disembark and unload. The lake is very deep, often right
up to the shore, and if you make a misstep it will dunk you and
swallow your gear without even a thank you. Everything is rock,
so if there is wind, which occurs often and is unpredictable in
direction, you need to secure your tent with ropes.
At the site there will be an orange
identification triangle nailed to a tree, and a box with a hole
in the top in the woods behind the campsite. Usually, this box
will have no sides for privacy, although it will have a lid to
keep the seat dry. There is nothing else.
Bears are frequent in the park,
and they know all about human food, although so far we have never
encountered one up close. Your food must be secured out of reach
of all types of critters whenever you are not about to need it,
and especially at night or when you are out on the lake.
We had registered the color of
our 18' canoe at check-in. The park apparently uses canoe color
to help locate a camper in an emergency. You can see the color
of a canoe hull with binoculars when it is on the water, or placed
upside down, displayed like a flag, on the shore of the campsite.
You need the binoculars because the lakes are large and campsites
are spaced as much as 1/4 mile or more apart. Our canoe is white,
as were 90% of all the boats we saw.
This information theoretically
saves a little time for the rangers, who zoom through the canoe
routes as if they are paddling in a marathon, periodically checking
on folks like us. I am glad they do. We would be at least eight
paddling miles and two portages away from any other help.
We drove to the put-in point on
George Lake, unloaded, and secured our van in the lot. Several
trips down the steep path to the lake with canoe and gear and
we were nearly ready to go. At that point the young man we saw
at check-in appeared at the landing with his canoe on his shoulders.
We shoved off.
The paddle down George Lake was
easy and enjoyable. In about an hour we arrived at the first portage,
and as we unloaded we saw the young couple coming toward us, rounding
the last point of land. We began to hurry. We did not want to
lose a chance at the best campsite by a few strokes of the paddle.
This first portage is an easy 50
yards and relatively level. Although it is rocky, it is well maintained.
We were into weedy Freeland Lake in short order, and I picked
up the pace. The young couple was right behind us.
The take-out at the other end of
the mile-long lake is muddy but wide. The two canoes landed nearly
together, and we began to unload gear. Fortunately, I had secured
the camp chairs in the canoe. I stowed the paddles, threw the
food pack on, and lifted the canoe over my head. My wife took
her pack and most of the rest of the gear, but I would have to
make a second trip for my large pack.
This portage is about 1/4 mile
long, uphill, rocky, and muddy, I took off at a trot with the
young man right behind. At the Killamey Lake put-in I shed the
canoe and pack and started back on the run. At the Freeland Lake
take-out I had not taken time to change shoes, and part way back
a strap broke on my sandals. After a slow go for the rest of the
trip back I pulled my shoes from the big pack and changed. Now
he was ahead of me, but I grabbed the pack and ran back to join
my wife, who had the canoe almost ready to go.
There are times when packing light
(although not light enough) pays off. We were boarding our canoe
while the young couple headed back for a third load. Hurray!
But our advantage did not last.
They were fast and gaining on us as we wound our way through the
inlet to the main lake and our destination. My wife urged me "Paddle!
We can't lose now." I did, but should point out that the
young couple appeared to be near 30 years old. We were approaching
twice that age. I was beginning to tire.
Finally we made it through the
narrows, rounded the last point and could see our hoped-for camp
site ahead. The site appeared to be empty. I redoubled my efforts.
We had made it. Time for a rest, then unload the canoe, set up
camp, and enjoy four days of relaxation,
And the young couple? They
seemed to have no idea we were in a race. They had headed off
down the lake in the opposite direction.