hitting a wall
The taut siliconized fly of our tent amplified the pitter-patter of morning drizzle into a constant drumming. Reluctantly, we emerged from the dry and cozy confines of our sleeping bags to make our stale coffee. This was our big day. This was it. The day we would make the final push to our destination, Deep Lake. The task ahead of us seemed easy enough, we would keep our camp and simply make a day trip to Deep Lake. No burdensome packs to carry, just a day bag with snacks, first aid, and some water. It would be a short jaunt, we assured ourselves. Two kms across open water, then a long yet moderately easy portage of two or so kms. The portage would be a breeze, after all, I had cut and flagged it myself only 3 years ago. Had it been 3 years? 4?
Low waters made the final approach to our portage a bit finicky. A rock here, a log there, everywhere a mud bog. Picking and choosing our way to the shore, we were met with instant encouragement: the pink plastic tape I had tied to mark the start of the portage. This would turn out to be the last shred of encouragement on the walk to Deep Lake. It didn't take ten paces to realize that our last hike through, 3 years previous, may have been the last time this trail was used. Thickets of maple saplings choked the path still denoted by my aged flagging tapes, making the route impassable. No matter, we thought, we would simply choose a new route. After all, this portage was dotted by several elongated beaver ponds, it should be a simple task to find a new way to the first one, and plunk down the boat.
Wetting the boat in the first pond, we quickly became aware that the water levels were too low to paddle. The nails-on-chalkboard screech of the fiberglass canoe grinding against the Canadian shield soon became too much to bear. Pulling over to the shore at our first opportunity, we pondered our limited options.
Shouldering the boat's yoke once again, we crept along side the shallow puddle, under the imposing cliffs, hopping from loose rock to loose rock on the narrow ankle breaking shoreline. It was then that my foot dislodged a rock that was housing a colony of hornets. Defenseless with a canoe on my head, muck to one side, sheer rock on the other, the wee beasties had ample chance to assault me. One found the rear gap between my shirt and shorts, and proceeded to crawl down my shorts and sting my butt-crack. With that, the canoe was instantaneously launched through the air and into the shallow water. I searched for footings along a slippery rotten log that jutted out towards where the boat had come to rest. I watched the swarm from a safe distance and regrouped. My yelping and self-spanking while perched on a log must have been entertaining. Angela looks to be quite amused at a comfortable distance from all the action.
With that, we found our first chance to scramble up to high ground. Mounds of mossy rocks scantly marked a decades old former trail on the ridge high above the hornets. Stumbling through the dense forest, zigging and zagging, we intermittently glimpse the inch deep pools below us. A kilometer further on, they now give way to a sprawling meadow of sharp grasses and flowering shrubbery, dried out by yet another beaver dam.
Descending from the heights and into the sludge bottomed field of over-your-head vegetation, Angela and I pick a route that avoids the narrow beaver channel linking the puddles to mount the dam. WATER!
With a splash we're paddling past drowned trees still green with foliage, their newly submerged roots two or more feet below our hull. Winding through the flooded forest, things begin to look increasingly difficult. And then we hit it: the wall. With the saturated muck no longer able to support the lager pine and birch trees, they topple into our waterway creating a massive unnavigable wet mess of pick-up-sticks. So treacherous was this tangle, we struggled for ten minutes or so just to find to a landing.
The woods ahead are thick and unwelcoming, the terrain steep. I make the executive decision to leave the boat where it lies, in order to assess our way forward unburdened. Angela and I split up to cover more ground, but are both quickly funneled back into the same direction and on to lichen rich plateau that weaves towards what we hope is Deep Lake. One crusty old yellow tape after another is eventually discovered. We ponder as to the age of these markers. Three years maybe more? Pushing south-west through the bush, the lake slowly starts to emerge from the widening gaps between the pines.
Here we are. Deep lake far below us, a good kilometer from our boat, exhausted.
"You don't wanna go back for the canoe, do you?"
"No", I reply.
And with that, we turn our backs on Deep Lake, and return from whence we came. Lesson learned, we opted to navigate the drier sections of the lowlands for our egress, and made the trip back to camp in half the time.