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Published: November 13th 2019
This is going to be a 2 part blog which will describe our triumphant return to canoe tripping this past summer. Our odyssey started in the fall of 2018 with the purchase of a used kevlar canoe from a friend. This was not a popular decision as there was widespread scepticism as to whether we would ever use it. ( we also already have 2 canoes)
However the new (to us) canoe only weighs about 40 pounds versus 85 for the Grumman and 70 for the Sportspal. The new craft is also quite a lot faster. Trip One-Drewery Lake
Our first trip which was planned as a 2 day one night shakedown voyage took place on June 30th/July 1st. This trip route was inspired by a friend (Garth Ward) who had "discovered"this area as an early season family voyage. The put in was just off Jones Road northeast of Kenora at Drewery Lake-very convenient as it is only about 80 km from our cottage. We were in the water about one hour after leaving home.
Back in the day, we typically would not have done a wilderness canoe trip in June or July due to the potential
Starting off at Drewery Lake
The put in spot is just before the Bailley Bridge on Jones Road
for attacks by hordes of black flies and/or mosquitoes. However this year we decided on the July long weekend to let Fran (daughter in law) have the cabin for a stagette. It worked out well and the bugs really weren't that bad.
After loading up we set out down Drewery Lake for the short paddle to a waterfall beside the portage from Morgan Lake. This first portage took us up a short steep climb where we reloaded the canoe just above the falls. Morgan Lake is a very nice narrow lake for canoeing and quite easy to navigate. We had gone into the archives and actually had the topo map (it was so old that the Kenora bypass wasn't shown) but we also had an online version which could be printed out just for the part we needed.
The next portage into Mitchell Lake was a bit longer but not very steep.(there were bugs) Our plan was to keep going and camp on Balne Lake at the far end near a waterfall. The Balne Lake portage was a little harder to find but still not a major problem.
We paddled down Balne to the waterfall and checked
We had virtually no wind
out the campsite but the falling water seemed a bit noisy. On the way back to an alternative site I caught a fairly large bass which we let go back into the water.
We camped on a nice point near the entrance to Balne-quick setup for first canoe campsite in a lot of years. We had scotch, pre-made stew and a nice fire. It seems we are missing a few essential bits of gear including chairs, water purifier plus a yeti ice holder.There are no people here AND we can hear CP Rail traffic to the south.
The next day we were up early for a lake dip and then breakfast. It was then time to paddle back down the waterway and do the portages in reverse. There were no other campers until Morgan Lake where we met a nice young couple who had recently moved to Kenora from Eastern Ontario. They are avid canoe campers and love the area.
We were loaded up at the car by around noon. The total distance was about 15 km including 8 portages. This is a great little trip and we will be back... Trip Two-ELA loop
second trip was planned to take place from Tuesday August 20 to Friday August 23d. We had never canoed the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) which is located just west of Vermillion Bay south of the Trans Canada highway. The ELA is made up of 58 lakes and is very popular. It is also a short drive from West Hawk Lake (160 Kms and about 2 hours) We came in on the Stewart Lake Airways road which leads you to a parking area just north of the CPR tracks along side Upper Stewart Lake. The alternative access point is to take the ELA road north to the west which leads to a put in on Lower Stewart Lake. The pro tip is to take the Upper Stewart Lake access point in order to avoid climbing the Devils Staircase portage.
On this trip we were a bit more heavily loaded -more food and some new gear. Our new green MEC canoe bag likely came in at 60 pounds and we did not do a great job of weight distribution in the canoe for our first paddle down USL to the portage. This caused a bit of stress in the medium high
The Devils Staircase is 550 meters of steepness and rocks and we had to double it due to the gear inventory. This portage takes us into an arm of Winnage Lake which enters the lake vis a beaver dam pullover. Our goal was an island campsite and we had yet more waves to fight to get to it.
The campsite had some great features including a fireplace with wood, a good tent site and a nice view of the lake. However previous occupants did not get the memo about "leave no trace' camping as evidenced by the various bits of Purex. There were no mosquitos but lots of pesky small biting flies. This is a very clear lake.
We had a nice fire, scotch (with ice) and a pre made chili dinner. Great sounds of the night in the tent: calling loons, CPR trains and wind in the white pines. We had an enjoyable sleep.
The next day (Wednesday) we were up early to try and get on the water before the wind got up. This did not work out even though we only took 2 hours to have breakfast and break camp. Our route
Our first campsite
required us to cross a bay with a side wind from the west before turning around a point of land. However by the time we arrived at the point there were whitecaps and we took in a bit of spray. As soon as we got around the point we immediately ran aground on a rocky shelf-these lakes are so clear it is hard to tell the depth.
The next part of the trip took us along some spectacular high cliffs towards the portage to Manomin Lake. This portage was a really nice easy 450 meter jaunt and there was wind on the other side. We were starting to think that our scheduled plan to finish on Friday was a bit pessimistic.
We finally had the weight distribution adjusted properly and the canoe was handling well against the waves. The portage into Geejay Lake started with lunch and then we had a bit of a climb up to a ridge and then down to the next lake (500 meters) The Geejay Lake landing was right beside a waterfall going against us plus we had heavy waves coming in at our shore. As a result we did a trespass path
The ELA loop
Very good way to take a map-download and laminate
through private property to access a better put in spot. The next phase was a major wave battle to get to our campsite which we got to at 1.45.
This was the best campsite of the summer on a nice point with no bugs and a built fireplace with a grate. We had scotch without ice and did a quiet bit of reading in our excellent new chairs. An examination of the map revealed that there was only about 6 kilometers to go with one portage and a possible pull over a beaver dam. It was decided that we would make it all the way out the next day (Thursday) Scotch, wine and chocolate rationing is over.
One item of stress for this trip was our rather minimal fire starting capacity- we only had about 24 safety matches and a number of them were failing to ignite when struck on the grit piece. There was therefore a major focus on one match fires using lots of birch bark.
However we succeeded in lighting a nice fire and were in the tent after dark to the sounds of train whistles and loons.
It rained in the night
Canoe Route Map
Laminated map in front end of canoe
and was a bit cooler in the morning with no wind. We had paddles in the water at 8.30 and quickly arrived at the portage into Lower Stewart Lake. This portage has a challenging start but is only 350 meters.
Up to now we had not seen many other people except for 2 canoes/4 people on Upper Stewart but there was a large group at the first campsite on Lower Stewart. We stopped to say hello (They were from St Boniface and knew the Paquins)
We carried on up LS to Railway Bay which is the alternative starting point for this canoe route. After an easy pull over a beaver dam we were back on Upper Stewart with about 3 kilometres to go. To avoid the waves we hugged the west shore and were at the landing at 11.08 (2.5 hours from camp) After unloading on the dock we had to cross the tracks to move our gear to the car. The portaging got interrupted by an east bound train which quietly sneaked around the curve on a downhill coast and alerted us with a whistle. We were home at about 2.00 PM - very nice trip and
good to be back into canoe tripping. We think the Drewery Lake route might be the best of the two..
Tot: 0.104s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 14; qc: 62; dbt: 0.0131s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb