Woodland Caribou Solo Sep 2013

Aug 22, 2013
Red Lake, Ontario
Opportunity arose that allowed me to get a way for a few days so did a trip up to Mexican Hat Lake and back.
I put in on Sunday and it was downright cold. Windy and rainy too. As I was loaded my gear into the truck I put on a pair of gloves it was so cold. I was thinking what am I doing, but put a wool sweater on a headed out. By the time I got to the Leano Lk access the sun was playing a game of peek-a-boo and there was a few periods of light drizzle. No enough to don the rain gear.

Battled the strong north wind a bit but the western end of the Leano is a narrow E-W passage to was protected. The Leano side of the Leano to Bunny port was very very low water level. I was there a month ago and it was not as low as that. It was a long way over the rocks and muck to get to solid ground. On Bunny Lake I was mostly sheltered from the north wind except the passing the north arm of the lake. There I had to quarter the waves and wind to make it past the open area of the lake. Then there was the short 15M portage into Boot Jack Lake. From there I veered north into the wind for a short distance into the 150M portage and the a short paddle through the nameless lake onto the 80M portage into the lake right before East Lunch Lake.

It was 3pm and spotted a nice site on the north shore. The snow of last October 4th created havoc in the park and as I was going to find out, no matter where I camped, it was going to take a good amount of maintenance to make the sites livable. Thank goodness the Park was able to get emergency funding to hire a few extra portage clearing crews.

Set up camp after only 10k of paddling and 6 portages totalling 895M. I like a nice tight site so the fire, kitchen and tent all very close to each other. The tarp always get set up over the tent entrance effectively making a awning over the door. I try to make it high enough so that if it is raining I can stand up just outside the tent without getting wet. Went for a paddle after dinner and in bed by 9pm. The strong north winds disappeared by about 7pm and the skies cleared up quite nicely.

Got up at 6am to a glassy lake and and mist rising off the water. Temperature was a invigorating 5C. As the sun rose over the horizon so did the temperature. Warmed up to a comfy 23C and the winds were all but gone for most of the day. Today saw me continue my way northwest towards Mexican Hat lake covering 16km that included 10 portages totalling 880M. I camped at the small lake just before Mexican Hat Lake stopping at 430pm. The route was was scenic and had frequent short portages and the days longest was 200M. Today also saw more evidence of the October snow event and a tip of the hat to the park crews who managed to clear such a tangled mess. The site I camped at had no fire ring old or new and again required a good deal of maintenance to make it livable. Cooked Gnocchi and sardines for dinner and had a good fire to burn the sardine tin afterwards.

Day 3 always seems to be the day I begin to hit my stride on trips. Either the aches and pains go away or I just become used to them and always seem to feel better. The morning was cold and the wind had picked up through the night. No dew had me figuring on rain today but that proved untrue. However the winds only increased as the day were for the most part from a favourable direction. I was on Mexican Hat Lake by 10am after soaking in the very scenic portage and waterfall. I paddled close the the steep south shore of the lake for about 2K to the 800M portage into Burnt Rock Lake. As I began unloading the canoe 2 paddlers came up behind me. This was surprising because I almost never see people in the park when I am there. But something wasn't right here. The canoe had no gear in it. They looked perplexed and asked if I carried a Sat Phone. I don't travel with a Sat Phone, Spot or PLB so was not able to offer any help. Turns out they had 1 out of 6 of them was very very ill and had been for a few days. That morning they took a turn for the worse and they decided an evac was in order. We spoke a for a few minutes and offered them my truck to get to Red Lake. They said they would likely take the ill person and push right on through all day to the Leano Lake access carrying only a day pack and drive the sick person out using my truck. I wished them good luck and carried on. Along the portage I realized I never even asked the people their names. We were all concerned about how long it would take to get out and what was the fastest route and forgot to go through the normal niceties. Then realized I just gave my truck to somebody I have never met before and didn't even know their names.

The 800M portage was difficult and was not completely cleared. There were several trees still across the trail that forced me to triple carry most of the portage. The trees that were down were a little too big for my bow saw so I just worked around them and carried on. So it was noon and I had only travelled 5km according to the GPS and done 1125M in portages. Burnt Rock Lake was beautiful and thankfully for the next 6 or 7 km I had only 1 60M portage, and to be honest I did not want to anymore after that. When I finished that 60M the lake turned for SW to SE and the winds increased to sustained 20km/h. I made it to the lift over on Burnt Rock in record time averaging 7km/h. The clouds were building with the wind and it 230 and decided next campsite I saw would be it for the night. Nothing after the lift over, then another 150M portage into the west end of Jake Lake. Looked and looked for something suitable but couldn't find anything. Found a small island with a fire ring but there was nothing even remotely level enough for a tent, so I moved on. Now I was in a situation where the winds were strong enough that my choice of direction was very limited and there was a series of 2 portages to get into Paull Lake totalling 600M. The first was 425M and the first 100 was straight up. So I stopped and had a snack and refuelled and prepared for a long haul and the possibility that there may not be anywhere to camp for a while. Got everything over the 425M and a 5 minute paddle across the pond to the next 175M which at first seemed level until the last 50M was straight down into Paull Lake. Headed around the bend after the portage and bingo nice site. Seemed to have several different site on the one spot so I ended up using the little used side of the island because it was lee of the wind. 515pm and just getting to camp. Tired. Cooked dinner set up the tent and tarp and then off to bed. Didn't even have a fire.

Woke up the next morning and the mist coming off the water was so thick I couldn't see across the channel. Had a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs and packed up as the temperature rose and burned off the mist. Was on the water by 930 and there was a short paddle to the next 60M portage. Paull Lake is so pretty with it's steep cliffs along the narrow lake. I came across a section of the cliffs that looked like it has just dropped into the lake. Probably been like that for a long time but wondered what it must have looked like to see a van sized piece of rock drop into the lake.

Next up was a series of what the maps says is 7 portages but in reality is only 5 portages into Elephant Head Lake. The first one is a nice sandy beach landing but then quickly the trail becomes a mucky bog with a trick stream crossing about 200M in. The next one is a steep up and over 75M portage with interesting footing locations. The next is a short 25M and there is of course the non existent 50M. Been through there twice and have yet to see it. GOOD! After pushing off from this one I heard somebody on the portage behind me. Hmm. twice on this trip I see people. Nice! The approach to the next portage was a channel through a floating bog. The channel is narrow and I surprised a beaver and he hit the water and watched him swim right under the canoe. Was that ever a neat experience. On the next 190M portage I met up with pair. We chatted for a while then carried on.
Once on Elephant head I decided to try to catch some dinner and the group of two caught up with me, we chatted some more then went into Boot Jack Lake together and stopped at a sight for them lunch and me to camp. It was only 2 and I had only gone 10km or so but decided I was on vacation and to take it easy.

We ended up sharing the site for the night and they were serious photographers and got to watch what it looks like to be a professional photographer. Mike and Chris were excellent camping companions and even shared their last few drops of excellent scotch with me. It was not comparable but in return I provided them with coffee because they were out and some gorp for them the next day. Stayed up late sharing stories and talking about our favourite canoeing books. We were treated with one of the amazing nigh skies you can only see when you are far far away from the lights of the city. Mike pulled out an Indian Flute and played it for a bit around the fire and it was sort of a magical experience. I felt like luckiest guy alive to be right there at that time and experience it all. The canoe community is a small place and we spoke of the people we each knew and met and turns out out I knew of Mike before today through his activity on the canoe forums. I had been to his website to view his pictures several times with awe. We were both huge CBC fans and I spoke to him about my brush with fame having been interviewed by a national CBC program and he said he had heard it.

Morning gave us a memorable sunrise as this campsite has done before and we doddled packing up and were on the water by about 1015. It was about 13km, 3 portages and 2 lift overs to the Leano Lake takeout. The winds were strong and mostly at my back until I rounded the corner from the small channel in Leano Lake. Then it was a tough slog solo into the wind for the next hour. The waves were getting big and was grateful when I rounded the bend and the last 750M paddle to the take out was NNE and the winds were from the SSW. The waves were actually bigger here than I had experienced the whole trip and managed to get a surfing effect a couple of times.

Got to the parking lot after the the 350M portage to find my truck was right where I left it with a thank you note inside. Waiting to hear how the ill person made out. So total tally for the day was 785M portaged over 4 portages, two lift overs and 13km paddled. Trip total was approximately 65km 35 portages and lift overs covering a total of 5355M.

Wicked good trip, loved the run in with Mike and Chris. Didn't see them but Becky Mason and Ray Mears were in the park at the same time. If you haven't been to this place you absolutely must come. Rugged, remote, beautiful and one of a kind.

If I can figure out how to upload my substandard (compared to Mike and Chris') I'll do that.
Jun 12, 2012
Appleton, Maine
That was an excellent read. I wanted to go to WCPP this year but it didn't work out for me, this report of the area I was in 3 years ago was a close second, really enjoyed your style and details, I'll be pulling the map out and following your route when time permits.
I know of Mike (Canoeguitar) from the old Solotripping site and MYCCR's, his photography is excellent.

I agree that WCPP is "one of a kind"-Thanks for sharing a fine trip. I always hope to get out there again but I chicken out when I figure out the gas bill.
2014 August, anybody on the east coast want to share a ride, trip solo?

BTW, Lending your truck was a pretty generous thing to do. Glad it helped them and all went well for you.
Aug 22, 2013
Red Lake, Ontario
Here are some pics...hopefully

First campsite

First morning....ahhh I love this




A few shots from the portages

Camp 2

Camp 3, circumstances were that I pitched the tent at the lee side and the tarp was set up differently. There was nothing to tie the front side to so I used a paddle and one of the many downed trees to rig the front side, and a pole in the middle.

View in the morning from camp 3


The final morning. Priceless!
Thanks for viewing
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