Tuesday, June 10, 2008

10th: The Magnetawan near Kearney

Just a few days after our first lilly-dip of the season we took advantage of another warm breezy and fairly unbuggy June day to explore another little stretch of the Magnetawan.

The plan was to start at Perry Lake and paddle downstream along the Magnetawan as far as we could before coming to unrunnable rapids. Our map of the area lacked topographic features so without contour lines there was no way to know where such rapids might be. We knew from the area map we had with us of a dam along the way and hoped we could portage around that. Our hope was to make it downstream to the cottage which had marked our destination on our last trip upstream paddle from Katrine. The current had been slight enough that we thought we could put in a couple of hours of downstream paddling and still have plenty of energy left to paddle back upstream to our starting point at Perry Lake.

We drove from Katrine to Kearney via Highway 11 south, took the Deer Lake road exit eastwards. I was disappointed to see that where Deer Lake road passed over the Magnetawan there were some serious rapids on the left. We continued on Deer Lake Road to where the road abruptly changes from pavement to dirt and gravel. This is actually the beginning of Bevan Road and we followed it right to the end, turning right onto highway 518 into downtown Kearney. Parked at the Algonquin Park office to get directions to the nearest boat launch where we could put in on Perry Lake. On one of the walls was a series of maps of Algonquin park and the area west of the park, including a good scale topographic map of the very part of the Magnetawan we intended to paddle. I noticed several places where contour lines crossed the river. Not good.

With this weighing a bit on my mind we drove the short distance to the Lions Municipal Park and had a snack of bread and cheese before heading out straight across Perry Lake and down the Magnetawan. To our surprise, despite being a cottage-ringed lake, there were no other boats on the lake at all. A midweek day trip during buggy June seems to be the recipe for having the water all to yourself.

There are numerous cottages lining both sides of the river near Perry Lake, but they become more widely spaced apart within a few minutes of leaving the Perry Lake area and they disappear completely after a few bends in the river. The weather was warm and breezy. No bugs to worry about at all on this day.

This stretch of the Magnetawan was a little different from the last one we paddled near Katrine. The river here is significantly wider and the banks are lined by large cedars with lots of impressively large trees leaning out from the banks of the river into our path and threatening to collapse into the river from their own weight and horizontal growth.

The lovely floodplain we eventually came to presented us with the option to proceed down the Mag towards the dam or to paddle southwards down some winding creeks to who knows where. We stuck with our plan and stayed with the main channel and soon came within sight of Galbraith (Ayers) Dam right where highway 518 crosses over the river. There was no sign of a trail or portage route on either side of the river and both banks appeared to be privately owned by full-time residents. On river left we saw a small fishing boat with outboard and fishing tackle in it. We landed on the bank beside it, hopped out and dragged our boat ashore alongside the fishing boat. We were standing on someone's grassy waterfront property so we were eager to see if we could somehow dash across the highway with the canoe and put in on the other side of the dam.

As we walked up the hill from the water's edge to the highway to see what lay beyond the dam the owner was pulling his pick-up truck into his driveway. I waved to him and approached and explained that we'd just taken out of the river on his property in the hopes of getting around the dam. Could we leave our boat there for a few minutes while went ahead on foot to see where we could put in on the other side? He was very genial and thought it no imposition at all, though I had some difficulty understanding some of what he said as he spoke in a very thick German accent. When I asked if he knew where we could put in on the other side and if the river was runnable he pointed behind me, across the highway, and assured me we could put in over there and that there was only one other dam a long way downstream and that the river went all the way to Georgian Bay. I knew the Mag emptied out into Georgian Bay, but I also knew there were many damns and rapids along the way. I had the feeling he wasn't that familiar with the course of the river beyond the dam. I also knew that there were rapids immediately downstream from where the river passes under Deer Lake Road since I'd seen them myself on our drive to Kearney. So, I took his advice with a grain of salt and hoped the river would be safely runnable between the dam and the rapids at Deer Lake road. I thanked him and promised not to leave our boat on his property for long and Ilana and I hurried across the highway for a view of dam.

There was a wide path on the other side of the road, running right to the dam. The roar of the water pouring over and the turbulent stretch of water visible beyond the dam filled Ilana and I with excitement, rekindling the rush we had experienced last august running the Madawaska and Ottawa rivers as part of a white water course we'd taken at the Madawaska Kanu Centre. We walked along the shore of river left, peering as far ahead as we could to see hoping the river widened enough for the water to slow down, but as far as we walked and looked ahead all we could see was churning water, froth, ledges, and granite boulders in mid stream. This was one long looking set of unrunnable rapids. Portaging was also out of the question, since there was no trail along the water's edge and there were signs warning that both sides of the river were private property, including the river bottom (??) and that trespassing was prohibited. This was the end of the line. Our hope of paddling and portaging all the way to where we'd stopped on our first paddle of the season a few days before ended right then and there. Still, it was worth that bit of disappointment to feel that thrill-seeking rush at the sight and sound of those rapids.

We walked back across the highway and agreed that this had been too short a day trip, so we decided to paddle back upstream to the floodplain and explore some of the small unnamed creeks. Checking our map again it looked as if it might be possible to paddle from the pond and floodplain southwards, then eastwards and hop from one small pond and creek to another until we could make our way back into the very southern tip of Perry Lake. The small scale map we had made it appear very feasible though it would likely make for a long day of paddling if we couldn't close the loop. I really wanted that topographic map we'd seen at the Algonquin Park office, but they hadn't had any for sale.

We paddled quickly back to the floodplain and slowed right down there. There's something about shallow, grassy, reedy floodplains and marshes that just makes one want to take it slow. Ilana broke out the camera and took a few shots of red winged blackbirds perched vertically on waving last year's cattail stalks. We happened upon a duck floating very nearby and Ilana was able to snap a good clear photo of it as it took flight.
The pond, floodplain, and creek turned out to be the nicest part of this trip. There are only two cottages on east side and they are set well back from the water and the tiny channel we passed through from the banks. There's all kinds of bird life here and the shallow pond water is strewn with submerged and partially exposed tree roots and stumps, proof positive that the dam downstream flooded and drowned what had once been forested.

We lilly-dipped a bit too much however. By the time we arrived at the first country road blocking our path we realized that it was getting a bit late in the day to portage across and test our theory that we could loop our way back into Perry Lake. If the loop was possible, it would be no problem, but if we almost made it and were blocked at some point, it would be a needlessly long paddle back. We discussed it and resolved to head back the way we'd come and return to Perry Lake within a few days and see if there was in fact a southern channel out of Perry Lake which could potentially hook up with this creek we were on. We beached the canoe by the roadside to stretch our legs on dry land for a few minutes then headed back for the Magnetawan.

On the way back out of the creek we happened upon a white tailed deer in the tall grass, but it saw us first so we mostly saw it's white rump and the white underside of it's tail as it bounded out of view into the treeline. The sight of all those cattails in the pond gave Ilana a hankering to taste some cattail stalk to see what it was like at this time of year at this stage of growth. We both enjoy wild edibles so we plunged the canoe into a grassy part of the pond and Ilana stabilized the canoe while I reached over the gunwhale in the water to pull up one of the larger cattails. Uprooting a cattail shoot is harder than it sounds. When small, they just pull up easily, but by the time the plant is several feet long, the base of the stalk is a good inch across and it doesn't yeild easily. As I struggled to pull the stalk up the stern of the boat sunk deeper and the boat listed to my side. Ilana leaned the other way to prevent my gunwhale from getting too low. When the stalk finally came free it was like pulling a stubborn cork from a wine bottle. It came free suddenly and we were rocked in the boat comically. But, it was worth the near mishap. The white base of the stalk at this stage is tender and delicious, having much the texture of palm hearts. Most wild stalks get woodier or more bitter after early spring, so this was a pleasant surprise. So much food for so little effort.

From there we headed back upstream along the Magnetawan. The sunny weather was still holding up so I took off my shirt to get some vitamin D. By the time we arrived at our boat launch on Perry Lake Ilana's back was getting stiff, she discovered her forearms were mildly sunburned and my palms were near the blistery stage, but we ended our second trip of the season with three new paddling objectives:
1 - Return to Perry Lake to see if the loop we had in mind could be completed.
2 - To start out on the Magnetawan from Katrine again and head upstream as far as possible to see how far we can get before coming to more unrunnable rapids.
3 - Buy a copy of the 31E/11 (Burks Falls) topographic map the next time we're in Huntsville.

We drove back the way we had come, stopping shortly after the bridge on Deer Lake road where Ilana had noticed some sort of municipal park called Brooks Falls Municipal Park. This turned out to be a little gem of a spot for a picnic as it affords visitors a really impressive, close-up view of a long series of rapids, including a river-wide chute.

Unfortunately we left the camera in the truck in the parking area and neither of us felt like walking back to get it, though the light on that day would have made for some great photos. Here are a couple of photos of the falls taken on another visit.

We walked the trail along the river left bank in both directions and it was one long succession of dangerous rapids. Along the way Ilana spied a delicious and choice wild edible, Indian Cucumber root. Indian Cucumber root is that rare wild edible - delicious tasting by any standards, right out of the ground, without any preparation. In fact, there was a large patch of it, so we determined to return another day to harvest a few and take some photos of the falls and rapids. Two delicious wild edible finds in one day! That alone makes for a great day for us. Can't wait to come back.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I seen your blog and thought you might be interested to know that the portion of the Magnetawan you featured in your blog is in danger of being destroyed. There is an application for a class "A" pit and Quarry underway. Some local residents have formed a concerned citizens group and are looking for support from anyone who cares about this beautiful river and the environment. If you would like to help us in our mission to protect the Magnetawan you can contact us at POWRMAG@mail.cam