Saturday, June 14, 2008

14th: Perry Lake to Little Beaver Lake in Kearney

Our objective for our third day trip was to explore a possible loop route we'd cooked up a few days before when our original plan to paddle down the Magnetawan from Kearney to Katrine was frustrated by a dam and a series of dangerous rapids. The plan for today was to drive to Kearney from Katrine again and put-in at the same boat launch in the hopes of finding a stream out of the southern tip of Perry Lake which might lead into Hog Lake and from there we might work out a route through some more creeks to the creek that leads into the pond and floodplains on the Magnetawan ultimately allowing us to paddle back into Perry Lake and complete our loop. I had my river shoes on and was prepared to wade the canoe through bogs, shallow creeks, and portage across country roads, but it was all for naught as it turned out.

We'd already had lunch that day so we took the canoe off the truck, loaded it up quickly with the dry bag, PFDs, paddles, throwbag and bailer, stopping only long enough to take a few closeup photos of a wee turtle sunning itself in the grass near the beach at the Lion's Park boat launch.

The sky was a mix of sun and clouds but it was warm out with a good strong breeze on Perry Lake. We paddled down it's length only to find that their was high ground at the southern end of the lake, meaning there was no navigable waterway except perhaps in early spring flood.

Even though it was a Saturday the lake was free of motorboats, so there was no way were going home just yet. We decided to make the most of it and paddle north, right through Kearney, hoping to find the tiny channel that led westwards out of Perry Lake north of the bridge. That impromptu goal also fell through when we discovered the channel on the map was nothing more than a roadside drainage ditch. Grrr.

We headed further north into Hassard lake. Ilana and I have been musing a lot about buying a small parcel of land in these parts, so we hugged the shore, looking at all the waterfront properties - developed and undeveloped - talking about which ones we liked and didn't, working out what sort of thing we'd want to have if we ever decide to buy land bordering a lake. It was not turning into a very memorable paddling trip so far, but as a good friend and fellow paddler once pointed out to me when we were paddling tiny Sharon Creek for the sake of it some years ago, "Any day is a good day when you're canoeing." Wise words from Joe.

We passed the occasional couple swimming from their docks, anglers in their rowboats as we moved north and then east into Beaver Lake. Here I spotted some sort of waterfowl sitting on a fallen tree which jutted out from the wooded shore. Ilana got the camera ready as I manoevred the boat slowly towards shore for her to get a closer photo. The lighting was bad, so the photo came out a little grainy even though the bird (a female Merganze, I think) allowed us to get quite close before taking flight in a loud flap, crossing the entire breadth of the lake only a foot above the water the whole way.

We had the wind at our backs as we paddled to the very eastern end of Beaver Lake, aiming straight for mouth of the narrow channel which leads into Little Beaver Lake. We saw a woman paddling her canoe out of the channel in our direction. We could see her struggling as she left the wind-sheltered narrow channel and nosed into windy Beaver Lake. She was paddling by herself from the stern while her dog sat in the bow. The dog's weight was not enough to offset her own, so her bow was riding high and she had to paddle hard to counter the little gusts that forced her bow off course. We watched her switching paddling sides repeatedly as the high-riding bow weathervaned from side to side. Had we been in speaking distance I might have suggested she move further forward towards the middle to better trim her canoe, but before we reached the mouth of the channel where we'd first seen her struggling had already been blown towards the northern shore and was making her way around the lake by the longest possible route, apparently unable or unwilling to cut straight across. Or maybe she just wanted to draw out her trip too.

The narrow channel into Little Beaver Lake held a surprise for us - a little swift, perhaps a few dozen metres long, with a very significant incline at the top, meaning we'd have to paddle upstream and uphill against fast-moving water. Normally one would just portage around such an obstacle or use the painters to track the boat upstream from the shore or even just wade the boat upstream, but there was no room to stand on on either bank as they were both tangles of trees and shrubs and I didn't feel like wading in the cold current either. I decided our best bet was to build up speed and paddle hard and fast for a few minutes and hope we could get over that little hill of oncoming water before our arms gave out.

We tried that...heading straight for the darker tongue of deeper water, but as we proceeded the water moved faster as the incline increased and our arms grew more fatigued. Any onlookers would have split their sides lauging at the sight of us struggling up the deeper main current only to give up and bang our paddles on river bottom when we were forced to veer aside into the shallower parts to escape the main rush of water. We bickered the whole time, with Ilana complaining that my stern pries were rocking the boat too much for her comfort and me urging her not to give up and keep on paddling. Too tired to make it up that hill, we let the current turn us broadside and then we aimed downstream into calmer waters. We argued over whether to try again or declare the current victorious.

Then...a miracle happened: I convinced Ilana to try it again, even though she'd be more tired on this second effort. But this time we had a plan. We built up speed as we approached the swift, paddling up through the deep part of the channel, but this time allowing the current to ferry us to one side into shallower eddies behind some exposed boulders. We rested there, jamming our paddles against the river bottom to hold us in position for fear we'd drift backwards with the current and lose precious ground. After a quick breather we nosed the bow out into the current again while paddling hard forward to gain a bit more ground and ferry upstream across the main tongue into another bit of slower, shallower water on the other side. We kept going this way, comically gaining a few feet of ground at a time by paddling maddly against the current, ferrying over a few feet into shallows, jamming our paddles against the bottom to hold us in place, until we got over the steepest part of the incline. Once over the incline we found ourselves in the center of the channel with weary arms. Even though we were over the worst part it felt like all of Little Beaver Lake was rushing at us to push us backwards down that incline again. Between gasps I shouted words of encouragement from the stern. "We're almost there, don't give up now." The most maddening part of the whole effort was that we had only travelled upstream a couple of dozen metres or so and it had taken several long minutes to do so...plenty of time for the mosquitoes to swarm us as we inched forward. This is called hindsight.

After another minute of bug-stressed struggling we reached the calm flat water of Little Beaver Lake. Little Beaver Lake is a sweet little lake with only 3 cottages on one shore and nice island in the middle of it, but Ilana's upper back was beginning to ache after our epic upstream struggle and she wanted to head back before we she hurt herself for real. She was worried that paddle back would take over an hour and that crossing Beaver Lake might be a challenge because we'd have the wind in our faces the whole time. I guffawed and thought we could make it back in 30 minutes if we paddled straight and didn't take breaks for photos, etc.

We turned the boat around and paddled back to our swift, enjoying the current this time, instead of fighting it. We even practiced angling the boat so that the stern was aimed closer to the inside turn of the swift to make sure we didn't get pushed to the outer bank by the current as it rounded a bend. It worked like a charm, though we brushed very close to an exposed rock at one point.

We eddied out on the right shore so Ilana could hop out for a pee in the woods. The mosquitoes were on her like...well, like mosquitoes on a bare exposed bottom. She was plenty bug-stressed by the time she hopped back into the boat. We tried a 'peel out' into the current, but it was a poorly executed move, so not very exciting. We need to practice what we learned last August at the Madawaska Kanu Centre before we forget it all.

We headed down the wind-sheltered channel and out into Beaver Lake. Our canoe was nicely trimmed and with two paddlers it was no problem at all to keep a straight course and drive straight back into Hassard Lake, slowing only long enough to snap some close photos of several mated pairs of Canada Geese and their goslings feeding by the shoreline.

We were back at the boat launch on Perry Lake in almost exactly 45 minutes - halfway between both of our estimates. We loaded up the boat and paddling gear and Ilana did a little excavating on the playground before we drove away.

We had a few stops to make on the way home. First was the general store in Kearney to get a copy of the topo map for this area for use on subsequent day trips, but they had marked up the price so much we turned up our noses and off again.

While on Bevan road we spotted a nice large turtle on the roadside. Next stop was a hobby farm on Deer Lake road where bought a dozen farm fresh eggs.

The last stop was Brooks Falls park. We went in just long enough to take a few photos of the rapids and falls. The light wasn't as good as it had been on the first day but we'll likely try again the next time we're in the area. We still need to collect some of those Indian Cucumber roots.

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