Queen Elizabeth Wild Lands Prov Park
Saturday, May 2, 2009 to Wednesday, May 6, 2009
route: Pond hopping on Canadian Sheild
length: 5 days
offsite report: http://mccollj
Queen Elizabeth Wild Land Prov. Park
May 2 to 6
Pic site Link
style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt" class="MsoNormal">Trip Length Approx 65 – 70 km
With 27 Portages, the Shortest 25m,
The Longest approx. 2km,
With many dozens of lift over’s of beaver dams.
With a “pond hopping” trip like this the number of portages on this route could increase quite dramatically if water levels are low or beaver ponds get abandoned or washed out, or the plant growth covers the channels from being seen.
And with small stream systems in the marshes there is a lot of meandering through and around dead heads, the stream course itself and vegetation, plus many ups and downs in the portages that you can not measure with google earth.
Most portages have no marked trails, so you have to look for the path of least resistance through the brush in the small valleys/canyons which is very thick because this is where the most soil and water is or work your way along the granite ridges, which is quite easy on most of the carries.
This was a father/son only trip which I have been trying to get in since he finished High school 4 years ago. ( I was smarter with my daughter and did the trip with her last year, grade 11 going in to 12, year of graduation and getting ready for university is just too busy)
The goal of the trip was to have some adventure and do some exploring in the area I was familiar with as a teenager. We started at a friends cottage on Head Lake, went down the Head river, up Smudge creek about 2/3rds. the way up, cross over to another stream system and get to the long unnamed lake just to the east of Cranberry Lake, go up Gold Creek to get back to Smudge Lake then cross over to Crooked Lake and back down the upper Head River to Head Lake. (And try and beat the black flies before they came out)
This Provincial Park is a very unique and fragile area, one can only hope that proper protection is afforded to the area, and I have to give credit to most of the Lodges and hunt camps that are in the area, they have kept the area very clean from refuse.
The park is pretty well surrounded by private land and there are a few private parcels in different areas but with the info from this site
http://www.ontarioparks.com/English/planning_pdf/quee_background.pdf"> face="Times New Roman" size="3" color="#800080">http://www.ontarioparks.com/English/planning_pdf/quee_background.pdf
style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt" class="MsoNormal">And even with basic map reading skills, it is very easy to figure out where you are at in terms of private properties.
We where on the water and going by 9 am, blue skies, gentle wind, temperature about 7 c, the Head for the first section to the “dam” is wet lands, (the warning signs on the bridge exiting the lake are scarier than the real thing) and then you start to encounter typical Canadian Shield. The lake is fairly big so the water was still cool and there where very few insects out and the 2 short rapids before the entrance to Smudge Creek where a very straight forward Grade II.
When you enter the creek there is an immediate change of topography, I had been hoping for “higher” water levels in the creek but was completely surprised by the amount of water in it. The heavy rains on the Thursday before had the creek in flood, all but one of the beaver dams leading up to the first canyon where under water, or flushed out. I was hoping to have enough water to line the canoe up the canyons, but instead there was more water in this creek than was coming down the main river. These first 2 little canyons are only about 2 -3 m wide, but add about 2/3rds. a metre of water coming down and it was a very nice grade III, but no place to easily stand to line the boat.
Besides the change in topography the warm rain and smaller lake/pond system water temps introduced us to black flies, not very many, but out and biting.
We had a lunch of gorp and my son walked up the ridge on the west side while I paddled up. The weather was changing quickly; the temperature was dropping as rain squalls were moving in. We were able to get up to the next canyon quickly and pictures do not do justice to the amount of water flowing through. At the next narrows through a ridge which is normally barely floatable the current was quite formidable.
I have the topo maps, but for pond hopping purposes, they are not of much use, so google earth is a major bonus, the pics may be a little bit out of date, but most of the route had high resolution. By comparing areas that I have paddled through before it was easy to guess if I could float a canoe through and find the best areas to travel through as you cross over into other stream systems.
Again the high water enabled us to be able to paddle right up to the ridge where we would do our first cross over to another stream system, making for only about a 200m carry; in lower levels I figure the portage would be about 400 – 500 m. The original plan was to get to the first lake and find a camp spot but that changed really quickly as when we got in the open we found the lake had a Blue Heron rookery, and as have never seen one before was truly awestruck, but we were definitely disturbing the birds so we kept away as far as we could, took a few quick pics and then did a quick pull over the beaver dam to get out of sight. This was a small tactical error… there where 2 short small secondary dams with small ponds, and because we could see the next lake through the trees we thought it would be okay…. It was only about 150m to the next lake after the second small pond but the brush was very thick. A bit of extra (wet & mucky) work, but we were out of sight of the rookery and we did not want to go back and disturb the birds.
The portage was on the right side, right beside the large dam and the ridge led you from one lake to the other. The squalls where coming faster and stronger now, and this lake didn’t offer any flat protected areas. The only flat area we found was in the open on a small peninsula, but it was a great location in this lake’s unique shape.
Good camp sites in this park are hard to find, in the bigger lakes there are lodges or hunt camps occupying the good areas, there a plenty of flat rock areas though and quite a few “ideal” spots on some of the smaller lakes, it just takes a bit of work to get there.
After we got camp set up we hiked back up the one ridge towards the rookery so I could get a shot, so with my big lens ready to go (50 – 500) we tried to be stealthy but the other small birds and chipmunks let go with their alarm calls, so from behind a tree and at just over 200m away (google earth measurement) I got this shot as the sun came out for about 30 seconds.
Being familiar with the rocky environment of this area I decided to take along a small collapsible hot tent stove (12” x 18” x 3” folded) so we would not have to make a fire pit every night and since I just got it, I wanted to “play” with it. The rain that produced the high water happened only 3 days ago, but the moss on top of the ridges was already very dry and crunchy underfoot. And I was amazed at the amount of work and fuel it saved.
Didn’t have to make a fire pit and clear an area so it would not burn out.
Just find a flat clear rock.
Did not have to cut nearly as much wood, could cook, heat water and with the lid off still have that “camp fire” feel. We used only 1 litre of white gas for 4 nights/5 days.
Plus since we were a little bit damp and cool from the afternoon and evening squalls we did not have to play “avoid the moving smoke” game, and since we could sit closer to the heat source it was great!
For the first nights dinner we had some roties from a local Milton restaurant that all we had to do was heat on the top of the wood stove.
Great clear night ¾ moon rising, nice and cool, and no bugs!
My son who is an avid reader said he was going to use our down time to start to write… (More to come on this)
Day 2 we started with our second tactical mistake of the trip…we slept in, nice warm sun, woke up to about 15c at 10:00am, few bugs, big breakfast of western scrambled eggs, with a bunch of soy thrown in for protein, some fruit bars and a pot of coffee. This was scheduled to be one of the short travel days so we would have time to explore the long lake and the edge of the park boundary where it meets by Cranberry lake…..
We got going at 12:30 pm and made our next tactical boo boo, we quickly pulled through the next 3 small ponds about 200m, and boom, no more ponds…
This was a classic case of could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, checked, it would have been easier to start to portage at the exit of the lake we camped in, to go back the way we came was not much of an option, muddy, bushy in the water, along the shore on the bottom of the valley, uneven footing, bushy and muddy in spots. So with radios in hand we decided to create plan “B” and go in different directions to find a way out. My son quickly found an ATV trail that led in the direction we want to go in so, I followed where he went to do a dry walk to see if we could get back on track. We passed a hunt camp and with google pics in hand, on top of the next ridge guessed on where to cross on to the next stream system.
As it worked out it was about a 2km portage (google guess) with the walk really quite easy we decided to keep going. First we staged all the gear up from the creek to the top of the ridge on the ATV trail, It was warm, about 20 c but with a stiff wind blowing keeping the bugs down. I don’t travel light, (and the weather forecast was for “cool” temps and a couple of day of rain, neither happened so half a bag of ill weather gear was never used) and my camera stuff is in a 60L barrel by itself, I try to keep it ready to shoot and I like to take a lot of lenses… J
We could have done it in 2 trips, but I don’t like to play pack mule and I am no spring chicken any more, so 3 trips (shared boat carrying duties on the 3rd.) plus the dry exploratory trip. We kept water at both ends because it gets very hot on all that rock, and had a good snack of gorp and fruit bars before starting the canoe carry.
We were now 2 ponds short of the long lake.
This pond’s level was down a bit and looked inactive, from the google pics we were expecting another 300 to 400 m portage from this pond to the lake, but surprise, the next pond was active and the levels several feet higher than what showed on the sat. pics so we only had a 25 m carry, paddle a couple hundred metres and a quick lift down and we were in the lake.
With in 500 m the geography has changed from fairly large ridges to much smaller smoother ridges with the a lot more green from White pine.
The wind was howling pretty well now so we decided to take the northern channel. This lake is very narrow and over 4 km long, but we went about 500m down and it was blocked by brush and branches at the narrowest spot, we were too tired to carry around so we paddled back and took the south channel. The really good spots are already occupied with a few small lodges or fish/hunt camps put there are plenty of other areas with flat rock on the water out of site from the camps. The one camp has set up a platform for an osprey to make a nest.
We found a great location on the northeast corner where Gold Creek meets the lake, it offered both a great sunrise and set.
When my son started to write again that evening I asked him if he was writing down stories of his adventure to take back to the Shire…..
The bugs where biting, but well within a tolerable range, same with the next morning.
We didn’t paddle down to the lake outlet, but judging by the drowned tree stumps this lake for the most part is dam created.
About a 500m paddle up the creek and you are now into a stretch of private property, it opens into a small lake but you notice immediately the lack of trees, such a beautiful harsh landscape. At the top end of the lake is quite marshy and you will have to follow the channel the creek has created, and it meanders around a bit and then heads northeast, we encountered some sandy shallows but it was easy to pull the boat up and the water levels where still high. When you get to the first ridge there is a beaver dam filling in a narrow gap in the rocks, about half a metre of dam had been washed out, but the pond above still held back lots of water. This is about a 25 m easy carry and at this point you are back in the park. You look at the direction of where you are going and there is still a stretch of barren area and then the trees start up again.
A couple of short paddles and easy pull over’s and we are at the forested area, so to for the first time of the trip clouds of black flies and with very little wind.
It makes you wonder if they didn’t get the idea of the Fangorn Forest in the Lord of the Rings movie where many of the Ents met their demise, by going into to an black fly infested Ontario forest…..
The ridges again start to gain some height but the stream meanders through wetlands created by a couple of beaver dams to keep the depth up.
We get to a point where on google earth it looks like a fairly large lake, but was (yep, was) a series of 6 beaver dams and the direction we are to go has the missing one.
The trouble with google is you don’t know how old the pics are and these dams can let go any time. The good news was it probably released in the flood water of spring 08 and with the high water again this year had eaten a pretty good (floatable) channel, with out which would have likely cause an additional 1plus km carry. And the beavers had already made a few small dams on the way up, so we were lucky again this time.
When paddling through beaver bonds swamps and streams you have to change your technique of paddling. You normally can’t sit and paddle and you don’t have any real forward momentum. In a lot of places there is not enough space to cleanly put your paddle in for a stroke, so you use your best Star Trek Enterprise going through an asteroid belt thruster technique, trying to find something firm enough to get a little bit of a push, and you do this standing up so you can make sure you get into the deeper channels. It took us about 15 minutes to go about 400 – 500 m. I would expect the dam that got washed out to be rebuilt fairly quickly, mostly because there are a lot of usable trees close to the old dam site. One pull over another metre high dam brings you to the biggest vertical drop on Gold Creek and again because of the extra water was very picturesque. The portage on the west side is about 200m long, brushy and fairly steep at the start, but after about 50 metres you are on the shield again. The biggest walking hazard on any of these carries is in the bush areas where the beavers have gnawed off the tops of the bush and left those sharp little point stubs sticking up. After getting the gear up to the next pond I got the camera out to walk back down and take some pics of the falls and the approach. My son walked upstream along the ridge to see if getting up high would give us enough breeze to be able to eat lunch out of the black flies….no luck there but we were greeted by another change in the geography and a beautiful postcard shield landscape. Also there were some critters that showed some great interest in us. The pair of them swam back and forth across the pond slowly getting closer until they came ashore at the bottom of the ridge 50m from us. I had the camera, but had my landscape lens on, but the blow up seems to identify them as otters, and they followed us up until the next beaver dam. The next 2km of paddling is pretty incredible, the creek flows between two ridges about 50m apart, there are a number of small beaver dams the bottom is sandy in a few places and the creek bottom has that “gold” look where it probably got it’s name.
When the ridges part you are very near the top of the watershed and again the landscape is very harsh with few trees again, but this lake is big enough for a good breeze to blow so we set about refilling our water bottles and having lunch. I image most of this lake is covered with lily pads in the summer, we can see them starting to reach towards the surface, on the topo’s and google earth the lake has a “z” shape to it, but where it narrows there are a lot of dead heads to maneuver around and the next section is mostly wetland growth. There is a channel on the north west side that will take you to the next beaver dams, stay on that side and portage past 2 beaver dams approx 125m. long. A short paddle and another carry of around 25m around another beaver dam and you are on a pond that because of the beavers, flows out in 2 directions, one is Gold creek, the other takes you make into the Smudge system. Again because of the higher flows we were able to pull the boat about 50m past the next dam to get to a point we could float again.
This narrow creek that flows through a small canyon towards Smudge Lake should get better because the beaver dam at a 1.5m drop was washed out, but we were able to float the boat. There was one more small pull over as the creek widened out in to a large pond, and we where able to pull over and paddle into the last pond above Smudge lake. We got out and scouted the marsh brush (about 150m) to make sure we had a clean channel to the lake, with no leave growth it was easy to find. A portage on the south east side would be extremely difficult, and we did not check out the other side, but it would be worth the look to see if you can paddle the pond on top of the other ridge to bypass the growth.
Once on the lake we refilled the water bottles and had another snack. We drank a lot of water, the temp. had been above 20c all day with little wind and you could not undress or take off your head net because of the black flies. Once we started to paddle again we had 2 Turkey Vultures fly very close over head and then land on the rocks about 30m from us.
There is only one good flat treed campsite on Smudge on the North arm of the lake. There are 4 hunt/fish camps on this lake but because of its shape you can only see one clearly from the camp site. This was the first time we set the bug shelter up to use for protection, thought we would try it on the trip my wife got it as a prize 6’ x 6’ x 6’ but it was set up and carried like one of those sports ball back stops. For the bugs alone it was worth it, but it could not handle any wind at all with out support and tie downs but finding a place where you could was the hard part. The one I jimmied for the trip with my daughter was easier to carry and set up plus this fancy one did not handle all the handling and carries too well…. But the sponge bath I had that evening in it out of the bugs with the 5 gal. of warm water poured over my head….. priceless!
We decided since the last 2 days had been so physically demanding we would have a day of rest and explore around the lake.
Slept in, but were again greeted my very warm temps, little wind and mosquitoes had joined the black flies, so the trip to the loo in “woods” was kept quite short. We paddled down to the falls and 3rd. canyon and all but one of the several small beaver dams was flooded over. A beaver has moved back into the pond of to the east side of the falls making the camp site there very pretty, (I have some great fall shots from here)
We walked down the ridge on the east side too the cliffs at the south end and there less than 500m away was where we started to cross over to the other systems. When we got back to Smudge Lake we paddled around the south east arm and then landed at the bottom the lookout hill. The way beavers had built ponds in the area it was like you where standing on an island. From here you can see long distances and can easily make out the other high ground land marks on where we were to paddle, and I was also able to point out the areas we roamed as kids almost 40 years ago. We went back into the lake for lunch and to paddle back up to the arm of the lake we were camped on and to walk the ridge of a route you could take up to Victoria/Wolf Lake or around to Gold creek.
We knew the vultures had hung around the cliffs on the North west corner the night before but didn’t see any birds when we left. We where abut 250m away when about a dozen glided in low from the N.W. and landed on the trees and cliffs. All but 2 took off again in about 5 min, we kept our distance used the big lens got a beautiful shot of the one bird as he flew overhead and when we got home and I zoomed in on the rocks more we could see a egg on the top of the cliff.
After walking up the ridge to look at the way to Victoria we got back in the boat and paddled to go check out the beaver pond at the top of the portage that would lead us to the Upper Head River. The big dam was still in and the good news was that a beaver had moved back into the pond between Smudge Lake and the big pond. A little more water and finding an easy way through the brush or up the south side could takeout the 800m portage and leave you with 2 short carries (approx 150m and 200m) and you would not have to climb the ridge with your gear. It’s smooth walking but more fun as a hike without gear. J
When we got back to our camp spot I laid down in the tent and my son went into the bug net to write. Being on a point didn’t help with it being so warm and no wind.On this trip I was hoping to get some special shots, or find some Aboriginal evidence since the area has never been studied in depth. I did get the special shot, it just happened to be of the Bombyliidae fly, the smallest thing I took a pic of. And this is the response I got from a Prof. (emeritus) of Zoology
Quote” You got a very good picture of this. It belongs to a family of insects called Bombyliidae. The common name for this group of species is 'bee fly'. Interesting to see them out at this time of year -- they must overwinter as adults. Its fairly typical for them to have banded wings the way this one does. Of course it is a fly and not a bee (has only one pair of wings) but it makes a noise rather like a bee when trapped. It may be trying to mimic a bumblebee and so benefit from the mistaken idea that it has a sting.” Unquote
So a little bit of stuff for the world of Science….(I gotta lot of work to do on my Indiana Jones impersonation….)
We paddled back down to the look out for sunset and where totally amazed how much greener the area had gotten in just a few hours, I guess with as hot and dry and lack of soil the plants have adapted to the conditions to maximize growth. A good example is the fiddle heads (ferns), we had been hoping to have some with one of or dinners but the time we got to the 3rd night they were already past their due date and where well over 15cm tall, and unraveled already. The areas around the big lakes, Crooked, Fishog, and Head lake where you could find them, the cold water was still holding them dormant.
The initial plan was just to get over to the Head river at the top of Crooked Lake.
There are 8 portages and all the beaver ponds where active and the ones that where inactive 2 years ago where now occupied and deeper enabling an easier paddle and able to take the shorter carry. There are some beautiful camp spots in this area, well protected but much better suited for the fall with out the bugs. The day has hot, over 20c again and little wind to keep the black flies at bay. By the time we got to the camp spot at the little falls where the Head river goes north to Victoria/Wolf the winged teeth had made up our minds to continue and camp on the rocky point in Fishog. There are several small pullovers before you get to Crooked and we spotted a bear climbing a tree about 200m away. Before we saw the bear the Blue Jays in the area where making quite the commotion and we thought it was because of us. We couldn’t see what the bear was after, but when we got home and zoomed in on the bear, it appears it was going after some good sized eggs in the tree. (still waiting for an answer on what kind of eggs they could be) We where able to watch about 15 mins. with out the head nets on because the wind had picked up and we were close to open water.
We where unable to stop for an enjoyable lunch earlier because those little critters of teeth and wings had their bibs on…. but on the lake in the wind, fresh water, gorp and fruit bars tasted real good. This was the first time in 5 days we had seen anyone and they where from one of the fish camps checking up on the lodge after the heavy rains from the week before. We caught up to them at the carry into Long Lake and they said they had seen 2 bears there in the morning by the fast water, and my guess was they where there for the sucker run and easy pickings. The 3 carries to Fishog are quite easy and well used, but I immediately noticed that Fishog lake was over 2ft higher than normal, we later found out it was due to the log jam at the dam right before head lake.
The bad news was the rock on the point in the lake we wanted to camp on was under water, So with about 8k to go to the take out, and about 3 hours of light we decided we did not want to feed the bugs anymore and decided to head out. We made it back to the truck by 8:45, and then we headed to a motel in Orillia for a hot bath.
It was still a good trip, even though we didn’t quite beat the bugs, we did see some amazing country, 2hrs from Toronto no other people for 5 days, got some good wildlife pics and reported their locations, and a father/son trip where you felt like the only 2 people, a million miles away from civilization…. Only those that have done it know the feeling. Now I have done it with both kids, that’s 2 check marks off the bucket list.
The trip with my Daughter was in 08 and part of the deal was I was not allowed to write and post the trip (she didn’t say anything about pictures….)