Queen Elizabeth Wildlands PP
Sunday, October 15, 2006 to Thursday, October 19, 2006
length: 40.0km, 5 days
organizer: Jeff McColl
participants: , Pat wood
You know going tripping at this time of year can be a crap shoot so you just go prepared as possible for the worst and this trip into QEWLPP gave us a taste of Ontario fall weather.
The goal of this trip was to try and complete a loop trip paddling down the Head River to Smudge Creek, up to Smudge Lake follow a chain of small lakes and ponds out of the northeast corner of the lake and then back down the River to Head Lake. Since our family cottage was on Head Lake we had paddled the Head river from Victoria lake to the Black river and my father had also paddled Smudge up to the first small canyon, so there wasn’t too many unknowns for me.
The trips weather started and finished the same way, wet cool and breezy
Something to remember about Head Lake (and river) if you have a light weight or do not scratch type of boat is that there are a lot of shoals that you can run aground on and when the sky is grey and dark you will. The east side of the lake can get a lot rougher than the west side and if you are coming out of the Head river from Fishog and the wind is out the south west this is where the waves get biggest.
As you leave the lake the first thing I noticed is the hydro line that marks the south boundary of the park is no longer there but you can still see where the cut in the trees. The river is wide and the banks are swampy here but about 200 m. before the river turns a sharp right you will see some rocks in the middle of the river. The channel is right of centre, then veer right back towards shore between the bigger boulders and shore and then follow the river bank about 5 m. from shore. In anything but high lake levels if you have a no-scratch boat you may cry here or several other spots where rocks just tend to pop out. The rivers flow tends to dry out pretty quick in the spring since there is not a lot of soil in the drainage area.
Bad news was we saw several algae blooms in the river as we paddled down stream.
Approx. 1 km. above the dam you start to see the type of topography that makes this area. The dam itself is not anything to be really concerned about, in high water all you will notice is the sign and if the dam is in it is just a short lift-over on the left hand side. We had lunch here and a chat with a local hunters who tested me on my knowledge on the area and the people we knew from the past.
My partners and my physical appearance tend to raise suspicion on what we do for a living I’m a postal worker, he catches bad guys, we didn’t mention anything, but they were fishing. We met the older man on the way out and had another chat which I will expand on later.
Approx. 500m. past the dam at the bottom of a small cliff, at low water you will see a very old tractor that probably fell through the ice a long time ago.
There are a few good camping areas along the river between the dam and the 2 parcels of private land above Smudge creek. (the park people are going to have to get out and mark these areas.)
There is a small beaver dam with an easy lift over on the left hand side at a shallows.
Both these portages are on private property. At the first rapid at high water (R2) 25m long straight down the centre. In lower water you can line or walk down the middle or portage 25m. on the right shore.
There is a pool of approx. 200m long to the next rapid 150 m. long, (R3) but if it is high enough to run the rocks are undercut by at least 2m on the left side at the bottom and the flow will take you there if you get lazy. Portage river right side at the top of the rapid, 150m and put in just past the undercut.
Because of the rains the week before there was more water is in creek than the river and that’s no saying much but it did fill the beaver ponds up.
Smudge creek enters the river approx. 250m from the bottom of the rapid on the right side and the opening is about 3m wide. It is in private property but the north section of a 100 acre parcel, You should be back into the park after half a km
This is were your boat choice is either a curse or blessing, hopefully your boat is less then 16’ and does not draw a lot of water, it can shallow and maneuvering between the swamp brush through the small channels can be challenging.
As soon as you enter the creek you should notice a change in topography, the ridges along either side of the creek become smooth as the creek follows a fault in the rock that it will follow all the way to north of Smudge Lake. We encounter close to a dozen small beaver dams to lift over. On the first one as we heaved the boat over we both looked up and saw a bear on a ridge 50 m. away. In unison we went “ooh bear” the bear stood up and went “ooh people” and took off. (It is hunting season and yes I was wear a orange vest.)
At the first small canyon there are several good campsites on the west side of the creek, one between two ridges out of the wind on some soft ground, the others on top of the ridge on some very flat granite. (Started @ 11:00 am arrived here 3:00 pm) This is a great spot for sunrises or sunsets and some good hiking but the firewood is sparse, there are not to many trees in the area.
Portage is on the east side of the creek 250m, put in is above a beaver dam, there is an old ATV bridge at the bottom and it may not last long. If you camp on the flat rock area you might as well carry up the ridge a little more and put in about 50 m. above the beaver dam on the west side. After a short paddle through this narrows the creek opens in a tall grass swamp, channel meanders on the east side. You won’t see much from the boat unless the water is high or you stand up.
The next canyon has a portage west side up a steep hill 50m; 250m. along the ridge, down between a cut in the rocks into some animal trails through some brush back to the creek.
The next narrows depending on water level may have a 25 metre pull and a lift over a small beaver dam.
The 3rd. canyon is the steepest and very pretty. Portage is on the east side and very steep at the bottom of the canyon. Getting to one of the two angle ridges along the side is very bushy and hard to navigate. We just passed the boat up ridge to ridge (twice) to an area were the walking was safer. Once on top of the ridge the walking is easy and put in is at the top of the canyon and then a short lift over another beaver dam. There are some great campsites at the top right beside a beaver pond just 25m from the put in.
If going downstream have a rope to lower the boat down the hill. It makes it easy.
Welcome to Smudge Lake. The fault widens here with the creek meandering back and forth with several lifts over beaver dams. Once on the lake there are several great spots away from the hunt and fish cabins on the lake. The best I thought was on top of a cliff overlooking the lake on the east side between the two arms of the lake. We stayed at an established spot 200m further east where the lake opens up again. It is protected and with the weather we encountered for the next 36 hours it became home.
What we did find here was the cell phone worked decent and the pocket radio picked up the cottage country FM stations. (It did not work lower down on the Head River) So out came the tarp (don’t leave home without one) Eat, sleep read, wait it out, enjoy were you are. It wasn’t snow but the skies sure opened up. One of the hunters we met on Smudge Lake came by with his boat and to make sure we were okay and he told us about the next portage we wanted to take. When the freight train winds hit that night we were real happy to be in a fairly protected place.
My partner is diabetic and losing a day of travel was not good and we could not safely afford another day being tent bound if the weather turned again, so we would base our decision on the weather forecast, alas it was not good so we would go back the way we came. We had checked out the first portage to the first small lake of the chain, 400m.up past the cabin on the northeast corner of the lake on the ridge to the lake. By the satellite photo there are 9 or 10 portages on that chain of small lakes from Smudge east to the Upper head system, those didn’t bother us, it is the swamp from the last lake to the Head River was the question (500 m as the crow flies) We have paddled the Head River to head lake 30 years ago so I know we could do that stretch with no problem.
The good news was with the rain we had the lake had risen over 6 inches, all the small beaver dams down to the canyon were flooded over, the creek from here down was higher than 12 inches from when we came up so we ran the other 2 canyons (R2) (narrow and fast not too much vertical drop)
We camped back on the Head river in the park area and headed out the next morning in the rain again. We met the same local hunter again and had a good 45 min discussion in the rain on the park and his fears, when I told him I was just a letter carrier he relaxed a whole lot more and was surprised where the talk led us, but I will post that in the discussion portion later.
It is a very pretty area and very fragile, no doubt about it the easiest way in is to fly, but not so much adventure; to go to an area with no marked portages was fun, but if the water had been low it would have been more than work.
I will post some pics in the gallery when I make them smaller in a couple of days.
Here's a link to some pics