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Memorable Portaging

Ah portaging, an integral part of many canoe trips, and to quote Bill Mason:

"Anyone who says they like portaging is either a liar or crazy."

Over the years I've encountered many portages ranging from the benign 20m to the more sinister 5km+ slogs. From the hard work of maintaining old, forgotten trails and blazing new ones, to getting downright lost on vast ATV and logging road networks, there have certainly been many portages that for various reasons will forever been ingrained in my mind. Experienced canoeists will tell you it's not just the distance but a combination of terrain, weather and usage that makes a given portage one to stand out in your memory.

The infamous sign that warns of impeding muscle usage

I often make double carries on all portages, essentially tripling the distance traveled and time spent. This is mostly due in part to the addition of camera equipment and subsequent cases. The 'tripling system' is our usual norm and for most portages does not result in any additional frustration, that is unless you come across one of those 'memorable' portages where you find yourself cursing with every step forward you take.

One of my most memorable portage experiences occurred back in 2007 on an extensive trip through the northern reaches of Killarney Provincial Park. At first, the 200m portage from Bear to Goose Lake seemed like a straight forward short trek along a well utilized trail, until we reached the shores of Goose Lake. I believe the old, grainy picture of my father captured on a primitive Argus digital camera says it all; "what shore?"

The 'shore' of Goose Lake

Goose Lake ceased to exist as a lake and was instead replaced by a large muddy waste made impassable by canoe. The culprit of the Goose Lake transformation? Crafty beavers. Yes, these fuzzy little engineers had crafted an impressive dam blocking the outflow from Rocky Lake. With no in-flowing water, Goose 'Lake' subsequently dried up. As the route through Goose Lake was necessary to reach our booked site on Fish Lake, we were faced with only one option: portage. One would think that portaging on dry lake bed would be an easy task due to the flat open terrain, but they would be sorely mistaken. The only portion of Goose 'Lake' that was portage friendly was a thin strip of shoreline that was riddled with ankle snapping loose stone and boot sucking mud. To make matters worse, temperatures in the upper 30's turned the inside of the canoe into a large oven, determined to dry out the soul of even the hardiest. Over a kilometer later we had reached the eastern terminus of Goose 'Lake', caked in excessive amounts of mud and sweat. It was here that our maps indicated a small navigable stream, with an optional 700m portage for extreme low water conditions. However, no water in Goose 'Lake' meant no water in its outflowing creek, but before we could tackle the additional 700m we met up with a group who looked quite relived to have completed the 700m portage they described as wet, marshy and overgrown. My father casually mentioned that they best prepare for more slogging and pointed to the 'Lake' behind. Their joy at completing the 700m was expectantly short lived. We suggested they portage around the lake shore like we had. We wished them a good trip and continued down the trail with our packs.

The muddy wasteland of Goose 'Lake'

All the portaging in intense heat soon resulted in empty water bottles and talk soon shifted towards looking forward to a refreshing swim and a chance to fill up our water bottles when we concluded the portage. Much to our dismay, North Howry Creek was a muddy, leech infested stream where we had a better chance at contracting Giardia than enjoying a refreshing swim. Upon our return to retrieve our canoe and remaining equipment we found one of the members of the other group waist deep in the mud just 100m offshore. The other members of the group explained that he had attempted to navigate the small amount of remaining water on the 'Lake' and quickly got stuck with no way back. This is where we parted ways again and rushed to complete the final 700m leg of the overgrown portage, accumulating many cuts from the raspberry and blackberry brambles that impeded our passage. At the conclusion of the portage we raced across Round Otter Lake, and were faced with a quick portage that ended in a stagnant pool before finally reaching Fish Lake and a well deserved swim! And for that, the Goose Lake portage has forever been one of my most memorable portaging experiences. Well played beavers, well played.

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