Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands: Further Up The Creek
Having paddled the majority of the central canoe routes in the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands, I had always wondered what the north eastern portion of the park was like. A quick glance at the topographic map reveals a region connected by meandering creeks, small lakes and numerous ponds. In this remote area, two creeks of prominence stand out; Lutterworth and Beer. After some careful deliberation we drafted a route to explore these creeks and set our sights on an unnamed lake in the north eastern corner of the park as the ultimate goal. On paper, the route looked simple, head up the creek... with a paddle!
Having tripped extensively in the Wildlands, I've come to realize that the topographic maps don't tell the entire story. Beaver activity has a dramatic effect on the landscape of the region. The old government base maps are 30 years outdated and are of little help in determining where the water still flows. A quick scan of a satellite map reveals many changes. For this route, beavers had backed up numerous sections of both creeks, creating long, finger like ponds. Portaging appeared minimal as each pond was connected by only a small section of creek and the majority of open water appeared to be separated by a beaver dam or two. If the water levels held up, it looked to be a promising canoe route.
On the shores of Lutterworth Creek
Setting out from the Devil's Lake access point, we faced a bitterly cold headwind that slowed our forward progress to an agonizing crawl. Hugging the eastern shoreline, we pushed through the headwind until we met the sheltered bay where Lutterworth Creek tumbles into Devil's Lake over a series of small cascades. A mostly open ridgewhack portage of 100m bypassed the scenic rapids. These were capped by an extensive beaver dam which had backed up the creek, creating the first of many ponds we would face on this adventure.
Paddling upstream, we drifted past a shoreline of barren open ridges, a common landscape characteristic of much of the park. Small deciduous trees and sporadic stands of young conifers dot the rocky hills. However, as we rounded a bend in the creek, we were surprised to encounter a stand of towering spruce trees! Hugging the eastern bank, this dense grove of conifers seemed oddly out of place! It looked like the perfect place to setup camp, but as it was still early and we were unsure of how challenging the next day could be, we pressed on. Lifting over several more beaver dams, we eventually reached a long pond with gently sloping ridges and scattered stands of pine. Canoeing the course of the pond, we found a small point flanked by a grove of mature white pine and quickly set about preparing camp. After a hearty meal of steak and vegetables, we drifted off to the soothing sounds of the babbling brook and haunting cries of distant loons.
Paddling past a grove of Spruce
After a lengthy, but well deserved sleep, we awoke eager to forge our way further into the unknown! Under the warm midday sun, we made quick progress, portaging around gigantic beaver dams and gliding across glassy ponds. Navigating our way around an impressive 3m tall beaver dam, we had reached the headwaters of Lutterworth Creek, or so the map would have you believe. On the topographic map, Beer and Lutterworth Creeks do not meet, but after reviewing the satellite imagery it appeared a swampy channel connected the two systems through one large pond.
As we neared the swampy channel, we faced two options. The first, bushwhack 200m overland from a mucky bay, or the 2nd, chance the swampy channel and attempt to paddle further upstream. Enjoying a portage as much as any other canoeist, we opted to gamble and pointed our bow towards the unknown channel. Initially, the going was easy, ample water and a few boggy hummocks to avoid, but as we pressed onward, the channel narrowed and the water trailed off to a trickle. Eyeing the culprit, an overgrown beaver dam 25m ahead, we unloaded the canoe and proceeded to carry our gear across a beaver meadow, all while balancing on hummocks in an attempt to keep dry. Despite some pesky alders and banks of boot sucking mud, we managed to stay dry and the short carry proved relatively easy. After lifting over the dam, we encountered two more in quick succession which, luckily for us, had created ponds with ample depth to dip our blades. Paddling on, we encountered no further obstructions, successfully reaching the pond with minimal effort. Sometimes gambles really do pay off!
Ponds in the Wildlands
Shortly after canoeing the width of the large pond, we neared the inflow of Beer Creek. An easy liftover bought us to a narrow mini-gorge where towering pines and mossy rocks created a breathtaking landscape unlike anything we had seen on the trip thus far. Passing through the gorge, we were met with the confluence of a small unnamed stream. Turning right, we began our final push up Beer Creek. Shortly after the junction, the creek became choked with a dense grove of alders. Clawing at our boat, the alders slowed forward progress as we hacked, sawed, poled and slogged our way upstream. Thankfully, the thicket slog was short lived as the alders soon gave way to forested banks. Here, the creek picks up speed and tumbles over a series of swifts and small rapids. One could easily line up the creek, but we opted to portage though the bush, keeping our feet dry and out of the chilly spring waters. We grabbed our gear and followed the creek for roughly 175m through fairly open forest until we were met with a fantastic sight, the magnificent shores of the unnamed lake we had set out to reach!
Accomplishing our goal felt fantastic, but the feeling was made even better by finding a body of water so unlike anything we had paddled on the trip. As the route had primarily consisted of pond hopping and creek travel, this was the only true lake we would encounter on the journey, save for the access from Devil's. Before us lay a shoreline contoured with dense stands of conifers, rocky knolls and small cliffs. Studded by several tiny islands, the lake stretched beyond in a series of bays, inlets and creeks, each begging further exploration. A lake radiating such beauty to continue existence in a nameless state was most certainly a sin. As the unnamed lake was to the south of Beer Lake and its primary in/outflow was Beer Creek, we affectionately referred to the water body as Lower Beer Lake.
Lower Beer Lake
Paddling the length of Lower Beer, we stumbled upon a perfect campsite. Tucked amongst the pines on an open knoll and flanked by exposed rock, the western facing site would guarantee a perfect view of the setting sun. Setting up camp, we quickly discovered that we were not the first to use the site. Evidence of previous campers stemmed from an overgrown fire pit and a few scattered bottles, most notably a Pepsi bottle dating back to 1962! Evidently it had been some time since the site was last occupied.
As the journey to Lower Beer had been easier than anticipated, we found ourselves with ample time to explore the lake and hike a series of side trails stemming from an old hunt camp in the far western inlet. After a few hours of travel, we had worked up quite the appetite! Returning to our site, we set about preparing a scrumptious dinner of flame grilled chicken and roasted vegetables. Concluding our meal with a well deserved glass of red wine, we relaxed by the fire. As the evening slowly wound down, our campsite was bathed in the golden glow of a spectacular sunset. It was the perfect way to close out our trip. The following day would see embark on a relaxing return journey. A bittersweet paddle as we departed from the wondrous landscape of the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands.
Evening glow on Lower Beer Lake
The trip up Lutterworth and Beer Creeks had been a resounding success. The rugged north-eastern reaches of the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands are a true splendor. With a little effort and hefty sense of adventure, you too could experience this magical region!