Day 31

Hatchet Lake - Crooked Lake, Fond Du Lac River

Distance 20km [638 km ]
Portages 3
Rapids 4
Lining 1

It is days like today that you have to ask the question, are we having fun? and question our sanity in doing these trips. Why, fun? experience? Do we need to prove something?

Up by 6.30 to a cold, smoky and overcast morning. We were on the water by 7.45am. Crossed Hatchet Lake, where again we experienced surprisingly high waves for the wind velocity, it was a hard paddle. We soon reached the river proper and our first rapid. This was in two parts, the first about 300 metres long [class 2] followed by a 200 metres, with some big waves [class 2+] ending in a boulder garden. We ran this successfully and progressed through the gloom to the rapids at the outlet of Corson Lake. This proved to have a short portage past the first class 3+ rapid allowing us to run the second half, a class 2. The day was going well and after John scouted it we soon ran the next rapid which was long, about 900metres, with several shallow sections and lots of boulders [Class 1 and fast water] . This left only the last multiple rapid before we reached Crooked Lake and a late lunch. However, this was not to be.

I realized I no longer had my small blue bag with my camera, sun glasses etc. Talk about earning points for the wooden spoon I was getting so far ahead the ‚Äúprize’ was mine. There was no choice but for John to line back up the 900 metres we had just run whilst I stumbled after him, boulder hopping. We then had to paddle the kilometre or so back to the first rapid where I held the canoe while John boulder hopped back to the small portage which was the last place I remembered seeing the bag. Sure enough there was the bag, it had fallen down into the roots of a tree and was hard to see which was why we had missed it in our final check of the portage end. It is times like this that I feel I shouldn’t be on these trips, mistakes like this cost us in time and more importantly energy. When you add this to my inadequacy as a bow man in rapids, partly because of my poor near sight but also because I do not react fast enough, [though this has improved on this trip] I have to question my sanity.

Upper section of the rapids out of Corson Lake, there was a Class 3 ledge which we portaged (and much later realised Kate's camera bag had been left behind)

Upper section of the rapids out of Corson Lake, there was a Class 3 ledge which we portaged (and much later realised Kate’s camera bag had been left behind)

Having got the bag it was back down river and through the 900 metres, taking a different route this time and on to our last set of rapids for the day. This set would take us into Crooked Lake and consisted of four sets, class 2+, class 2 and Class 2+/3 and the final one with a class 3+/4 ledge. Though only 2+ we considered the first rapid beyond our skills and as the area had relatively open bush we set out to cut a portage about 300-400 meters long. We soon found old flagging and cut bushes that indicated someone else had been through here, probably last year. It took us several hours, however as we were under the impression we would bypass the remaindering rapids so were happy to put in the effort. Imagine our disappointment when after working really hard and cutting a more than reasonable portage we got into the canoe to discover there were two more ahead. The first of these was probably runable but that would have put us at the top of a class 3 or 4, definitely out of our league. We searched for the portage that was supposed to be there and did find signs of a dilapidated portage and set out to clean it up. Again we found flagging indicating someone had passed through the same route last year.

After the great start to the day we now had spent an hour and a half going back to get the bag and at least three hours cutting portages, always accompanied by vicious black flies, we were both covered in bites despite insect repellent. We didn’t stop for lunch just gulped down our soup and by the time we were back in the canoe following the final portage it was almost 7pm. We paddled the final 10km to a site described in our notes, it turned out to be very disappointing with a poor tent site hard by the buggy muskeg, unprotected from the wind with no room for the canoe. However, we did have a lovely moment paddling across Crooked Lake when we met a family of river otters. Mum and 2 or 3 kits swam towards us and kept popping their heads up out of the water to get a better look at us, they are so curious and cute.

It was a long, long day, we had been on the water for 12.5 hours by the time we camped. I was too tired to cook and as it was now after 10pm it was the old standbys of pilot biscuits and hot chocolate in the tent. We were settling down to sleep about 11pm when I heard a bear heavy breathing outside. Great finish to an awful day with John stumbling about in the dark and light rain in his underpants chasing a black bear. We dug out the bear bangers for the first time, and were impressed by their effect as apparently was the bear as we heard it crashing off through the bushes in the distance and saw no more of the poor skinny creature. Once again we settled into our sleeping bags when both my legs developed a sharp throbbing pain. It was cramp like but without the knotting muscles or spasms. I couldn’t stand or even straighten them, scary until it finally passed. After such a day we settled to a very poor nights sleep. We both were half listening in case the bear returned and I was scared every time I moved my legs that they would spasm again.

Colourful lichens on the late afternoon portage around the P7 rapids, even when things are not going well, there is beauty all around you in this country

Colourful lichens on the late afternoon portage around the P7 rapids, even when things are not going well, there is beauty all around you in this country