At the Mink Lake entry point, I find I have walked down a narrow trail in the cliff that looms over the side of the lake. It's beautiful. I rest for a few minutes and head back for my gear. The pack, life jacket, paddles and other gear seem much lighter this time. Part way through I stop to chat with a chipmunk who seems playful. He shows off several of his den-holes and chatters incessantly about the clods who step on them every day. Several deer show up to see what all the talk is about. I start trying to maneuver to get a picture of them, but they aren't interested. As I'm moving deeper into the woods after the deer, I step over a large dead tree that has been ripped to shreds. It looks just like something a bear would do while looking for a snack. In fact, it looks like something a bear just recently shredded while looking for a snack. Well! Time to finish the portage! I hurry off to my gear and hop in the canoe. By now I'm VERY glad of the Halazone water purification tablets that my big brother Mike made me take. I've used the last of my boiled water and don't really want to stop to boil some more. The Halazone makes the water taste only slightly worse than Ambrosia at this point.
There are lots of clouds rolling over head, but the sun is still shining most of the time. Mink Lake is pretty much sheltered from the wind too, so the waves aren't very large. By evening I have spotted an empty campsite (the very first campsite in the lake, in fact) and pull in. Although the site is only about 100' from the CN tracks, it is upon a hill and has a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding hills. Besides, judging by the traffic today, finding another campsite is unlikely. It takes very little time to set up camp and fix a quick dinner of Oatmeal and PBJs with juice. While I'm eating, a very large rabbit (or perhaps a hare) hops up a few inches from my boot and stops to ask what I'm eating. He seems relieved at the vegetarian content of my supper and decides to hang around for a bit. I even get him to pose for a picture. Which is, of course, the one picture on the entire roll that didn't develop properly. He hangs around camp all evening and is absolutely NO help in doing the dishes. No resentful squaw (as my mother used to refer to herself on our many camping trips) to do them either. Drat. I wash my dishes myself and lie down and fall instantly asleep.
I awake at about 11:00 AM as the tent has become stiflingly hot. I'm rather surprised to find I'm nowhere near as stiff as I thought I would be. Breakfast cooks up rather quickly and the sun is shining. It looks like its going to be a much better day than yesterday. Bugs Bunny seems to be sleeping late today as well. I start breaking camp and loading it into the canoe. The next portage is a long way down Mink Lake.
As I'm finishing my packing, two canoeists from the Toronto area paddle by looking for a campsite to lunch at. I wave them over and we talk for a bit before I head out. The wind is picking up, but it isn't bad. The sun is shining between some heavy clouds, but the sky is still mostly sunny. By early afternoon I have some fourteen canoes in sight on the water containing about thirty five people, and every campsite I have passed has been occupied. It looks like a good thing I stopped where I did. Later I learn that the two men from the Toronto area had to camp in a portage since there were no open spaces. Hmmmmm. I came up here to get away from it all and it all must have come up here to get away from ME! My two friends pass me a short way from the portage, but I catch them there. Believe it or not, there is a bona fide traffic jam in the portage from Mink Lake to Cauchon Lake. One pair just leaving, another three people just starting, the two guys ahead of me, and then me. Fortunately most of the fourteen canoes I had seen took the other portage at this end of the lake, and several had stopped for lunch. It turns out that my friends have been canoeing in Algonquin for almost fifteen years and have traveled most of the lakes in the western 2/3 of the park. They give me LOTS of useful tips, including exactly how to tie my paddles to the canoe to make a yoke. This portage goes very easily. In fact, I've got all my gear assembled at the far portage just as those two are paddling off. The yoke makes all the difference in the world. Of course, the fact that this portage is only 400 meters long helps too. Just as I am starting off in the canoe, a group of four more canoes with 9 people and three dogs shows up. Egads! I hurry off.
Cauchon Lake is beautiful. Very rough terrain on each side with heavy storm clouds tearing up the sky. Everything looks very dark, but more often than not there is a patch of sunshine surrounding my canoe. I chase some ducks for a bit, trying to get a good picture, but they aren't too interested and my attempts to match velocities doesn't work. The little buggers keep changing direction. I finally get a picture and paddle off with much derisive quacking behind me. As the evening wears on, I make it into Little Cauchon Lake, but the wind is beginning to toss the bow around a lot. I end up getting right down in the bottom of the canoe to keep stable. I am looking for a campsite but every single site is filled. No sign of any canoes though, which makes things seem a lot wilder than earlier today! However, I keep passing these small cottages on one side of the lake or the other. At one point, I am cutting through a small hidden bay to avoid the wind and surprise a very pretty young lass topless sunbathing. My my! All SORTS of wildlife out here in the bush. I find out later that my two Canadian friends went past and she hadn't been wearing anything...While looking at the map later, I realized that bay probably wasn't all that heavily traveled. The wind made it a longer, but easier paddle to hug the shore. Most people would be more interested in the shorter distance, or would have missed the narrow path around the island blocking the entrance to that bay.
I finally pass one open campsite 1/4 mile or so from the portage to Laurel Lake and decide to keep on, through the night if necessary. No reason not to. The sky is clearing and there's a beautiful sunset. Looking at the map, I decide to try and make it to a small island in Laurel Lake for the evening. The next portage is close and is only a few hundred meters long, so it shouldn't be too hard. Besides, all the remaining campsites on Little Cauchon look a bit exposed.
As I pass the last two campsites, I spot my two friends from Toronto. They're impressed that I made it this far by myself today and invite me to camp with them in the adjacent site. VERY tempting offer, but I'm feeling VERY good and decide to go for the gold. The portage is very easy, especially with the tricks those two taught me and the experience I gained on the first two portages. I put everything into the canoe and do a little hiking to see the dam I just portaged around. BEAUTIFUL. The river connecting Little Cauchon to Laurel is dammed in four spots in a semi-circle. The first creates a small pond where the plants are exploding in an ecstasy of life. Something of a pollination orgy if you will. I stop and take a picture of this cascade and the last one that falls into Laurel Lake. I've rarely seen anything this beautiful. If God exists, he must hang out here a lot. Places like this are a big part of the reason I have wanted to return to Algonquin for so long.
Unfortunately, as I paddle into Laurel Lake, the first spot is occupied. If that site is filled, an ideal site such as that island is bound to be. Damn. Amazingly enough though, it IS open. As the sun is setting rapidly, I put in and make camp. I begin to realize that this isn't quite as ideal a spot as I thought it would be. The site itself is beautiful; about 10-20 meters high, covered in pine trees and with a nice beach. However, the mosquitos apparently use this as a staging area for assaults on the rest of the park. Also, there is only about 3 centimeters of dirt on top of hard root or rock, so sinking the tent pegs is a bit tricky. It shouldn't be a problem unless there is a storm, and the sky is promising a beautifully clear night. With luck, I'll be able to stargaze tonight!
After dinner, something of a challenge involving my wandering the island to escape the clouds of mosquitoes, I take a bath and enjoy the ice-water for a bit. Some sort of fish samples one of my toes so, realizing that other parts of me are rather more vulnerable than my toes, I get out of the water and dry out. There are some stars just starting to pop out. I lie down to nap for a bit, planning on waking up in an hour or so to stargaze. Well, I never quite get the chance...About forty five minutes later lightning starts lighting up the tent and thunder is rumbling ominously in the distance. Half an hour after that it starts to pour. Forty minutes after that, the wind picks up.
Soon I'm involved in a storm that to me, makes the worst Hurricane I've ever even heard about seem rather wimpy. The tarp over the tent has ripped free of its pegs and is flapping wetly on the sides of the tent. One tent loop has ripped loose and the entire tent is beginning to sag towards the center. It's still keeping most of the water out though. About 1:00 AM the ground cloth soaks through and I find myself in the middle of a small stream. At about the same time the last of the waterproofing in the tarp and the tent roof gives up and it begins raining inside the tent. I decide to try and keep my clothes and some crucial gear dry. I load everything important (maps, lighter, compass,emergency kit, 1st aid kit, flute) into the backpack and leap out into the storm. I left my flashlight back at the car, but I really don't need it. The lightning is hitting just the other side of the lake and provides a very nice, if surrealistic sort of light. I rip my heavy poncho off the food pack (everything is in ziplock bags anyway) and lean my pack against a tree, trapping as much of the poncho as I can under the weight of the pack. With the wind blowing as it is it's not easy, especially as the rain is COLD on my very bare skin. I wish I had a video tape to send into America's Weirdest Home Videos. Crawling back into my sagging soggy tent, I move my boots from underneath a small waterfall towards a dryer spot in the middle of the tent.
I decide to try and make something of a dry spot and grab my mess kit. I set up various pots and pans under some of the waterfalls and use one to bail out the several inch deep water at one end of the tent. I had imagined having to bail out the canoe, but never my tent. The wind by now is trying to blow me, the tent, and all of the trees off the island. I'm glad I set up in the lee of some small shrubs. Finally giving up on trying to control the flood (Noah would have been impressed) I settle down into my waterbed and try to sleep. It is a very long and very cold night. When I wake up for the last time at 6:00AM, I have a very cramped back and the shivers. The wind is still blowing fairly hard and there are intermittent thunder rumbles adding spice to the rain. I look around what is left of my camp and come to a final decision. I have to head home. The poncho blew part way off my pack (that wind was stronger than I thought. My pack weighed about 60 pounds and it still blew the poncho out from under it) but most of my clothes were still dry. So were my boots. Dressed in dry clothes and dry boots I feel a lot better, but there is no way I can continue this trip. My tent is a soggy ruin -some of the tent pegs bent under that wind and one peg loop ripped free of the tent - my sleeping bag is carrying an extra twenty pounds of water, my stove is submerged, and everything is covered with wind-blown pine needles and dirt. At least there aren't any mosquitos left. I give up on the idea of breakfast and load everything into the canoe. The sky is threatening, but I can't really stay here. I have two choices: try and return to the Kiosk, which would involve heading into the storm, four of five portages totalling almost two kilometers and almost 20 miles of lake - a trip which took me two days in nominally GOOD weather; Or try and beat the storm to the Bent Store only 5 miles and one 120 meter portage away. I head for the portage to Aura Lee Lake and Brent Store.
It rains on me several more times before I get to the portage. The sun isn't shining but the temperature is beginning to rise; possibly helped along by the long johns and heavy shirt I'm wearing and the exercise of paddling. At least the wind has calmed some. By the time I arrive at the portage it's about 9:00 AM. It's nice to see the bugs are awake here. I think all the mosquitoes on that island came to visit their cousins the deer flies here in this portage. I am actually bleeding from several spots in only a few minutes. By now though, I am getting very quick at portages. This one goes very smoothly, with the only major difficulty being my inability to swat flies while I am carrying the canoe. At one point my left hand is covered with mosquitoes so thickly I can barely see skin. I risk dropping the canoe to smash them. It feels wonderful to get in the water and sail away from that particular spot. What in all the Gods' names do these things feed on when I'M not around? They'd drain a chipmunk dry in seconds.