Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Adventure into the Canadian Wilderness Part II


 Devil of a Portage

 


Ontario’s Steel River route makes a giant loop clockwise from Santoy Lake, north of Lake Superior, and back to the starting point. If all went well (including lots of fishing) the trip should take about ten days. We had been told by the "locals" that none of the portages were marked. In the days before GPS systems this would take some skill or a lot of luck. The next morning we began by heading north going up the west side of Santoy Lake. The Devils Portage was a long climb up a very steep bluff to Diablo Lake. This climb of what ultimately would be around five hundred feet gain in elevation and over a mile would make the circle route possible. From Diablo Lake we  would head due north, along a long series of lakes and portages, through some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Ontario. Then we would turn south into the Steel River drainage, facing rapids and cataracts, to return to our starting point.
Santoy Lake and Diablo Portage
 
We had difficulty even locating the portage. This route was known by the locals but was not, at that time, heavily used to say the least. There were no trail markers like we were used to in the Minnesota Boundary Waters. The day was warming up rapidly and it soon became obvious to us that carrying a heavy canoe, climbing up a mountainside  around huge boulders, over crevices, slippery moss covered rocks and numerous other obstacles, was going to be extremely difficult.

It was some years before I was able to purchase my 45 lb. Mad River Kevlar canoe, so it was the old battered Alumacraft, weighing over 90 lbs. that made this trip. Then stupidly we didn’t have any water with us as we intended to stock up when we reached Diablo Lake. This and several other errors, like having a heavy axe strapped inside the canoe, began to add quickly to our misery. It was all simply hubris on our part. We were not prepared to challenge a portage that turned into a mountain climb. The portage from hell was basically divided into three parts. The first section was the worst. We must have gained 300 feet in elevation in only several blocks distance. The gradient at that point might have been forty  degrees. Although I have only seven years on my brother Greg his physical conditioning saved the day. At the steepest points, I pulled the bow and he pushed from below, holding the canoe over his head. When we had to retrace our steps to get our gear, he always took the heaviest loads. The second section was easier but dangerous in that moss and ferns covered the so called trail making each step an ankle twisting nightmare. The last section saw us having to negotiate over and around huge boulders, some the size of small cars. Fallen trees and root tangles didn't help either. Four hours later, totally exhausted, we collapsed, having finally reached the Diablo Lake.
Our first priority, after catching our breath, was to rehydrate ourselves. We paddled out into deep water, filled a large kettle, then transferred the water to our bottles and applied the proper awful tasting pills. This was to make sure giardia (beaver fever) did not become a problem. We were very grateful for the water, if not the taste. The rest of the trip we boiled all our water to be safe.
Our first campsite on Diablo Lake with me frying up a trout dinner......
It  must be said Diablo Lake itself was absolutely gorgeous. The locals had informed us that it harbored some very nice "specs" (brook trout) and with that in mind we decided to make camp on the first island we came upon. Islands were always preferred because any breeze from any direction would help reduce mosquito attacks. It turned out to be perfect. A swim in the cold water was all it took to make things seem a lot better. Was supper waiting there in the crystal clear water as well? It was. There is nothing quite like sitting by your tent, on a log , cooking supper, a trout dinner actually,  in front of a small crackling campfire, in the lengthening  darkness of the wilderness. A million stars overhead. We heard the haunting cry of a loon in the distance. Life was good.  
 
To be continued……

31 comments:

  1. Reminds me of wonderful canoe trips in the north, and some challenging portages! Though never one quite that bad...

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  2. Blogger is acting up and didn't post my comment. I just wanted to say thanks for the great description of what sounds like the high and low points of a memorable trip! :-)

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  3. Ahh I agree about camping with a good trout dinner and a cracking fire ~ something so serene and blissful about it all . We do still primitive camp in the mountains but I cheat with a blow up bed now whenever possible . ha

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  4. made me think of some fun trips.Water can be worth its weight in gold.

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  5. Oh makes me want to go camping, love your site. Enjoy Canada, Francine.

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  6. Nice pictures, how did you transfer them to digital, scan?

    Great 'back in the day' post, TB.

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  7. so far, so good! my dogs have gotten giardia. gross!

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  8. Devil's Portage, Lake Diablo...what could go wrong?

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  9. Sounds like Devil's Portage is aptly named! Yikes! My sister contracted giardia one summer...her 4 boys called it "Beaver Poop disease." Glad you had the awful tasting pills.

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  10. What an awesome area of Canada... I've read about the Diablo area ---and Devils Portage... Looks quite scary..

    I am enjoying your Canadian Wilderness adventures... Maybe someday, we'll get to that area.. (There are so many wonderful areas to visit!)

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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  11. Good grief, that portage would have been tough with just a back pack, not to mention a canoe and gear.
    The reward of the beautiful lake seems marvelous and I love the camping picture. But--don't you have to make that same portage again going back? Yikes.
    Canada is on my bucket list.

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  12. Reminds me of some of our early trips where we weren't totally prepared for what we were getting into. Fortunately, our preparations have gotten much better!
    The lake looks beautiful. Hope it seemed worth it in the end.

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  13. Wow, what a time.
    But all worth it. :-)
    Loons, oh I do love Loons. :-)Sadly I have not heard one in many years.

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  14. Oh my gosh - I read every word! It sounds and looks like it was well worth the struggles you went through to get to that "devil" of a lake! LOL

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  15. I like that photo of you cooking up a trout. Meals always taste better when you are camping.

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  16. Mrs. T was wise to take out the insurance policy.

    I remember the old camping days with the heavy canoes and the horrid canvas tents with all those heavy poles to assemble.

    Looking forward to hearing more.

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  17. Mmm....fish over a campfire. Yum yum! Only followed by going to your 5 star hotel room. Not partial to the sleeping in the tent thing. Soft city chick. ;) LOL!
    xo Catherine

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  18. I loved this account of your adventure and the magic at the end... stars, camp fire, trout dinner... you deserved all that after struggling with the canoe etc. Looking forward to the next instalment.

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  19. I'll bet that was a great spot, but oh the portaging.

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  20. Devil's Portage...what a great name shoulda been a clue! Good thing you were younger. Love that last photo, it deserves to be that beautiful after the portage:)

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  21. WOW I am impressed. Beautiful photos and I cannot believe you did that. I am so happy your wife said "go for it tiger." and you did:) Oh there is nothing like the Canadian wilderness makes me happy to be a Canadian but I am quite content reading about people like you:) B

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  22. A portage with a mountain climb? I'm impressed! My son keeps threatening to hike up Mt. Katahdin in Maine with a canoe. I prefer flat easy portages myself.

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  23. Ah, those days are over for me... but thanks for sharing yours!
    No mosquitoes? Really?

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  24. Your photo by the campfire shows the pristineness of the lake and surroundings. I wonder if it remains that way today? Have you been back? this is a wonderful story of your trip into this gorgeous natural area. -- barbara

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  25. I'm exhausted just reading of your venture ... but it sure makes for fascinating reading.

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  26. I seriously doubt I could have made that portage as a simple hike, let alone while lugging a canoe or other equipment. I'm impressed and am glad you had a great campsite as a reward.

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  27. What a beautiful spot! Thanks for sharing this story....I've never been a camper except in my imagination.

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  28. The photos (not to mention, the story-telling) are wonderful, they've survived in quite good, colorful condition all these years. Aren't you glad you have them? The view up the portage is horrifyingly lovely.

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  29. The photos (not to mention, the story-telling) are wonderful, they've survived in quite good, colorful condition all these years. Aren't you glad you have them? The view up the portage is horrifyingly lovely.

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  30. Oh and I've never heard giardia called beaver fever, but I have had it. I got it on a visit to China in the early 1980s, what an unpleasant experience, though it responded to treatment immediately when I got back to the US and finally had a proper diagnosis.

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  31. Hey there Sir. I am heading out with a crew to run the Steel River Loop in a week. Any help locating Rainbow Falls would be appreciated. I cannot find it on any of our maps. I really enjoy your blog, as a recent transplant to LaCrosse from Michigan it is giving me greta tips on where to fish and hike.

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