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
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......
To be continued……