Friday, September 30, 2016

Drowning Our Sorrow

I had mentioned last week that I had a good excuse for not posting the Ontario Women's Tri race report until a full 13 days after the event. Well, here it is:

The day after the event was spent packing and worrying. Packing for a trip, and worrying about one of our little fuzzmonsters. At just over 14 years old, one of our two cats - a silly, fluffy little thing named Tough - had gone into a sharp decline since Friday. While she seemed to rally a bit on Sunday evening, it was really just a momentary blip. The poor little girl was hurting, and so we took her for her last ride on Monday morning.

Too tiny a kitty to bear so heavy a burden.
We'll always love you, Snert.

With deep sorrow and more than a few tears, we loaded the last of our gear and then set off east for Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park to immerse ourselves in wilderness - it truly is the best cure for a broken heart. Never having been to this particular park before, we looked forward to discovering what it had to offer by paddling the Serpentine Lake loop from the Anstruther Lake access.

Which only served to whet our appetite.

With 9 backcountry access points in wide-spread locations, there is no way to set up a park gate or office - you have to print your backcountry camping permits online before you leave, which I'd dutifully done, as well as procuring maps. The only thing I wasn't sure about was the way from Anderson Lake down to Copper Lake, where it appeared marshy on the map.

We planned to do the outer loop.

Having called the Bancroft District Office on the way to the park, we discovered that the Anderson route was, in fact, impassable - something I'd feared would be the case, given the horrible drought Ontario has experienced this summer. Fortunately, though, there were no other causes for concern - this also substituted a 200m portage for a 440m one, which is never a bad thing.

We loaded our boat and set off up Anstruther Lake, portaging onto Rathbun Lake to spend our first night at site #202. The beauty of the park was breathtaking, and the loonsong that surrounded us that evening was balm to our damaged souls.

Sunset and solitude

The simplicity of our lives for the next few days was just what we needed: make food, pack up camp, paddle, portage, set up camp, make food, make fire, sleep and repeat. There was mist on the water almost every morning, and a fat, bright moon above almost every night. We had clouds and a bit of rain the second night, but the sun would re-emerge to give us bluebird skies for paddling every day.

Morning mist

Shelter, food and fire

Blue skies and green marsh grasses

Tanker paddling with a load of firewood

Serenity on Serpentine Lake

Waxing moon reflected on the water

We spent 4 full nights without ever seeing a light other than our own fire and the occasional passing aircraft. We saw a coyote, had a moose nearly wander into our campsite, watched a young raccoon try to splash and wallow its way through a bit of marsh, had the plastic toggle stolen from our tent bag by an over-enthusiastic chipmunk attempting to store acorns for the winter, and watched the occasional beaver swim past our campsites.

Beaver ripples in the water

We ate lunch below this waterfall, on one of our last portages

Our longest portage - 1,415m or about 0.88mi

A fire and our beloved canoe on a chilly morning on Copper Lake

Blue hour stillness and silence

Tanker successfully tried portaging the canoe for the first time, and even caught a few fish along the way (though he released them all). The frogs were totally in charge of the park, though - you couldn't go anywhere without encountering them. We greatly enjoyed our visit to their home, though - the Serpentine loop made for a wonderfully relaxing trip, with short days of paddling and portages that were well-marked and easily navigable even by clumsy old me with both our food barrel on my back and our canoe on my head.

Golden hour froggy

Canoehead Tanker!

His first Ontario catch!

I can't think of a better way to spend the typical Monday to Friday workweek.

Happy to share this beauty with my best friend.

After 5 days of sun, wind and water, we emerged from Kawartha Highlands with lighter spirits and a burning desire to explore more of the routes through the park. For now, though, it was time to indulge in some of the creature comforts we'd left behind while we moved our whole lives from place to place in a 16 foot boat, and to check out another new-to-us park: Silent Lake. We drove the 25mins up Hwy 28 to its gates, checked in, and were immediately welcomed by one of its residents.

O hai

Having watched the forecast carefully in the weeks and days leading up to our visit, we were prepared for a deluge of rain on Saturday. We set up our camp with that in mind, pitching two tarps to keep a dry living area that would keep things from being miserable in camp.

We even had room under the near side to relax in our big, comfy camp chairs.

With everything all snugged down, we did a quick hike on the Lakeside Trail from the canoe launch to the scenic lookout over Silent Lake itself and caught the sun's dying rays before it sank below the treeline on the opposite side.

Worth hiking in flip flops.

Such a pretty lake.

We each had a shower to get rid of the funk of days of sweaty paddling and portaging, then lit the fire and cooked dinner and breakfast the next morning on it.

I love my cast iron Dutch oven.

We'd just finished cooking our morning meal when the rain started, around 10am. After doing the dishes and cleaning up our campsite, we donned our rain jackets and went out to explore the Lakehead Loop Trail and Bonnie's Pond Trail.

Who lets rain get in the way of a nice hike?
Silent Creek on the Lakehead Loop

A stream crossing on Bonnie's Pond Trail

Mist in the trees at one end of Bonnie's Pond

By the time we returned, the rain had picked up a fair bit, coming down in a torrent as the sun began to fall from the sky. We hung out at the picnic table under one of our tarps, occasionally trotting out to throw more wood on the fire - we kept it burning from Friday evening right through Sunday morning!

The corners of the tarps were running like faucets

You've just got to keep your sense of humour!

Finally, after 12 hours and around 40mm / 1.5" of rain, the torrent abated around 10pm and we were able to sit by our fire and make s'mores. Our siliconized nylon tarp and tent fly had wet through a bit, permitting some drips here and there, but we were snug and safe in our tent all night. The sun even came out the next morning to help dry things out, catching the smoke from everyone's campfires drifting through the woods.

Surreal morning view.
We departed Silent Lake around 2pm Sunday afternoon with designs to come back - there's a fun-looking mountain bike trail, and some of the hiking trails are designated for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter that we'd love to experience. For a small park, this is one that is jam-packed with interesting features, as well as being one of the best maintained parks we've ever visited.

I won't lie - it was hard coming home without our little Tough kitten to greet us, but at least we carried the memories of a wonderful week of exploration and the beauty of the Kawartha Lakes region to ease our pain.

We'll be back - you can count on it.

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