Solo Tour - Happy Isle to Proulx Lake

May 24-31, 2009 ... by Fred Tranquilli

After taking the Water Taxi to the Happy Isle portage I arrived at the end of the portage around mid-morning. The end of the portage revealed a beautiful lake under a perfect blue sky. After loading my food pack, canoe pack, double paddle, single paddle into the Swift Shearwater I was off on my first solo.

I covered Happy Isle Lake and completed the short portage into Merchant Lake before selecting the site below which is the second one on the right as you leave the portage.

It was a lovely, open site and I hung my hammock between two trees right on the edge of the shore line. I spent a wonderful afternoon enjoying the warm sunshine and having a nice nap in the hammock. It was a glorious day and I felt that I had been waiting for it since winter effectively started with the first snowfall on Halloween '08.

The sunset did not disappoint.

I left the next morning and headed for Big Trout Lake. The portage into Big Trout was not a big deal but Big Trout is a large lake and I was anxious to see the condition of the lake and whether it would be too windy to venture across.

After completing the portage into the small river that flows into Big Trout I was pleased to see that the lake was generally calm and any wind that seemed to occasionally arrive was at my backů mostly!

Big Trout is a gorgeous lake. One could easily spend a week here and not be near finished exploring.

I chose one of the island sites which was just a short distance from the next portage into Longer Lake. It was a lovely site with excellent views out of the front and back. It was wide open which allowed the breeze to keep the flies at bay. There were lots of black flies and mosquitoes but they did not seem to be quite as aggressive as they would become later in the season. Alas, my fire pit had no grill!

Little did I know this would be my last full good weather day for the rest of the trip. The view out of my tent on Wednesday morning was more like what the rest of the trip would bring.

I took advantage of the break in the weather and packed up, heading for Lake La Muir. It would rain the entire way there though I was rewarded by this sighting of a young bull on the Little Madawaska River.

I arrived at Lake La Muir after paddling through rain the entire day. It was not long after setting up some shelter and having a seat that I notice my rain pants had suffered a catastrophic failure splitting from calf-to-calf right up through the crotch. 'Hope there is no more rain' I thought to my self!

It continued to rain through the evening with the intensity picking up occasionally. Fortunately, I had laid out the foot print inside my tent and the water that got in collected under the foot print leaving me and my gear nice and dry. This was my first trip with the MEC Cygnet -10 and I was very pleased. I certainly appreciated a dry, warm sleeping bag on this trip and this one worked well.

My plan was to stay on La Muir until Friday then head into Hogan, portaging out to Proulx to catch the water taxi at 130pm Sunday. Given the windy paddling conditions and the muddy, sloppy portages, I decided I needed to modify my trip plan. I decided Hogan to Proulx would be too much on Sunday a.m. and instead headed to Big Crow on Friday where I would stay until Sunday and do a bit of day tripping, weather permitting.

I arrived at Big Crow late in the day after the 3750m widow maker out of Hogan. I don't think I will do that portage again. While the portage is covered in moose tracks and droppings, it was extremely muddy. The steep climb out of Hogan certainly caught my attention and my glutes felt like I had just taken a good spanking!

That evening it rained! The morning was a little more to my liking as it was nearly clear and the sun was out. I decided to take a walk over to the Big Crow Cabin as I was at the site immediately adjacent to it and would get water at the spring and climb up to the lookout.

I noticed this giant tree growing out of a rock right near the cabin and thought it won't take too many more winter storms before this tree comes down right on the cabin!

The cabin seemed to survive the winter fine but was unoccupied. The trail immediately ahead in the distance leads to the spring. The trail to the lookout runs along the other side of the cabin.

The views from the lookout never disappoint. It was lovely and warm and I spent about an hour getting the damp out of my bones sitting in the sun. I was glad to be able to spend my final afternoon at the lookout in the warm sun.

Even the toads were looking for a source of warmth.

On the way out I was bid adieu by a cow and calf on the Crow River as I approached Proulx Lake.

I had a radio with me as I wanted to be able to hear the weather now and again. The previous evening I had heard the CBC from Sudbury forecasting a cold front coming through with snow and temperatures of -3C. I wondered whether those conditions would find themselves to the Park?!

This picture shows the very well defined front coming down the Crow River Valley. You can see the intensity of the squall as the system moves left to right in the photo. This was just after 0800 and shortly afterward visibility became a serious issue. It would have been easy to become disoriented as the intense snow was moving quickly downward and sideways.. the shoreline was moving as I travelled and the texture of the water was also moving. Can you spell VERTIGO?

I carefully crossed Proulx Lake along the right shore, which I was familiar with. The intensity of the storm was such that without following the shore it would have been very easy to become disoriented as I could not see the other side of the lake. I finally reached the area of the portage and it took me a few minutes to find it due to the squall, despite the fact that I had previously used this portage a few times. I had no rain pants and my bottom half was becoming numb. I had kept my dry clothes at the top of my pack knowing I would want to change into them if I got caught in the weather during the final paddle so I changed into dry clothes at the takeout, but it was still very cold and damp.

I completed the final leg into Opeongo and planned to set up my tent at the OP end because I was so cold and wet. I had full intention of getting some shelter and slipping into my sleeping bag as I had two hours to wait.

The storm ended almost as quickly as it started. The sun came out (and all the snow in the conifers started melting, creating rain like conditions) so I stood in the sun letting it warm me up. I did not set up my tent.

Gladly the water taxi arrived early, though the ride back to the outfitter was pretty intense. Opeongo was cold, black and angry, covered in swells and white caps. I couldn't wait to get into a hot shower.

Sadly, due to the conditions, I think I made about three casts into the water despite travelling through some great fishing areas. A lovely trip overall though paddling through a snow squall is not something I will ever look forward to.