Friday, June 9, 2017

Portage - 2002

     Our two-thirty bedtime led us to sleep in till mid-morning. Sometimes weather calls for a change of plans, sometimes Canucks with beer and fried fish. Also, we'd been on the go since I arose on Friday at four a.m. for a half-day's work. A sprinting three hours on my job as a FedEx courier, nine hundred miles of driving, forty miles of paddle and portage, and a late night was cause enough for us to dog it for a day. Truth is, we were so tired the screaming ravens were no more than a petty annoyance. Besides, the wind was up, we were already surrounded by good fishing, had good reading at hand, and each other's company. Allan and I slowed down and did what we do best, nothing of consequence. Yes, Monday was a joy. Behind our relaxed day stood our upcoming portage. It looked to be a misery and though I knew we'd do it (after all though our original plan had called for a four mile carry) a day's rest proved a blessing.
     As it turned out the fishing was slow but didn't matter. Most of our day was spent lazing in camp, reading aloud, eating, and watching a small storm cloud dumping buckets for hours on end about where we figured Claw Lake to be. The cloud never moved, just hung there like it'd been anchored and rained and rained. Odd thing was, we sat in sunshine. Made me wonder what tomorrow would be like.
     Tuesday rose beneath another bluebird sky. Started cool and quickly warmed. Call it another near perfect June day in the north land. Our spirits were up, camp came down easily, we sat and stuffed down calories, refilled the canteens, and were off. Once again we were excited by the challenge. It'd be a bear for sure but come evening we'd be camped on Claw Lake. We loaded and were off.
     Don't know why they caught my eye, dumb luck maybe, but as we neared the growing beaver dam I spied a pair of empty, aluminum fishing boats pulled up on the shore to our left. My mind immediately bee-lined to, "they weren't there Sunday night and there's no reason for them to be there now with not a soul in sight unless...." We squeezed between and tied up to check it out. A minute's walk told us all we needed to know. It sure looked to be a portage, a high, wide, and handsome one. Felt almost a disappointment we'd have it so easy. We were seeking misery damn it and wanted to earn our reward by the sweat of our brows. We trotted back for the gear.
     Call it a hundred rods when Eden ended and we stood nose to nose with the challenge. There the eight-foot wide trail gave way to a muddy foot path winding its way through a bog before finally angling uphill in the distance and disappearing into a stand of brush. We set down the first load and went back for more. It looked to be enough of the misery to make us happy but sure as hell beat the crawl-through thicket and cliff behind the beaver dam. A nice balance. Our questions answered, now it was a simple matter of work.
     And in a way it was, pick it up, move it, and go back for more. They only thing of consequence was the next foot step. This wasn't Voyageur level portaging. Our loads weren't but a third the size of theirs, also more poorly organized. But they would have recognized what we were doing (and probably made fun of us as a couple of coddled pork-eaters).The bog provided a challenge calling for a lot of hummock-dancing, rivulet-hopping, and brush-busting. Because of the water and dead fall the path went every which way but straight ahead. The last fifteen or twenty rods climbed and wound through a thicket and finally opened on Centre Lake.
     The canoe proved to be the problem. Because of the trees, dead-fall, and tight, jack-strawed corners, the carry yoke was nothing more than unnecessary weight. Carrying the boat was a two man job. Several times a corner called for lifting it as high as possible then sliding the canoe over a jumble of trunk and limbs. Instead of a triple portage, this one and the next demanded five trips. Didn't take long before we'd sweat through our clothes. Odd thing was we didn't complain, more often than not a hard spot called for nothing more than a little cussing immediately followed by the joy that one more blankety-blank was behind us. Unloaded return trips were time for conversation and laughter about our self-caused misery. By the time we sat for a break at Centre Lake nearly two hours had passed.
     The short paddle was a disappointment. My feet even suggested paddling around for a while. Lay God, loading and unloading the canoe took longer than our trip across Centre. Such is life in the bush. Two boats and a series of ice shelves greeted us at the landing. By now we knew something was afoot. Lodges and Canadians in general rarely do canoes anymore. On the shores of remote lakes near lodges you'll usually find a boat or two stashed and padlocked to a tree with a logging chain. They were there for the more adventurous sports who wanted a taste of the backwoods as they once were. Sooner or later we were going to meet up the people who were using these boats. Seemed to us they'd boated to the portage on Elbow, carried their gear across, then boated to the second portage. Lord only knew how far they'd gone.
     In some ways our last carry was easier than the first. The path was generally straighter once we'd hoisted our way through twenty yards of jack-strawed timber at the beginning. Even had to stand the seventeen foot canoe straight up at one corner to get her through. However, the carry was longer, the second half was another series of hummock jumping, and in general the land was flooded. Near midway the trail forked and a plastic water jug was set on the path to the right. Allan always walked faster than his old man and, as usual, was out of sight. One glance at the jug had me yelling his name. The return call came from the an ankle-deep a meadow a hundred yards up the left path. Those things happen.
     Shortly we came upon the boat users. They were heading back to the Elbow Lake Lodge for dinner. Each was in rubber dick boots for the slog and carrying a backpack filled with fishing gear and essentials. A few words let us know they'd been doing this for years and we'd no doubt see them again tomorrow. The portage abruptly ended in a flooded copse beside a massive boulder. Another two hours had passed.



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