DSC_4446_JPG_t285Day two was a long one. It began early, leaving Horseshoe Lake and into Duval Lake by two routes. Peter and Chris chose a newer trail (80 meters) located at the end of the northeast bay. The rest of us chose the way the old route pamphlet suggested, with two short portages (50 meters and 100 meters) along a creek flushing out of the northeast corner of Horseshoe Lake. Peter and Chris found the 80 meter trail easy, but complained about the last bit going through a mucky boot-sucking marsh. Our group found our choice to be a breeze. The first trail wasn't necessary since high water made it possible for us to paddle straight through, and the second carry was a cake-walk. Duval Lake was just as nice as Horseshoe Lake. We did, however, see two motor boats with the occupants fishing and ATVs parked at the north end of the lake. I'm guessing they used the logging road access to reach the lake but having a good look at the mud splattered on their ATVs it was a good assumption that the road wasn't the best choice to reach Duval.

After Duval we saw no one else, for good reason of course. The route that exited the lake was confusing to follow most of the time. In fact, if it wasn't for the Junior Rangers marking the first portage leaving Duval with a bright yellow sign, we'd still be there looking for it. The 500 meter trail started at the far northwest corner of Duval, far away from the creek that linked the lake to a chain of small ponds we were to follow for the rest of the day. It made sense why the trail started here once we started walking it. This was the flattest part of the rolling landscape. And after a brief walk along an old logging road, cutting through a dense stand of hardwoods, the trail split and we went right to continue along the creek. After criss-crossing the shallow stream in several places, the portage ended where a stand of old-growth red pine crowded the shoreline of what's labeled as Lake #6. The next portage, which began pretty much on the opposite side of Lake #6, was even more confusing. It started off direct, going up a moderate slope. But then the trail disappeared in a patch of trees and swamp split between a massive clear cut. I was furious with this. When I worked in the north in the early 1980s as a forest technician we would always, by law, leave a minimum of 60-200 meters space between the cutting and the portage. Not here. When I did eventually locate the remainder of the trail we were following, the foresters had left less then 5 meters. And people ask me why I continue to promote canoe routes. This is why. If you don't, they simply disappear by the over-abuse of other users. We lost the portage one more time before reaching Lake #5. The old route information had a small pond that needed to be paddled across before reaching the put-in of the most northeasterly bay. However, the pond was a grassy marsh that we had to wade across and then carry over a mound of granite covered in a bunch of downed jack pine, looking like a gigantic game of pick-up-sticks.

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Lunch was had after we bush-wacked through the remaining 60 meters of muck, sedge grass and jack pine blow downs. The next portage was no different the previous ones. It only measured 200 meters, and it was is relatively good condition once we were on it. The problem was getting to it. The creek and marshy area prior to the take-out had dried up and it was a good boot-sucking trek of about 60 meters before we could reach dry ground and begin carrying without sinking past out knees in swamp ooze. Once the ordeal was over, however, we enjoyed a peaceful paddle down Crazy Lake (Lake #4). This was one of our favorite lakes en route. It was an intimate and seemingly remote body of water surrounded by a mixture of red, white and jack pine rooted on mounds of granite. It was also a haven for brook trout. But for some odd reason we caught nothing here. The fish stocking list had the lake listed as a brook trout fishery but not one of us had a single strike. It had to be either too late in the day for them to bite or the lake somehow received too much winter fishing pressure from snow-machines. Which ever the reason, it didn't seem to matter to us. We enjoyed being alone here and took our time to explore every bay and inlet. A beaver dam separated the lake into two sections halfway along and we did a quick lift-over, Ashley and I using a pull-over on the extreme north (right) end and the others using an easier section near mid-lake. It was an easy bit to navigate. However, getting to the portage (700 meters) to carry over to the next lake was not. First, we had to guess where the take-out actually was. The old route information recorded a "vast expanse of grass" to paddle through at the far end of the lake's northwestern inlet. What we saw at the far corner of the lake was a dried up section of swamp, forcing us to drag the boats and gear to the edge of the forest and hope the portage started somewhere nearby; and it did. Then, not far along the trail — where the canoe route pamphlet stated that the trail went through two grassy areas — we had to paddle across an actual mini-pond and skirt the edges of another stagnant flooded area. After the unscheduled pond hoping, however, the trail was simple to follow, leading us down through a stand of mature red pine and then to the shores of Pointer Lake. It was here we camped for our second night out, pitching our tent on a perfect outcrop of rock adjacent to the put-in of the last portage. The site hadn't seen much use for quite some time but it was a perfect spot to end the day. And with the prospects of catching a brook trout being questionable we decided to go ridge hiking instead, clambering up a knob of rock between Pointer and Spot Lake to the northeast. From the ridge top we could view the entire surrounding landscape. All of us stayed up top until the sun completely set, making promises to come back and explore the lakes and rivers we could see beyond.



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