Sayward Canoe Circuit
June 28 to July 1, 2003
The canoe cart tire was as flat as a messed up soufflé. Mark stopped pumping; it was useless.
Earlier in the day, under the bright, sunny skies of Canada Day weekend, we had launched from the shores of Mohun Lake, a long narrow lake near Campbell River. Our crew of seven, full of enthusiasm and ready for adventure, had just started on the portage at the north end of the lake when the bad news about Mark and Cathy's canoe cart brought the expedition to a halt.
We'd just have to make two trips on every portage. We returned to our toils, pulling and pushing our loaded carts on the 1.6 kilometre trail, the first portage of the Sayward Canoe Circuit.
At the end of the portage, we arrived on the shores of a lake the size of a postage stamp. Five minutes later, we portaged over to a small beaver pond. Thankfully, the large rodents had been busy keeping the water level high – we easily hop scotched over their dam and floated down a narrow stream to Twin Lake. Half an hour later, we stopped for lunch at a BC Forest Service Campsite near the outlet of the lake.
Our destination for the night was one of the gorgeous sandy beaches on Amor Lake where we intended to have a refreshing swim. Although only half as long as the first one, the portage to Amor turned out to be the toughest one of the trip. By the time we launched again, we were exhausted. Even with the wind at our back, we landed on the beach past seven o'clock. Undeterred by our late arrival and a few aches and pains, we all splashed into the refreshing water and cooled down before setting up the tents and cooking dinner. The beautiful weather was holding, but high wispy clouds heralded a change, and so did Michel's barometer. As we talked by the campfire, we watched the sun paint a soft yellow hue on the hills across the lake.
The next day, we paddled down to a short portage and hurried our canoes and carts to Surprise Lake in a record time. Two large floating cedar logs served as an ideal loading dock from which to launch onto the lake. We crossed the small body of water in less than twenty minutes.
After a fly swatting shore lunch and a long but easy 2.2 Km portage, we arrived at a debris clogged bay at the north end of Brewster Lake. The wind greeted us as we emerged from the bay onto the open waters. Soon, a thick layer of clouds darkened the skies and the wind whipped up a few broadside waves. We had hoped to camp on a remote beach accessible only by canoe on the western side of the lake, but it was already occupied, so we headed for the BC Forest Campsite on the eastern shore.
The site was full. A family from Campbell River told us that they were soon leaving and offered us their site. We gladly accepted and rolled our outfits into camp. Steve strung up a tarp over the picnic table and we got busy cooking the usual Komoux Valley Paddlers delicacies.
At this point in the trip, Steve and Wendie retrieved their conveniently located pickup truck and left us – they were both working the next day. On the one hand, we lamented their departure, but on the other, we rejoiced because Steve let Mark and Cathy have his canoe cart for the rest of the trip. This meant that we no longer had to do two trips for every portage… or so we thought.
The next morning, within ten minutes of launching the canoes, the skies opened up. Except for Hank who had had the presence of mind of keeping his raingear at hand, we all got thoroughly wet – that's what seventy-eight years of experience do for you. The rest of us quickly landed and rushed for the protection of shore willows, only to emerge as fully clad Gore-Tex warriors. We then paddled into the lake's outlet and followed it until a large logjam barred the way. The portage around the jam ended in a ten-foot drop at the edge of the rain-swollen creek. We manhandled the canoes down and prepared for the most exciting part of the trip – running Whimper Creek.
Propelled by the swift current, we careened down the narrow stream. The vegetation was so high and so thick on each side of the creek that it felt as if we were perpetually falling into a green tunnel. As we sped by, the soft branches of hardhack, alive with a desire to touch us it seemed, reached out from the shore and grazed our shoulders and faces. Too soon, the stream emptied into Gray Lake and the ride ended.
At the south end of the lake, we stopped for lunch under a tarp. By then, the day had turned miserable and cold. This was no time to tarry, so immediately after lunch, we portaged around an old trestle and logjam and continued down the lake outlet.
We tried to run the next series of rapids, but the water was too low to avoid the rock gardens and too high and fast to line, so after a bouncy attempt by Blanche and Michel to run the gamut nevertheless, the rest of the party portaged around the canoe scratching stretch.
The fast running creek then carried us into another narrow, hardhack-lined channel. We enjoyed the wild ride until the current suddenly spewed us out onto Whymper Lake. We leisurely crossed the cattail-lined jewel during a lull in the rain, enjoying a cacophony of bird songs, as our feathered friends crammed the few minutes of sunshine with as many songs as they could.
As we left the lake, the current picked up and the rain came back. Mark and Michel took the empty boats down the next rapids. It was an exhilarating run which required jumping out of the boat midstream to line over a rock studded riffle. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew watched from a bridge overlooking the stream.
We finished the day at the Orchard Meadow Recreation Site on Fry Lake where generous campers gave us an ample supply of dry wood. We got busy putting up a tarp, making a large fire, cooking dinner, and drying up soaked clothing and equipment.
In the early morning of July First, after pinning small Canadian Flags on our canoes and circulating the usual rumours about who snored the loudest, we headed for the narrows leading to Campbell Lake, the largest lake on the circuit. By leaving early, we hoped to avoid the wind on the large lake. Not only did the strategy pay off, but also the skies cleared and we had a glorious paddle along the shoreline.
At the Gosling Lake portage, we met a family who was also doing the circuit. Other than two women whom we had met at the very start of the trip, these were the only canoeists we saw on the circuit.
The trail – I should say the road – up to Gosling Lake was very steep, but by then we were a well-honed team and we hauled our outfit up the hill in no time. At the end of Gosling Lake, we ate up the two hundred meter portage to Higgins Lake and launched onto a watershield-covered channel. The leaves of the watershield, a small, slender version of lily pad, attached to long stems anchored deep down in the mud. The floating greenery formed a living carpet that parted around and under our canoes as we paddled forward, only to float back up after we had passed.
At the end of Higgins Lake, we stopped for lunch before tackling a 300-yard monster of a portage over two rocky outcrops. Using the canoe carts was impossible. Teamwork and the knowledge that we were getting near the end of the circuit made the task, if not easy, at least bearable. We then launched on Lawier Lake, the last small lake of the circuit.
We entered the outlet stream and sighted the take out. While Mark and Cathy unloaded, the rest of us waited – the landing was too narrow for two canoes. To our surprise, a small grey dog came walking by. It was Max! Norm and Denise's little dog.
Norm, Denise, Steve, and Wendie appeared from nowhere and greeted us. Steve and Wendie were sporting full Canada Day matching shorts and t-shirts. Wendie had a Canadian flag painted on her cheek and Steve had a Canadian Flag painted on top his head, and another one at the tip of his nose!
With the help of our friends, the portage to Mohun Lake was a breeze. The greeting party had set up a tarp while waiting for us, and they proceeded to offer us beer, coffee, juice, and salami. After the recounting of stories, and anecdotes, and difficulties, we launched our large flotilla and started back towards where the vehicles waited. With the wind at our backs, we rigged up a sail and cruised down the lake.
What a magnificent way to end the trip. Gone from our minds where the toils and difficulties we had been through; gone were the hardships we had endured; even the memory of the flat tire on the canoe cart dissolved into a wisp of thin air blown past our heads, only to be replace by the swish of another gust of wind swelling the sail, blowing us onward.