July 26, 2022
I suppose there are two obvious solutions to not finding a portage. Quit the route and retreat, or hack your own portage out of the bush.
Retreating and finding a different route would mean putting the entire enterprise in jeopardy. All ready very late in this route, I would hardly know where else to look as my maps are essentially custom-made strip charts. An entirely new route seemed like a last resort.
I decided late in the afternoon to hack a new portage starting from the only place I found where I could land the boat. Let me be absolutely clear: Heading into the bush only lightly armed with a small bucksaw and an even smaller hatchet is a very, very bad idea. Alone, with limited resources, the chances of success are slim. I didn’t really like my chances. Throwing caution to the wind, I was going to at least try.
Earlier that day, I paddled past a fly-in fishing outpost cabin. There was someone on the deck, but before I paddled out of sight, they roared off in a skiff. I figured that person to be a guide heading out to pick ip a guest. When I couldn’t find the portage, I returned to the cabin thinking some local knowledge might solve my problem.
He or she never returned and by early evening, I figured I was on my own. It was then that I decided to hack my way to Summit Lake.
I lay awake most of the night trying to gleam from memory any bush navigating skills I may have learned. Never having learned many, I remembered even less. I slept little and worried lots.
Outpost cabins have outhouses. An outhouse beats the bush any day of the week so in the morning, after breakfast and just before heading out, I went to the outhouse.
There, stapled to the inside of the door, was a hand-drawn map circa 1988, of Kishkutena Lake. Just around the point where I had turned yesterday, this map showed a trail to Slender Lake. It was worth a look. A last-ditch effort before heading off on my own.
Coming around the point, I saw three aluminum skiffs half in the bush and half in the water. Skiffs in the bush in these parts mean portages. Saved I was, and Slender Lake would do just fine.
Unused for what looked like years, it took me 3 1/2 hours to clear the 3/4 mile trail. The picture above is what the sections of the portage looked like after I cleared it and the picture below is what the trail generally looked like.
If you look closely, you can see where I blazed it. Even after clearing, my blazes where the only way I knew I was still actually on the trail.
All in all, I made 9 trips over 3/4 mile trail. Each way was about 130 feet up and then down. Two trips to clear, 3 round trips with packs (70 lbs, 45 lbs, and 55 lbs) and 1 trip carrying the canoe (50lbs). Almost 7 miles total and more than 1000 feet of elevation gain. But I was happy to do it as it was infinitely easier than carving my own trail through the thick brush and swamp. I stopped once while clearing the trail and looked sideways into the bush. What immediately came to mind was ‘What was I thinking?’.
The previous evening, worrying to my wits end, I asked for help. I asked that my efforts, however they might turn out, be blessed. The portage to Slender Lake behind me and once again in the boat, I stopped, head down, hands dragging in the water, grateful beyond measure, failed to find the words that could possibly express the blessing bestowed upon me that day.
May your own efforts, whatever they might be, meet only with success. I hope someday to hear of them.