Prince Albert National Park (2020): Day 6

I packed up and left before the other campers were up this morning. Lily Lake was calm as I padded to what looked like the entrance of the portage, which was logged with lily pads and reeds…

Not really packraft-friendly.

I padded to the beach nearby, partially deflated my packraft and bushwhacked through the forest to the portage. It was swarming with mosquitoes, but only 200 metres or so, and I rushed through quickly with my packraft. At the end I entered Clare Lake, which I wasn’t so fond of as Lily Lake – one has to paddle right down the centre, unless one chooses to add a substantial amount of distance by hugging a shoreline. That is an option I suppose, but I’m a long-distance hiker, and as a rule we never add distance except for a great view. Or food.

The wind was picking up and I could feel the small waves beneath the floor of my packraft.

Clare Lake

In Clare Lake I got disoriented. I paddled in one general direction, paddled in another general direction, checked my map, and eventually located what I interpreted as the long, long entrance to the portage between Clare Lake and Kingsmere Lake. Between the open water and the solid ground of the forest was a vast sea of vegetation that is perhaps sometimes out of the water but was currently flooded.

The ‘path’ through the vegetation soon narrowed enough so that I could no longer paddle. I started grabbing the vegetation with my hands and pulling myself along, watching for submerged sticks. Eventually the water became too shallow with too much submerged debris for me to feel comfortable in my packraft, so I slogged along in the vegetation, trying not to get my feet too wet.

Looking at the Parks Canada website now, it mentions the portage beginning at a wooden dock. That would have been nice! Did I take a shortcut that canoers use to eliminate part of the portage?

Anyway, I quickly completed the portage. At the shallow, muddy entrance to Kingsmere Lake, I reinflated my packraft within a cloud of mosquitoes. Again I needed to walk beside my packraft to guide it out of the shallow water.

The wind is usually light early in the day, but it had already picked up by the time I arrived at Kingsmere Lake. I started paddling along the edge of the huge lake and, in a strong headwind, found myself nearly windbound. I paddled hard, removing skin from my thumbs, and slowly crept past a ranger cabin in a beautiful location where I would love to live. I did worry that a ranger would come out of the cabin and ask me whether I needed help because I was basically not moving at all, but the ranger wasn’t enjoying the beautiful view (of the lake, not my awkward paddling) at the time.

Eventually I did make it to Southend Campground, my exit point from the lake. I rolled up my packraft and started off down the Kingsmere River trail, which consists mostly of the old rail line that allows people to transport their boats from the road/parking lot to Kingsmere Lake.

Warning boaters of an mild incline.

The portage bypasses shallow rapids. A small section of river is available to float down between the rapids and the parking lot, so I decided to inflate my boat again for a last few minutes of paddling. I was surprised (and alarmed) by how fast the river was moving. It felt like I was at the endpoint within a minute, the current sweeping me right up to a small beach.

And that’s the end! Some of my overall trip impressions:

-I loved the small, clean and beautifully located campsites. That is, I suppose, the benefit of visiting a place that isn’t a tourist mecca.

-Bladebone Canoe Route = not for canoeists. But if anyone has attempted it, I would be interested in hearing about your experience! I already want to go back because I quickly glamorize experiences!!

-The paddling was much quicker than I expected. In long-distance hiking, stopping at 4:00 or 5:00 PM is a short day, so I don’t have it in me to get somewhere at 9:00 AM and sit around. I would plan to paddle longer distances if doing this route again, though I was lucky with the weather. I’m sure that if I had experienced heavy rain, I would have felt grateful to not be paddling all day!

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