Categories
Packrafting

Prince Albert National Park (2020): Day 1

28 July 2020

Backcountry campsites around Kingsmere Lake and the Bagwa Canoe Route are reserved first-come, first-served on the day of departure. Never having booked sites in Prince Albert National Park before, I didn’t know how crowded the campgrounds might be, but since most are small (some only have two tentsites), I was hovering outside the visitor centre at 6:45 this morning. That made me second in line, and I managed to book:

Night 1: Chipewan Portage (6.7 km from the trailhead)
Night 2: Northend (16.8 km from the trailhead)
Night 3: Bladebone Bay (mysterious paddling distance)
Night 4: Pease Point (etc.)
Night 5: Lily Lake (etc.)

I wanted to camp at Sandy Beach today, which was full, but Chipewan Portage is fine too. One of the reasons why I chose to start with the hiking portion of this trip is flexibility in campsites; the other is that hiking is my comfort zone. If I start paddling and something goes horribly wrong, I’ll reassure myself with the thought that at least I got to hike for a few days. It will warm my heart as I sink into the cold depths of a lake ❤

I drove with my parents, my niece and my nephew down a well-maintained gravel road to the Grey Owl Trail trailhead beside Kingsmere River, which flows from Kingsmere Lake. We located the start of the trail and my family walked with me for a few minutes, my mother spraying my niece with natural mosquito spray that only worked as long as it was wet (they ended up hiking the Kingsmere River Trail, and she used the entire bottle of spray during that one hike). I braved the mosquitoes for awhile without defenses and then put on my mosquito suit, my trusty mosquito suit that worked so well in clouds of mosquitoes along the Oregon section of the PCT…

NOPE. I don’t know whether it’s related to their physiology or their behaviour, because I’ve learned that mosquitoes behave differently everywhere (united only by their evilness and lust for blood), but these northern Saskatchewan mosquitoes are experts at breaching the mosquito suit. The suit didn’t prevent all bites in Oregon, but I never received more than a handful every day. Today I got a handful just on one elbow. It looks like I have some strange skin disease that everyone who hikes frequently in this national park could probably identify with a bitter laugh.

Anyway, the one good quality of these mosquitoes is that they avoid the beach. Today’s hiking was mostly flat ambling along in the woods, but there were a few beach sections, and around 10:30 AM I settled into some sand for a mosquito-free break and watched hordes of dragonflies, my new heroes, killing insects above the water.

No mosquitoes!

Having such a short distance to walk today, I lingered on the beach until noon. By the time I returned to the trail, the mosquitoes were gone! Hallelujah! I assume that the heat drove them into hiding, since today was scorching and the rest of the week is supposed to be the same.

The mosquitoes and initially calm water (the wind picked up around 11 AM) had almost tempted me to pull out my packraft, but I was worried about missing Chipewan Portage Campground. That turned out to be a non-issue, since upon arrival I found that its strip of beach was marked by a big white X for paddlers. It’s a nice campground, with two sites separated by enough vegetation for privacy. I looked around for any signs of trail for the historic portage to Chipewan and Crean Lakes, but saw none. Bear storage is a wooden platform with a removable metal ladder. I would have preferred a bear pole or cable or box, but dodgy ladder it is.

There’s also enough firewood for twenty years.

Not long after my arrival, I encountered two women about to head into the campground and introduced myself as their neighbour. Not my neighbours! They had no reservation to camp. They had gotten dropped off by boat at Sandy Beach Campground, camped there last night and planned to walk the rest of the way to the trailhead today, but after 6.1 km they were already exhausted. I didn’t ask how heavy their packs were, but they were carrying at least one camp chair. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re carrying camp chairs, you’ll need camp chairs.

I invited them to rest in my campsite and camp there if necessary, though they wouldn’t have been very comfortable since I had the single tentsite and they would have struggled to wedge in a tent. When I left to collect water, I discovered that my filter wouldn’t produce more than a dribble. How frustrating – this is the first time I’ve ever left on a trip without testing it, and it refuses to work. The campsites have fire pits, so I went to collect some beach debris for building a fire. When I returned to the campsite, I heard some plaintive calling, ‘Help me! Help me!’.

The one unfortunate thing about this campground, besides the dodgy food storage, is that you can get locked in the outhouse. The exterior lock on the door, which is there to keep out animals when the outhouse isn’t occupied, can slip into the locked position by itself. This is ominously scrawled on the lock itself, but one of the women had gotten locked in there, and I ran to free her. They had decided by this time to continue hiking, but before they left, I received some instant karma in the form of chlorine tablets for treating my water! One of the women had been carrying dozens (at least they were prepared for an extra night of camping, or doomsday), which is more than enough for my entire trip.

I’ve always used a water filter before, and had some trepidation about how well a bandana would work for filtering out floaties. I was very impressed. The water also doesn’t taste as much like a swimming pool as I thought it would, but maybe that’s because of the absence of children’s urine. The mosquitoes besieged the beach around 7:00 PM and I went to bed at hiker midnight (9:00 PM).

Categories
Packrafting

Prince Albert National Park (2020): Introduction

26 July 2020

I’m ready (?) and raring to go on my first packrafting trip! Here’s a recount of me announcing this trip to my mother:

Me: So I’m going to buy a packraft and go packrafting this summer…

Her: THAT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA.

Me: Do you know what a packraft is?

Her: NO.

Me: It’s like a Sevymate, except not a toy.

Mother: Where will you get a Sevymate??

On German eBay, apparently.

Me: I’m thinking of paddling around Prince Albert National Park

Her: You’ve never paddled anywhere in your life!!!!!!!

That’s untrue, by the way. I had a very unpleasant sea kayaking experience once.

I bought the necessary gear, battling low stock in a year with everyone trying to paddle away from the pandemic. After some difficulties in inflating the raft initially (giving me bad flashbacks to my childhood when I was unable to blow up balloons), I took the boat out for several test runs on Lake Diefenbaker and an artificial pond near my house. The most important thing here is that I successfully avoided touching the murky pond water when getting in or out of the boat, but the packraft working well is also noteworthy. I’ve also figured out an arrangement for adding all the gear to my backpack, a tricky job given the bulkiness of the packraft and the PFD. I was surprised that the packraft actually fits into one of the side pockets. Well done, backpack!

Slightly lopsided, but acceptable.

This trip will be to Kingsmere Lake and a handful of smaller lakes nearby. No random backcountry camping is allowed at Kingsmere Lake, so I’ll have to reserve sites, which is tricky when I don’t know how long it will take me to paddle anywhere. I’m going to plan for short days, that being preferable to not getting to my campsites in time and guiltily illegally camping, so my itinerary is currently:

Day 1: Kingsmere River Trailhead to Sandy Beach Campground (hiking along the Grey Owl Trail)

Day 2: Sandy Beach Campground to Northend Campground, then a day hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin (still hiking)

Day 3: Northend Campground to Bladebone Bay Campground (paddling)

At this point I have the option to investigate/complete part of the Bladebone Canoe Route, which begins with a notorious portage and is now decommissioned. What’s the purpose of having a packraft though if you’re not using it for canoe routes no longer suitable for canoes or anyone?

Day 4: Bladebone Bay Campground to Pease Point Campground (padding)

Day 5: Pease Point Campground to Lily Lake Campground (paddling)

Day 6: Lily Lake Campground to Kingsmere River Trailhead (paddling, then hiking, then paddling again)

See the below maps for reference.

Kingsmere Lake. Source: Parks Canada
Bladebone Canoe Route. Source: Parks Canada
Bagwa Canoe Route. Source: Parks Canada