As usual, I got an early start today. The sunrise was beautiful over Bladebone Bay.
Remembering how quickly the packrafting went yesterday, I was in no hurry as I started down the west side of Kingsmere Lake, and I stopped for a long break at a solitary beach.
I left, paddled for awhile and then stopped at another beach, because why not? A fishing boat moved past far from the shore, but otherwise there were no boats or people in sight.
The wind had picked up substantially by the time I decided to leave beach #2. I felt worried – carrying a load of expensive backpacking gear on a packraft is uncomfortable, at least for someone with a fear of water. The wind was coming from behind me, so at least I didn’t have to fight the waves. It was just a rolling ride the rest of the way to Pease Point Campground, which has no beach and was therefore infested with mosquitoes. I arrived at the same time as a group of canoeists who had been worried about padding on Kingsmere Lake in the waves, and had instead paddled all the way through the Bagwa Canoe Route to get to Pease Point. They warned me about one of the portages, but the joy of a packraft is not worrying about portages.
Pease Point Campground also had another (ambiguous) warning:
This is the kind of verbage I would expect to see outside a McDonalds, not in the boreal forest (warning: mosquitoes in area). Perhaps the bear had stolen food though, or was scaring small children, since there was a bear trap in the campground. A bear trap closed on both ends (with no bear inside).
I ate supper quickly and fled into my tent. Goodnight mosquitoes! Goodnight mystery bear!
I woke up early and left camp by 7:00 AM, skipping breakfast to take advantage of the early morning period when Kingsmere Lake is beautifully still. Packrafts don’t track nicely like a canoe or kayak does, but adding weight to the front of the boat helps, and with my backpack positioned there I could steer more easily than in my practice runs on the tragic city pond.
Despite paddling leisurely, I arrived at my next campsite, Bladebone Bay, in only 2-2.5 hours. Coming from a thru-hiking background, I’m used to walking from breakfast until supper, so the thought of just lounging around for the rest of the day seemed egregious. I decided to investigate the decommissioned Bladebone Canoe Route, which leaves from a trail behind the outhouse, and to potentially camp up there if I found a nice location.
I don’t know why the decision to decommission the canoe route was made, but possibly it was when the other access point by road became inaccessible, because the portage from Kingsmere Lake is longish (2 km, according to a random website), partially uphill, boggy, and would be brutal with a canoe. With the amount of deadfall across the trail now, I’m not sure that it would even be possible with a canoe, but I try never to underestimate the power of human perseverance.
The nice thing about the trail was that it was still distinct the entire way.
Bad things: deadfall, heat, bugs, bog. I was up to my ankles in water a few times, and it was a delight to be wearing shiny (relatively) new hiking boots that were still waterproof.
After what seemed like a long time, I reached the first lake. A Parks Canada canoe was chained to a tree nearby, filled with water. The place for entering the lake looked sharp and pokey with submerged logs, and reeds impeded access elsewhere. I didn’t feel inspired to search for another launching place, and there were no obvious campsite prospects, so I decided to just have lunch and then return to Bladebone Bay Campground.
The trip down was miserable, and by the bottom I was thinking to myself, ‘this was a good experience, because it taught me that I don’t want to do the entire Bladebone Canoe Route’. I’m already doubting that decision though, because I hate leaving things unfinished. Nothing learned after all?
I saw more wildlife in Bladebone Bay than at the other campsites: a loon, a pelican, a beaver and dozens of shorebirds. The campground has three sites and is as nice as the others, except for how the path to the outhouse/Bladebone Canoe Route passes through one of the campsites. The people in the campsite had escalated the situation by setting up camp chairs on either side of the path. They were nice people, but by the fifth time passing through their conversations, I had run out of small-camping-talk-with-strangers topics and had to just smile awkwardly and scuttle past quickly.
One of the pros of the general bugginess (yes, there are pros!) is that it supports high numbers of spiders. When I returned to my tent for the night, I found that a spider had built a beautiful web between my rolled up tent doors, with three bugs already captured and one wrapped in silk (I felt bad for taking it down). Then when I settled in to sleep, a different type of spider came to lurk in the fold of fabric beneath one of the doors, and I saw it pounce on and kill multiple mosquitoes. ❤
I ate breakfast on the beach this morning to avoid the mosquitoes. I never ended up meeting the people camped in the other site – they returned to the campground after I went to bed, and were still in their tent when I left. The walking between Chipewan Portage and Sandy Beach was entirely through forest, and the mosquitoes were atrocious. I wore my mosquito suit, but had to resign myself to being bitten.
I took a long break on the lovely beach at Sandy Beach Campground in an attempt to postpone re-entering the forest until the mosquitoes went into hiding for the day (it didn’t work). Briefly I had the distraction of a random memory from a physics class in high school: we had to build something to protect an egg from breaking when dropped from the second floor of a building. My group placed it in a foam container that we coloured like Kenny from South Park, then when it hit the ground I called up at the teacher ‘Oh my god, you killed Kenny! You bastard!’. It was prime performance art and I still don’t understand why we didn’t receive a 100%.
Early in the afternoon I arrived at North End Campground, which is much larger than Chipewan Portage or Sandy Beach. Along with individual sites, it has a group camping area open to individuals when not reserved. I pitched my tent, collected water and set off on a day hike to Grey Owl’s cabin with my scented items. I’m only climbing that food storage ladder once, and yeah, I know that I’m a wimp.
Grey Owl (or more appropriately, Archibald Belaney) is a polarizing figure in Saskatchewan’s history. He was an esteemed conservationist, but pretending to have an Indigenous background. This was discovered during his lifetime by certain individuals, but people in the 1930s weren’t as keen on cancelling people as contemporary society, and the truth was published only after his death. The cabin in Prince Albert National Park is where he lived with one of his wives and pet beavers, wrote multiple bestselling books, and was buried.
The hike to the cabin begins with a trek up the beach from North End Campground. Near an inlet stream, I followed a path into the forest. Up until then, the Grey Owl’s Cabin trail had been perfectly maintained, so I was surprised by how rough it was… until it crossed the inlet stream on a log and headed back towards the lake. Taking the trail consumes more time than just removing your boots and wading through the stream at the beach! Don’t do it!
The actual trail into the forest begins at a picnic area and outhouse at the end of the beach. The (well-maintained) trail soon splits in two, with one path providing access to Ajawaan Lake for boaters and the other providing foot access to the cabin. I slogged through the mosquito-ridden forest to the cabin, which was beautifully located on the shore of the lake, and rested on the picnic bench for a snack. A friendly breeze from the lake was blowing the mosquitoes away.
When I returned to the picnic area, I met a family who had come there by motorboat to have a barbeque. Motorboats are allowed in Kingsmere Lake, but they must be portaged in using a rail cart, which is impressive dedication. Back at my campsite, I had a less appealing hiker supper of peanut butter and pasta.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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)