I’ve already posted about two trips to Lakeland Provincial Park, and I hope that there are many more in my future. It’s just wonderful to be able to paddle around lakes where nobody can drive to the edge. There are a few smaller motorboats on the lakes, but they’re generally busy fishing and they don’t do much to interrupt the peace and quiet in this lovely area. In fact, we also realized on this trip that there are some great trails, with picnic areas and outhouses for cross-country skiing in the winter, so I may be able to enjoy another season in the area!
This trip was interesting for me because it was organized by the Borealis Canoe Club, in Fort McMurray. I “joined” several canoe clubs around the province on their Facebook pages, so that I would have more opportunities to join in on trips. I had never met anyone from this club, but I posted a lot during the Fort McMurray fire when I found helpful information about services that were available for evacuees. They apparently have a tradition of visiting Lakeland every year for the Labour Day weekend, at the beginning of September. As soon as they posted this trip, I signed up. After my canoe rack broke, I checked back to see what I should do. I could have rented a rack in Edmonton, but it would have cost a huge amount of money. Luckily for me, the club offered to bring one of their boats down with them, carrying 2 canoes on one vehicle. Their plan was to leave Fort McMurray around 6 am Saturday, arriving at Jackson Lake around 9 am. I reserved a site at Beaver Lake, on the road to Lakeland for Friday night.
Friday, I organized and packed all my gear, after spending a couple of weeks evaluating what I really needed and didn’t need. I knew that it was likely to be pretty cold and wet. I picked up groceries and gas on the way, stopping for a little while in Lac la Biche. I checked in to the campground just before the office closed at nine, and it was very dark by that point. It was also raining extremely heavily. I decided that I didn’t want to pack up a wet tent in the morning, so I settled down in my car for the night, inflating my Thermarest and getting out my sleeping bag. I actually slept quite well, although I got completely soaked when I got out of my car to pee during the night. I had locked my car before going to sleep, and it was awkward in the morning because my doors were locked. Finally, I reached into the front seat to unlock all the doors. After I heard the click, I hopped out of my car, closed the back door, and went to open the front door. There was a lot of swearing after that! Instead of unlocking all the doors, I had locked them all. My keys, purse, food, and phone were all inside the locked car!! It was about 7 am. Luckily, I had dressed in warm, dry clothing just before that. I searched for a way to get into my car, but nobody had a wire coat hanger, and that didn’t work, once I found one. Luckily, my neighbours in the campground took pity on me. They let me use their phone to call AMA (the Alberta Motor Association) to get a locksmith to come out, and then they let me check my Facebook, to find the phone number of my new-to-me paddling partners. Luckily, they were still on the road because there’s no phone service at the parking lot. Finally, around 9:30, the locksmith arrived (he had to help someone who had locked a baby in the car!) and he opened my car. I grabbed a quick snack and then drove to meet my fellow paddlers.
When I arrived at the Jackson Lake Staging Area, I was still pretty stressed, so I tried to take my time packing up my gear. I hadn’t unpacked very much the night before. Everyone else was ready and waiting, and they were very calm and patient while I got ready. Finally, we started out on the 3-kilometre+ portage with our canoes and gear loaded onto carts. As soon as we got started, the rain began again, and it didn’t finish until late that night! After our portage, we paddled to the middle of Kinnaird Lake. For about 20 minutes, we battled huge (to me) waves and heavy wind on Jackson Lake. As soon as we got under the bridge, onto Kinnaird Lake, the wind and waves stopped.
One of the group members had started out ahead of us, to make sure that we had a campsite in Kinnaird Lake. When we arrived, most people pulled out food, and started eating, but I went straight to set up my tent and change into dry clothes. It took me awhile, and when I finished, I realized that I had no more warm, dry clothing, other than what I was wearing. I came out to join everyone to eat a little bit, but even under a tarp, the wind and rain meant that I would be wet again very quickly if I stayed outside. I gave everyone my regrets and crawled back into my tent, wrapping up completely in my sleeping bag and fleece liner. At that time, it was only about 3 pm. For the next 5 hours, I slept, waking up occasionally to change position, but I didn’t take off any clothes or layers until at least 8 pm. I could hear the others saying goodnight around that time, but I wasn’t willing to come back out into the rain. I read for an hour or two and then went back to sleep until 7 or 8 in the morning. At 3 am, I could hear that the rain had stopped, so I stepped out to go to the bathroom, then crawled back into my sleeping bag. In the morning, I had a headache from eating so little, but I still didn’t have an appetite! Apparently, I was pretty hypothermic the day before!
Unlike Saturday, Sunday was an excellent day for being outside. The weather was cool and cloudy, but there was NO rain! After all of us prepared and ate our breakfasts, the group decided that we would attempt to make a full inner circuit of the lakes, while our gear stayed in camp. I would highly recommend this method of making a circuit of the area since it’s a WHOLE lot easier to portage unloaded canoes! One of the group members brought an excellent cart for our portages, and another member seems to prefer carrying his canoe on his shoulders! We paddled to the bottom of Kinnaird and found carts available for the 600-metre portage. At the end, there was a further detour of about 200 metres which wasn’t passable with the carts. Next, we were in Blackett Lake, and paddled to the longest portage, about a mile long (1.6K). A kayaker was here after going to the other end to pick up a cart. We used what we had and this trail was relatively smooth to portage. Now we were in McGuffin Lake, and we visited a large campsite in the NE part of the lake, taking a short walk to visit the memorial cairn for Squadron Leader W. C. McGuffin, a Calgarian who was killed in WWII. It was interesting to see that a minimum security work crew (prisoners) had created their own “memorial” at the site, paving a small picture of a wolf. This campsite is located on a trail system, which may be groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter (accessible from Shaw Lake staging area). From McGuffin, there was one more short portage (300 metres) into Jackson Lake. Along the shoreline, we gathered firewood, now that we didn’t have to carry the canoes anymore. There were a number of dead birch and spruce trees that were pretty easy to saw branches off of. The last stretch was a longer paddle, but preferable to more portaging. The water was quite calm.
Sunday evening, we all prepared larger meals and enjoyed a great campfire. Throughout the last 2 days, we saw a great variety of birds, including migrating sandhill cranes and Canada Geese, Bald Eagles, a kingfisher, many loons, and some grebes and gulls. There were plenty of rose hips on the bushes, and a wide variety of mushrooms and fungi, none of which I can identify. There were no mosquitoes or horseflies and sunscreen wasn’t necessary. I took a quick dip after supper, to clean off. The water was brisk but tolerable.
Monday, we got started by 7:30 am, in order to have enough time to take care of everything. People packed up pretty quickly after breakfast and we had a pretty easy paddle back to the Jackson Lake portage. Once we were on the water, the sun put on a show for us. It wasn’t a hot day, but it was sunny! The final portage seemed like it got longer while we were on the lakes! Back at the parking lot, everyone was excited to change into clean, dry clothes. I opted to sponge off in the bathroom at the Lac la Biche Boston Pizza. We had a fabulous lunch there before my new companions returned to Fort McMurray, and I came home. Alberta has so many highways, so I drove on a route that was new to me, with no traffic to worry about. I stopped at Linda’s Market Garden in Smoky Lake to load up on the last of the lovely fall veggies and fruit.