Lady Chain Solo with Dog: Report and Video
I walk into the Tofte Ranger Station, and when given the can-I-help-you smile I say “I’d like a permit for today, please. What’s available?” The ranger seemed to like this, as did the young couple also about to start a trip that was I suspect more thoroughly planned than mine. I had with me a collection of maps for the area, and had checked availability just 2-3 days before and knew something would be open in the area. I get the last of 14 permits for the day for Sawbill and decide as I had hoped that I will explore the Lady Chain. With video rewatched, quiz taken, and permit in hand, I head up the soon to be paved Sawbill Trail.
As I’m loading up the canoe I start chatting with a young woman who mentions that she used to work at Sawbill. I tell her that I am heading into the Lady lakes and am thinking about then doing the Louse River loop back around but wasn’t really sure. I like loops. She mentions that she liked that route, and that I should pay attention starting the upper loop as the navigation there can be a bit tricky.
I’m off and paddling around 1:00 - much, much later than I had hoped due to rain. The first portage to Alton is easy, but I still have that “gear isn’t quite packed right” feeling. I paddle down Alton seeing several camps and canoes, and hearing from several distant places “waaahooo” type sounds sometimes heard on popular entry lakes. Soon I’m glad to be portaging off of Alton toward Beth. I’ve got several new pieces of gear on this trip, and unfortunately quickly realize I’ve also packed a bit too much “back up gear”, and certainly a bit too much “back up food” as well. I’ve definitely brought too much stuff this trip.
The clouds look to be breaking up, and I decide to camp on Beth to let everything dry out. It’s warmed up and I certainly don’t feel like building afire, or even boiling water so I just open a pack of tuna salad and grab a couple tortillas - good enough. Into the now-dry tent early and time for some map checking.
But back on the open water and all was better. There were large mayfly casings floating all over the water, which maybe why some fishermen I had passed had had little luck. I had not been paddling very long but for some reason decided to stop at a site over toward the next portage on Grace. I rarely travel such a short distance in a day, but just didn’t feel in a hurry. It was very warm as I set camp so went for a long swim with the dog to cool off and clean up a bit.
Knowing that I really am not in a hurry any longer, I actually cook my breakfast, Ova Easy omelette with grilled spam on a toasted bagel. It looked just like the serving suggestion on the spam foil pack. At the moment I felt sort of proud of that, but that feeling has since faded. First spam I’ve eaten in maybe 30 years, but I was out to try a bunch of new things this trip.
It was sunny and warm, but the wind was clearly picking up. I lounged around wondering if I would even pack up in move. I wandered over to the torn up soil and noticed something had been there digging over night. There was a deeper hole maybe 3-4 inches around and maybe 6 inches deep, along with two newly revealed turtle eggs in tact! I thought maybe an otter had dug the whole, but what would leave the eggs there? Were they rotten or something? I’m still puzzled by this.
Since I wont be looping, I decide I’ll stay here on Phoebe for a day or two before heading back. After a simple breakfast I pack up some day gear and the dog and head off to see what Hazel looks like. Again I love the narrow river system, which again makes me squirm about not being able to do a full loop. There is moderate wind and low, dark, wet looking clouds but so far its fine. I pass through a moderate rock garden - each scrape is still killing me but I have to get past that. I come to a second and more dense rock garden in the river and am puzzled. There is clearly no way to pass through this, and I see no portage or pull-around spots. Finally off to the right side I realize that crews have actually moved rocks and boulders to create a narrow, straight channel through. I simply could not see this at first, and don’t think I remember seeing such a channel anywhere else in the BW that I have been. I get to the portage to Hazel, and it too is very overgrown and wet. Its also starting to drizzle and threatening to get heavier. I put on rain gear and we walk across to Hazel, but the the bugs are very bad on the other end of the portage so we do not stay long before returning.
More rain comes in after dinner, and this time some lightning and thunder. I was just 3 weeks after the Father’s Day storm, so I was more aware of the lightning than usual. I also had at this campsite, like each of the others, taken note of which trees I thought looked most suspect and where I might go if the winds get that strong. I’ve never done this on trips before, but think this is the new normal.
The winds stay firm all night long, so when we get up around 5:00am the tent and tarp are already dry. We - well mostly me - pack up and are on the water paddling by 7:00. The winds are already pretty stiff, but I figure they will pick up more as the sun gets higher. Very fortunately for me, the winds have shifted and are no longer out of the south southeast, but are more southwest. Not bad since I am heading northeast. Clear of my little bay the winds hit me squarely in the back and we start to move across the lake at a pretty quick pace. Its at these moments Im especially glad that Regent seems to lose interest in things when we get more than 100 yards from shore and tends to lay down and nap. The waves get bigger and I can feel we are almost starting to surf them till we finally round a small point and they just stop. Im always amazed at those places where 25 yards to one side of your canoe the water is barely rippled and to the other side there are tall whitecaps.
Back we go through the lovely river system, then across Grace with the winds almost dead at out back again. We go back up and over the portage I had disliked so much days before, but I’m finding that with a few pounds less food (not just me, but the dog’s eating about 1.25 lbs a day) and having found my portaging legs, the portages on the way back are passing quite easily. I’m starting to like the wider Canadian style Teal yoke that I selected. On longer portages I used a shaped piece of blue closed cell foam between the yoke and my pack straps, but on anything shorter I just tossed on the Duluth pack and the canoe right on top and went. I rather liked it.
There were moderate winds and steady rain all night. We got up fairly early and got out of the tent. As I fed the dog under the tarp, the rains started picking up and the wind had shifted to more west northwest. I took a moment to lower one side of the tarp and raise the other a bit, then got under as the rain came again. Finally I decided it was raining hard enough that I lost my interest in coffee, so the dog and I ran back to then tent and went back to sleep for about 2 more hours. This proved a good move as the rains had then passed though the winds persisted. Mainly, though, I my urge for coffee was back. I had my java and a quick cold breakfast, then broke a wet camp, trying to be careful to remove all the slugs from my tent, fly, tarp, and groundcloth. I found if you flick them too hard they basically pop, so a gentle touch was needed.
I portaged back to Beth and moments later portaged back over to Alton. Portaging now felt easy again. Ill have to work harder to get that “piece of cake” feeling closer to day one than day 6 next trip.
As if I had not already had some luck, the winds briefly calm down as I paddled up Alton. I paddled up the west shore with little wind or wave concern. On a point I paddled past one last west side point with a occupied campsite. I could hear them in there chopping and banging pots, and thought I passed just 20 yards or so away I don’t think they ever knew I was there. Then, expose to the wind, I turned east and crossed over to the last portage. A quick hop across and we were back on Sawbill where the wind pushed me right back to the dock.
Here is the 5 minute video version on Youtube.... https://youtu.be/Kqsr-2N5vUE