Royal River - Fowl - Moose - Mountain - Pine
On North Fowl, we were somewhat worried we would see some society, but the few remote cabins we encountered were seemingly vacant and we only briefly saw them anyway. We didn't see the North Fowl campsite marked near the portage, but we budgeted time to get through that into Moose Lake anyway. The Moose Lake portage wasn't terribly long, but a theme throughout this entire trip was elevation changes. You can see it right when you get into the Entry Point and throughout the loop there are beautiful bluffs and cliffs up the hills (none near the water for swimming unfortunately). The elevation changes through the trip resulted in some steep portages at times, so be sure to wear proper shoes. I managed to get through with water keens, but it was risky. We launched at 130p, and had camp set up in Moose Lake by 730p including plenty of time to catch some bass for dinner along the way.
Moose Lake felt very remote. No buildings or signs of life on the Canadian side, and all of the campsites faced north. We were interested in fishing, but both the Navionics depth app and our paper maps showed no depth, so we assumed it would be a shallow lake like Fowl, but it was not. There is depth in Moose. To what degree, we weren't sure but based on the clarity of the water we could see it was at least 20 feet or more. The jigs I sent down also felt 20+ feet deep. We didn't experiment too much in trying to understand the structure or find deeper water fish, so we stuck with casting to shore and caught plenty of small and largemouth bass. I would recommend checking out the far West end of the lake where the portage to mountain begins. There is a beautiful rapids that empties into the lake where we spent half a day lounging at. Besides fishing, and that scenic spot, Moose was good for a day or so, and we made our way to Mountain Lake in hopes of Lake Trout.
The portage from Moose to Mountain was mostly uphill. I think the rod lengths speak to the difficulty of each. What's nice is there is are two small, beautiful lakes that break up the 3 portages - one completely full of lilies and the other mostly reeds. We didn't see any moose on this trip, but these two lakes are surely home to a few. The very last portage of the three was difficult to find since we had to barge through some reeds to get to shore.
Mountain was another fantastic lake and relatively very secluded on the eastern part of the lake. We only encountered one other group that was about a day behind us and lapped us to find a campsite further into the lake. We camped at two separate sites. The first one was the trailhead to Pemmican Lake, where there were reports of Lake Trout. The portage to Pemmican was very steep and poorly maintained, so it was a long 60 rods, BUT it all paid off as we caught a nice size laker for lunch. The total trip up to Pemmican was about 2.5 hours, so it was a great way to utilize that campsite as an outpost.
The second site was large and immaculate. Not much else to say, but generally speaking the campsites on Mountain seemed to have more features the further westward we went on the lake. After the third night of four, we needed to cover some ground, since we still had to get back down to Pine Lake through Clearwater, Caribou, and Little Caribou, with about 350 rods of portages ahead of us. We took most of the 4th day to get through this, with some occasional stops to try fishing, but little luck. We thought we might stop to camp on Little Caribou at the lone site, but it was taken, so we continued through the last portage into Pine Lake and secured the only North facing site. By the way, we hardly saw another party until we exited Mountain Lake, and that's when it began to get busy.
The final day was an easy paddle through Pine Lake and McFarland that only took a couple hours (with the wind slightly helping). There is a marked 5Rod portage between Pine and McFarland, but it was actually a flowing river so we cruised right through it without skipping a beat.
All in all, maybe 2 miles of portages and 20 miles of paddling on this loop. A great trip that I would recommend to anyone willing to pack light and get creative with your portages.
~Little John Lake, North Fowl Lake, Moose Lake, Fan Lily Lakes, Mountain Lake, Clearwater Lake, Caribou Lake, Little Caribou Lake, Pine Lake, McFarland Lake