Canoeing the Sayward Forest

-Darc

In the spirit of minimalizing we made a pact with ourselves at the start of this year that if we didn't use our canoe this summer (for something more than going to the pub) we would sell it before moving to the Janion. 

As it turned out, we found ourselves with an unscheduled three day weekend in August, so we decided to strap 'Maverick' on top of the van and head up island to circumnavigate the Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit -- a 50km chain of lakes thats take about 3 days to paddle and portage-- just like the voyageurs... minus the pelts.

 

Since acquiring agathawagen last year we have spent a lot of time sleeping outside, but it has always been within the comfort of the van, (i.e. we had gotten soft). When we bought the van, we had pictured using it as basecamp a lot more, so it was satisfying to dust off all the outbound-trip gear we had acquired over the years to see if we still remembered how to use it, and if it was still functional (spoiler: we should have spent more time on the latter). 

We launched at Morton Lake and charted a counter clockwise route around the chain. It was a great trip in a muddy-sweaty-satisfying-struggle kind of way. Lots of nice quiet paddles on empty evergreen lakes, meandering swamp channel floats through the tall grass, and fun little moments when the rivers current dumps you out into a larger lake. We didn't encounter a single other canoe or vessel along the route and had the rustic paddle-in-campgrounds all to ourselves. There was some highway noise at the start, but once we got around the horn it was just the sound of our paddles and the loon calls. 

Of course, it did not go exactly as planned. It has been an exceptionally dry couple years out here on the island and this caused very low water levels. A few of the lakes and waterways shown on the map were all dried up, leaving long mucky (and hesitant -- "are we going the right way??") portages. Sometimes, one of us had to solo the canoe through a low water levels in a swamp channel, while the other portaged the gear.


Our visions of posting a good time evaporated like the lakes and rivers around us and we encountered tedious slogs requiring multiple trips on each portage -- our progress slowed to a snail's pace.

We ended up with the worst of both worlds so to speak. Despite the channels and rivers showing signs of drought, it was raining a lot while we were on the circuit -- the first time it rained in months! We had to bail our canoe on the regular, not from a leaky boat, but from the accumulated rain water. It made the trails slick and our clothes wet. It's all part of the fun though, right?!

Our ultimate (and avoidable) undoing was a broken water filter. We had a MSR gravity filter from a few years back, and the plastic piece which mated the filter tubing with the fill sack was leaky and no longer doing its job-- We switched to boiling our water along the way, but we were drinking faster than we could replenish and this slowed us down considerably.

With these set backs we ran out of time (day jobs to get back to) and we decided pull shoot and portage from Brewster Lake to Mohun Lake along Menzies Forest Service Road (about 5km and happy to have the canoe cart). We left the lower circuit to complete on another year. 

Despite the circumstances, we were still a little disappointed to have bailed out early on the circuit, but it didn't last long as we encountered fellow circuit goers driving their van along the Menzies FSR. They had chosen to go further south from Brewster Lake and they encountered fully dry and impassable river beds. They were a family and had to leave their two kids at a campspot on the river while they made the 10km walk back to their vehicle so that they could carry their stuff out (eek) After learning this we felt vindicated.

All in all a satisfying out trip, but if you plan to do it we suggest you go early in the year when there is still runoff and you check your filter functionality before you go!