Where beavers rule the roost

Trip Start Jul 08, 2008
Trip End Oct 31, 2010

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Monday, August 3, 2009

True Canadians go canoeing. After the initial frustrations caused by not having control of the J-stroke, we had really enjoyed our little trip in Ontario, so we decided to have another go, this time by ourselves. Our choice was Lakeland Provincial Park, supposedly the only canoe circuit in Alberta and not too far from Edmonton.

I had ambitions for a fairly early start on the Friday so collected our canoe on the Thursday. Given our neighbourhood we thought it best to store the canoe in the garage, so we took the canoe off and put it away. When I got home from work on the Friday I thought I would just nip down to the local petrol station for some 'gas'. As I reversed, I heard the terrible noise of metal in stress. I had forgotten that I had not taken the cables off. Somehow the tie must have got caught around the wheel, the metal hook on the end of the tie and the car had then fought it out to see what would give in first. Thankfully it was the metal hook. I hopelessly tried to bend it back to a serviceable shape, but had to give in and take it back to the shop. So that was the end of the early start. If we had just picked it up on the Friday in the first place we could have left directly without having to worry about storing it overnight.

After that, things picked up. We had a lovely couple of days. Saturday was sunny and we made good time, finding a moose with two calves eating pond weed along the way. We settled down on a little island that we had to ourselves and watched the local beavers. We were a little put out to find that there was no bear pole to put our food up, and that someone had left dog food out.  There are no grizzlies here but black bears can be quite a handful.
I couldn't see any appropriate places to run the food up, and we were debating how to proceed over dinner. Any thoughts that we could be sloppy were banished when we saw a bear on the far bank. We watched her and her two cubs for about half an hour as they foraged through the trees.
Lacking any proper branches, I tried to throw my rope over a suitably high fork. This failed several times and when I finally got close the rope got caught. I had to devise some way to dislodge a stuck rope 20 feet up. I succeeded after considerable effort, and eventually put the rope over a different branch. But I had a terrible time hauling the food up. Nylon rope doesn't run over tree branches very well, but it does remove skin effectively. By now the Canadian mosquitoes were out in full cry. They don't actually remove skin, although I have been told that they get so thick that they kill caribou. They weren't that bad but there is something about that whine that makes it impossible for me to think at all, and I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Eventually the food was off the ground, probably somewhere close to the 10 feet high that it has to be, although perhaps not even the five feet from the nearest trunk (as there was no such place on the island). (We should have brought two ropes.) I gratefully slunk off to the tent and rejoiced in the mosquitoes on the outside of the mesh. The noise they made was about normal conversation level, but it merged into an almost pleasant hum.

It was a really beautiful spot, and we decided to skip completing the circuit and stay both nights on our island. So the next day was a day trip taking us most of the way around what remained of the loop. We didn't make it. The portage we had to make was three kilometers. Carts are provided but the trail is not maintained - rutted, blocked by fallen trees and very uneven - it would be easier to carry the canoe than put it on the cart. However, our canoe was awfully heavy. We walked the trail instead, concluded that the lake at the other end was much the same as the one we had left, and came back.
That was when we were caught in a sudden downpour. It didn't last long but we got pretty wet. Once the rain cleared we found a little elbow of the lake in which six or seven beavers seemed to be aimlessly swimming. They weren't obviously fetching food, marking territory, playing or doing anything else that made sense in terms of nature documentaries. We watched them for a while. I was very impressed by the size of some of the lodges, which start on the lake bed and then rise several meters above the water. Quick research since reveals that a pair of beavers can fell 400 plus trees a year. 

Our other ambition that day was to find a mysterious portage. This Park is great, and I love that it is fairly undeveloped, but signage is confusing. The map from the web site shows a portage where the one at the start of the hike doesn't; a third map shows yet another, unmarked on either of the other two. We had seen one marked from our island that cut across a long peninsula, but could not see any signage for it on the other side (where we were now). It was marked on one of our maps only. I thought I found one spot that looked likely. A quick and wet investigation proved that it was actually a beaver trail and petered out at the trunk of seriously gnawed tree. We eventually found the portage, through almost supernatural intuition, but we decided that we had plenty of time and might as well do the extra paddling. We hadn't banked on the head wind.

A moose chose to eat weed in the lake nearby at dusk. The light was terrible for photos, but it was nice to watch and quite funny to see the animal disappear and then that peculiar head to come up streaming water.
We tried an early start on Monday, and were rewarded with another moose grazing by the lake through mist rising off the water, tinted pink by the sun. One of the oddest sights for me was a pelican. In my mind pelicans belong on the coast in places like Australia and Venezuela. To see one on a lake in the middle of a continent seems wrong (even though I have seen them before). The trip back went faster than I expected and for once we were back in Edmonton to have a relaxed night and get to bed early. Not that you would know it the way I felt the next morning.

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