Part Two: Woodland Caribou
Almost 7 months later, and it was finally time to depart for Red Lake. Word of warning: the drive from the GTA to Woodland Caribou is a LONG one. A straight shot from East York would have been approximately 20 hours, but with breaks for gas, food, and driver changes, we completed the drive in 24 hours – not an easy feat. Harlan messaged me on our way up to inform us that we could fly into the park a day early due to a group cancellation. We jumped at the opportunity, as even though we were feeling pretty road-weary from the drive, we were even more anxious to get the trip underway. We met up with Harlan at Red Lake Outfitters shortly after sunrise, and he was kind enough to offer up his bush lot just outside of town for us to camp at for a few hours of sleep before our flight out that afternoon.
Day 1. The flight into the park was nothing short of spectacular. The float plane experience was a first for all of us, and seeing the waters and forests we’d paddle and portage over the next 12 days was simply incredible. Large swaths of burn were coming into view as we neared our destination and we had an aerial perspective of the huge role that fire plays in the Boreal. Lightning strikes often cause massive stretches of burn in these forests; the most recent in Woodland Caribou coming the summer prior to our visit. Our plane ( the legendary de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver) began a hard turn to the West and began to descend – we were preparing to land on Larus Lake, which would be the kick-off point for our WCPP journey.
We were dropped off almost right on shore at a sandy beach in the lake’s east end. Crispy would be paddling a solo canoe for this trip, so he arrived by himself in the first plane. Fulton and I flew in the second, with Nick and Dan in the final plane. Regulations permit only 1 canoe tie-up per plane, so keep this in mind if you’re planning a similar group trip. Immediately we were treated to a scattering of massive wolf tracks in the sand….a definite eye-opener that our adventure had begun and that we were finally deep in the North Country. After a celebratory beer on the beach, we decided to push off south towards a portage where the Bloodvein River enters Larus Lake. Beginning at Lake Winnipeg, the Bloodvein is a Canadian Heritage River and is on Canada’s tentative list of potential World Heritage Sites. This wasn’t the direction of where we’d be camping that night, however. One of our must-haves on the trip was seeing some of the many Indigenous pictographs that are scattered along the rock faces of the Bloodvein and we were advised of some just south of where the river empties into Larus at a series of falls. Nick, Fulton and I made quick work of the 750m portage through the regenerating burn, while Crispy and Dan remained at the falls to focus their efforts on losing some monster pike. The side-trip was absolutely worth the effort as the pictographs didn’t disappoint. We were slightly confused by some of their placements, though. Due to their situation in between the water and the top of the sheer rock face, the only plausible explanation would have been for their artist to have been standing on someone’s shoulders while in a canoe. There was also what looked like a stencilling of a two-thumb/six-fingered hand (probably two hands placed on top of each other). The near-impossible placement of the drawings and the mutant hand had us a little creeped out, so we took our pictures and made our way back.
Travelling back across the portage and paddling to what would be our first campsite, we were all fairly relieved that our stay on Larus would be the extent our time spent in burn areas. It’s impressive to see the lush regrowth pushing up against the scorched, sparse forest and witness how quickly the land recovers from fire. The novelty wears off quickly, though, and we were all ready to experience the rest of what the Boreal landscape had to offer. It was sundown by the time we found our campsite that night. We were all exhausted after virtually no sleep over the past few days and we were in our shelters not long after dinner; Nick and I in solo tents, with the rest of the group in hammock set-ups.
To be continued….