Author: Rebecca Joy Vandenberg ( alter._.eco )
Time: 2-3 days
Total Distance: 22km
Portages: 6 (+ one beaver dam)
Longest Portage: 1300m
Total Portage Distance: 5780 m
Portage Difficulty: Moderate, the portages are: rocky and hilly but straightforward
Paddling Difficulty: Easy
Overall Difficulty: Moderate: The portages were tiring and a little difficult to spot
Kingscote to Scorch Lake (and back)
Where do I even begin. The name of this beautiful lake brings so many mixed emotions. From terror to triumph, our Kingscote L adventures marked some important milestones for both Ryan and I and our canoeing experience.
I suppose I will start at the beginning.
We embark on our journey up north from our wee hometown of Maryhill, Ontario, towards the Kingscote L access within Algonquin Park.
See, we were led here by our friend Kevin Callan, well his book: Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario. And we were particularly excited for this trip, as it was our first backcountry overnight canoe trip! We were gifted our beautiful canoe as a wedding present only a few months before and had just started our canoeing journey.
After we collected our permits from Pine Grove Point Campground, we then drove down the gravel road (Kingscote Lake Rd) to the access. Ryan beamed with excitement, though I had much more mixed emotions about the trip.
According to our book, the route was a 22km, 2-3 day trip with 6 lengthy portages. And though the forecast called for many thunderstorms, we decided to not let the weather phase our decision and we hoped for the best.
We set out from Kingscote L access around 5pm and headed for our first campsite, which was on the far side of the lake. Planning to tackle the next leg of the journey towards Scorch L the following day. 10 minutes into our paddle, the skies began to darken and the winds began to grow fiercer.
We hurried to our site and set up camp just in the nick of time. We found the best campsite on the lake, in my opinion. Located on the east shore, it is the second most northern campsite on the lake.
Just as we finished eating dinner and packing up, the thunder crept closer.
Our first task before hiding in our tent was to set up our first ever bear bag. Which was completed with no such ease, and resulted in Ryan climbing a slick limbless tree in a thunderstorm to retrieve and properly set our line. After safety returning to the ground, our food was hung and we dashed into our tents.
As the night continued, the storm managed to blow our canoe over and Ryan had to rush out and tether the boat to a tree with his belt. From that point on, the thunder got louder, the wind got stronger, and Rebecca did not sleep very much.
As we awoke the next morning, the storm had lifted a little, though thunder rumbled all around us. I was completely disheartened by the previous nights ordeal and was not too enthusiastic about completing the trip.
We slowly picked up our pace and began puttering around our site. We had the whole lake to ourselves it seemed and the views from our campsite were amazing!
Though Ryan did not catch many fish in the lake, apparently there is a fish called the Kingscote silver lake trout that is only found in this lake!
Fast forward a few hours and after some convincing from Ryan, we decided to push forward. After packing up camp, we set off towards the north end of the lake to begin the routes longest portage, of 1300m.
Well not 300m into the hike, Ryan gingerly set down the canoe in some grass to re adjust his pack, and hiding in the grass was a root which then put a large crack in the bottom of the canoe. Oh the swearing that ensued, we were both bummed and baffled.
Not knowing enough about what we should do, and whether or not the canoe was safe enough to continue the trip, compounded with the shitty weather and a nerve-racking night, we decided to retreat and head home.
Defeated and exhausted, our first backcountry trip was beautiful but trying.
But do not worry! The story does not end here. We do not give up that easily...
After two more backcountry trips under our belt, we were back a month later!
Kingscote L - The Retry
Back down the winding road to the access, and understanding our capabilities a little better, we set out to tackle Kingscote L Loop again!
The plan was to still split the trip up into 3 days, but instead of doing 2 nights on different lakes, we would set a base camp on Byers L and do a day trip to Scorch L. This way we could complete most of the trip with less gear, and still finish the intended route.
Our first day began on a Friday at 6:30pm and we had exactly 2.5 hrs to make our base camp on Byers L before sundown. This included; a 1300m portage, a 660m portage and 5 km of paddling. So, the race was on!
Passing our campsite from the last trip, we hurried toward the portage at the north end of Kingscote L. Arriving at the portage, we realized we had forgotten two crucial pieces of equipment. 1) our bug spray 2) our yoke pad. Wooops!
Racing the mosquitos and the setting sun, we punched out this portage in 45mins. This was also the first and last time we ever did more than one trip for a portage. Sweating and exhausted already, we set off northeast across Big Rock L, in search of our next portage. This short 250m paddle is beautiful, and there is a nice beach to land on at the mouth of the next portage.
The portage is fairly straight forward, though there is a very large hill that takes you down into Byers L, and coming back it is quite the leg burner!
30 minuets later we emerged from the forest at 8:15pm. The bugs were getting worse, and we were still loosing light, so we needed to set up camp fast!
Paddling into Byers L was beautiful, and we soon found a nice spot to set up. But, being that time when the bugs come out to feast, we barely got our packs open and our tent set up before all hell broke loose!
The mosquito populations around Byers L are quiet impressive, and we hid in the safety of our tent for a good 30 minutes until the loud hum quieted enough to warrant going back outside.
Now, I will note Nico, our dog, did growl at an animal in the bush. Ryan said he saw eye shine, though I refused to investigate.
We quickly made a fire, hung our bear bag, with much more ease than the first try, and headed to bed exhausted!
(the owls I heard that night were amazing!)
We begun bright and early, had breakfast and set out for the day.
Heading north on Byers L towards the continuation of the York River, we began our journey to Scorch L. Winding through the river was so very pleasant. There was a stillness and remoteness to this river that we quite enjoyed.
Our next task was to lift over the only beaver dam on the route and continue on our way. Now I must mention, there are two openings in the river, the first is NOT Branch L, but the second opening IS Branch L. Once you reach the head of Branch L, the portage is on your immediate right, beside a campsite.
Reaching the final portage to Scorch L, we were buzzing with excitement. Scorch L had been our goal for so long, and now finally it was within reach! Only a 900m portage stood in our way.
As we started off, the bugs were not... terrible, and it seemed the portage was up hill the whole way! Also, I will note this portage is not frequented too often, and you need to keep a sharp eye on the trail.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we turned our last corner and came to the head of Scorch L. This is when we fully understood why there was a low water level warning for the Scorch L access. The head of this lake looked more like a creek or shallow bog than a lake.
But what is the worst that could happen?!
So we continued on, and within minutes, we were forced to abandon paddling and had to wade the boat through the shallows. Luckily Nico and I hopped along the rocks that scattered the shore as Ryan bravely tromped through the mud.
Finally in the clear, we hopped back in the canoe and took a good look at Scorch L for the first time and we had the whole place to ourselves!
We were into the lake for less than a minute before Ryan had to cast a line out, and to our surprise locked onto a 2lb large mouth first cast! It was going to be a good day...
After scouting out the lake and catching another fish our two, we decided to cook one of our catch and check out a campsite. Right across from the cliffs there is a campsite on the north side of the L. It has a large beach, partially due to low water levels, and was raised off the water about 10m. We choose to park our canoe, and make some lunch.
After some fire roasted bass, and a couple of well-earned beers, we hopped in our canoe to head home. Before officially departing, we had to first investigate the other side of the lake for fishing potential. And surprise surprise, Ryan caught another Bass.
After a little reluctance, we set off towards home. Back through the muck and back down the portage we went.
With our only portage of the day complete, and back on the York River, Ryan decided it was time to continue his luck fishing. After another 3 Large Mouth Bass, big ones too! Just as I thought the fishing would never end, we decided to head back to camp for the night.
Woohoo good day!
The return home was blissfully uneventful; we took our time and left a little later in the morning.
Wanting to tackle the portages in one go, I decided to carry all the gear at once.
The portage from Byers L to Big Rock L was exhausting and we took an hour to fish and explore Big Rock L.
Once back in Kingscote L, the trip was over, but our spirits were high as we beached at the access. We had finally completed the loop! Now time for burgers....
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