Capfire on Haggart Lake - Woodland Caribou Park

A Garner Lake Entry
Woodland Caribou
Provincial Park
July, 2002
Martin Kehoe

Part 4
Haggart Lake

Haggart Lake - Woodland Caribou ParkThe storm had pushed us to bed a little early the night before so I was up by six on Sunday morning. Ken rose shortly after and I told him to warn the kids when they got up that they would have to be careful walking on the slippery rocks. The rain had left a film on them and it was easy to slip. He nodded and proceeded to go down to the shore to fill a pan with water. The next sound I heard was a loud splash as he hit the deep water pool on that side of camp. His clothes were wet so he took the opportunity and stripped them off and finished cleaning them with some laundry detergent and one of the plastic buckets I always bring along on these trips. One of the buckets contains my kitchen and then is used for a seat, doing dishes, laundry, baths in cold weather and a hundred other things when the need arises.

After some tea and oatmeal I headed back to the 400 meter portage to clean it up. With the blowdowns removed and some other brush removed it was easy to see the route again. When I got back to camp we decided to go over and explore more of Haggart Lake to the east. We went east and then northeast up the lake. We had just passed an island when I spotted an animal swimming from the island to shore. After watching it for a while I realized that I was watching my first Woodland Caribou. I could not see any antlers so I assumed it was a female without a fawn. I was happy to finally see a caribou in the park but not with the circumstances. It was obvious that we had pushed the caribou off of her island sanctuary. Had she been pushed off the island earlier with her fawn and predators had taken her fawn?

Claire Quewezence, Asst. Park Supt., had explained to me before an earlier trip how important it is to avoid the islands so as not to be pushing the calving animals off of them and into the sight of the wolves and bears. As canoeist we are oftentimes hugging the islands to avoid the wind and thus disturbing the animals. On an earlier trip I had done it and pushed a moose and her very young calf into a long swim to the mainland in the very same rough water that I was trying to avoid. In that case a motor boat had preceded me by the island in the same path I took and did not spook the moose. A good reason to avoid the islands for camping, especially early in the season when the calves are most vulnerable.

Being able to talk to the very knowledgeable park personnel is another reason for putting in a little more effort and traveling on to Woodland Caribou. You can E-mail or call the park and tell them of your route and they can update you on water levels and portage conditions in the area you have selected. I always check in with Claire and my trips go on with the assurance of good traveling conditions. The park can inform you of special things in the area too. The pictograph sites are not marked on the park map but you can ask about their locations. Campsites are not marked either but I like to know about a few in advance in case I get into an area where they are rare. In some areas of the park you can go along the shoreline for miles and not see a very acceptable spot.

Haggart Lake - Woodland Caribou ParkWe climbed one of the high rocks in the area and took a few pictures and enjoyed the view before heading on in pursuit of a lunch and swimming hole. On our way back to camp we passed a fly-in camp that appeared empty this week. Ken and I went up to our favorite fishing structure with the rocks and very quickly had supper on the stringer. Supper was out of the way early and the lake was calm and smooth. All three canoes were out for an evening on the lake. Ken and Ethan were entertained by a beaver as they toured a lowland area in search of moose. I walked the 300 meter portage to Broken Arrow Lake and enjoyed the plentiful Blueberries in a barren area atop the portage. A Barred Owl joined the Loons in our bedtime serenade to cap another great day in Woodland Caribou.

Another light shower came down as I had my early morning tea and oatmeal. It then cleared into a beautiful day. The boys had gotten into a routine of not exiting the tents until ten and this morning was no exception. We roused them for breakfast and then they started hinting at being ready to go home. This was our eighth day of a planned twelve day excursion. At 11:00 we made the decision to start heading toward Jester Lake, our previous campsite on the way in. We were on our way in an hour and a half and I marveled at how fast everyone had worked smoothly to break camp on a moments notice.

We went east of our camp on the return and used the two 100 meter portages and others before getting back on our entrance route. I found this route not as nice and scenic as the route through the new 400 meter portage. There was more burn and the landscape flatter. The portages went through lower land and the canoe loading sometimes took place in stinky mud. In the area of the 100 meter portage east of the "shallow" marked on the park map there is also an area that requires some tight rock work. It extends on both side of the portage for a distance.

The author at Jester campWe had started the afternoon with no plans of making it all the way to Jester but the group was portaging so efficiently that 8:00 found us setting up camp there. Ken and Ethan in the lead canoe watched a moose feeding in the water for a while. That was the second moose of the day but the other one was not so up close and personal as this one. We were very surprised to see the smoke of another campfire on the island to the south of our camp. There was also a plane and helicopter dumping water on a fire to the south. Soon the smoke from that and the aircraft were gone. We boiled water and had another meal of Dinty Moore. As a reward for a hard days work by all I fixed a Jello No Bake Strawberry Cheesecake for dessert. It was good but did not knock the Jello No Bake Reeses Peanut Butter off its throne as the best dessert of the trip. The first time I ever saw the Cookies and Creme get beaten.

Tuesday was spent as a rest day on Jester. The other campers were two men from Austria. They were on a 180 mile trip through the area. Ryan was afraid he was coming down with swimmers ear and was staying out of the water. It must have been a horrible day for him. All that nice warm water and he could not put his head under. Ryan's catch - Woodland Caribou ParkHe and I went out later and he caught our limit of Northern for supper. We stopped on shore and took pictures and cleaned the fish before heading back to camp. When we arrived Ken had the vegetable soup ready and the stove ready to do fish and hashbrowns. After supper I prepacked the camp as we would be heading for the van when we awoke in the morning.

The boys had been daydreaming about what they would do when they got home the last few days. They consented to being roused at 5:00 AM for the push toward Mountain Dew and their other cravings. Everyone was so pumped that we did the 825 meter portage in 45 minutes. A thunderstorm provided us with a half hours rest as we waited it out on an island in Garner Lake and we still made the travel form Jester to the boat dock in Nopoming Park in seven hours. The last surprise of trip came when we opened the van door and out came the odor of something long dead. A mouse was decomposing in the bottom of an open cooler. The vehicle is always checked before we leave the dock to make sure that all dome lights are off and everything in order. A mouse check will have to be added to the checklist.

If reading this story has you interested in visiting Woodland Caribou, go for it. It is well worth the extra drive. I am retired and have the time to put my trips together but there are some fine outfitters that can take care of all the details that may make you apprehensive. Their shuttle services can put your worries aside about travel on the back roads leading to the park You will be rewarded with little contact with other canoeist, fantastic fishing and the chance to travel remote backcountry and still have maintained portages. Do it once and it will be your destination of choice for great canoeing.

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