Finding and Exploring the Old Circuit 16 and Lost Portages
July 4 - 10 Gerald and Ted Exploring and having FunGerald after scouring topos of Lac Poulter, Antostagan and Kondiaronk, decided that it would be fun to try to see if any of the original Circuit 16 existed and what kind of shape it would be in. As well, two other routes appeared interesting. A possible cut-off between the South-Eastern arm of Lac Poulter and a North-Western arm of Lac Antostagan would make for a nice circuit section. As well, older maps showed a route at the top of Lac Antostagan. Enlisting Ted's help, the two set off to explore and determine whether anything was left of the original portages and how much of the creeks linking all of this were still navigatible.
Tuesday, July 4thHeavy rain made visibility on the road to the Lac Antostagan bridge difficult. Put-in at about 2:00 with the ADC barometer beeping and flashing a storm warning, so we headed to the first campsite 2C11-51. One tent site good, the other poor. Thunder and lightning by 3:30. Thunder ended by 18:30 and the wind had shifted to the SE and the southern sky trying to clear.
Wednesday July 5th
Awoke to a light rain and wind. Moved campsite about half way up Lac Antostagan to 3C11-24 (nice site) between two of the portages that we want to explore. After setting up a new camp, we went looking for the by-pass from the top of Lac Antostagan to Lac Poulter via Lac Saimiri. The old portage marker of a large pole stuck upside down in the weeds made the portage easy to find. The foot-warn (game and people) trail could be seen by getting close to the ground and/or by parting the underbrush. But at about 500m a series of blow-downs obliterated what was left of the portage trail. Could have probably searched for and picked it up later but enough for today. Headed back to camp. Weather clearing. Night temperature down to 11C
Thursday July 6th
Barometer indicates clearing but still overcast and high winds. Off to what we hope will be a good Poulter - Antostagan cut-off. Hauled the canoe over a couple of beaver-dams without incident. The creek quickly ended up at a very small cascade with large rocks and most of the water flowing slightly underground. Tried bushwacking to find an old portage or at least a game trail. A total no-go just lots of thick bush and very uneven rocky ground. On the return trip to the campsite, detoured into Baie a la Raquette via another beaver dam. The creek into it also ends in a small cascade. Winds gusting from the North to 25kph - in our face of course. Did about 21K today plus side-trips. Back at camp by 14:00.
Friday July 7th
06:00 - clear skies - finally! No clouds so it should be hot. Broke camp and off to see what left of the old Circuit 16 section. The creek to Lac Fracan is just beautiful. Paddled a bit, walked a bit. Could have even poled a bit. Sunny, warm and the water crystal clear and mid-calf deep. Scared up a moose but it was too fast for a camera. A short paddle over to the creek heading over to Lac Ajara.
The 25(?) year old portage sign is still there. Found bits of the original portage. One pass to find a passible route; break/cut/hack/mark the route on the way back; first pass with gear; second pass with gear; last pass hauling the canoe over the ground as trees are too dense to carry.
Back on the creek. Paddle a few feet; lift-over a few blowdowns after Gerald cuts away dead branches; more pushing and shoving the canoe through rocky rapids. Up to the waist sometimes and worried about stepping and getting feet caught inbetween rocks. Current quite strong. Another portage to make using same 4-pass procedure. Not bad, making almost 400m per hour!
Finally into Lac Ajara and head towards the rapids/bridge/beaver dam at the old logging road. Tired and decide to camp at the old disused campsite just down from the rapids. Went for a hike down the old logging road to check out the rapids/bridge. Another difficult portage ahead. Gerald knows the maintenance crews don't have the time nor inclination to re-build this route. There is just way, way too much crew work for minimal gain. Decision made to try other areas with more possibilities.
Saturday July 8thEnd up at the Kondiaronk Sepaq site and head out down Lac Kondiaronk to a nice Gerald knows of. Arrive at 3C16-56 at 13:10. Very nice site. Three good tent sites and a nice sandy beach that goes out into the lake a good 30m before getting over one's knees.One tent site has a potential widowmaker so we avoid that one. R&R for the afternoon. Wash clothes, wash bodies, watched the weather and the clouds. Life is rough :>) Finally nice and dry everwhere including the feet.
Sunday July 9thOvercast and light rain again - how typical. After breakfast, head out around 07:30 to check out creeks flowing into Kondiaronk. Used an inlet and creek to try to get to Lac Andrezel. Had some fun at a beaver dam with the creek ending at an old logging road bridge. Great place to stretch the legs so went for a nice long walk. Lots of moose track and a couple of good really fresh bear prints. Wolf track and scat. Lots and lots of rasberries canes along the road. When they ripen in a few weeks, this could have a lot more than just a few bear tracks! Back in the canoe and full-steam ahead to the beaver dam. Almost made it. Glad Gerald's canoe is Royalex. I don't know how anything else would stand up having the bow in the muck, the stern still on the dam, air under most of the canoe and 700 pounds of people and gear in the middle.
After a short jump out and push, we headed off down the Lac to the Lac Barker portage and cascades. The cascades are really quite pretty. Eagle-eyed Gerald spotted the first ripe blueberries of the year. Very early and probably due to the constant damp/rainy weather. Headed back to the campsite and made the 11K in just under 1h 50. Another 22k day. Gerald's MEC Guide's Tarp really needed this trip.
Monday July 10thWoke up to no rain and no wind. Decided to make the 12k back to the put-in. Early morning, light mist, light fog and dead calm. Almost surreal in it's beauty. A paddle we didn't want to end. We had a lot to talk over with the head of the maintenance team, who, like everyone else at Le Domaine, is "great people", so we headed back to Le Domaine to make our report. By the time we're finished it's mid-afternoon and the rain has started again, so we decide to head home.
Before we split up, Gerald mentions that there is an interesting old route via Ruisseau la Loche between Lac Chartier and Lac La Loche that needs exploring soon. Sounds like another chapter to me.