Backcountry camping trip to McEwen Lake

As we have done the past several years, we did a big backcountry camping trip in September, right around my birthday, with our neighbours and friends Marc and Kris. This year it was a little harder to find a campsite than it has been in previous years, because COVID restrictions loosened up and everyone wanted to be out in the woods apparently. But we found a great site on a little lake called McEwen, just northwest of Carnarvon, and we picked a great weekend to do it because the weather was fantastic for camping — a big rainstorm went by just as we were getting ready to put in, but we didn’t even get wet, and it was essentially warm and sunny the whole time we were there. It did get a little cool at night — like around 9 degrees Celsius — but we were fine.

We put into Margaret Lake, which is long and thin, but we crossed it sideways and then had a fairly long and rocky portage (about 300 metres or so) uphill to the next put-in. Unfortunately, it had rained not that long before we got there, so the trail was quite muddy, but we made it without any mishaps. We paddled out of a swamp and into Dan Lake, and stopped partway up for a lunch break at one of the campsites. We were thinking we would have another portage to get into McEwen, but as it turned out the water was still high enough that we just poled the canoes through a narrow swampy section and we were in McEwen. After that, it was only a 20-minute or so paddle and we made it to our campsite.

It was a great site — flat, with a bunch of good tent spots, lots of trees for cover, and a great rock outcropping with a lovely western view. The only downside was that all of this was about twenty feet straight up a rock face, which made unloading and getting the canoes up to the site a bit of a hassle. We all channeled our inner mountain goat and managed to get everything up okay, and got the tents set up, then Marc and I went to get firewood. When we got the canoes (one for us and one for wood) to where we thought was a good spot, I tried to pull the canoe up onto land a bit, and it tipped, throwing Marc into the water. He spent a few minutes looking for the hand-saws and hatchets we usually bring to get wood, only to discover that we had forgotten to put them in the canoe! Luckily, Marc’s cellphone dried out just like they are supposed to, so no harm done.

The next day, after a great breakfast of camp biscuits and peameal bacon, we headed out for a hike on the trails that run through the woods to the west of McEwan Lake, so we took the canoes almost directly across the lake from our campsite to a portage there, and left the canoes and hiked along the portage until we joined a trail. As we were walking, we spotted some blackberry bushes with lots of berries, so we started collecting them, hoping to have enough for a little snack — and then as we kept walking, we noticed that there were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of blackberry bushes along the trail, and they were all loaded down with fruit. So we collected a huge plastic bag of them (also noticed some bear scat, so clearly we weren’t the only ones looking for berries!).

Along the way, after getting a little lost and having to backtrack, we also came across a sign in the woods that said “Hot Showers,” with an arrow pointing further up the trail. How could there possibly be hot showers in the middle of the woods hundreds of miles from civilization, I wondered. As it turned out, the sign led us to a small cabin that the local cross-country skiing club had built for people to warm up in, and someone thought calling it “Hot Showers” would be a hilarious joke. Needless to say, it didn’t have showers, or anything else for that matter. We sat and had a bit of lunch on the steps, and I found a geocache underneath the cabin while I was looking for a board to make a seat out of.

The next day, we had the blackberries we picked in our breakfast pancakes, and they were amazing. And then, as if to balance out the karma of sending Marc into the water, when we were getting into the canoes to head out for a day trip, I somehow managed to tip the canoe and throw myself in the water 🙂 In my defence, it was kind of hard getting into the canoes from a pretty much sheer rock face — also, I’m out of the habit of keeping my balance in canoes, because I almost always bring one of our kayaks on these camping trips. Our friend Sandra usually comes on our trips, and she goes in the second canoe with Becky, but this year Sandra didn’t come, so I shared the canoe. Looks like I need to do a refresher course on how to remain stable in one 🙂

It was so warm and sunny that I didn’t even mind dumping into the water, and I just kept my phone in the pocket of my shorts where it was when I dumped (luckily I had it in a pocket with a zipper, so I was thinking ahead) and it dried out fine on our day trip. We did a short portage through the woods to Horse Lake, and then paddled to the north end of the lake and walked along the portage to Horse Creek. We came back and paddled to one of the small islands in Horse and had some lunch and by the time we were done, my clothes were all dry and the phone seemed to be working just fine. Then it was back to McEwen and to our site in time for another great dinner sitting on the rock outcropping and watching the sun set behind the trees across the lake.

Our third day was spent just hanging out in the hammocks at the site, along with a trip to get more firewood, and luckily no one went into the water this time. I went for a swim after diving off the rock outcropping (after checking to make sure the rocks went far enough down that I wouldn’t risk becoming a quadraplegic). We had another great meal sitting on the rocks watching the sunset, and then the next day after porridge and more blackberries, it was pack up and get off the site by noon — we were a little late leaving, so the next group had to idle their canoes for a little while, but they didn’t seem to mind. Paddling across Margaret this time was a bit more challenging than the first time, because there was a stiff cross-breeze, but we made it all in one piece, and after loading the cars we headed off to Minden for some Kawartha Dairies ice cream. Perfect end to another great backcountry camping trip!

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