Sunday, September 20, 2020

Glorious Fall Colours : Cabin Lake to Betula Lake

This morning began with a beautiful red sun rising above the beaver pond in a soft, hazy sky. As we heated the water for our coffee and tea we watched two young women launch a rowboat from the far side of the inlet on Cabin Lake and float out into the choppy water with their fishing lines deployed. The song of a White-throated Sparrow rang out once in an otherwise quiet morning.

As usual after a cool autumn night the tent was soaking wet with dew and condensation. We had packed everything up by around 8:00 am and set off across the bridge in the strange, hazy light.

After crossing the bridge we followed the Cabin Lake Hiking Trail, which was a well established footpath leading over stretches of exposed precambrian shield, through stands of red and jack pine, and alongside marshes. Although we didn't spot any Great Trail or Trans Canada Trail markers, and very few directional arrows, the route was clear and easy to follow.


As we ventured onward the trail head near Red Rock Lake we came to an exposed rocky ridge overlooking a vast, open marsh and floodplain around a meandering river. In the early light the contrast between the golden grasses and reeds, the red leaves on the silver maples and shrubs, the dark green of the spruce and jack pines, and the black water was very striking.


We admired the view and read the interpretive signs, and then began looking for our path. The map of the Great Trail shows the Northern Whiteshell Trail connecting the Cabin Lake Hiking Trail with Loop C of the Jessica Lake Trail near Jessica Lake. We found a single triangular metal marker that was half yellow and half brown at the beginning of an extremely faint footpath. We followed the footpath for about 5 minutes before completely losing it. 

We couldn't find any markers, flagging tape, or visible signs of a path after that point, with the exception of a sole piece of pink flagging tape in the middle of a deep marsh and another on the far shore of the lake. Perhaps if we were skilled at bush craft, had the knowledge of an Indigenous tracker, or had downloaded GPS coordinates for this portion of 'trail' we could have followed the proposed route. Sadly we lacked any of these skills or options. 


We chose to follow the evident path across the bottom of the beaver dam and then out to the parking lot. From there we walked the road to Jessica Lake. At first we followed a winding gravel road lined with cottages, and then we walked the edge of the narrow, winding, paved PR 307. As we were walking we passed a sign indicating that we were crossing 50.00 ° N latitude.

When we reached Jessica Lake we came to a trailhead with a Great Trail marker on it. The map suggested that there was NO trail from Cabin Lake to Jessica Lake and that beyond the ski loops Jessica Lake the only part of the TCT in this area was the 4 km stretch of pathway between the Jessica Lake Resort and Rainbow Falls which was groomed for cross-country skiing. This sounded encouraging, and sure enough, we picked up a wide, level, pink gravel trail. 


By this point the wind had picked up and the sun seemed poised to prevail over the clouds. We found a nice piece of shield and stopped to dry out the tent and our sleeping bags. The wind was so strong that it kept trying to blow pieces of the tent away, even though they were weighed down with our water bottles, food bags, shoes, and hiking poles. We held the ground sheet up in the wind and it acted like a sail, nearly dragging me away like Piglet. 

After we got everything dried out and repacked we continued down the gravel path. It took us through dense stands of regenerating aspen and pine, and red pine plantations. We also passed through corridors of tall white birch that were glowing yellow. In between we walked through mixed forest where the fall colours were ablaze. In this stretch, which was a pleasure to walk, we passed a man walking his dog, and another hiker out for a day hike. 

Eventually we crossed the road again and found ourselves at the White Lake Resort and campground. There are quite a few of these resort/campground establishments throughout Whiteshell Provincial Park. The resorts typically consist of a collection of cabins stretched along a lake, and many of them feature a convenience store, restaurant, and laundromat. 

We stopped at the convenience store to pick up a few basic supplies, and ordered breakfast sandwiches and iced coffees from the take-out window at the restaurant. When the warm food arrived we sat in Adirondack chairs on the covered porch and consumed it with great enthusiasm. It tasted like the best thing ever! On of our concerns since Sault Ste Marie Ontario has been the rate at which we have been loosing weight and the extent to which our bruises and aches are no longer healing.  As a result we have been trying to eat whenever possible.  With that said, it took all our willpower not to stop for hot showers and laundry, but it was only 11 am, and we needed to keep going. 

After we left the White Lake campground we followed the road across a river with a small dam. At the trailhead on the far side was an information plaque for the Linoo Oowan Trail, which is part of the 1200 km Path of the Paddle, which is a waterway that links Thunder Bay with Manitoba. This 170 km segment of the waterway links Kenora with Whiteshell Provincial Park and the Manitoba section of the Great Trail. Linoo Oowan is an Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway) phrase meaning 'paddle route.' This is one of the oldest trail systems in the world, and was also important for the fur trade.

After this we spent the afternoon mostly climbing. The trail remained a wide, level, gravel path and it took us through a variety of different landscapes. It was beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed the mental break it gave us. The landscape in Whiteshell Provincial Park is stunningly beautiful, and we are thoroughly enjoying being in a natural environment where we are immersed in nature and it is easy to camp and find water. However, we've found the variable and unpredictable (at least for us) trail conditions a bit taxing. We have no cell service most of the time, very little information on what to expect, and the Great Trail App doesn't work on our phone. Where the Great Trail overlaps with ATV, snowmobile, cross-country, or park trails it is gorgeous. Where it exists unto itself, as Great Trail only, it often becomes theoretical at best. 


Towards the afternoon our climbing was rewarded with a beautiful lookout over the river. The forested landscape below us extended to the horizon. There was a marble memorial bench perched on the granite ridge and we took a moment to enjoy the view out over this beautiful park.

As we began the descent down into Betula Lake we passed several people coming towards us. A couple was walking a pair of golden retrievers. Another young couple was pushing their bicycles up a steep hill. A lone hiker smiled as he passed us on the trail.


It was a beautiful walk down. First we passed through a forest of tall white birch. Their canopies were still light green, but the understory was bright red and yellow. The white trunks of the trees really stood out as straight vertical lines.

After this we passed through a stand of very tall black and white spruce, which were draped in long tufts of light green lichen. It looked like a magical forest from a Science Fiction or Fantasy world. Finally the trail wove through a stretch of mixed forest, where the trail bed was covered in a carpet of yellow leaves. Here we found a Great Trail sign, but it's post had been uprooted, and it had been used for target practice. Apparently not everyone in this region is a fan of hiking trails.

When we arrived at the Betula Lake campground, where we had hoped to camp for the night, we discovered that it had closed for the season on September 7th. We went in to the Betula Lake Resort and asked if there were any cabins available. The extremely nice and helpful owner decided to take care of two smelly and slightly desperate hikers. She rented us a lovely waterfront cabin for one night at a very reasonable rate, helped us do laundry, and was very patient while we resupplied. 


The brick and wood cabins are located on the grassy shore of Betula Lake above a lovely sand beach. They have screen porches, bbq's, fire pits, and access to canoes and kayaks. They offer kitchenettes and a small living room. It is a lovely and peaceful spot on the lake, and we thoroughly enjoyed being inside, dry, and having furniture!

We spent a lovely evening writing, editing photos, and enjoying the view of the lake. To make things even better, the night is rainy and windy, which makes us appreciate being inside even more, especially since our tent has given up even pretending to be waterproof at this point. Sometimes life is sweet.



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