This is a trip that my 12 yr old son and I easily accomplished in a 4 day - 3 night (Monday to Thursday) time span. We, like many others, over-packed. As a result, the short portages could have been more user friendly. We are novices to this game and with more trips under our belts will learn the little tricks that so many of you already know.
We arrived at the Kearney Park Office for permits at 1:30pm, and within a few minutes we had backcountry permits in hand and discovered the ice cream stand across the road. We convinced ourselves that it was important to sample the local fare and with ice cream dripping from melting cones off we went to find Fire Tower Road and the road that leads into the Magnetawan Lake access point.
The map indicates a trip of about 24 kms from Kearney to Magnetawan Lake. However, leave yourself at least 45 minutes to cover that distance. The logging trucks own the road so be careful. We did consider going back to replace the spilled ice cream cone after meeting the first truck but we decided to push on. It will seem like you will never arrive at the Mag Lake dock when all of a sudden over a hill you go and three parking lots await your arrival. The dock is nice and solid with ample room to load or unload gear. The first portage is within 5 minutes of the dock and leads into Hambone Lake. The portage is 160 m and an easy trip.
We made our first camp on Hambone Lake and picked a spot close to the Ralph Bice Lake portage. The idea was to setup camp early, organize our gear and get onto Bice early the next morning since others have commented that Ralph Bice (formerly Butt Lake) can be windy. Camp was set by 4:00pm, we went for a swim and started supper. We had stopped in Barrie on the way up and grabbed 4 small flash frozen steaks from M&M Meat Shops. They make a heck of a treat since they pack small, and are frozen solid in a blister pack. I wrapped newspaper around them (to be used as fire starter later) and they stayed frozen for two days. Well, two stayed frozen for two days, the others didnít make it past the first night.
By 6:15 am we were up and somewhat awake. For city slickers thatís a heck of an accomplishment. Breakfast consisted of tea and toasted English muffins. The jam came from the last MacDonaldís that we stopped at on Highway 400 south of Barrie. You've got to love the freebies on the breakfast counter. I was supposed to score a couple of packs of sugar for my sweet tooth but got all excited with the discovery of strawberry jam that I forgot to grab the sugar. Camping is roughing it, so the lack of sugar was payment for scoffing the jam.
We were on the water by 8:00am and the day was already warm with a slight wind from the northwest. The portage into Ralph Bice Lake is at the end of Hambone Lake. Itís wide sandy with a few rocks that are easily avoided. My son and I were able to cover the 290 m in 2 trips. The Bice Lake end has a narrow rocky put-in with a boardwalk that leads over a bit of a mud bog. I retrieved my sandal from the mud monster and we were on Bice by 9:15am.
The wind I alluded to earlier, met us as we rounded the point onto the main body of Ralph Bice Lake. We chose to run the north shore and checked out sites as we went. For lunch we chose the west-most site of a group of 3 sites situated on the north shore, just west of the David Lake portage site. The site had a single occupant upon our arrival at approx. 10:30am. This had to be the largest snapping turtle Iíve ever encountered on my limited canoe outings. After threatening him by inviting him to lunch accompanied by potatoes, carrots and a tub of boiling water, he moved aside to let us dock. This proved to be a Kodak moment for my son and I concentrated on getting the stove fired up for lunch. As nice as this site was, it was not the site we wanted to spend the night. We were hoping for a site closer to the David Lake portage. Lunch was a dehydrated soup affair mixed with the dried cracker-thing and really hit the spot.
Within the hour we were back on Bice headed for the island at David Lake portage. Upon rounding the east side of the island we were disappointed to find the site occupied. We reversed direction and pulled into a site that by our map had previously been the site of an old ranger cabin. The site was nice with a great easterly view down Bice Lake. If this site had been a ranger cabin in a previous life it sure didnít show it, but it fit the bill for Day 2. The trip down Bice had been leisurely and the wind hadn't been a problem. My son had a snooze in the tent and I fell asleep on the rocks beside the fire pit. Itís truly amazing just how many ants can find their way into your clothing as you sleep. After a quick dip in the lake to rid myself of these travelers of the forest floor, dinner proved uneventful.
Breakfast consisted of eggs-in-a-box and dehydrated bacon. The homemade omeletís proved to be a hit, coupled with fresh coffee (even without sugar) and English muffins. Life couldnít be much better. The plan was to use this site as a base camp and push on to David and Mubwayaka Lakes for the day, bringing with us a small one burner camp stove and dehydrated food for lunch.
By 10:30am we entered the David Lake portage. The portage is a bit of a challenge since there is a bit of a rock wall you need to negotiate at the start. The length is listed as 620 m and once over the first hill the trail levels off to a nice winding walk. Bice Lake was listed as 444m in elevation and David Lake is listed as 457m, so there is a bit of change of height. However itís not a big deal. The end of the portage is a moderate width opening with a small sand beach, not big enough to swim but nice to launch from.
David Lake proved to be windy and an island hid the entrance to the Mubwayaka portage. We did manage to figure this out and found ourselves at the portage point within half an hour. The point of access is tricky with a mucky bottom, again I retrieved my sandal from the muck and consider the use of cheap runners as an alternative. I just hate the squish-squish as you walk down the trail.
A very short 80m portage leads you into Mubwayaka. This lake is truly worth a visit. To a seasoned canoe veteran this is easily attainable in less than one day from the original Magnetawan Lake access point. My map shows only two campsites on this lake with the best site found on the southwest side of the lake, so plan accordingly. Moose were happily grazing at the David Creek end of the lake. My son and I spent the whole day here and have vowed to come back next year to this lake and use it as a base to explore the David Creek end of things.
The reverse trip back to our camp on Ralph Bice was uneventful. Dinner consisted of a dehydrated meat paddy that might have been confused with a dog biscuit. I must be more careful prepacking our meals because Iím sure the dog ended up with our meal and we with hers. McDonalds does not need to worry about me being a threat. We also fed the mosquitoes and I need to remind you not to forget the repellent or your trip will be most uncomfortable. Things started to cloud over and we erected a small tarp to keep the rain off our heads while eating. The weather did not get any worse than a drizzle that just made thing sticky.
Being our last day in the park, breakfast consisted of all those things we didn't wish to pack out. The wind had kicked up a notch and we cleaned up camp fairly quickly in order to get on the lake before we became wind-bound. Packing out was defiantly easier due to some additional experience on the trails the previous two days as well as the fact we pigged out on the breakfast of the last day. I need some help with meal planning for the next trip. We ended up taking out food that I was sure would get eaten at some point on the trip. The trip out was done in a couple of hours and on the most part boring, until at least I blew my sandal on the last portage. I guest the mud monster won a victory since the last few steps of the portage at Hambone and the takeout at Magnetawan Lake was done one-footed.
After doing the whole trip with my son in 4 days, I conclude you could do the same trip on a weekend covering the same distance and having just as much fun. I was in no hurry and the last thing I wanted to do is have a bad experience for my 12 yr old son. I want him to bring his kids into the park the same way, with no pressure and the same amount of fun. I need to look at leaving behind gear that was not used as well as a closer look at menu planning. We met a male nurse from London who impressed the heck out of me by doing a similar trip as ours with a one-man canoe, one pack and a dog. Thatís a goal for us next time to at least get down to a single trip across the portage. Way to go buddy, youíve proven to me that it can be done. He also had a big smile on his face.
Gord and Marc Ferguson
Text by: Gord
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