“That Rhonda is a Backstabbing Bitch and I Hate Her.” Day 6

Morning – 8/28/2023

Sprue Lake #3

With my bear bag just 8 feet in the air last night instead of the recommended 12, a bright moon, noisy loons, and my pillow deflating every 2-3 hours it’s safe to say that I did not sleep all that great. I’m not even sure why it still surprises me that I always get out of bed last. It’s literally once in a blue moon that I’ll be up before the others. My lack of sleep was definitely going to be an issue today. 6 days of backpacking and a fresh resupply with a bad sleep were going to weigh heavy on me. But the sun was shining, and we were about to trek into the beautiful West Canada Lakes.

Sitting in the lean-to, we ate our breakfast and watched the loons, now silent, swimming about the lake. We were studying our guides and maps to try to figure out where we should lay our heads for the night. There was so much to be excited about. Everything we’ve read on the Facebook group raves about the beauty of the West Canadas—South Lake and its bridge—the remoteness. The topo map didn’t seem too horrible, it appeared to be a plateau of sorts so we didn’t anticipate it would be that strenuous of a day and decided we’d love to get to Carry lean-to. This would be a big day but if we could just get through the Cedar lakes it’d be less than 6 miles downhill according to the topo! We had done 15-mile days on the Long Trail together and there was way more elevation gain and loss than we would see all trail on the NPT—seemed reasonable—though I felt like garbage and we hadn’t gone anywhere yet.

Can somebody help me?

With a big day ahead of us we left camp before 9am, probably closer to 8am. We would have left sooner but I was totally dragging ass. We climbed up out of the campsite back onto the trail and pretty quickly were met with mud pits and bog boards. The boards were either completely decayed and melted into the mud with just a few soggy splinters and the huge nail spikes sticking out of the mud daring you to slip OR so slick they may well have been made of ice.

Within the first 30 min we were all slowly shuffling across the latest set of unnotched boards and I stepped from one to the other. That was a mistake on my part because I went down face-first with a 35-pound pack over my head. Tarzan was sure I was drowning and almost slipped trying to run back to me before he heard me humbly ask “…uh, can somebody help me, please?” I was up to my elbows in the mud with my legs twisted between the two boards butts and unable to move. Baby Legs was behind me and came to assist Kavin in getting me upright which took a few tries because of how slippery the mud and boards both were. I fell so fast we all took a minute to breathe after and were so grateful I was not hurt or even bruised.

Surrendering My Pride to West Canada Lakes Wilderness

Baby Legs suggested I should let Tarzan carry my food bag to maybe lighten my load for the day. Tarzan insisted and I felt attacked but what the hell, I didn’t want to carry it truthfully anyway, so I obliged. While Tarzan worked to secure my bag to the outside of his already bursting 65L Osprey, Baby Legs and I had some snacks. Maybe I just needed some more protein and calories to feel better?

After messing with his ropes for a few minutes Tarzan got my food bag secure and we pulled our packs on again to move forward. The trail started to roll up and down and eventually Spruce Lake was out of view through the trees. The hills weren’t long but consistent and there were plenty of blowdowns and rocks to contend with. This was not what we were expecting and the going was slow. Not our best performances (really, not my best performance). This section couldn’t end soon enough. Every time we hit a good downhill we hoped we were near Sampson Bog Outlet but, we weren’t. It was just 3 miles from camp, how long could it take?!

West Canada Lakes

Fungi Report

Tarzan holding a massive double golden chanterelle mushroom

On the way down one of the hills I miserably announced seeing the biggest chanterelle I had ever seen casually pointing it out to Tarzan who quickly picked it and started acting goofy with it in attempts to get me to laugh. It worked. This mushroom was half the size of his face!

Sampson’s Bog Outlet

We crossed numerous tiny streams before finally arriving at the new 2 log bridge that was built across Sampson’s Bog Outlet. I did not imagine it would be over a waterfall/gorge area and it was quite pretty. We carefully crossed the bridge and sat on the other side facing the bog to eat another snack and hydrate. You know you’re exhausted when sitting on the dirt, not even a rock, seems amazing! (I really needed to get a good sleep in later because being as miserable as I was was not good for me or anyone else and I wanted to be a team player.)

West Canada Lean-to

Northville Placid Trail meets North Country Trail signs

If I remember correctly I opted for peanut butter crackers but, primarily sour patch kids for snack and a ton of NUUN hoping it would carry me the next 2-ish miles to the South Lake Lean-to. The next few miles to the West Canada Lean-to were a bit better or at least that’s how I remember them now—funny how the mind works. Getting closer we came across a sign that said we were at the intersection with the North Country National Scenic Trail and the NPT as well that the West Canada Lean-to was like 2 miles away. It couldn’t be! Slightly frustrated we chose not to believe it, we had heard the signage could be off on this trail. Before we could think about it anymore the scenery opened up to a substantial log bridge across the outlet and the West Canada Lake Lean-to was up on the high bank on the other side. More like .2 than 2 miles!

Grateful for a landmark we quickly climbed the bank to take a seat in the lean-to. South Lake Lean-to was less than a mile away so before we unpacked for lunch I decided we should push on. South Lake was supposed to be gorgeous and the guide spoke of how close the shelter is to the water, maybe we could take a swim! The sun was shining strong after all. The group agreed and we looked for the trail which was actually a little confusing to find. We did figure out it passes right in front of the shelter and continues down the hill in case any of you reading was wondering!

South Lake

Baby Legs made a beeline for the next stop which encouraged me to put a little mustard on my pace. I was pushing so hard I actually started to follow an animal trail down a hill but luckily realized my mistake within a few yards. Before long we all made it to our favorite brown sign with yellow letters “LEAN-TO” and headed in to meet South Lake’s shore. There was a fire pit and some benches but no Lean-to! Doh—I had forgotten that they were going to rebuild this lean-to away from the lake and it was going to be that week we started. Incredibly, the team had already dismantled it and rebuilt the shelter way up on the hill behind us. They had done a beautiful job too.

Return of the Rain

None of us went up the hill though, we stayed right on the lake and set up to make lunch. We did make 5 miles by noon and we were all starving at this point! Ready to lighten our food bags so we opted for hot-lunch but not before taking our shoes off to dry in the sun. No sooner did we get our wet clothes and shoes in the sun and start cooking did the clouds start to change and the wind began to pick up. I was so mad I started to cry a little.

“No! No way. Look, the sky. It’s going to fucking rain again! I know it! This is absolute bullshit!” I yelled.

“No it’s not, it’s just some clouds, Panic,” Tarzan lied.

“No way, look! The wind’s picked up and look, the clouds are darker behind those mountains over there,” I argued as the sun crept behind the clouds.

“Calm down, Panic! Let’s just eat some lunch and see what it does,” Baby Legs offered.

Defeated I put on my puffy and ate my stupid lunch as it started to sprinkle. I jumped up and grabbed all my wet clothes and socks and shoved them into my pack. We all put our pack covers on as the rain picked up a little so we could finish our lunches.

Baby Legs sitting on a log at the former South Lake Lean-to site assessing the map and looking at the approaching weather.

South Lake Bridge

Tarzan admiring South Lake Bridge in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness

The spitting stopped but the clouds and wind did not. We cleaned up and I pulled my wet socks over my sore blisters and shoved my feet into my wet shoes grimacing as my blistered heels screamed settling back into place. We didn’t say much to one another and headed out toward the famed South Lake bridge. The area leading up to the bridge was flooded. Defeated, we waded through the muck.

The bridge is seemingly dilapidated, twisted and unstable. I noticed the water running quickly under it and the only thing that got me on that bridge was the reassurance we got from the New Yorkers we met at Hamilton Lake Stream Lean-to that it was indeed a solid and sturdy bridge. They were not lying. Even though the bridge was sunbleached and uneven it was 100% solid. I trusted that bridge more than any bog board, suspension bridge, or log bridge I have crossed yet. Truly amazing engineering that I definitely couldn’t explain. There was one long log to the left that acts as a support at the twisted spot and I don’t have a clue how it works and doesn’t get washed away. I guess you’re not supposed to question something that isn’t broken. So we wont!

West Lake Lean-to

Within a mile we made it to West Lake Lean-to just to check it out as it also sits on the shores of it’s lake. I took a moment to read the log and found that the family I read about at Spruce Lake #3 stopped here as well and unfortunately ran into a storm that blew the lake so hard it lapped the edge of the shelter and worse yet, the roof of the lean-to leaked! They set up their tent inside for shelter from the cold wind and rain and leaky roof. Needless to say, the shelter needs work.

While we rested a bit more we actually heard people in the distance but never saw them. They sort of just disappeared into the wilderness. Maybe they were hiking the French Louie Loop but, it was time for us to get moving. The skies were not getting any better.

Bogs, Hills, Mud Pits and Rain

At this point we knew our hopes of getting to Carry had gone out the window. Our new goal would be to get to Cedar Lakes #1—the furthest Cedar Lakes Lean-to. This new goal was still just over 6 miles ahead but would keep us on track with our daily mileage goal and seemed way more reasonable than another 10 miles especially considering how the day has already transpired.

I hardly remember the next few miles as we approached the cedar lakes. The guidebook was no help for morale either. It suggested that the next few miles may be tedious. This section of trail had already been rerouted a few times due to beaver activity and we had Cobble Hill to get over. How bad could it be? Bad. After we passed the old French Louie Camp and departed from the overlap with the North Country Trail we entered a special hell of overgrowth, mud pits, blowdowns, flooded trails and more.

Dirty Swamp Kitties

Trying to navigate the flooded trail and the beaver bog headed to Cedar Lakes in the West Canada Wilderness.

The beaver bog everyone had been talking about was unavoidable. The reroute was underwater. Faced with the challenge I carefully led our tramily from rock to rock and branch to branch as long as I could until we ultimately had to just feel our way through the nearly knee deep water with our poles hoping not to step into a deep hole. We just surrendered to the circumstances not knowing that this would not be the last time we would encounter these conditions. Somehow, we made it through laughing. Maybe because of how ridiculous it was or maybe because we had totally lost it at this point. We thought we might have seen a few lynx tracks and there was a bog or pond coming up called Cat pond  so we started calling ourselves the Dirty Swamp Kitties because at the time, seemed reasonable.

Sticking mostly together for the next few miles it started to sprinkle. The low rolling clouds of moisture had rolled in just like I had expected and gradually started raining more and more. By the time we got to Cobble Hill it just poured. Absolutely pissed rain. This was the hill that just kept on climbing. Finally it started to go downhill but the rain did not let up. I think we were just about running at this point just to get to Cedar Lakes #2, otherwise known as the Beaver Pond Lean-to. The guide had mentioned it’s easy to miss the turn off but we had our eyes out like hawks.

Stevie and the Seagulls stopping for a snack in the rain because we were already wet and filthy

Cedar Lakes #2 and the Toad Army

I think rage got us to our friendly Brown and yellow LEAN-TO sign for Cedar Lakes #2 which came up on our right before the log bridge across the beaver dam. We made a dash for the lean-to.

Happy to find a large, clean, and empty lean-to dropped our bags and ripped our shoes off and placed them under the lean-to away from the splashing rain still pounding the ground. We all made our beds and hung up our bags and wet clothes before anything else this time. I could have cried I was so happy to be done. You couldn’t get me or even Baby Legs to walk another mile in this rain. We surrendered yet again to Rhonda and her antics.

Is this a Leech?

The rain let up a little and we went down to the water’s edge to see if it was any good for swimming—not really. It was a little low surprisingly and filled with pant matter. There were deer tracks in the wet sand and a lone loon came in like the devil making a racket looking for his partner in the fog. Baby Legs and Tarzan were filling their water bags to filter while I washed my filthy feet. We all trudged back up the hill to the shelter where Tarzan worked to start a fire in the rain. Baby Legs and I changed into our camp clothes nearly despondent.

“Hey Tarzan,” Baby Legs said curiously. “is this a leech?” I peered over as Tarzan turned around to look.

“Yup” he said, “looks like it to me.”

“Huh” Baby Legs wasn’t even phased. “I guess you’ll always remember your first leech.” she stated as she seemingly unbothered picked it from between her toes and threw it into the fire.

I laughed in disbelief. “How are you not even freaking out?” I asked bewildered. Laughing, she said “I don’t know, I guess I’m just too tired to care.” I shook my head and we laughed together and continued getting ready for dinner.

Tarzan climbed into the shelter as his attempted fire smoldered in the rain that was coming down in full force again. Everyone made hot dinner and we all shared.

“How are you doing Baby Legs?” I asked.

“I am tired and sore and my spirit has yet to be broken. I’m mad at Rhonda for being a bitch.” I nearly died laughing and she added “That Rhonda is a backstabbing bitch and I hate her!” She wasn’t wrong!

Toad Armies of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness

It ended up being a fun end to the miserable day. Tarzan eventually got the fire going even in the rain for a while and I even remembered to find the privy just before dark instead of waiting for dark like the last few nights. There were a lot of laughs—we were just so grateful to be dry again in a shelter even though we did not meet our goal. When I got back from the privy, the rain had just about let up and Tarzan told me to look out for the toads as I walked back to the lean-to. He wasn’t wrong. There was an absurd number of toads in the camp. Big ones too.

Being goofy, I grabbed two big guys and brought them to the lean-to to show them off. “Look!” I exclaimed! After messing with the toads we climbed into bed not long after hiker midnight with full bellies hoping to get a good night’s sleep.

Around midnight we all seemed to wake up. Tarzan and Baby Legs both had to pee. Looking out into the dark with our headlamps we notice even more toads than before. There was a literally toad army. Baby Legs spoke first, “I’ve got a visual on five toads now, copy.” We all burst out laughing. “Yeah, I guess we have a security detail tonight.” I said. Tarzan and Baby Legs returned from peeing not long later and I fell fast asleep.

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