June 13, 2014 - Day 2: Day-trip to Scorch Lake
Day 2 Routing (12KM): Byers L--> York River--> Branch L--> Scorch L & return
I was awoken during the middle of the night to the sound of rainfall. The rain intensified and became a deluge and went on for more than 30 minutes. It was during this time of heavy rainfall that I grew worried and began checking the corners of my tent. I blew up my air mattress again (It had gone flat), so I could escape the creeping rainwater - should the unfortunate happen. Finally, after what seemed like hours the rain ceased. Checking for rainwater, I found none. That was a huge relief. I blew up my mattress once more and went back to sleep.

It was a grey morning, again with humidity and bugs bitting. For breakfast, we each had agreed beforehand to make our own and I treated myself to a breakfast royale; Supreme egg sandwiches, which I cooked in a frying pan over my camp stove. Served on toasted rye bread (Toasted over the fire) - my egg sandwiches were packed with bacon, cheddar cheese, italian tomato, egg of course and mayo. I made two of them and had bailey's in my morning coffee. Yum!

Breakfast completed and dishes washed, I began gearing up for day-tripping. We were base-camping on Byers - the plan was to launch day-trips from Byers Lake, where we would return each evening to camp.

Heading up the York River

By 9:30am we were all ready to go and go we did, heading up to the north end of the lake. Our destination was to be the lookout on Scorch Lake; though we hadn't planned it to be that way. As we headed north and reached the end of the lake, we paddled into the York River proper and as we did so, we encountered a marshy bay at the outlet of the lake.

There in the bay was a cow moose, chomping away on aquatic plants. It didn't take long for the moose to become unnerved by our presence as she paused her feeding several times before finally deciding to head for the safety of the forest. I didn't take any pictures as I sat there enjoying the moment, though brief it was.
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Sean displays a nice smallmouth bass

We continued up the river and as we did the sun emerged. This was both a blessing and a curse. The sun was hot on my skin however, the bugs seemed to enjoy the sun more then you or I would. Not only this, but black flies started to show-up. Oh no!

Buggy it was - a perfect time to fish! Out came the rods and it wasn't long before Sean started catching fish after fish. However, they were all bass. We were hoping to catch brook trout and bass season wasn't for another two weeks. Too bad, for the bass were nice and meaty. We would've had some tasty snacks. Mike started catching fish too, again all bass and finally I caught one, though not as nice as Sean or Mike's. All the bass were put back. We continued to fish and paddle lazily as we made our way up the river towards Branch Lake.

Upon arrival on Branch Lake we continued onwards, fishing as we paddled about halfway up the lake. At that point we stopped and decided to drift back down Branch Lake, trolling for trout as we drifted south. Nothing was caught by either Sean or me. As we drifted down the lake, grey clouds approached and thunder could be heard.

Just before 12 noon we landed at the 1,065m portage to Scorch Lake. Beside the landing for the portage was a campsite that I would rate maybe a 3 out of 10? It wasn't very good at all and the only redeeming qualities were the small beach landing and the fact that it sat next to the trailhead of a portage. That campsite came complete with its own iron skillet hanging on a nearby tree and was the only campsite (and skillet too) on the entire lake.

Harsh I maybe in my assessment of the campsite but if you were to camp on the same campsite we camped on Byers Lake, you would know how poor the campsite is on Branch Lake by comparison. Algonquin Park is known for having many more shitty campsites then awesome ones. The awesome ones are stellar when you finally land on one! Another way to turn a negative into a positive is to follow the belief, "A campsite is what you make it". With a little hard work even the most miserable campsite can be made homey in an hour or two. We were lucky though no hard work was needed that day, other then the portage to Scorch Lake.

Close encounter of the prehistoric kind

After a brief break along with some water and gorp, we loaded up for the single carry into Scorch Lake. Almost immediately, we were disappointed to see that a broken boardwalk in the last stages of decay had to be negotiated. Sean didn't like it and neither did I but Mike just shrugged and kept going, I soon followed and so did Sean. I got my feet wet, immersing them in muck but was soon back on the hard packed trail. After the initial crossing of the broken boardwalk, the rest of the trail was easy to carry-over. There were a few minor blowdowns and a few muddy sections, but again, like the two previous portages, the trails were clear, hard-packed and easy to follow.

For some reason, the humidity decreased as I went through the portage to Scorch as did the bug levels which was a nice relief. Still, upon arrival at Scorch Lake, I was covered with sweat and bug bites and was in a hurry to get my canoe off my back. I was just behind Mike who was right at the water's edge looking for a place to put his canoe down. I hurriedly took the 'high road' and plunked my canoe down on a patch of dirt.

I looked down at my feet and to my astonishment saw a decent sized snapping turtle! My canoe was almost right on top of her. I had plunked my canoe down within an inch of her shell. I sprang back and watched uneasily, hoping I hadn't injured the turtle. I took a few photos then cautiously crept over to the far side of the canoe and slowly dragged the canoe away from the turtle.

My actions seemed to have no effect on the turtle, which failed to react to my presence. Both Mike & I were behind the turtle now, watching expectantly. We could see that the turtle had dug a hole and was right on top of it. As we continued to watch the turtle we spotted round, shiny & wet objects drop into the hole. The turtle was laying eggs. One, two, then three & four together, then five. We watched over the course of a few minutes while the turtle laid roughly a dozen eggs.

Scorch Lake put-in: Close encounter with a snapping turtle

The turtle paused for awhile then began to bury the hole. By now, Sean had arrived cursing, as a strap on his camera bag had broke during the portage causing his gear to drop. I felt his pain and hoped his precious gear was fine. We hung around for another 10 minutes before realizing the turtle wasn't going to leave anytime soon, so we decided to leave first.

Turning our attention to Scorch Lake, I have to say my first impression was that a bomb had gone off in the area. We were not on the lake proper but the waterway leading to the open lake was terrible. Putting into the water, we were immediately hung up on several submerged logs. The logs were sawn, obviously remnants left over from logging days long past.

Finally, getting by the logs, the rocks started in on us. The waterway becoming narrow and shallow. At one point we had to get out and walk the canoe a few meters as we scraped bottom while dodging rocks all around us. It was smelly, wet work and looking around I couldn't help but feel a little depressed. The water levels looked to be on the order of six feet or more below a water mark along the shoreline! The whole area looked drained. Not only this, the forest had the appearance that a fire had gone through the area many decades before, thus the name Scorch Lake we figured?
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The view from the put-in on Scorch Lake

We paddled on passing what was once an island, now connected to the mainland. My thoughts at this point were unsure of the area. If Big Rock Lake had been drained by a burst beaver dam what had happened on Scorch Lake? Looking around, I could see much of the exposed shoreline had tree stumps on it. To me the stumps looked natural, not sawn. I surmised that two things had happened to Scorch Lake:

1) The lake had been damned for logging purposes long, long ago. This flooded the lake, killing many shoreline trees, thus the timber and stumps now lying exposed on the shoreline.

2) At some point, the logging dam was removed but in its place a beaver dam was constructed. The beaver dam had burst long before our arrival, leaving the lake as we now saw it.

Which dam raised the water level higher then the other? I'll never know. But seeing the exposed shoreline had me wondering if it had a detrimental effect on the brook trout population of the lake? I was thinking this because as we entered the lake proper the shoreline became gravel, lots of gravel. I have read that brook trout require very specific conditions for breeding. The conditions are a gravel shoreline in which springs would well up through the gravel. It is on these spring fed - well oxygenated beds of gravel that the brook trout lay their eggs and where they are incubated.

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This 'island' on Scorch L was left high & dry due to low water levels

Having so much exposed gravel shoreline removes a large potential of spawning beds for the trout. Although we had brought our rods none of us fished the lake. The wind had picked up considerably and I think the view of the lake had us a little stunned. I certainly was. We briefly landed on a point just past the last campsite on the lake. I got out walked around and asked Sean if the outcropping of rock high above and behind him was where the lookout was? There is a trail that climbs up and overlooks the bottom end of Scorch Lake.

Sean wasn't sure if the outcropping was the actual lookout, but it seemed plausible so I got back into canoe and we paddled on looking for the trailhead up to the lookout. Minutes went by as we scouted along the shoreline and finally in the last bay of the lake, I spotted what looked like a trail. We pulled up onto the timber strewn shoreline and got out. Both of us were immediately overcome with the stench of beaver dam water. The whole shoreline was like walking on a beaver dam, soft, squishy and very smelly. Ick!

Sure enough, as I walked up to the forest I saw some flagging tape and even a chewed up portage sign on the ground. It was the trail to the lookout! Mike arrived and we geared up for the walk up to the lookout, it was just before 1:30pm.
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Heading up the Scorch Lake trail to the lookout

Scorch Lake Lookout

The trek up to the lookout is not an easy walk. It is a steep climb as well the trail became faint in places. Also too, confusion arose as a another trail intersected ours then further on another fainter trail seemed to branch off. Sticking to what we thought was the main trail ended up being the correct decision. In just over twenty minutes we arrived at the vantage point over-looking Scorch Lake.

The sky was mostly cloudy with patches of blue sky here and there. As we loitered around for more then an hour, the winds picked up and thunder could be heard in the distance. The atmosphere had a hazy look to it.

We took many photos and video of the area and had a snack on the rock outcropping. When it was time to go, I turned and slipped on some wet moss clinging to the rock. I fell a few feet in the wrong direction, Mike’s heart leaping into his throat. I really scared the crap out of myself and Mike too. A few more feet and I might have fallen over the edge. The angle of the lower portion of the rock outcropping is sloped in a manner that is somewhat steep. Great care must be taken - avoid the slippery lichens and mosses that grow on the rock there.
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Lookout over Scorch Lake

The walk back was uneventful, though we noticed moose and bear scat along the trail at the summit. There it was somewhat flat with Canadian Shield bedrock. The initial descent is somewhat steep in places as the trail narrows, but is manageable - you have to take your time. It is my understanding that the intersecting trail is an equestrian trail used by a local outfitter to provide backcountry camping combined with horseback riding. An intriguing idea for Algonquin Park. If it weren't for my back, I'd probably give it a try. It's called the Bruton Farm trail. I'm not 100% sure though if this is the trail that provides horseback riding access.

By 3pm we were back on the lake paddling over to the last campsite on the lake. We decided to explore the site and have a lunch there. Sean even catching some shut-eye. The campsite had a trail that travelled north, paralleling above the shoreline, among the pines. This reminded me of a campsite I once visited on Lake Opeongo’s east arm, though the shoreline was more gravelly then Opeongo’s sandy shore.
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Wild Iris

Roughly 40m southeast of the campsite, Mike stumbled upon a trail. Following it, Mike discovered a hunt camp. Hunting, when permitted is legal in that area of Algonquin Park. I was a little uncomfortable of the fact that the road that led to the hunt camp was easily within walking distance of the canoe campsite - It could easily be abused if someone desired to drive-in and camp at the canoe campsite, especially if the hunt camp was already occupied.

We found areas that had been used for latrines, a gun rack and a hanging station - where a carcass is strung up for the night, out of reach (hopefully) of bears. The camp had obviously been there for years and looked well thought-out. We took a few more photos then departed - it was almost 4pm, time to head back to camp.

The paddle out was a tough one, we had a strong wind in our face all the way back to the portage. The turtle was gone, so we loaded up and carried over the trail. I might add that the carry-over seemed almost effortless and the walk through the forest was made enjoyable by the late afternoon sunlight - the forest having that glow that it gets at that time of day.
By 4:45pm we were back at Branch Lake. We took a 10 minute break then headed back down the York River back to camp. The paddle back was quicker as we did not fish. We figured we would just keep catching out of season bass - so why bother? We had dinner already back at our campsite to look forward to anyway and we were all getting hungry, especially after our day’s efforts.

At the marsh at the top end of Byers Lake, just as we entered the lake we spotted another moose - a cow moose. Possibly the same one we saw earlier. This time though the moose didn’t scare as easily and I pulled out my camera and took a few pictures before the moose departed. Nice to see that the moose had returned to the same area to feed. As a canoeist, I try not to interfere in the moose’s routine.

However, our mere presence is an interference. I believe it is our responsibility to minimize that interference by keeping our contact with wildlife such as moose as brief as possible. This time though, the moose had made the decision for us by leaving on her own accord. Being absolutely quiet is a given when observing wildlife and even with the most stealthy approach, the whisper of a paddle blade in the water can be a dead giveaway. This is what alerted the moose to our presence.

Two images from around the last campsite on Scorch Lake

It was 5:50pm when we arrived back at our camp on Byers Lake. It was a beautiful evening; Sunny and breezy with a un-June like hint of coolness in the air. It was Sean’s turn to prepare dinner as Mike & I cut wood for the evening campfire.

That evening around the fire was perfect; the dinner Sean served us filled our bellies; Beef in gravy served over a bed of noodles. Cookies for dessert again and as an extra treat the snapping turtle returned to lay more eggs. I also tried some time lapse photography for the first time - pointing my camera towards the setting sun.

Time lapse video on Byers Lake

I went to bed before 11pm, the bugs hadn’t been too much of a nuisance that evening as the humidity disappeared and the temperature cooled off. Again, with no sleeping pad I had a restless sleep.
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Cow moose on Byers Lake

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