Day Four: Devil and Lizard (Or, a Treacherous Devil)
Day four was split into two groups: those who wanted to stay at the campsite, relax, and sunbathe on a rock like lizards – Marc, Jenn and Paul – and those who wanted to portage out of lake Kokoko on the north side and climb Devil Mountain back on Lake Temagami – Adam, me, Shawn, Ian and Lana. I can’t speak for those who stayed at the campsite, as I wasn’t there and don’t know what happened while we were gone.
We left the campsite after lunch sometime. We paddled up past the campsite on the island in Kokoko and went into the small bay at the tip of the lake where the portage was reported to be. It was easy to find – a well traveled portage. On the trail itself were a few old-growth pine trees and one uprooted old growth tree that had gone down somewhat recently, probably in one of the many windstorms we’ve had this summer in the area.
It was an easy portage – two canoes and my daypack full of camera gear and trail mix – followed by an easy paddle out of the small bay on Temagami. The trailhead for the Devil Mountain trail was a campsite. We approached it cautiously, as there was a Three Buoys houseboat parked there, and one should always approach houseboaters with trepidation. The feud between houseboaters and canoeists on Temagami is a well-known one… at least on the part of the canoeists. Who knows what goes on in the minds of houseboaters.
This was a particularly rough crowd of houseboaters. When we arrived they had a campfire going, and were burning a seven foot long still-living sapling with leaves still attached. We didn’t approve, but weren’t about to say anything based on the grisliness of the bearded bikers sitting around the smoldering sapling.
We asked the houseboaters if this was the trailhead for Devil Mountain. They told us it was and directed us to the right path, telling us that it might be slippery because it’s been raining and that it’s a little uphill.
Apparently the grisly man’s version of a little uphill equates to what other people would call a very steep near-vertical slope. Adam started up the path, followed by Ian with me not far behind. Shawn and Lana took up the rear. When we got to the first vertical climb only a minute into the trail, I paused and looked up. My camera around my neck was swinging wildly, and I decided to put it away in my daypack. I sent Shawn ahead of me and started packing up the camera.
Not fifteen seconds after Shawn had disappeared above, he reappeared at the top of that part of the climb calling back down to Lana and I not to come up – Adam had hurt himself. I waited anxiously at the bottom, wondering what was going on at the top of that short climb. Shawn called down that Adam was okay, just a bit dizzy. He had hit his head on something on the trail. We waited some more for the boys to come back down.
Finally Shawn climbed back down, Ian and Adam following eventually. We walked back down the trail to where we had left the canoes, trying to still look cool for the houseboating biker people. We stood by the canoes for a bit while Adam tried to regain a sense of balance, and we all admired the lumps and welts he had acquired.
This is what happened according to Adam’s memory. He had been climbing up the trail, bouncing from foothold to foothold pretty quickly, when something contacted quite abruptly with his forehead. He had no idea what hit him. Seeing stars with a world spinning all around, he tried not to fall backwards down the vertical slope, since he didn’t want to take Ian out with him. When the world stopped spinning and he looked around to figure out what he had run into, he saw a massive log lying sideways across the trail. The log had quite neatly fallen into the blind spot just hidden by the rim of his hat, and he had launched full tilt headfirst into it.
We spent a few minutes at the bottom of the trail near our canoes, giving Adam a chance to recover. It was then we had to decide whether or not to try the trail again or to go back to camp. The grisly houseboat people then decided to let us in on something they had held back previously – the much easier, much less slippery, and far less vertical trail up the mountain started at the other side of the campsite. Nice of them to let us know after someone got injured.
When Adam told us that he wasn’t dizzy anymore and thought he would be well enough to make the easier climb, we decided to push on and get up the mountain. Devil Mountain could not keep us down, and we really wanted to see the view from up there.
The climb up the easier trail was a good cardiovascular exercise, but not nearly as steep or dangerous as the first trail. We made it up to the lookout at the top of the mountain and spent some time enjoying the view. To the north we could see a high peak, which we figured might be Maple Mountain. When we later looked at a topographical map, it was the only high point we could find in that direction.
It was a lovely view, and well worth the climb to the top. Even Adam admitted that he was glad he pushed himself to go up with the lump on his head.
We headed back to the canoes and started out for the portage again. Shawn, Adam and I were in the white canoe, and Lana and Ian were in the other, when someone (I forget who) suggested that we race the last stretch to the portage. We started racing and were doing fairly well until Lana’s steering skill matched with Ian’s brute strength at paddling combined to cause them to make a ninety degree turn just ahead of our canoe. With no time to react, we could do nothing but T-bone the blue canoe.
We were laughing too hard to even try to pull our canoe off the edge of the blue. The blue kept tipping and looking precariously like it was going to sink, and I was trying between laughs to push us off them.
Lana and Ian were stopped dead by the impact, which was probably for the best… their change in direction had them heading directly for a tree fall and some rocks on the shore, only a couple of metres away from where we stopped them with our T-bone.
Once we got our canoe off theirs, we made it the rest of the way to the portage without incident. The portage itself was again reasonably simple compared to a portage with all of our gear. The trip back to the campsite was also without any great incidents, although by that time if there had been some I don’t know if we would have been able to deal with it had there been something.
The evening was made up of cooking, huddling around the campfire trying to conserve heat, and trying yet another long exposure, this time of the stars. That’s when my camera batteries died, and I felt great sadness. The nights were progressively getting colder as the trip went on. Lana chose to sleep outside again near the fire, which we had to put out when the rest of us went to our tents, especially after we saw a few sparks fly directly onto her sleeping bag without her noticing. It rained again that night, although not for very long. I remember waking up often that night and the next morning in the dim light of predawn. Adam’s head hurt. Mice had been breaking into our food packs and eating our trail mix.
But we had beaten the Devil.