Day 3 - Black Lake to Shoe Lake 

(12 km) 

Maps provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red. 

Day 3 - Black Lake to Shoe Lake (12 km)

The forecast was calling for rain and when I awoke at 6:00 AM it looked gloomy, indeed. 

I got up and began immediately breaking camp. I wanted to get my gear stowed away dry before the heavens unleashed. I then made a quick breakfast of cereal and got a coffee going on my camp stove. No fires in the pit that morning, I wanted to get on the water before the rains came. 

It remained dry as I paddled across Black Lake. It was a pleasant paddle in the cool and still of the early morning. At the far east end of the lake, I saw the portage sign high on a tree above a steep boulder. This worried me at first, thinking I would have to take out and scramble up that incline, but then I saw the actual portage about 30 feet to the left. It appeared to go through a low-lying swampy area. 

Once again, the portages of the Black Lake Loop tricked me. I followed the trail and had to dodge a massive mud puddle. The trail ran parallel to the lake and then began curling north and west again along the shoreline, away from the easterly direction toward the Black River. After about 100 meters, I clued in that this was another ATV trail and I must have missed the fork in the portage. I muttered an expletive and backtracked. Of course, the giant puddle had buried the fork and I hadn't noticed the actual portage climbing up over the ridge. Sigh. 

The steepness of the ridge got my heart pounding. From the top of that ridge, it was a downward mucky slide to the base of a waterfall.  It was a small miracle that I didn't fall on that walk as it was incredibly slick; to make matters worse, it started to rain. I had to go extremely slow for the most part. I could see very fresh deer footprints in the muck. With no evidence of the deer sliding, I guessed it was more sure-footed than I was. 

Toward the end, I began to hear the falls. They were very pretty, and I investigated them on the return walk for the canoe. The high water in spring contained a lot of force!

By the time I retreived my canoe, it was raining quite hard. Again, the portage took much longer than it normally would have due to the slippery conditions. By 9:30 AM, I was back on the water and paddling upstream through a very pretty marshland amidst a backdrop of thick coniferous forest. 

Paddling east on the Black River, I saw the portage into Horse Lake on my right. The river wasn't very deep there and I was thinking that it would be a tough paddle in low water conditions later in the year. There was a campsite on the north bank of the river across from the portage which looked spacious. 

Just past the site, the river veered to the north and could I hear moving water. Next to the rapids there, on my right, was the start of the 400-meter portage that bypassed a bend in the river containing a series of rapids and drops. There was a campsite that overlooked the area. It was a gorgeous spot and I immediately regretted not choosing this site for my second night rather than the one on Black Lake. The Black Lake site was fine, but this one was right up my alley -- more secluded at the base of a rapid in a stunning wilderness setting. 

I fished at the base of the rapids for 15 minutes or so, and after coming up empty, started the portage. I could tell that I was back in the maintained part of the HHWT because there was a nice boardwalk across a swampy bit. These certainly did not exist west of Black Lake.

I could hear the hefty rapids of the river throughout the duration of the portage but couldn't see the river until the put-in. The portage crossed a logging road which crossed the river at a bridge next to the put-in.  There was a substantial drop in the river just before the bridge. 

Immediately upriver from the put-in was even a larger wetland than the one before the portage. 

It was an amazing paddle through there. I spotted a massive blue heron that flew up and over me and a lot of other birdlife; the place was teeming with red-winged blackbirds. There was a plethora of beaver lodges dotting the landscape, as well. On two of these lodges, I spotted Canadian geese nesting on them. At first, I thought it was a dead bird on the lodge because it was so still. As I was trying to get a photo, I saw its head twitch and realized it was nesting, so I moved on, not wanting to stress the poor creature out. 

To the east of the marsh, I could see and hear a pretty waterfall in the distance. 

Upon arriving there, I discovered it was a double set of falls and the portage was a short ascent on the island between the drops. 

It looked like it might be a good place to fish, but not having any success downstream, I decided to just keep moving. Besides, the location was on the doorstep of Wren Lake, a cottage-laden body of water, and was probably properly fished-out. 

Above the falls, I paddled for a minute or two before having to get out of the canoe again to lift over a small ledge that would take me into Wren Lake proper. 

After moving northeast past the very many cottages on Wren Lake, I entered an outlet and paddled under Highway 35 into a tiny bay that had some wonderful cliffs on its northern shore. 

Continuing north, I passed the portage to the Wren Lake access point on my left and through a narrowing which looked like it once might have had a bridge that spanned it. 

A few minutes past that and I arrived at the portage that would take me past a large hydro dam and into Raven Lake. 

It was about an hour to get to the Raven Lake access point at the northwestern end of Five Mile Bay. It began raining again on Raven Lake, but thankfully the wind was down so the paddling was fairly easy going. In fact, the rain was keeping boats off the lake to a large degree which made the paddle quite pleasant. Some of the cottages on the lake were of the upscale mansion variety. 

The Raven Lake access point is a boat launching spot for property owners with water-access cottages only. There was a maze of docks and moored boats at the front of the launch. I took out on the south side next to the parking lot and left my canoe and gear next to a row of cars. I then began the 1.3-kilometer walk back to my car at the Shoe Lake access point. I didn't dillydally; I was a little nervous about leaving my gear and canoe there on its own. When I returned in a little under a half hour, I was relieved to find them unscathed. 

My thoughts on the Black Lake Loop? Would I do it again? Well, as I mentioned at the outset of this trip report, I am not the type to revisit routes I've done when there are so many out there that I haven't done yet. And this route most certainly wouldn't be the first one to redo. 

Pros: I would say that the highlight was the Black River portion that I completed on Day 3. I found it very scenic and with its easy access to the Wren Lake put-in, I would say it would be a nice overnighter or part of a trip that would involve McEwen and Horse Lakes to the south. The Pairo Lakes and Caracass Lake are small, but nice, and they offer campsites that will give canoeists solitude barring any visits from ATVers. 

Cons: There is a lot of long portaging on this route along ATV trails and roads. The ports between Shoe Lake and the Black River and not all well-marked and navigation was difficult in spots. Black Lake was a nice lake but the fact that it is connected to well-used ATV trails and the trashed campsites which result from that is not enticing. All but a few of the lakes have cottages on them, so getting a true feeling of being in the wilderness won't really occur. 

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