Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sylvania Wilderness Canoe Trip to Whitefish Lake

As the loons prepared to gather, and the leaves began to turn, Labor Day brought our last canoe tripping adventure of the summer to a close. Sure, we'll get a few chances to dip our paddles out day tripping. But there is nothing like canoe camping on a motor-free lake to make our plastic and concrete world go away, if only for a few short, relaxing days.

The Sylvania Wilderness is located in Upper Michigan near Watersmeet in the Ottowa National Forest. It offers 50 nice, canoe accessible, wilderness campsites. There is also a campground on Clark Lake for those seeking to car camp. The lakeside wilderness sites are particularly nice as they lack the thick undergrowth of some wilderness areas.

This trip we portaged 242 rods (0.8 miles) to Whitefish Lake. A lollipop bribe kept our 7 year old marching up and down the portage trail with her backpack and gear as we double portaged. I felt particularly proud of myself for not losing every shred of patience as she lollygagged taking breaks while uttering complaints in the whiniest of tones. Too hot, too far, uphill both ways. Honestly, even with the double portage this could not be called a long hike by any stretch of the imagination.

At the trail head.

Bears are finding their way into campsites on Whitefish Lake.

Our daughter named these banana fungi.

Mushrooms and tree fungi lined the portage trail. The trail is wide and well maintained, and the few muddy spots are minor and easy to navigate. The rocks and roots are minimal as compared to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Pretty yellow mushroom on the portage trail.

Big mushrooms on the portage trail.

The put-in at Whitefish Lake.

We finally got through our only portage and paddled across the lake to our campsite, Perch 1. We didn't exactly choose this site. We fell into it by default. The remainder of the sites in the Sylvania Wilderness were taken. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Perch 1 is a nice campsite with a fantastic layout, including nice flat areas for tent pads. Perch 1 also has a beautiful adjoining beach.

Perch 1.

The campsite.

The sand beach at Perch 1.

So why would this lovely site not be off the market? Its downsides include the neighboring campsite, Perch 2, from which Perch 1 can be seen. Seen, heard, and yes, the thunder box is situated on a little hill with an unobscured view from Perch 2. As I stood up to zip my fly after my first go at the thunderbox, I got that funny someone's watching you feeling and turned expecting to see a squirrel or frog checking me out. But no, I saw the Perch 2 campers perfectly situated to lounge about their campsite popping bon-bons into their mouths, feet up, tuned in to watch Perch 1 campers drop trou. Lovely.

The hill at Perch 1.

The other downside of Perch 1 is the steep hill at the landing from which camping gear must be toted up a steep, eroding embankment, then up a short but steep hill. A nicer land and carry can be made from the beach just down from Perch 1. It's a further to walk up to the campsite by distance, but eliminates the steep, eroding portion of the hill. Of course we were quite pleased to discover this well after dragging ourselves and all of our belongings uphill the hard way.

After setting camp, we went for a walk to check out the beach in hopes of cooling off. About the same time a group of party boys paddled by and took over the small beach at our site for the afternoon. They were loud, drunk, and showed up with a large party beyond the size allowed by regulation, with lots of bottles and cans, also disallowed by regulations. Our daughter wanting a swim, I decided to go down to the rocky "beach" at our landing, but the drunk guys on the beach started hollering at us, so thinking of the safety of my child, we retreated uphill into camp to play games while Daddy snoozed in the hammock. The drunks finally paddled away at sundown.

I did pick up cans, broken glass, egg shells, and other miscellaneous items around our campsite left behind by past visitors. It got me thinking of the bear warnings at the trail head, and how by leaving food remnants people train wildlife to come into camp looking for food. It also got me thinking perhaps the beach site is popular among the local party crowd.

Sneaking up on Mom.

Whitefish Lake Perch 1 landing.

Someone found a jawbone.

We cancelled our planned canoe trip over to Loon Lake the next day, remaining at basecamp waiting for the strong winds and gusts to taper off. The folks on Perch 2 left in the early morning, and the party boys never returned, giving us the remainder of the weekend to enjoy the wilderness and hit the thunder box in peace. The winds finally subsided near sunset. Basecamping this day gave us plenty of beach time thanks to poor paddling conditions keeping the lake and the beach quiet.

Swimming in Whitefish Lake.

Finding little shells on the beach at Whitefish Lake.

The winds tapered off just before sunset and our daughter requested a paddle. Not a family paddle, but a girls only paddle. She basked in the glorious exclusivity doing a special activity with only Mom. She sat high and proud in her seat, and enjoyed taking pictures of loons, the wild clouds, and the sunset.

Taking pictures of a loon.

Sun's going down, time to head back into camp.

Marshmallows before the storm.

The rain came that night just after our daughter roasted her last marshmallow, and it didn't let up until Labor Day morning. Waiting for sunrise, I took my chair down to the beach to listen to the loons calling through the mist. That morning, it appeared we were the only ones remaining in camp on the lake, and I couldn't help but feel that we should be just starting our time here, not leaving so soon.

Maple leaves starting to look like fall.

Early morning visitor.

More signs of fall.

One of many loons.

We heard plenty of owls and loons, listened to the rain, and watched an otter swim across the lake. The leaves were beginning to turn, with winds that felt like autumn - my favorite time of year to be outdoors. I felt sad to leave this place behind knowing we cannot return until next year, with school schedules demanding precedence over family time in the wilderness.

Map of our route to Perch 1.

 Meal Plan


Meal Plan by Day

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

On the Road
Bagels, Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Apple
Hashbrowns, Bacon, Ketchup Packets
Beef Jerky, Cashews, Trail Mix, Granola Bars
Water, Gatorade, Mint Tea, Electrolyte Drink Tabs
Ham and cheese sandwich at the trailhead
Dehydrated Mac with Cheese, Tuna, Apple
Granola Bars, Trail Mix, Beef Jerky
Tortilla Pizza with Pepperoni and Bacon Bits
Dehydrated Beef Stroganoff with Freeze Dried Peas
Stopped at Brew's Pub in Land O' Lakes for a delicious homemade burger
None (Extra Snacks)

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