Thursday, October 2, and it still felt like summer with temperatures in the 70s. I raced from a long day at work and threw my camping supplies together at record speed. Friday held another sunny, warm forecast and I wanted to canoe-camp on Lake Lila before the rainy weekend. I've set my tent up in the dark before, but it's not fun, so I hurried.
Historically, the first snowstorm would hit at the beginning of October. Seaplanes and motorboats were taken off the lakes. By late October, you said goodbye to the ground and it didn't reappear until late April when the snow melted. But the world has been rapidly warming, and now many of us canoe right into December. Ice-on has moved out a couple months, which is truly dramatic change over the past few decades. Common Loons, in their winter plumage, stay as long as the water remains open. I often alarmingly comment that if the climate keeps rapidly changing, the loons may not have to leave at all.
A Popular Lake
I was somewhat surprised to find 20 cars in the Lake Lila parking lot in October! Lovely Lake Lila remains an extremely popular wilderness destination. There are a couple dozen formal camping locations along the lake, and I worried about finding one, especially so late in the day with little light remaining.
I met 3 young men in the parking lot who had also just arrived. I always get curious looks when other paddlers see that my canoe is inside my car! My Hornbeck Blackjack canoe fits inside my Toyota Highlander, which is really convenient!
The carry is three-tenths of a mile, and I made two trips with my boat and supplies. I met a man and woman on their way out, and this would be the last woman I would see during the trip. It appears that I happened to go camping during "men's time away in the wilderness." Over the course of the two-day trip, I met four different groups of men numbering 2, 3, 7, and 8.
A flood of memories came back as I canoed away from the carry trail. Back in the late 1990s, Lake Lila was the first place my husband and I camped with our two young sons. We camped at the site next to the carry. It had a long sandy beach. I could still hear the boys laughing and jumping around the rocks. Our older son took the guide boat out by himself and I was frantic as my husband kept saying, "He's fine!" The Bald Eagle we watched, now such a common sight, was rare and thrilling during that trip. I remembered the night, waking to a Great Horned Owl and a Barred Owl vocalizing. I remembered the morning fog on the lake and the incredible stillness of the dawn without a ripple on the water. I remembered a bobbing Spotted Sandpiper running around the beach. I am ever thankful that we raised our sons in this soulful wilderness.
Toward Shingle Shanty Brook
I headed past Little Island on my way toward Shingle Shanty Brook, where I had hoped to camp near a boreal habitat. A vocalizing Osprey startled me. It was perched on a dead snag. Just as I tried to photograph it from the canoe, it took flight. As usual, I was birding, and I reminded myself that the sun was going down! So I focused on paddling. As I passed the point to the east of Spruce Island, I saw that the 3 young men I met earlier had set up at camp site 20 on that lovely point. I held out hope I could get closer to Shingle Shanty Brook. Site 19 was available, but I kept going. Seven men at site 18 told me they had set up a tarp at site 17 just in case they needed the extra room, but said they didn't, and I could have it. Seventeen was just the camp site I had hoped to get!
As I headed toward the gorgeous beach by site 17, I heard and saw two foraging Greater Yellowlegs. They nest to our north in Canada and we observe them only during migration. I had to stop birding and set up my tent! I had plenty of room next to the huge tarp the men had erected.
As I was setting up my solo tent, I suddenly looked up at a blazing orange sunset! It was as if the sky was on fire. I ran out to the beach with my camera, but pictures never do justice to such a view.
There were dried out tree trunks that lined the long beach by my campsite as if they were lined up couches to sit on. I was so excited that I couldn't think about sleeping and I sat on a log on the beach for a couple hours in the dark.
Sounds of the Night
Wave after wave of Canada Geese passed over. At first, I could just make out the Vs in the fading light, then, I could just hear them. I could tell it was going to be a fabulous night for migration. I heard the call of the season's first "Gray-cheeked Thrush" (in quotes since it is nearly impossible to tell the migration call note of Bicknell's Thrushes from Gray-cheeked Thrushes, so birders refer to them as "Gray-cheeked type calls"). I heard a couple Swainson's Thrushes calling, then Hermit Thrushes started, and then sparrow and warbler calls began. Most songbirds migrate at night, and on fall nights with north winds, it is remarkable to listen to this unseen river flowing overhead. Nearby ducks quacked, the Greater Yellowlegs called well into the dark with their tew, tew, tew calls, the haunting voice of a Common Loon pierced the night, coyotes howled from across the bay, and several Barred Owls vocalized from all directions. My ears were in heaven!
I could also hear the distant voices of the seven men at their camp. Stories were being told and there was a lot of laughing. No doubt wonderful memories they would have of their time on Lake Lila.
I sat for a long time on that log in the dark, sometimes closing my eyes and just listening to it all. I wished I had a lounge chair to sleep in on the beach, it was so gorgeous.
Something was approaching me in the dark! I switched on my headlamp and looking up at me from the sand was an American Toad! It continued on toward my camp. As I sat there in the dark, I started to think about how I left the tent unzipped, and your mind wonders strange things in the dark. I imagined the toad hopping into my tent, which I quickly dismissed!
Inside my tent, the falling leaves sounded like rain. My air mattress somehow developed a hole since my last camp trip, so there was no padding under my sleeping bag this night. There was a bounding creature running around my camp in the middle of the night, likely a weasel based on the sound, but I was too tired to investigate.
Dawn is a Feeling
In the glow of dawn, I could see fog rising from the water. I brought a thermos with coffee and I took it to the beach. Swamp and White-throated Sparrows were singing. A flock of Pine Siskins flew over, continuing a mass movement underway for this species. Ruby-crowned Kinglets sang. A couple Gray Jays vocalized. A Pileated Woodpecker drummed and called. Blue-headed Vireos sang. Sunrise over Shingle Shanty Brook and along the bay was spectacular.
Suddenly, a Common Raven loudly vocalized right over my tent. At the same time, a Bald Eagle began its gull-like vocalizations, so I understood why the raven was upset. Two adult Bald Eagles were perched together on a dead branch at the top of a large White Pine along the beach. As I photographed the eagles, a Brown Creeper began to sing nearby.
Shingle Shanty Brook
After breakfast, I set out to canoe Shingle Shanty Brook. The last time I was on this brook, I was leading an Audubon field trip and one of the participants became motion sick from the choppy water across Lake Lila. We had to turn back. It was during breeding season and I was hearing the "Quick Three Beers" song of the Olive-sided Flycatcher up the brook, but we didn't have the pleasure of seeing it that day. As I headed toward the mouth of the brook, I ran into a newly built beaver dam, which explained why I was hearing falling water all night. One end of the dam was breached, but the water was gushing down and there was no way to canoe up it. So I had to get out and pull the canoe over the dam.
Shingle Shanty Brook was as beautiful as I remembered!
I could see large paths through the vegetation along the water that only a Moose could have created. (...more on that later!) Winding Shingle Shanty Brook is one of those waterways where it just seems to be prettier around each new turn and you never want to turn around to go back. I ran into flocks of foraging Yellow-rumped Warblers. Ruby-crowned Kinglets were singing and a Common Yellowthroat called. I encountered yet another beaver dam and decided this was the time to turn around. I needed to leave time to climb Frederica Mountain and canoe out.
Across Lake Lila
I broke down my camp, and as forecast, the winds began to pick up. And then they picked up even more, growing into strong southeast winds. I had noted that the day would be windy, but I had assumed the winds would be from the west as usual. I should have paid more attention. There are warnings to avoid Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila on windy days for good reasons. West winds can help blow you out of Lake Lila since the put-in is at the eastern end. I've left Lake Lila on west winds and it feels like a fun amusement ride. But the southeastern winds were a problem. I used all my strength to cross the lake to pick up the trail to Frederica Mountain. The water splashed into the boat, soaking me, but it was quite warm out, so I didn't mind.
Trail to Frederica Mountain
As I pulled up to the marker for camp sites 8-9 on the west side of Lake Lila (near the old lodge), a group of 8 men in 4 canoes had just arrived and they pulled my canoe up so I didn't have to get wet feet. They were extremely happy waiting for one in their party to check on a lean-to site along the trail. They laughed and chatted with me. It was 1 p.m. and they offered me a beer, which I politely declined. When it came time for them to canoe to the lean-to site down the trail, I launched their boats to return the favor. I noticed that their canoes were already filled with empty beer cans and realized why they were all so cheerfully exuberant! They asked me not to name their town in the blog and I told them their secret was safe with me.
I set out to climb Frederica Mountain which overlooks Lake Lila on cliffs. You can hike this mountain from the parking area, but it is a 9 mile round trip. If you canoe across to the west end of the lake, the hike is only a 3 mile round trip. The trail follows an old dirt road for part of the way and branches right onto a trail for the second half.
On this lovely fall day, the path was carpeted in leaves. I found a Garter Snake that refused to leave the dirt road and a bright, neon green caterpillar on the trail. Many birds were encountered including a Ruffed Grouse and Winter Wren.
Views at the top were spectacular and I had the summit to myself. You can see all of Lake Lila and many mountains. Blue Mountain was quite prominent. I looked down at an Osprey as it majestically flew over the lake fishing. I could see that the wind had become much stronger. Looking down I planned a route out that would hug the eastern shore, but I'd still need to cross a huge open part of the lake first. I had a late lunch and lingered hoping the wind would die down. It didn't.
As I hiked back down the road part of the trail, I remembered the running race I had with my two young sons down that road so many years ago after we climbed Frederica. Of course I let them win! I remembered all the laughing.
Back at the boat, I ran into the two men who were camped on the other side of Shingle Shanty Brook. They told me that there was a bull Moose at the mouth of the brook at 4:30 p.m. the prior day, which was one hour before I arrived. It explained the huge paths in the vegetation along the brook that I observed. I helped launch them off, and then I felt a bit of panic looking at the white caps I was going to paddle into. I actually put on my life vest, which I hate wearing.
I have no idea how long it took me to cross Lake Lila in that wind. There were times when I was paddling with all my might and it felt like I wasn't moving at all. Water splashed into the boat and I tried to protect my camera and cell phone as best I could. At one point I was looking left and when I turned right into the wind, a wave hit me in the face. I let out a yell from the shock of the cold water smacking my face, and then I just laughed! I somehow made it to the eastern shore and hugged it so I could make progress. I actually thought about staying another night, but I didn't bring enough food and rain was forecast.
I hiked the carry trail twice again with my boat and supplies. There were 15 cars in the parking lot as I left, even with a forecast for rain. There is something quite special about Lake Lila!