An evening and three full days of adventure on our first multi-lake canoe portage trip!
To the north-west of Campbell River, there are dozens and dozens of lakes. Ten of these happen to form a convenient oval, which is the basis of the Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit. It involves approx 42km of paddling and 8km of portage at the minimum, though you can add on extra lakes outside of the main circuit. The advised time to complete the circuit is 3-4 days, so we took the opportunity over my long birthday weekend in June. Some of the lakes get relatively busy with RVs and motorboats in the summer, so I wanted to avoid doing it in July and August.
I’ve been wanting to write about this trip as soon we got back (a month ago!), but our camera memory card corrupted and I’ve been trying to restore the photos and video footage ever since. I have everything except the videos from the last day, which is frustrating, but hey, it could be worse. We wanted to make a video of the Circuit as I think it’s the kind of trip that benefits from more than just a few photos within a blog post!
A new adventure
Neither of us had ever done any kind of multi-day adventure (hiking, canoeing etc) involving a different destination every day and a set route like this, so it was all pretty brand new and exciting for us. We actually almost didn’t go as the weather wasn’t looking too good (typical of the Island in June as I have discovered!), but we only had one day of rain and it was actually a good learning experience for us fair-weather canoeists!
This was a fantastic trip but did not come without its challenges! We had a great time, so I hope you enjoy the video as much as we enjoyed the adventure.
Making decisions early
We planned our trip around the time that we had, the weather and our own lake priorities. Heading out late on Tuesday after Jean Robert had finished work, we knew that we couldn’t expect to go too far the first day. We instead aimed to have a very long day Wednesday to get a good portion of the circuit completed by Thursday, when rain was due.
The southern lakes are more road accessible and we had canoed some of them before (Fry Lake and the lower half of Mohun), so we prioritised spending time on the northern half of the circuit. This route also left the longest portage, 2.2km, for the last day when we would have less food to carry, but that is surely just a coincidence! It worked out pretty well anyway, with us finishing the circuit exactly 72 hours after we started.
Sayward Canoe Circuit reflections
The Sayward Circuit wasn’t exactly a piece of cake for us but we had an awesome time none withstanding. As I said, we’d never done anything like this before and we both probably underestimated the effort it takes to paddle and portage for 11 hours (as in the case of our long day on Wednesday), and then set up and take down camp every day. We’re not exactly the fittest people in the world either, and Jean Robert took the challenge of portaging the canoe the ‘old fashioned way’ i.e. over his head, rather than use a canoe cart!
A human powered journey
I believe that the vast majority of people on this route use canoe carts, which would make it all a lot easier, since you would not have to unload and reload every time you portage. Oh, and carry everything yourself as opposed to throwing it in the canoe! We had a lot of fun though; the best thing about it was the idea of being on an adventure, transporting yourself and everything with you to your destination, just with human power. The adventure feel was helped by the fact that we didn’t see many other people on the circuit either; a few RVs at some of the Rec sites en-route, and only one other couple paddling the Circuit itself. Another awesome thing; the Circuit is completely free to do. Now that’s my kind of adventure!