It rained steady and strong all night long. And it was still raining in the morning. We stayed in the tent hoping for a break, but none was forthcoming. At about 7:30 we finally got up.
We were immediately confronted by a TARP DISASTER. Our shoddy set-up from last night allowed rain to pool in the middle of the tarp without draining. As the tarp sagged more in the middle from the weight, the problem just got worse over the course of a long wet night. By the time we got up, there must have been between 50 and 100 gallons of water pooled in that tarp. No joke! Thanks to CCS construction, the tarp was still intact.
We whipped into action to empty the water. This was no mean feat, as the reservoir weighed hundreds of pounds, and we wanted to direct it away from ourselves and our gear. We got under the tarp and maneuvered it so the water moved toward the downhill edge. Once it reached the edge, the action of water pouring over did the rest, and the natural slope of the site carried the water away. Next we staked down a couple places on the edge of the tarp to create drainage for the rain that kept pouring down from above. Problem solved. But in this entire process we were more focused on remedying the situation than documenting it, so we failed to get a "tarp disaster" picture.
Now we really needed our morning coffee. After we had our first cup, Chris finally emerged from his tarp tent. It seems the rain dampens his otherwise unrestrained energy. It was a very cold, wet day under a monochrome grey sky. But David and I don't like to spend a rainy day in camp, and we wanted to make some progress toward Robinson Lake, which we still aimed to camp on two nights hence. Chris, on the other hand, wanted to stay another night on Argo in hopes of seeing it on a postcard day (this was his first time on the lake). No one else could be seen out on Argo this day. Even the campsite that had been occupied across the channel on Birch Island last night seemed to be empty now.
As we whiled away the morning, the sky brightened a few times. But every time, it quickly got black, cold and rainy again. It was cold enough that we could see our breath, very clearly. Fortunately, the company was good. Here's the crew taking shelter under the remedial tarp (doesn't David look COLD?) -
Slowly, David and I prepared for our departure, utilizing short breaks in the rain to pack up the tent and other gear. When we were loaded up and ready to paddle off, I checked my watch: 1:39. Chris (who, as I mentioned, is a close reader of the Ho Ho and David trip reports) wryly remarked that it was pretty early for us to leave camp.
The "early" departure time was no problem, though, because we did not plan to go far. For the second time on the trip, we revised our tentative route to shorten it. We had been contemplating a circuitous route to Robinson via Cone, Elk, Hurn, Ted, Earl, the southern series of three portages to McIntyre, then the adventurous creek route into Robinson itself. Now we decided to go instead from Elk through Gardner Bay, Crooked, Bart, and Craig to Robinson. That would make Elk a good stopping place for the night, just a couple portages away. Even though we didn't want to stay in camp all day in the cold rain, we didn't want to travel that far either.
It was a very short paddle to the first portage that would take us out of Argo. The picture below looks back from the portage landing. Our campsite was just around the corner of the point on the right. What appear to be smudges on the picture are actually mist and rain out on the lake -
A close-up of the campsite point -
This first portage was brushy and thus very wet. Looking back through the portage path toward Argo -
Even though I had SealSkinz on under my boots today, my toes were pretty numb during most of this portage. They finally started to warm up after our second carry to the little unnamed lake at the other end, where we had a break from the rain -
From there we paddled west to the portage to Cone Lake, with the north wind blowing at us from the side. At the landing for the Cone portage -
We had never been on this 160-rod portage before, but I had read reports describing it as tough. On our only other trip through Cone, we portaged in from Brent and continued through to Elk. So I was looking forward to seeing for myself what this longer Argo-Cone portage is like. It begins on a nice path through a pleasant open forest going steadily up, which I was grateful for, because it generated some BTUs -
These funny little organisms were popping out of the ground along the way -
There were a few rocky patches, but they had good footing -
The path continued along an easy tread past ancient cleared deadfall -
By now I was making a conscious effort not to jinx us by thinking "this portage is easy." We weren't to the end yet. But I just couldn't help myself. What were those other people complaining about?
Then we got to this -
It kept going -
But, truth be told, even the wet parts of the portage were not too bad. Either there was a firm bottom under the water, or there was sufficient room to walk on the side, even with the canoe. So all in all, we liked this portage quite a bit.
At the Cone end, we stopped for some trail mix and water, skipping lunch for the second day in a row -
Completing the portage at our usual dawdling pace, with two trips across, picture taking on the way back, and snacking at the end, took us about one and a quarter hours. By the time we were done and launched onto Cone, it seemed the foul weather might be lifting.
Our route to Elk was via a portage about halfway along Cone's south shore. But we had heard rumors of a campsite under the high cliffs at the lake's eastern end, and we decided to go check it out before doubling back to portage to Elk. Aiming east on Cone -
Cone shoreline during the hiatus in the rain -
When we were about halfway down the lake, a squall moved in with its cold wet gale. Even a small lake like Cone can get whipped up pretty fast. We dug in paddling to the eastern shore, found a sheltered spot to tie off the canoe, and got out to look around.
It was a stunning, beautiful landscape in a cold rainy windy squall, and reminded me of nothing so much as that scene in King Lear where Lear and the Fool are wandering lost on the heath in the storm. (Please, make no comparisons between the characters in that play and the characters in this report.)
The very primitive campsite (if "campsite" is the apt word) has a great firepit at the edge of the water -
A slightly different angle -
There was a second, long-unused fire ring further from shore. But there were no real tent sites, just lots of moss-covered rock -
After exploring this spot, we backtracked westward across Cone to the Elk portage. The squall abated about halfway back and provided another respite from the day's rain. The portage toward Elk went down a nice path along a creek, to a small pond at the other end -
A quick paddle across the pond brought us to the 10-rod liftover into Elk itself. Here's the liftover landing on the pond -
Lilypad garden -
At the Elk Lake end of the liftover, I think I remember photographing these same sticks emerging from the water back in 2004 -
As we paddled into Elk, we were hoping the campsite on the north side of the lake would be open. When we came through here in 2004, that site was occupied, so we stayed at the site on the southern point for two nights. That site was great during warm and sunny July weather. But now with the north wind blowing cold, the northern site seemed like a better choice.
Fortunately, it was open. In fact, we had the lake to ourselves. We got to the site sometime after 5:00 and set about making a rain-tight camp, complete with impeccable tarp setup (there are pictures as proof in tomorrow's report). We initially "deferred" a dip to clean up until it got warmer and sunnier. But that never happened. In fact, after our trip, I saw that the low for this day in Ely was 32 degrees (a record for the day), and the high was somewhere in the 40s. That's pretty cold when it's also cloudy, rainy, and blowing. So once camp was set up, we pulled on all our warm clothes, with four layers on the upper body, three layers on the legs, and fleece caps. Fully clad, it was enjoyable to explore the open woody slopes around our great campsite.
The wind was shifting around from the west now, which made our site a little breezy, but seemed to be a welcome sign that the storm was moving on. And in fact, we got our first big patches of blue sky for the day -
But there were still plenty of rain clouds in store for us. After every clearing, more precipitation blew in. We took refuge under the tarp to cook and eat our dinner. (We had freeze-dried lasagna, which was too watery, and the extra-sticky cheese was annoying to clean up.)
Then we enjoyed our nightly Maker's Mark during another break in the rain, sitting down on the rocks by the water's edge, while the fading light played on the clouds -
Even with so many clothes on, David was getting chilled, so we crawled in the tent and read a while. Before turning the lights out at 10:00, we got up to commune briefly with nature. A light mist was falling again. It was great to crawl back into the snug, warm, dry tent for a good night's sleep.
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