Monday, June 18, 2012

Limberlost Reserve Day Trip

Had an early Father's Day present last Thursday, a full solo day of paddling in an area I haven't explored before. The Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve is a neat little pocket of wilderness tucked just outside the West Gate of Algonquin Provincial Park. Limberlost is bypassed by the hordes of tourists who descend into Algonquin thinking that the park is pristine, "untouched" wilderness when really it is a well disguised multi-use logging centre. Limberlost itself originally operated as a resort in the early 1900s complete with lodges and a ski area in the winter until financial troubles closed it down in the 60s.  The current owners re-envisioned the land as a premier eco-tourism centre and have attempted to keep the property as natural as possible while allowing for minimal impact enjoyment. It features 70 km of sustainably created wilderness trails that zig zag around multiple quartz outcrops, interesting rock cliffs and dozens of lakes. No hunting, overnight camping, or logging have kept the property as a real jewel of wildlife and remarkably day use of any of their trails or lakes is free to the public!

Anyway, one of their online trail guides (PDF format) mentioned a canoe day trip through a chain of lakes, the highlight of which is the largest waterfall tucked away on their property. This water-access only route means virtually no visitors to this little hideaway. It seemed like the perfect chance to escape for the day. 

Map of the Crystal Falls Canoe Route

After signing in at the self check in booth and grabbing a display pass for the car, I drove into the Buck Lake Landing put-in. Right by the shore line were the remains of one of the property's old wood canvas canoes. Apparently over 10 wood canvas canoes dating all the way back to the 1930s were discovered in the bushes while owner were clearing portage trails. In the background of the pic below you can just make out the slat style seats which were very commonly found on hardworking Chestnut Prospector canoes.

Old Wood Canvas Canoe at Put-In

I know one day my organic wood canvas canoe will also collapse back to nature but I'm hoping to get generations of use out of it yet.

Getting ready to launch

Calm waters of Buck Lake

The 70 km of trails on the property encircle most of the lakes. They are well maintained an feature boardwalks over streams or other unstable terrain. Sure makes portaging the canoe a lot easier.

Convenient portage boardwalk over stream

Each of the lakes are connected with very shallow gravel or beaver dams necessitating getting out of the canoe and doing some basic liftovers...a minor inconvenience to get out into this pocket of wildlife. The little grassy islet in the pic below is a loon nesting site.

Shallow lift-overs from lake to lake

Camping along the shoreline isn't permitted on the property and isn't really practical either. Most lakes along the route feature extreme cliffs and thickly forested walls. Difficult to perceive the scale of the pic below but the boulders at the bottom of this rockslide were huge and a giant white pine is thriving in the rocky soil.

Steep  cliffs mean frequent rock slides

An abandoned colonization road north, the Bobcaygeon Way, goes through the property and is now part of a hiking trail. To maintain this crossing point, a steel culvert was installed. It is just wide enough with suffiencient water levels to float through.

Steel  culvert under old logging road

Wetlands separating Little Twin Lake from Long Lake are covered in beaver dams to maintain water levels...there were about 5 beaver dams to lift over in this area which is apparently a major fish spawning area for the chain of lakes.
Multple beaver dams in wetland area

More wetland streams

At the end of the Long Lake, the water flows down through another small gorge over Crystal falls. Since this area gets next to no visitors, and is pretty much the end of the property there is is no maintained trail network. One has to scramble over mossy rock along the creek shore to reach the falls. But tucked away is pretty little cascade, Because of the topography, my camera could only capture the entire waterfall in thirds.

Upper third of Crystal Falls

Middle cascade of Crystal Falls

Final Drop of falls over rockface
 I'm sure in full spring runoff the falls would look even more spectacular. Couldn't really get a pic of it, but there is just enough of an opening in the tree canopy for the noon sun to shine in. Apparently if you get there at a certain hour, the whole place lights up with rainbows and glistening rocks. Anyway, this is an out-and-back style trip so I headed back up the chain of lakes. Here's a shot of my lashing set up with the tumpline and paddles that has become my preferred method

Paddles lashed in for portage

Calm Waters and thick forests

Also did a small detour and visited one of the areas known Osprey nest sites, located on a small island appropriately named after this wonderful bird. A lightning strike knocked off the canopy of a huge white pine which has since served as nesting site for the mating pair. They return every year which is a great ecological indicator of abundance of fish and overall health of the watershed in this region.

Osprey nest on broken white pine trunk
Many thanks to the owners of this fantastic property for creating a wonderful nature reserve for folks to enjoy. If anyone decides to visit after this post, please respect their rules and keep this place open!

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