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Sunset at site 32, Kejimkujik backcountry

Kejimkujik backcountry, May 2012

For the third year in a row, a few friends and I headed into the backcountry of Kejimkujik National Park for a few days of relaxing and exploring. This year we reserved site 32, a beautiful spot on Île de l’Original on Peskowesk Lake. Compared to last year, the weather was spectacular. It’s rare in Nova Scotia to get four straight days of heat and sun in May, but that’s exactly what we got. Site 32 has a beautiful, west-facing white sandy beach, so you get afternoon and evening sun, as well as a breeze that keeps the bugs away.

As usual we checked in at the visitor’s centre, got our passes and permits and drove to the end of the road at Eel Weir. It’s much better putting in there than at Jake’s Landing and then having to paddle all the way across the big lake. This way you can tuck in behind the islands and get a little relief from the wind. On our way in we decided to paddle to Portage E, the longest in the park at 2.30 kilometres.

At this point we’re full of energy, so getting that out of the way first is a good plan. After a rest at the end we pushed on across Mountain Lake to Portage F, a short trek of 0.62km, to find ourselves on Peskowesk Lake. From the Keji website:

Here, you will experience wilderness canoeing at its best. Fewer people travel this route because longer portages are necessary than in other areas. Many old-timers favour this part of Keji, whose landscape of windswept stands of red and white pine is reminiscent of the Canadian Shield. This system of a dozen lakes is connected by thirteen portages.

Site 32, Kejimkujik backcountry
Site 32, Kejimkujik backcountry

After setting up camp it was my turn to cook supper. Since we are each responsible for a supper we tend to go a little overboard. On the first night I made marinated pork satays and vegetables with a spicy peanut sauce. Yum! After a tiring day of paddling and portaging we decided to make it an early night to rest up for a day of exploring the following day. After a stunning sunset, we retired to our tents. I think one of my favourite things about the outdoors is how quickly sleep comes. Five or ten minutes and I’m out for the night.

The other great thing about camping in the backcountry is no alarm clock. Who needs one when you have the sun and the birds to greet you? It’s heavenly. On our second day we decided to do a tour of the southwestern lakes, heading west from our site to Portage K, a steep but short climb of 0.40km up to Beaverskin Lake, a small, clear spring-fed lake complete with Loons. A quick ten minute paddle brought us over to Portage L, another short hike of 0.40km over level ground. Once over the portage we put into Peskwa Lake, another classic Keji lake with windswept trees and rocks poking through the surface. I really will never get enough of that scenery. Combined with the sun and warm temperature it was a fantastic day on the water.

We made our way to Portage M, where we left the canoes on shore and made our way up the warden’s cabin, Site 37.

Cabin at site 37, Kejimkujik backcountry
Cabin at site 37, Kejimkujik backcountry

We took some time to explore the cabin, take some photos and read the guestbook. I would love to come back to this spot in the winter. Right now though that idea is in serious jeopardy as the government of Canada has cut funding to Parks Canada and winter camping is on the chopping block. It makes me sad and angry. Let’s hope the cuts aren’t that deep and the park can provide some services throughout the winter.

Window in cabin at site 37, Kejimkujik backcountry
Window in cabin at site 37, Kejimkujik backcountry

After our break we headed back to our site via a different route. We paddled across Peskwa Lake toward Site 38 and Portage N. The water is somewhat low this year so instead of portaging around the bridge that goes over the small river we decided to canoe underneath it. Fun! Just remember to keep your head down until you’re well through. We had a short paddle across the small pond and once again got out of the canoe for a portage of 0.80km. The portage trail follows a small river that has a small waterfall on it called Poison Ivy Falls. The sun was bright and the woods were very warm. We took a couple of short breaks to catch our breath and take some photos. The rocks on this trail are incredible, massive, large glacial remnants. They really make you feel small.

Poison Ivy Falls, Kejimkujik
Poison Ivy Falls, Kejimkujik

We finally made our way back onto Peskowesk Lake for the final paddle of the day, all the way across to our site. We were very happy to make it back to our own private beach, and unsurprisingly, we were starving. On the menu for the evening was bacon-wrapped scallops and shrimp as appetizers, with steak and vegetables for main course. Not bad huh? We stuffed ourselves and played cribbage in between courses which was a great way to unwind and provide some laughs.

Rocks on Peskowesk Lake
Rocks on Peskowesk Lake

We were again treated to a beautiful sunset and clear, star-filled skies. The park is a dark sky preserve, so the skies are particularly clear. We spent some time on our beach staring at the sky and picking out the constellations. Before long it was time for bed. I bring a small portable radio with me whenever I go camping. At night I can pick up stations from the entire eastern seaboard. I decided on listening to the ball game from Philadelphia to help put me to sleep.

Sunset at site 32, Kejimkujik backcountry
Sunset at site 32, Kejimkujik backcountry

Our third day was one of pure relaxation. We decided to stay at camp and explore the island, lie on the beach, take pictures, play cards and just soak in the gorgeous scenery. It was exactly what we all needed. We napped, we swam, it was great. Supper for our final night was a fantastic split pea soup made with homemade bacon. Yup, it doesn’t get any better than this. We snacked on the remaining food, played some cards and enjoyed our final evening in our little slice of paradise.

Mersey River at Eel Weir, Kejimkujik backcountry
Mersey River at Eel Weir, Kejimkujik backcountry

As usual, the morning of our paddle out is a busy one of eating breakfast, packing all our supplies and hitting the water. We decided to take a different route on our way out of the backcountry. We paddled east all the way to the end of Peskowesk Lake to Portage D, a short trek of 0.64km across a flat trail. The bugs hadn’t been a problem all weekend, but for some reason they got worse on our way out. That’s why you bring bug spray though, right?

We paddled across Cobrielle Lake to Portage C, a short 0.40km trail over to Puzzle Lake. We paddled slowly while I refilled all of our water bottles using my water filter. It was a very warm day and it’s important to keep hydrated. Once the bottles were filled we were already at Portage B, an even shorter 0.12km trail over to North Cranberry Lake. We all knew we were approaching the final portage, the longest of the day at 1.2km. We made it to Portage A ready for the back and forth with the canoes and our supplies. We treated ourselves to some jelly beans before getting back into our canoes for the final paddle of the day, out of Minard Bay, around Norway and Hemlock Islands, into George Lake and finally back to Eel Weir. What a day! We came close once to tipping but we made it through dry but tired.

After packing up the cars and checking out at the visitor’s centre we headed back to Halifax. On our way back to the main highway we decided to treat ourselves and stop at Wile’s Lake Farm Market and Bakery for some tasty treats for the drive home.

It was another fun, rewarding trip into the backcountry of Keji. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some adventure. And if I can ask a favour of you, please write your Member of Parliament expressing your disagreement with the government’s decision to cut funding to Parks Canada. They really are national treasures worth protecting. Thank you.

If you’re interested in the routes we took, I tracked our movement over the weekend using my Garmin GPS. Here’s a map.

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