Fin + Bone 4: Four ways to Experience the Whiteshell this May long weekend

Written by Marney Blunt, Experience the Whiteshell editor, for Fin + Bone 4:

Finally it is here! The May long weekend. The start of another season of summer time lake living in the beautiful cottage country of the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Whether you’ve been coming out to the lake all winter or you’re just opening up the cabin for another season, here are some things you can do to kick off the season. I recently wrote my top four picks of things to do on the May long weekend for Fin +Bone magazine. Have a look here and have a great May long weekend:

Glassy calm waters, echoing loon calls, eagles soaring overhead, towering pine trees, the eerie howls of wolves in the distance: These are just a few of the enchanting sights and sounds that many lucky people have experienced in the Whiteshell Provincial Park over the summer season.

Glad to say I’m one of those lucky people. Growing up with a cottage in the beautiful Canadian Shield terrain of the south Whiteshell has given me plenty of opportunities to venture throughout this gorgeous part of our province.

The older I’ve gotten, the more time I’ve spent in the Whiteshell during the ‘off season’. Truthfully, I love the Whiteshell in all four seasons, 365 days of the year. I honestly couldn’t think of a time I haven’t been excited to head down Highway 44 towards the lake. But growing up, the May long weekend was always an extra special time. While I was in school, the May long weekend was always the official start of another summer season of lake living. It meant school was almost done, and it was a taste of a few of the fun and exciting adventures I would get to do all summer long.

So to give you a taste of a few great things to do during the spring and summer season in this magical land known as the Whiteshell, here’s four ways you can experience the Whiteshell this May long weekend:

McGillivray Falls.

McGillivray Falls.

Hike the Whiteshell

One of my favourite things to do in the Whiteshell during the spring is hike the McGillivray Falls trail. McGillivray Falls is a self-guided, glacier-formed trail that is potentially one of the best trails to hike during the spring season as the rapids are rushing down from McGillivray Lake into Caddy Lake. The trail is located off Highway 44 near the Caddy Lake turnoff. The trail also features a shorter 2.8 km loop or a longer 4.8 km loop.

Mild temperatures and no bugs make the May long weekend one of the best times to hit up the hiking trails of the Whiteshell, and there are several other trails you might want to check out this weekend. Another great hike is the Hunt Lake trail, which is a 12.6 km trail that edges along the outskirts of Hunt Lake and the east side of West Hawk Lake, heading north towards Indian Bay. My favourite time to do this trail is at sunset, you can get a stunning view of the sunset over West Hawk Lake from the top of a tall cliff on the east shore. Another great one to do is the South Whiteshell trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail. Last August, a new portion of this trail opened up leading from the causeway (near the Falcon Lake Marina on the south shore of Falcon Lake) through the woods behind Falcon Lake and into the secluded and picturesque High Lake.

Hunt Lake.

Hunt Lake.

Cast a line in the Whiteshell

I’ve always loved fishing at the lake, as I little girl I mastered the art of catching tiny smallmouth bass in our boathouse at Star Lake. That was really all I knew, and it was all I needed to know to have fun. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I was shown the ropes of fishing that I became, excuse the cheesy pun, completely hooked on it.

Although I still have a lot to learn, I can say one thing for sure: The May long weekend and walleye fishing just go hand-in-hand. Nothing says the start of opening fishing season like jigging for that huge master walleye or just heading out on the water to catch dinner. With a healthy population of beautiful fish, Falcon Lake is a walleye angler’s paradise. Last year, a lot of walleye were in the 23-27” range… So maybe in coming years the lake will be filled with masters, just saying. walleyeCheck out the Whiteshell Fish Hatchery

The Whiteshell Fish Hatchery is an amazing combination of history and fishery conservation. I had the awesome opportunity to tag along with some of the hatchery staff last year while they collected eggs and tagged walleye on Falcon Lake. The walleye eggs are then taken back to the hatchery where they will remain in incubator containers for about 21 days before reaching the eyed-egg stage, which last about six to ten days for walleye. The eggs then hatch into tiny fish referred to as ‘fry’, at this stage the walleye are stocked into the lakes. The survival rate for young fish at the hatchery can be 80 per cent, whereas in the wild the survival rate is one per cent.

The hatchery raises both cool water fish (walleye, northern pike, and lake sturgeon) and cold water fish (rainbow trout, brook trout, brown lake trout, arctic char, and trout hybrids including splake and tiger trout). The hatchery has big outdoor tanks where you can see a brood stock that includes brook trout, brown trout, tiger trout, and even lake sturgeon. But why am I telling you all this, get down there and check it out for yourself! One of the friendly staff at the hatchery would be more than happy to give you a tour. hatchery2 sturgPaddle the Whiteshell

I once had the opportunity to see the Whiteshell via floatplane, and it was mind-boggling how many lakes there are so close together. The Whiteshell is an endless chain of lakes just waiting to be explored. There are so many opportunities for different canoe and kayak routes, with easy portages between them. A classic and one of the most well known canoe routes is probably the Caddy Lake rock tunnels. You can rent a boat or canoe from Green Bay Resort or Caddy Lake Resort and head out through Caddy Lake and into South Cross Lake, and then through South Cross through the second tunnel into North Cross Lake. Several camping spots are located along the way and there is prime fishing in all three lakes. There are also several other lakes that are within portaging distance of this canoe route. canoe

New Routes, New Challenges in the 2014 Swamp Donkey Adventure Race

IMG_9585 copy
By Warren Blunt

Of my three years participating in the Swamp Donkey Adventure Race (SDAR), this year’s race was perhaps the most adventurous, challenging, and probably the longest course that I have been a part of. It was also the most fun because the course was mapped out so differently than in previous years, which had me really excited to get out on it. Some of the new territory for SDAR included Star Lake, Caddy Lake, South Cross Lake, McGillivray Falls, as well as a remote finish.
Continue reading

Swamp Slogging.

More than 360 people were in Falcon Lake last weekend to take on a rugged trek that involved paddling, biking, hiking, and a whole lot of navigating through the wilderness. This trek is also known as Swamp Donkey, North America’s largest adventure race. Last Saturday 121 teams of three spent a full day canoeing, cycling, and bush-whacking through the back woods of Falcon Lake and High Lake. Swamp Donkey participant Warren Blunt shares his story about slogging his way to the finish line:

IMG_7133 copyThe morning dawned clear and cold as racers began to show up to the Falcon Lake Community Centre at the wonderful hour of 6:00 a.m. Having not registered the night before, there was plenty of running around to do. I could see frost on the ground as the racers convened on the behind the Falcon Beach School for the roll-call, which always promises to feature funny (and sometimes even cheeky) team names.

This was the first time that the race started with the bike portion which got underway by 9:00 a.m. I couldn’t help but miss the ceremonial bagpipes to signify the start of the 2012 race, but I digress. Having never started off with the bike portion before, it presented some its own set of challenges. Solid traffic from over 360 cyclists made it difficult to get separation, especially when fear of crossing the dividing line of the road meant disqualification (admittedly, I pushed that rule as far as it would bend). Getting ahead on the narrow (but gorgeous) trail following the southern shore of Falcon lake was even more difficult.

IMG_7143 copyEventually we made it to the High Lake cabins, where we happened upon mass confusion in trying to find the first check-point, which was supposed to be located at one of the cabins. It turns out, the ‘cabin’ was a mere shack just off the main path, and was not one of the fancy eco-cabins. Several racers that I had talked to after the race had made that mistake, apparently to the ire of the tenants. All the more reason to be on our merry way down the Red-Green trail and to the Falcon Trails Resort, where our canoe was waiting for us.

Upon piling into our canoe, the lack of practice this year (new team compared to last year) almost proved our downfall, and we had to adjust on the fly to avoid going for a swim. Although despite the cold start, that idea was most appealing at this point. We reached the portage to High Lake, only to get into my first ever portage traffic jam. After what seemed ages, we finally launched our canoe into High Lake probably 25 minutes later. Our next destination was the north shore, where we struck out on foot looking for out next checkpoints. After some confusion, we made it back to the canoe in time to qualify for the next portion of the race , which took us to the  eastern end of High Lake, now well into Ontario. This was, without question in my mind, the most difficult part of the race. These check points were located in unbelievably thick brush that made for very slow and tiresome work. We were able to find check points five  and six before getting concerned about being able to get out of there on time. Rumour has it, however, that you had to go for a swim to get to the seventh check point, darn!

We returned to our canoe at 4:00 p.m., and set off to reach the portage on the opposite end of the lake. Struggling hard to keep up with the light, fiberglass racing canoes in our aluminum tub, we made the other end of the lake in just under an hour. After the portage we were heading back across Falcon Lake to the ski hill to get on our bikes and boot it back to the Community Centre before the 6:00 p.m. deadline. For the sake of time, we decided not to bother with the final two check points but we were able to (painfully) make it back to the townsite with about 10 minutes to spare, 55-kilometres later. The banner at the end of the race was a very welcome site to behold.

IMG_7152 copy