Dunlop Lake - Mace Lake Route

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Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Admin
Trip Date : 
Route Author: 
Unknown
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
42 km
Duration: 
3 days
Loop Trip: 
Yes
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
9
Total Portage Distance: 
3990 m
Longest Portage: 
1385 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Not applicable
Lake Travel: 
Novice
Portaging: 
Moderate
Remoteness: 
Novice
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

West on Dunlop Lake
P 410 m to Ten Mile Lake
Northwest on Ten Mile Lake
P 445 m to Ezma Lake
West on Ezma Lake
P 200 m to Swamp Lake
South on Swamp Lake
P 265 m to Upper Mace Lake
West then south on Upper Mace Lake
P 215 m to Lake # 5
South on Lake # 5
P 340 m to Lilypad Lake
Southeast on Lilypad Lake
Liftover beaver dams to Lower Mace Lake
South on Lower Mace Lake
P 650 m to Claim Lake
East on Claim Lake
P 1385 m to Dunlop Lake
East on Dunlop Lake to finish

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Dunlop Lake – Mace Lake Canoe Route
By: Don Haig

This trip log appeared originally in Vol. 26 No. 4 (Spring 1199) of “Nastawgan – The Quarterly Journal of the Wilderness Canoe Association”

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Board of Directors of the Wilderness Canoe Association

This canoe route is a 42 km loop starting and ending at the Dunlop Lake boat launch, 10 km north of Elliot Lake. It can be travelled in as few as three days but to fully enjoy the scenery and early season lake trout fishing, plan to take four to five days. If proper care is taken on the two large lakes, it is easily travelled by novice-intermediate paddlers.

Monday May 11, 1998
For the last four days, an unusual weather formation over eastern Canada has caused the wind to blow steadily and gently from the east. This was great news for me as the wind would give me a free ride the approximately 10 km down Dunlop Lake to the first portage. Dunlop Lake is a very large, long lake that is oriented in an east/west direction and care must be take to paddle it in the early morning or late evening when the prevailing westerly winds are minimal.

I left the dock at 10:30 am and after a leisurely three-hour paddle, which included a lunch stop, I was approaching the portage into Ten Mile lake. This carry follows a creek that tumbles down the hillside in a series of scenic rapids and small drops. At its entrance into Dunlop Lake I passed over a large number of lake trout, no doubt feeding on the bounty carried by the moving water. The 410 m trail was in good shape and with the exception of a steep rise about the half-way point, it was an easy climb to Ten Mile Lake. By the time I reached Ten Mile lake, the weather was beginning to deteriorate with the wind picking up and the sky darkening.

I noticed two things about this lake right away. It has a wonderful, scenic splendour, being ringed with steep hills and cliffs. But even more striking was the water, of a very dark, almost ebony green colour and at least ten degrees colder than Dunlop. These facts combined to give it a very menacing feeling, especially under the quickly darkening skies, and I immediately regretted leaving my wet suit at home.

This is a big lake, and I as I had to cross it in a northerly direction, the strengthening east wind was going to cause some problems. To cross, I had to traverse two long east/west arms that were now being whipped up into whitecaps by the wind. The only way to do this was to head into the wind at about a 45 degree angle, quartering into the waves until I was halfway across, then turning and running with them at my rear quarter until I was safely at the shelter of the first point of land. There is a campsite there that could be used if conditions were to prevent the next, and widest crossing.

Paddling around past this point, my destination for today soon came into view – the stream from Hyphen Lake that tumbles down the hillside in a fall that can be seen from all the way across the lake. This second crossing is about twice as wide as the first and had to be made in the same manner. It is amazing how a situation like this is able to focus the mind completely – there is no time for sightseeing as the bow must be kept at the proper angle to the wind and cannot be allowed to be blown down-wind allowing the waves to hit the boat broadside and possibly swamp. Alone out on this big, whitecap covered lake, I felt very small and the slowly nearing waterfall was a comforting sight. I landed at the talus at the bottom of the fall and got out for a look around. I also had an understanding of why the Pope kisses the ground upon deplaning.

The Ministry info sheet talks of a good camping site here, but I was hard pressed to find it. The site is small and boulder-strewn and there is room for only one tent. There was also the stink of something dead that wafted by from time to time. I looked for the source with no luck and decided that it was likely a dead spawned-out fish hidden in the jumble of rocks at the bottom of the falls. At the edge of the campsite there is a portage trail heading up the hill to Hyphen Lake and after setting up camp, I took a walk up for a look-see. This trail accesses a series of lakes that join up with Flack Lake that can be travelled in a loop, returning here after two or three days. The trail is short but very steep and I was glad I was not going to have to haul my boat and gear up the hill on this trip.

The weather was quickly deteriorating and by 5 p.m. a cold mist descended that was half fog, half rain and I hurriedly made supper under the shelter of a tree. A fire would have been nice but there was a ministry-imposed fire restriction in place, so I retreated to the shelter of my tent to read and do some writing. After a few hours the wind had not let up and I drifted off to sleep, hearing the patter of rain on the tent fly. I wasn`t expecting much from the weather tomorrow.

Tuesday

I was not disappointed. Morning dawned with the wind howling down the lake from the east even stronger than yesterday and, for the time being at least, I wasn`t going anywhere. The wind, while blowing in the right direction, was kicking up half-metre waves and that, combined with the bitterly cold water had me more than slightly intimidated.

After breakfast I fished for a while and then took a walk up alongside the stream to take some pictures of the falls and emerging spring flowers. By 11:30 I was bored stiff with that, so I took another walk up the portage to Hyphen Lake, and as I neared the top of the hill heard voices. They belonged to a man and his young son who were celebrating the boy`s birthday with a canoe trip. I helped them carry a pack down the hill to my campsite where we talked as we lunched together. They were under a deadline and must not only cross Ten Mile today but fight the wind all the way back up Dunlop.

After lunch they headed out but had to travel a long way up the lake before they could find water calm enough to make the crossing. After about an hour they were across and gone from view, leaving me alone to ponder the question: if they can do it, why can`t I? The answer I gave myself was twofold – every paddle stroke they took brought them into calmer water whereas I had to travel further down the lake where the wind would have a greater distance to work on the water and brew up mischief, and besides – I was paddling solo and as such had only half the “horsepower” to propel and control the boat. By 1:30 I sensed that the wind was quieting down a bit so I decided to quickly pack up and make the run down the lake, staying real close to shore. That way if I dumped I would be able to get out of the water quickly. The trip went pretty much as expected with the only problems coming when I had to round a few points that forced the boat to run parallel to the waves. There was a zone in which the waves rebounding from the shore largely cancelled out the worst of the incoming ones and by staying within this zone, I got by without incident. About a kilometre west of last night`s camp, there are two great campsites. These would be ideal for groups as they have room for many tents.

By 2:30 I was in the narrows near the western end of the lake and was now getting some shelter from the wind. At the entrance to the narrows, there is a cottage followed shortly by Ten Mile Lodge. There are cabins to rent here as well as assistance if needed.

The 445 m portage to Ezma Lake is found on the right-hand side of the bay just past the lodge. This is a good but steep path and one of the locals has even nailed a sign to a tree that says “Eagle Pass.” I soon had the boat and all the gear over and because of my late start, I decided to camp on this lake. The hills surrounding Ezma sheltered me from the worst of the wind, so it was an easy paddle down the lake to look for a campsite. There are several excellent sites on this lake and I picked a sheltered one near the portage to Astonish Lake at the north end of the lake. By 8 p.m. I was fed, changed into warm, dry clothes and in my tent doing some reading and writing. The wind was dying down, but it was still cloudy with a foggy rain – I imagined that this was just what the inside of a cloud must be like. I drifted off to sleep hoping that the weather would break tomorrow.

Wednesday
I must thrive on disappointment. Morning brought stronger winds and intermittent driving rain that even whipped this small, sheltered lake into whitecaps. This weather presented no physical problems for me as I was well equipped with quality gear and proper clothing, but it did play hell with my schedule though. The best way, of course, to deal with a schedule in the back country is not to have one, but sometimes the real world intrudes (more on this later). By noon the lake had settled down enough for me to make the crossing to the portage to Swamp Lake.

There are two carries to Swamp Lake – a 200 m one at the south end of the lake and one just across from me near the lake`s northern end. This one is slightly longer at 230 m and it took me only a few minutes to paddle across to it. There is a lovely campsite at its start and the path is easy to follow as it winds its way beside the outlet stream flowing into Swamp Lake. At its end there is a sea of rocks and boulders, making the loading of the boat very difficult.

Swamp Lake is aptly named and is really just a ponding of the creek flowing towards Upper Mace Lake. The water is only about half a metre deep but my paddle san almost to the handle into the loon shit on the bottom. Halfway down the lake, I came to the other portage from Ezma and saw, from this end anyway, that it was clearly the preferred choice, as the put-in features a nice grassy bank which would be much easier to load the boat from. In all it took half an hour of hard slogging into the wind to get to the carry into Upper Mace Lake.

This portage, on the west side of the outlet into Upper Mace, is an easy 265 m path that brought me to a long narrow bay at the northeast end of the lake. I was sheltered from the wind here, but as I started paddling a fog started to close in, and by the time I neared the main body of the lake it was so thick that I could see little more than 10 m in any direction. As I made the turn around a point and headed out into the main body of the lake, the wind hit me full-bore in the face, forcing me to pour all my strength into the paddled – yet even in this wind, the fog was still all-encompassing.

My plan was to camp tonight on one of the many island campsites that dot this lake, but as I looked out over the water, I could see only a sea of grey with darker patches that might or might not be islands. It made no difference – in these conditions it would be foolhardy to leave the safety of the shore, so I paddled south searching for a campsite along the rocky shoreline. As I neared the southern end of the lake and the portage to Lake #5, the shoreline sheltered me more and more from the wind until I was paddling easily through the fog. Paddling solo through a fog like this is an almost surreal experience – my senses and concentration became more acute as sound replaced sight as the dominating influence in this small, grey world.

I still hadn`t found anything resembling a suitable campsite by the time I got to the portage, so I tied the boat up and walked over the trail thinking that there might be a site at the other end. But when I got there, I saw just a jumble of rocks and driftwood – certainly nothing resembling a dry, level place to pitch a tent. As I walked back towards the boat, I sensed the world around be brightening a little and soon, directly above, a little piece of blue sky was trying to pierce the grey shroud around me. Back in the boat, islands emerged slowly from their hiding places as if floating into view. I landed on one that has a beautiful campsite and by the time the boat was unloaded and the gear carried up to the tent site, the fog was completely gone. It was still overcast, but the weather had definitely turned. And as I set up camp, I realized that I was not the only one who had noticed – the world around me had come alive with the songs and petty arguments of countless birds.

That night in bed, I was awakened by a sound so haunting that at first, in my groggy state, I mistook it for the sound of wolves howling, but soon realized it was a pair of loons. I had never before heard loons trill and yodel like this – some of the songs lasting as long as thirty seconds. I suspected that it might have had something to do with one of their springtime pursuits. They kept it up most of the night and by morning the novelty of it (for me anyway) had pretty much worn off.

Thursday
With the promise of better weather, I was up early and for the first time this week, was not disappointed. There was just a thin overcast that would soon burn off and the wind was gently wafting past my little island from the northwest. While making breakfast I dug out my binoculars and took a scan around the lake. Upper Mace is very scenic, edged by high, rocky outcrops, and dotted with islands. The western shore has a nice sand beach and the fishing is reputed to be great. I had planned to spend a day here exploring and fishing, but the bad weather had put me a day behind schedule and used up my layover day.

Usually I could care less about schedules or being a day late, but this time I had made the mistake of telling my father, who lives in nearby Elliot Lake, my trip plans. He has absolutely no comprehension of why I am out here and never will. He is retired, has too much time on his hands and has decided he should spend it worrying about me. If I were to be a day late, I just might be awakened by the thump-thump of an Armed Forces helicopter, sent out to “rescue” me.

I was packed up and on the water by 8:45 am, made the short paddle over to the outlet, and carried into Lake #5. The easy 215 m trail hadn`t changed much since yesterday, but my mood and spirits certainly had. The portage follows a fault in the Precambrian Shield where a huge slab of rock was torn free during some ancient earthquake. It had dropped down on a 45 degree angle relative to the cliff face that it was torn from. Because of this steep angle, no trees have been able to take root on it, so it is covered in places only by a variety of soft mosses. I climbed to the top of the rock and was rewarded by some beautiful views back over Upper Mace Lake.

Lake #5 is just another small ponding, and after a 1.5 km paddle I arrived at its southern shore and the 340 m portage that leads to Lilypad Lake. This carry is located on the left side of the outlet stream and follows and exposed, flat ridge of rock for most of its length, giving a nice view of the small falls and rapids below and entering the trees only as it starts its descent to the put-in on Lilypad Lake.

By the time I started paddling through Lilypad, the overcast had completely burnt off and the wind had died, leaving the water as smooth as glass. I remember thinking at this time that this must have been the kind of day God had in mind when he invented the canoe. It was obvious where this lake got its name – just under water, millions of lilypads were about to break the surface. It would be a beautiful sight in the summer when they`d all be in bloom. There is one nice campsite on the right as you enter the main body of the lake. I soon arrived at the east end of the lake and the stream that leads to Lower Mace lake. There`s an old portage here on the west side, but it is not used much any more ass it`s easy to navigate the creek and pull over the two beaver dams that you will encounter.

The first dam is easy, but the second is a little dicey as it is steeper and has some big rocks at the bottom. For those of you not wanting to scratch your canoe, there appears to be a little path on the left side that will bypass this obstacle.

Lower Mace Lake is large with many bays, giving it the appearance of one of those weird shaped pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that won`t fit anywhere. Shortly after entering the main body of the lake, I hooked into a large lake trout, and since I have no landing net, had to try to pop him into the boat using just the line. About half way through this maneuver, the line snapped off the lure, but luckily the fish completed the arc and flopped into the bottom of the boat. He weighed about two kilograms and since there was no way I could eat that much fish, I decided to release him – that is, if I could get a hold of the slippery little bugger. That done, I got the hooks out of his mouth and held him over the side to revive him. Because of his struggle both in and out of the boat, it took at least fifteen minutes before he gave a flip of the tail and was gone. While I was reviving him, a school of minnows swam up for a look-see, perhaps thinking that in his weakened state, they could nibble him to death.

Lower Mace has no island campsites, but has several scattered around its rocky shores. I passed on these as I wanted to get across the portage to Claim Lake and camp there so that I would be fresh for the long portage the next morning back into Dunlop Lake.

The carry into Claim Lake is 650 m with two medium-sized hills to get the circulation going. It`s a good, easy-to-follow path, but about 75 m into in, care must be taken to keep left and not to take a path to the right with leads to another small beaver pond (you will just have to guess how I found that out!) At the far end of the trial you must go past the first part of the lake that you come to as it is an unnavigable, log-filled bay. Claim Lake is ringed with high, rocky hills and is very pretty. There are lots of nice campsites at its eastern end and I picked a beauty that sits high atop a flat rock overlooking the lake, 10 m below. From here I could see the start of the portage that I wanted to take in the morning.

The downside of the improved weather was the emergence of millions of blackflies and mosquitoes. I put on my mesh bug shirt and tucked my pants into my socks, which kept all but the most voracious of them at bay. I don`t like the mesh on my face but it is a lot better than having to hide out in my tent. I missed not having a fire and spent my time instead on tidying the place up, wandering around, fishing and taking some pictures.

As the darkness closed in there was a glorious sunset, turning the sky into crimson streaks.

Friday
Morning came early and was accompanied by a cacophony of bird caws, tweets and whistles – don`t they EVER sleep in? Everything was packed tight in anticipation of the long portage ahead and a five minute paddle across the bay brought me to the start of the 1385 m long path. I like to have at least one long carry on every trip and I especially like to have it on the last day when the food pack is a light as it`s going to get. I estimated that it would take half an hour to make each trip and as usual, decided to start with the boat as it was the heaviest and least convenient to carry. After fifteen minutes, I wedged it between two trees, took five minute breather, before getting under it again and walking the remaining fifteen minutes to the put-in at Dunlop Lake. It was hot work, especially in a bug shirt, but the walk back for the next trip gave me ample time to cool off.

For the two packs on a long carry like this, I use a different strategy. I carry the first pack for ten minutes, set it down, and go back for the other one. I carry this one for fifteen minutes before setting it down and then walk the five minutes back to where the first one was dropped. I then carry this one for ten minutes and repeat the process. This way I am carrying for ten minutes, resting (as I walk back) for five and so on. That seems to make the carry go faster and easier. But even with this system, by the time I`d had some lunch and loaded the boat, it had taken three hours to complete the portage.

There was a gentle breeze from the south and Dunlop seemed to be in a good mood. If the lake is too rough to paddle there is a nice campsite on the north shore of the big island, a short paddle down the lake. Once past this island, the strengthening wind started to cause some problems. It was blowing across the lake, and its direction became variable depending on how the shor3eline bends as it enters the lake valley. Sometimes it aided my progress but the quickly changed into ah headwind. As the afternoon progressed, the wind picked up speed and shifted more and more to the east, causing my progress to slow as I worked my way up the lake.

In all, it took me five hours to reach the end of the narrow channel that op4ens up into the widest part of the lake. The wind had churned this part of the lake into whitecaps and I decided that making the crossing would be too dangerous. There are three island here that each have four-star campsites on them and I landed on the biggest to wait out the wind. it took until seven o`clock for the wind to subside enough for me to make the crossing safely, and after an hour`s paddle, I was at the boat launch, slowly loading the gear into my truck for the trip home.

This had been a very enjoyable trip and I was reluctant to leave. I took a long look back over my shoulder as I pulled out of the parking lot and headed south.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
41 J/10 Rawhide Lake 41 J/7 Elliot Lake
Other Maps: 
Provincial Series Maps 41 J/NE Bark Lake 41 J/SE Blind River
Other
Special Comments: 

Located north of the famous former uranium mining town of Elliot Lake, Ontario. The trip is a steady three days or a leisurely four to five day route. Fishing is excellent and scenery consists of beautiful lakes and the rugged scenic grandeur of the Precambrian shield country through mixed conifer and hardwood forests

Comments

Post date: Thu, 08/12/2010 - 22:13

Comments: 

There is an alternate boat launch on Dunlop Shores Road off Hwy. 108 accessing Dunlop Lake directly opposite the Tenmile portage and can be used to eliminate the exposed section of Dunlop Lake

Post date: Thu, 05/15/2008 - 16:48

Comments: 

Just to let you know, they have started developing Dunlop, so the shoreline is slowly turning into Muskoka. However once past Dunlop the route is still isolated.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00

Comments: 

We had table flat water on Dunlop as we began our trip. The trip was really interesting. The weather was great. There were very few people. And we had the notorious wind at our backs as we paddled from the west end back to our cars.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00

Comments: 

I did this route July 1-4 /04 with my wife and 10 others including 4 "tweens".

the description above is very accurate so I will only hi-lite ours.

Fabulous trip !

We were on the water by 9:00 A.M. after camping the night before at "the Chutes". Yes, we had the infamous head winds on the way up Dunlop but we cheated with a 2hp kicker which we stashed at the 10 mile portage.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00

Comments: 

Dunlop lake is notoriously windy and wavy. Give yourself lots of leeway to get across it. Canada Day 2001 was bad enough that my wife and I paddled 3 hours to get not quite half way up the lake, and were forced to camp at the mouth of a large northshore bay to wait out the wind. It lasted for 3 days. Early morning seems to be the consensus for doing good time on this lake.