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Our fallback for the night was the Lake Eaton campground, which turned out to be closed. A glance at our paddlers map showed several campsites that appeared to be along the road at Horseshoe Lake so we set off for them. The first and second sites we encountered were not very appealing and the third was taken, but the fourth was available and fairly nice, with a good view of Horseshoe Lake. We couldn't get a fire going because everything was soaked, so we sat near the fire ring reading by the light of our headlamps and listening to a group loudly partying at the next site over.
We reached the put-in at the lower dam at 10 a.m. The parking lot was overflowing, indicating there were many people on the water and the landing was busy with groups putting in and taking out.
The weather report was not promising, with showers and thundershowers predicted for every day but Sunday, which was supposed to be partly cloudy. Instead we were on the water by 11 a.m. on a bluebird clear morning. As we began our paddle we passed several groups of fully loaded canoes heading toward the lower dam take-out which made us hopeful that the lake would not be as crowded as we feared. The paddle was not difficult as there was no breeze. Even though we were paddling against the current it was a very gentle one. We took breaks to find a few geocaches along our route and were at the upper dam in less time than I expected.
The carry was a short, easy one over a woods road. We dropped our equipment and canoe off at the top of the dam and stopped for a leisurely lunch. While there, several more groups were returning from Lows Lake and carrying over the dam. We chatted with a few. Most of the returning paddlers used the shorter carry on the southern side (to the right facing downstream) of the dam for their return carry because it cut the distance of the carry by about half, something we decided to do on the return trip.
One group mentioned that they spent several days at campsite #40 and enjoyed it so we filed that information in the back of our minds, though our hearts were set on either campsite 17 or 18.
Shortly after the dam we encountered a floating bog blocking the river. A group of day paddlers came up behind us and mentioned that in previous years one could paddle around the right side of it, but that had closed up. Instead there was a short carry of about 10 feet lined with logs to provide footing. We chose to leave the canoe loaded and drag it over. Not being light packers it took some doing. We were only able to budge the canoe a few inches at a time, but eventually we were on the other side.
We soon left the day paddlers behind as their goal seemed to be birding. Just before we left them we saw a bald eagle and followed it as it flew upriver ahead of us. Along the way we passed one empty campsite after another so our hopes of getting one of our planned sites were high. The day paddlers were the last paddlers we saw on the water until that evening.
It was still sunny and relatively breeze free as we entered Lows Lake. I had my GPS on and used it to negotiate our way around the islands which can be confusing for a first timer on Lows. After about four hours of paddling we reached campsite #17 only to see several tents occupying the site. We moved on to check out site #18, paddling along the southern side of the island. Though maps show this side to be open it is barely navigable. We bottomed out in several spots and the water was no more than inches deep in spots. In times of lower water this route would not be advisable.
We were disappointed to see that campsite #18 was also taken and even more disappointed when we saw how desirable the site was with its beach and expansive view of the lake.
We paddled over to campsite #40 on the recommendation of the group we met earlier and found it to be more than acceptable.
We awoke to a gorgeous, glass flat, fog covered lake, with the distant hills peaking through the mist. The fog soon burned off and it was another beautiful, sunny day. After breakfast we did a little fishing and I caught two decent sized bass in the area of campsite 17. We noticed that the site was no longer occupied and decided to hunt a geocache on the island. Not only did we find the geocache, but the previous occupants had left a knee high stack of cut firewood, so we gratefully loaded up our boat to bring the wood back to our site. The rest of the day consisted of relaxing in our hammocks and reading.
It was another pretty morning and I headed out before sunrise to do some fishing in the area of Gooseneck Island. The rising sun illuminating the fall colors of the trees on the opposite shore made for a beautiful scene with the trees seemingly on fire. I snapped numerous pictures of this breathtaking sight. The sun also brought some biting flies with it and they eventually forced me to return to camp for some repellent where I found my wife enjoying her morning coffee on the narrow beach. Thankfully most of the flies didn’t seem to follow me up on land.
We had planned to include a hike during our trip, but a deep gash in my heel suffered while packing our car for the trip, followed by a trip to the ER, precluded any extensive walking. We sat around reading for a while and with little else to do we decided to pack up and move to a site closer to the dam.
We were on the lake by 11 am with another lovely day of mixed clouds and bright sunshine ahead of us. We didn’t get far before the flies attacked. At first I thought getting farther away from land would help, but they seemed to be even thicker out on the lake. Again they concentrated on the legs (I guess the canoe provided shelter from the wind) but had no problem biting through my shirt and hat. They were even biting through my shoes. The flies were relentless and there were hundreds buzzing around and alighting on our boat. Applying repellent offered little relief.
We paddled faster hoping to leave them behind but they stuck with us even where there was a good breeze, biting all the way. My legs were soon covered with welts. At times we were paddling with one hand while swatting with the other. Once in a while one of us would let out a cheer when we killed a fly. Within an hour the score was me – 9, flies – 374.
Thankfully once we left the lake and entered the narrower river area the flies seemed to thin out somewhat. Instead of being besieged by hundreds we were dealing with a few dozen.
We chose campsite #10 because the description on the back of our map sounded inviting. We were not disappointed. It was a spacious site with a nice view of the river. It was also obviously a popular site as there was no down wood to be found for close to 200 feet in any direction. Luckily for us previous campers had left a small stack and we had carried a good sized bundle left over from our previous site. That, augmented with some wood I gathered from the other side of the river was more than enough for the night.
After setting up camp I did a little fishing and found a geocache that wasn't far from the campsite. After dinner we enjoyed a roaring fire before retiring.
It had rained periodically during the night but the rain was light and everything was reasonably dry by morning. The day was gray and breezy and didn’t look promising. It seemed that rain was on the way.
After breakfast we had to make the decision – stay another day or pack up and paddle back. If the weather was like that of the previous 3 days the decision to stay would have been an easy one, but I suspected that nasty weather was on the way so we packed up and hit the river.
Pulling the boat over the bog was a much easier this time, as the canoe was three days lighter. The flies which were a minor nuisance back in camp were out again, but not nearly in the numbers seen the previous day. A generous application of DEET was enough to keep them off of us this day. We made the carry past the upper dam using the path to the south of the dam mentioned earlier.
By the time we put in on Hitchens Pond the breeze had picked up considerably and we were paddling into it, making for slower going. Even with the breeze we were back at the lower dam in under 2 hours.
It was a wonderful trip and one I would do again. As far as I could tell there were only three other groups camped between the upper dam and the end of the lake and one of them left early Monday morning. The only other paddlers we saw when we reached the lake were the occupants of campsite #18, who spent a lot of time fishing and traveling to other islands gathering wood. The dearth of other campers and paddlers gave the lake a genuine wilderness-like feel. I'm sure that's not always the case here, especially on holiday weekends. As far as the flies we encountered none on the first day, a few on the second, but the third day was terrible. They seemed to be concentrated on the water. While we were not totally free of the flies in our campsite, they were too few to be a concern.
If the road to the lower dam is closed, you can put in at Horseshoe Lake and find the outlet on the western side near one of the campsites. This stream leads to the Bog River. The outlet is sometimes blocked with flotsam so you may have to carry your canoe here or drag it over.
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