Aug 30 – Sept 5th
# of portages: 14
Total portage distance: 10725m
Total distance: 48.2km
Shane and I had been trying against seemingly all odds to get out for a longer trip this year. Our first hurdle was COVID19, then there’s the fact that I have a 10-month old at home, but we managed to actually get out! We hadn’t been to Kiosk yet, so we decided to “take it easy” and see what the hub-bub was all about. Trying to avoid some Labour Day craziness, we were doing a loop Sunday-Sunday and would leave right in the middle of a long weekend.
I headed north from the GTA around 2:30 in the morning, managing good time to Shane’s place where he waited with the canoe already loaded, and then at 7:30 or so we were pulling into Kiosk campground. The place was a maze of cars, but we managed to find parking right by the conveniently located permit office and get our packs sorted. I took the equipment and Shane was carrying the food. This made portaging MUCH more manageable for the both of us. I inquired about permits at the office and lo, they actually had them pre-printed for us. We were on the water by 8am, and Kiosk looked inviting to two road-weary travellers.
There was next to no wind as we made the crossing at one of the more infamous launch points. Wind had been known to kick up on this lake in a predominantly east-west direction which could have hindered our travel, so we made hay while the sun was shining. There looked to be a few people camped, but we saw no boat activity as we made our way around the bay into the Amable du Fond River. The water level was high from recent rains and we started down our first portages with nary a scrape on the boat.
Up and over the first portage of our trip re-awakened all the aches that the activity brought, but it was more than manageable with our pack-out. This trip we prioritized food weight. Although we didn’t compromise and actually ate very well, there was next to no fresh food. With all our dehydrated and freeze-dried food, the weight was down to 25lbs of food between us. The first portage was straight up and down, nothing to write home about. We decided to try to get through the “low water” section by paddling and were mostly successful. Didn’t have to string it through, but I did get wet feet.
The next portage was also a doddle, and we set out from the sandy put in onto the protected river system. Travelling along the river we quickly came to a set of swifts we had to get up. These were big rocks and fairly fast moving water. We snuck up on them in the lee of on of the bigger rocks and sprang through them we a flurry of expert paddle strokes. Shane’s work as a front-end steersman has really improved over the years and it got us through despite the river’s insistence that we turn back. Before we knew it we were through the longest portage of our day and on the shores of Manitou lake, barely out of breath and happy to see a wildly hilly lake. Even from our beachy trailhead, we could see hills bigger than any other on a lake in the southwestern sections of the park.
After a quick look around at the cottages in the area we pushed off in search of a site. The water had a slight breeze on it, but it wasn’t much. We got half way down the lake and started to head towards the sites closer to our portage to 3 Mile lake. Turning more directly south we started to hit a headwind. This headwind would not stop for the rest of the week it seemed except to rain. We had a lunch of smoked meat in a wrap at a smaller site between the mainland and the island with 3 sites on it and considered where we might want to stay. The wind blowing straight through our current site made it undesirable, so we decided to keep going towards the string of sites on the eastern shore.
As we paddled along marveling at the view to the south, we passed site after site until settling on a nicely beached area with stairs, a table, and an adjacent site out of the wind accessible by a short path. Here we would stay for 3 nights, so we settled in and got to camping. We were tucked out of the wind for the day, and we didn’t need to go out for lumber this day. In the evening the lake quieted down an we managed a bit of fishing. I think the troughs around the island sites would net us more fish than the sandy bay we were in, but it wasn’t worth paddling out for at this time. Dinner was our only fresh meat of the trip on a kebob, and we retired early having had a long day.
The nights were going to be cold for this time of year, and we knew that. It was dipping towards 5 degrees the first night and we felt it. By the time the sun came up, I hurried towards the eastern-facing second site and enjoyed the warming glow as the sun burned off the mists. Breakfast was a wrap with back, cheese, tomato, and smoked pork tenderloin. I had found this in a bargain bin in at Blue Danube Sausage House where we got a lot of our smoked meats and it was delicious. We also brought ready-to-eat smoked bacon, which yielded a fattier and more authentic bacon than the microwave bacon I usually bring. The benefit of a smoked meat is that it requires no refrigeration, and although it’s fairly heavy it was absolutely amazing.
This was a nice morning, and we decided to capitalize on it. Around 9am, we headed out for a morning fish, hoping to hook into something. While we didn’t get any fish, we managed to snag a wonderful piece of standing dead hardwood for the fire. With such a heavy load in the boat, fishing was getting treacherous so we headed back in to process it and get the site improved. Shane decided to redo the tabletop to improve stability and I did nothing (so as to keep out of the way). The wind had picked up slightly, and shifted southwards to blow through our site, but it died down in the evening and gave us a nice night by the fire.
Overnight, the wind picked back up and we awoke to waves on the shore and a light foam developing, but nothing too bad. The good news was that we once again didn’t need to be anywhere. The wood from the previous day was plenty enough to get us going through this night and beyond. It did keep us from fishing, but that wasn’t the end of the world. We knew that there wasn’t anything worth paddling to that definitely would yield fish, so we puttered around the site. As the skies got more grey and the wind continued to blow I put up my tarp for the first time this trip. We didn’t need it during waking hours, but around 10 o’clock we went to sleep under threat of impending rain. Literally as my head hit the pillow we started to hear rumbling thunder. “Here we go again” I mumbled, remembering the last time I was in a tent in a thunderstorm (it wasn’t fun). We lucked out though, because though the thunder was loud at times, it was a good distance away. By counting the time between flash and bang, the strikes were at least 5km from us. We learned a few days later that it had torn through the Kiosk campground and scared the absolute hell out of people staying there.
The next morning was grey and windy, but at least there was no rain. The swells coming directly down our bay were around 8-12″ tall, and going perpendicular to where we needed to be. The portage to 3 Mile Lake was only 500m as the crow flies, but we decided after packing up to skirt the edge of the shore. The shallow east end of the lake knocked down the swells and we made it in good spirits. Shane mentioned that some people had to pay money for a water ride like that at a theme park. We sidled up to the rocky portage head and got ready for our “hard” portage of the trip.
This isn’t a terribly bad portage, but it has a steep part. Coming from Manitou, it goes fairly straight up for 400-odd meters and then starts to level off. Another 800m of easier trails will lead you to The Road. When you’re on The Road, it’s amazing. For more than a kilometer, it’s a hard packed and wide trail which would be suitable for a side-by-side vehicle or more sturdy pickup truck. You can make great time on The Road. We found a Nalgene water bottle along the way (if you can describe it and where abouts it went missing I’ll try to get it back to you). The portage spits you out at a trail-ending campsite which looked less than desirable but okay in a pinch, and as we caught our breath it started to rain.
The wind wasn’t too bad on 3 Mile and the rain was light, so we decided to push on through the wet to try and get the site we wanted which lay on the mainland across a channel towards the southern islands. This site came very highly recommended from multiple sources so it was our priority, but there were plenty of serviceable sites on the western shore. As we got farther down the lake the rain and wind picked up. By the time we rounded the point to see if our site was open it was officially a deluge, and the wind was cutting right through us. Luckily the site was indeed open, and we flopped onto shore a thoroughly soaked mess. I got the tarp up ASAP to try and get a dry spot, and soon the rain subsided (of course it did). We were miserable for a few more minutes as we waited for coffee to boil, but soon we managed to get into drier clothes and warm up.
After about an hour of trying to take care of ourselves, we took a look around and determined that this was indeed one of the better sites we could ask for. There was a spacious firepit area with a protected view east, but out on the warm rocks of the site’s point you got a view in almost every direction. Tucked safely back in the woods were multiple areas for tents and tarps. A few minutes later we saw multiple canoes coming out of the Upper Kawa lake portage and they were all disappointed to see activity on our site. Seems like the paddle through the rain was worth it to snag the showpiece of the lake. The day cleared a bit and we found some good wood for a big bonfire. We wanted to celebrate getting the good site, get warm, and really just being out there. A special treat was watching the full moon rise over our fire, it was so bright it looked like a sunrise.
The next morning looked to be an ideal morning in Algonquin park. The night had been a bit warmer, and I had smartened up to the idea of grabbing the clothes I was going to wear the next day and warming them in my sleeping bag before getting up. After pancakes for breakfast we set out fishing, because this lake was supposed to yield the best trout on our route. We managed a few passes at a spot that looked good, but by 11am, the wind had picked up enough to drive us off the lake again. As the swells pounded the point we were on, we passed a lot of the day making a better cooking area and watching other crews come onto the lake. Better than TV, we narrated the plight of multiple groups trying to find a good site on an increasingly busy lake.
That evening, it rained good and hard, but we had a great tarp setup and it was organized in such a way that we could cook and eat within it’s netting. We rehydrated a big pot full of New Mexico stew and ate with gusto, as it was exactly what we wanted that night. Before the sun went down, we were treated to the clearest rainbow I’ve ever seen. It had clearly delineated colors from red to violet, and was absolutely gorgeous. The real tragedy was that a photo wouldn’t do it justice, but believe me it was pretty. It was another memorable night as a fiery sunset gave way to a clear-ish night despite a stiff breeze.
We woke up the next morning to more grey and more wind. It was around this time that I dubbed this trip “Project Whitecap,” as I have never seen this much chop for a whole week. We got everything packed up after a wonderful breakfast of freeze-dried eggs with smoked venison sausage in a wrap. Normally, powdered eggs turn my stomach, but I guess the freeze-dried stuff is different (good to know). With the canoe packed, we turned with the wind and headed towards the North Sylvia lake portage.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the route between 3 Mile and Maple lakes. The portages are generally well maintained and simple up and downs. We managed to get great time heading down the trail from Boggy Lake to Ratrap, and it was a really pretty walk through the woods. North Sylvia would be nice if you wanted some deep solitude, while Ratrap was not conducive to swimming due to murky water and sludgy conditions. As we got to the end of the Boggy-Ratrap it started raining again, but luckily we were in deep woods that offered protection as we waited it out.
We figured we had had enough of the wind. Rain we could deal with effectively and it was intermittent, but our chief need on a site today was protection from the unrelenting gusts. As we kicked off into Maple, we knew we didn’t want an island site. We had been out long enough to know that even though it looked nice now, it could kick up in a few short minutes. The northern-most shore site turned out to be exactly what we wanted, as it was protected on almost all sides and the unprotected side was only 100m wide before hitting the far shore. It wasn’t an insanely appealing site, but it checked every box we needed.
We set up the tarp to protect from the threatening clouds, and went about getting lunch set up. With tuna-parmesan wraps safely in our belly, the day fell away nicely. Shane went out looking for a standing dead tree for fire, while I got the tent set up and fine-tuned the tarp. After hearing a crash signifying Shane had found his prize, I went with him to bring it back for processing. He showed me that just behind the site there’s boulders the size of houses! They were really neat to see as a 30-something, and 6 year old me would have gone nuts for these. The lumber was high quality too.
As we hopped in and out of the bug tarp to escape rain and watched the white caps roll through our small stretch of waterfront, we began to talk ourselves out of another day in the Park. If we were to stay another day, it would be spent under the tarp and watching the rain. While we were enjoying ourselves, we knew the weather forecast for the next day was somewhat favorable and made an executive decision to head out on the Saturday rather than the Sunday. We had another good fire, and went to sleep hoping for a nice morning.
We awoke to a bright and sunny morning, but we could hear the wind around the corner starting to pick up even at 7am. We had a quick breakfast of honey/coffee/chocolate bars and packed up. By 9am we were on our way towards Maple Creek and greying skies.
Heading down Maple Creek was actually pretty fun! The portages were well-trodden, if not hilly closer to Maple Lake. The 805m portage was easily the most challenging, as there is a very steep and rocky part about halfway through. Make sure you’ve got plenty of energy left before heading up or down the steep section, as there is nowhere to rest or get off the trail here. Aside from that bit, everything on the portages went great. On the water however, it started to rain about halfway through the creek. It was the same hard, driving rain that chilled us to the bone on 3 Mile, but mercifully it was short-lived. The thunder that came with it made us hunker down on the 130m portage for a few minutes, and it didn’t really leave us alone until we were along the 915m portage towards Kiosk. This last portage was an absolute treat, as it was gently heading downhill and wide open. It was a great trail to end on.
The whole trip I had been fretting about the final day where we would have to cross Kiosk at noon. I envisioned a 2-3hr slog against the wind or having to shelter under a tree along the shoreline as we were battered with weather. It seems though that we had lucked out, the the bay coming out of Maple creek was plenty sheltered, and by the time we were pointed back up to the take out point the wind was at our backs! We lazily paddled past groups heading out against a headwind as we whistled and grinned like morons.
All in all, this was a wonderfully relaxed trip. The portages seemed to be fairly easy and not intimidating, but that may just be in comparison to other trips. The absence of bugs was an absolute treat, one that we haven’t had the luxury of in many, many, moons. Just to be able to cool down and actually catch your breath on a trail made the cold nights 100% worth it. While the wind and the waves and the rain made for a less than desirable paddling experience at times, they didn’t deter us from having a good time.