June 29- July 6
# of portages: 17
Total portage distance: 200030m
Total distance: 86.6km
Since last Canada Days’ debacle, Shane and I have been over-planning this trip. We wanted to push farther and longer than either of us have since we were in organized camp groups as kids. This trip was the culmination of months of anticipation, planning, gear/food testing, and all-round knowledge of the craft which is canoe tripping. There were a number of lakes and experiences we wanted to check off, without sacrificing the comforts and methods we are accustomed to.
We decided to start on the biggest lake in the Park, Opeongo. But to hell with spending a day paddling in, and a day paddling out. Save that for a time when we can get wind-bound and be okay with it. Instead we grabbed a water taxi and were whisked off to the Happy Isle portage at tremendous speed. It was great to blow by campsites, but also neat to get a bigger glimpse of a lake we haven’t yet had time to explore. From the Happy Isle portage dock, we saw a moose cow and took it as a good omen of a nice trip to come.
It was about 2 seconds down the portage that we realized this wouldn’t be the usual doddle through the woods we were used to. It was hot. The bugs were very bad. Our bags were as heavy as they could be and still manage (my pack weighed 45lbs, and there was 25lbs of food between us). But by Joe we were back in the Park after nearly a year absent. The first portage of the day was unremarkable, a well-worn path through to Happy Isle. Nice lake, deceptively big without being overly dotted with sites. Aside from a crowded island, I think you could get away here without hearing much from your neighbors.
The next portage was a doddle. Up and down, which reminded us that not every portage was going to try and kill us. The bugs, on the other hand, we bad here and we spat out onto Merchant lake in a haze of mosquitoes. We were going to stop on a site along the way, but the bugs again forced us out and to have a floating lunch as we gently blew towards the last portage of the day. This portage had a lot of up and down and damn near killed us with the full compliment of food we had in our packs. It got so bad we had to give up our push to single carry and wound up double carrying the second half of the portage. This must have slowed us right the hell down, as a group of people came up behind us that we hadn’t seen at all on our travels.
We managed to get on the water long before them, and having some water in our bellies made a difference as we careened gently down a creek and into Big Trout Lake. We looked into the first site we came across but the lack of a firepit near the water sent us packing. We felt pretty good as we worked our way to the middle of the lake and came across our site for the next two nights. Our site was high up on a rock, and I was the first to scout it out. I called Shane up to look at the tent pads, then told him to turn around and look at the view. “Wow,” was an appropriate response.
We lucked out big time, the site was spacious, easy to tarp, full of good firewood, and protected from the wind without being buggy. We were tired and stinky, but this was worth the hardship. We set up camp and relaxed as we eased into the longest trip into Algonquin we had ever attempted. It rained cats and dogs in the evening, but my new bug tarp handled it without complaint. The 2nd day we slept in and lazed around the site, remarking on how we can see why this lake is so popular. With the water taxi, this is easily accessible in a morning and it’s absolutely gorgeous.
We awoke early on day 3, with no wind and a glassy lake. We wanted to hit the 2590m portage to Lake La Muir before it got too hot. This time we were ready for the bugs too. We put on extra bug juice, Shane tucked his fancy bug resistant pants into his socks, and I put on a mesh bug shirt. This made a world of difference and we popped out into La Muir after just over an hour. We took our time on La Muir, as the wind was at our back and there was only one other portage to go. Scoped out a few of the north shore sites to grab some water and stretch our legs, but the bugs drove us out pretty quick. La Muir was nice and the weather great, but Hogan lake was our destination for the night.
Our last portage was marked “buggy” on Jeff’s Map, but it wasn’t any buggier than any other trail. There was a new boardwalk on the La Muir side, and it branched off in 2 directions. Heading to Hogan, make sure to take the trail to the right! From our direction, this was all downhill, and with the length of portages we were hitting this trip 685m was a doddle. By this point we were starting to count out our paces between breaks on the trail trying every time to match or surpass the interval before. We got in the habit of making about 500-600m between each break.
Hogan lake was entered by way of a fast-moving creek. It was wide enough to not feel claustrophobic and didn’t have much in the way of bugs. We grabbed some beaver-munched cedar on the western shore of Hogan as it opened up in front of us and made for the southernmost site. This site had previously been burned through and the ground coverage was thick. But the wind could blow through the saplings with enough force to keep the bugs off. Dinner was our first non-fresh meat, but it was pretty great to 2 weary wanderers. We got to sleep early, as all we had to do was one big portage the next morning and then we were done.
The next morning was the half-way point of our trip. The weather was calm as we packed camp up and set across Hogans lake. All we had to do was one 3750m portage. Looking at Jeff’s map, we saw the first 500-1000m was steeply uphill, so we decided to double portage “just the high parts.” We wound up double portaging basically to the first cart path intersect 1/3 of the way along the trail. It didn’t get any easier either, as the middle of the portage was characterized with an overgrown boardwalk. The branches loomed over, pulling the canoe on my head left and right as we pushed through, but we managed to get a good distance covered over the relatively flat ground. The last 1/3rd of the portage was yet more up and down, but mainly down. By the time we met up with the cart path for the last 1200m, we were bug bitten and beaten up, happy to filter some water and get out on the lake.
As with every lake on this trip we had our pick of the sites on Big Crow, so we opted for the one closest to the Crow river. We had a lovely view of the lake along with a sandy beach and open area relatively free from bugs. We had the whole afternoon to relax and get our legs back under us, so we took a quick dip in the lake and relaxed under the tarp away from the bugs. The highlight of the day was that just before dinnertime, a moose wandered into the bay behind us on the river. He grazed around less than 200m from our site all night long. Usually when you see a moose, especially in close quarters, they move along in 20 minutes or so. Not so with our pal Gary the Moose. It was neat to have him around. Other highlights were getting eaten alive by a particularly huge swarm of mosquitoes checking out the Big Crow cabin, and speaking with a francophone who was late getting into the Crow River. Dinner was a hearty spaghetti and we called it an early night. Gary’s clomping kept us up a bit.
Shane had a rough night sleeping, but we broke camp and started into the river regardless the next morning. There was a sign from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks warning us of a predatory bear along one of the 7 portages that awaited us down-stream, so I took to thumping the canoe as we portaged. Became sort of a warm drum to march to as we slogged along. Going with the current was amazing. The river was wide enough to negotiate easily without losing steam in the corners, and the portages were all downhill, which was a nice change of pace. Even with a quick stop at the site half-way along the river (which is nicer than you would think), we were in Crow Bay on the cusp of Lake Lavieille within 4 hours.
After lunch and a break from paddling, we took off onto the water in search of somewhere to spend the next few nights. Lavieille was really a major destination for us. This lake has no “easy” way into or out of it, and with the algae blooms working towards it we may not be able to stay there in a few years. It was important to us to have a great site, and not compromise for the sake of getting off the water. We checked just about every western site between Crow and Hardy Bay and each time we pushed back off. There were a few that we were contemplating, but by the time we started hitting closed sites in the south of Lavieille we were getting tired and a bit downtrodden. It wasn’t until we started back north on the eastern side that we found a great site and settled in for the evening.
Our site had multiple tiers. One for the boats, one with a firepit which I wasn’t 100% sure was built by park staff, and a 3rd which was a bit more sheltered and to be used as a living area. The island was close to the mainland and other islands, but the remoteness of the lake meant firewood was readily available on-site. We enjoyed a tuna-couscous dinner and turned in happy with the effort we had put in to getting here. Safe to say we were tired, but the celebratory drinks helped us keep the fire going. As we were just about to nod off, we heard something big clomping through our camp. We told it to get the hell outta there, but didn’t bother sticking out head out to yell at it face to face. Most likely it was a deer or something.
Our last rest day of the trip was spent simply enjoying our time on one of the healthiest lakes I’ve ever seen. There were fish everywhere, and the views never got old. Safe to say this was one of the highlight days of the trip. We saw the francophone kayaker from Crow lake make his way through the lake, as well a boat with two gentlemen trying to set a new Meanest Link record. These nutjobs were doing 420km in 7 days! They were on their way to Opeongo that day, with the last day taking them into Huntsville. From what I’ve seen around the net, they made it. I should also note that while I was talking to them, I was able to catch 3 trout from shore in July…in mid-day. What a great lake.
Our final travel day was ominous. The weather was actually great, but we had a cloud over our head. All our heavy food was eaten, the packs were tetris-ed together as tight as possible, and we had full water bottles for what we knew was ahead of us. The dreaded Dickson-Bonfield portage, arguably the longest portage in Algonquin Park. 5470m of bug-infested joy. We said our good-byes to Lake Lavieille and headed south. Since 2015 there have been regular green algae blooms in Hardy Bay and Dickson Lake, which has rendered the water undrinkable and the fish life has really taken a hit. This meant we were carrying water from Lavieille to Bonfield. To be honest, the portage isn’t too bad, the Hogan-Big Crow one took more out of us, but damn it’s long. We made it through and checked a big item off our “To Do in Algonquin” list with a whoop of victory once we crossed the boardwalk into Bonfield lake.
I honestly thought the last few lakes were going to be the worst. There’s nothing to see or do on them really, and after completing such a long portage should have meant we were done for the day. Looking at the map, these lakes scream “you’re not done yet!” In reality though, they were kind of nice. Let you remember that the whole trip isn’t just portaging, but a bit of paddling too. Our very last portage delivered us right where we needed to be, so I dropped the canoe early to film our sweet victory before we made our way to the campsite.
Our last night in Algonquin was a reflective one. We didn’t have anything to do the next day as we posted up on a site adjacent to the portage, you could literally walk to the portage through another site. So we sat around like lumps, finished off our vodka, and watched the powerboats zip back and forth across the expanse of Lake Opeongo. We were too grateful for words regarding so many aspects of this trip. Neither of us sustained grievous injury, the food was good and healthy, the portages had been manageable, the wildlife viewing was great without being dangerous or surprising, and even the weather cooperative! I cannot overstate how lucky we were for this whole trip, it makes me nervous that we’ll never get a day of good weather in the future.
We stayed up late into the night discussing the trip, highlights and lowlights, while pondering where our next trips might take us. The next morning we haphazardly packed up after a later breakfast and some coffee, then made our way back to the portage head where our boat was coming in. The last evening, I had lost my little gorilla tripod and had looked in every nook and crevice of my gear for. I figured it was gone, and as that was the only piece of gear I had lost wasn’t too torn up about it. Literally as the water taxi was landing, Shane noticed the tripod sitting near the stump I had filmed our victory dance with. What a note to end on.
The water taxi deposited a father and son out for the son’s first canoe trip into Algonquin then loaded us up and whisked us back to the parking lot. That ride seemed longer than the ride in, but after a week travelling under our own power it felt like light-speed. So glad we didn’t have to paddle that lake. Our journey done, Shane and I packed our gear into the cars, exchanged a few photos on my laptop (brought it for this reason), and trundled down the road.
An absolutely excellent trip.