June 30 – July 4th
# of portages: 12
Total portage distance: 9040m
Total distance: 24.7km
This trip was the definition of “slapped together.” Due to a lot of extenuating circumstances, I wasn’t able to get out camping until Canada day at the earliest this year. Whether it be because of lockdown restrictions, Algonquin being closed for the spring melt, or things to do with my family and social obligations (which still exist despite COVID), this was the first time I had gone canoeing since the waters softened up. Our original plan was to head into the south western section of the Park, but it was all booked up. Then we decided to just find something and book it, so we settled on going from Canisbay to the Otterslides and back, basically basecamping up there. The major issue was that going from the Otterslides to Canisbay was going to be a slog and the weather didn’t look too great. Luckily, there were a lot of cancellations last minute so we able to book a smaller and more managable loop, albeit a strangely structured one.
We started at Source lake, a access point we had never used off Hwy 60, which is primarily used to service Camp Pathfinder. There was next to nobody in the lot, so we took that as a good omen that we would avoid the usual long weekend gong show as we pushed towards our first portage. This trip would be defined by small lakes and portages with tricky take outs. Shaking the rust off with a shorter portage felt okay, and before we knew it we were on the other side of Bruce Lake heading to Raven. The 900m portage was not an easy one, with elevation changes of more than 10m multiple times along its length, punctuated with slippery boardwalks and muddy sections. Taking breaks along the path (because we were lazy and happy to just talk in the woods) we marvelled at the bug situation. It felt like we were their in late August, not June! It was temperate, and the bugs were minding their own business for the most part. In short, it was amazing.
Because of some scheduling issues, we were eventually going to head back from our destination on Owl lake to Raven, so as we paddled the length of Raven lake we took a gander from shore at the 2 sites we’d have to choose from. We decided that the site at the north end of the lake was the most preferable, and headed from there to the next portage. This was a 400m doddle, and only took 8 minutes. Shane managed to smash a tree to pieces with his head as he picked his way through a swampy bit, not looking up to see the firm tree in his way. With a mighty thunk and some loud cursing, he won the day with only a bruise to show for it. On Owl lake, we paddled for the two sister sites on the northern edge, knowing both were the best on the lake. The western site was open, and even though you can see and hear the eastern one it was pretty cosy.
The site was pretty high use, but not without charm. The morning sun will spill in, warming the fire pit area nicely, but it doesn’t have a bench or table area. That would be a theme in this area, lots of people but not much site infrastructure. We had brought a big bug tarp and set it up as the rain began in earnest. It poured hard and straight down for about an hour, but after that we only had a few showers. Shane set up a smaller tarp by the firepit, which would keep us dry without threatening to burn down my nice mesh. We gathered some wood behind the site, although hardwood was scarce, and made a small fire to cook dinner on, then headed out fishing. Not long after our first few casts, we heard thunder rumbling in the distance and decided to head in. No fish is worth getting fried by lightning! The night was cool, and the fire welcome. We padded off to bed around 11:30pm.
Our second day was supposed to be a lazy one, nowhere to go and nowhere to be. We woke up a bit later in the day than usual, and had a nice big breakfast of bacon, eggs, and cheese in a wrap before heading out fishing. We didn’t have much in the way of luck, but it was nice to get out and look around the lake. Back at the site we collected wood for the night while the leaves were dry in the sun, and before we knew it lunchtime was upon us. As we cleaned up, we saw that our neighbors across the bay were leaving. Being that their site was nicer than ours, with a long warm point to sit on, we decided to haul up stakes and move. The tent wasn’t even put away, I just took the fly off and folded it in half (with all the sleeping gear inside!) then just wheeled it into the front of the canoe. By the time all our gear was haphazardly thrown across the bay, another crew came in to take out still-warm old site.
The new site was worth the trouble to of packing things down to get to. It had more plentiful supplies of lumber and the point out front was a lovely porch. I set up the bug tarp, but we didn’t need it, and the rest of the day was spent idly around the site. A highlight was when I was just sitting on the point, reading my book and enjoying the lake, when I heard a loud splashing noise accompanied by an even louder “howf”-ing noise. On the very farthest end of the lake, a cow moose was hauling ass through waist-deep water calling out. She was in major distress and we were very glad to not be in her path. This was the first time I saw a “rampaging” moose and it was really an impressive sight! She eventually howfed her way off the lake and up a hill southward, likely trying to find a young one or something. Later that night we saw a cow and her young calf mere meters from our site, so I guess they were reunited and happy (didn’t disturb us either). I was also delighted to see the newly launched train of Starlink satellites later that night, a long string of 15-20 moving stars heading up to higher orbit. Soon, that technology will allow me to livestream a few nights out in Algonquin to the web!
The next morning was a Friday, and while we were set to backtrack to another site on Raven Lake, it wasn’t going to be a long day so we took our time getting up and out of the blocks. While I was taking down my thermarest, I noticed it was developing a bulge near the head, apparently the materials were peeling away from the foam giving it a bulbous look. As the trip progressed this only got worse, so I wound up having to underinflate the mattress to actually make it work. Disappointing, and not entirely too comfortable. Heading back along the 400m portage was a breeze, now knowing where to step through the muddy bits making it a lot easier. I should also mention that this trip I had brought along a new GPS watch. I originally bought it for triathlon training, but it’s primary function is as an outdoor navigation watch. The heartrate monitor, compass, mapping, and distance calculator were very helpful in portaging, as it can help you mentally figure out where you are and how much farther you have to go. I brought it as an afterthought and now it’s going to be part of every trip I go on.
Raven lake only has 2 sites on it, and one being occupied made our decision for us. We pulled the canoe up to a uninviting take out up a steep slope next to a felled pine. The primary fire pit was a mess with little in the way of a view, but the tent pads down the path offered something. There was a secondary fire pit near a tent pad along the high ridge line of the site, which when tarped and made a bit more liveable was a great place to spend the night. We fashioned a table out of two cut logs (big ones felled by a chainsaw), and put our tent yet further from the canoe along the ridge. In total this site stretched at least 200m along it’s length. Behind the site there was massive signs of moose and camper activity. Lots of downed trees and hacked up stumps among piles of moose leavings. It took a while, but we found some nice standing hardwood for the fire leaning against a live tree. Dinner was tacos made from freeze dried ingredients, and after that we went out fishing again. No luck this time, but the lake was glass so we were happy to enjoy the wilderness. Our fire went long into the night, and once it was thoroughly doused we went off to bed.
Shane slept in on our 2nd last day in the park, I was up and about making a morning fire to warm up and got the coffee going. after some quick pancakes and a site teardown we were on the way to Iris lake by 11am. On our way off the lake, we stopped by the other site on Raven and while the site was in good condition (definitely the one you want to stay on) the thunderbox is RIGHT THERE! IT’S RIGHT IN THE SITE! Within 30 feat of the damn fire pit! No thanks for me. The rest of the day was nice though. We got a little lost on way from Owl to Linda lake, adding about 500m to our trip, but Linda lake was totally worth the hike. I definitely have put that on my list of places to return to!
After a rougher than usual 900m portage to Iris, we were set for the night. The site wasn’t as soupy as I had feared, tucked between the lake and a swamp. The take out was sandy, and the site open but protected. There was even a flattened section of a log to serve as a stove spot. Iris lake isn’t much to look at to be honest, unremarkable and flat. Plenty of cedar and pine to burn on the shore, but little in the way of hardwood. We ate a Sheppard’s pie for dinner, and around 9:30 it started raining. Before too long, we called it a night with a early start in mind for tomorrow.
Our final day started out with grey skies, but no wind. It looked like a perfect day for travelling as the temps were low and the sun wasn’t setting about to scorch us on the lake. Our breakfast was pre-made bars and coffee, with as much food as we could stomach from the leftovers pile, which made for a fast and easy cleanup. We were on the rapidly de-misting water by 7:45am and to the portage back to Linda by 8am. Because our packs were as light as they would ever be and we knew exactly where we were going, the way back was fast and relatively easy. We only saw a few other people packing their way out along our travels, a welcome change from the gong show that more popular access points usually are on long weekends. Before we knew it we were back on Source lake and making our way for the cars around 11am.
All in all, this was an outstanding trip. It had every ingredient needed to make it a really piss-poor one: rain in the forecast, close to Hwy 60, backtracking and lots of “small” movement, etc. But the sites were all serviceable, the lakes nice and calm, wildlife plentiful and benign, and the route somewhat adventurous! After being denied a few spring trips already this year, this trip was exactly what I needed mentally. I hope to get out at least a few more times in 2021, but if this was it for bigger trips I’ll take it. This was a win, and I know Shane and I really needed it.