Algonquin Big Lake Trip

June 29- July 6
# of portages: 17
Total portage distance: 200030m
Total distance: 86.6km
Video Log:

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.

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Our chariot to the Happy Isle portage

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.

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Ready to head from Merchant to Big Trout lake

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.

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View from the firepit on Big Trout

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.

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Heading to the portage to La Muir

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.

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Goodbye lake La Muir

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.

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Hello Hogan Lake

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 longUsually 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.

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Gary T. Moose

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.

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Motoring along with the river

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.

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View from the “false” fire pit

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.

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Sunset over Lake Lavieille

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.

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According to Jeff’s Map it’s even longer than signed

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.

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One of our many rest breaks along the Dickson Bonfield

 

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.

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Our last night on Opeongo

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.

Kawartha Highlands Ice Out 2019

May 3-5 2019
# of portages: 4
Total portage distance: 598m
Total distance: 10km
Video Log:

We wanted to go to Algonquin for this weekend, but alas there was still ice on the lakes so we had to audible to Kawartha Highlands.  This didn’t bother us though, as we hadn’t been on a canoe trip since last year.  This time, I was prepared!  I had a bunch of new foods, and wanted to share them with Shane as we prepare for a big trip over Canada day.  This was to be a wonderful weekend, buuuuuttttt……

I forgot the food.  Again.  For the second canoe trip in a row…

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Portage into Sucker Lake

Safe to say I was inconsolable.  But!  Luckily I realized it on the drive up, which was fortunate because I was able to stop in at grocery store on the way up and resupply.  Also I was able to get the exact moment I realized I forgot the food on video, which was hilarious in retrospect.  Further, this was just a hope skip and a jump to the site so there was not big portages to carry the heavier food over.  Once I had my wits about me again, as well as enough food to survive two nights, I was soon kicking off from shore into the frigid waters of Bottle lake.

I’ve been through this lake multiple times, but always in the fall.  In the spring the water was much higher, and it made navigating easy as pie.  No rocks to avoid, you just point where you want to go and paddle.  I needed to make tracks, as it was 6pm and the sun was starting to dip.  About 2 hours late I rounded the northern island to see a haze of campfire smoke billowing gently from our site, and hailed my old friend who had set up camp earlier that day.

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View from the site

Turns out he had been busy.  There was little in the way of wood on the site, but he had made do with what was on hand by slicing a thicker softwood into thin slices, perfect for getting the fire going.  While it was warm in the sun, once nighttime fell we were definitely in need of a warming fire.  Shane also set up our accommodations for the night.  Instead of my usual tent, we would be sleeping in Shane’s ice-fishing tent, which he furnished with a cot for himself, a lantern, and a propane heater.  Life was good as I helped him finish cutting enough wood for the night and we settled into dinner of pepperettes from the gas station.

It was a cold night, but the heater helped.  Shane had brought a new summer bag to try out, but it was less than stellar even with the sunflower heater pointed right at him.  I laughed as I saw condensation on my side of the tent and dry walls on his side the next morning.  Apparently the heater was enough to dry it all away.  We got coffee going and had a hearty breakfast of eggs and real bacon, a rare luxury that we could afford due to temperatures hovering around zero all night.

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Shane extols the benefits of heavy gear

We passed the day fishing, gathering nice dry wood, exploring the lake further than ever before, and testing out some of Shane’s new gear.  He had a weather radio, new camp chair, and a pocket saw (with real chainsaw blade) to test, and everything passed with flying colors.  I worry the pocket saw may dull too quickly versus a fixed blade, but it did the trick in a pinch.  The sun even came out from time to time and graced us with some vitamin D, exactly what we needed after a long winter.

Dinner was that night was the highlight of the trip.  Shane has gotten into sous vide pressure cooking, which is perfect for a night or two outside of refrigeration.  We got pork chops with a honey BBQ sauce, potatoes, and stuffing cooked to perfection as a tasty treat.  It was filling, delicious, and quite safe to eat.  Definitely something we’re going to be bringing over Canada day.

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Best. Dinner. Ever.

Another cold night gave way to a wonderful morning.  Not a cloud in the sky over a lake of glass.  We dragged our feet as I made coffee and bacon.  I ran out of fuel for the stove as the bacon finished, an unfortunate side effect of a clogged jet from the day before.  I did a quick field strip that fixed the issue, but the damage had been done.  Lazily we packed up, a chore made easier by the fact that we could just move the floor-less hut shelter out of the way of our sleeping gear and pack up in sunlight.  Lazily we coasted back through a short portage and then home to the car.  Fishing this time of year was a bust for us, but other than that this was a perfect spring opener.

 

Canada Day 2018

June 29-July 2, 2018
# of portages: 10
Total portage distance: 6685m
Total distance: 39.6km
Video Log:

I have to preface this by stating that I am a flawed man. I generally think I’m fairly sharp, sometimes even witty, but at times I am a absolute pillar of dumbassery. This trip I crowned myself the new King of Stupid, as I managed to forget the ENTIRE FOOD BAG. All the food, sitting in the front foyer of my house waiting to be loaded into the car, was abandoned.  We were going to be playing on Hard mode this weekend.

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Old rail bed over Potter’s Creek

My wife and I drove to my parents cottage in Haliburton Thursday night. A whole crew was coming up for the Canada Day long weekend, so the plan was to drop my wife and dog there while I paddled around Algonquin Park the next few days. Upon discovering the food calamity, we set about raiding my parents pantry, fridge, and freezer in search of any edibles that would travel and keeps well. I was angry at myself beyond words, but thanks to my supportive wife and generous mother I soon had a whole new meal plan written up and ready. Shane also helped correct my mistake with some staples in his house and a quick trip to the 24hr gas station on the way in.

 

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About to head down Potter’s Creek

I set out early Friday morning, and by 7:30 we had the food distributed to a backpack Shane brought. Canoe lake was beginning to stir with activity, but we were among the first on the water. The summer camps had already started, and it was neat to see a 20-person boat rowing fast between the islands of camp Wapomeo. We began our trip in earnest by turning west up Potter Creek, our first foray into this area of the park and the first touch of adventure for the day.

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Potter’s Creek, the deep end

Potter Creek was a tough slog. Even full of energy and enthusiasm, the twisting alder-strewn path was not well traveled, and required lots of walking around. The portages were also poorly marked, if at all, the closer you get to Potter Lake. Our frustration was compounded by the emergence of what would become a real issue, serious bugs. It seems that Canada Day was to be the weekend that the bugs came out to play. The two longer portaged we did in and out of Potter Creek were a nice change, as they hopped up quickly onto the old railbed running along the lake which is now a road. You can imagine our surprise seeing a Park truck coming down our portages, but it was worth it to have level and flat ground to make time over.

 

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Brule Lake, former whistle stop

Emerging onto Brule lake, we were greeted with a smaller gem in the middle of the park and a lovely breeze that kept the bugs off us.  To our left ran the rail bed, next to the southern-most site.  It was rocky and open, an okay site to sleep on if you needed to.  Our destination was the eastern site in the middle of the lake, as it seemed pretty nice from what we could discern online.  The reputation was well-earned too, with tons of tent pads and plenty of room, as well as a sunset-adjacent firepit high above the water.  The only bad aspect is that due to the high perspective, I’ve had shorter portages than walks to the lake-front.

 

We passed the night away by fishing around the lake and eating chicken wraps cooked over the campfire.  The dusk was calm, and we settled into a warm summer night.  At around 2pm, we both woke from a content slumber to a sound neither of us wanted to hear.  Rain, thunder, and lots of both.  Before long I had to take a peek outside, and with the aid of near-constant lightning I could see the tarp was flapping hard but still there.  The fact that the tarp was holding calmed me, because if it blew away, that would mean the wind would be at severely dangerous levels.  Eventually I would fall back into a fitful sleep, but Shane wasn’t able to rest easy for hours.

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Back on MacIntosh

The next day we were shaken by that storm, it had darkened our views regarding precipitation in the woods.  This was our lean day, but we had a nice breakfast of pancakes.  We looked around the lake a little bit, but truck noise and chainsaws drove us to abandon the site by noon, opting instead to push into McIntosh Lake to get a nice site.  It was hot, a little rainy, and we were in a low place emotionally on that grey day.  We saw a lot of blow downs along the trail, fresh from the night before and some trees in the middle of other site tent pads.  We were definitely looking up as we set up our tent for the night, having not accomplished much in the way of fishing, exploring, or site development.

The next morning we woke to a calm breeze and light cloud cover.  We had full rations for the day, so that perked our spirits up, and before breakfast we were fishing.  This was mostly to keep out of the oppressive bug population that decided to feast on our faces.  I couldn’t keep 2″ perch off my line, but Shane managed to grab a good-sized trout by Barnet Island.  We spent the day enjoying the sun when it came out, swimming, and generally relaxing.  It was nice to forget the storm and hunger from the previous day.  Dinner that night was beef tenderloin steak that had kept really well, bagged alfredo, and the last of the wraps.  While it wasn’t ideal, the steak turned out amazing.  Taking down the tarp allowed us to enjoy the stars as we kept the fire going to keep away any bugs.

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Sunset over Barnet Island

The final morning we woke up early and broke camp after cramming down as much food as we had.  The clouds were back and by 8am the wind was already starting to tickle the lake.  We knew what was in front of us.  A 2.4km portage through bug-infested swamp-land, followed by 10-15km of paddling into the wind.  By the time we started into Ink creek we were surprised by an onslaught of biting flies, and we knew it was going to be a poopy day.

Last time we came through the Ink-Tom Thompson portage it took us 45 minutes and we were really proud of the time.  This time I wound up dropping the canoe about 400m from the end in order to get a reprieve from the bugs and we still made it through in 35 minutes.  I can honestly say that those were the most invasive and debilitating bugs I’ve ever come across, and normally biting insects don’t bother me too much.  Horseflies, deerflies, blackflies, mayflies, mosquitoes, and any other flying bastard with 10km came down and hurried our butts along the trail.  The paddle back was nothing great either.  Happy to be out of the woods and moving in a breeze we doddled along to Teepee Lake, where the wind had started to really funnel down on us.

 

By the time we were on Canoe lake it was properly windy.  Although we were weary, hungry, and probably dehydrated, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to be in a tandem canoe as we passed by a floundering soloist.  We cut through the bigger swells with ease in Shane’s canoe and paused for a rest in the lee of the islands.  Before too long we were on the beach packing away our gear, ready to head home.

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Ready to head home

I can say without a shadow of a doubt this was one of our more extreme trips.  The lack of food played a role mentally that I wasn’t expecting.  Without the expected caloric intake, I was despondent and sulky, only perking up when I had a small snack.  Food made that much  of a difference.  The weather was also against us.  That storm was very scary.  It’ll be a while before I’m comfortable in the rain outdoors at night again.  However, it’s from these experiences that we enrich our “normal” lives, and we learn to appreciate the comforts of home that much more.  I wouldn’t have changed a thing, except maybe a bug hat.

Spring trip 2018

May 12-13, 2018
# of portages: 4
Total portage distance: 1110m
Total distance: 10.6km
Video Log:

The annual Vanguard trip is upon us! Permits were being issued on the Friday, and we got in on the Saturday. All week Shane (friend), Gwyn (wife), Ginny (dog), and I were fretting over whether or not we`d all be able to head into Algonquin for a quick shoulder season trip and we were not disappointed. Forecasts of rain gave way to bright sunshine and mild temperatures. We set off from Shane`s house in Kearney early on Saturday, stopping only for a quick bite at the Rise and Grill cafe which stocks the best food for a hungry camper.

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Shane heads out on Magnetewan

The drive in was actually really good. Low snowfall in the winter amounted a relatively smooth drive, no washouts or giant potholes to worry about. We were on Magnetewan shortly after 10am, with Gwyn/Ginny in the front of the Ewok and Shane soloing his red Kipawa. The lake was glassy, and it felt great to be out in the sun after a long spring melt. The going wasn’t silent though, as the woods were alive with avid campers eager to find their first campsite of the canoe season.

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Ice on Hambone Lake

Our first surprise was at the portage between Magnetewan and Hambone lake. Normally barely a blip on the radar, this turned into the hardest portage of the trip due to ice in at the Hambone end. This meant hacking through muddy fescue off the trail in order to get some open water. The highlight was carrying the dog around the mud because she’s little and the mud was ice cold, only for her to jump directly into it when we put her down in the canoe for loading. Once out on Hambone, the going was easy.

On Daisy lake, we paddled past a few intrepid fishermen and made tracks towards the island sites at the east side of the lake. We wanted a protected site, and having an island would allow Ginny to rip around off lead. The nicer site, close to the south end of the island, was occupied but we were happy to see the other site was open. It’s a medium sized and well-used site, with 3 good tent pads and a thunderbox waaay up a hill, bvut within sight of the fire pit. There is next to no hardwood lying around either, even with a windstorm and few campers on the prowl.

As we had some coffee/tea and waited for the afternoon sun, we explored the island and slowly set up camp. There was no rush, it wasn’t even noon yet. Chasing the dog around the island was fun for a bit, but she started disturbing the other camps (sorry Sandy!), so we put her on a long lead for most of the afternoon. By mid-afternoon we’d had our KD lunch and Gwyn was content in the hammock with her book and the dog, so Shane and I went out fishing. It wasn’t the most productive trip, but Shane managed to pull a splake out. Pretty fish!

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Shane’s trout

Back at camp the sun was quickly dipping below the treeline due to our proximity to the western shore, and the temperature followed it. As beautiful a day we could ask for was quickly turning to a mid-May night. We lit the fire and set about warming a coal bed for chicken dinner. Fun fact about cedar, it just disintegrates instead of turning to coal! This makes for a terrible heat supply for cooking, but we managed it despite the ashes (extra toppings). As the night got darker and the temps plummeted we turned in once our lumber started to dwindle, as we wanted to make sure there was plenty left over for the next morning.

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Dusk closing in

Sure enough it was a cold night, with the mercury playing with 0c. The next morning was a brisk, but sunny awakening. I quickly got coffee/tea going and the fire stoked up, taking time to figure out that this was probably why there was no early morning fishing occuring around the lake. As we ate breakfast of eggs, bacon, and cheese on a wrap the wind started to pick up. By the time we had everything taken down, there were white caps rolling along the south eastern section of the lake. We decided it would be best to put Shane, Gwyn, and Ginny in Shane’s bigger boat while I took the Ewok up myself.

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Together in Algonquin

To be completely honest, aside from the first 300m which I had to set my jaw and just power through, it was a doddle. The breeze quickly became manageable and the whole way back was as nice a paddle as I’ve ever had. I even got recognized from my Youtube channel on the Hambone-Daisy portage! What’s even better, the wind and weather had thawed the ice on Hambone’s portage which made the out very easy.

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Heading out on Sunday

Everything considered, the weather was the real star of the weekend. It was supposed to rain, but a pressure system kept that water over Toronto instead. The distance was perfect too. Not too far that it was draining to get to, and not too short that we may as well have car camped at Mew Lake. Hands down, this was one of the best Vanguard trips we’ve had.

Winter Camping 2018

Feb 17-18, 2018
Total distance: 5 km
Video Log:

Well, we tried it again.  Shane and I have a complicated relationship with winter, and hot tenting didn’t really jive with us this year.  Instead Shane spent a few weeks developing his own “Super Shelter” that we saw in use online.  The basic principle involves Mylar reflecting infrared heat into a closed shelter with a fire raging all night.  As with all aspects of winter camping, this was not as easy as we had hoped.
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All ahead forwards, to adventure!

Our journey started at the Mew Lake campground, which was hosting a plethora of winter activities for the long weekend.  Hot tents, igloos, animal tracking, fun for the whole family!  Past the hockey rink stood a path through the old airfield.  Abandoned in the 60s to let nature reclaim it, the airfield is one of the easiest to access relics of Algonquin and definitely worth a wander through.  We however were bound more eastward, along the old railbed towards Lake of Two Rivers.  We turned south along the portage to Provoking Lake and headed uphill.
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Algonquin’s old airfield

Not far up the trail we found a nice sheltered vale with plenty of standing dead trees to harvest for firewood.  We found the flattest spot to pitch out shelter and set about making a nice winter home.  We broke up as much of the icy snow as we could, packing down more as we went.  I had brought a tarp I usually put down as a footprint for my summer tent in order to keep all the gear visible and out of the snow, it was really useful for this kind of work.  Shane’s super shelter went up very quickly and easily, just using a few lengths of paracord it was a ready to go!

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The beginnings of a campsite

After establishing a quick camp, with little more than the shelter established and an area for my stove to be set up we had some coffee and started to get a fire going.  This meant we had to spend our time looking up for broken limbs.  The best way to find a dead tree versus a hibernating tree is to look for large broken limbs with no new growth near the top.  By no means did we want to destroy more than absolutely necessary, especially a live tree.  Not only would it be bad for the ecosystem, but green lumber burns terribly!

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Night 1, roaring fire

I don’t know if it was luck or skill, but we got some amazing lumber.  We processed it all down, and spent the day making sure we would be warm and comfortable for the night.  With the fire stoked up and the mylar lining reflecting all infrared heat down on us we crawled into our winter sleeping bags enjoying the pleasant warmth of the shelter.  I didn’t even wear my “sleeping toque” which I’ve found necessary in August.  We were very enthusiastic regarding the shelter.
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Morning, waiting for the sun to hit us

Well, it seems the super shelter needs a fire to keep warm, otherwise it becomes a fridge.  My bag kept me mostly warm, but it took me a while to find my hat.  Once that was on, life was pretty good.  Shane on the other hand was in trouble.  His bag wasn’t properly sealed and without boughs under the thin tarp his body heat leached straight into the ground.  Combined with the frost over our heads when we woke up, Shane was one cold cat.  Coffee helped.
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Lake of Two Rivers to Provoking portage

We gathered a bit of wood after a couple of hot breakfast snacks to warm us up, before heading down the portage we had camped next to.  According to Jeff’s map, there’s a lookout over Starling lake.  Shane and I have really started to realize there’s so much of the park we haven’t seen because we’re lazy and just hang around the site.  So this lookout really appealed to us, and we headed out with everything we needed to enjoy a coffee in the heart of Algonquin Park.

Heading uphill, we traversed a neat ridge before taking a turn north off the highland backpacking trail towards the lookout.  In the deep snow heading around 10-foot rocks was slow going, but the view was to die for.  Overlooking not only Starling Lake, but also the airfield through which we had trekked earlier the lookout was totally worth the calorie expenditure.

After enjoying the vista over a hot coffee, we turned back down the trail towards our makeshift home.  Downhill was much easier.  We also turned towards Provoking Lake, which is accessible to canoeists but only has sites for hikers.  It’s a bigger lake, and we only took in one bay.  The sites we saw seemed overgrown, even for the winter, but I’m sure they’re more than comfy in the summer.

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Provoking Lake

We headed back down the hill across the portage to our little camp.  As we got closer to our camp we noted standing dead wood that was ripe for harvesting.  We spent the afternoon processing lumber and enjoying the local scenery.  As we ate dinner, we pondered our dwindling pile of firewood.  In order to have a comfortable sleep through the night, our super shelter needed to have firewood going throughout the night.  Without a larger wood pile, we would be facing another frosty night.

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Lake of Two Rivers at dusk

Eventually, under the cover of darkness we decided to break camp and head back to our vehicles.  We didn’t make the decision lightly, but we decided that the only benefit of staying over would be to say we did it.  On the other hand, we would be facing traffic, cold, possible rain, and worse skiing conditions.  Camp was struck very quickly and were one the trail to Mew lake within half an hour.

I found skiing a lot easier this time, without the weight of the food it was far simpler to balance.  Aside from forgetting my shovel in the Mew Lake parking lot, everything was quite simple in getting back, with darkness hiding the splendor we had seen earlier.

Looking back, there’s a few things I can take away from this experience.  As with before, everything is always harder in winter.  I think that a heat source that is within reach of your sleeping area is critical if you want to consider hot tenting.  Otherwise, you will need a properly vented tent to avoid a frosty morning.  Getting off the snow as much as possible also helps, whether it be by logs, cot, or boughs.  It was definitely a learning experience, can’t wit to try it again!

Hilly Lake

Sept 13-15, 2017
# of portages: 6
Total portage distance: 2890m
Total distance: 20.0km
Video Log:

My sister decided to get married at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, and being so close to the West Gate of Algonquin a plan was hatched. She was getting married on the 16th, and I was required to be there for the evening of the 15th. I took the Wed-Fri stretch off before the wedding so Shane and I could take a mid-week jaunt into the bush. Shane picked out the lone site on Hilly Lake as a destination because it was isolated and in the midst of some black-line portages. This trip would be a bit more of an adventure than the other trips we’d been on in Algonquin.

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Heading out on Park Lake next to Hwy 60

We met at the West Gate where we would be picking up our permits. It was unseasonably hot, and I was already regretting bringing so much fall gear. The leaves were turning, but it was already north of 15 degrees by 8am. Gathering our stuff into one vehicle, we trundled back along Hwy 60 until we were juuuuussst out of the park and found a spot to leave our vehicle by a snow plow turnaround which was marked on Jeff’s Map. I have to say I was a little worried about leaving the car right on the major highway like that, but it was no worse for wear by the end. It was on a short portage around a culvert, so we were basically right on the water.

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At the beginning of the last portage into Hill Lake

We set out onto Park Lake with high spirits.  We had no reason to see anybody else on our trip and it was through a part of the park we had found excitingly little in the way of information.  There was a very shallow bit between Park and Snow lakes, where I had to put a boot in the water and skateboard-scoot out boat forwards, but other than that it was clear and easy paddling.

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Hilly Lake from our site

Our first portage was a short doddle, nothing too crazy but definitely not a highway like on Canoe Lake.  Our biggest hurdle of the day was finding the portage from Greenwood Lake to Shawandasee lake.  On Jeff’s map, the portage is right on the point on the east end of the island, but after 30-odd minutes bushwacking around that point, we decided the best route would be to head to the southern roads and travel along that quickly while avoiding any traffic with extreme caution.  As we headed for the south-eastern shore, lo and behold we saw a hodge-podge of a sign hidden bag down a short path.  This path was one of the best portages I’ve ever been on.  Level, wide, and straight we made it down there in 20 minutes.  So much better than bushwacking!

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Fishing wasn’t bad

Aside from a few beaver dams here and there, and a bit of creek navigation, it’s not hard to get to Hilly Lake.  Let me tell you, it’s worth it to get there too!  The lake isn’t very scenic like Booth Lake is, and you can still hear roadways in the morning when all is still, plus there’s a ton of large animal activity around, but the site is nice and the fishin’ is bitchin’!  Our site could easily accommodate 3 tents, and there was a cold little stream a short walk down the beach to grab water.  Someone had brought in aircraft cable and set it up as a mainline for tarps if you needed one.  The thunderbox was stable and clean.  It was nothing like I imagined our little camp in the middle of nowhere-Algonquin to be like.

Good, wide, flat site

The fishing was great too!  Bass of all sort and perch.  Nothing I had read said that, so you heard it here first.  Hilly Lake might have trout in the spring, but in the early fall, come set for hungry bass.  All times of day they were biting, and we didn’t have to go too far to find them.

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Sunset

We passed the time idly, there was no good spot for swimming unfortunately, but we took a trip upstream to Bluebell lake.  It’s a pretty little lake and there’s rumors of a site opening there next year, but it’s tough to get to.  Lots of lift-overs and beaver dams as you go against the current.  I wouldn’t suggest making a slog from the west to turn around here.  Our food was good and quick; chicken burritos with a pre-made rice mix, eggs and bacon, pepperette wraps, beef kabobs with instant mashed potatoes and rehydrated corn, and “just add water” pancakes.  Very good, filling, and fresh.

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Snow lake, our last portage of the day on the way out

Heading out was very easy, as we knew exactly what we were looking forwards to and we were going with the current in the squeezed rivers.  We got back to the car which was no worse for wear and headed off to my sisters wedding.  A shower was very well received by myself, and the people who were in my general vicinity.  Hilly Lake, wonderful little trip!

Smoke Lake to Parkside Bay

July 15-16, 2017
# of portages: 2
Total portage distance: 480m
Total distance: 23.4km
Video Log:

Sometimes you can only get out for a night, and sometimes that’s all you really need. Just one day in the sun, where you can go swimming and fishing without a care in the world except when to eat dinner.

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Shane gets ready to head across Smoke Lake

Such was the case this weekend. Between work and life, it looks like I won’t be able to head out on a properly organized trip from until (gulp) September, so I fit this in when the opportunity arose. Joining me was Shane, my wife Gwyn, and our little dog Ginny. This wouldn’t just be the dogs first time camping, but her first time in a canoe at all! We were decidely excited and a bit nervous as we unloaded gear from out car at the Smoke lake put in.

Smoke lake is a gigantic, one of the biggest bodies of water I’ve had to paddle in Algonquin so far. We were lucky that it was water, calm, and inviting as we pushed off from the boat launch which services the cottages that dot the lake. I should also note here, before I go any further, that while picking up permits at the park office I was recognized again from my Youtube videos and postings on the Algonquin Adventure forums. It’s always a treat to see that people actually look at these ramblings, if you see an off-red canoe with an Ewok on the front, feel free to say hi!

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Ginny isn’t entirely sure about canoeing, but she likes boats!

Anyways, back to Smoke Lake. We paddled south, with Gwyn wrangling the dog (who was doing fine in her new experience), and Shane soloing his long red canoe. The portage was initially steep but well-trodden going up about 3 flights worth of stairs in the first 100m. Once you’re over the hill, you’re basically at the beach head of Ragged Lake.

Ragged Lake is a very pretty, medium-sized lake of many bays. There are islands made of sand, as well of granite, large open sites and tiny camps stuck up a hill. With the ease of access, I’d say it’s slightly less well-used than the Joe lake system north of Canoe lake. We careened gently past people making breakfast on coolers and took pleasure in the warm sun. Near Crown Bay, there was a system of submerged logs and stumps, showing just how high the water used to be before the dam, it is easy to navigate through these days though.

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Heading north towards Parkside Bay

As we rounded north again up a small channel to Parkside Bay, the wind had started to funnel down into our faces. This made life difficult for Shane, spinning his canoe round in circles as he tried to get out of the lee. Gwyn and I wound up tying the nose of his canoe to the back of ours, using our weight and keels (the Ewok has 3!) to keep his boat from catching the wind too badly. We were quickly into Parkside Bay, and grabbed the first site that looked nice.

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Parkside Bay

Our site had a large beach area to lounge around on, while the firepit, cooking, and sleeping areas were tucked back up a berm in the woods. In the shoulder seasons it would be nice to be able to stay out of the weather, but this weekend we spent most of the time out on the beach, lazing around. We fished, made silly videos, and I think the main goal was to relax. The dog did cute dog stuff.

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Designated dog, does cute dog stuff

As night started to fall, Shane and I had to head out into the steady wind from the west and try to grab some good firewood. We spotted a pile of driftwood that promised tempting spoils, so we went to investigate. We settled on a rather large log that had washed ashore and quickly dumped it in the canoe to start processing at the campsite.

Dinner that night was a Shane Souter special. Potatoes baked in coals, with a delightful mix of baked beans and ground beef on top. Being as we were all very tired and hungry, it was a great meal. I was very tired by this point. I hadn’t spent so much time in the sun all year, and was ready for bed as soon as the sun went down. Shane and Gwyn stayed up a little bit longer, but I was asleep by 10:30 which is very rare for me. We knew we wanted to be up early, as there was nasty weather forecast for the next day.

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Human, I’m ready to go home!

Sunday morning was surprisingly glorious. The lake was glassy still and the sun was up but not hot. It was one of the few times we could pack everything up in the dry too, which was nice (hadn’t really had that luxury since the hike-in trip to Maple Leaf lake). We didn’t even take time for breakfast, just a few hot drinks, and were on the water by around 9:15. This meant we felt the need to push the pace and race to the car before rain and lightening stranded us somewhere.

We were amazed as we plodded back through Ragged Lake, that the whole lake seemed to have filled up. Every nook and cranny was filled with rental gear, Canadian Tire tents, and 3-seat canoes which looked like clown cars as they tried to make their way across open water. Luckily, there wasn’t too much boat traffic and we were through the portage with nary a traffic jam to be had.

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Our site stretched pretty far down the lake

Making our way back across Smoke lake was a slog. It’s around 5.5km, but you can see the whole way to the access point. The dog wasn’t whining like she had on the way in, resigned to her fate as a canoe-dog, and we set out eager to get some food. About two-thirds of the way down the lake, the rain started to pitter-patter around us, but it was mostly to a scattered shower. We made it to the very busy access point around 11:30 and tired. Running that far with no calories really took it out of us. Avoiding the summer camps taking canoe after canoe off of trailers and buses, we packed up and were quickly on the road.

It was a pretty good weekend despite the mad dash to the finish. Gwyn really doesn’t like lightning and if the wind picked up like it had on Saturday, Shane would have struggled across the big water on Smoke, so there was no real indecision or regret to get out ASAP. All together, it was a great trip to a part of the park we haven’t been before. Ginny the dog slept for days afterwards.