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