Blackcat Lake – Algonquin Highlands

Algonquin Highlands June 22-23, 2013
Total Distance covered: 15 km
Total Portage Distance: 1353m
Number of Portages: 6
Video Log:

We put in at the sandy beach that is the Big Hawk Lake access point. There’s a marina there and plenty of parking, both on the road near the marina and by the typical outhouses.

The weather was drizzly, and our spirits weren’t too high, as we had driven through some very heavy rain on the way to the put in, but I was safely tucked into my 99c poncho I had bought on a whim before my last Algonquin trip, and we were on the water by about 7:30AM. The paddle across Big Hawk Lake was uneventful, but it sure was covered in cottages. I couldn’t help but feel like we were just in someone’s backyard rather than in the Canadian wilderness.

We got to the first portage and realized that while the path was well worn and short, the late June bugs were in full force. This was the first trip I was using a “canoe” bag, a waterproof stuff-sack which held things like the water filter, fishing lures, GORP, and my Pelican case. I love it, it allows me to have everything handy, and when I get to a portage (or any time I have to get out of a canoe), it’s easy to clip to a pack or throw in a bigger bag. Makes things really handy when there’s a swarm of skeeters hovering over you!

Into Clear lake we went, making short work of the portage. It sure was clear! You could see down at least ten or fifteen feet. We passed two sites on the lake, one which looked good and exposed allowing a breeze to blow away the bugs. The other one, closer towards the portage to Blackcat Lake, seemed tucked away into the woods but looked like it had access to a really high cliff system. Maybe worth checking out if nobody is on that site and you`re passing through to Red Pine Lake. There were cottages and motorboats on this lake too though, so we pushed through to the site we had booked earlier at this website:

The 500m portage into Blackcat was uphill and a bit soggy because of the rain, but nothing that I haven`t had to deal with before. Because of my proper packing job and the fact that we only needed gear for one night, portaging was a absolute breeze, if not actually fun at points. It was definitely worth the slight slog to get to Blackcat, and our site was within a stone`s throw from the portage.

While the bugs were tough to get through on the portage (hooray for single carrying), at site 54 they weren`t too bad. We put up the tent so my canoe partner/sister could change into a shirt that had sleeves on it (silly girl), and then set up tarping the site a bit. With the tarp sitting pretty, we looked out at our neighbors who according to the internet weren’t supposed to be there. I didn’t mind it, but they were just standing there with no visible gear and getting drenched. Seems they had already loaded up there canoe and were waiting for a break in the weather before heading out home.

We spent the rest of the day puttering around the site, fishing from shore between rain spouts, reading, and bettering the site. I was disgusted with how much garbage there was just lying around. A shredded bag od bread, unmelted aluminum cans, a nearly-full and quite melted bottle of mustard…disgraceful. We probably came back with more weight than we came in with!

I was yet again impressed with my gear. The tent stayed dry and bug-tight, my stove boiled water in the blink of an eye, and the Outback Oven made me another tasty pizza. I did get to use a new piece of gear though, I have a collapsible 14L sink now and I don’t know how I got along without it. From hauling up water to wash yourself and the dishes with to properly putting out the fire at the end of the night, I adore this little bit of plastic. I used to scoff at them too, how wrong I was.

The night went well, but there were a pair of bullfrogs nearby that kept us up as we went to bed. The next morning we woke up fairly early to fog, lots and lots of fog. It was pretty cool really. Within a few minutes of snapping some pics, I got the water boiling for coffee and breakfast. I’d been gifted a “Mountain House Breakfast Skillet”, where you add boiling water to a foil bag and then put it all in a wrap. As someone who’d rather haul in eggs or dehydrate something, I can say that for the convenience…they’re pretty bad. The taste wasn’t too poor, but it sat in my gullet like a lead football. Not great for a portage-heavy day, I can tell you that.

We broke camp efficiently, and were on the water as the mist started to reveal the whole lake. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING was packed up tight, including the map. With the bugs the way they were, we didn’t want to waste any time milling around at portage heads. It allowed us to really fly through the short portages back to Big Hawk Lake. We took a look at the sites on Midway lake and Snowshoe lake. Maybe in the late fall those sites would be okay, but they’re awful right about now. I wouldn’t recommend this part of the park to anyone, but it was pretty much the only place on the trip that felt like proper wilderness. So there’s that I suppose…

It was a glorious paddle across the lake, and we made it back to the car at a leisurely pace. It was a great little trip, I’d take people new to the sport into that area. Quite pretty, but definitely not a very remote area.


What’s My Worst Camping Experience?

I’ve always said “camping isn’t for everyone.”  I often get strange looks when I say that I like to get way out into the bush, sometimes on my own, and just sit there for a day or two, then turn around and come back.  “Aren’t you afraid of bears?” they ask, “what if something goes wrong?” and I generally wave these concerns off.

A few days ago though, someone postulated a question: “What’s the worst camping experience you’ve ever had?”  It made me really think!  I had to furrow my brow and everything!  While I’d never say that any trip was without hardship (in fact, those hardships are what can make a trip great), I`d never say I hated any aspect of my recent trips.

Over the years though, one night had almost fallen into the darkest recesses of my mind.  This was the worst night I`d ever had on a camping trip:

I was a young buck then, no more than 10 or 11 years old, and I was on a 5-day trip around the French River with my summer camp.  It was one of those trips where I had little to do other than paddle and set up my tent.  There wasn`t much to portage, most of the rapids were run-able, and life was easy.  However, one of the last nights we spent there, camped near a very nice little river we set up our tent on what can only be described as `nest of mosquitoes`.

Never before or since have I ever felt the infamously unmitigated hatred of northern Ontario`s bug population.  There were 4 of us in the tent, and we were up the whole night due to the shoddy shape of the tent.  It had holes and tears everywhere, forcing us to constantly clean out our ears and snort out our noses.  It was awful.

Behold the anatomy of Satan!

Behold the anatomy of Satan!

Because we were camping though, we made the best of it and it turned into one of the most memorable nights I`ve ever had in the bush.  At what must have been 3 in the morning, we decided we`d had enough and made an exodus to the lake-front.  There, 4 young boys simply sat and revelled in the clear night air, waiting for the sun to come up so we could continue on our journey.

Also, taking the tent down sucked.  It was like kicking a hornet`s nest and then trying to put it into a stupid little bag.