Total Distance: 24km
Number of portages: 6 (1 skipped)
Total portage distance: 1790m
This was another weekend trip to the park, which was a great reprieve from the city, but not quite long enough to get “out there”. I drove up to a friend’s cottage in Bracebridge the Friday night, and hit the road early on Saturday ready to make the most of my time.
It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been on the Hwy 60 corridor through Algonquin park, and it’s only now that I can appreciate how truly nice it is. As the sun was burning the fog off the road, I really enjoyed my drive. I got to the Canoe Lake access point around 6:30 AM, got my canoe/gear in order and was ready when the permit office was just opening up at 7. By the time my permit was written and my car parked, I hit the water. It was 7:30, almost perfectly on schedule.
Canoe lake was very calm for such an open body of water. I had nightmares about getting windbound by 2 foot whitecaps and howling winds (but that’s just my own hangup I suppose). In reality, there was a gentle breeze at my back, and the camps were just waking up. It was very calm, and it wasn’t until I rounded Ahmek Bay that I started seeing people. With that being said, once the first flotilla of canoes from Camp Ahmek started coming around the bend, the lakes turned into the highway that the 60 corridor is known as!
A near-constant stream of kids from all ages started pouring into the portage between Canoe and Joe Lake. They were all very pleasant and respectful though, restoring my faith in the younger generation of camper. We even saw a cow moose and her calf as we entered the fork to the portage! The darkest moment came when a youngster asked if the Ewok on my bow was a panda warrior. I nearly turned around to go fetch my Laserdisc player wo I could show this kid what’s what.
All the portages noted here were super VIP. Wide, graded in areas, flat, the one between Joe and Canoe Lakes even had a composting toilet! I was blown away. It was a welcome surprise from the more rugged trails I am used to.
I paddled down Joe lake, flying my Canadian flag so that the group I was meeting would recognize me, and around 10 o`clock I pulled up on the three connecting campsites closest to Little Joe Lake. My buddy Shane had friends who were getting married there, and they had generously invited me with a ‘more the merrier’ attitude. I got settled, put on some sunscreen and toasted the happy couple, then me and Shane headed off in a unleaden canoe towards Burnt Island lake for some fishing and exploration.
According to Jeff’s Map, there are the ruins of an old CNR hotel on Burnt Island Lake, close to where we were, so we headed there first, with the intention of fishing our way back. Getting there was a joy, the portages were a breeze and the canoe was handling really well. Also, there used to be a beaver dam on Joe creek, but it has since burst and you can fully skip the 165m portage around it, probably even in the fall (although there are a few big rocks you might have to sqeak by). We beached approximately where we though the old hotel would have been, and started bushwacking. Early July is not the time to look for this though. All that remains of the hotel are 6 or 7 stone chimney’s, and with all the lush vegetation your eyes start identifying every thick tree and cluster as one. We couldn’t pick out anything in the bush, despite having great bearings between a bike/ski path and a small creek, and decided we’d be better off fishing than getting eatten by bugs.
The wind was picking up as we launched back into Burnt Island, and I didn’t envy anyone who had to paddle across that VERY big lake. It seemed to stretch on forever, and I couldn’t even see the very end of it! Of all the lakes we went through, I like Baby Joe the best (you really start losing which one is Joe, Little Joe, Baby Joe, and Lost Joe quickly when you start paddling through them!). It was a clear, calm lake with one good site on it. The structure was there for bass too, but we were fishing on it around 2:30-3PM which is the absolute worst time of day for fishing under a beating sun. We decided to pack it in and head back to camp as the wind picked up. The wedding ceremony was at 4, and Shane wasn`t feeling too well because of the heat and some bad carrots he`d eatten the night before.
To give him a rest in the shade, I volunteered to carry a 17ft kevlar canoe for a group of women who were staying at Arowhon Lodge and had perhaps bitten off more than they could chew with a day trip. Apparently they had been all the way to Tom Thomson Lake, making a 15km round trip! They had struggled getting their heavy kayak over the 1140m portage to Baby Joe, and when they asked how long the portage to Little Joe was I could see their faces sink like stones when I said 435. So strapped my trusty portage pad to their yoke and carried a truly wonderful canoe over for them, lightening their load a bit. Why won’t people believe me when I say that canoes are far easier to carry than kayaks?!
We got back to the site of the wedding with time to spare for a refreshing dip in water to cool off. The ceremony was short, sweet, and deliciously informal. From now on, if a wedding I’m at is longer than 10 minutes and doesn’t deploy at least 1 canoe as a reception table, I will consider it a failure. We spent the rest of the night toasting the happy couple and imbibing drink. It was another great day in Algonquin Park.
The next morning I slept in very late due to perhaps a bit too much celebrating. Although slow off the blocks, I managed to clean up my mess, take down the hammock I’d set up, and put everything in my pack. It wasn’t a pretty packing job, but with only 1 short and luxurious portage, who really cares right? We were trying to beat the rainclouds out, and even with all our gear haphazardly strewn about and double-carrying the portage, we managed to get to the Portage Store in 2 hours.
While this trip was a hoot and the people were great company, it wasn’t the usual expedition missions I’m accustomed to. There were coolers, motorboats, and folding chairs galore. This was perfect for the wedding, but I can’t help but feel like I was at a car-camping site at times. With that being said, Algonquin is still Algonquin, and I’m glad I got to see parts of the park I haven’t yet, but I’m probably going to avoid the Hwy 60 access points during the height of the summer for a while.