Cache to Head Lake
Total Distance 20 km
Total Portaging Distance: 2650m
This was just a short trip into the Park, to knock the cobwebs off my canoeing muscles and celebrate the ice going out. The plan was to head down Cache Lake, take a 1600m portage into Head Lake, and the next day taking Head Creek downstream and then go west along the Madawaska River and head out. What should have been a routine in and out trip turned into on of the most memorable “first trips” I’ve been on.
We weren’t in the park too early or late on Saturday, we got on the water by about 10 o’clock and were happy to be back in the bush. The winter had been long, and I had been busy, so this was my first time canoeing in 2014. The wind was blowing at about 10km/h out of the west, noticeable but not intrusive. This was my first time on Cache, and despite having months to look over the map, I got us lost immediately. We wound up paddling into Lake Tanamakoon before realizing where I had taken us, and so we set back to get on course.
It didn’t take us long to get back into rhythm and made short work of the rest of Cache, heading south to the 1640m portage into Head Lake. This was a long portage for us, but we were still rested and had packed for a single carry. After a bit of adjusting, and adding a rope to the front of the canoe so I could stabilize it with my hands at my sides, we were off. It took us about 30 minutes to get across the nice portage, only stopping twice (and once again, I stopped within 100m of the end of the portage without realizing it).
Head Lake is a very picturesque body of water, and deceivingly small. The wind had picked up, and was making steady whitecaps across the length of the lake, but it was going at our backs for the short jaunt across to our campsite. Barry, from the Algonquin Adventures forum I frequent, had suggested a site right next to a waterfall that ran from Kenneth to Head lake, and was he right on the money. This site was perfect for us. It had a great view, was relatively protected from the wind in a little bay, and the falls made for something to look at absently.
Lunch was a tuna wrap, easy to do now that I’ve finally found tuna in a aluminum pouch to get around Algonquin’s can and bottle ban. We spent the rest of the day setting up camp, exploring the area, gathering firewood, and wishing the wind would die down enough to afford us fishing from the boat. We had brought with us some gear for deep-water trout fishing, but in the current weather we’d have been in trouble trying to stay right-side up while pulling in our line. Cold water is mighty intimidating when you’re away from civilization.
We did fish from shore and had some great luck though. The jury is still out over exactly what Shane caught, with our best bet being either a Lake Trout or a Splake. I definitely caught a lake trout…I wish I had a big bright red Brook trout. But regardless it was good to have a tight line.
Dinner was fresh-baked pizza in the Outback Oven, and after a few drinks around the fire we retired to a fitful (if not a little cold) sleep to the soothing sounds of the waterfall.
We woke up a bit late, enjoying the warmth of our sleeping bags, and quickly got coffee going once we were up and around. The wind had severely abated in the night, and we were looking forwards to an easy day of small water paddling and short portages. Oh how wrong we were.
After a quick breakfast of eggs, bacon, cheese, and tomato wraps we packed up our gear and made for Head lake creek. The wind was starting to pick up on Head Lake, only giving us a little taste of what we’d have to face later on. The portage from Head lake to Head Creek was a strange one. Being as this was a low-volume portage, we found a lot of signs down and in disrepair, but for the life of us we couldn’t find the portage take-out! It mixed with the hiking trail in the area and we had to bushwhack our way onto the water. “This was supposed to be our easy day,” we complained, now covered in mud and cuts from the swamp we had to dig our way out onto, but we were floating again, ready for some fun.
Going downstream on Head creek was great fun actually. The flow of the river made for some exciting times as we zipped through the backcountry and over beaver dams with exceptional speed. It wasn’t until we hit the Madawaska River/creek. I’ve traveled upstream. I’ve paddled into the wind. I have never had to paddle upstream and against the wind like this.
Every inch was fought for, every corner a battle against current, and by the time we had made it to our third portage of the day around a set of rapids, we were wiped. Our original plan called for a 3 hour paddle, and a few small portages. We knew that we’d prefer one big portage rather than multiple smaller ones, but the energy drain on that creek was staggering. We refueled with some GORP and water, then pressed on.
Once back on Cache, we still had 3 or 4 kilometers to paddle before we were back at our cars, and we’ve never been so happy to see an open body of water. Despite the fact that the wind had picked up to a rate which would wind-bound a solo canoeist, we were happy to be paddling without a noticeable current to fight. Our last hurdle was rounding the final island before the put-in/take-out. The wind was blowing fiercely, and we were hurting hard by the time we sidled up to the dock and flopped onto dry land.
Nearly a lifeless wreck, we threw all our gear haphazardly into the vehicle and headed down the road to find a greasy meal and clear our heads. What we had thought would only take 3, maybe 3.5 hours, had taken us the better part of 7. We were definitely glad to be out there, and happy that the ice was out, but we were very glad to not have to exert any more energy than needed by the end of that day.
All in all, it’s the beginning of another great season for camping!