May 20-22, 2017
# of portages: 8
Total portage distance: 4550m
Total distance: 16.4km
This year I made an executive decision regarding the May 24 weekend to take the crew to Algonquin park again. The 24 is always a big deal, so I made sure to find a good trout lake and decided on Big Bob Lake, a part of the park none of us had been to before and close enough to the Nipissing River that I could almost guarantee brook trout.
As always with an west-side launch, we staged from Rancho Relaxo, gathering there Friday night to re-distribute gear among various bags. We learned early Saturday morning (~2am) that we would be down a paddler and had to cram many things into small packs and leave things behind. It also meant I’d be paddling solo, which wasn’t too bad I suppose, but it meant more work for all of us. We woke up early on Saturday morning and managed to get things as packed up as we could before heading to the new Rise and Grill in Kearney while I grabbed permits down the road. After slamming back a great breakfast we toddled down the road to the Tim River access point. The road was in great shape and there was plenty of parking available to us.
We set out around 9:30am feeling good. Bryan and Colin were in Bryan’s H20, Shane and Adam in Shane’s Kipawa, and I was soloing the Ewok into a light breeze. Finding the first yellow sign of the day, the awkwardness of the initial portage set in. Everyone was shaking off rusty shoulders and figuring out how to best carry the gear. Shane and Adam were having a lot of trouble with the food barrel and Shane’s pack, so they wound up double portaging into Chibiabos lake a 345m walk with a steep climb on the Tim Lake side. We passed a crew which said they were staying on Big Bob as well, and that lit a fire under us to get there and secure a preferred site.
Chibiabos is a great little lake, with two sheltered and secluded sites. I’m definitely going back there, maybe for a late-season trip to hunt for trout. The next portage started at a dock at the far side of the lake and took us 320m over a logging road which was a first for all of us. Staring at Indian Pipe lake we had a bit of water and kept pushing to our next walk. We figured the next portage was just about 1500m with a little pond to paddle across in the middle. Although these are “low-maintenance” black line portages, they were in good shape. Little in the way of blow-downs and well trodden, there are red line portages that aren’t in such good shape at this time of year. The two longer portages were unremarkable, and I single-carried them without needing a break.
We sent Bryan and Colin ahead on Big Bob to scope sites while I went back and helped those struggling with the food barrel. The obvious site is one the eastern-most part of the lake, straight out from the portage. High up on a rock, we saw Bryan looking pensive as we made our way over. Apparently the site is a bit small, and all the tent pads were in bowls which would fill with the rain predicted on the second day. Also, the wind was coming out of the east and the site would get none of that, which would mean the bugs would destroy us (although they were remarkably good so far). We were very far ahead of the crew chasing us, and decided to look elsewhere on the lake for a site.
With the wind going with us westward, I decided paddling was for chumps and deployed my ground tarp as a sail, cruising to the west end of the lake in luxury. The southern site looked really overgrown and buggy in the forest, so we bet it all on the far peninsula site on the west end of the lake. It turned out to be worth the gamble, as the site caught a breath of wind, was spacious yet protected, and had a wealth of firewood and trees to hang tarps from. In the heat of a Saturday afternoon, we set up camp and had some lunch. We puttered the afternoon away, gathering firewood, exploring the area, and I hung out in a new hammock I got from my wife for Christmas. We tried fishing during the day to no avail, but as evening descended on the lake and the mayflies came out, we managed to hook some trout from both shore and the canoe (which was awesome). Dinner was kabobs on the fire, and we ate like kings because we were a man short but kept the portions allotted to him. As we fell asleep, there was a light breeze picking up.
Sunday could only be characterized as a rainy day. We managed to get up early as the rains were just starting up and patchy, getting breakfast cooked and coffee in us between showers. We passed the time idly. There were various construction projects, including a useful table for cooking dinner under the tarp. The fire was kept alight and hot with a rock overhange/roof system. I napped through the worst of the wind and rain, staying warm and dry in my sleeping bag. The tarps held fast, a fact that amazed me as the main tarp was my old, melty, not-entirely-waterproof, green and brown one. The old girl held up remarkably well! The wind and rain toned down around dinner time and we managed to have a half-decent night around the fire, only occasionally retreating a few feet away to the dry security of the tarp. We went to bed with rain lightly battering our tarps and tents.
The next morning I was awoken by the hard flapping of the tarp over my tent. The wind had shifted 180 degrees (into our face again for most of the paddle, yay), and I quickly roused to get coffee and pancakes going before any sort of storm might come in. We packed up as best we could again, keeping the wet stuff separate and dry stuff dry, then head out up Big Bob lake. I’d like to say the portages back were uneventful, and they WERE mercifully well drained, but I went on a little adventure on my own.
With Adam and Shane continuing to struggle with fitment of the barrel harness in Shane’s yoke, I offered to help them double carry while Bryan and Colin went on ahead (no sense in waiting around and getting bug bites). On the portage from Indian Pipe to Chibiabos lake, I told the crew behind me (Shane/Adam) I didn’t want to block up the dock end of the portage and would see them on the trail to Tim Lake. I also gave Adam my pack in exchange for the barrel which I could manage better. With them behind me getting ready to get out of Indian Pipe, I took to the trail, huffing and puffing. Turns out I didn’t see a fork in the trail and wound up about 300m past where I was supposed to turn, making life a bit panicky as I picked my way back. Shane/Adam were nowhere to be seen, assuming I had hauled ass to Tim Lake. So I was now behind everyone, while the people in front of me thought they were lagging behind. I rolled through the last portage as fast as possible, only to discover on of my sandals had slipped its Velcro and I needed to do the portage again! Luckily I found it half-in Chibiabos, but on my way back nature called forth the might of the dinner from the night before. With nothing but a sandal in my hand, I had to fashion toilet paper out of carefully selected foliage and headed way off the trail behind a large stump to do my business. Lighter and with all my gear accounted, I set out into Tim Lake with no sight of any of my compatriots. I was WAY behind, and knew I had to make up time because they would worry I had flipped or gotten eaten by a bear or something. Now, though, I was fully headed into a increasingly strong wind. As I headed up the Tim river, the wind barreled down the canyon into my face and sleet started to numb my hands. I was very happy to see the take out, and my friends were relieved they didn’t need to come rescue my dumb ass.
We packed up quickly, and headed down the trail, saying goodbye and discussing what to next year. Adam took home the Chewbakka Bigfish Trophy for catching his first brook trout, and we were all satisfied that the work of portaging was worth the reward. Although the weather didn’t cooperate, we still had a great time.