Maple Leaf Lake – Western Uplands Trail

Nov 5-6, 2016
Total distance: 8.8km
Video log:

Earlier this year, Shane and I witnessed exactly how dangerous water can be in the extreme shoulder seasons, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t spook me a little bit.  Definitely influenced our decision to try a hiking trip into Algonquins backcountry.  Since it’s November we decided to hike to a lake with a known fish population and hunker down for a long night at Maple Leaf lake, the closest lake to the trailhead at Highway 60.


Trailhead of the Western Uplands trail at Highway 60

I’m green when it comes to hiking.  I know I don’t have the right gear and mindset to take on something crazy long like the Appalachian Trail in the winter.  With that in mind, let’s review my gear and food for the 1 night trip:

  • 1 giant sleeping bag, a Marmot Trestles 0 (good for -20c)
  • 1 four man tent
  • 1 very full gear bag (Whisperlite and fuel, coffee, full pot and kettle, multple stirring utensils, cutting board,  first aid kit, flag, sink, etc. etc. etc.)
  • Hatchet
  • Saw (didn’t use, Shane brought a better one)
  • Toiletries kit
  • Extra clothes (actually, this was the only thing I brought that I used all of)
  • Food bag (with a GIANT box of soup stock!  Why didn’t I just bring a bullion cube?!?!?  I’m dumb)
  • Extra cooler bag with a few odds and sods plus the frozen bean dish for dinner.  This was also needlessly heavy.
  • Fishing gear
  • 1 MEC Scout tarp
  • Much paracord

Why go into such detail?  Because this was the Western UPlands Trail.  Up, and up, and up.  Watching fellow hikers breeze by with traditionally minimal gear was embarrassing.


Exploring an old dam

The trail was lovely though.  The sun was shining and the wind low.  We walked and admired the few oak and maples that still bore leaves, stopping every few minutes to look at a beaver dam or stream.  We got lost once bypassing a fallen tree as leaves had fallen across the path and we didn’t realize we were wandering.   Before we had become the target of a provincial search though, we found the blazes and were back on our way.


A nice place to rest along the trail

After about an hour and a half we had made it to the signage leading to Maple Leaf Lake.  Based on videos and photos we decided to stay on the south-central side.  From the main trail, we took a left down-hill, then a right at the next fork (along a boardwalk).  There were two nearly conjoined sites, with an outhouse in the middle extolling the benefits of packing garbage out rather than cramming it down a shitter-hole.  We  settled on the more eastern site as hit had a better cliff-face for fishing.


Maple leaf lake, nary a canoeist to be seen…

Now that we were there, the toil of packing half of an MEC catalog in became apparent.  The wind was there, and if it turned really biting in the evening we could set up a wind tarp.  The tent was secure, water resistant, and spacious.  The food would be hearty and easily prepared.  Life was a bit more normal.  We set about the usual rigors of camping, then got a drink and started fishing.

We had no luck fishing, and what’s more we knew we’d be searching longer than usual for firewood without a boat.  We explored our little peninsula before heading back up the path in search of lumber.  With many of the leaves down, it didn’t take too long to find good dry lumber with which to keep warm.


A creek near our site with no real movement, can’t imagine it near bug season.

Lunch was soup, and having warmth in our bellies allowed us to keep fishing and cutting lumber.  Lunch was late though, not finished until around 2:30pm.  It didn’t hurt that we hadn’t gotten hiking until around 10am.  This meant that if we were going to have to have dinner at 6 or so, we would be making it in the dark.  This is not something we’ve ever had to contend with, as we usually eat dinner in the twilight hours of 7:30-8pm.  It was weird.

We had no luck fishing, despite the good spot.  It wasn’t long until we were starting to lament that fact that we didn’t have a canoe.  To get to the other side of the lake would be a mere 10 minute paddle, tops.  On land it would take at least twice as long, with no guarantee it would be any better.  We needed deep water wit ha current to get to the splake we were targeting, and there was no way for us to get there from shore.  Oh well, at least the coffee was hot and we weren’t at work.


Fishing in vain, as the sun begins setting (at like, 4pm)

The sun set, and were fired up the stove for dinner.  Once again we had a pile of pre-made bean and beef goo.  It was great, but by the time we got seconds, it was already very cool in the November night.  We tended the fire, and by the time it felt late it was only 10pm.  This was a loooonnngggg night.  What made it worse was that the clocks fell back an hour that night due to daylight savings.  It was nice and warm in my sleeping bag though, so I had a lovely time waiting for the sun to come up.

Eggs and bacon were for breakfast, along with with yet more coffee.  We packed up slowly, relishing the strong sun and light winds.  We also were about to learn a hard lesson about hiking.  There’s no such thing as phoning in an out.  We have become complacent with the last day, just throwing everything haphazardly in the bag, knowing that at worst we`d have to lug it over a few portages before it goes back in the bottom of the boat.  This is not the case hiking.  Everything must be folded, packed, and hauled as efficiently as possible.  While we backtracked down the trail, amicably downhill this time, it was still a haul.  In the morning.  Bleh.


It was truly beautiful weather though, we definitely lucked out.  No bugs, light wind, just a nice walk in the select hardwood section at Home Depot really.  I missed my canoe deeply, this trip added some much-needed perspective regarding how important it is to the enjoyment of my trips.  Not just a means of transport, the canoe is a cargo ship, lumber truck, deep-sea fishing station, and magic carpet.


Few hours left until dinner

It`s going to be a long winter…

Rain – McCraney lake

August 13-14
# of portages: 2
Total portage distance: 3390m
Total distance: 7.2km

Rain…2016 will go down in my books as the year of rainy camping.  Had it been any other weekend, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but the best man at my wedding just accepted a new job in Korea which will keep him busy for years and we hadn’t been on a canoe trip yet.  So despite the rain, we packed up and headed out with Shane for a quick taste of the park.


Ready to move out

Rain lake lived up to its name.  We got there around 8:30, with just enough precipitation falling to be annoying.  Luckily we’re all amateur meteorologists and knew there was a gap in the rain coming up on the radar.  We unloaded what we could, leaving the packs in the car and took up residence under a tree.  We chatted with a friendly MNR employee who was putting up signs raising awareness over the fire ban.  That’s right, despite the rain there was a fire ban on park-wide!  A large 60-hectare fire was burning on the east side, and it was just coming under control.  He did suggest some fishing spots though, great guy.

Around 9:30, the rain started to subside and we started out.  The lake was calm and the company good.  Before long we came upon the only portage of the trip, a long but easy 1600-odd meter cart path.  It was great!  Wide, clear, and level.  Near the end, you divert from the cart path into Little McCraney.  We caught our breath, changed footwear to sandals, and pushed off from the sandy beach towards our destination.


Ed getting ready to carry Shane and his pack at the same time, tank mode!

Heading south through a relatively spacious creek, Ed was impressed with the beaver dam we had to lift over.  A helpful couple we passed warned us of low water levels, but at this point in the season it was very passable.  It is a controlled environment though, so I could see trouble with the creek if the system lost 30-odd centimetres.

As we pulled out to McCraney lake, the rain began spitting again.  We decided to take the first available site and make the best of whatever we had.  Turns out, this meant the northernmost site on the west.  It was a small site, with a big root system running through most of it, but there were some dilapidated benches and plenty of trees to strap down a tarp or two.

Making the most of a rainy situation

Making the most of a rainy situation

First thing we did was put up a tarp, so that the gear would be dry, then we could worry about things like food and where to put the tents.  We put all our eggs in one basket with this tarp, using all the rope we had to tie it up, down, and sideways.  By the time we were done lunch, it had started to rain steadily again.

As we busied ourselves around the camp fishing, building/improving benches and rock tables, the rain really came down.  We dug moats to keep the drainage up, but it was a losing battle.  Eventually we were ankle deep even right under the middle of the tarp!  The rain came and went all day, but there are worse places to be warm and (mostly) dry.


The rain really hampered any plans to explore the lake, which was large and has many features to visit.  Dinner was undercooked.  We left the same way we came.  In almost every way this was a write off weekend, but I’m so glad to introduce Algonquin’s interior to Ed before he left.  He claims to have had a good time, so next time we’re on the same continent I’ll have to bring a portaging pack.

Trip Report

Haliburton Highlands
Total Distance covered: 15 km
Total Portage Distance: 1353m
Number of Portages: 6

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.

May 24 Algonquin Triplog! Pt. 4

Day 4 Misty to Magnetawan

That night it seemed that every single person slept like a baby, the loons which had been waking us around 4 AM every night were silent, and nothing was rustling around.  We woke up early and broke camp as quickly as we could.  One of our group was in such a hurry, he poured his oatmeal into his coffee and named it a “Cafe Mocha Oatmeal Somethingorother”.  Apparently it was edible because he fired it down with gusto.  Because we were heading out that afternoon and didn’t have to break out the dishes for lunch, we made great time getting organized and were on the water just after 8.


Heading back up the Petawawa, where we ate lunch 3 days ago.

Heading back up the Petawawa, where we ate lunch 3 days ago.

This whole trip was a mirrored version of our first day, but now we were well rested, full of caloric energy, and mentally knew what to expect in terms of distance and landmarks.  We hit the 935m portage running and although I had to 1.5 portage, we were through in probably half an hour.  I was really jealous of the folks who were switching off canoe carrying along the trail, but by this point I had gotten used to it.  It became a point of pride later in the day, as I realized I was the only one who carried his boat the whole time, and I could be proud of the distance I put on it.

A brave face for the last portage of the trip.

A brave face for the last portage of the trip.

I was shocked, and still am, at how few people we saw.  It wasn’t until Daisy that we saw other people on the water, and even at the take-out, there were only two or three groups milling around.  Based on what I was told in the Algonquin Adventure forums, it was supposed to be a bit of a wait at at least the Access point.  But this was not the case it seems.

A beauty trip with a great crew.

A beauty trip with a great crew.

This part of the trip really highlighted for me how far we had come as campers.  Not three days before, I had a group that didn`t want to get their feet wet pulling through a beaver dam and double carrying 450m portages, and now they were a battle-hardened camping unit!  I was like a proud father watching this guys get on with the trip.  With a bit of wind at our backs, and the knowledge that greasy food was waiting for us back in civilization, we managed some great time and were back at Magnetawan around noon.  We snapped a group photo and were on our way home.

May 24 Algonquin Triplog! Pt. 3

Day 3 Grassy Bay to Misty

We woke up fairly late on this day, knowing that today would be our easiest day of the trip. We only had 4 portages, and none of them were too long. Breakfast was pancakes and after fueling up for the morning we were finally about to take on the labyrinth of Grassy Bay. That’s when the rain started…


Loons on a dreary day.

Loons on a dreary day.


It was a cold, wet, and relatively miserable morning meandering through the Bay. We managed to cut a lot of time off our travel due to squeaking through some high water shortcuts, or that I’m sure. But I would have definitely liked to have seen this place in a more positive day. It seems like a great place to observe wildlife. We had seen some moose the day before, and one of our boats got pretty close to one while they were waiting for the portage to clear a bit.

Portaging isn't easy, but it sure is effective!

Portaging isn’t easy, but it sure is effective!

Our portaging machine was in top gear this time around. The other two boats were managing to do 1.5 portages or single carries, often switching carriers halfway down the trail, it was a great system. We eventually popped out onto McIntosh Lake and we took in the sights. It’s a very impressive lake, and we decided to stop for lunch on the northern-most island site. Being as we were sopping wet, we put up a wind-breaking tarp and brewed up some KD. That site was extremely cool. It was had multiple levels, an open area for eatting and looking around the lake, while a thick forest of trees provided healthy stringing and wind protection. I’d definitely stay there if I ever went back.

We then turned north for the first time in our trip and headed into Timberwolf Lake. The portage wasn’t too bad, but I nearly wiped out in a pile of mud (there was a lot of that now), and my styofoam portaging pad spun right around my yoke. Now, my shoulders were aready pretty sore, but without the pad, it was basically a guillotine. Safe to say, it made me really appreciate how much the pad was worth.

We're back on Misty, but on a different site now.

We’re back on Misty, but on a different site now.

Past the final, and I would say quite muddy portage, we wound up back in Misty Lake again. The lake was a bit more busy than before, but still pretty empty for a long weekend. Our first site was taken, but the island site closest to the 935m portage was available and pretty good when the wind kept the bugs away. Plenty of firewood was there already, we rebuilt a bench and arranged a sweet kitchen table out of some rocks from the beach. We definitely did some good on that island, leaving it better than we found it.

The lumber yard has turned into the carpentry shop.

The lumber yard has turned into the carpentry shop.  Note the giant kiln-like fire pit with drying rack.

Something strange happened that night though. As we sat around the roaring fire, reflecting on and celebrating the trip we were almost done, when we heard a engine coming around the lake. We’d heard the Algonquin float plane earlier in the day, but this time he was coming close. Although the sun was going down, he came into our lake! Right in! We couldn’t believe it. The red light on top alerted us to the fact that it was probably an emergency lift-out, and sure enough about 20 minutes later he took off into the night sky. It was kinda neat, but we all hoped the emergency was resolved. The night was absolutely perfect though, and we all slept like logs, ready for our next day.

Plane landing to help out a camper.  Sorry about the focus, but it was pretty dark and very far away.

Plane landing to help out a camper. Sorry about the focus, but it was pretty dark and very far away.

May 24 Algonquin Triplog! Pt. 2

Day Two – Misty Lake to White Trout Lake

The intrepid author, surveying his first night in Algonquin

The intrepid author, surveying his first night in Algonquin

I brought my summer sleeping bag with me because it takes up so little room, but this night was cold and I woke up shivering.  Coffee helped get me moving though, and soon breakfast was on.  I love the first day’s breakfast, you buy those 500mL milk cartons full of eggs, freeze it until the morning you head out, and cook them up with a mess of microwave bacon.  Then you throw ’em in a wrap with cheese and some tomato (if you’ve got it), and you’re sitting pretty.  We got on the lake fairly quickly after that, all full of energy and ready for the day.

Morning paddle down Misty Lake, heading to the eastern portage out.

Morning paddle down Misty Lake, heading to the eastern portage out.

On our way east out of Misty, we came across our first wildlife of the trip, a moose!  It was grazing in the narrow part of the lake in a grassy bay before trundling off to the woods.  I managed to get a great look at him through binoculars, but he was too far away for a picture.  We did a proper double portage to start our day and see how we’d do timewise, and were disappointed in 40-odd minuted for a 850m portage.  We’d have to kick it up a notch if we were going to make the kind of time we wanted!  Luckily though, that was the longest of the 5 portages we’d have to do that day, and the rest were a breeze. 

We saw a lot of these signs today...

We saw a lot of these signs today…

We took our time at the bottom of rapids, casting a line into the deeper pools in search of brook trout.  My cousin managed to catch a few, including a absolutely gorgeous one at the Taylor Chute before Grassy Bay/ White Trout Lake.  Because of the high water level May is known for, we managed to get through the Petawawa River fairly quickly compared to the first day, and were relieved to find the site directly south of the mouth of the river to be of outstanding quality.

The lumber industry is in full swing in Algonquin!

The lumber industry is in full swing in Algonquin!

We took a quick look at the island site more close to White Trout Lake proper, but it wasn’t as nice as the one closer to Grassy Bay (which is where we were going the next day), so we headed back to the first site we looked at, grabbing firewood along the way.  Camp went up quickly, the saws came out and the lumber yard started up.  Within an hour, we were either fishing or sitting around the fire, contemplating starting our dinner of spaghetti and dehydrated sauce, turkey, and red pepper.  I have to say, my dehydrator is a thing of beauty.  This is my first time really using it to it’s full potential, and as someone who’s carted in cans and jars before, it was just so amazing to have meals like this.  They came back perfectly, and we were eatting pounds of food a day!

A great way to end a great day!

A great way to end a great day!

May 24 Algonquin Triplog! Pt. 1

Victoria Day Long Weekend, 2013
Trip length: 60-odd kilometers
Number of portages: 20
Portage Distance 8.25km

Day 1 – Magnetawan to Misty

We started the day fairly well, although we had been celebrating the night before until the wee hours.  In general, everyone had 3-4 hours of sleep to run on.  We got in the cars, fueled up at Horton’s, and were on the road by 5:30AM.  There was little in the way of traffic and we made it to the bustling metropolis of Kearney to pick up our permits by 10.  After getting permits and heading over to Canoe Algonquin to get some rental equipment, we headed into Access Point #3 for Algonquin Park, Magnetawan Lake.

Off to get permits in Kearney

Off to get permits in Kearney

The road was in great shape considering the flooding they had up there in recent weeks, and we were on the water by 11.  Not a stellar time to begin, but this was an ambitious trip with some newcomers to the camping life.  The packs were squared away nicely, the canoes were more or less going the way we were supposed to, and my 4-month planning process was beginning to pay off.

Magnetawan Lake, looking inviting

Magnetawan Lake, looking inviting

The short portage into Hambone lake was a great shake-off of winter rust for some, rekindling of sores for others, and a new experience for half my group.  But it was a great way to introduce the hardest parts of portaging, getting into and out of the boats with your gear in a timely manner.  It was here that you see the benefits of light packing and proper food dehydration as groups going out for shorter trips struggled with coolers and leaden packs while we breezed by barely huffing.

Our first "real" portage of the trip

Our first “real” portage of the trip

A nice paddle through Hambone and high water meant spirits were high as we sqeaked past a portage into Acme pond, and spirits were lifted as we single-carried the 420m portage into Daisy Lake, passing a group in the process.  It was really morale-boosting to pass people, it validated my insistance in single carrying on these shorter portages.  Daisy was a great paddle, it gave us fish, a bit of wind, and gave us our first light crack at navigation in a bigger lake.  We were starting to come together as a team while working out the kinks in our own boats.  When we came to the mouth of the Petawawa River, we had settled in for the long haul.

A quick lunch on the end of a portage, next to the rapids near the Petawawa River.

A quick lunch on the end of a portage, next to the rapids near the Petawawa River.

After a short and easy portage into the Pet, we had a quick lunch and headed into the meandering river/bog.  I was bringing up the rear, when I saw that the boat with two greenhorn canoeists was hung up trying to portage 10 feet around a beaver dam.  I gave both of the boats which portaged around the dam heck, and showed them how easy to was to simply step on the top of the dam and pull yourself over it without emptying the canoe.  It was a technique they quickly mastered.

Hauling over beaver dams is a great break from paddling

Hauling over beaver dams is a great break from paddling

The next portage though, we were getting very tired.  We hadn’t eatten a breakfast like we would in the coming days, the fact that our long-distance paddling arms weren’t all there, and the few hours of sleep we got were heavy on our sore shoulders.  The 450m portage from the Petawaw to Little Misty was a real ball-breaker.  It’s got a lot of up and down that just saps your strength, but we made it regardless.  Another low beaver dam in high water and we were on Little Misty Lake, paddling towards our last portage of the day, a 935m haul into Misty Lake.

We were all tired, so we hauled the canoes a few hundred meters up the trail and dumped them where they wouldn’t get in the way if someone was coming up behind or in front of us, then double carried from there.  Coming back to get the canoes after dropping off the packs gave our shoulders a much-needed rest and the last few hundred meters were surprisingly happy for me.  Although touted as getting “extremely muddy” in the spring, it was fairly passable and showed signs of life along it.  I saw some moose scat and a small garter snake slithered by my foot.  Once in Misty we had a bit of a time getting over the soft bottom weeds that lurk shallow enough to stop your boat, but deep enough to not be seen (we got to hollering at each other, “look out for the Loon-shit bottom!”), but were soon and earnestly on our way to a suggested campsite on the north side of the island.

Dinner on Misty Lake.

Dinner on Misty Lake.

We started putting up camp and establishing the roles that would dominate the rest of the trip.  One person would start getting firewood together, we’d all get into dry shoes, start setting up tents together, etc.  Soon we had a much-needed meal of dehyrated turkey mixed into Hambuger Helper and started to feel a bit like ourselves again.  It was an early night, and we all went to sleep nice as soon as the sun was down.