Canoe trip planning presented a new challenge for me this year – for the first time ever, I was unable to read the paddling and portaging distances on my map! Thankfully, it was nothing my optometrist couldn’t easily fix.
My friend Jen and I decided on a route that would have us camping on lakes neither of us had camped on before. We planned to cover a little less distance than last year’s first trip together, when we did a 5-day canoe trip at Algonquin from the Magnetawan Lake access point to Misty/White Trout/McIntosh/Daisy Lakes. Our plan this year was to single carry every portage if possible, and in particular, the super long ones (2k-3k!).
Day 1: Rock Lake access point to Pen Lake to Clydegale Lake
Somewhere around 1 PM we pushed off the dock at the Rock Lake access point, with me in the stern and Jen in the bow. We headed for the portage into Pen Lake. I carried the canoe and Jen’s barrel, while she carried the big canoe pack, paddles and other miscellaneous (annoying) things. After that first portage, we changed things up slightly, adding more weight to the barrel, and allowing Jen to carry only the paddles in her hands. And just like that, our portaging system was set!
Pen Lake was completely new to me, and looking at it on my map (Jeffsmap – waiting patiently for the new Unlostify Algonquin map to come out!), it looked like a relatively big lake with little moose viewing potential. Was I ever wrong! Jen and I rounded a corner to see a young moose feeding in the water. We watched him for a while, and then continued on. We rounded the next corner, and spotted a second moose, a large female.
We left her, rounded the next corner, and you guessed, a third moose, this time at the Galipo River and portage to Welcome Lake! We were pretty amazed at our luck. Finally, we left this young guy and headed for the short portage into Clydegale Lake. We knew that all of the sites on the lake weren’t booked, so we knew there would be a site for us, but we didn’t want to paddle too far only to have to return if the sites were taken. We did end up having to packpaddle a bit, but we ended up with a great site not far from the portage back into Pen Lake.
We set up camp – our tent, bug shelter, and bear rope over a tree branch – and then jumped into the lake to cool off. It was quite a hot day! There was a cute little garter snake at our site, and a very pretty sunset. Jen cooked us foil dinners over the fire (potatoes, other veggies and cheese, with sausage in hers as well), and then very yummy apple crisp!!
We went to bed pretty tired, but we both had a terrible night’s sleep!!
- Day 1 distance paddled: 15k (all distances approximate)
- Day 1 distance portaged: 375m + 275m
Day 2: Clydegale Lake to Pen Lake to Welcome Lake to Harry Lake
We disassembled our tent, and boiled water for oatmeal, packing up the bug shelter and the rest of our things as we finished using them.
Did I mention the bugs? Oh my god. Mosquitos, horse or deer flies, and even blackflies! Despite bug spray with deet, over the course of our trip we were absolutely covered in bites, bumps and red dots. Even though we would re-apply bug spray for the portages (because that’s when they were the worst – often at the start/end) we were sweating profusely (well, I should speak for myself here!) and the bug spray was sweated away! I did wear my bug jacket around camp, but there’s no way I could portage with that thing on – way too hot even though it is only made of mesh! But the moose moments make the portaging and bug challenges worth it!
We set out from our campsite, with just a short paddle over to the portage into Pen Lake.
We had a short portage and a long portage (2170m) on our way to Harry Lake. On the long one we encountered a big group of teenage campers doing multiple trips back and forth with their canoes and gear. Each and every one who passed me asked if I knew how much longer it was to the end. “8 minutes at my pace!” was my first answer. The only time I asked one of the kids how much longer I had to go, the answer was, “It’s a LONG way!” so I never asked again. Too demoralizing. At one point, two boys helped me to get the canoe back up after I had taken a much needed break!
Once into Welcome Lake, we were able to paddle right into Harry Lake without another portage, as they are connected by a creek. It was in the creek between Welcome Lake and Harry Lake that we saw another moose. I spotted the ears long before we got close.
By the time we got to Harry Lake, a poor night’s sleep, heat, and physical exhaustion caught up with Jen and she wasn’t feeling great. Once we chose our campsite, we set up the tent and she lay down for a while.
Dinner was awesome pizzas on the campfire. I think we were in the tent ready to sleep before it got dark!
- Day 2 distance paddled: 10k
- Day 2 distance portaged: 275m + 275m + 2170m
Day 3: Harry Lake to Rence Lake to Frank Lake to Florence Lake to Lake Louisa
On day 3, Jen woke up feeling refreshed and awesome! Yay! Before leaving our campsite in the morning, I spotted what looked like a shoelace on the ground, but when I got closer, I realized it was a snake! Turns out it was a Northern ring-necked snake, one I had never seen before (the ring around its neck is not visible in this pic). We also had a loon family just off our site. I love loons and the varied noises they make, but 2 AM is not my preferred time to listen to them! One night we had very vocal loons calling back and forth to each other – one of whom sounded like it was right outside our tent door.
We paddled from Harry Lake into Rence Lake, and then did a short portage into Frank’s Lake, which continued on to Florence Lake. From Florence Lake we arrived at the portage into Lake Louisa, and boy was it ever muddy! Lots of evidence of people slip-sliding their way from the water onto the drier ground inland. Our sandals and feet were completely mud covered, and I went into the mud part-way up my calf. Thankfully, I didn’t fall. We carried the canoe together onto drier ground before beginning our portage.
Once into Lake Louisa, we knew that the hardest part of the day was behind us – now we just had to paddle to find a campsite. Jen had read some reviews of sites, so we scoped out various ones as we paddled by. We had heard that the lake can get pretty windy in bad weather, so we planned to get as close to the portage into Rock Lake as we could while still choosing an awesome site. We hadn’t seen a single person (other than each other!) all day long, and that continued on Lake Louisa. We pulled up to a campsite to swim, have our lunch, and relax a bit before finding a campsite for the night. I heard a man and saw evidence of people at one site, but never did spot anyone.
As we paddled along, I spotted something very dark against the green of the shoreline. “Jen, is that a moose?” I asked. She was impressed with my eyesight (thank you Dr. Ruhl – not only could I read the map but I could still see way into the distance)! We decided to go have a look, and sure enough, it was a big bull moose!! And just like that, we picked our campsite, the one 400m from the moose.
We sat and watched him for a while, then headed over to our campsite. While setting up, we continued to sneak glances of him.
After setting up, we jumped into the lake for a swim, still watching the moose!
For dinner we rehydrated some veggie soup that I had prepared, and Jen made bannock using my MSR Dragonfly stove. Yum. Then I made chocolate pudding which we added goodies to (peanuts, M&Ms etc.).
This was our first night not making a campfire, but honestly it was way too hot to sit by a fire. In fact, the first two nights when Jen cooked by campfire it was rather unpleasant being near it!
- Day 3 distance paddled: 8k
- Day 3 distance portaged: 320m + 1725m
Day 4: Louisa Lake to Rock Lake
The next morning I spotted a snapping turtle laying eggs on our campsite. She was there the entire time we packed up our campsite. As we paddled away, she swam by!
We had a very short paddle over to the portage into Rock Lake. This one had an outhouse on the Lake Louisa side (it even had toilet paper!).
It was time for our last portage of the trip, a 3000m portage into Rock Lake. We planned to take 3 breaks, with me stopping when I needed to relieve my shoulders and back, and Jen stopping when she reached me. We had read that this portage wasn’t too difficult technically (not a lot of rocks and roots and ups and downs); rather, it was just plain long. So, we set off! When we emerged from the woods onto an old logging road, I spotted a weasel of some sort. A couple hundred metres later, I saw it again running along the trail. By 800m I was ready for a break but forced myself to continue to 1k. Jen caught me, but we didn’t stop for long, because the bugs were horrendous! We did adjust the stuff attached to the outside of the barrel though, transferring something (water?) to Jen’s pack, because it was swinging wildly on my back for some reason and yanking my back.
Another 800m later, I needed to put the boat down and take the pack off. But then I walked 1.2k without a break, and the portage was done! There were lots of bugs, but also tons of butterflies (White Admirals, apparently)!
We got back in the boat as fast as we could to get away from the bugs, and then paddled over to a campsite where we had a quick swim and snack before heading back to the Rock Lake access point.
Being a Friday, we saw lots of people paddling on Rock Lake as we were heading out. Over the course of the 4 days, we were lucky enough to see wildlife galore: 5 moose, 2 beavers (including one dragging a very leafy branch), loons, herons, a weasel, dragonflies, butterflies, woodpeckers, lots and lots of toads on portages and frogs in the marshy areas, turtles (3 or more), snakes, and a few too many biting bugs!
- Day 4 distance paddled: 10k
- Day 4 distance portaged: 3000m
It was another great canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park!!
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