Total Distance: 8km (Round Trip)
Portages: 2 (including one from the parking lot to launch)
Longest Portage: 178m
Total Portage Distance: 259m
Portage Difficulty: Easy
Paddling Difficulty: Easy
Overall Difficulty: Easy
Time: 1-2 days (could easy paddle to sucker for a day trip)
This year we said, if we can handle camping in November, why not push it into December. It was one last opportunity to explore the backcountry by canoe before pulling out the snowshoes. As the Kawartha Highlands is typically a popular park in the main season, we figured it was a good opportunity to visit in the off season.
We started our drive around 8pm on Friday night. The drive is only 2.5 hours from Toronto to the Bottle Lake access where we would be parking our car. By the time we had stopped for gas and dinner we didn't arrive at the launch until midnight. We had booked a campsite on Bottle Lake (#101) that was less than a 500m paddle from the launch, that we had hoped to make it to by paddling in the dark. Unexpectedly, the winds were still very strong and there were decent waves along the frigid water that we would have to cross to get to our site. We opted to camp at the launch as we could leave the majority of our stuff in the car and set off early the next morning. We had packed a few beers to have at the launch, which we enjoyed before hitting the sack.
The morning seemed to come quickly. It had only gotten down to about -2°c that night but the winds remained constant. We didn't put a tarp over the tent so we had a nice cold breeze coming through our tent first thing in the morning. We packed up quickly and made some coffee before setting off, bringing the remainder of our gear down from the parking lot. It was about 10am when we were all packed and ready to set off.
The winds were still fairly strong as we made our way up Bottle Lake. The canoe was sitting pretty low with 3 of us and all our gear. We would have the odd wave kiss the gunnels of our canoe. It only took about 20 minutes to get from the launch to the portage that would take us into Sucker Lake. The portage itself is only 81m and it is slightly uphill. It was amazing how much the wind had died down on the elevated Sucker Lake which made for a very nice paddle to our Island Site #127. The site was only a 15 minute paddle from the launch which got us there just after 12pm.
Upon arriving at our site, it was time to get a fire started. The overcast skies and slight breeze were a little chilly and we needed to stay warm. As is the case with most popular camping locations, the island was completely picked clean of wood and we were only able to find a few dead pieces for Matt to get the fire started. Andrew and I jumped in the canoe and paddled to the closest shore to see what we could find. Only a few feet back from the edge of the water in the forest was an insane amount of fallen trees which made us feel like our job was going to be easy. Grabbing the first piece of wood in sight it quickly crumbled in Andrew's hand. All of this wood was either infested, rotten, or soaked and it actually made if very difficult for us to find good dry dead wood. We spent a solid hour combing the land until we were able to get a good haul to bring back with us
The remainder of the afternoon was spent drinking Whisky Chai Tea, a new favourite of ours when we want to keep warm, and making our meals for the day. One of the biggest things we noticed about camping this late in the season was that it gets dark at 5pm. I know this may sound obvious but this takes a little more strategizing when cooking your dinner and planning your evening. We usually like to have all our cooking done in the light of the day in order to ensure that we properly clean up before it gets dark. If you have your dinner at 4pm to accommodate for this, you now have the next 4 or 5 hours before you go to bed, spent in the dark. Its good to think about this before hand so that you are prepared for the longer evening spent in the dark. As the portaging was fairly straight forward on this trip, we decided to pack a luxury item which was our mini guitar (Guitalele). We enjoyed some drinks and singing songs around the campfire and we were all in bed by about 9pm that night.
Saturday night was a little bit colder reaching a low temperature of -8°c. The winds were considerably lower and we ensured to put a tarp over our tent. We found this tarp to be very effective for keeping cold breeze out and our body heat in. We actually put it between the tent and the fly so that the tent fly would hold the tarp down.
Sunday was a whole new day for weather. We had the sun and clear skies that would have been ideal the day before when we weren't packing up to leave. I was rocking my santa hat feeling that it was appropriate as we approach the holiday season.
I went for a short walk with my morning coffee, through the forest behind our site. I happened to come across some still water that had actually frozen a thin layer of ice on the surface. I had no choice but to take of picture to prove the temperatures we were experiencing
We packed up the rest of our site having coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. There was no wind on the lake on Sunday so the paddle across was very enjoyable. As we paddled near a shoreline, we noticed that ice had actually began to set along the shoreline where obviously there was less moving water. We had to paddle over to take a look as we had never paddled through ice before. When we had finally arrived back at the launch there was about 20ft of ice out from the shoreline where we had to pull the canoe up. This required us to break through the ice in order to get to shore which made for an epic way to end our trip.
Overall the 2 lakes that we got to see where absolutely beautiful. It is my understanding that this area of the park if very popular among beginner canoeists as the entire trip itself is only 4km with 2 very short portages. For those who prefer a more remote setting I would highly recommend aiming to visit in the off season.