Algonquin Park

The Meanest Link: Around Algonquin Park In 10 Days

Introduction

Each year we like to plan a big trip that either brings us to a new exciting area, or challenges us in a new way. This year we struggled with limited vacation time. Only having a total of 9 days to spend on the water, travelling far for a trip was only going to shorten that available time. Kaydi, a colleague of mine, suggested that we try to complete The Meanest Link in Algonquin Park. 380km (the distance we thought the trip was) in 9 days meant we would be paddling a minimum of 43km per day. More than double what we usually plan for in daily distance. Noah first asked me, “Is this even possible?” To which I referred to the current record holders time of 7.5 days to complete the loop saying “Maybe?”

The Meanest Link route in Algonquin Park - Full Map

This idea was equal parts scary and exciting which made it feel like the right choice for this years trip. Since we were going to be pushing our limits to a new extreme, we thought we could also use this as an opportunity to raise money for Project Canoe, an organization taking at-risk youth on backcountry canoe trips. Once solidifying this with Tim Richardson, executive director of Project Canoe, we turned to some of our favourite brands to help with the fundraiser. With the support of Salus Marine Wear, Grey Owl Paddles, Agawa Canyon Inc, and Project Canoe, we were able to raise a total of $3295. We also had great support from Randy Mitson and Gord Baker with Algonquin Outfitters in organizing 2 food drops and providing real time trip updates in the Meanest Link facebook group.

The final weeks before our trip were really starting to weigh in on us. Talk amongst people online were really starting to make us question our ability to do this loop. We had other trippers warning of the Big East, Nipissing River, and other sections that were going to add major struggles. Some people wished us luck while others were convinced we didn’t have a shot at completing this loop. All very encouraging for a couple dudes that were already questioning if they had bitten off more than they could chew.

Preparation

Food organized into 3 portions. 2 would be food drops.

Noah has moved to Halifax and so this meant that we would have to be very coordinated in what we were going to bring. Noah created a spreadsheet to highlight who was responsible for bringing what. We split the gear and food list in half having weekly calls to make sure we were both on track.

Noah was going to be catching a flight from Halifax to Toronto on Thursday night, arriving at 10:30pm. The plan was to meet at the Oxtongue Lake Algonquin Outfitters for 7am Friday morning.

SNAPSHOT

  • Trip Distance: 424km

  • Total Portages: 107 (based on Jeff’s Maps & not including the endless wading up the Big East)

  • Total Portage Distance: 64km based on Jeff’s Maps & not incl. Big East Wading

  • Longest Portage: 5,400m

  • Most Difficult Portage: Wading up the Big East River

  • Resources: Jeff’s Map (Maps) | Algonquin Outfitters (Food Drops)

Friday August 3rd 2018 - Algonquin Outfitters (Oxtongue Lake) - Big East River

Distance: 46km | Portages: 3 | Portage Distance: 5.5km (*Portage numbers based on Jeff’s Map)

My alarm went off at 4am and the excitement and nerves hit me right away. My car was packed with the canoe already on the roof, I grabbed my coffee and hit the road. I arrived at Algonquin Outfitters at 7am and Noah who was driving from Toronto arrived shortly after me. Noah’s mom Anna, was nice enough to drive Noah up to Algonquin that morning seeing as his car was in Halifax. Despite having all our food split into bags for our 2 food drops, we still pulled all the food out to have another look at it all. This also included a final run through of all our gear. Packing your bags at the beginning of a trip is always more difficult until you find the best way to fit everything and it becomes a choreographed dance.

Algonquin Outfitters - Oxtongue Lake

We had all our bags packed and we were on the dock at the Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake for 10am. It was much later than we had hoped to be on the water but we didn’t foresee the later start to be an issue at this point. Anna took our final send-off photo and we were off.

We made our way down Oxtongue Lake dodging the cottagers in their larger boats as we made our way to the Oxtongue River. It was a nice treat travelling with the current on the Oxtongue knowing that it would be a different story once we reached the Big East River. Jeff’s Maps had a 3.8km portage marked on this river that we seemed to have been able to skip a good portion of. The water was high enough for us to paddle down some of the rapids and swifts as we made our way to Lake of Bays. The few portages that we did have to do were really making us question our decision to bring the pelican case with our Canon 80D camera in it. It must have weighed 10lbs with the 6 Canon batteries and extra zoom lens we brought for the chance of seeing wildlife.

Portage Road

Lake of Bays had a lot of natural waves from the wind and the number of large boats present on this lake did not make it any easier for us. We kept our heads down and bopped along making our way from Dwight Bay to Portage Bay where we would make our way into Peninsula Lake. This portage literally went along a road called “Portage Road” which was obviously very fitting. We had a car pull over while we hiked our way down this road saying that they had never actually seen anyone portaging on this road and they were happy that we were justifying its name. After turning down their kind offer to take some of our gear to the end of the portage they were on their way.

As we crossed Peninsula Lake we started to get concerned about our timing. We knew we wanted to make it a decent distance up the Big East River that day and we were slowly losing daylight. We paddled through “The Canal” listed on Jeff’s maps which was a pretty cool river system that larger boats were still able to utilize to get between these two lakes. By the time we made it to Fairy Lake, very dark clouds had formed in the sky and started to roll over the lake. Noah and I discussed the option of paddling along one of the shorelines to be safe but seeing as we were already in the middle of the lake trying to draw the straightest line to Huntsville, we opted to paddle as hard as we could to beat the oncoming storm.

About halfway across this lake we had a larger boat approach us and ask if everything was alright and if we wanted a hand to get to shore quicker. We graciously turned down the offer and continued paddling as hard as we could. The storm seemed to be passing us and never actually hung over us for too long.

We made it into the river system that flows through Huntsville around 6pm and we were starting to get very hungry. As we were tight on time, we considered the option of buying hot food in town, instead of pulling over to boil water and hydrating one of our meals. There was one problem with this idea, neither of us had our wallets on us. Who needs a wallet on a camping trip right? Noah joking asked me “any chance you have your credit card number memorized?” To which I answered “I actually think I might.”

Boston Pizza in Huntsville. Not your typical canoe trip dinner but welcomed with open arms.

We made a phone call to Boston Pizza which we knew was right along the river in hopes to grab a slice and continue on our way. We placed the order for pizza as we figured we were about 15 minutes from reaching the store, they tried charging the credit card number I had provided and it went through! When we arrived at Boston Pizza we had completely forgotten that they actually had docks for boats to land and go for dinner. We pulled up with our fully loaded canoe, tied up and walked onto the patio with our life jackets and bare feet. The Pizza wasn’t quite ready so we grabbed two beers to enjoy before heading out. At this point we were less concerned about making quick time because it was pretty funny being on a canoe trip and having a “fancy” meal.

Huntsville Sunset

We left Boston Pizza at 7pm and continued our paddle towards Lake Vernon. As we paddled under Highway 11 there was an amazing pink sky for the sunset which can be seen perfectly in the first video. Paddling through The Narrows on Lake Vernon there were a number of cottagers who were on their docks watching the sunset since campfires were not an option with the current fire ban. There must have been about 6-8 cottages in a row where people were out on their docks waving as we went by.

As we crossed Lake Vernon it was getting very dark and it was clear there was a big lightning storm in the distance. It was actually really cool to watch as we paddled. The wind was low and we were experiencing the calm before the storm.

The mouth of the Big East River was difficult to spot in the dark and it was a big help having our GPS to keep us on track. Once we were about 25 metres from the entrance we hit the sandy bottom and we both looked at each other with fear. We knew the Big East was going to be a big variable at this time of year due to low water levels and this was not a great sign. We pushed through the sand walking beside the canoe and within a few minutes the water had gotten deeper again and we were back to paddling. A sigh of relief.

It was dark, and it was very difficult to see anything on shore in this river. The storm was making its way closer to us by the minute and although we wanted to make more distance, it was going to be a lot better to set up the tent dry than setting it up getting soaked. We made the decision to pull over and find a place to camp at 9:30pm.

The banks of the river were very high and it was going to be very difficult to get all our gear up including the canoe. Noah scaled his way up and I started passing him gear. We had found a small 8x8 pad just the right size for our tent. We made some dinner, each had a beer to lighten our load for the next day, and watched as the lightning rolled in over our head. Just after we finished our drinks, the rain started to come and we crawled into the tent for the night.

Saturday August 4, 2018 - Big East River - Distress Lake

Distance: 46km | Portages: 3 | Portage Distance: 1km (*not including endless wading up the Big East)

The alarm went off at 5:30am and it was time to start our next day. It is always fun to actually see where you set up camp when you selected your spot in the dark. The river was perfectly still with mist on the water. We tossed back some “protmeal” - Noah’s mix of quaker oats, protein powder, peanut butter powder, and dehydrated bananas, and took our coffee to go. We were on the water by 7:05am and we knew we had a big day fighting the Big East river.

Sandy shore along the Big East River

The first 20km or so of our day consisted of paddling a windy river with sand dunes at each corner. There were a number of trailer parks including Silver Sands and Lagoon Tent and Trailer Park, with people making breakfast and staring as we paddled past.

We eventually got to Arrowhead Provincial Park and got to paddle through the popular Big Bend Lookout and get a bit of a different perspective of it. Someone from up top shouted down asking how we had gotten there. We responded “we paddled from Huntsville!” which was obviously pretty shocking to them.

Big Bend Lookout - Arrowhead Provincial Park

Eventually the current had picked up and it was getting more challenging to paddle. Arriving at our first set of rapids we had to hop out and walk the canoe against the current. These sets of rapids became more and more frequent only offering short sections of flat water to paddle between. We developed a system where one of us would walk with the canoe, holding the bow to guide the canoe between rocks in the rapids. We were walking along rocks that were constantly moving and shifting our feet into positions we were not always ready for. The bow of the canoe also acted as a bit of a crutch so that you could put all your body weight on the canoe and allow your feet to fall into whatever position the river desired. The second person would have a bit of a mental break and would walk along the dry shore, still jumping from rock to rock but at least you had a visual of what you were stepping on. This strategy was also useful for filming this section of the trip, while still making forward progress.

Wading up the Big East River

After hours of pushing through this current our legs were tired from the extra weight of the water in this up-river battle. We pulled over for some hummus and pita to give us the energy we needed to continue on. There were a few situations where we opted to try and portage along the side of the river. Sometimes the guy who was walking the shoreline would pop into the bush to see if there was a trail. This ended up requiring a lot of bushwhacking and sometimes along angled hills that added the risk of slipping and having all the gear fall down with you. Many times we reverted back to the river.

Beautiful cliff along the Big East

It was getting later in the day and we were concerned with the slow progress up this river. We arrived at a waterfall and I went to explore portage options on the right while Noah checked the left. There was a clear trail along the right hand side but it veered so far away from the river it didn’t make sense that this would be the right way to go. By the time I had returned to where Noah had dropped me off, he had already completed the portage simply by walking along the left side of the waterfall. He picked me up in the canoe and brought me to the other side where all I had left to carry was the canoe. We made some peanut butter wraps and both of us were feeling very defeated at this point. It was going to be a struggle to push on. It was hard not to think about the fact that this was only day 2 and we were still not hitting the daily distance that we needed to.

Waterfall before long cascading waterfalls to Distress L.

More lining of rapids and the sun was really starting to set. We arrived at another waterfall and I jumped out to take a quick peak for a portage trail. When I climbed up the first rock I could see that it was actually a long set of cascading waterfalls that seemed to go on for about 800m which is what we had estimated our distance to be from Distress Lake. We grabbed our gear and set out to complete this portage. We bounced back and forth from walking up the rocks as well as going on the trail in the forest. It is good to note that there was actually a decent trail along the left shore here but we were maybe not thinking straight after a long day on the water and tried to take the rocks which in many ways proved to be more difficult.

At the very end of the portage we found a man-made dam that marked the start of Distress Lake. We put the canoe in the water and paddled off into the dark. There were no campsites marked on this lake and it was a really swampy looking lake. We passed a couple camps set up on the right shore about halfway down the lake but they were all occupied by people already. One site actually had about 10-12 tiki torches lit around the site with a roaring bonfire. This would have been pretty cool aside from the fact that there was a major fire ban on in Ontario at this time and these people obviously could care less.

Finally made it to Distress Lake, time to find a site

We paddled on searching for somewhere to sleep. Toward the end of the lake we found a clearing in the trees on the left shore and it looked like a site to camp. We jumped out and it looked like the perfect spot for us. As we were setting up our tent, we heard someone through the forest fire up their ATV about 600m away from us. We saw the lights driving through the trees and all of a sudden they took a turn and were headed directly towards us. Who was this going to be? Are we in trouble for being here? Noah and I stood speechless and awaited our fate. The ATV pulled right up on our site and we could barely make out who was on it until they turned the lights off. It was an older couple that ended up asking how we had found out about this site. Their line was “did you find about about this place on the Google?” To which we explained we had just spotted the clearing and were desperate for a campsite. They agreed to let us stay so long as we did not post about the campsite on the Google. So for all you future linkers out there, this is not a campsite and will likely have a cottage on it by the time you make your attempt.

We finished our Red Curry dinner that Noah had made us and hit the tent by 11pm.

Sunday August 5, 2018 - Distress Lake - Daisy Lake (Officially In Algonquin Park)

Distance: 35km | Portages: 6 | Portage Distance: 8.1km (not including endless wading up the Big East)

We were up at 5:30am doing our usual oatmeal and coffee regimen. We had our camp pack-up and set-up process down to a perfect 1.5 hour routine. Noah would usually get breakfast started as he would be out of the tent first, and I would tear down the tent and pack the inside up. We hit the water by 7am and we were back to the Big East struggle. There was a bridge we paddled under at the end of Distress lake that we should have taken out at and walked along the road that lined the left side of the river. Unfortunately we did not know this and we tried to take the river up a little further. Then the rapids started once again. While Noah was walking the canoe up river, I had gone for a walk through the woods which is where I came across the road. A short bushwhack about 50m from the river's edge had us on the road for about 1km.

As we got close to getting off the road and back on the river, we came across what looked like someones cabin. Just as we got to the property edge, two dogs spotted us and started charging at us, barking aggressively and the owner was not in sight. Noah had the canoe over his head and I envied him as he could potentially turtle up and hide if he wanted to. I on the other hand was carrying the pack mule load that left me like a sitting duck. Noah shouted not to look them in the eye and to just let them walk around us. They circled us barking for about 2 minutes and we wondered what we were going to do. Finally the owner crawled out of a tent and called the dogs back to his side and we got the heck out of there. This road was likely private property so while it is definitely the easier route to take, we want to warn you of this fact.

Approaching Finlayson Lake

We continued our paddle and passed a number of hunting blinds in the trees. The river was still throwing lots of rapids at us and as the river started to get narrow, they started to get deeper and more difficult to walk in. We found a few portages along the side of the river but many of these had not been used in years and it was easy to lose the trail. There were also a lot of blow-downs that required us to navigate our 18 foot canoe up and over trees  causing blockages up to 10 feet tall.

Finally a portage sign….happy to be off the Big East River

As we approached Finlayson Lake, we started to prepare ourselves for the two portages going into McCraney Lake. We know in the past this has been a bushwhack for many linkers but there are two new portages and we were unsure of what shape they would be in. We were tired and there was even more lining to get from Finlayson to the first portage. I specifically recall the feeling when we turned the final corner on the river and we could see a yellow portage sign. Such a “sign of relief” seeing as we knew this was going to take us into Algonquin. While this was just the beginning of many more portages, we were happy to have signs and trails as opposed the the ankle breaking river wading, and sketchy bushwhacking brought to you by the Big East. At this point we said peace to the Big East and put our head down as we entered the park.

One of the two portages going into McCraney Lake had an aggresive incline on it. We must have stopped about 4 or 5 times to take breaks and each time I would say something to the effect of, “there is no way this can go any further up hill.” To which moments later I would put my foot in my mouth as it kept climbing.

Launching into McCraney Lake we stopped at the very first point to take a swim and cool off. I got a leech stuck to me here and after ripping it off, the boat looked like a murder scene with how much blood came out. That “sucker” must have had me pretty good.

On the portage from Little McCraney Lake into Rain Lake, we knew Randy from Algonquin Outfitters had hooked us up with our first food drop. We got to the end of this flat 1.7 km portage and found our food hanging in a tree like a piñata. We were actually a little concerned with fitting all of that food into our bear barrel and took the opportunity to boil some water and make a pasta that was fairly bulky to free up some space in the barrel.

After eating we were both very tired but we knew we had to continue on. We were passing a bunch of families on Rain Lake who were enjoying the nice weather and swimming while we had to stay focused on the task at hand. We made our way from Rain Lake up to Daisy Lake, and by the time we arrived at Daisy, it was completely dark. We could see lightning in the distance so we found a free campsite and set up camp for the night. We arrived at our site sometime around 10pm and were in bed by 11pm.

Monday August 6, 2018 - Daisy Lake - Nipissing River

Distance: 38km | Portages: 23 | Portage Distance: 9.8km

Just a dude who loves to portage

We knew this was going to be a big day of portaging for us. I had previously done the section from Tim Lake to Ralph Bice Lake and knew how tired I was after those 10 portages totaling 6.1km of total distance. This time it was going to be less than half of what we actually needed to accomplish that day. Not to mention that there were 3 portages to get us from Daisy to Ralph Bice before starting the rest.

We put our heads down and we crushed the 13 portages arriving at Tim Lake just after 1pm. We decided to stop here and have some lunch. This is when we first realized that the wraps we had brought were starting to get mouldy. We put summer sausage, cheese, and mustard on these wraps and dusted off what we could of the mould.

On route to Big Bob Lake, tackling portage number 16 on the day

We were both tired and we had a lot left to accomplish this day. My legs were really starting to chafe and I hiked up my bathing suit to try to make my legs rub a little less. You can find this ridiculous look of mine in the video. By the time we made it to Big Bob Lake we had completed 17 portages totaling 9.1km in portage distance. We had one final portage from Big Bob Lake before we would find out what our fate was on the Nipissing River, another big variable at this time of year.

The start of the Nipissing River. Where is the water at?

Arriving at the put-in of the Nipissing River, it was not looking promising. Water levels were low as anticipated and it wasn’t clear how we were getting out of the immediate area were were in. Sure enough the river wound around the corner and while it was shallow, there was enough clearance to float our boat and make progress with our paddles.

The alders had closed in and after a few km’s of pushing through them, we began to wonder if we were in the right place

Eventually the river got wider and we had a really nice paddle down what seemed to be a very remote section of the park. We finished another 5 portages and then started to hit the beaver dams. At this point the river was starting to narrow and the alder bushes that lined the shores were closing in. Eventually the alders were so thick we didn’t have a path to paddle through. We were forcing our way under them and very slowly moving the canoe forwards. At one point we stopped to look at the GPS and it was very difficult to figure out if we were even in the right place. We weren’t sure if in the midst of all of these alders, maybe there was a chance we missed a fork in the river and maybe we were lost. The shore was so covered in alders we couldn’t even get out of the canoe or stand high enough to see anything. It was a very claustrophobic feeling.

We were soaked from the alders, the temp had dropped, there was no more daylight, and we had no idea where we were. Forced to camp on a grass patch along the river.

Seeing as we did not have any other option we pushed onwards. It was getting late and the temperature was dropping. We had gotten completely soaked by going through the thick of the alders and we were getting cold. There was not much daylight left and we were searching for the campsite near the 165m portage before Grass Lake. I was looking at the GPS and thought that we were closer than we really were. I made the decision that we should continue pushing to find this site as the alternatives did not look great.

Eventually we got to a point where we had to call it. We pulled to the side of the river and hoped out onto the grassy marsh that lies on along most of the Nipissing River. Noah used the bear barrel to roll us a place to pitch our tent. We changed into some dry clothes and made dinner. The warm food helped to pick up our low spirits and cold bodies. This was definitely the most rugged we had felt on the trip thus far.

Tuesday August 7, 2018 - Nipissing River to Nipissing River

Distance: 48km | Portages: 14 | Portage Distance: 7.3km

Another view of our sketchy camp setup for night one along the Nipissing River.

We were up at 6am and on the water before 7am. No breakfast for us this morning as we opted to wait until we got to a bit of a nicer spot. Our tent was completely soaked when we packed it up from the grass we had set up on.

The combination of wading up the Big East with the high number of portages meant that we both had a healthy bunch of blisters on our feet. I would cover mine up with band aids in the morning and put socks over to hold them in place. Then I would slide my foot into my soaking wet keen sandals. A great way to start the day.

We set off continuing our paddle down river. After the 365m portage we opted to make breakfast and get some coffee into us. The sun was starting to come out and it allowed us to to dry some clothes on top of the canoe. A few massive trees had fallen into the river requiring us to lift over.

Highview Ranger Cabin along the Nipissing River in Algonquin Park. Wish we could have stayed here…

As we made our way along the 875m portage after Dogay’s Dam, we came across the Highview Ranger Cabin. This cabin used to be utilized by park rangers but was now open for rent through the Ontario Parks website. It was a really cool spot with bunk beds and a wood stove. If the timing worked out better we would have loved to stay here for a night. A good thing to note for others passing this area.

Inside the Highview Ranger Cabin in Algonquin Park

We continued along the Nipissing River trying to cover as much distance as possible. We stopped for lunch along a portage and were disappointed to find out that our mouldy bread had gotten worse. It was getting harder and harder to piece together that million dollar piece of bread. We did do some casts along this stretch of the river and hooked into a few Fall fish which were fun to catch.

It was getting late and we were going to want to start searching for a place to sleep for the night. We pushed through the 1300m portage that has a beautiful lookout over High Falls. We decided we wanted to try to make it to the end of the 850m portage to camp there because we didn’t want to have to do that portage right after breakfast the next morning.

We finished the 850m portage in the dark. We set up the tent and it was absolutely soaked. The fly that was over the tent had a steady drip down onto the floor of the tent. I got my towel out and started to wipe the tent hoping that we could dry it enough that it wasn’t going to cause us any trouble. After completely soaking my towel, I took Noah’s towel and finished the job with his. We let it sit a little longer, had some dinner and then crashed hard for the night.

Last campsite on the Nipissing River. Trying to dry our soaked tent after packing up in the rain on the grass patch from the night before.

Wednesday August 8, 2018 - Nipissing River to Radiant Lake

Distance: 54km | Portages: 8 | Portage Distance: 4.4km

Our first of 5 moose sightings along the Nipissing River. Noah mentioned “There is a real moosy vibe this morning”

We started our paddle down the very calm waters on the Nipissing River. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes and we came paddling around a corner only to see a moose standing at the side of the river. Luckily we didn’t spook it right away and were were able to get a little closer to take a photo. Shortly after the moose took off and we continued down the river. After only a couple other bends in the river, we came across yet another moose.

Beautiful morning paddle along the Nipissing River

At this point we decided that we would leave the camera outside of the pelican case since there was a rather “moosy” vibe to the river that morning. As we continued our paddle I took the camera out to get a shot of just the river, while I was looking into the screen on the camera, I could see two objects moving. I look up only to see a cow and calf moose standing at the side of the river together. It didn’t take long for the two of them to run off into the grass. We ended up seeing a total of 5 moose (or meece as we liked to call them) all within an hours time paddling along this beautiful river.

Another moose, or meece as we like to call them

Finally after a few hours of paddling the Nip, we arrived at the 945m portage that goes from the river into Cedar Lake (or the river leading into Cedar Lake). This was the first time in a few days that we had seen a portage sign that said something other than Nipissing River to Nipissing River which meant we were officially moving on to new territories. This was good news for making time but this portion of the trip held a lot of beautiful areas we will have to plan to revisit one day.

Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store - The most northern part of our trip.

We got into Cedar Lake and started heading towards the Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store. We had a few items that we were hoping to buy while here. I obviously did not have my credit card on me but we were hoping we could give them the number. This store itself is really cool and holds a true northern feeling to it. Many antiques line the walls as decoration, signature boards hang from the ceiling showing other paddlers that had paid a visit. Gord Baker had arranged for us to receive ice cream cone upon our arrival which was a welcome treat from Jake at the store. We grabbed our chocolate bars, batteries for the GPS, and band-aids that would hopefully get us through the balance of the trip.

Old train bridge along the Petawawa River

Catfish at the end of the 860m portage going into Radiant Lake

We made our way down Cedar Lake making our way towards the Petawawa River. We were tired from the long day we had already endured but overall our spirits were high. This stretch of the Petawawa was absolutely stunning. Completely calm water with very rocky shores. Once we completed the 860m portage over the old CNR track, Noah did a few casts and managed to catch a decent size catfish. The final stretch of river that follows the 860m portage into Radiant Lake is beautiful and we had an amazing sunset to go with it. We slowly made our way into Radiant, paddling into the dark.

Once we were on the lake we paddled along the left shore looking for an open site. Many of them were taken. Since it was completely dark out we actually had someone yell at us to see if we were alright. I guess they don’t usually get to camp that late. The depths in this lake were interesting and despite being far away from shore, we actually hit ground at one point completely unexpectedly.

Finally we came across a rocky beach that we were able to pull up on, that had a nice open campsite. We made some dinner, set up camp and went to bed for around 11pm.

Thursday August 9, 2018 - Radiant Lake to Bonfield Lake

Distance: 49km | Portages: 21 | Portage Distance: 13.3km

We were up at our usual time but something felt different. I had fallen asleep with my contacts in and it appeared one of my eyes was infected. I could barely open it and the brightness of the sun made it challenging for me to keep my eye open. I had removed my contacts already and was preparing to spend the day wearing my glasses.

Kildeer Lake to Petawawa River. One of many portages, a short one at least!

We set off on Radiant Lake and we knew today was going to be a long one. Lots of distance to cover and definitely over 20 portages. Looking at the map with all the red lines between Radiant and Lake Lavieille, we couldn’t help but laugh.

We made our way down the Petawawa River one portage at a time. There were a lot of floating logs showing obvious signs of the old logging route that went through this area. We happened to run into another group of kids who were all doing a trip down the Petawawa and we paddled alongside until branching off to the Crow River. This section of the river we were back to paddling against the current. We arrived at the 2.4km portage and didn’t waste any time to start making distance. When we arrived at the end of the portage, it wasn’t the greatest feeling seeing the start of the next portage only a few feet away. We crossed the river that was no more than two canoe lengths wide, had a couple beef jerky strips to fuel up, and we were onto the next one. This portage was a straight hike uphill. A tough portage but we were determined because it was the longest portage we were going to have to do for a while.

After a short paddle down Lavaque Lake, it was time to put our heads down. The next section had 8 portages but the largest of them was 610m. When we arrived at the final portage going into Lake Lavieille, there was a sign posted that said Hardy Bay and Dickson Lake had recently been found to have Blue-Green Algae, and that we should not be using this as a source for water. This was going to be a slight problem seeing as neither of us had more than 1 Nalgene of water to last us the next 15 or so kilometers to the bottom of Dickson Lake. Not to mention the 5.5km portage that was going to come after that.

We paddled north on Lake Lavieille to make a visit at the Mean Dude’s favourite campsite. It is the single campsite on a lone island in the north end of the lake. This was a few kilometers out of our way but is a staple for completing the Meanest Link route. The idea is to go here and drink his favourite beer which was a brand known as Genesee. As we were unable to find this beer we went with a Muskoka Cream Ale that was luke warm after travelling in our bear barrel since the Rain Lake food drop.

We drank our beers and shared some pasta that was left over from dinner the night before. We had actually carried this cold pasta in a ziplock bag all day and were snacking on it periodically between portages. This carb-combo we had just indulged in had us feeling lethargic and absolutely not ready to tackle the long distance we still had left. One stroke at a time we made our way down Lake Lavieille and into Hardy Bay, then into Dickson Lake. When we arrived at the 90m portage into Dickson we enjoyed a wonderbar that was specifically planned to be eaten at this spot to give us the boost we needed for the big portage ahead.

Trying to look happy about starting a 5km portage after doing 44km in total distance and already having done 20 other portages…You can also tell something is going on with my right eye (on the left).

We arrived at the start of Algonquin Park’s longest portage at 7:40pm. We had already travelled 44km that day and our portage count was at 20. Nothing like pinching off another 5.5km of portage after a very long day. We tried not to waste any time thinking about it and picked up our packs and started the hike. We took many breaks along the way and the forest was getting darker each break we took. We finished the second half of this portage in complete darkness and arrived at Bonfield Lake at 9:40, exactly two hours to complete this beast.

The stars were shining bright that night and there was a nice fog blanketing the lake. We made some dinner, set up our tent and passed the hell out.

Friday August 10, 2018 - Bonfield Lake to Madawaska River

Distance: 43km | Portages: 11 | Portage Distance: 8km

Camping at the end of the 5km portage going into Bonfield Lake

When we got up Friday morning, the lake was entirely covered in a fog. We could barely see more than 200m in front of us. The sun was shining bright and made for a beautiful morning.

On the water by 7am we started our journey towards the Opeongo Algonquin Outfitters. The short 285m portage going into Lake Opeongo had a really cool open forest leading into the beach along the shores of Opeongo.

Arriving at the north end of Lake Opeongo

Lake Opeongo is Algonquin Park’s largest lake and we knew we had a lot of paddling ahead of us. We had our thermoses of coffee ready to go and the lake was like glass. We made our way out of the East Arm and down into the South Arm. We had been passed by a number of water taxis that were shuttling people from Algonquin Outfitters to the northern parts of the lake we had just come from. It looked like a much easier method of travel across this lake but we were enjoying our paddle, luckily with no headwinds to battle.

After a while the portages will start to get to you.

We arrived at Algonquin Outfitters sometime around lunch and we went inside to grab our second and final food drop and also grab some ice cream. The ice cream snack ended up becoming a real commitment with the large cups they provided it in. It had both Noah and I not feeling great before the upcoming 3km portage we had ahead of us. Still worth it.

The 3km portage going from Opeongo Lake into Sproule Lake was over before we knew it and there were only 5 more between us and Whitefish Lake. There are some beautiful lakes along this stretch and we enjoyed passing through. It had been a long day so far and energy was dwindling. We arrived at the Pond to Kearney Lake portage and expected the usual Algonquin style portage however, we hit a very boggy section that completely divided the portage by what seemed like a micro lake. Using random stumps and rocks that stuck out of the water we managed to navigate our way across without getting soaked in the mud. The end of this portage had also been heavily grown over and became a bit more tricky to get the 18-foot canoe through.

We arrived at the beach on Kearney Lake that would take us across Highway 60 and down into Whitefish Lake. It was funny once again to look at all the people who had driven to this beach all splashing around and relaxing while we were on a whole other mission.

Crossing Highway 60 on a portage is something I have always wanted to do. I grew up car camping in Algonquin Park and always thought it would be fun to portage a canoe across this highway. Really not sure exactly why. Dodging the oncoming traffic we made it across and into Whitefish Lake.

The start of the Madawaska River portion of our trip

It was getting later in the afternoon and we still had a lot of distance to cover. The typical story on this trip. We had some lunch and set off on Whitefish. By the time we hit Lake of Two Rivers my back was killing me and it was getting difficult to push on. At the other end of Lake of Two Rivers we struggled to find the opening to the river system. Once we figured it out we started paddling down the river and found a campsite on the far side of the 195m portage. We opted to get to bed a little earlier in order to wake up a little earlier the next morning.

Saturday August 11, 2018 - Madawaska River To Oxtongue River Provincial Park

Distance: 58km | Portages: 17 | Portage Distance: 6.1km

Early morning paddle on the Madawaska River

We woke up at 4:30am and we were on the water by 5:30am. We knew we had a long day ahead of us. We had a perfect morning to paddle with calm water covered in fog. Once again feeling very “moosy” so we paddled quietly in hopes of seeing more wildlife. We pushed along the winding river making our way towards Cache Lake.

Bridge along the Madawaska River

At one point along this river Noah stopped paddling just as he noticed a beaver was swimming directly in front of the canoe in the same direction as us. Before he had time to say anything our canoe had caught up and hit the back of the beaver which sent him on a scurry to get away. His tale smacked the bottom of our boat as he took off in the other direction. Pretty certain this could only happen once in a lifetime.

We arrived at Cache Lake and only had a short paddle to get to Tanamakoon Lake. From here we crossed over Highway 60 and into Source Lake where we planned to visit Camp Pathfinder. This camp has groups of young teens doing some intense tripping over the summer. The Meanest Link is one of these trips along with many others including destinations in the Hudson Bay region.

Portage coming out of Source Lake

When we pulled up to Pathfinder Island all the kids were out cleaning canoes and tents on the docks and packing up after getting back from a recent excursion. We met Jack, the owners son who is one of the staff members at this camp. He gave us the full tour showing us where trips were planned, where all the meals were made and also where they build and repair their canoes. Noah and I wished we had gone to this camp when we were kids. Jack offered us a place to stay on the Island and welcomed us to stay for dinner but we had to take off to cover some more distance.

Arriving at the Oxtongue River just after the Tea Lake Dam portage

Leaving Source Lake we crossed Highway 60 once again and went down into Smoke Lake. We were getting tired as it had already been quite a long day. We paddled through Smoke Creek and into Tea Lake where we portaged around the dam that would connect us to the Oxtongue River. The river had a decent current in certain sections and provided some swifts to help us pick up some speed and cover more distance. It was very cool paddling through sections like the Whisky Rapids and Western Uploads trail as these were places I had previously been to hike. Never thought I would ever be paddling the river that goes through them.

One of the reasons we opted to camp an extra night rather than push to the finish in the dark

The Oxtongue River is very windy in this section and was even worse after we passed upper and lower twin falls. We continued pushing along to make as much distance as possible. Darkness was approaching and we had hit a few sets of small rapids. We were getting concerned that if we pushed much further we would risk hitting rapids in the dark. There was a campsite part way along the 955m portage and we opted to stay here for the night.

Noah had turned on his phone to get a photo and happened to notice that there was actually cell signal here. At this point he had a text from his mom informing that the fire ban in Algonquin had been lifted and we were good to have a fire. So on our last night of this very difficult trip, we got to enjoy a nice campfire before hitting the sack. We knew were were very close to the end.

Sunday August 12, 2018 - Oxtongue River Provincial Park To Oxtongue Lake Algonquin Outfitters

Distance: 6.5km | Portages: 1 | Portage Distance: 450

Ragged Falls, Algonquin Park

We were up at 5:00am and on the water by 6. We had a few small sets of rapids to do right off the bat which led to Ragged Falls where there was a beautiful waterfall to portage around. We continued down the river and before long we were paddling under Highway 60 for the final time, and paddling into the docks at Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake. 7:40am was our arrival time meaning that we managed to complete the entire Meanest Link route in 216 hours. It was a very rewarding feeling taking a photo on the dock to celebrate the trips completion, and looking at the plaque in the rentals section of the store that holds the names of previous linkers.

Beautiful sunrise as we complete the final stretch of the Meanest Link

We look forward to our names being added alongside the other linkers who have completed the route in the past. The best feeling however was knowing that we had pushed our personal limits to a whole new level and that because of this, we were also going to be able to donate $3,250 to Project Canoe to hopefully inspire some other kids to do something similar one day.

Trip Complete, The Meanest Link - Algonquin Park

Notes For Future Linkers

  • Big East had enough water for our boat to float through most sections, but the strong current made travel upstream very slow. We would walk up rapid sections with one person wading and using the front of the canoe as support, the other person would get a break and walk along the edge of shore.

  • There is a solid 10km on the Nipissing River with thick Alder Bushes

  • The west side of Algonquin heading north, and from Radient Lake south to Opeongo Lake have a crazy number of portages. Would be ideal if you didn’t have to do them all in one day.

  • If you are using Jeff’s maps, make sure to download the “Wall Map” version to have the information you need outside of Algonquin Park (Oxtongue River and The Big East River).

Funny Trip Comments

  • “Hey man you want to have a couple calorie parcels?” - Noah in reference to snacking on a couple of mini bounty bars

  • “I’m just out here sacrificing my body to the elements” - Alex in reference to how sore and uncomfortable he was feeling

  • “When we start to feel rugged we can have a smoke” - Noah and Alex talking about not being that into cigars until you are feeling rugged. This eventually turned into, “Hey kid, you feeling rugged” when asking if the other wanted to share a cigar.

Petawawa River Loop - Algonquin Park

Paddling on the Petawawa River 

When original white-water plans were canceled last-minute, we had an open weekend to fill. It was Thursday night and with no plans we started skimming through maps and trip reports. After reviewing Jeff’s Maps, we decided on heading to the Magnetawan Access Point for a trip down the Petawawa River. We would plan on paddling down the Petawawa before heading North into Queer Lake, then we would make our way back through Ralph Bice back to the access point.

SNAPSHOT:

  • Total Distance: 29 km
  • Portages: 10
  • Route Difficulty: Novice – Intermediate
  • Number of Days: 2
  • Access Point: Magnetewan Access Point
  • Resources: Jeff’s Algonquin Map
  • Key Features: Small lakes and shallow meandering river connected by easily navigable portages.
     

Getting There:

We left Toronto on Friday after work and made our way up to the small town of Kearney. Kearney is the starting gate for Algonquin’s Tim River, Magnetawan River and Rain Lake Access Points. We arrived in town at around 10:00 pm and spent the night in our car in the Algonquin Office parking lot.

The next morning we purchased our permits at 7:00 am and made the 30-minute drive down dirt roads to the #3 Access Point. Along our drive we discussed our game plan, route and expectations.  We heard from friends that bugs were going to be bad, but that wasn’t something we thought much about. We were more concerned about how the fishing was going to be and what lures we should use.

Magnetawan Lake to Upper Petawawa:

On the Petawawa River right after the portage from Daisy Lake

We spent the morning paddling through the small lakes and portages as we made our way to the Petawawa River. Hambone Lake and Daisy Lake were moderate sized lakes and had very nice, clean campsites that would make a great trip for a quick weekend getaway.

Daisy Lake was the final stop before reaching the Petawawa. At the end of the Lake there was a brief 135 m portage which brought us around a shallow creek and cascading waterfall. The waterfall is a scenic spot as the water is pushed into a deep pool with the Petawawa as the backdrop. After paddling for a couple hours, with the sun and bugs becoming stronger, this was the perfect spot for a quick pit-stop as we refueled with some beef jerky and libations.

Petawawa River to Little Misty Lake:

The Upper Petawawa is not what you think of when you hear the name. The white-water enthusiast won’t be found for another 100 km or so. Up here, the Petawawa is a meandering flood plain with beaver dams and wetlands. During early June, water levels ranged from 1 to 2 feet with shallower sections present. During late-summer, sections of this route may require some slogging so it would be important to check water-levels before hand. We paddled the river for 5 km before reaching Little Misty Lake at 3:00 pm.

Little Misty Lake has one campsite on the North shore which looked to be in very good condition. The overall quality of the lake and surrounding landscape was also breathtaking and in other circumstances it would have been great to camp there. Unfortunately for us, our time here was brief as we were heading off the lake and heading North towards Queer lake via the 2.5 km portage.

Little Misty Lake to Little Trout Lake:

The portage from Little Misty Lake to Queer Lake is unquestionably long but is overall friendly. The trail is flat and clear of obstructions other than some muddy sections. We completed the portage in 45 minutes and if it weren’t for the horrendous bugs, we would have found it easier than anticipated.
 
Once on Queer Lake, we paddled another 2 km to Little Trout Lake where we planned on spending the night. Along the route we did not see any other canoeists and even got a quick glimpse of a Moose.

Little Trout Lake (campsite):

One of the island sites on Little Trout Lake

One of the island sites on Little Trout Lake

As our paddling day was coming to an end, it seemed as the farther we got into our route, the thicker the bugs were getting. By the time we reached Little Trout Lake, the bugs were so thick that we weren’t able to take our bug nets off without inhaling a dozen blackflies. The bugs were swarming us so badly that they sounded like rain hitting a tarp. The tough part was that these guys weren’t just lurking the shadows of the portages, these bugs were just as bad in the middle of the lake.

We reached our island campsite on Little Trout by 5:00 and were physically and mentally exhausted from the days portages and constant bugs. As soon as we got to site we poured ourselves a couple glasses of wine and shared a cigar.

The late-afternoon sun filtered through the pines forming beams of light on our camp. The blue smoke from the cigar peeled off like a ribbon as it sat motionless in the air with the thousands of blackflies that surrounded us. Sitting on a rotten log, wearing our sweat and blood-stained jackets, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace knowing this was one of those moments I will remember for a long-time.

After gathering ourselves, we headed back out on the water for an evening of fishing. Although still being pounded by bugs, we enjoyed the perfect weather and had a few laughs as we trolled for some trout.  After an hour we managed to catch a couple nice sized brook trout that we would take back to camp with us for a dinner.

Little Trout Lake back to Magnetawan Lake:

Dangling some trout caught on our way out on Ralph Bice Lake

The next day we woke to overcast condition with rain in the forecast. Armed with proper rain gear, we were not too concerned about weather as we spent the morning around camp, drinking coffee and enjoying the fire. We left site at 10:30 and started our 8 km paddle back to the access point. Along the way we spent time fishing on Ralph Bice where we managed to catch a few feisty lake trout.  We reached the access point at 3:00 and were back in the city by 7:00 pm.

Summary:

Overall this route is a great option for a one-night trip. The route boasts Algonquin’s signature landscape and is also a loop, and who doesn’t like a good loop trip? The challenging aspects of the route include numerous portages including one that is 2.5 km, as well as the possibility of running out of water on the Petawawa. We highly recommend this route to any avid canoeist looking for a weekend getaway.
 

Barron Canyon - Algonquin Park

View from the top of the Barron Canyon - Algonquin Park (On the Barron Canyon Trail)

View from the top of the Barron Canyon - Algonquin Park (On the Barron Canyon Trail)

SNAPSHOT:

  • Number of Days: 3-4
  • Route Difficulty: Moderate
  • Total Distance: About 35km
  • Portages: 18
  • Total Portage Distance: 5495m
  • Longest Portage: 750m
  • Access Point: Achray Campground/Grand Lake
  • Key Features: The Barron Canyon, High Falls, Natural Waterslide (near High Falls), and a few other sets of waterfalls and rapids along the way!

Never having explored the East side of Algonquin Park, and hearing so many great things about the Barron Canyon, I was eager to check this area out.

On the drive in from Sand Lake Gate Access towards Grand Lake

On the drive in from Sand Lake Gate Access towards Grand Lake

Bags were packed and we set out late on the Friday of the long weekend in September. We drove to the Sand Lake Gate access point fully knowing that the office would be closed. It was the 6-hour drive from Toronto that we were happy to get out of the way on Friday, so we could have an early start on Saturday.  We slept in the car at the Sand Lake office as opposed to driving all the way in to Achray Campground, only having to drive back for the permit in the morning.

Day 1: Grand Lake to Lower Barron River

After picking up our permits we made our way to the launch, making a quick pit stop at the Barron Canyon Trail which overlooks the river we would be paddling later that day.  The trail is only about 1km or so which makes for a quick hike. For the view, it is definitely worth the stop.

Arriving at the launch we packed our canoe and got ready to set off for the long day ahead of us. The first 2 portages are very short and well maintained. The first was a 50m over a man made dam and the second was a short 75m into St. Andrews Lake.  Shortly after that was our 550m portage into High Falls lake which featured a few extra hills and rocky sections compared to the short ones.

Photo: Algonquin Park - 30 Hector Fire in the forest surrounding High Falls Lake which was created by humans. Taken on August 10th 2016.  Read more about it here

Photo: Algonquin Park - 30 Hector Fire in the forest surrounding High Falls Lake which was created by humans. Taken on August 10th 2016. Read more about it here

I was eager to get into High Falls Lake because there had recently been a forest fire that had gone through the area. You could actually see signs of the fire right from the lake while you paddled across. I have been through areas that have had forest fires years before that have now grown back but this was the first time that I was seeing one fresh. The fire had gone through the area only about a month before we arrived. Apparently the cause of the fire was due to humans and it at one point was 30 hectars in size. Goes to show the importance of being responsible with your fires and ensure proper extinguishing. I was able to pull an image from the Algonquin Park website and have included it below. As we were camping on this lake the following night we opted to wait to explore the burnt forest.

At this point we had only finished 3 of the 8 portages we had to do that day. This is what happens when you book a trip late for a long weekend. The next 3 portages we put our heads down to complete, in hopes of getting them done quickly. All of the portages on this route are well maintained. While there are definitely some rocky and hilly areas along the way, it is a frequently travelled route that is well kept. None of the portages on this trip seemed to stick out as being very difficult. Unless of course you decide to do 9 in a day in which case they seem to add up fairly quickly..

Finally arriving at Brigham Lake, we only had 2 portages left to go, and we could not have been happier about that. It was a long day and we were looking forward to some dinner.

Paddling through the Barron Canyon

Paddling through the Barron Canyon

After completing the last of the portages we were treated with a beautiful paddle down the Barron River right through the Canyon that we had stood atop earlier that day. I’m not sure if I enjoyed the view more from the top or the bottom, they were both amazing. There were a few other boats paddling in our direction but they were just day tripping and were not anyone we had to be concerned about “beating” us to get first choice at a site.

After passing through the Canyon, many of the first sites had already been occupied. We finally came across one just a few sites up from the 420m portage.

The site did not have a great spot to swim but after a long day in the sun, that wasn’t going to stop me from taking a quick dip.

Day 2: Lower Barron River to High Falls Lake

I was up early with the crack of dawn. We had a beautiful sunrise and I was doing everything I could to enjoy it before we had to get back on our feet and working towards our next destination.

Paddling along the Barron River in Algonquin Park

Paddling along the Barron River in Algonquin Park

Unfortunately my morning fishing trip turned up with nothing to talk about, but I did manage to get some great photos!

After making some pancakes to give us the energy we needed for the day, we packed our canoe and set off towards High Falls. Today we decided we were going to go a different way, over the Cascades section as opposed to going back through to Opalescent Lake. It was a total of 7 portages to get back to High Falls but it meant that our last day was going to be an easier trip.

The Cascades were a beautiful section of the paddle. Often you hear more about the water falls before you hear anything about rapids and other areas with lower volumes of moving water. Some of these hidden areas with small flows of water can be the nicest places to sit. Not to mention the fact that they are also usually a lot less busy than the main attractions. We took our time through this area having some lunch and ensuring to take lots of photos along our way.

Finally we arrived at High Falls Lake and it was just around 5pm. We quickly unpacked our gear at our selected campsite before paddling over to the 550m portage to head over to High Falls.

We paddled over near the 550m portage where the trail continued over towards High Falls. From what I remember it was about a 20 minute hike through some interesting terrain (unless we lost the path for a while) to get to the water slide and High Falls area.

High Falls - Algonquin Park

High Falls - Algonquin Park

The water slide itself is located on the upper part of the Barron River that flows from Stratton Lake into High Falls Lake. The waterfall is lower than the water slide (which you pass first when coming from our direction) but is located on the same channel and flows into a pond that feeds into High Falls Lake.

Natural Waterslide near High Falls in Algonquin Park

Natural Waterslide near High Falls in Algonquin Park

Seeing as it was the long weekend, there were a few other groups enjoying the area with us. Even a dog decided to take a slide down, although if I were a critic, I would say it was more of a run. We went for a swim and hung out in the area for a while, ensuring to take some time to enjoy the waterfall as well.

The sun quickly vanishing behind the tree line, we made our way back to our site. We had a campfire while setting up camp and hit the tent after a long day of activities.

Day 3: High Falls Lake back to Grand Lake

We woke up early and had a quick breakfast before paddling over to check out the area that the forest fire had gone through. It was incredible to see the damage that was done. It almost felt like we were aunts walking through a fire pit. All the trees that were still standing resembled the burnt logs you find in your fire pit the morning after a good fire. It was pretty eerie to walk through.

We completed the 550m portage getting it out of the way, and only leaving us with 2 short portages before being back at the launch.

This route has so much to offer. The Barron Canyon, High Falls, water slide, forest fire, the Cascades, and all the other smaller attractions along the way will definitely keep you occupied. If you haven’t had a chance to check this route out, I highly recommend you add it to your list!

 

 

Kingscote Lake Loop - Algonquin Park

Author: Rebecca Joy Vandenberg ( alter._.eco )

Ryan, Nico, and I at Scorch Lake

Ryan, Nico, and I at Scorch Lake

SNAPSHOT

Time: 2-3 days

Total Distance: 22km

Portages: 6 (+ one beaver dam)

Longest Portage: 1300m

Total Portage Distance: 5780 m

Portage Difficulty: Moderate, the portages are: rocky and hilly but straightforward

Paddling Difficulty: Easy

Overall Difficulty: Moderate: The portages were tiring and a little difficult to spot

Kingscote to Scorch Lake (and back)

Where do I even begin. The name of this beautiful lake brings so many mixed emotions. From terror to triumph, our Kingscote L adventures marked some important milestones for both Ryan and I and our canoeing experience.

I suppose I will start at the beginning.

Kingscote Lake access point - July 8th 2016

Kingscote Lake access point - July 8th 2016

We embark on our journey up north from our wee hometown of Maryhill, Ontario, towards the Kingscote L access within Algonquin Park.

See, we were led here by our friend Kevin Callan, well his book: Top 50 Canoe Routes of Ontario. And we were particularly excited for this trip, as it was our first backcountry overnight canoe trip! We were gifted our beautiful canoe as a wedding present only a few months before and had just started our canoeing journey.

After we collected our permits from Pine Grove Point Campground, we then drove down the gravel road (Kingscote Lake Rd) to the access. Ryan beamed with excitement, though I had much more mixed emotions about the trip.

According to our book, the route was a 22km, 2-3 day trip with 6 lengthy portages. And though the forecast called for many thunderstorms, we decided to not let the weather phase our decision and we hoped for the best.

We set out from Kingscote L access around 5pm and headed for our first campsite, which was on the far side of the lake. Planning to tackle the next leg of the journey towards Scorch L the following day. 10 minutes into our paddle, the skies began to darken and the winds began to grow fiercer.

Storm clouds on Kingscote L

Storm clouds on Kingscote L

We hurried to our site and set up camp just in the nick of time. We found the best campsite on the lake, in my opinion. Located on the east shore, it is the second most northern campsite on the lake. 

The best seat in the house, campsite Kingscote L

The best seat in the house, campsite Kingscote L

Just as we finished eating dinner and packing up, the thunder crept closer.

Our first task before hiding in our tent was to set up our first ever bear bag. Which was completed with no such ease, and resulted in Ryan climbing a slick limbless tree in a thunderstorm to retrieve and properly set our line. After safety returning to the ground, our food was hung and we dashed into our tents.

As the night continued, the storm managed to blow our canoe over and Ryan had to rush out and tether the boat to a tree with his belt.  From that point on, the thunder got louder, the wind got stronger, and Rebecca did not sleep very much. 

Stormy morning vibes on Kingscote L - July 9th 2016

Stormy morning vibes on Kingscote L - July 9th 2016

As we awoke the next morning, the storm had lifted a little, though thunder rumbled all around us. I was completely disheartened by the previous nights ordeal and was not too enthusiastic about completing the trip.

We slowly picked up our pace and began puttering around our site. We had the whole lake to ourselves it seemed and the views from our campsite were amazing!

Though Ryan did not catch many fish in the lake, apparently there is a fish called the Kingscote silver lake trout that is only found in this lake!

Fast forward a few hours and after some convincing from Ryan, we decided to push forward. After packing up camp, we set off towards the north end of the lake to begin the routes longest portage, of 1300m.

Kingscote L to Big Rock L Portage, 1300m

Kingscote L to Big Rock L Portage, 1300m

Well not 300m into the hike, Ryan gingerly set down the canoe in some grass to re adjust his pack, and hiding in the grass was a root which then put a large crack in the bottom of the canoe. Oh the swearing that ensued, we were both bummed and baffled.

 Not knowing enough about what we should do, and whether or not the canoe was safe enough to continue the trip, compounded with the shitty weather and a nerve-racking night, we decided to retreat and head home.

 Defeated and exhausted, our first backcountry trip was beautiful but trying.  

But do not worry! The story does not end here. We do not give up that easily...

 After two more backcountry trips under our belt, we were back a month later!

Kingscote L - The Retry

Access + Gear + Dog: Lets go already! - August 5th 2016

Access + Gear + Dog: Lets go already! - August 5th 2016

Back down the winding road to the access, and understanding our capabilities a little better, we set out to tackle Kingscote  L Loop again!

The plan was to still split the trip up into 3 days, but instead of doing 2 nights on different lakes, we would set a base camp on Byers L and do a day trip to Scorch L. This way we could complete most of the trip with less gear, and still finish the intended route.

Our first day began on a Friday at 6:30pm and we had exactly 2.5 hrs to make our base camp on Byers L before sundown. This included; a 1300m portage, a 660m portage and 5 km of paddling. So, the race was on!

Passing our campsite from the last trip, we hurried toward the portage at the north end of Kingscote L.  Arriving at the portage, we realized we had forgotten two crucial pieces of equipment. 1) our bug spray 2) our yoke pad. Wooops!

Racing the mosquitos and the setting sun, we punched out this portage in 45mins. This was also the first and last time we ever did more than one trip for a portage. Sweating and exhausted already, we set off northeast across Big Rock L, in search of our next portage. This short 250m paddle is beautiful, and there is a nice beach to land on at the mouth of the next portage.

The portage is fairly straight forward, though there is a very large hill that takes you down into Byers L, and coming back it is quite the leg burner!

30 minuets later we emerged from the forest at 8:15pm. The bugs were getting worse, and we were still loosing light, so we needed to set up camp fast!

In the nick of time! Byers L

In the nick of time! Byers L

Paddling into Byers L was beautiful, and we soon found a nice spot to set up. But, being that time when the bugs come out to feast, we barely got our packs open and our tent set up before all hell broke loose!

The mosquito populations around Byers L are quiet impressive, and we hid in the safety of our tent for a good 30 minutes until the loud hum quieted enough to warrant going back outside.

Now, I will note Nico, our dog, did growl at an animal in the bush. Ryan said he saw eye shine, though I refused to investigate.

We quickly made a fire, hung our bear bag, with much more ease than the first try, and headed to bed exhausted!

(the owls I heard that night were amazing!)

 

Byers Lake - August 6th 2016

Byers Lake - August 6th 2016

We begun bright and early, had breakfast and set out for the day.  

Heading north on Byers L towards the continuation of the York River, we began our journey to Scorch L. Winding through the river was so very pleasant. There was a stillness and remoteness to this river that we quite enjoyed.

The beautiful York River

The beautiful York River

Our next task was to lift over the only beaver dam on the route and continue on our way. Now I must mention, there are two openings in the river, the first is NOT Branch L, but the second opening IS Branch L. Once you reach the head of Branch L, the portage is on your immediate right, beside a campsite.

Reaching the final portage to Scorch L, we were buzzing with excitement. Scorch L had been our goal for so long, and now finally it was within reach! Only a 900m portage stood in our way.

As we started off, the bugs were not... terrible, and it seemed the portage was up hill the whole way! Also, I will note this portage is not frequented too often, and you need to keep a sharp eye on the trail.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we turned our last corner and came to the head of Scorch L. This is when we fully understood why there was a low water level warning for the Scorch L access. The head of this lake looked more like a creek or shallow bog than a lake.

But what is the worst that could happen?!

So we continued on, and within minutes, we were forced to abandon paddling and had to wade the boat through the shallows. Luckily Nico and I hopped along the rocks that scattered the shore as Ryan bravely tromped through the mud.

She's a wee bit shallow at the put in me-bye - Scorch L

She's a wee bit shallow at the put in me-bye - Scorch L

Finally in the clear, we hopped back in the canoe and took a good look at Scorch L for the first time and we had the whole place to ourselves!

We were into the lake for less than a minute before Ryan had to cast a line out, and to our surprise locked onto a 2lb large mouth first cast! It was going to be a good day...

After scouting out the lake and catching another fish our two, we decided to cook one of our catch and check out a campsite. Right across from the cliffs there is a campsite on the north side of the L. It has a large beach, partially due to low water levels, and was raised off the water about 10m. We choose to park our canoe, and make some lunch.

Yum....

Yum....

After some fire roasted bass, and a couple of well-earned beers, we hopped in our canoe to head home. Before officially departing, we had to first investigate the other side of the lake for fishing potential. And surprise surprise, Ryan caught another Bass.

After a little reluctance, we set off towards home. Back through the muck and back down the portage we went.

With our only portage of the day complete, and back on the York River, Ryan decided it was time to continue his luck fishing. After another 3 Large Mouth Bass, big ones too! Just as I thought the fishing would never end, we decided to head back to camp for the night.

Woohoo good day!

 

Bass #5 - York River

Bass #5 - York River

Sunrise on Byers L Campsite

Sunrise on Byers L Campsite

The return home was blissfully uneventful; we took our time and left a little later in the morning.

Wanting to tackle the portages in one go, I decided to carry all the gear at once. 

 

Ready to face that hill! Byers L portage to Big Rock L

Ready to face that hill! Byers L portage to Big Rock L

The portage from Byers L to Big Rock L was exhausting and we took an hour to fish and explore Big Rock L.

Once back in Kingscote L, the trip was over, but our spirits were high as we beached at the access. We had finally completed the loop! Now time for burgers....

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Tim River - Algonquin Park

Tim River Access Point

Tim River Access Point

SNAPSHOT:

Portages: 16

Total Portage Distance: 8090m

Longest Portage: 1685m

Portage Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult (Distance combined with lots of hills to hike)

Number of Days: 3-4

This was the second access point I had launched from on the west side of Algonquin Provincial Park. Last year having been to Rain Lake and being very impressed with the fishing on McCraney Lake, I was eager to explore a new route. Taking a good friend with me, our trip would visit Tim Lake, Ralph Bice Lake, Rosebary Lake, and back to the launch again.

Day 1: Tim Lake

We arrived at 6pm at the Kearney Office to pick up our park permit. It was pouring rain out when we got to the office so after getting our permit we decided to grab some dinner before our short paddle into Tim Lake. We ate at Kearney O'Neil's a small pub on the opposite side of the street. After a beer and a great pulled pork sandwich we were on our way. A 45 minute drive down the road leads you to the Tim Lake Access point. We quickly loaded the canoe and began our paddle up the Tim River. Not even 20 minutes into the paddle we saw a moose on the left shore. My friend had never seen one before so it was nice to check that off this list that early into the trip. As we got into Tim Lake we found a campsite on the right side of the island near where we had to portage the next day. 

Day 2: Ralph Bice Lake

We started the day early knowing that we had 10 portages covering almost 6km of trails that we were going to have to complete. The longest portage of the day was 1685m and the shortest was only 80m. We found many of these portages to be similar in difficulty. There were a lot of steep hills to hike up and down with our gear making even a 250m portage seem difficult. This day had significantly more hiking than paddling. We would get to the end of a portage, look across the small lake we had just arrived at only to see another yellow sign just across the lake. The portages were fairly well maintained with some fallen trees that were easy to get around. We were only able to do 4 of the portages in 1 shot but the longer distances required us doing 2 trips which results in walking 3x the distance. Finishing the final 620m portage we could not have been any happier to be at our lake. There was a small island right at the mouth of the last portage and this is where we set up camp for the night. The temperature had dropped a little but that didn't stop us from going for a well deserved swim. We needed the wash after soaking in bug spray, sunscreen and sweat all day. After a productive day walking almost 20km we had some dinner with a campfire and went to bed.

Day 3: Rosebary Lake

Knowing that we had completed the most difficult part of the journey we were looking forward to an easier day with only 5 portages, of which only one of them was a long distance. We didn't have much time to fish so we were trolling a line behind the canoe while we were paddling to our next destination. We happened to hook into a Lake Trout and a Brook Trout on our way that were both really nice fish. The portage between Queer Lake and Tim River was 1330m and was the last portage we had to do that was over 1km. It was not an easy portage again with many hills to climb up and down. When we finally got to the Tim River the view did not disappoint. A very narrow river was on the other side and the portage led us to a spot after a set of rapids. It was my favourite spot of the trip and made a perfect place for us to have a quick lunch before a paddle up the Tim River.

Arriving at the Tim River after the 1330m Portage

Arriving at the Tim River after the 1330m Portage

After a quick lunch we began our paddle up the Tim River. Shortly into the paddle we hit a beaver dam that required us to lift over. We quickly learned that these beaver dams were not going to be listed on the map and there were more than we thought. I believe we had to lift over about 15 beaver dams on our way to Rosebary Lake. Paddling up the Tim River was one of my favourite paddling experiences. I much prefer to paddle a narrow river barely wide enough for our canoe than to be on wide open lakes. We only happened to get lost once but quickly learned where our mistake was and were able to paddle back to make the correction. The GPS definitely helped us figure this out. The water levels were getting lower at the beginning of July and park staff said that this would likely be the last weekend that paddling the Tim River would be possible. It took us the full day to get from Ralph Bice to Rosebary but it was an amazing experience. Once we got into Rosebary Lake we happened to come across another Moose hanging out at the side of the lake. Unfortunately we had startled it and it ran off into the trees again. Just up ahead we pulled off to the right and camped at the site on the point.

Day 4: Back to the Launch

Our final day was planned to be an easy paddle after 2 days with a number of portages. The final stretch was a nice paddle up the Tim River back to the launch. Again with some beautiful paddling up a winding river we slowly made our way. Beaver dams were present in numbers as we likely had to lift over 15 more. At this point we had become very efficient at getting this task done. As we came around a corner in the river, Brandon whispers, "Alex, a moose." Not more than 20ft away from us was the head of a giant bull moose almost fully submerged in the water. He quickly made his way across the river and got out of our way. Unfortunately we did not get very good photos of the moose that we saw along the route. It took us about 4 hours to get from our campsite on Rosebary to the launch.

This was definitely not the easiest trip I have done but it was one of the most rewarding. Catching some nice fish, getting to see 5 moose, and paddling through kilometres of beautiful winding rivers made this trip one of my favourites. Would definitely recommend this route to other experienced paddlers looking for a challenge!

Tom Thomson Lake - Algonquin Park

Algonquin - Tom Thompson Lake 2014 - pointing over the water at sunset.png

Canoe Lake is one of my favourite spots to launch for a trip. Yes it can be busy sometimes, but its the overall vibe that this place has that is so exciting. Everyone in the same place getting ready to do the same thing. Its also a great place because the Portage Store carries pretty much any last minute gear you may have forgotten to pack. The restaurant upstairs is the perfect spot for you to grab some well deserved food after a long trip.

This was a trip that I had done with some good friends of mine who for the most part have never been on an interior camping trip before. It takes a little creativity to be able to ensure everyone who does not have a dry pack, keeps their clothes dry while the rain comes down on you.

We launched from Canoe Lake paddling to the northern end of the lake, taking the 295m portage into Joe Lake. This portage is one that is very well maintained and is a flat trail around a man made dam. From Joe Lake we kept left paddling up into Teepee Lake, into Fawn Lake which spills into Little Doe Lake. From Little Doe Lake we got into Tom Thompson and took one of the first campsites available. 

This campsite had a huge rock ledge separating an upper and lower level of the site. Some of us were able to camp up top while others setup on the lower level. There were two fire pits, one of which was tucked right up against the rock ledge which seemed like a cool place in the beginning, but after hours of rain it proved to be difficult to keep a fire going while water was consistently pouring into the fire pit. 

We has some luck catching some small bass in Tom Thomson. While we really didn't fish for too long due to the pour weather we had, we still caught about 5 bass. The swimming off the campsite was great as you can see from the video below. There were spots to jump off rocks at the side of the site at water level and we also found some higher spots that were a little more like cliff jumping (just not very high). Tom Thomson Lake was fairly remote as we did not encounter too many other paddlers while on our trip. This was surprising seeing as we were right at the entrance to the lake where all paddlers had to pass by our site. I would highly recommend this trip for those who are new to interior camping as it is not an overly difficult trip!

 

 

McCraney Lake - Algonquin Park

Above is the video from a trip I did to McCraney Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park. We launched our canoe from the Rain Lake access point, and paddled up the river until we arrived at the first portage which does not take long to get to.

The portage is 1,800m but it is well maintained and perfectly flat. There is a short paddle after the portage in Little McCraney Lake to get to the beaver dam lift-over into McCraney Lake. You continue to paddle down the narrow winding river until it opens up to the larger section of the Lake. There are a total of 8 campsites on the lake and 2 of those are on the island.

We had some good fishing on this trip overall. We didn't spend a whole lot of rod hours in the boat and still managed to catch a collective 9 Lake Trout for the weekend between the group.  The water was deep and we were pulling up Lake Trout from water over 70ft deep. There were a few other groups on the lake with us but because the sites were fairly spread out, you could barely notice it. 

I would say this would be a good beginner to intermediate trip and a great test for longer portages. If you are thinking about doing some longer portages (Over 1 km) this portage gives you a taste of distance while staying very flat. I highly recommend you add this to your to-camp list.

Rain Lake Ranger Cabin - Algonquin Park

The Ranger Cabin on Rain Lake is a great getaway for those who are looking for a rustic, yet comfortable stay in Algonquin Park. The cabin does not have running water or a bathroom, but instead there is access to lake water and an outhouse. While you may miss out on these amenities, you do have access to a heated cabin, stove, oven, fridge, and lights that are all run by propane provided for you when you arrive.  The cabin itself has a main common room that has a picnic table that looks right out the front window of the cabin. On either side of this main room are the two bedrooms - one room with 2 single beds side by side, the second room with bunk beds. This cabin will sleep 4 people comfortably on beds and is also the maximum number of people you are allowed to book to stay for the weekend.

The Rain Lake access point is also the start to the Western Uplands Backcountry trail which is great for day hikes. If you bring your own canoe or rent one from the park, a short paddle up the river will bring you the portage into McCraney Lake, although I should note that this portage is not a short one at 1800m. Perfect way to keep yourself occupied for an afternoon! If you pack light the portage can easily be completed in 1 trip, and there is lots of paddling in McCraney Lake. It is good to know that the Western Uplands trail will also bring you to this portage into McCraney Lake.

The Rain Lake Ranger Cabin is located about 40 minutes from the Access Point Office located in Kearney. A stop is required at this office on your way in to pick up your permit for your stay. After picking up your permit you continue driving to the Rain Lake Access point where you will find the cabin tucked away in the woods. This access point is used mainly for paddlers going into Algonquin's interior lakes, such as McCraney Lake. The cabin is tucked in behind the parking lot away from the main access point where the paddlers would put their canoes in.

According to the Algonquin Park website, this cabin used to be located on Cache Lake where it was being leased, and also served as a backcountry permit office for some time until 1995. Below are pictures showing examples of the lights which are mantles, pilot lights on the stove, full size fridge, outhouse, and interior of the cabin. As you can see from the pictures, it is a very cozy atmosphere that I would highly recommend to other outdoor enthusiasts!

The view from the dock

View towards the lake from the side of the cabin