Late Summer 2019 Trip
This year we decided we would make our first visit to the north west corner of Algonquin Park. The plan was to loop through the 'usual suspects': Mouse, Maple, Three Mile, Biggar, take a "small detour" to visit the Birchcliffe cabin, and out via Tea and Manitou.
Day 1 (Thursday): Kiosk to Mouse
We met at our usual cabin in the woods the night before to give us some time to organize and do final pack adjustments. We awoke eager to be on our way, loaded the car, closed up the cabin, and arrived at Algonquin Basecamp just as they were opening to pick up one of their trusty 18.5' canoes. We had to learn how to tie this canoe to our sedan as our more familiar "adventure wagon" was in need of its second set of head gaskets... Chris gave us a hand to get things secured and we were on our way, reaching Kiosk at 10:00am.
With the canoe loaded up, James waded right into the water to get into the canoe. He's been a "dry footer" up until now, and we worked on him all year to change his ways. Mission accomplished! We pushed off into a moderate north wind so we had to pull on our paddles a little extra to keep momentum. Low water levels meant we were walking the last ten feet or so in the water to make the landing of the first portage. The carry itself was straightforward, as was the 410m portage after it. It felt great to be in, and even under a canoe once again!
The north wind meant we were blown down the length of Mink Lake in what was surely record time (they keep records, right?), and we only had to paddle half the time as the other half was spent surfing the canoe down the waves! The portage into Club lake is also flat and easy, but we were all swarmed by mosquitoes which we weren't expecting the last week of August, especially with the low water levels. The ruins at the end of the portage gave us a quiet history lesson of the park's past.
We managed to get ourselves stuck in the marsh at the end of Club lake trying to find a way to the 610m portage to Mouse. Another canoe arrived and easily found the stream we should have followed. Joshua had to dig our way out from the front of the canoe inch by inch. Once freed we found the stream easily and wondered how we had missed it the first time.
Mouse Lake was scheduled to be full for the evening, so we took the first camp site on the left after launching from the portage exit. We saw a number of canoes about, that campsite was available, and felt the one "in hand" was worth more than possibly getting stuck on the site everyone else rejected (Or perhaps this site was the rejected one). There was a couple laying on the shared beach/landing of a nearby site, so we felt a little guilty breaking their solitude. We went swimming to rinse off the stuck-in-the-marsh smell, spread out the tarp to have a little nap before dinner and prepare for a night under the stars. We were fortunate to find some dead-fall near the site to process into firewood. Dinner was london broils cooked over a campfire, along with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Loaded up for the first portage
Under the canoe
Club Lake ruins
Remember that time we got stuck.
Mouse Lake campsite
Fungus on our Mouse Lake campsite
London Broil dinner
Day 2 (Friday): Mouse to Maple
I didn't sleep well for reasons unknown, and was up early preparing for the day. It seems to take us a day or two to find a morning routine: it wasn't super early before we were on the water. Once on our way we spent some more time with an easy meandering paddle over to the portage to get a feel for the lake. It felt like our portaging skills had improved for this year, as the 1700m into Mink Creek did not feel like it presented much of an obstacle for us at all. We ran into lots of mud at the portage to Big Thunder. Joshua managed to find a knee-deep hole of it, from which we had to pull him out.
The 1500m portage to Erables felt longer than advertized, but we all made it without having to take a break. As we were loading up several canoes arrived full of park rangers and their equipment, apparently servicing campsites. This marks the first time we've ever run into staff inside the park! We stopped at a site on a point along the western shore for an early lunch. We were all hungry. Perhaps we'll have to start planning something more than a couple of cereal bars for breakfast every once and a while.
The north wind had strengthened considerably, so we once again had to bend our paddles to reach the portage into Maple Lake. Low water levels meant we were in and out of the canoe between the end of the 170m portage and Maple Lake proper. We were aiming for that first island site but it was (stealthily) taken. We didn't see anyone until we were just about to pull in! This was our second night on a fully booked lake, so we landed on the the second island site "next door", and were thankful it was available as Maple Lake had become uncomfortably choppy.
The site proved to be comfortable, and we settled in nicely. James was victorious in our first round of "camp site baseball" of the trip. The wind quickly dried our wet socks and newly cleaned-of-mud clothes, and was then kind enough to die down so that we could lay out on the rocks for some quiet R&R. A small, friendly mouse that lived in one of the fire pit benches welcomed us a number of times. Dinner was Onion Dahl with Naan bread, after which we returned to sitting down on the rocks where we were treated to a spectacular sunset.
Morning on Mouse Lake
Mouse Lake Reflections
This stone has met a few canoes
Mink Creek mud
A tree taking an interesting path on Erables Lake
Digging for the portage
Maple Lake laundry
Maple Lake sunset
Maple Lake sunset
Day 3 (Saturday): Maple to Biggar
James slept in a again, and it proved difficult to wake him. Josh and I were eager to get on the water before the wind started up. Once on the water James led us to the correct bay for our first portage into Ratrap Lake. Josh and I still maintain the portage was in a neighbouring bay and we just got lucky with some magical portage that shouldn't have been where James led us... Ratrap lake treated us with that serenity that makes it hard to move on. The portage entrance out of Ratrap was perhaps our most challenging yet, with deep marsh and nowhere to really step out without having to go for at least a paddle deep swim in it. We ended up using the spare paddle as a "snow/mud shoe" to get Josh to shore from the front of the canoe, and then some rope to get the canoe close enough so that the rest of us could get out via the front of the canoe by clamouring over the gear. (Look who has dry feet now!)
Dahinda and North Sylvia were also pretty lakes to visit. We crossed paths with a couple of young families heading the opposite way across North Sylvia, and a father and son loading up to carry the opposite way on the 660m portage that delivered us onto Three Mile Lake.
We paddled about half way down Three Mile and stopped for a quiet lunch on an unoccupied site with comfortable benches. In our past trips we've not often stopped for lunch, but this year we found ourselves to enjoy an official "lunch time" break. Back on our way we found Upper Kawa and Kawa Lakes unremarkable. These two lakes were also fully booked according to the notes I made before we began the trip. We crossed paths with a number of groups and some shockingly large piles of gear. One individual I crossed paths with informed me he was on his 5th carry of the portage with more to come!
Water levels seemed to be low everywhere. We had to wade about thirty meters from the exit of our portage onto Bigger to reach navigable waters. We took the first site we encountered on the southern shore of Bigger. It was a nice, but very well worn site. The "thunderbox" desperately needed attention.
The site's swimming facilities however, were excellent. We spent much of the afternoon in the water and skipping stones along the shore. We spread out the tarp for a nap, ate dinner (I didn't note what we had!), and organized for our attempt to push up Birchcliffe Creek the next morning. We were anxious about the next day's itinerary due to the low water levels we had experienced everywhere so far.
Maple Lake sunrise
Morning on Ratrap Lake
Ratrap Lake reflections
Preparing to cross North Sylvia
Our lunch view on Three Mile Lake
Low water on Biggar Lake
Day 4 (Sunday): Biggar to Birchcliffe, or not
We were up, packed, and on the water with the sun. The lake was calm and misty, and everything was quiet. We reached Birchcliffe and immediately started walking as the creek was only an inch or two deep. The creek did open up though, and we made good progress until the way became grown over. There were shallow sections that needed to be waded and tight growth that needed to be pushed through. We became very practiced at climbing in and out of the canoe. We encountered a log jam that we had to 'portage' around. About an hour into our travels I slipped on a rock and fell down hard on my right knee. Hard enough that I lost my senses for a few moments while my ears rang wildly. After those moments passed I found myself laying in the water, and had to take a minute to regain my bearings. Everything seemed OK so we pushed on for about twenty minutes longer until I realized my knee had swollen up to softball size and became very uncomfortable.
I became afraid I had done some damage, and was worried about pushing further away from all the exits if my knee were to become worse, so I asked if we could turn around. We sat and talked things over, and formulated a plan to make a push to get within striking distance to our access point so that worst case, we were within a "hobble-able distance". For the first time in our travels as a group we weren't going to fulfill our trip plans...
We made our escape from Birchcliffe, paddled across Biggar, blurred across the three portages into Mangotasi (We took a short break to admire Twin Falls), up the east arm of Tea, and landed ourselves on a nifty tiered island site with a northern exposure. I floated in the cool water to soothe my knee. We managed to gather enough firewood for a fire, and took stock of the day.
Sunrise on Biggar Lake
Morning paddle on Biggar Lake
Finding Birchcliffe Creek
Entering Birchliffe Creek
Birchcliffe Creek aftermath
Twin Falls reduced to a single falls
Our North Tea campsite
Day 5 (Monday) North Tea Lake
My knee was no better but it was also no worse, so we decided not to make a run for the exit. We washed up some clothes, and then headed over to the waterfall accessible at the 585m portage to Manitou. We spent several hours there relaxing and lounging in and out of the falls. The structure of the falls and perhaps the low water levels made sitting "in" the falls something I will always remember. Some enterprising person had even cut a hollow log and placed it in such a way that one could have an Algonquin Park "shower" using the water that was flowing through the log. We even had our lunch sitting in the flowing water.
With the amount of people about we were surprised we didn't see anyone at the falls until we were ready to leave. Once we were back on our site we watched streams of canoes come onto North Tea from the 455m portage. It is a beautiful place, it's hard to blame them all for coming! The wind was strong once again from the north west, but oddly we felt sheltered from it even with the northern exposure of our site.
Dinner was "Camp Site Jambalaya" using some tubed tomato paste, dehydrated vegetables, some cured summer sausage, and careful regulation of our camp stove. It was decent, but we'll have to work on the spice mix if we attempt it again. The tarp was already spread out from the night before, and it was clear enough that we'd be 5/5 for nights where we did not have to pull out the tent.
Morning on North Tea Lake
Exploring North Tea
Waterfalls, with shower!
James relaxing at the waterfalls
Cool, refreshing Algonquin Park waterfall
Our North Tea campsite
Day 6 (Tuesday) North Tea to Manitou
We weren't scheduled on Manitou until the next night, but I noted before we left that Manitou had more open sites than North Tea (at least at that time), and we were off schedule due to the "Birchcliffe Incident". Therefore, we packed up and prepared for the single portage required to get to the next lake. We took the shorter of the two options to get to Manitou. At the end of the portage we took a break and skipped some stones along the sheltered water of the bay. James and Josh put on a clinic, their stone skipping skills have far surpassed mine.
That strong, incessant north wind was blowing down Manitou, so once we left the sheltered bay we had to push hard to make progress. The white capped waves were large. The odd one managed to crash over the bow of the canoe as we pushed forward. We stopped at a couple of sites but they just were not sheltered enough. We stopped at a sheltered beach site as it began to rain, but were chased away by the mosquitoes. I was finding that being in the canoe was harder than walking, as not moving was harder on my knee than the alternative, and kneeling (the only way I know how to be in a canoe) was nearly impossible. We found a more sheltered south-facing island site where we set up a tarp to take shelter temporarily, and then decided to stay put as a light rain came and went throughout the rest of the day.
Between showers we held several epic camp site baseball "tournaments", one of which I even managed to win! Dinner was a dehydrated veg, packaged corn beef (a new find, which we learned had the consistency of cat food, but thank goodness not the smell of it), and gravy which made a "stew-like" meal that we all enjoyed enough to consider attempting again.
Our tarp structure had become comfortable enough that we decided to just sleep under it for protection from the light rain instead of having to pull out the tent for the first time.
Rain and bugs chasing us from a Manitou campsite
Napping in the rain on Manitou
Day 7 (Wednesday) Manitou to Manitou
We decided we would stay for our scheduled last night instead of leaving early. We look forward to these trips all year, and we weren't ready to go home. We did decide to move campsites to switch things up a little, marking the first time we've moved sites without having to carry over a portage.
Pushing off, we quickly realized the wind and waves were worse than the day before, but we were still able to make progress. That Souris River Quetico 18.5 does very well with the large waves! We visited a few more sites to give my knee a stretch and empty the canoe of a couple of those larger rogue waves that managed to come over the front and sides. We found another south-facing island site - the last island before the 1355m portage onto the Amable du Fond. Once we settled in the wind shifted direction, now blowing strongly from the south. We managed to dry our wet clothes very quickly. A wash cloth managed to free itself from the line and the wind was strong enough to hold it off the ground against a tree!
Josh managed a bit of body surfing on the large waves that were now crashing into shore. The rocky shore was difficult to navigate with the waves, but we had to go for one last swim! We found a sheltered place to set out our tarp and take a nap / escape the wind, and catch up on note taking, reviewing the gear we've used (and not used), etc. We had mac & cheese for lunch. Josh managed to sling our bear hang through a narrow, high-up crotch of a birch tree, a magnificent throw!
We normally cook dinner around the fire pit, but it was too exposed to the wind, so we moved to a less exposed tent pad at the back of the site that had a bit of a cut-in that we could use for seating.
Just as we were settling in to bed for our last night on the tarp under the stars it began to rain. We quickly set up the tent and stuffed our sleeping gear inside for our last night, spoiling our chance for a perfect 7/7 nights under the stars. The tarp definitely offers more spacious accommodation than the tent, but we all slept soundly as rain let up and the wind continued to howl.
The wind begins to blow from the south
The waves starting to develop
Wind keeping our wash cloth pinned to a tree
Windsock / pants as the wind develops
Day 8 (Thursday) Manitou to Kiosk (out)
Our out days have become quick and quiet affairs. By the end of our trip a routine has been established where everyone knows what needs to be done, and we're packed up quickly and efficiently. The newly-blowing-from-the-south wind blew us easily to our first portage. We crossed paths with another flotilla of canoes that spent the night at the north end of the lake. They were really having to work to make progres against the wind. We made quick work of the 1355m portage onto the Amable du Fond, and enjoyed a quiet and sheltered paddle on the river. This had easily been our windiest trip so far.
We joined the 310m, 440m, and 265m portages into one assuming that the low water levels would have made the 'high water skippable' section difficult. The end of the portage is a beautiful spot that we spent some time exploring, and skipping more stones. James managed one that would probably still be skipping if it hadn't reached the other shore. I'm certain a video of it would have won the internet.
Paddling across Kiosk was dicey, having to navigate more wind and waves. We made it through without a major event, though having to kneel to steady the canoe made me realize it was past time to get my knee examined.
Year five marked another fine trip, though the first one with an incident that meant we did not complete our full itinerary. Logistics might get in the way of a trip next year, though I do really hope we can find some time to get back out there!
Goodbye Manitou Lake
A flat and easy carry towards the Amable du Fond
An Amable du Fond artifact
Amable du Fond rapids