Highlights, Lowlights and the Moosies – Part One

I’ve had a few people asking me for some of my favourite routes/memories from this summer. On the one hand the entire summer felt like an extended blur of awesome, and picking out specific routes and memories almost seems like a disservice to an experience that was basically one high point after another. On the other, bigger, hand, I’m going to do exactly that. Basically, this post is going to be like a 90s sitcom clip show episode. We’re not covering new ground, but I’ll be highlighting some of my favourite moments from this season while using an awkwardly shoehorned in framing device to try and make it seem like there’s something new going on (I see you Friends). What framing device would that be, you ask? Why, an Awards post! More specifically, the first (maybe, possibly, probably not) annual Moosie Awards for Excellence in the Fields¹ of Excellence, Nature and Algonquin Park Related Stuff. We’ll be covering such important categories as Favourite Lake, Favourite Route and Worst Portage, among others.

This is the only picture I have of the Cork to Length Lake portage. I was too busy hating everything to take any on the trail itself.

Starting things off with a bang (and possibly a broken ankle) we have the Worst Portage category.  There were many, many candidates in this category ranging from the long and obstacle strewn (Gill to Drummer), to the steep and leg killing (Double Devil’s Staircase between Little Coon and the Whatnot Lakes), to the mud filled quagmires (Thunder to Panther), to the “whose goddamned idea was this bullshit anyway” (E.U. to Dace followed by Dace to Ramona). But the worst portage I had this summer, by far, was the one between Cork Lake and Length Lake. This portage checks off all the boxes on the terrible portage checklist. It’s long, the terrain is rocky AF and designed to wreck ankles, it is steep and almost unrelentingly uphill, and the day we did it the trail was slick from the rain that had been falling all morning. For more on this portage (although why anyone could possibly want more of this goddamned portage is beyond me), you can check out my entry on the Barron Canyon, but for now, the Cork to Length Lake portage takes home our first Moosie of the night.

Next we have the Holy Shit, Nature category. This one goes out to nature doing its naturest. As I said in the introduction, it’s hard to pinpoint any one moment as being the best, but there are a few that stand out in my memory. Paddling across Lemon Lake with blue skies and white clouds overhead and the breeze pushing through the trees and feeling like I was the only person in the world, relaxing in the falls (stumbles) between Daisy lake and the Petawawa River, listening to a loon call to itself on Oak Lake; these were all phenomenal moments. But the one that stands out the most happened in the place I would have least expected it: Furrow Lake. If you’ve read my entry on my trip up to Furrow, you know I’m not that lake’s biggest fan. But the twenty or so minutes I spent watching the sun rise through the mist over the creek grass at the western end of the lake gave me the single most perfect nature memory I took away from this summer.

Moose! Hooray!

Following hard on the heels of Holy Shit, Nature, we have the Holy Shit, Moose category. There are a number of contenders for moosiest moose sighting in this hotly contested category; I seemed to run into them all over the park this summer. I guess there’s a reason moose are called nature’s cockroaches². There was the moose who was happily grazing on the banks of the Amable Du Fond as we paddled into North Tea Lake. At least I think it was a moose. It was really hard to tell through the cloud of bugs and I was kinda distracted trying to decide if my wife would consider me dragging her down an unending beaver creek at the height of bug season grounds for divorce. There was the moose and her two mooselets (that’s the scientific term, I swear³) on the portage between Polly Lake and Canisbay Lake. And there was the moose who burst out of the underbrush ten feet in front of us (and owes me a new pair of underwear) before galloping down the road between Potter Lake and Brule Lake. However, while all these moose sightings were great, and those moose should be proud of themselves, my favourite sighting was at the end of Little Joe Lake in the early morning, paddling past a moose who was standing in the middle of the bay, happily munching on some breakfast reeds and ignoring the tiny hairless canoe ape trying to sneak past. This is also the only one I managed to get a picture of, so I guess it would win by default anyway.

Our final first half category goes out to the Best Falls I saw this summer. Not to be confused with the Best Fall category, which would be won in a landslide by the Fall of 1996 for obvious reasons, this goes out to nicest water falls I saw this summer. Once again, there are lots of choices in this category. I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoyed the Petawawa Falls between Daisy Lake and the Petawawa River. Vader Falls on Head Lake has a rock that looks like Darth Vader’s head, so it’s an obvious contender. Pen Falls between Rock Lake and Pen Lake were gorgeous, and Brown’s Falls west of Brule Lake would likely be spectacular in the early spring and are still pretty awesome in the early fall. But, for me, the chain of falls along the Cascades wins this category comfortably. It’s not even close. That section of the Barron River (looping up from High Falls Lake to Brigham Lake) is a bit portage heavy, but it’s well worth the detour. There are a number of small sets of falls emptying into old logging ponds, culminating with the impressive Brigham Chute (below) just before the Barron Canyon. Basically the Cascades is Meryl Streep and all the other falls are Kate Winslet at the 1998 Oscars.

Video courtesy of my buddy Vince who I dragged along for the two trips with the hardest/worst portages I did this summer and who still talks to me anyway.

FYI, we’ve come to the first commercial break in our clip show. If this was an episode of Friends Rachel would be staring meaningfully at her invitation to Ross’s wedding while the screen fades to black, only to be replaced by an ad for NOW! 5 But this isn’t an episode of Friends (sorry), and NOW! 5 doesn’t need my help to cement itself as the greatest NOW! themed compilation CD of the 90s, so let’s just fade to black. We’ll be back soon with the rest of the Moosies and a sneak preview of what’s next for this blog.

Continued in Part Two

 ¹ See what I did there?
². Dear Drew, Moose are not called nature’s cockroaches. Cockroaches are nature’s cockroaches. Sincerely, everyone.
3. Dear Drew, Mooselet is not a scientific term for anything, let alone a baby moose. Do you even know anything about moose? Sincerely, everyone.

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