McKaskill Lake: Ice Out, Rain In

Have you ever tried to change a weather forecast through sheer force of will? It’s hard. Drawing on your screen to change the -5 to a +5 just leaves you with a dirty screen, the weather person is shockingly unsympathetic to your half crazed all-caps emails and sacrificing small snowmen to the weather Gods leaves you with nothing more than a
small puddle of dirty water and neighbours who cross the street when they walk past your house. Sometimes, unfortunately, there’re no Jedi Mind Trick that can save you from a very cold, very wet couple of days.

Shall we?

Welcome to McKaskill Lake just after ice out.

I was joined on this trip but the same buddy who came with me to Furrow Lake last year and who is, somehow, still talking to me despite what I just put him through. We started from the Shall Lake access point, located, as the name suggests, between Crotch Lake and Farm Lake. After a last minute change of itinerary (wait, you don’t think it’s a good idea to try and paddle 25 km in the pouring rain?) we set out onto Crotch Lake, Butt Lake’s spiritual cousin and one of the last lakes to have been named during the Algonquin Park Naming Committee’s brief but memorable fling with anatomy themed lake names.

Book your campsite for the summer now, they’re disappearing quickly. Literally.

Water levels were(are) high on Crotch. The first campsite we paddled past was partially submerged. This is just my opinion, but I don’t think it would be a great spot to spend a night just now. I’m all for the easy access to water (Hey look! It’s literally everywhere!) but when you have to bail out your fire pit it’s probably a sign to keep moving. Fortunately, we weren’t headed for that site or any site on Crotch. Our goal was McKaskill Lake, so we paddled past, eager to get to the portage over to Robin Lake.

Those of you who have been to this part of the Park probably just read that last line and thought something along the lines of “Wait, Robin Lake? Didn’t you just say you were going to McKaskill?” Or maybe you didn’t, I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader. Anyway, if you did, good for you. Because I didn’t have that thought until we’d pulled up to the Robin Lake portage and were getting ready to head up its (steep, so steep) trail. Fortunately I took one last look at the map and realized that I’d managed to get us lost on the first lake of the first day, which I’m sure filled my buddy with all kinds of confidence in my ability to get us through the trip alive. Anyways, we wanted to go to Shirley Lake, not Robin. Which we did, eventually. But don’t you worry, that’s not the last you’ll hear of Robin Lake.

The portage over to Shirley is a nice way to start a trip. It’s longish, but well maintained without much elevation change. Shirley itself is quite big. Fortunately our portage off of Shirley to Ryan Lake was just across from where we put in. We made it across fairly quickly, and, after confirming that this was in fact the portage we wanted, continued on our way.

We were soon paddling down Ryan Lake, marvelling at the still high water levels. Ryan is, at present, closed to camping due to a Blue-Green algae (bloom? Infestation? Party? I don’t know the right term). It’s been that way for a couple of years (I think) and the permit officer told me that they were still testing to see if they’d be able to open up this year. Hopefully they will, because it looks like a very nice lake to camp on.

Ryan Lake. Closed to campers. Open to algae, apparently.

From Ryan It was a quick carry over to Big Red, followed by a less quick carry from Big Red to Shrew. The Big Red to Shrew portage was the first on this route that wasn’t basically a road through the trees. There were some definite elevation changes and it felt longer than the 545m marked on Jeff’s Map. I did see some kind of bird at the Shrew end of the portage. As far as birds go it seemed kind of arrogant. It just stared me down as I approached it on the path, making it very clear which one of us had the right of way. Eventually, it decided to let me pass, and we were able to get back out on the water. (I have no idea what kind of bird it was. I’m terrible with birds. I know it wasn’t Big Bird. That’s pretty much it).

Shrew Lake. I dunno. It exists.

Shrew Lake is home to one campsite which would make for a nice, private spot to spend the night. We had originally thought about going up to Mudville Lake to check it out (because who doesn’t want to visit a lake with a name like Mudville?), but by this point it was getting late in the day and we still had the day’s longest portage (2,420m to Dove Lake) in front of us, so we decided to push on.

It’s a good thing we did, because this portage was definitely the toughest of the day. It took us over an hour to get across and I’m pretty sure we used up at least three of our extra lives doing so. To start with, there’s a fair amount of elevation change along the way. Nothing reminds your legs that they haven’t carried a canoe for six months like climbing up a slippery hillside while praying that the wet carpet of leaves you’re walking on doesn’t fly out from under you. There is also a point about halfway through where the portage is completely flooded out. On the plus side, I’ve never paddled a portage before and now I can check that off the “things I never needed to do, but have definitely now done” list. In the last third there is a really interesting (read pantswetting) traverse down a steep hillside where you’re once again walking on an angled carpet of slippery leaves directly beside a not insignificant drop down a hill. Also, there’s a giant tree in the way at one point. I don’t know, it was hard. By the time we put in at Dove Lake I was more than ready to be done travelling for the day.

Unfortunately for the me at the end of the last paragraph, Dove Lake was not our final destination. We still had to get over to McKaskill, then find a decent (read, not flooded out) site for the night. For those of you who’ve never been, Dove Lake is tiny. Barely more than an enlarged puddle. We still managed to go the wrong way. So, after seeing literally all that Dove Lake had to offer, we made our way over and onto McKaskill.

After collecting some firewood from along the shoreline, we found ourselves headed to the island campsite about halfway up McKaskill. This is a pretty decent site; I’d definitely stay there again. The landing is easy, there’s a nice little sandy area that would be good to swim from (we’re not talking a huge beach, just a nice spot to walk in from). Lots of spots to pitch a tent, the fire pit is in good shape and the thunder box isn’t disgusting. You can’t

really ask for more. As a bonus, the thick bed of pine needles that covers the ground makes for a really soft sleeping surface. We pitched our tents (I was trying out my brand new Eureka solo tent, loved it) cooked up a delicious meal of steak, potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus with a fine seasoning of steak spice and dirt, and settled in for the night.


While it was generally overcast, the rain held off for us for most of the evening. In fact, we actually got a decent sunset. We sat beside the fire after the sun had gone down, listened to the McKaskill Lake Loon Chorus and talked about how the weather forecast was probably overly pessimistic and how it wasn’t going to rain the next day at all.

Yeah, about that …

To be continued in McKaskill Lake: The Long Portage, coming soon to a blog near you. Well, this blog at least. Coming soon to this blog. I have no idea if it’s near you. I don’t know how distance works on the internet. Maybe everything is near everyone? 


8 thoughts on “McKaskill Lake: Ice Out, Rain In

  1. Hahahahaha! Hilarious report. Love the – ahem – earthy flavour that forest spice (dirt) gives to backcountry cooking.

    1. Thank you! The nice thing about forest spice is that it’s really easy to harvest. You can add it to pretty much anything without realizing you’re even doing it!

  2. I love reading your posts. You have such a wonderful sense of humour! Can’t wait to see part 2.

    1. Thank you very much! Part two is actually basically done. I should have it up in a day or two.

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