This is the third and final day of my solo trip from Canoe Lake to Cedar Lake. Parts one and two can be found here and here. If you’ve already read those, get ready for waterfalls, unicorns and a town called Brent, because we’re almost there.
I woke up the morning after my 30+ kilometre day from White Trout to Catfish on a site in the southwest corner of Catfish. I have to admit, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind as I went through my morning routine of eating granola and wishing the park would just go ahead and install hot showers on every site already. My left arm was still hurting and I was having some stomach problems. I’d given some thought the night before to taking a rest day on Catfish to recover from the previous day’s paddle, but I quickly decided against that for a couple of reasons. First, the weather was supposed to turn later that day, and it wasn’t turning from nice to super nice. It was supposed to start raining by mid afternoon and wasn’t supposed to stop for a couple of days. I figured if I was going to take a rest day, I might as well do it on Cedar where I could already be set up before the rain settled in. Secondly, the site I was on, while wide and spacious with a great view north, was basically in the middle of a swamp, and every bug on the lake had decided to party there like it was still mid June. After about half an hour of getting mauled, I realized that I was probably going to use as much energy swatting mosquitoes as I would paddling, so I might as well pack up and head on towards Cedar.
I made a quick stop at the “Shangri La” island site as I worked my way (slowly) across Catfish. This is an awesome spot in the south part of Catfish that was, unfortunately, taken the night before. It’s got great views, a really cool kitchen/fire pit area and a bunch of good spots for tents. It was almost enough to make me want to unpack my boat and stay for the night (hey, I’d even be on permit for once), but now that I was on the water I didn’t necessarily want to give up on the day so quickly. So I pushed on through the Catfish narrows towards Narrowbag Lake.
Catfish is an interesting lake. To me it seems almost like two lakes, connected by a very short river. There’s the southwest lake, home to Shangri-la Island, Bugri-la Swamp and Turtle Rock. Then there’s the north east lake that feeds back into the Petawawa by way of Narrowbag lake that’s home to … I dunno, water? There’s definitely water. And lily pads. I checked out a few of the sites on this part of the lake as I paddled through and I have to admit, I wasn’t blown away. Actually, scratch that, there was one small site on an island where I was kinda worried that I would be blown away if I ever camped there in a strong wind.
The portage between Catfish and Narrowbag is only 80m long and goes around a small patch of whitewater. According to Jeff’s Map there are the remains of an old log chute there. According to the bottom of my canoe those remains are very close to the surface. Of all the rapids I did on this trip, this is the only one that almost dumped me. I hit something just below the surface almost right off the bat and managed to get stuck. I almost lost my balance pushing off, then got turned sorta sideways as I went through and had a moment where I thought I might be going over. Fortunately, I made it through and paddled out onto Narrowbag, giving my customary finger to the portage sign as I went (then frantically grabbing for my paddle with both hands, because I still wasn’t out of the fast moving water and the boat was starting to turn again).
I don’t have much to say about Narrowbag. Like Perley it seems to be part of the Petawawa that’s just a bit too large to still call a river but doesn’t really deserve to be called a lake. Maybe a laver? Can that be a thing? Lake, river, laver, whatever you want to call it, it wasn’t long before I found myself at a short portage from Narrowbag over to the Petawawa. The portage takes you up and over a road and from the other end you can see the start of Stacks Raps and, more importantly, the start of the Unicorn Hill portage.
The take out area for Stacks Raps and Unicorn Hill is quite pretty when coming from the Narrowbag side. There’s a campsite right there that might be a nice spot to stay and enjoy the scenery, or just as a place to collapse if you’ve just finished the portage coming the other way. The white water starts very close to both the campsite and the portage and funnels down between some large boulders and around a bend in the river. I paddled over to just before where the river starts to speed up and a part of me that clearly hates the rest of me tried to convince myself that maybe I could paddle them. Fortunately, the part of me that wants to keep breathing overruled the part of me that has zero common sense and I went back to start the portage.
You know what’s awful? Double carrying a 2.3 KM portage, that’s what’s awful. I spent a good five minutes at the start of the portage planning my strategy and generally procrastinating. So far this trip I’d been carrying my packs over to the other side on each portage, then coming back for the canoe. However, the thought of getting to the other side, seeing the water, then having to walk another 4.6KM before I was done seemed just terrible, so I decided to shake things up. I’d carry one load 1,000 steps, then come back and get the second load and carry it 1,500 steps. Then go back and pick up the first load and so on. Basically, it was the world’s shittiest game of leapfrog.
Plan in place, I grabbed my packs and started up the trail. As I walked I quickly realized a couple of things. First, The “hill” part of the name Unicorn Hill isn’t just some abstract representation of humanity’s eternal struggle to reach the peak of existence. It’s a goddamned hill. And it never ends. Second, there are no unicorns on Unicorn Hill because the bugs ate them. You can tell when you’ve reached the top of the hill because there’s a small clearing with a bench set up. I’d say it’s a good spot to take a break, but only if you’re wearing a bug suit and being strafed by a crop duster filled with deet. Otherwise, down you go. The downhill towards the Petawawa is pretty consistent and feels like it lasts a long time (which probably means that the uphill part coming from the Petawawa feels like forever). In all, it took me well over an hour to do the entire thing, and there were tears in my eyes (and bugs in my mouth) when I finally made it to the other side.
The clouds were filling up the sky as I set off on the final leg up to Cedar. The grey skies made for a bleak backdrop and helped contribute to a strange feeling of isolation that I just couldn’t shake as I paddled along the Petawawa. I blame it on a steady diet of high quality zombie literature, but I was half convinced I’d arrive at Brent and find it empty. Fortunately, there’s a lot of interesting scenery along that final leg to distract yourself from thoughts of how you’re going to survive the coming zombie apocalypse. The river winds through narrower channels that slowly puff out into mini lakes, then contracts back in again as the water flows downhill towards Cedar. Along the way you portage past the two largest waterfalls in the park (which are downhill, unless you’re coming from Cedar, then they aren’t. Sucker). There’s also a cross at the start of the last portage onto Cedar commemorating a lumber worker who died and was buried there back in 1888, and is a reminder once again of the rich history in this part of the park. All in all, it’s a trip well worth taking.
Finishing off the last portage into Cedar is pretty awesome. You can hear the largest falls in the Park off to your left as you come towards the water and then you round a corner and Cedar opens up in front of you. My first thought on seeing Cedar for the first time was that it’s really, really long. My second thought was to realize that I was only seeing about a third of it from where I stood. My third thought was to add an extra really to the first thought. Then I ran out of thoughts and ate an apple.
I set out across Cedar towards the north shore, hoping to snag one of the sites close to the access point. I would be meeting a couple of buddies at the access point the next day for a weekend trip up to Carl Wilson, and I wanted to have easy access to Brent, particularly since they would be coming in pretty late. I got lucky and scored the first site north/west of the access point, about a ten minute paddle from the parking lot and, as I found out the next day, about a fifteen minute walk as well. It was actually a nice site, which was a bit of surprise given its proximity to such a busy area. It’s located just on the north west side of a small point, meaning your view is down Cedar, away from the access point. It’s got a small beach, a couple of decent tent spots and offers fantastic views of the sun going down, or as was the case for me that night, the rain rolling in across the water.
I managed to get my tent set up and everything in place just before the rain started. I cooked some dinner and found a nicely protected spot beneath a triangle of pine trees where I could sit and watch the rain without getting too damp. It was a very nice way to end my three days up from Canoe Lake. It was also a nice spot to take it easy and recharge, as although my Brent Crawl was now done, my trip was only halfway finished. I still had a day on my own to explore Cedar, then two more days worth of tripping with friends. I crawled into my tent that night pretty satisfied with what I had accomplished, and looking forward to the days to come.
Stay tuned for The Brent Crawl Bonus: Brent and Beyond.
The Brent Crawl
New Lakes Paddled: 13
Total Lakes Paddled: 19
Total Portages: 14
Total Portage Distance: 8.54 KM (25.62 KM if you count all the doubling back. Ugh.)
Total Travel Distance: 74.8 KM