Brent Crawl Bonus: Brent and Beyond

This post covers the fourth day of my recent six days of tripping the Park.  The first three days were covered by the Brent Crawl Trilogy which was my trip up from Canoe Lake to Cedar Lake. This report covers my day exploring Cedar and some of the surrounding lakes. It also covers what to do in the event you find a campsite with the world’s creepiest bag of hanging potatoes. So, required reading.

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is wishing he’d upgraded his rain gear.

I woke up the morning after arriving at Cedar Lake to a pretty soggy day. It had rained all night and the clouds were still thick overhead. The good news is that the miracle of modern engineering that was my tarp set up kept the rain off my tent (a Eureka solitaire that I trust about as far as I can throw to keep me dry in a heavy rain) and both I and my gear had stayed nice and dry overnight. The bad news was that the clouds didn’t look like they’d be going anywhere soon, so I resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be a wet day.

A bit of rain wasn’t the end of the world. I didn’t need to tear my site down as I would be staying on Cedar again that night. I was meeting some buddies who would be arriving at the access point late, so basically I just needed to find a way to pass the time until then.  Fortunately, that wasn’t hard to do. I’ve always wanted to try paddling (and portaging) a solo boat, and I figured having the rest day on Cedar gave me the perfect opportunity. My plan was to head into Brent, confirm that civilization hadn’t ended while I was alone in the bush, and pick up a solo canoe that I had reserved from the Algonquin Outfitters store there. From there I could explore a couple of Cedar’s offshoot lakes, and still be back to the site in good time to meet my friends.

Brent Road
The road into Brent from behind the site.

One of the good things about my site on Cedar was its proximity to the access point (Normally I wouldn’t consider this a good thing at all, but this time it was super useful). It was an easy paddle to Brent, and, as it turned out, it was also a relatively easy walk. There’s an overgrown path that goes out the back of the site that leads, eventually, to a cottage access road that splits off from Brent. From there it’s a ten minute walk to the Brent Campground sign and just like that I was back in civilization.

Welcome to Brent! We’ve got stuff!

Brent has a little bit of something for everyone. There’s a drive in campground for those who prefer car camping. There are also a couple of jump off sites for back country trippers who are arriving late and don’t want to navigate Cedar after dark (an option that future me should have paid more attention to, but we’ll get to that. Eventually). Brent is also home to a number of cottages, an interesting historic walk and Algonquin Outfitters’ outpost on Cedar Lake, the Brent Store. In other words it’s basically Grand Central Station for North Algonquin.

Stop 1 on the Brent Historic Walk: the Brent Graveyard

I started by following the Brent Historic Walk. This is a hike stroll that goes from one end of the Brent settlement to the other, stopping at points of historical interest along the way. The history on display is fascinating. The Cedar Lake area used to be a hub for logging operations in Algonquin, and you can certainly see that legacy in Brent. I’d suggest this trail for anyone looking to kill time while in Brent, but I don’t know if it’s worth making a trip to Brent specifically for the walk. I did, however, learn that the Brent Diner used to offer a full steak dinner for fifty cents. Sadly, the diner is no longer in operation. But you can buy jerky at the Brent Store, so it’s kind of the same thing?

Having soaked up some local history (as well as the smell of someone cooking bacon and eggs and, I think, hash browns on one of the campground campsites. Hash browns smell so damned good after four days of granola) I headed over to the Brent Store and introduced myself to Murray and Jake. They were extremely helpful in getting me set up with my solo boat (a Swift Shearwater) and soon I was headed back to my campsite. I have to say. I really enjoyed paddling that Shearwater. There’s something about paddling a solo boat that makes you feel that much closer to the water (which was probably literally the case since the Shearwater is much smaller than my Winisk. Still, it’s awesome). The boat responded very well and was a treat to portage after the past few days of carrying my Winisk.

Those aren’t candy clouds coming in.

Now that I had my solo boat, my plan was to paddle over to Marshy Bay, which is just past the Petawawa portage and is the outlet for the Nippissing River. It was tough getting across Cedar. By the time I reached the mouth of the bay there was a pretty strong headwind blowing in some very dark clouds (while also blowing me pretty much sideways). It turns out Marshy Bay is a very aptly named Bay. There is a ribbon of clear water that winds its way towards the portages onto the Nippising, but it’s not the most direct route. If you try to push your way through the lily pads and reeds that choke the rest of the bay, expect it to take some time. Fortunately, I wasn’t heading all the way to the Nippissing. My goal was the portage up to Raveneau Lake, which is tucked away on the south side of the bay.

The portage up to Raveneau is just over 1.5 KM and is not super awesome. It started raining around the time I reached the take out, and the ground was pretty slick. The portage is mostly uphill, with some tricky footing in places that was made worse by the wet conditions. I was also getting used to portaging a solo canoe for the first time, and I had to stop and adjust the removable yoke a couple of times before I found a comfortable balance. And there were bugs. So many bugs. I set my GoPro to record the portage and the only thing you can hear, apart from my gentle yet consistent swearing, is the bugs. There is, however, a really neat little set of mini falls at about the halfway point of the portage. So there’s that.

Raveneau Lake is larger than I expected. And it’s kind of shaped like a banana. These are my two main takeaway about Ravenau Lake. (Fine, here’s one more: There’s one campsite on Ravenau, and it’s actually pretty nice. This means you can book yourself a private lake just off Cedar if you’re so inclined. You may not be after you finish reading about the haunted potato bag site on Lantern, which is just a short 685m portage away).

The portage up to Lantern is at the midpoint of Ravenau on the south shore. It’s another uphill trek, but not too difficult. There are a couple of downed trees along the way, but the hike feels a bit like an afterthought after the Cedar to Ravenau slog. I arrived at the Lantern end as another wave of rain was coming through. It was pretty neat sitting in my canoe just off the portage and watching a curtain of rain blow across the lake towards me. I paddled through the rain towards Lantern’s only site, intent on exploring it a bit as a potential return trip target someday. Five minutes later I was paddling frantically back to the portage, looking over my shoulder every couple of minutes to make sure I wasn’t being watched by whatever dark force rules over that camp site.

The only picture I have of the Lantern Lake site. It didn’t want me to have more.

Here’s the thing, that site on Lantern looks like it’s probably a pretty decent spot. I don’t know for sure, because I didn’t end up exploring it. As I paddled closer to the shore I noticed a couple of things. The first was a small black bundle on, I think, a small counter nailed between two trees. It looked like a garbage bag wrapped around a sleeping bag, but for all I know it was all that was left of the last person who thought the site was empty and stopped by to check it out. There was also a ziplock bag of potatoes hanging from a nail on a tree nearby. I never thought that a bag of potatoes could look sinister, but then again I never thought that Tom Cruise could make a bad movie and yet we live in a world where Magnolia exists.

Now, rationally, I know that I was looking at a site where someone probably just left their extra potatoes for whoever came next (is this a thing? I personally don’t think I’d ever be inclined to anything I found on a site, but I don’t know how other people feel about eating random campsite potatoes.). However, irrationally, I was convinced that I was looking at a site that was going to be the last thing I ever saw once the Lantern Lake Potato Witch caught up to me. As usually happens, irrational me knocked rational me out in about thirty seconds and spent the entirety of my frantic paddle back across Lantern Lake strutting around the ring holding up the “what’s left of Drew’s self respect” championship belt. My portage back onto Ravenau was much faster than my trip up.

Blue skies (finally) on Cedar.

I took my heroic response to that bag of potatoes as a sign that my exploring was probably done for the day. I made my way back down to Cedar and settled in to wait for my weekend paddling partners to arrive (which they almost didn’t, since there was a bit of confusion as to whether I was at the Kiosk or Brent access point. Thank God for my InReach). The sky had actually started to clear by this point and I let myself hope that maybe, just maybe, we’d have blue skies the next day as we set out for Carl Wilson. (And we did end up having blue skies, technically. There was just a thick layer of very grey cloud in between us and them. Also, some rain. So much rain. But more on that later).

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 9.19.39 PM
Map courtesy of Jeff’s Maps

New Lakes Paddled: 2
Total Lakes Paddled: 3
Total Portages: 2
Total Portage Distance: 4.39 KM
Total Travel Distance: 12.4 KM

Campsite Reports

Cedar Lake – Site 31
Ravenau Lake – Site 1 (and only)


5 thoughts on “Brent Crawl Bonus: Brent and Beyond

  1. Thanks for this post – I bet the Shearwater was a treat to paddle (how light?). Who the heck brings potatoes in the interior ?!!?! Freakish… My sister-in-law was given a sack of potatoes as a Xmas present by her mother, but there was a “read between the lines” message there… The Algonquin potatoes? Unsettling indeed…

    1. The shearwater really was quite nice. It was light, but not quite as light as I expected. That may have had something to do with the water the guy before me had poured into the bow ballast area. Got lighter once I emptied that.

  2. Excellent! Always good to see people up around Cedar and North in general. I can provide information about Cedar if you ever have any questions; I’ve been up to the lake every year since 1982, have seen it during every season, have lived and have known people who have lived in Brent, including oral history from people who saw the place as far back as the 1920s. Working on getting native Algonkin oral history together.

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