Welcome to part two of my Year in Review post. Part one, if you missed it, recapped my trips for the year with some highlights and lowlights thrown in for fun. Part two, which you have not yet read but are oh so close to beginning, is going to focus on the (apparently now annual) Moosie Awards. These are the awards I give out in made up categories based on entirely arbitrary criteria. In other words, they’re like every other award show out there, but with no orchestra playing me off every time I ramble on too long (so, always). But, enough of that, let’s get to the hardware (I’m picturing a golden moose statuette with a smaller, much less substantial looking golden person statuette standing in front of it over a small pile of golden fear poop).
Worst Portage – While there were some strong contenders (I’m looking at you, Unicorn Hill), The Long Portage out of McKaskill Lake won this one in a landslide. I don’t even know what to say about this beyond the 1500 or so words I spilled on it back in May. It was one of the most challenging portages I’ve ever done. There was enough up and down to remind my legs that I hadn’t carried a canoe in over seven months. There was enough rain/sleet to remind the rest of me that I was an idiot for booking a trip in early May when the weather forecast is just a sad faced emoji. On the positive side, we didn’t run into any one of the thousands of starving, cranky bears I was convinced were waiting for us just around the next bend in the road, so I guess it wasn’t all bad. Although, 9 KM of wondering when the bear attack is finally going to come can kind of wear you down, so, yeah, it was all bad. (But not really! It was actually a strangely beautiful walk. I just … I just wish it had been shorter. Like, 8.5 km shorter).
Best Sunrise – I caught a few sunrises this summer (many of which were hidden behind a thick blanket of clouds) but hands down my favourite was the one on Joe Lake with my daughter in mid-August. It was absolutely perfect. We paddled out to the middle of the lake and watched the clouds turn orange and pink while the mist rose around us. My daughter, as hardcore a nature enthusiast as I’ve ever met, offered probably the most accurate description of what was happening when she turned to me and said “daddy, I’m cold”. Still, it was a beautiful moment, and one that would also win my Favourite Picture category if it existed. Which it now does.
Best Moose Sighting – This one came on day two of the Brent Crawl. Despite my fervent desire to build a time machine and go back to that day to stop past Drew from moving on from Burntroot, I’m kind of glad that my prototype time machine is still just a toaster with some Christmas lights wrapped around it. If it actually worked I might not have had this moose sighting. It happened as I was paddling along the Petawawa, The sun was low over the trees and the river was bathed in that awesome golden glow you only see around twilight or when you accidentally eat a bunch of semi-poisonous berries. The moose was hanging out in a marshy part, enjoying its evening meal and generally looking like it was living its best moose life. As I paddled past, it lifted its head and watched me go, hopefully cementing me in its mind as a contender in the Weirdest Half Panicked Non Edible Water Rat Sighting category of its year end blog post. (Seriously, it was a near perfect moment. Moose are awesome. From a distance). Sadly, I don’t have a picture of this sighting, or any moose sighting from this year. Maybe I’m making the whole thing up?
Best Waterfall – If this category was “best string of awesome waterfalls and not terrible portages” the stretch of the Barron River known as the Cascades between High Falls Lake and Brigham Lake would win this thing hands down. If this category was “biggest waterfall I portaged around while being absurdly grateful that I was going down instead of up” the winner would be the pair of falls leading from the Petawawa into Cedar Lake. However, this is neither of those things. This is the best waterfall category, and this year that award goes to the natural water slide in between High Falls and Stratton Lake. This isn’t the prettiest waterfall I saw this summer, nor is it the biggest. Arguably, it isn’t even a waterfall so much as it is an area where the water just runs a bit more downhill than elsewhere. But, it is the only one that I was able to slide down repeatedly while doing minimal damage to various parts of my body (until I did slightly more than minimal damage and had to stop) and it is also one of the prettiest spots I visited all summer. So, yeah, it’s not terrible.
Best Lake – This is always a tough one. There are so many contenders this year (Ooze Lake is not one of them). Do I go with Cedar Lake, one of the biggest and most interesting lakes I’ve ever visited? Or do I go with Radiant Lake, where I spent probably the nicest weekend all summer swimming and relaxing in the sun? What about Burntroot, a gorgeous expanse of open water in the heart of the Park with fantastic views and great swimming? How about none of those? Because, as much as I liked my visit to all three of those lakes (and many more besides) my favourite lake this summer has to be Carl Wilson.
Carl Wilson is just west of Cedar Lake on the north side of the park. It’s a day trip to get there from the access point. While it’s not the easiest day trip you can take (there’s a bunch of portages along the way that are more or less straight uphill and kinda awful), it’s worth the effort. Carl Wilson is a fairly sizeable lake with some of the tallest cliffs I’ve seen in the park. They overlook it from the east and give you a feeling of being alone deep in the heart of your own little slice of wilderness. Despite its size, there aren’t that many campsites, which means you get a nice feeling of seclusion when you stay there (particularly if you’re arriving at the tail end of a monsoon and everyone else has packed it in for the weekend). The swimming, at least at the site where we stayed, is excellent and scenery is both interesting and pretty. All in all, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Best Campsite – I stayed on nine campsites this summer (including the McKaskill Lake Ranger Cabin) and explored quite a few more. While there were things I liked about all of them, they’re all outshone by the site I had on Radiant Lake at the end of August. This site was damn near perfect. It’s located on the north shore of Radiant, about a half day’s paddle from the Brent access point. There’s a wide, sandy beachfront that’s great for swimming and, if you’re so inclined, pitching tents. If, like me, you hate getting sand in your tent with the fire of a thousand suns, there are a couple of great, level, tent pads further up the hill from the beach. The kitchen area is awesome (stadium seating around a beautiful fire pit with a view over the water) and the location can’t be beat.
Favourite Route – This category is kind of unfair in that if I happened to visit the Barron Canyon in any given year it’s automatically going to be a front runner to win this award. It’s like the Best Actor category in the mid nineties, it’s nice for the other routes to come out, but we all know Tom Hanks is going home with the award at the end of the night. That being said, this must be The Canyon’s Apollo 13 year, because it’s not my winner this time around. This year, the award goes to a route and lake we’ve already heard from, the Cedar to Carl Wilson mini loop.
I really enjoyed this trip. Despite the fact that it started in a wall of mist/rain, it covered all the things I look for in a trip. It’s a challenging route. There are five lakes in between Cedar and Carl Wilson if you go by way of Fry/Gull Lake, and the portages in between some of those lakes are kinda long/difficult/terrible. However, there’s some interesting history (Camp Five Lake) and scenery (Gull Lake, Valley Lake) along the way, and Carl Wilson as a destination is pretty awesome (as you may have guessed from its recent win in the hotly contested Favourite Lake category). The site we stayed on was one of my top three sites of the summer, and probably top five I’ve stayed on in the Park. You could easily do this trip as an overnight or stretch it for a couple of days if you’re looking for some R & R in a secluded spot. The trip back (if you go by way of Ironwood and Bug Lakes) throws a couple more interesting portages at you, but it’s a damn sight better than going back the way you came. Once you’re back on Cedar you can stop off at one of the northernmost sites for some of the best ruins I’ve seen in the park and, if you’re feeling particularly energetic, make your way over to the Petawawa River portage to check out the tallest waterfall in the Park as well. Basically, there’s something for everyone. Unless you’re someone who hates canoe tripping. In which case there’s nothing for you and I think you’re reading the wrong blog.
And that’s it for this year’s Moosies. As you might have guessed from the 4,000 odd words of review I’ve just written, it was another great year of paddling. I’m chipping away at my goal of hitting every lake on a canoe route in the Park. As best I can tell I’ve got somewhere between 400-500 left to go (I’ve counted a bunch of times and I keep getting different numbers. Apparently I need to hire someone more proficient in counting, like an eight year old, to check my work). Whatever the number, I’m getting there. Next summer is the Park’s 125th anniversary and my goal is to visit 125 lakes in honour of that. In the meantime, thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate that you take the time to follow along with this little corner of the internet. I’ll be publishing more individual campsite reports throughout the winter, as well as hopefully introducing a couple of other sections, so check back from time to time for updates.
Until then, have a safe and Happy New Year and hopefully I’ll see you out there.
(112 days until ice out. Here’s a bunch of pictures from the summer to tide you over until then).