This is a continuation of my June, 2018 trip through some of the lakes around the Kiosk access point. If you haven’t read Welcome to Kiosk Part One: The Mouse Lake Swarm, you’re missing like 2,500 words of bug related prologue. Go. Read it. We’ll still be here when you get back. Also, for those of you expecting this post to be titled Escape From Bug Island, I realized after I published the first one that I was never actually on an island, so that title made no sense. It still sounds awesome though.
I sleep in a Eureka Solitaire solo tent most of the time that I’m out in the Park. It’s lightweight, packs down pretty small and is decently secure against the elements/bugs. Those three things are really all I’m looking for in a tent and since the Solitaire seems to exist solely to fill the boxes on that checklist, I’ve been happy enough with it (Dear Eureka, the first half-hearted endorsement is free. If you want more like that gem, start backing up the Brinks truck). However, in cutting down on those extra pounds you’re also cutting down on the living space inside the tent. Which is why, when I woke up the morning after losing the battle to the Mouse Lake swarm, I found myself face to face with a fresh herd of mosquitoes, perched six inches above my nose, watching me through the mesh. Waiting.
Have you ever tried to pack up your gear from inside a two foot tall by two foot wide tent? It’s not super easy. If I’d taken a video of the next half hour of my life and sent it to Cirque Du Solei as an audition tape my name would be up there with Celine Dion’s in the Vegas Headliner Power Rankings right now. Sadly, there is no such tape. I eventually got my stuff as packed as it was going to get with me still inside the tent and realized that I was going to have to go outside. Somewhere, a million mosquitoes licked their lips (well, proboscises). And, by somewhere, I mean directly outside my tent.
I took a deep breath, unzipped the tent, and crawled into the open.
I’m not going to bore you with a play by play of the next hour. Just picture a lot of arm waving and swearing and maybe some mild sobbing. The shame of it was, it was a really nice morning, the kind that would usually warrant a long, leisurely breakfast and probably another swim or two. And, actually, there are probably quite a few mosquitoes and black flies who got that exact experience as they munched on the back of my neck while I packed up and, later, got swatted into the water as we crossed Mouse to the next portage.
At 1.7 KM, the portage from Mouse up to Mink Creek isn’t exactly a short carry. There’s also a decent amount of super fun uphill to go along with the length, exactly the kind of thing you really want from your first portage of the day. It makes sense, Big Thunder, at the other end of Mink Creek, is over 50m higher than Mouse Lake, so you’ve got to get up there somehow. It still sucks. The good news is that, despite the climb, the portage isn’t that bad. The terrain is even enough and there weren’t too many obstacles (aside from the wall of bugs that we were continually pushing through).
For all that effort we were rewarded with Mink Creek, which is a small strip of creek between Mouse and Big Thunder that exists solely to drag out the amount of time you spend in a cloud of bugs on your way to Big Thunder. Mink Creek is home to one extremely sturdily built beaver dam, a couple of birds that launched themselves out of the tall grass along the banks like they were auditioning for a role in Duck Hunt and enough bugs that I’m surprised the beavers and birds can survive the blood loss long enough to do anything at all. But at least it’s a relatively quick paddle, so hooray?
We made it to the next portage, a (short, easy) 190m carry, and were soon on the other side, pushing off onto Big Thunder. It was at around this time, as I was realizing that I couldn’t open my right eye all the way thanks to an inconveniently placed bite, that Vince put into words what we had both been thinking. Maybe it would be best to cut the trip short and head home that day instead of toughing it out for another night. As Vince put it, at this point it felt more like an endurance challenge than a relaxing weekend. And he was 100% correct. I consider my time in Algonquin to be pretty precious, and I’m loathe to give it up, but I also consider my blood to be pretty precious and if I have to choose between giving up on one or the other, blood’s going to win most of the time. Once we had settled on a plan to avoid spending another night in the company of thousands of mini Algonquin vampires, we set off on Big Thunder to complete the loop back to Kiosk.
We paddled out into the open water hoping to leave the swarm of mosquitoes that had followed us along the portage behind. We did, sort of. It was definitely less buggy on the open water, but by this point it kind of felt like the difference between being mauled by a pack of raptors or being disemboweled by just one. Either way you’re getting eaten alive and your odds of being in the sequel are pretty remote. Bugs excepted, I liked the look of Big Thunder a lot. Despite it’s name, it’s not actually very big. Or thundery. The lone campsite looks like a great place to spend a night, and the scenery is quite pretty. Among other things. there are a few big rocks sticking out of the water here and there like seagull poop covered icebergs. They add a neat dimension to the atmosphere and help make Big Thunder a unique little spot.
It didn’t take long for us to get through Big Thunder. It’s a short paddle from the Mink Creek portage out and around the point where the lone campsite is located, then you’re dodging rockbergs and approaching the 1,495m carry down to Erables. Despite the length, I found the trip down to Erables to be pretty easy going. Probably because it was most definitely a trip down instead of up. I wouldn’t be excited about going the other way, but for my purposes it was a pretty nice stroll through the woods. We were across the portage fairly quickly and had soon set off on Erables.
Erables is beautiful. It’s a big inkblot of a lake that continually looks smaller than it actually is. From the portage over to Big Thunder you can only see the most southern end of the lake. As you paddle along and turn north, more of Erables reveals itself to you and you realize that it’s actually a pretty long paddle to get from one end to the other. Then, as you keep on heading north, it happens again and you realize that what you thought was a long paddle was actually only about half of the actual paddle. This happens a couple of times and eventually you start to wonder if you’re ever going to reach the end or if maybe Erables is actually an infinite loop of slight westward turns heading back to the dawn of the Universe.
As we paddled out of the south bay the sun came out and it, along with the slight breeze that had sprung up, chased away the clouds of mosquitos that had been circling us since we left the campsite that morning. We stopped paddling, pumped some water and just enjoyed being able to look around without having to swat something small and bitey every half second.
As we made our way slowly up Erables we passed a number of campsites that looked like they’d be great spots to spend a day or two. We debated pulling up to one for a quick break but were both hesitant about diving back into the bugstorm so quickly after leaving it. Instead, we enjoyed the paddle north and eventually found ourselves at the 170m portage over to Maple. Generally, a 170m portage wouldn’t be too exciting or memorable, so maybe that’s why the portaging gods decided to spice things up by throwing in a snake element. As a refresher, I don’t like snakes. Scientifically speaking, they’re icky. Also, I’ve seen Anaconda three times and I know what happens when you turn your back on them. While this particular snake would have had to have worked pretty hard to swallow Kari Wuhrer whole, I still gave it a wide berth as I carried across to Maple.
Maple, like Erables, is a big, beautiful body of water. It starts with a (very) short creek paddle that then opens up into the main part of the lake. It was getting on into the afternoon by this point, and the sun was doing its best to drill through the SPF 60 sunscreen I was wearing (here’s some fun advice: don’t bring a pressurized spray can of sunscreen on a canoe trip. If you do bring it, don’t somehow lose the lid. If you do lose the lid, don’t put the sunscreen in your backpack in a spot where it will get triggered every time you shift the weight of your pack. If it does get triggered every time you shift your weight, don’t waste precious seconds wondering if the hissing sound behind your ear is some kind of flying cobra. Just open up your pack and try to mop up the greasy mess that’s now covering everything inside your bag. You’re welcome).
By the time we reached the portage onto Maple Creek we were both hungry and ready for a break. The portage was actually a pretty nice spot to stop for a rest. It had a nice view back down Maple, options for sitting in both the sun and the shade and, crucially, the bug/snake/bugsnake population was zero. We enjoyed a relatively leisurely lunch, took some pictures that were blessedly free of photobombing black flies (although not free of black fly bites) and set off for Maple Creek and the last leg of our trip. (speaking of legs, this is what mine looked like by this point).
I really enjoyed the trip down Maple Creek. The bugs along this stretch were surprisingly tame and the creek was nowhere near as frustrating as some creeks can be. There are basically three things that can really derail a creek paddle as far as I’m concerned: 1) multiple obstructions, 2) consistently running aground because the water levels would have to go up six inches to be considered low and 3) endlessly jackknifing back and forth like you’re moving down Algonquin’s small intestine (also, 4) Creek Sharks. Don’t listen to science, they exist). Sure, there are a few spots where you might wish Maple Creek’s designers had put away the elbow shaped river tiles and just let the damn thing run straight for a little bit, but apart from that it was a very enjoyable paddle. Water levels were good, there were very few obstructions and we had zero confirmed Creek Shark sightings. We did run into quite a few beaver dams as we made our way through, but Maple Creek must be home to the world’s laziest beavers because almost without fail each dam only reached 3/4 of the way across the creek.
There are six portages between Maple Lake and Kioshkokwi. Half of them are on the longer side (between 600m – 1 km) and half of them are short (less than 200m). I don’t remember finding any of them particularly difficult or frustrating, although I think that was partly due to the fact that I was going downhill the entire way. Some of them, particularly the 805m (2nd of 6 coming from Maple Lake) would be a serious leg day workout going the other way. As it was, I kind of enjoyed each carry (to the extent that it’s possible to enjoy any carry). The highlight of this portion was hanging out under a small set of falls at the north end of the 630M halfway through the creek. There’s a great little ledge you can sit on to just let the water wash over you while you think about how lucky you are to have found this spot while also wondering what the odds are of getting smacked in the back of a head by Creek Shark (or other, more real, fish) joyriding its way down the falls. Fortunately, I managed to avoid being shark smacked and we eventually continued on down the creek.
It was getting towards late afternoon by the time we crossed the final 915m portage onto Kioshkokwi and turned towards the access point. I usually put access point lakes pretty far down the list of places I’d want to camp, but as we paddled north we passed a number of campsites that looked like great places to spend the night. We had plenty of time to admire them as we passed because there was just enough of a headwind that our forward progress was slow enough that the tortoise from the tortoise and the hare would have been embarrassed to be seen with us.
As we padded across Kioshkokwi I started to second guess our decision to leave a day early. It was such a beautiful day, and we hadn’t seen any bugs since Maple. Maybe it would be better staying on a bigger lake? Maybe the night before had been the last night of the Algonquin Bug Jamboree and Buffet and they’d moved on up to Temagami for the weekend? I was almost about to suggest we grab a site on Kioshkokwi when we pulled up to the access point landing and the Swarm descended. Holy crap. I don’t know if the word had got out that we were leaving and the bugs realized they had to get their fill right then and there, but putting the canoe on the car was one of the most excruciating experiences I’ve had in the Park. One look at the streaks of blood smeared across the roof of my vehicle (and every exposed inch of my arms) was enough to chase away any thoughts of sticking around (or of staying withing 200 km of the place). After one final swim we got in the car, inhaled a bunch of bugs that had gotten in while we were tying down the canoe, and took off for home.
Bugs aside (and that’s a big aside), this was a fantastic trip. I loved the area, the weather was great and the route was perfect for what we wanted to do. The site we stayed on on Mouse Lake was excellent (again, bugs aside), the portages were challenging without being impossible and I will definitely be heading back to Erables and Maple to check out some of those sites we paddled past. But, until then, I’m off to buy every piece of bug gear that’s for sale in Ottawa. Hopefully that’ll be enough for next time.
New Lakes Paddled: 10
Total Lakes Paddled: 11
Total Portages: 13
Total Portage Distance: 9.18 KM
Total Travel Distance: 42.5 KM