Four Days in July – Part One: The River Mild

I haven’t done a lot of tripping out of the access points along the west side of the Park, so I thought that for my longer trip this year it would be good to get to know the area a bit better. I (somehow) convinced my buddy Andrew to join me, despite the fact that it snowed on the last trip I dragged him on and it Furrow Laked on the one before that. After some careful planning, followed by some re-planning when plans changed, followed by some frantic re-re-planning the morning of our departure when I realized my first re-planning was going to flat out kill us, we set off for the Tim River access point with a pocketful of dreams and a book on the wild berries of Ontario (which was seemingly the only book for sale in the town of Kearney that particular morning).

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At the access point, arms crossed like bosses.

The road leading in to the Tim River access point is long, winding and full of bumps and minor annoyances. It takes you way longer to get to the end than you think it should, and by the time you finally do arrive where you’re going you’re wondering why someone hasn’t come through with a bulldozer and an army of chainsaws to straighten things out. It is, in other words, a perfect little prologue to what you’re about to experience as you drag over beaver dams paddle your way down the Tim River itself.

We arrived at the access point mid-morning under cloudy skies. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we realized almost as soon as my wife had pulled out of the parking lot that we had forgotten our sunscreen. We did, however, have tonnes of bug spray, so at least we were well prepared for my last trip. We loaded our boat (an absolutely gorgeous 42 lb. Ashes Stillwater cedar strip on loan from Backcountry Custom Canoes. My experience with cedar strips up to this point was basically being slowly crushed beneath water-logged, 85 lb tanks as I stumbled across portages. This was not that. This boat was light as a feather, handled great and was a treat on portages. I’m a little bit in love.) and started off on the high stakes, fast-water, white knuckle adventure that is the Tim River.

Um…

Tim Between AP and Tim Lake
Fighting the raging waters on the Tim

So, I don’t know if there’s a word between Creek and River (Criver? Riveek?) but if there is that would be a pretty good description of the Tim River (at least the parts we paddled). It’s not a creek, although at times it feels narrow enough to be one, and it’s not quite a river in the way I think of a river (the Petawawa would be a good example of an Officially Approved River According to Drew™). Whatever it is, it’s a pretty sedate paddle, with lots of winding back and forth in spots. It is also a very pretty paddle. The scenery is constantly changing, while also sticking to the general theme of “Hey! Beavers Live Here!”. But more on that in a minute.

The stretch of the Tim between the access point and Tim Lake is … well, it exists. Honestly, I don’t remember much of that part of the paddle. There weren’t any significant obstructions and the route was easy enough. It’s not a bad way to stretch your paddling muscles, I suppose. I had hoped we might see some animals hanging out in the weeds as we paddled through, but apart from a couple of pretty cool looking dead trees sticking out the water, there wasn’t too much happening along this stretch. Well, aside from the frogs. There were lots of frogs. Actually, all the frogs. There were big ones, small ones, green ones, not green ones. I’m pretty sure I even saw the frog from Frogger sunning himself on his vacation lily pad.  Basically, if you’re a frog enthusiast (that’s a thing, right?), stop reading now and get yourself over to the Tim River. You won’t be disappointed.

We arrived at Tim Lake at about the same time that the rain did. It wasn’t a hard rain, or even an unwelcome one. Remember, we had forgotten our sunscreen, so I had about as much interest in seeing the sun as a vampire with a hangover. Tim Lake looks like it would be a nice place to camp if you’re looking for a spot to take young kids, or just want something with close proximity to an access point but without the crush of people you’ll find along the highway 60 corridor. We paddled across Tim through the intermittent rain, passing to the south of the large island that dominates the middle of the lake, before turning slightly north to meet up with where the Tim River continues eastward.

Leaving Tim Lake the river is a pretty decent paddle. The waterway is fairly wide and there’s lots to see despite the stubborn refusal of Algonquin’s moose population to make themselves available for my nature viewing pleasure. We paddled through a wide bay area choked with lily pads en route to our only portage for the day, a 120m carry that takes you from the Tim River to, well, the Tim River. But a much narrower version of the Tim River than the one you just left. We’ll call it the Skinny Tim.

Skinny Tim is where the fun really started (and the rain stopped). Jeff’s Map warns that low water can be a problem on the Tim between Tim Lake and Rosebary Lake and, as with so many things, in this case Jeff’s Map is bang on. This has been a pretty hot, dry summer, and, as a result, water levels aren’t exactly sky high. They’re not low enough that you end up dragging through mud half the time, which I imagine is a potential worst case scenario later in the season, but they are low enough that a number of beaver dams that would probably otherwise be covered with just enough water to paddle over are sticking up out of the river, blocking the way and slowing you down like nature’s answer to the speed bump.

img_5199We hit the first of the dams not long after we left the portage. As far as dams go, it wasn’t exactly Hooveresque (that was dam #3) but it was enough to make us stop, make disparaging comments about beavers, climb out of the canoe, climb onto the dam, make more disparaging comments about beavers, pick up the canoe, lift it over the dam, make downright hurtful comments about beavers, put the canoe down, get back in the canoe, push back off while making further disparaging comments about beavers and wondering if that was the last beaver dam we’d see that day.

We repeated this process a lot.

The good news is that, apart from the beaver dams, the Tim was still pretty passable. There was only one spot where we got hung up in some really shallow muck (just after beaver dam #4) and it wasn’t too long until we’d emerged into Little Butt Lake, which is a wonderfully named widening of the river about 75% of the way to Rosebary.

Between Little Butt and Rosebary the river goes through a slow change. It starts with more of the same; a winding, narrow paddle route bracketed on both sides by tall grasses that make it difficult to see anything but the water right in front of you. Gradually things widen out until you reach the large, shallow bay leading into Rosebary. The bay is filled with beautiful purple flowers that my exhaustive research (read: googling of “purple water flower”) lead me to believe are pickerel weed. Whatever they are, it’s pretty nice to end that segment of the river by paddling through them.

Rosebary is a welcome change after a couple of hours on the Tim. It’s a big, round-ish lake with a few campsites, but not enough that it seems at all crowded. I know there’s at least one site on a nice beach, but our route didn’t take us in that direction. Instead, we set off towards Longbow, paddling into a surprisingly strong sidewind that had sprung up as we worked our way through the relative shelter of the river.

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A beautiful boat on a beautiful lake.

We stopped for lunch on the point site at the start of the narrows leading over to Longbow.  This seemed like a decent site, with good swimming and lots of space. I did some exploring after we ate and noticed that, among other things, there were definite signs that someone had had a recent fire in the fire pit. That normally wouldn’t be a problem. As it turns out, fire pits are great places for campfires. However, Algonquin was, and as I write this still is, under a total fire ban, and had been for a while. As a refresher, a total fire ban means that open fire is banned. Totally. The permit officer didn’t write “Fire Ban, Except On Rosebary, So Feel Free To Burn That Fucker Down” across the top of my permit. She wrote “Fire Ban” then went through the consequences of breaking that ban with me. I assume they do this with everyone and there is absolutely no reason to mess around with something like that. If Battle Beasts have taught me anything it’s that fire beats wood, and Algonquin is pretty much nothing but wood. Fire bans happen for a reason. Don’t screw around with them.

After lunch we set off for the (very short) final leg of the day. We were camping on Longbow, which is just a short paddle away from that site on Rosebary. We passed through the narrows connecting the two lakes and made our way to the easternmost site on Longbow which, on the map, looked like the best spot on the lake (and it was the best site, by a country mile. Of the other two sites, one is on a portage and is basically a museum of rusted out metal torture devices and the other looks like it was hacked out of the brush by someone who got forgot what they were doing halfway through. Nice thunderbox though). We quickly set up camp and got ourselves settled in for the night.

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Bunchberries, bunchberries, bunchberries!

I really liked that site on Longbow. It’s got a fantastic western view to watch the sunset, lots of space for tents, good swimming and a bunch of small, bright red berries that look super poisonous but totally aren’t. It turns out that Wild Berries of Ontario was the sneaky MVP of the trip. I’ve never before noticed just how many different kinds of berries there are in the Park, but it turns out that there’s more to the berry world than blueberries and crunchberries. After careful examination we discovered that we were sharing our site with a whole ton of bunchberries, which are small red berries that apparently share some properties with Aspirin. Andrew ate one. Then, when he was still alive half an hour later, he ate a bunch more. I didn’t eat any but I really enjoyed saying “bunchberry” over and over for the rest of the trip, so we all got something out of the experience.

The rest of the afternoon passed quickly enough. The wind blew hard for most of the day, which had the positive effect of chasing the rain clouds away but the negative effect of turning our site into Antarctica 2. Fortunately, the wind died around the same time we had dinner and the combination of the hot meal in our bellies and the calm night air warmed things up pretty quickly.

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Sunset. Obvs.

We finished the evening sitting by the water, watching the sun go down over the western shore and trying to remember the names of people we went to high school with (if your first name is Nick and you went to high school with us, hit me up. We couldn’t remember your last name and it was driving me crazy. Also, hi Nick!). I know that the lack of campfire due to the fire ban is a deal breaker for some people, but I have to say, without the fire I gained a whole new appreciation for everything else dusk in the Park has to offer. The minnows were out in full force, surface fishing for bugs (so, bugging?) and making it look like a thousand tiny raindrops were hitting the water despite the clear night. As the sun sank lower and lower beneath the horizon the stars began to leapfrog their way across the sky from east to west, gradually filling in the empty spaces until the night was full. Without the crackle of the fire you could hear the call of a distant loon as if it was right next to you (and the call of a nearby loon as if it had put a megaphone up to your ear). All in all, it was a pretty awesome way to end the night.

We crawled into our tents satisfied that we’d finished a good first day. The next day we would be heading back out onto the Tim River and making our way towards Queer Lake (and beyond). I remember hoping, as I crawled into my sleeping bag already half asleep, that maybe that stretch of the river wouldn’t be as windy or beaver dam-y as the one we’d just finished. Meanwhile, somewhere further down the Tim, a team of over-achieving beavers rubbed their paws together and laughed gleefully long into the night as they prepared for our arrival the next day.

To be continued in Four Days in July – Part Two: The Moccassin Lake Shuffle

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