Day two of our Tim River odyssey began like most of my days on trip: with granola, peaches in syrup and a fervent prayer to the Portage Gods that the day’s portages would somehow be shorter in real life than they were on the map. As per usual, the granola and peaches were delicious and my prayers went completely unanswered, although I wouldn’t know that last part until a few hours later.
The clouds overhead were rapidly breaking up as we left our site on Longbow. Normally I’m pretty happy to see the sun, but in this case I would have been happier if it had stayed away just a bit longer. The sunscreen gnomes hadn’t visited us overnight, so we were relying on carefully draped t-shirts and life jackets to keep our legs from burning. Spoiler alter: it didn’t work. Resigned to the fact that skinny jeans were about to become very uncomfortable to wear for the next week, we paddled across Longbow to the portage that would take us back onto the Tim.
Our goal this day was Bandit Lake, a small lake with an awesome name about 17 clicks south of Longbow. In between us and Bandit was another 6 KM of the Tim River, two kinda long portages and a bunch more not so long portages. Also, as it turned out, one moose and many, many beaver dams.
It’s a short, easy carry from Longbow back onto the river. We stopped along the way to check out a campsite on the portage at the Longbow end of the carry. It’s a weird site. The fire pit is just kinda sitting there in the middle of a big open space. Pretty much every other site I’ve seen in Algonquin will have at least a log nearby to sit on, but on this site the only things nearby are a bunch of rusted metal relics from the Park’s earlier days. Basically, this is a good site to stay on if you’re looking for easy access to tetanus and really want to have people walking past your site all day. If that’s not your bag, I suggest giving this one a miss.
By the time we were over the portage and pushing off onto the Tim, the last of the clouds had disappeared and the sun was out in full force. The river between Longbow and Queer is, depending your mood, a really nice and scenic paddle through one of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll find in Algonquin, or a really annoying obstacle course of beaver dams, blowdowns and imminent sunstroke. For me, over the course of the next two hours, it was both of these things and pretty much everything in between as well.
Very quickly after setting off we hit our first beaver dam. Literally. We got out, lifted over and set back off, hoping we wouldn’t hit another beaver dam obstruction for a while. We kind of got our wish. It was a while before the next beaver dam, but the opposite of a while to our next obstruction. Not long after that we came to a place where a tree has fallen across the river. Here’s the thing I don’t get about beavers: they go out of their way to bring trees and sticks to the river to make my life more difficult, but when one falls right in their laps they can’t even be bothered to use it. There was plenty of high quality dam-building wood on that downed tree, and the beavers just left it there unbeavered. Beavers are jerks.
At first it looked like we were going to have to get out and drag the canoe around the tree on the river bank, but we soon realized that there’s actually just enough space to the very right of the river to paddle under the tree trunk. Unfortunately, that was not the case when we came to a second set of downed trees a few minutes later. This time we had to get out and make our way along a makeshift portage on the riverbank on a slanted mix of dirt and sand that would have to become much less collapse-y to be called precarious. However, we made it across without going sideways into the river and were soon back on our way.
I’m not going to give a blow by blow of every obstacle we came across as we made our way down the Tim. That would get tedious and suffice it to say, there were a few. There were, however, also some pretty cool moments along the way as well. Not long into our paddle we startled a … duck (I have no idea what kind of aquatic bird it was, and, unfortunately, our Wild Berries of Ontario book wasn’t much help in identifying it, so we’ll call it a duck). The (not a flying berry) duck turned and took off up the river ahead of us. It went quickly, flapping its wings and skimming the top of the river like it was about to take off, but never actually lifting out of the water. It stayed just ahead of us for a few turns down the river, before evidently getting tired of all the flapping and squawking and disappeared into a small side channel.
A little while later (about half an hour if you’re counting in minutes and about 5 if you’re counting in beaver dams) we came round a corner and were greeted by a moose standing in the middle of the river and chowing down on some slimy river plants (so haute moose cuisine). I’m not sure which of us was more surprised to see the other, but the moose was definitely less thrilled about the whole thing. It took one look at us and bolted for the woods, so basically it was dating in high school all over again. The thing I love about moose is that they’re basically land walruses on stilts. I don’t understand how they can take even one step without breaking all four of their legs, let alone go galloping through the underbrush like it’s an empty parking lot and not a tangled mess of hidden roots, holes and, I dunno, other, smaller moose. But they do, and they do it with grace. By the time we reached the place where it had come out of the river there was barely any indication that 1,000 lbs of wilderness tank had just come through. Moose: nature’s ninjas.
The moose sighting marked a turning point (both literally and figuratively) in our time on the Tim. After that I don’t recall there being as many dams as there had been before. We ran across a nice couple paddling the other way not long after, who very graciously shared their sunscreen with us as well as the news that we were getting close to the Queer Lake portage. By then I was pretty much done with river paddling, so that was welcome news. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier about the prospect of a 1.4 KM portage.
I probably shouldn’t have been so excited. The portage from the Tim River to Queer Lake is not awesome. On the plus side, it’s well-maintained, easy to follow and isn’t the Tim River. It does, however, throw a bit of uphill at you in the same way that a hurricane might throw a bit of rain at you. There’s a canoe rest about 1/3 of the way up the trail from the Tim that’s a very welcome spot to grab a break and a breath. I just wish that rest had marked the end of the uphill, not just a (very short) break from it. One thing to know if you’re going this way, the sign on the Tim River doesn’t actually mention Queer. It just tells you that it’s a portage to another part of the Tim. There’s another sign about 50m down the path telling you to split off for Queer. There’s also, at the Queer end of the portage, a deceptively sturdy looking patch of mud that tried its best to swallow Andrew whole when he went to put his pack in the canoe. Moral of this story, don’t trust the Tim/Queer portage. It’s out to get you.
Unlike the Queer Lake portage, I quite liked Queer Lake itself. You start off in a bay that is surrounded on all sides along the shoreline by dead trees. It gives the place a kind of spooky, otherworldly vibe that’s nonetheless pretty cool. We decided to take a break for lunch despite the clear presence of ghost trees, and pulled up on the point that separates the bay from the rest of Queer. This is a great spot to stop for a swim and to wash away any remaining tears from the Tim/Queer portage. There are also quite a few blueberry bushes that were, sadly, unblueberried when we were there. As we ate our lunch and enjoyed the sun I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something very familiar about this spot. I realized after a while that I’d been there before, more than 25 years ago, on a canoe trip with my dad and some cousins. That was a pretty cool memory and, unless I’m mistaken, marked a return to the site of my very first Algonquin canoe trip. Unfortunately, I had neglected to pack my plaque erecting materials to commemorate the moment, so I had to make do with taking a bunch of pictures.
After one more swim, we sett off down Queer for our next destination, the 2.4 KM portage over to Little Misty. After the Tim/Queer portage I was not looking forward to the carry over to Little Misty. Using the power of math I had determined that 2.4 > 1.4 and was very concerned about how many hills the Portage Gods could cram into 2.4 km of trail. Fortunately, the Portage Gods were smiling on us and the portage out of Queer was much easier than the one coming into it. It was well marked, relatively flat and overall an easy enough carry. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is what looks like a rusted old sleigh runner at the Little Misty end of the portage. There’s also a nice grassy spot to sit down and watch the water while you
try not to pass out catch your breath.
Little Misty Lake is basically just the Petawawa getting slightly wider. There’s one campsite on it that doesn’t look too appealing and … I don’t know, I already mentioned the sleigh runner. We set off across Misty and up the Petawawa towards the portage down to Addison’s Lake. This portion of the Petawawa is a nice, scenic paddle. Much wider than the Tim, this is what I want when I’m doing some river paddling. The canoe route winds between competing mats of lily pads that are lined up on their respective side of the river like two armies facing down across no man’s land. Fortunately, neither side started launching their frogapults while we were paddling through, and we made it to the next portage unscathed.
The portage to Addison’s Lake was further down the river from Little Misty than I expected. I was beginning to worry that we’d missed it when we came round a small bend and saw the sign sticking up out of the grass. The take out is a muddy bank with a two plank bridge leading away from the river into the trees. We carried our gear across the bridge and got set up once we were on firmer ground. The portage isn’t terrible, the path is clear and easy to follow, but there is some uphill, which was basically the theme for our portages for this day.
When I get to the end of a portage I usually walk a few steps into the water to make flipping the boat down easier. It reduces the chances of dropping the boat on a rock, or a foot, and is a nice way to cool your shins down after a long walk (cause no one wants sweaty shins). This time was no different. I got to the end of the portage, glanced at the solid looking lake bottom (hold that thought) and took two confident steps into the water. I had to stop at two because a third step would have been quite difficult, what with my legs now being firmly encased in the tender embrace of some grade-A quality, knee-deep muck (with about six inches of water on top of the muck and a giant ribbon of a leech slowly circling towards my right knee). While there are some people who would probably pay top dollar for such a natural feeling mud bath, I prefer my spa experiences to be less leech intensive. Fortunately, the muck wasn’t too deep and I was able to get my legs free with a bit of effort, a lot of swearing and no hitchhiking leeches. We took another break at this end of the portage as a wandering rain cloud decided it was a good time to visit Addison’s Lake as well. It was kind of funny looking up at mostly blue skies while also getting rained on, but it was also very refreshing, so I wasn’t complaining.
After the rain ended we set off down Addison towards Moccasin Lake. By this point we were both pretty tired, so I don’t think either of us did much appreciating of the natural beauty that Addison’s Lake has to offer (and it does have a lot to offer!). We certainly didn’t appreciate the (short) portage between Addison and Moccasin that the map had promised would be skippable. In fairness to the map, you totally could paddle through the small river that connects Addison and Moccasin, provided your canoe has some sort of chainsaw/flamethrower attachment on the bow to cut through all the logs and debris that are choking the waterway (I think they were logs. There was definitely something in the way. The problem with long days is that by the end of them I’m too tired to bother taking pictures, so for all I know it was a giant gorilla blocking the way. But probably logs).
By the time we had finished that short carry and reloaded our boats, it was after 5 pm and neither of us had any desire to do another portage. There are two sites on Moccasin, both of which were empty as we paddled through the heart of the lake. After a quick conversation that was mostly just exhausted grunting, we decided to set up on one of the sites and cross our fingers that we were late enough in the day that someone with an actual permit for Moccasin wouldn’t be coming along.
While there are two sites on Moccasin, only one of them is big enough for more than one tent. It’s a pretty nice site with a great southeast view over the center of Moccasin. There’s a broad rock face sloping up from the water that makes for a bit of a tricky time unloading the canoe, but is great for swimming and for sitting on while watching night fall. After we had set up our tents and had dinner (and I had re-set up my tent in a new location after realizing that my original spot was under a super sketchy looking dead birch that was clearly waiting to collapse on me) we sat by the water and watched a pair of loons doing loon type things as the sun set. Between the loons, the fish that were jumping just offshore and the glow of the sunset against the far shore, it was a perfect Algonquin evening. We even pulled out Wild Berries of Ontario and learned about a new type of berry, the tiny, crab-apple shaped fruit of the Mountain Holly, that was growing nearby (definitely not edible, FYI). A nice sunset, good company and some good old-fashioned book learning? You can’t ask for much more.
To be continued in Four Days in July – Part Three, in which I ask for more.