Four Days in July – Part Three: The Road Well Traveled

This is a continuation of my Four Days in July trip report detailing the (surprise!) four days I spent in Algonquin at the end of July, 2018. Parts one and two can be found wherever a bluebird flits out of a dream and lands on a wish. Also, here and here.

I woke up in the middle of the night on Moccasin Lake half convinced that it must be morning. The inside of my tent was so bright I figured it was either the sun coming up or a UFO landing nearby. After a short, but ultimately futile, argument with my bladder about whether or not I really had to get up at that moment, I got out of my tent and stepped into a world painted silver by the light of the moon.

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You were expecting a picture of the nightscape, right? I know, I’m disappointed too.

There is something breathtakingly otherworldly about Algonquin under a full moon. I could see clear across the site, and beyond that the lake. Everywhere I looked the combination of light and shadow came together to paint my surroundings in stark, yet sharp, detail. I took some time to enjoy the solitude of the Park at night while glancing back into the woods every few minutes to make sure there weren’t any shadowy figures watching me from the trees. Here’s some advice, if you’re going on a canoe trip, maybe don’t read a terrifyingly detailed horror novel set in the woods in the days leading up to your trip. Once I had convinced myself that any unspeakable horrors from beyond the grave that were in the vicinity weren’t going to come shambling out of the trees just yet, I crawled back into my tent and went back to sleep. When I woke up next the sun was out, the sky was blue and I was ready to start day three.

Our plan for this day was to make our way up to Ralph Bice by way of Rain Lake. The first part of the day would be all new territory for me, and I was looking forward to seeing Rain and Casey Lakes in particular. I knew that this would be a busier part of the park than we’d experienced over the past couple of days, but I hadn’t quite realized just how many people we would see as we made our way to Rain. If the Canoe/Joe/Burnt corridor is Main Street Algonquin, then Rain/Sawyer/Misty is … uh … Main Avenue? The higher traffic did, however, give us a chance to chat with quite a few folks and, more importantly, got our very own tube of sunscreen from a very kind woman on the Rain Lake portage.

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The narrows heading west on Moccasin. 

We pushed off of our site on Moccasin just before 10 in the morning. The sun was already quite hot overhead and, unaware that our sunscreen savior was only a few hours in our future, we paddled over to the south shore to try and stay in the shade for as long as possible. Moccasin is a cool shape for a lake. It’s a crossroads lake (with routes leading away in all four directions) that’s shaped sort of like an upside down cross (if you close one eye and squint at the map until things go a bit fuzzy). Heading west you paddle through a small narrows, then into a kind of attached mini-lake that is technically part of Moccasin but that I am officially renaming Slipper Lake. We paddled across Slipper Lake and were quickly over the (very easy) 185m portage to Juan Lake.

Juan is a blink and you’ll miss it kind of lake. In fact, calling it a lake seems like a stretch. It’s more of a lakelet; you basically put your boat in at one portage, push off, take a surprising number of pictures for such a small lake, then wash up on the next portage, a 450m carry over to Jubilee. If I was Juan, I’d be writing long and angry letters to the Algonquin Park Lake Naming Committee wondering why my lake is basically an oversized puddle while the fifth most important character from Lost gets a much bigger spot two lakes over.

We stopped at the Jubilee end of the portage for a few minutes to do some emergency field surgery on my hand thanks to a very, very small cut I had somehow sustained between Moccasin and Jubilee. Once that was done, and once Andrew was able to convince me that I wouldn’t have to build a replacement hand out twigs and moss, we continued on our way. As we left the portage, we ran into a large group of paddlers up from Pennsylvania who were kind enough to let us use some of their spray sunscreen. Here’s a fun tip: point spray sunscreen away from your eyes.

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Beaverdamzilla!

I liked Jubilee. It’s not that big, and there are quite a few campsites on it that are relatively close together, but it’s a cool shape and the scenery is nice. Jubilee’s shore is lined with Mountain Holly (thanks again Wild Berries of Ontario!), and there’s a pretty impressive beaver dam at the start of the portage over to Sawyer. Finding that portage is a bit tricky, in so much as anything in this area can be considered tricky. The portage is at the end of a small bay that juts south just before you hit the western end of Jubilee. You can’t really see the portage sign until you’re close to the shore, so if you’re turning into the bay looking for that flash of yellow you might end up wondering if you’ve somehow gone the wrong way. The bay is pretty cool though, with some neat sights (read: rocks poking out of the water. But neat rocks poking out of the water!) to distract you as you become increasingly certain you’re nowhere near where you have to be. Then, just as you’re wondering if maybe you should turn around, beaverdamzilla comes into view and you see the sign and all is right with the universe again (until you almost step on a snake while you’re crossing the portage and let out a scream that makes you glad you left your sonically sensitive crystal vase collection at home. Ugh. Snakes are the worst).

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Not bad, Sawyer Lake

Putting in on the Sawyer end of the portage you’re greeted by a fantastic beach which makes for a great place to stop, filter some water and have a snack. I know this, because that’s exactly what we did. We sat in the shade, ate some peperettes and watched people coming and going. Sawyer is a nice, good sized lake and seems very pretty, but man is it busy. We saw as many boats crossing Sawyer as we’d seen the entire rest of the trip. Once we’d filled up on well preserved meat sticks and refilled our water, we got back in the boat and headed across Sawyer, chatting with another group who were going the same way as we paddled . To make a long story short, one of the guys in that group was using the same kind of paddle we had (Kettlewell paddles are the best) and now we’re paddle buddies for life.

We arrived at the Sawyer/Rain portage (another beach takeout but not nearly as nice as the one we’d just left) and were quickly over to Rain Lake. As I was loading up on the Rain side I realized that, while my eyeballs were well sunscreened, I hadn’t done a very good job on the rest of my body. There was a family unloading at the same time and I decided to ask if I could scrounge a bit of their sunscreen. Not only did they say yes, they actually gave us one of their tubes as they had apparently overstocked on the stuff. I didn’t get their names, but if you’re out there and you were the one who took pity on a couple of half-cooked guys with poor planning skills, thank you!

Rain Lake was big, beautiful and busy. This makes sense, Rain Lake is an access point so you would expect people to be, uh, accessing the Park from it. And, on this day, they certainly were. We saw lots of other trippers, most of whom were going the opposite direction from us (and basically all of them were going to Misty Lake). We paddled about a third of the way back to the access point before turning off the Misty Lake freeway and heading north towards Casey Lake.

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A Backcountry Custom Canoe, taking a break

The portage up to Casey is clear, easy to follow and fairly free of obstacles (with the exception of one, chest height downed tree right across the path that the portage gremlins have left there because portage gremlins are the worst). But man, is it definitely up. It felt like I was climbing the entire time. Not in a Tarn/St. Andrews “Thisisawfulthisisawfulthisisawful” kind of way, but more of a “well, at least I don’t need to hit the old Stairmaster again this week” kind of way. It’s relentless, but at least when you get to Casey you’re greeted with a very nice little spot to stop for a break, which we did.

Casey is a small lake with three camp sites on it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s wishful thinking on Casey’s part. No way three groups are going to scale Mt. Casey at the same time, which likely means you’ll have the lake almost to yourself if you survive the altitude sickness getting there. It’s a very pretty little lake and at least two of the three sites look like great places to spend a night or two. There’s also some exploring to do in the area. I’ve heard that there are ruins on nearby Salvelinus Lake and, if traveling a narrow creek that’s not on an official canoe route is not for you, there’s some history right there on Casey in the form of a fun little wheel and chain thing at the top of the Casey/Daisy portage that looks like a prop from 50 Shades of Algonquin.

The portage down to Daisy is a lot like the portage up from Rain. I wouldn’t want to be coming the other direction, but as far as downhill carries go it’s pretty easy. There’s a bridge along the route that I have zero recollection of but that I apparently thought was worth writing down when I was making my notes that day. There’s no mention of running into either trolls or Billy Goats Gruff in my notes, so I have no idea why I thought it was such a special bridge. Maybe it’s made of liquorice? I hope so. A liquorice bridge would be as tasty as it is impractical.

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Leaving Daisy. Not a moment too soon.

We ate lunch at the Daisy end of the portage and contemplated the final stretch of our day. From here on out we were back into territory that we’d both already paddled, and I knew that it would be easy going the rest of the way. Daisy is a fine lake, I guess. I know some people love it, but for some reason it doesn’t really excite me. There’s a cool little creek/river portion you have to paddle to get to the Acme portage, but that’s about the only thing that really stands out about Daisy as far as I’m concerned (the rapids on the portage between Daisy and the Petawawa, however, are one of my favourite spots in the Park). We made our way across Daisy, forced our way through the Great Daisy/Acme Portage Traffic Jam of 2018 (so many boats and people, so little regard for portage etiquette) and were soon pushing off onto Acme Lake.

Acme Lake is … well, I’ll let Drew from 2016 tell you about Acme Lake while I go get a snack, because things haven’t changed since then. “Acme Lake exists and the view from the put-in on the south portage is kinda perfect. And that’s about all I can say for Acme Lake. In the time it’s taken you to read this paragraph you could probably have paddled across it.” And now I’ve quoted myself, fulfilling yet another lifelong lazy writing dream.

We were quickly across the portage leading into Hambone and back on the water. I’d love to spend three or four sentences describing the natural beauty of Hambone and all the sights and sounds it has to offer, but by this point we were both much more focused on getting to Ralph Bice than on taking in the scenery. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult getting across either Hambone or the portage onto Ralph Bice, and we were soon paddling out of Ralph Bice’s western bay and into by far the biggest lake we visited this trip.

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Ralph Bice Lake. Also Eagle Lake. Also Butt Lake.

For those unfamiliar with the Park’s history, Ralph Bice Lake is named after a famous guide and woodsman from the Park’s early days. Before the lake was renamed it was called Butt Lake, and before that it was called Eagle Lake, because of course the natural name to follow after Eagle is Butt. We paddled across Eagle Butt Ralph Bice and soon found what turned out to be a very nice site about ¼ of the way towards Little Trout on the north side of the lake. To be honest, it wasn’t the type of site I would normally pick. There’s a lot of grass in the fire pit and tent area and I’ve got an irrational dislike of grass on campsites. I’m glad we chose it though, because, grass aside, this site has everything you could ask for: great swimming, nice rocks to sit on and watch the water, good tent spots and a thunderbox that’s so far away it’s in a different area code.

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The finest tarp structure ever structured.

There’s a long, shallow underwater beach all along the shore near the campsite, and it’s an awesome place to just walk through the water watching the minnows, and occasional leech, swimming around your ankles. The rest of the day passed in a nice, slow haze of swimming, sitting on rocks in the sun and more swimming. At one point a massive clump of so grey they were almost black clouds, accompanied by constant yet distant thunder, rolled by to the west. Somewhere, someone got soaked, but not us. By the time the tarp structure I’d been frantically putting up was (poorly) done, the clouds had moved off and the day was once again beautiful.

We watched the sun set over the water and then, later, watched some poor trippers on the other side of the lake trying to search for a site by the light of their flashlights. They ended up on a small island that was definitely not a site but was also definitely not the water, so probably in their minds it was just fine. I hope, once they got set up, that they got a chance to enjoy the stars, because it was a perfect night for watching the night sky. The air was still and calm and the sky was filled with stars (and satellites, FYI, MLB is always watching). We stayed up later than usual, sitting by the water and enjoying our final night in the Park.

Eventually I said goodnight to the stars (and the moon, and the comb and the brush and the little old lady whispering hush) and crawled into my tent. While the next day would be our last in the Park, I wasn’t quite done exploring. I had a couple of lakes with Little in their names to get to and, as it turned out, some giant lake monster rocks to be weirdly frightened by. But more on that later.

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To be continued in Four Days in July – Part Four: Ralph Bice, Eagle Lake and Butt Lake.

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