Minutes from the Monthly Meeting of the Algonquin Park Lake Naming Committee (APLNC), July 1932
APLNC Committee Member #1: “Hey guys, I know the meeting’s almost over, but what about Eagle Lake?”
APLNC Committee Member #2 “What do you mean what about Eagle Lake?”
APLNC Committee Member #1 “Well, remember how I was saying at our last meeting that I’m kind of afraid of eagles? Like, I had all those flow charts and pictures I drew of eagles chasing me? Well, what if a bunch of eagles find out that there’s a lake in the Park called Eagle Lake and they think it’s for them? They’re basically flying dinosaurs. But smarter. What if some eagle travel agent finds out about the lake and suddenly, BAM, you’ve got hundreds of airborne T-rexes everywhere? Then what am I supposed to do? Eagle Lake is one of the prettiest in the park and now I’m afraid to go there. I think we should give it a new name.”
APLNC Committee Member #2 “hmm, yeah, that is a problem. Do you have any ideas for the new name?
APLNC Committee Member #1 lifts extremely large and heavy binder out of his briefcase and puts it on the table “Here, take a look.”
APLNC Committee Member #2 Takes binder, opens it up, flips slowly through the pages. “This … this is all just pictures of butts.”
APLNC Committee Member #1 Leans back in his chair, nods happily. “Yup”
Back in the mid 30’s the Park changed the name of one of its prettiest lakes from Eagle to Butt. This was … a poor decision. As far as lake names go, Butt is up there with Crotch on the list of words I don’t want to end the sentence “I love swimming in ___” with if I’m talking to someone unfamiliar with the park. The good news is that, 60+ years after the initial change (so lighting speed for a government body) they decided to change it again, naming it after one of the most influential figures from the Park’s early days, Ralph Bice. It was on Ralph’s lake (which will forever be Butt in my mind because I have the mind of an 8 year old) that I found myself waking up on the fourth and final day of my end of July trip through Algonquin’s western reaches (and the award for most awkwardly shoehorned in segue goes to … that last sentence!).
The day dawned calm and clear. The water was flat as a pancake on Jupiter and the sun was warm without being scorching. While it was our last day, our ride wasn’t scheduled to pick us up from the Magnetawan access point until later in the afternoon. I decided to take advantage of the time to do a bit more exploring of the surrounding area. Andrew, making by far the smarter decision, chose to stay back and make sure that the sleeping conditions at the site remained top notch.
I set off for my solo paddle after a quick breakfast. In my mind, Ralph Bice is broken up into four segments (not the man, the lake. This isn’t some kind of Algonquin themed historical horror blog). There’s the Hambone/Ralph Bice portage bay, the main body of the lake, Rock Monster Shallows and the Ralph Bice/Little Trout portage bay. Our campsite was at the western end of the main body of the lake, meaning I had a decent paddle in front of me before I would reach the Little Trout portage.
I mentioned before that Ralph Bice was flat, but that doesn’t really do justice to just how calm the water was. The only ripples were from my canoe slicing through the water and from a pair of loons that kept doing loon things nearby. If you stared at the surface of the water long enough you could almost forget whether you were looking up or looking down, so clear was the reflection. It was like paddling across liquid glass, only my canoe wasn’t melting and my paddle wasn’t on fire.
You can tell when you’re passing from the main body of the lake into Rock Monster Shallows because you’ll be paddling along in the middle of what you think is a wide, deep lake and all of a sudden you’ll realize you’re paddling just above giant boulders that kind of sneak up on you and that may or may not make you think for a split second that you’re being attacked by lake monsters. But you’re not. It’s just rocks. Probably. Maybe?
From Rock Monster Shallows I turned into the Ralph Bice/Little Trout portage bay. This bay is bigger than some of the lakes I paddled through earlier in the trip and it’s home to some neat scenery. There’s a small beach just to the right as you turn into the bay that looks like a great place to stop for a break or hide from the rock monsters if necessary. This bay is also home to a massive leech that guards the entrance to the Little Trout portage. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I’d be hesitant about putting small dogs or children in the water in the area, for fear that the leech might eat them whole, then, having gained in confidence from its recent conquest, come after you next. After the heart pounding terror of fighting my way past the leech, the portage over to Little Trout was pretty easy. It’s less than 500m of flat terrain and it doesn’t feel like any time at all before you’re putting in on the (leech free) beach on the Little Trout side.
The portage ends in a small bay that you have to paddle out of before you can actually appreciate what Little Trout has to offer. It’s a nice enough lake, but for my money it’s not as pretty as Ralph Bice or as interestingly laid out as Queer (which is a short 175m portage to the west). I’d probably rather stay on one or the other before setting up stakes on Little Trout. One thing I noticed on the map is that there are quite a few campsites, so it might seem a bit crowded if you do decide to ignore my advice (which, frankly, is always a good decision) and stay there.
After paddling around for a bit I decided to head back. Instead of paddling back around the point that separates the portage bay from the rest of the lake, I decided to portage up and through the westernmost campsite to save time. As far as campsites go, it was ok. There are a couple of semi-decent tent sites and the fire pit area would certainly be a place where you could light a fire. I’d say it’s definitely not meant for more than two or three people, but it’s serviceable. On the plus side, the Thunderbox has a great view down the lake. Although, come to think of it, that probably means that the lake has a great view of the Thunderbox as well, so take that for what it’s worth.
The trip back across the portage and down Ralph Bice was uneventful. I avoided all manner of guard leeches and rock monsters and the water stayed flat most of the way. By the time I got back to the site it was going from mid-morning to late-morning and it seemed like a good enough time to pack up, take a final swim, then head out.
We set off for the access point with the wind starting to pick up. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but I was definitely glad we only had to deal with it for a quarter of Ralph Bice and not the entire way. The portage over to Hambone had not somehow quadrupled in length overnight, so it remained a pretty easy carry. Hambone itself also remained fairly underwhelming. It reminds me a bit of Little Trout in that I don’t know why you’d want to stay there when there are better options to both the east or west. The one good thing I’ll say for Hambone is that it doesn’t take all that long to get across. I feel the same way about Delaware (TAKE THAT DELAWARE!).
The portage back to Magnetawan Lake is possibly the easiest in the Park. At 135m, it’s a nice casual stroll to end a trip. The paddle from the portage to the access point is also very short and we arrived at the access point about an hour and a half before our ride was scheduled to pick us up. Realizing that we still had a bit of time, I decided to get one final paddle in and go check out Little Eagle Lake.
Little Eagle Lake is a dead end lake just south of Magnetawan. I’m assuming its name comes from a time when Ralph Bice Lake was called Eagle Lake, and not because it’s home to a bunch of miniature eagles. Although that would be awesome. To get to the portage up to Eagle (and I do mean up) you have to paddle through Magnetawan Lake. It turns out that Magnetawan is actually a really lovely lake. There are some picturesque islands along the way, some nice exposed rock faces and at least a couple nice campsites. I’ve kind of always assumed that if a lake is also an access point it probably isn’t that nice to visit but I could definitely see spending a night or two on one of the paddle-in sites on Magnetawan.
The portage up to Little Eagle is short, only 340m, but it makes you work for every one of those metres. You basically spend half the portage climbing a steep hill, then the other half descending a steep hill. Since there’s only one way in and out of Little Eagle, this means that you’re guaranteed a mini mountain climb both coming and going. Little Eagle, at least, is worth the effort. There’s only one site on the lake, so if you can snag it you’ll get a very pretty private lake for the night. If, however, you get to Little Eagle and find that site occupied (which I did) your only option is to paddle around for a bit, then rope up for the final ascent up Mount Little Eagle and back over to Magnetawan.
My visit to Little Eagle in the books, I finished off the day by checking out one of the campsites close to the Magnetawan access point. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the site was. It had lots of space for tents, a good fire pit area, nice views and fantastic swimming rocks. I took advantage of those rocks, swimming for a bit then lying in the sun, before finally, reluctantly heading back to the access point to await our pickup.
And that was it for this trip. It was a fantastic four days. We had almost perfect weather, saw some cool things, stayed on some great camp sites and didn’t burn to a crisp on the Tim River. Well, not a complete crisp. I have a newfound respect for beavers and their dam building capabilities that is matched only by my newfound all-consuming hatred for beavers and their dam building capabilities. I’d recommend this loop if you want to experience a little bit of everything the Park has to offer. Feel like some river paddling? Then this route’s for you. Feel like some big lake paddling? This route’s for you. Feel like seeing lots of weird rusted metal junk and maybe sinking up to your waist in surprise end of portage muck? Guess what!? This route’s for you too. Basically, this route’s for everyone, so come on down! (Unless you hate beaver dams. Because there’re definitely beaver dams. Goddamn beavers).
New Lakes Paddled: 16
Total Lakes Paddled: 20
Total Portages: 19
Total Portage Distance: 11.89 KM
Total Beaver Dams Dragged Over: All of them. All the f#$king beaver dams ever built
Total Travel Distance: 66.2 KM