Welcome to the 2018 Moosie Awards! For those of you new to our program, the Moosies are the second part of my annual Year-in-Review extravaganza. Part one recapped my trips for 2018. We covered the highs and lows and everything in between while also throwing in an uncalled for number of poop references. Part two, the part you’re reading right this very second, is the Moosie Awards: Algonquin Park’s most anticipated (and as far as I know, only) award show of the year. It’s basically the Oscars, Emmys, People’s Choice Awards, MTV Video Awards and Dundies all rolled into one shining night of glitter and beaver dam jokes. This year we’ll see showdowns in such notable categories as Worst Portage, Best Campsite and, new this year, Thunderiest Thunderbox. Your host this year will be me. Just like it was last year. And probably will be every year until Billy Crystal starts taking my calls again. So, without further ado, it’s time to stop taking pictures on the red pine needle carpet and get on with the show.
Best Moose Sighting – In years past this has been a hotly contested category between warring moose factions like the Joe Lake Aquatamoose and the Petawawa River Weed Eaters. This year this category is like if the Oscars had a Best Film Featuring a Giant Talking Purple Thumb With Questionable Moral Standards category. There’s only one nominee that qualifies for the award, but fortunately, like Avengers: Infinity War, it’s a good one. My one and only moose sighting came on the Little Oxtongue River in between Fawn Lake and Tepee Lake back in August. The moose was enjoying its lunch in the shallows as we paddled by and seemed about as interested in our meeting as my son was. My son, who was sound asleep in the bottom of the canoe, gets a pass for his lack of interest. The moose, not so much. Still, this was a pretty cool sighting and I got to share it with my (much more awake) daughter, so an easy winner to get this year’s Moosies going. (Edit: I published this four days ago and just realized that I actually saw two moose this summer. The second was on the Tim River back in July and it was pretty awesome too. However, I’m far too lazy to rewrite this paragraph, so the Thanos comparison stands).
Most Impressive Beaver Dam – I ran into, and over, my fair share of beaver dams this year. Despite my well documented dislike of creek/narrow river paddling, I somehow built a decent stretch of exactly that into every trip I took this summer. Combine a multitude of poor trip planning decisions and the dry spell we had in July, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for low water and high dams. Despite the long, nearly endless, list of dams I have to pick from, choosing the most impressive is pretty easy. Sort of. If the dam I’m thinking of actually exists, then it’s a clear winner. If it doesn’t exist, well, we’ll have to call this the Most Impressive Imaginary Beaver Dam category instead I guess. The one I’m thinking of is on the portage between Pogonia and Grasspink Lakes. About halfway across that (semi-terrible) carry there’s a picturesque little pond area followed by a wide, soggy meadow that sits right in the middle of the portage trail and guarantees you’ll be up to your ankles in icy marsh water the entire way. In my memory this meadow exists because of a dam that stretches about 50 meters from side to side of the pond; the Hoover Dam of Algonquin beaver construction if you will. However for some reason I don’t have any pictures of the dam itself, only the meadow and the pond before the meadow (see below). So, it’s entirely possible that there is no dam at all. Basically the dam exists and does not exist and there’s no way to know which one it is until I go back there. It’s Schrodinger’s Dam. However, if it exists, then it’s hands down the winner of this category. If it doesn’t, every other dam I crossed this summer is tied for second and they can fight over who gets to take the Moosie home.
Thunderiest Thunderbox – Visiting a thunderbox can be an oddly zen like experience. It can also be a survival horror story that would give Stephen King nightmares. I’ve seen pristine t-boxes high on a wooded hill overlooking a deserted lake and I’ve seen thunderboxes that are the equivalent of a porta-potty on the last day of Bonnaroo. The best one I saw this year was on an otherwise forgettable site on Potter Lake. What, you ask, made this particular thunder box the thunderiest? Maybe it was the ambiance, maybe it was the craftsmanship or maybe, just maybe, it’s because this particular thunderbox was actually a thunderhouse. Look, I’m as big a fan of the open concept thunderbox as the next guy (for air flow if nothing else), but there is nothing worse than having to make a pit stop at one of those in the middle of a downpour. I’ll take a roof and holding my breath over the alternative every time. All hail the Thunderhouse of Potter Lake.
Sunrise Sunset – I didn’t catch many Algonquin sunrises this year. That’s unusual for me. One of my favorite things about being on trip is waking up with the sun still on the wrong side of the horizon and watching the sky slowly brighten as it (the sun not the sky) climbs above the trees. It turns out, though, that another of my favorite things about being on trip is sleeping in, and this year that favorite thing won. And it wasn’t even a close fight. I did, however, see quite a few sunsets, so at least I got to see the sun doing something beyond just hanging up in the sky like a big, useless ball of life-sustaining fire. Of those sunsets, it’s not easy picking a favorite. The one I caught on Stratton Lake in May, after a long day up from Clover with all of Stratton stretched in front of us like a pool of liquid metal beneath graying skies, was pretty awesome. As was the one on Mouse Lake back in June. I think. It was hard to see it clearly through the wall of bugs. But my favorite, I think, is the sunset on Longbow Lake I enjoyed with my oldest friend Andrew at the end of July. This was mid-fire ban so there was nothing to distract us as we watched the sun set over the western shore while legions of minnows snacked on surface bugs in front of us. We watched the sky turn pinky-orange and tried to remember the names of people we knew in high school. It was pretty awesome.
Coolest Ruins – I saw a bunch of ruins and relics from the Park’s earlier days this summer. Most of them were pretty interesting, some of them were completely baffling, all of them were really cool. While I always enjoy stumbling across the various bits and pieces that are scattered across the park (like this piece of Santa’s sleigh or this weird torture device), finding the still standing parts of an old building is always my favourite surprise. I got two of those surprises this year; one was the remains of an old saw mill on Club Lake and the other, and this year’s winner, was a ruined ranger cabin on Guthrie Lake that we found in during our Clover Lake loop back in May. The cabin’s well worth checking out if you head down that way. The walls are still intact, but the roof is all caved in (its real estate listing would read “protected from the wind with expansive sky lighting”). Anyways, it’s pretty cool. Check it out.
Best Waterfall – Now that I know there are actually high falls at High Falls in between Stratton Lake and High Falls Lake, and that they’re pretty damn impressive, this is an easy one. While I saw quite a few small falls this year as I made my way up and down various creeks/rivers, and they were all quite pretty, most of them were closer to stumbles than falls. The falls at High Falls, on the other hand, are most definitely waterfalls. Add the fact that they’re a stones throw (assuming you’ve got Mike Trout throwing the stone) from the best natural water slide I’ve ever scraped a couple of inches of skin off my back on, and we’ve got a clear winner.
Favourite Picture – This is a tough one. I take lots and lots of pictures while I’m out on trip. The basic idea is that if I take a picture every 30 seconds, at least three of them will turn out to be worthwhile. Probably. This means that by the end of the summer I’ve got hundreds if not thousands of pictures to choose from, most of which are either a little blurry or focused on some nondescript patch of water/trail that I’m sure was very meaningful at the time but now just looks like a patch of water/trail. I do, however, end up with a quite a few that I like. There’s the shot of the pirate ship island on Magnetawan Lake framed by evergreen branches that I absolutely love. There’s a beautiful picture of my borrowed backcountry custom canoe on Maple Creek (seriously, there canoes have to be the most photogenic I’ve ever seen). And then there’s the picture of my son and daughter in the bow of the canoe as we made our way down Potter Creek that might not be the best shot ever, but it brings back the best memories ever which makes it an automatic contender. There’s also a shot of my brother-in-law backlit by Tom Thomson Lake from that same trip. Tom Thomson was still as glass, it was a gorgeous afternoon and, crucially, the picture isn’t even the least bit blurry. Or what about the ruined cabin on Guthrie, the view from my September site on Hogan or … screw it. This is too hard. It’s a 20 way tie for first place. I’m retiring this category. But in honour of it’s last year of competition, here’s a mid Moosies slideshow of a bunch of my favourite shots from the year:
We’re getting into the heavyweight categories now. Just three more to go, which is good, because we’re already half an hour over time and the network wants to cut to reruns of Cheers soon. Anyways, on to the homestretch and starting with one of my favourite categories:
Best Campsite – I got lucky and stayed on a bunch of really nice sites this summer. With very few exceptions, I’d be happy to stay on each of them again (not you though Tarn Lake. Never you). Even with all those sites to choose from, there are four contenders that stand out above the rest for best site. The first is a site I visited in July on Longbow Lake. This site doesn’t look like much from the water, but it’s got lots of space, a good fire pit area and fantastic sunset views. Next we have the easternmost site on Stratton Lake. I stayed there back in May after a very long day up from Clover Lake. This is a compact little spot, but there’s more than enough room to fit two tired trippers, has great swimming, its own beach, a good enough kitchen set up and, like Longbow, the sunset views are worth writing home about. Coming in just ahead of that Stratton site is the one I stayed on the night before on that same trip, the east facing site on Clover Lake. This site is marked as low maintenance, and it doesn’t have a ton of amenities, but it does have beautiful views, a great big slab of rock that’s great for swimming/sunning and the promise of a lake (probably) all to yourself since no one else is going to want to put in the effort to get down there.
However, as much as I liked all three of those sites, it’s the island site on Hogan that I stayed on in September that takes this year’s top spot (just. Hogan is number three on my all time favourite site list and Clover is number four). This is a great site just north of the portage down to Big Crow. It’s westward facing, has a wide rocky beach for swimming, a great fire pit set up and absolutely gorgeous views. If there’s any downside it’s that, well, there’s a decent amount of downside, by which I mean the site is on a hill. You’ll have to do some stair climbing (literally) if you stay here, and finding some level ground to pitch a tent takes some work, but it’s worth it.
Favourite Lake – It’s tempting to give this one to Hogan Lake. It’s a big, gorgeous lake in the heart of the Park with at least one really awesome campsite and towering cliffs along the south shore (FYI, to all you aspiring Lakes out there, if you want to get an easy nomination in this category, have cliffs). The thing is, I didn’t see all of Hogan. In fact, I really only paddled about 1/3 of it. And giving it Favourite Lake based only on its first third would be like giving The Happening a Best Picture Oscar based on the first half hour. Sure, it might seem deserving at the moment, but for all I know the east end of Hogan is the lake equivalent to “the plants have had enough and also they’re killing everyone” so I can’t in good conscience give it the award. Besides, I don’t think I want to. As much as I liked Hogan, I think I may have actually liked Guthrie Lake more.
Guthrie is a smallish lake on the Clover loop just south of the Achray access point. Getting to it is a bit of a pain in the ass and, consequently, you’re not likely to run into too many people if you’re down this way. It’s also home to some really pretty (and towering) cliffs along the west shore and a pretty cool feature in the form of the old ranger cabin ruins that won the best ruins award a few categories back. There’s only one listed campsite on this lake (although the site we visited was not where that one site is shown on either Jeff’s Map or the official park map, so maybe there’s two?) which means you’ll have some privacy if you want to spend the night. There’s one caveat to this award, and it’s that I didn’t actually swim in Guthrie since it was four days after ice out. So, it’s entirely possible that the water is swarming with piranhas or is just plain icky. But, assuming it’s both piranha free and un-icky, it’s a deserving winner of this year’s award.
Favourite Route – While I liked aspects of every route I did this summer, this year’s award is really a two horse race. With apologies to Potter Lake, Mouse Lake, the Tim River, Swan Lake and the Barron Canyon, if I was going to redo any one of the routes I did this summer it would come down to either the Clover Lake loop out of Achray or the Merchant/La Muir/Hogan/Crow River loop out of Opeongo. I’ve gone back and forth on which one I’d pick out of the two and, despite it being very close, the edge goes to the route with the fewest portages that made me want to give up on everyone and everything I hold dear and just melt into the forest floor in a pool of existential despair. So, congratulations Merchant/La Muir/Hogan/Crow River loop, you’re this year’s big winner!
I really enjoyed this route. Starting from Opeongo you take a water taxi up to the Happy Isle portage (or paddle if you hate yourself). From Happy Isle you head north up through Merchant, Blowdown, Hemlock and Deer Yard to Lake La Muir. You then turn east to Hogan, then south again along the Crow River (and its assorted lakes) before arriving back on Opeongo by way of Proulx. The route’s got a bit of everything: big lakes, small lakes, beautiful views, great campsites, portages to go the wrong way on, some cool history and, of course, the Starship Enterprise Tree. I’d happily do this route again, especially knowing that we didn’t even check out all the things there are to do along the way our last time out (the Big Crow fire tower trail isn’t going to walk itself).
And that’s it for the 2018 Moosies. It was another great year of paddling and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019 … five months from now (ugh). At last count, I’ve got 328 lakes to go which, at the rate I’m going, will mean I’ll be done some time during Trump’s second term (double ugh). If you have any suggestions for routes or lakes I need to check out, please feel free to send me some ideas; I’m always on the look out for cool stuff to see on my next trip. A HUGE thank you to everyone who follows along and keeps reading my reports. This site got almost 30,000 visits this year, which is both awesome and insane. When I first started writing these things I figured I’d be writing for my wife, my mom and myself, so to have so many other folks checking in along the way is amazing. I’ll be adding to the campsite archive over the winter and, if you’re looking for more Algonquin content I suggest checking out The Kayak Camper, Tour du Park or Algonquin Adventures. Or, of course, just head on up there in person, that’s the best Algonquin content there is.
See you next year (hopefully on the water).