A Night On Tom Thomson

Back in June I hit a really nice triple. (Keep reading. I swear this is related to canoe tripping. Sort of). I was playing softball and the hit was, if I say so myself, a thing of beauty. The ball left the bat like a rocket, split the left and center fielders and rolled to the wall. If there’d been a crowd watching, it would have cheered.  Maybe a single tear would have trickled down someone’s cheek at the sheer majesty of the moment or a small child would have been so inspired by the speed of the thing that they realized that anything is possible and 30 years later go on to invent faster-than-light space travel. I don’t know (but probably). As it stood, there was no crowd, no tears and no small children, but somewhere the God of Beer League Softball Triples was smiling happily. As I rounded second base I thought to myself “you know what Drew, I bet you can turn this triple into an inside-the-park home run if you run a bit faster” and I tried to speed things up a bit.

Oh, God, Yuck! Where are the canoeing pictures?

That’s when my hamstring said “fuck this guy” and tore itself in half.

See, the problem was, that at the same time as the God of Beer League Softball Triples was gazing benevolently down upon me, the God of Hamstring Tears was warming up his whammy stick.  By the time the dust had settled I had a grade 2 hamstring tear and four to six long weeks of not portaging in front of me (see, I told you it was related to canoe tripping).

All of this is to say that it’s been a long, canoe trip-less month of July.

The good news is that we’re in week five of those four to six weeks. The even better news is that I got out on a (very) quick overnight to Tom Thomson with my daughter last week and my leg didn’t fall off. This means two things: 1) there’s likely a longer trip coming in my near future and 2) I get to write a trip report! So let’s do that.

The goal for this trip was to have a nice night with my daughter before she went into camp. I picked Tom Thomson because a) there’s only one, extremely short, portage between Canoe Lake and Tom Thomson and I didn’t want to give my hamstring any reason to go back on strike, b) when I went into the permit office that morning it seemed like the least crowded of the easily accessible lakes north of Canoe and c) it’s really pretty. I don’t know if it was opposite day in the permit office and not crowded actually meant crowded as fuck, or if a horde of Tom Thomson Lake aficionados descended on the access point after I left, but it turned out that while Tom Thomson is still very pretty, it was also very crowded. But we’ll get to that.

My daughter was 100% down for Potter Creek until she realized it wasn’t named for Harry.

We set off in the mid afternoon. It’s about a two to two and a half hour trip up to Tom Thomson from Canoe, and my main goal was to get there in time for a swim before dinner. The paddle up Canoe was quite pleasant. The sun was hot, but the breeze kept things comfortable. My daughter and I chatted about her upcoming camp session and Harry Potter. (For the record, she was excited about camp and refused to acknowledge my long held position that the true hero of Harry Potter is Dudley Dursely). We arrived at the Joe Lake portage to find a decent sized crowd of people both coming and going. Fortunately, the Joe Lake portage is basically a slightly narrower city road, so there was plenty of room for everyone. We got out and got our stuff across and were soon back on the water, tapping our paddles on the underside of the Joe Lake bridge for good luck as we went (and then trying to blink away some of the dirt good luck that had fallen off the bridge and into my eye after I tapped it).

Between Joe Lake and Tom Thomson there’s nothing but water. You paddle north through a number of lakes connected by the Little Oxtongue River. Despite the unbroken paddle, there’s a lot en route to keep your interest. The Joe Lake cliffs just north of the Joe Lake portage offer some great cliff jumping for all ages. Camp Arrowhon on Tepee is fun to paddle past, especially when the waterfront is busy. I’ve seen quite a few moose on the Little Oxtongue, particularly in the bays near Fawn Lake, and Little Doe … well, Little Doe exists.

For us, the paddle north was uneventful. We didn’t see any moose or jump any cliffs, but we did manage hundreds, if not thousands, of mosquito and other bug sightings. I guess it’s partly because spring came so late this year, but the bugs in the Park still seem to be going strong. They’re not bad during the days, but they’re still coming out to party in the evenings. Fortunately, the lessons of my trip out of Kiosk last June are seared in my memory for the rest of time and we had plenty of bug juice and gear with us to keep things manageable.

Looking back towards Little Doe and the broken dam.

The first surprise of this trip came when we turned into the narrows that connects Little Doe and Tom Thomson. There’s been a large beaver dam smack in the middle of that river for as long as I can remember. Sometimes the water levels are high enough that you can just ram your canoe over the top, but with such a dry summer so far I figured I’d have to get out and drag the boat across. That definitely would have been the case this time, if someone hadn’t cut a canoe sized hole in the middle of the dam.  I’m not sure how that hole came to be, whether it’s the Park’s doing or just some fed up tripper with too much time on their hands, but I don’t hate it. (Although, it is a pretty egregious example of interfering with the natural setting, so maybe it’s not that great. I dunno. I really hate dragging over beaver dams).

We were through the beaver dam and out of the narrows in short order where we were greeted by surprise numbers two and three of the trip in quick succession. Surprise number two was that Tom Thomson was, as I mentioned earlier, super crowded. There were only supposed to be five other groups on the lake, and it looked like in reality there were about twice that. We had hoped to grab a specific site just up from the entrance to Bartlett Lake, but while it wasn’t occupied, the one directly beside it was by about a dozen 12-13 year old campers and their counselors.  Since I wanted to sleep that night, we figured we’d move on.

Tom Thomson’s rock wall. See, it exists.

The trouble with moving on was that every other site in the vicinity was taken and, surprise number three, a pretty significant headwind had somehow popped up. We paddled (slowly) towards the Ink Lake portage, providing some early evening viewing entertainment for the groups watching us from shore and hoping that there’d be some free sites in the north part of the lake. (Speaking of the north part of the lake, I don’t know if I’ve just never paddled through that part before or if Will Smith has been repeatedly erasing my memory after every visit to Tom Thomson, but I had no memory whatsoever of the absolutely gorgeous rock wall that lines the eastern shore of the north part. Fortunately, this time I’ve got pictures, so let’s see you erase that Will Smith.).

Pulling up to our site.

The good news is that there were indeed some free sites in the north part of the lake. In fact, all the sites in this part were free. We ended up on a site at the entrance to a small bay, just across from the north shore. As far as sites go, it was damn near perfect for us. It’s secluded, has great views, great swimming and, importantly, had no one else on it. The only downside would be that there is quite a bit of downside to the site. In other words, it’s hilly. There was a decent enough spot for our tent, but I wouldn’t want to be there with a large group, unless it happens to be a group from Slant Sleepers Anonymous on their annual summer retreat.

Once we were on the site the evening passed quite pleasantly. We got the tent set up, ate some dinner, smacked some bugs, roasted (quite) a few marshmallows, took a swim, smacked some more bugs and read some Harry Potter by the water. From where we sat the lake seemed empty. The only sound was a bullfrog philharmonic warming up in the nearby bay and the lapping of the waves on the nearby rocks. It was easy to forget that the Great Tom Thomson Camping Jamboree was happening on the south part of the lake. By about 9 pm my daughter was yawning repeatedly and I began to worry that she was inhaling more than her recommended daily dose of mosquitoes, so she went off to bed and I followed shortly after.

We slept well. My daughter can sleep anywhere, on anything, and she happily snored the night away. I woke up once, but just long enough to admire the starlit sky and nearly walk off a small cliff (I’d set the tent up close to a ledge over the water. This is the type of information that is important to keep in mind when stumbling around outside the tent at 2 in the morning).

This is perfect for swimming.

We woke up the next morning to mist and the kind of grey skies that you just know are going to burn off and leave you with a scorcher of a day later on. We ate some oatmeal, packed up our gear and spent some time swimming between the site and a small island about fifty feet offshore (FYI, I’m terrible at estimating distances. The island could have been seventy feet, it could have been twenty feet. Basically, if I can’t reach out and touch something, it’s fifty feet away). I can’t say enough about how great this site was for swimming. There’s a nice spit of rock jutting out into the lake that you can either slip in from on one side or jump from on the other, there’s a sandy walk in for petraphobes, and the water is (mostly) free of weeds and other grossness. I’d go back to that site for the swimming alone. My daughter loves swimming but has been a bit hesitant about swimming in lakes. For whatever reason this spot gave her tons of confidence to try pushing her boundaries and by the time we left she was swimming all over the place.

Checking out the poop site on Tom Thomson

When we finally decided we were well and truly waterlogged, we got out, dried off and set off for home. By now the sun had started to burn through the mist and the day was heating up (resulting in a lot of self-fiving and cheering from my inner weather man, who was feeling very smug about his earlier grey sky predictions).  Along the way we stopped and explored a few of the empty sites on Tom Thomson, Little Doe and Tepee. The first, a site across from ours on Tom Thomson, would have been fine if not for the mountain climb to get up to the Thunder Box and the giant pile of shit that awaited us in front of that box. Unfortunately for that site (which actually had a lot going for it), “random piles of human feces” is high up on my list of things that will lead to me giving a site a bad Yelp review. To quote my daughter “this is gross”. Poop in the boxes people. Not beside them.

A view from the nice site on Little Doe. Also, some random sticks.

We stopped at two sites on Little Doe, one of which was quite nice. This was a site on the east shore, just south of where Tom Thomson meets Little Doe. It’s got great western exposure, lots of open space and exposed rock and, importantly, is not the other site we visited, which I’d call hot garbage if I didn’t think that was doing a disservice to warmed up trash everywhere. This one was the first site you see coming out of the Little Oxtongue River. It’s little more than a small clearing in the trees with room for one tent and lots of bugs. The swimming would be fine, provided you enjoy swimming in thick reeds and mats of guck. On the plus side, the view of the water from the fire pit is nicely unobstructed, mostly because the fire pit, and really the entire site, is less than 10 feet from the water’s edge.

Paddling down the Little Oxtongue and into Tepee we began to run into lots of other trips, both coming and going. At one point we watched a camp counselor climb carefully up the side of a (very) dead tree hanging over the water, then flip backwards off the top and into the lake. It looked awesome. I’m glad it wasn’t me doing it. We chatted a bit with some of the groups we passed (or caught up to) and it was a pleasant way to pass the time heading south.

Our final stop for the day was the point site on the southern end of Tepee Lake. This is a great site, lots of space, nice views, decent swimming etc. The only downside would be the proximity to Camp Arowhon, which is very nice looking in passing, but probably gets a bit intrusive if you’re sharing a lake for any length of time. On the plus side, if you stay there the night of a camp dance you’ll get a pleasant evening of pounding beats and (frantically googles “what are the kids listening to these days?”) Billy Ray Cyrus? WTF? Anyways, it’s a nice spot, but maybe save it for September.

One final look at Tom Thomson from the site.

And that was pretty much it. We paddled back down Joe, past the cliffs, under the bridge and crossed the Joe Lake portage (which was once again THE place to be in Algonquin Park that day). The trip back down Canoe Lake was uneventful, although we did manage to eat three quarters of a bag of Smartfood between the portage and my in-laws’ cottage. All in all, it was a perfect overnight. I had a great time with my daughter, my leg held up and the bugs ate almost as well as we did. So, good times all around.

Map courtesy of Jeff’s Maps

Next up: A couple of nights on Pinetree Lake in August. Can’t wait.

New Lakes Paddled: 0
Total Lakes Paddled: 11
Total Portages: 2
Total Portage Distance: 590 M
Total Travel Distance: 26 KM

5 thoughts on “A Night On Tom Thomson

  1. Well written as always Drew. A trip that Paige will always remember bugs and all. Hope your leg is now 100%. Susan


    1. Thank you very much Susan!

  2. Really enjoyed reading this, sounds like a nice quick trip. Hope the leg is healing up!

    1. Thank you! It’s much better now

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