In what is fast becoming a December tradition to rival all the major holidays, plus some of the minor ones as well (I see you International Ninja Day), it’s time once again for my year end review of the, uh, year. The past couple of years I’ve broken this into two parts. The first, the one you are reading this very moment, is a general recap of the trips I took this year (what feels like a lifetime ago when the 20 on my thermometer wasn’t preceded by a “-“). The second is the Moosie awards (the M in MEGOT) in which I hand out arbitrary awards that may or may not be consistent from year to year and try to forget that it’s at least six months til the next time I get in a canoe. So let’s get to it.
This is going to be a shorter than usual recap because this was a shorter than usual tripping season. Between some trips that didn’t come off as planned, a poorly timed stomach bug and a hamstring that decided to take a vacation of its own through July and half of August, I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked to. My longest trip this year was two nights and my shortest wasn’t much shorter. My back, which has spent most of September of the past few years trying to divorce me, was grateful for the low impact summer, but the rest of me didn’t love it. Fortunately, when I did get out the trips were generally good, and the year ended on a high note with a couple of really great trips in early September. But before we get to September, let’s talk about May.
My first trip this yearwas scheduled for what I thought would be a couple of weeks after ice out. Enough time for the lake temperatures to go from instant hypothermia to almost instant hypothermia. It turned out, however, that the ice was basically a version of teenage me: it was pretty damn comfortable where it was and had no interest in going anywhere. It hung around well into May while all its other ice friends were pulling up stakes and migrating back to the Arctic. (That’s what happens, right?). In fact, Spring didn’t get around to evicting the ice’s lazy ass until about three days before the trip was scheduled to start and the Park didn’t open until the day the trip was supposed to start. Combine that with a weather forecast that would have to improve to be called “shitty” and we ended up pushing our start date back a couple of days in the hopes of avoiding a first day of paddling through a downpour and setting up in rainy, miserable, near zero degree conditions.
Guess what we didn’t avoid?
The trip was out of the Kiosk access point. I was going with my buddy Rob who has now been on five trips with me and is somehow still talking to me. Our original plan was to do Manitou the first night, North Tea the second, Biggar the third, Maple the fourth and in. Manitou is a massive lake in the Park’s north west corner. The portage coming into it from the east ends on a long, wide beach with a great view west. We arrived at Manitou to a pretty ferocious headwind that, very shortly after our arrival, blew in an equally ferocious rain cloud. Despite the wind and grey skies, I really liked the look of the lake. Unfortunately, the rain must have felt the same way, because it hunkered down right there with us for most of the night. We paddled across open water (which was dumb) to a really nice island site about a quarter of the way down Manitou. The rain started when we were about 200 metres from shore and never really gave up. We set our tents up (in the wind and rain), ate dinner (in the wind and rain), tried to keep a fire going with moderate success (in the wind and rain) and, eventually, crawled into our tents and went to sleep (in the wind and rain).
The next morning the rain had finally given up, but the wind had doubled down. Looking west into the teeth of that headwind we realized that neither of us was interested in taking our chances on the open water. We debated a couple of options, but we were both cold and damp and I think by this point we already knew what it would take us another hour to say out loud. We were done. On the plus side, the trip out of Manitou, along the Amable du Fond and back across Kioshkokwi was quite nice. The falls along the Amable du Fond were spectacular, the fried salami for lunch was delicious and the paddle across Kioshkokwi ended with some honest to goodness blue skies overhead. It was disappointing that we weren’t going to complete the route we had planned, but it was also the right decision for us. That trip did, however, make it the second time in a row I’ve had to cut a Kiosk trip short. Given that I’ve only left from Kiosk twice, that’s a 100% failure rate for that access point. That won’t do. Next year I’m going to paddle from the access point to the rail bridge and back just so I can call it a successful trip. 66% failure rate, here I come.
My next trip was a short day trip out of the Rain Lake access point that I managed to squeeze in while visiting my wife’s family near Huntsville. I had two goals for this trip: 1) Make it to Islet Lake and 2) set up a hammock on Islet Lake and do nothing for at least two hours. I am happy to report that, unlike the Kiosk trip, this one ended up being 100% successful.
I went up to Islet by way of Hot Lake, which was neither overly warm nor particularly attractive, proving that the Algonquin Park Lake Naming Committee is just making shit up as they go along. I made my way to the lone island site on Islet Lake and found not only a perfect little bug free spot to eat lunch and take a swim, but some of the best hammock hanging trees I’ve ever seen. I strung up my hammock, read my book and enjoyed a pretty relaxing afternoon alone on the lake. Sadly, as Jean Luc Picard taught us so many years ago, all good things must end (I’m sure I’ve used that joke before, but any time you can reference the greatest Captain in Federation history you have to do it). I packed up my hammock, got back in my canoe and made my way back to the access point, stopping to check out a couple of pretty nice sites on Rain Lake along the way.
About a week after the Islet Lake trip I tore my hamstring trying to turn a triple into an inside the park home run in a rec league softball game. So, doing important work. While it was interesting watching the progression of the giant purple Rorschach blot of a bruise that came with the tear as it made its way down my leg over the next six weeks, it kind of put a damper on things from a paddling or hiking or, you know, moving anywhere at all standpoint. Fortunately, I had a fantastic physiotherapist and by early August I was ready to test my leg against the toughest challenge in Algonquin: The Joe Lake portage.
This trip was an overnight with my daughter up to Tom Thomson from Canoe Lake. In total, we were out for less than 24 hours, but it was a great time nonetheless. After battling both a surprise headwind and a surprisingly crowded Tom Thomson, we ended up on a wonderfully secluded point site at the north east end of the lake. While the south part of the lake was absolutely packed with people, we couldn’t see anyone at all from our site, giving us the feeling of being alone on what had to be one of the busiest lakes in the park that day. The site itself was awesome, and we spent the evening swimming, roasting marshmallows and reading Harry Potter. The trip back the next day gave us a chance to check out a few other sites between Tom Thomson and Canoe Lake and I now have a new entry on my list of sites I never have to visit again. I also have a new entry on my list of sites with human shit on them. It’s (thankfully) a shorter list. Also, a grosser one.
Thanks to a poorly timed stomach bug, my next trip, a two nighter to Pinetree Lake in mid August, had to hop in its Delorean and head back to the future (uh … that’s a really convoluted way of saying that it got postponed to next year due to pooping). This meant that I didn’t get back out on the water until Labour Day weekend, when my brother-in-law and I embarked on the Quest for Susan Lake (no, you’re using unnecessary caps).
This was a day trip up through the Ahmek district north and west of Canoe Lake. This part of the park is primarily small lakes and long, low maintenance portages. It’s also quite pretty and, thanks to those long, low maintenance portages, usually pretty secluded. The entire purpose of this trip was to visit the campsite on Susan Lake that has been marked on Jeff’s Map as being in poor condition. Really, the same could be said for multiple spots along this route, particularly the overgrown, underused proto-jungle that used to be the 680 m portage between Red Lake and Susan Lake. I still have scratches on my legs from the sea of prickle bushes we had to wade through just to reach the end. The good news is that neither of us keeled over from blood loss. The bad news is that when we arrived at Susan Lake someone was actually on the site. I guess they hadn’t read Jeff’s Map.
While it was disappointing not to get to experience the full shittiness of that site on Susan Lake in all its glory, it was a fantastic trip. We finished off visiting some ruins from the town of Mowat that I had never seen before, despite them being basically in our backyard on Canoe Lake. Overall, the route was tough but fun. I really like that part of the park. Lupus Lake, a new one for me on this trip, is a decent sized, very pretty lake with no campsites on it. Just paddling through gives you a feeling of being somewhere very remote, despite being around 10 KM from the busiest access point in the park. The portages, while challenging, aren’t soul crushing (Red Lake to Susan excepted) and the scenery along the way is quite nice.
The weekend after Labour Day I headed out once again, this time on a two nighter with my buddies Dan, Gordon and Vince. This trip was out of the Rock Lake access point and included stops on Pen Lake and Louisa, with creek paddling, mud walking and fire fighting along the way.
This trip was notable for quite a few things. First, I finally managed to see the pictographs on the Rock Lake cliffs. Every time I’d gone by them before I’d spend about half an hour paddling back and forth along the rock wall, wondering if what I was looking at was some ancient art or some less ancient lichen. Up until now, it was always lichen. But not anymore! Thanks to Vince, who spotted the artwork while I was trying to turn more lichen into pictures by squinting at it, I can now cross seeing those pictographs off my Algonquin bucket list.
We spent our first night on Pen Lake, paddling through the rain to find our site towards the south end of the lake. Because of that rain, we set up one of the best tarp structures in the long history of tarp structuring. It must have worked, because as soon as the tarp was up the rain got scared off and we ended up with a pretty pleasant evening by the fire. The next day, after a winding (and occasionally muddy) trip along the Galipo River through Welcome, Harry and Rence Lake, we spent some more time fireside, but this time it was because we were trying to douse a root fire we’d found on Frank Lake’s lone campsite. I don’t know if the fire was started by a lighting strike or a careless camper, but however it got going, by the time we saw the smoke from it it had chewed a trench about ten feet long through the middle of the campsite. The bottom of the trench was very hot coal and ember and the sides were still smoldering away. From time to time spouts of flame would shoot up from the edges of the trench, making for an interesting and slightly frightening walking experience as we tried putting it out with water from our bottles and bowls. I think we probably did put a damper (WORDPLAY) on it to some degree, but we weren’t able to get it completely under control. Fortunately, I was able to get cell reception on the site and got in touch with 911. They advised us to leave the site as root fires can be unpredictable, which we were happy enough to do once the guy on the other end warned me that even if the ground looks solid it could be a charred mess just below the surface.
We spent our final night on Lake Louisa, on what is now easily one of my top five favourite sites in the park, and went out by way of the Louisa/Rock 3 KM portage the next day. This was probably my favourite trip of the summer. While the weather during the days was hit and miss (and more miss than hit), the nights were clear and the fires were great. The route was a good one, combining lots of different elements, including a fun little mud trap in between Rence and Frank that almost got away with Dan’s leg. I would happily do this trip again, although next time I’d probably opt out of the root fire component.
My final trip of the summer was a two night stay on Booth Lake on yet another fantastic site (I got some really great sites this year). This trip was with some buddies from work and was meant to be more on the low key and relaxing end of the scale as opposed to the fire fighting and mud sinking end. Our site was spectacular; it was about halfway up Booth’s eastern shore and has its own private beach. The fire pit has a great view of the lake and there was enough level ground to sleep a (small) army. It’s good that we had such a nice site, because the weather was kind of terrible. It started raining almost as soon as we put our canoes into the water on Booth. We built another fantastic tarp structure over the fire pit, and that would have been awesome, except the prevailing wind spent most of the first night pushing the rain (and smoke) sideways into our faces. Fortunately, the rain let up for the next day (although the wind hung around). Apart from a brief solo paddle/leaf in a hurricane impersonation, I didn’t get out on the water much. Instead, we did some exploring up and down the shoreline, took turns using my new Agawa Canyon Boreal 21 saw to cut any piece of wood that looked at us sideways in half and generally enjoyed taking it easy by the campfire.
And that was it. Like I said … ugh, 2,600 words ago (what happened to a short write up Drew?) … this was a shorter tripping season. I still managed to get in some fun trips, but I’m very much looking forward to next year and hopefully getting out for some longer stretches. I did learn some pretty valuable lessons about planning this year, as I think a couple of my trips could have gone better if I’d given more thought to time of year and other contingencies. I learned how to build a kick ass tarp structure over a fire without burning the crap out of your tarp, and how to tie knots efficiently (up until now my knot tying was basically wrapping pieces of rope around each other until neither end could move anymore). I learned that you can find new beauty while covering old ground (I had forgotten about the gorgeous rock wall in Tom Thomson’s northern end) and I learned that the best place to hang your hammock is wherever you happen to be when it’s hammock hanging time. I also learned that I am too old for softball. That’s probably the most valuable lesson of all.
Happy New Year to everyone! Look for Part Two: The 2019 Moosies coming to a blog near you soon.