This is my second Year in Review post for 2020. The first covers a few of the more important lessons I learned this past summer. This post is going to focus slightly less on the mistakes that can kill you and slightly more on all the awesome things that happened this year. Because, as much as 2020 has sucked (and it has sucked like a nuclear powered Dyson) there have also been some rays of sunshine peeking through the clouds here and there.
I had some great trips this summer. All told, I managed to cross 21 new lakes off the list and revisited quite a few more. I got out with my wife and kids to Burnt Island twice, once in July and once in August. I did a challenging, and sobering, three day loop out of Kiosk in early July and a fantastic four day loop up through Big Trout over Labour Day. Throw in some pleasant day trips in early June and my first time visiting a few of the hiking trails along highway 60 and it was a pretty decent Algonquin summer smack dab in the middle of a very different year.
As with past years’ Moosie posts this one will be split into different categories. I find this is the easiest way for me to organize my thoughts and really highlight the … uh … *flips open thesaurus, sighs* … highlights of the year. Also, it gives me an excuse to write the words Thunderiest Thunderbox again and I don’t want to give that up. Ever. So let’s get started with probably the easiest category to decide this year:
Best Moose Sighting
Dear Mangotasi Moose,
I first saw you as we were paddling away from the Hornbeam to Mangotasi portage back in July. I will admit, I was a bit distracted as my hand had recently been partially severed (read: cut very slightly) while I was putting down the canoe. Also, that portage is a haven for mosquitoes and I was still swatting some persistent followers as I tried to bandage up my extremely serious and not at all minor injury. I looked up, and there you were: grazing happily at the eastern end of the small bay we were paddling through. You weren’t the most impressive moose I’d ever seen, nor could I see you very well since you were very far away (not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I would much rather my moose sighting be from a distance instead of rounding a corner on a portage and coming face to antlers with 1,000 pounds of walking moose rage) but, and this is important, you are also the only moose I saw this summer. So you win this category.
Fun story. It turns out that there were in fact two moose sightings this summer. I totally forgot I saw a moose and its mooselet walking along the shore between Canoe Lake and Bonita Lake back in June. That was by far the better sighting but, well, I’ve already written that whole paragraph and writing a new one seems like a lot of work. Although, you could argue that that is exactly what I’m doing right now. Fine. You tell the Mangotasi Moose its been Steve Harvey’d.
I saw a few decent sunrise/sunsets this year. Although, if we’re being honest with each other, there were definitely more sunsets than sunrises. (You cart three mini human shaped hurricanes into the woods and see how raring to go you are at 5 am the next day.) There are three candidates that stick out in my mind in this category. The first is from my first trip to Burnt Island with my wife and kids. We had a B- site on the north shore about halfway down the lake. The main thing it had going for it was that, for some reason, there were absolutely no bugs on it and it had great views east and west. It was a great spot to sit and watch the sun go down and both nights that we were there it didn’t disappoint.
The second was from the first night of my Labour Day trip. This was a four day loop out of Canoe Lake that took us up to McIntosh, east to Big Trout then back home again through Burnt Island and
the Joe Lakes a whole lot of unexpected portaging. The first night on McIntosh we had a reasonably good site just up from the entrance to Ink Creek. It was on the east side of the lake, had a nice firepit and was protected from the fairly persistent wind blowing onshore. More relevant to this post, it also had a really great western view and a nice spot to sit by the water and watch the sunset.
The final contender is from the very next night on Big Trout. This was an island site in the southern half of the lake. To be blunt, it’s views weren’t as good as what we had on McIntosh as the south shore was actually pretty close across the water and the curve of the island hid the main part of Big Trout from sight. However, what that night did have going for it was that it had been a pretty rainy day. Most people probably wouldn’t consider rain a plus, particularly in a best sunset contest, but it meant that there were quite a few residual clouds crossing the sky around sunset. As the sun dropped below the horizon it lit the clouds from beneath and left us with some pretty spectacular colours to usher in the night.
While all three sunsets were awesome, and in a way they’re all winners, in another, more real way, I’m giving this year’s Moosie to the Big Trout Sunset. Any time a sunset reminds me of the alien ships coming through the atmosphere in Independence Day you know it’s going to be tough to beat.
This was a good summer for waterfalls. I saw a bunch, sat under a bunch and generally enjoyed the crap out of what gravity does to water when the riverbed beneath it decides to see what things are like at lower altitudes. I saw the majority of my falls on the early July loop out of Kiosk. The Amable Du Fond is a great stretch for small to mid sized falls and I highly recommend paddling from Kiosk to North Tea and back at some point. In fact, last year’s winner, the falls at the P310 in between Kiosk and Manitou came from this same area and it’s tempting to just give them the nod this year as well.
Tempting, but not what’s going to happen. Instead this year’s award goes to a set of falls about 10 KM west, along the P585 between Manitou and North Tea. This is a really pretty set of falls. You approach it through a small campsite about 100 meters from the North Tea end of the portage. There are a few levels and quite a few ledges that are tailor made for sitting on or under. We arrived there after two days of hot, tiring tripping that had taken us from Kiosk down to Maple, across to Biggar and back up to North Tea. The bugs had been pretty awful for most of the way and the days were hot with no wind except for whatever breeze the mosquitoes’ wings were making. I can’t tell you how great it felt having that water crashing over me was after such a tough couple of days. It was immediately reinvigorating and also very hard to leave behind. There’s a parallel universe out there where alt-me is still sitting in the spray muttering about black flies and trying to rev himself up for the rest of the portage. Alt-me is very cold by now.
Best Hiking Trail
This is a new category this year, mostly because I want to work the Bat Lake Trail into this post somehow. I’ve done a few of the hikes that are available off Highway 60 over the past couple of summers and I’ve enjoyed them all. The shorter routes, like Spruce Bog and the Logging Museum, are great for little kids. Some of the longer trail trails might be a bit much for a three year old (not that that stopped us from doing the Beaver Pond loop back in June and instantly regretting that decision) but they’re great if you’re looking to stretch your legs and feel like you’re deeper in the Park than you actually are.
My favourite by far was the Bat Lake Trail. It’s a 5.8 KM loop near the Two Rivers campground. I ran it one morning in August and had the trail more or less to myself. There’s a bit of climbing to get to the lookout, but it’s well worth the effort. The view is fantastic and the trail getting there is well kept and easy to follow. There’s a cool set of steps and boardwalks near the beginning that look like they belong in a rainforest out west. Also, there were like zero bats swarming me. Made the 20 lbs of garlic I’d brought for protection seem excessive, but hey what’s a bit of extra weight to ensure a vampire free experience? (But, seriously, this was a great trail. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re along highway 60 and looking for something to do).
The best Thunderbox I saw this year wasn’t a Thunderbox at all. It was a Thunderhouse. We found it on our site on Big Trout and while it may not be the greatest smelling thing I’ve come across in Algonquin, that roof sure comes in handy when the weather Gods flip the switch from “what a nice day” to “HAHAHAHAHA Suckers!”. I do, however, have questions about this Thunderhouse. Big Trout is not exactly close to an access point. It’s about a 30 KM day away from Canoe Lake, and maybe a bit less from Source, Canisbay and Opeongo. Who decided they wanted to cart the materials to build this thing all the way up there? What made them look at this particular island and think “hey, I want to build a small, terrible smelling structure for people to poop in”? Did they fly the materials in? If they didn’t fly them in, did someone carry them in and when people asked them what they were doing on the way did they reply “gonna build me a shitter on Big Trout”? Finally, and this is important, how concerned should I have been that the floorboards seem pretty damn spongey? I feel like this building is a hilarious yet disgusting anecdote waiting to happen for someone. Fortunately, this time, it wasn’t me.
Last year’s winner of this category were the remnants of the Mowat lumber mill on Potter Creek. This year we’re going back to Mowat, but we’re cheating a bit. The coolest historical spot I visited this year wasn’t a set of ruins (unless you count a fairly old fence around the area) but a very small graveyard a short hike in from the north shore of Canoe Lake. There’s an almost invisible path leading away from the road that cuts back along Potter Creek that will take you through a swampy area then up a small hill. At the end of the path is the graveyard with a couple of tombstones presided over by a gnarled old birch tree. Just outside the fence that surrounds the graveyard is a small white cross that, supposedly, marks the spot where Tom Thomson was buried. It’s a peaceful spot and worthy of the man if it is in fact his final resting place.
Ok, we’ve hit all the supporting categories and the 2,000 word mark at about the same time, so this seems like a good place to stop for now. Next time we’ll look at the big three: Best Campsite, Best Lake and Best Trip. And, who knows, there may be one more bonus category as well. The only way to find out is to come back in a few days and read the third and final post in this year’s Year in Review series (or wait for it’s reprinting in the New York Times which is something that will certainly happen any day now).
Until next time, here’s another waterfall shot, because waterfalls are the best. (This one is at the start of the portage from Big Trout onto Otterslide Creek.)