Year in Review (2021) – The Golden Moose Awards (Part One)

Welcome to part one of the annual Moosie Awards. Sure, I know the title on this post is The Golden Moose Awards, but we here at All of Algonquin don’t stand on ceremony. Golden Moose Awards, Moosies, Attempt At Wringing Content Out Of A Cold January Day, call it what you want, it’s time to hand out some of the most hotly anticipated and completely arbitrary awards in the Algonquin canoe tripping universe.

The competition this year is going to be fierce. I just saw Pinetree Lake, one of our finalists in the Best Lake category, backstage. It told me it was “as nervous as an arachnophobe on Maple Creek.” Then it started ranting about beavers. I’m not sure what that’s about.

Pinetree’s not the only one feeling the pressure. This year we have deserving nominees in many categories. Who will win Best Campsite? Best Route? How does Pinetree Lake stack up against Misty? Will there be any competition for the Brule Boose in this year’s new category, Most Pantswetting Moment? And, of course, which thunderbox was this year’s thunderiest? So many vital and necessary questions, let’s get some answers h

Schedule of Events

Best Moose Sighting

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sadly, there are no winners in this category this year. For the first time in the history of the Moosies, I didn’t see a single moose on trip. There were some close calls (who can forget the Gordon Lake Polkaroo Moose that my buddy saw but who was gone by the time I arrived?), but unfortunately it was a mooseless summer. You know what I did see though? Turtles. Lots of turtles. So. Many. Turtles. In fact, let’s try something new this year:

Best Turtle Sighting

Maybe it’s because this year marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze and they were all out celebrating, or maybe it’s because their centuries long plan for total world domination is coming to fruition, but I saw more turtles out and about in the Park this year than every previous summer combined. They were everywhere. In the water, on the campsites, stuffed in my son’s dry sack (in this case, the turtles were of the mutant ninja variety) … the turtles were keeping an eye on things and they wanted you to know it.

Another turtle! They’re everywhere. And they’re hungry.

While there are some deserving nominees (the baby turtle I saw on the Potter Lake to Potter Creek portage wins the Most Adorable Turtle category in a landslide), the winner here is pretty easy.

Back in July we did a two night trip up to Tom Thomson Lake with my wife’s family. We were a bigger group, and my hope was that we’d be able to grab the two side-by-side sites on Tom’s north shore that are tailor made for larger trips. It appeared when we arrived that they were indeed free, but we quickly learned that was wrong. It turns out that the turtle to end all turtles had arrived there first, and it very much wanted us to know it. It was big. Like, expect to see it in Godzilla Vs. MegaTurtle at some point big. It also did not give a damn about us.

It announced itself by trying to give my wife’s aunt a heart attack when she went down to the shore. It poked its head out of the water a couple of inches away from where she was crouched and basically shouted “boo!”. It spent the next two days patrolling up and down the shoreline, making sure no one got too comfortable with the idea of a skinny dip.

Up until this summer I haven’t had many chances to see turtles close up, and certainly not any as big as this one. It was very cool. Turtles have been around since the dinosaurs, and when you get to hang out with one for as long as we did you believe it. It also made me very glad that my opportunity to see it up close came when I was on dry land, and not swimming beside it.

Best Ruins

I really want to give this one to the remains of the old rail bridge that used to cross the east end of Islet. They’re awesome. Standing below it you feel like you’ve stumbled onto something from another time and place. Which, now that I think about it, is exactly what has happened. It still feels cool! However, as much as I loved that bridge, this year the award is going to something that doesn’t even qualify as ruins, as it is not ruined. In fact, it’s still in pretty good shape. But, it is a super cool piece of the Park’s history. Also, and this is important, these are my awards and I can do what I want. So this year, the Best Ruins award goes to a very much not ruined cabin on Basin Lake Road that happens to be the oldest still standing structure in the Park.

The oldest building in the Park

The cabin stands right at the corner where you turn off for the paint can shaker simulator experience that is the final kilometer of road into Basin Lake itself. It’s a neat little building. The first floor is one room with a visitor’s log and a smell that reminded me faintly of the zoo. There’s a narrow set of stairs leading to the attic, which is empty visually but just jam packed nasally.

According to the absolute treasure trove of Algonquin information that is Tour Du Parc, the cabin was originally built to serve as a hospital during a diptheria epidemic. Over the years it has also served as a harness shop, a schoolhouse and, apparently, a restroom for every animal in the area. It’s a great spot to check out. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the Park’s history, or anyone who wants a rich tapestry of scents to draw from for a rousing game of “name that smell”.

Thunderiest Thunderbox

Honestly? This is like a 40 way tie this year. None of the thunderboxes I saw stood out, unless you count the weird chin-up bar thunderbox on Little Doe. Fun fact: I just erased about a paragraph’s worth of words on why that bar made no sense to me because I realized someone probably put it there to hang a tarp for bad weather. Now I’m impressed. Impressed enough to give the Little Doe Thundersafe Box a last minute win in this cateogry. Hooray!

Best Swimming

This is a new category this year. I don’t know if it will last, but for now it’s taking the place of the best waterfall category. Why is it taking the place of the best waterfall category? Because I somehow managed to go on six different canoe trips this year (not including day trips) without seeing a single waterfall (unless you count the trickle of water gurgling down the rockface about 20 feet into the woods on Parkside Bay, which I don’t, the title of the below video notwithstanding).

Fortunately, even though it was a waterfall-less summer, I had plenty of opportunities to fall into the water (Oh man, that was terrible. You know what folks? Years from now, when your friends are hotly debating when exactly All of Algonquin jumped the shark, you can win the party by pointing to that last sentence).

I got in a bunch of great swims this year. My first night dip from Site 2 on Pinetree Lake was awesome. It was mid September, so the water was George Costanza levels of cold, but the sun was out, the water was clear and there was a fun little island about thirty meters offshore that you could swim back and forth from.

Equally, if not more, enjoyable was the weekend spent at High Falls in mid August. The natural waterslide area there is an absolutely incredible place to swim, especially with the family. Combine that with the jumping rocks just upriver and it’s like finding a waterpark in the middle of Algonquin. Most years, this would win a Best Swimming category hands down, but this year it’s a strong second for a couple of reasons. 1) While there were plenty of humans splashing around in the pools that weekend, there were also plenty of Northern Watersnakes (by which I mean there was one Northern Watersnake) enjoying the water. The only way anything involving a snake could win a Moosie is if it was in the Best Snake category, and there’s no such thing as a best snake. They’re all terrible. 2) The winning swimming spot this summer was flat out better than High Falls, snake or no snake.

My favourite swim of the summer came on Tom Thomson Lake. We were staying on one of the first point sites you see to your right as you come in front Little Doe. This site (site 4 in my campsite report archive) is one of two that are very close together on that point. I wouldn’t stay there if there was another trip on Site 3, but if one of the sites is empty, or if you’ve got a big group and two permits, this is a great little spot.

Site 4 is compact, but does go back a little bit along the shore towards Bartlett Lake. If you go far enough, you come to a small clearing that is good for a small tent. More importantly, that clearing sits at the top of a small set of ledges about ten feet above the water. These ledges are perfect for jumping. The water is deep, there are a couple of different launch spots and they catch the afternoon sun perfectly. My wife, oldest daughter and I spent a good chunk of time hurling ourselves into the sunset. The water was perfect, not too cold but cool enough to be refreshing on a hot July afternoon. All in all, it was easily my favourite swimming memory for the summer.

Best “I Love This Place” Moment

At least once or twice a trip I’ll have a moment where everything stops and I realize once again how awesome it is to be able to paddle in the Park. Whether it’s paddling across Islet Lake on a dead calm morning, watching the sun go down on Misty and come up on Fork, these are the moments that stay seared in my memory five months later when it’s -20 and I’m looking out my window at snow and ice and, oh, a dog doing its business on my front lawn. That’s fun.

The best of these moments this year, or at least the one that jumps to mind the fastest, was on the last day of my last trip of the summer. This was the Pinetree Loop. We had started the day on Fork Lake and were heading out through Pinetree. There’s only one lake in between Fork and Pinetree (along with two portages that go on longer than you want them to, but that’s another story). That lake is called Rose Lake and it’s the site of this year’s winner.

Rose Lake

We arrived at Rose as the last of the mist was burning off the water. Rose isn’t very big. It’s kind of barbell shaped, in that there are two bigger areas to the east and west and a narrower part in the middle. Kind of like the lake is wearing a belt. The portages are on either side of the narrower part and it’s maybe five minutes of paddling to get from one side to the other.

My buddy Vince and I were ahead of the other canoe. We came out of our put-in bay and around a small point, heading towards the next portage. We stopped to let the other guys catch up. As we waited, we drifted past a small bay to the west and a larger one to the east. The smaller bay was presided over by a tall pine that hung out over the perfectly still water. The last little tendrils of mist were still rising and the air tasted fresh and cool. The only sound was our canoe pushing through the water and the steady squeak of a nearby bird. In other words, it was perfect.

Man, I miss those moments.

Most Pantswetting Moment

I asked at the start of this post if the Brule Boose would have any competition in this category and, with apologies to the High Falls Terror Snake, the answer is a resounding “no”.

I ran into the Boose on Brule Lake. It was the last morning of my four day trip from Rain Lake down to Canoe Lake. I … you know what? I’m going to let August Drew take this one. I don’t think I can do a better job than he did of describing what happened that morning.

Early morning on Brule

“I woke up at 5:10 a.m. to the sound of something very big and very close enjoying its morning bath in Potter Creek. I’m not going to lie, it was mildly terrifying. Don’t believe me? Ask my Fitbit, which recorded my heartrate going from zero to ‘drumline on speed’ in less time than it takes Nicholas Cage to steal a car. I couldn’t see outside the tent without moving, and I didn’t want to move in case whatever was out there heard me shift and decided to investigate (my Thermarest is super comfortable, but it creaks like a wooden floor every time I shift on it). I lay on my back in the near dark, heart pumping, trying to decide if I was listening to a bear or moose. I settled on some bloodthirsty hybrid of the two, let’s call it a Boose, and held my breath as it splashed closer and closer.

Fortunately, whatever it was didn’t find me interesting enough to investigate. It splashed around for a few more minutes then retreated into the woods. The sound of it crashing through the trees grew steadily fainter until the only thing I could hear was the thumping of my own heart.”

I still don’t know what it was that came to visit that morning. My guess is a moose, but who knows? I’d believe everything from Bigfoot to a chipmunk on steroids. All I do know is that that was probably the most frightened I’ve ever been on a campsite. Not on trip, mind you, that honour goes last year’s number one lesson learned about when and how to mess with thunder (never and don’t). But this was a pretty decent all time second in terms of getting the old ticker into quasi heart attack territory, and definitely number one for this year.

Know what folks? We’re at about the halfway point of our program and it’s time for a commercial break. When we come back with Part Two we’ll have the heavy hitter categories: Best Lake, Best Campsite and Best Trip.  Until then, here’s your reminder that as of today you can book trips starting as late as June 14. So what are you waiting for? The bugs can’t wait to see you.

(Oh yeah, here’s my favourite sunrise for the year)

Morning on Echo Bay

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