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

Welcome back to the Moosies! If you’re joining us mid-show, this is part two of this year’s annual Golden Moose Awards. Part One handed out awards in categories like Best Swimming, Best Ruins and Most Pantswetting Moment (basically, these are the categories we use to pad the show while everyone waits for the glamour awards. They’re the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar of the canoe tripping awards ecosystem). Part Two is where we look at the heavy hitters, including Best Lake, Best Campsite and the biggest one of all, Best Trip. h

The Awards

Before we get to any of those though, let’s start with a pair of categories that celebrate that unsung hero/much maligned villain of any canoe trip: the portage.

Best Portage

It’s fair to ask, is there even such a thing as a best portage? I mean, portages are, by definition, the worst. (Don’t believe me? While most people believe that Portage comes from the French word meaning “to carry” it actually is a much older translation of a mid 15th century phrase that roughly translates to “I hate everything and I wish I’d never heard of canoe tripping also I’m worried about these black spots on my arm where that rat bit me last week. This is the worst”).

However, portages aren’t always terrible. The last two portages along the Petawawa coming into Cedar from Catfish aren’t necessarily easy (especially if you’re coming uphill) but they take you around the two tallest waterfalls in the Park, and throw in some cool history as well. Other times, the portage itself will just be really nice. Maybe it’s flat and easy to follow, maybe the scenery is particularly pretty. Maybe there’s a popsicle stand at the halfway point (Dear Ontario Parks, this is an idea whose time has come. I don’t know why you aren’t replying to my emails). Whatever the reason, every once in a while a portage will come along that’s actually pretty awesome. This year, that portage was the P1,540 from Rock Lake to Gordon Lake.

Any time your portage starts with one of these you’re probably in for a good carry.

So, what’s so great about the Rock to Gordon carry? Well, to start with, it is probably the easiest trail to follow this side of the Joe Lake portage. You could say this is because I am an expert woodsman with an eye for the smallest detail and an almost supernatural understanding of the natural world around me. You could also, and more accurately, say this because this portage also doubles as the first third of the Booth’s Rock hiking trail and as a result is probably one of the most frequently used and maintained carries in the Park.

Vince at Rose Pond

I really enjoyed this portage. The trail is wide and well maintained. There is a bit of uphill, but I had managed to pass the canoe off to my buddy Vince about 30 seconds before we found out about that uphill. So, instead of getting in an unexpected leg day, I got to linger at Rose Pond (a small pond at about the halfway point of the carry) before strolling the rest of the way to Gordon. I think this one also stands out in my mind as being particularly pleasant because it came immediately before one of the finalists in our next category, the hotly contested

Worst Portage

Now this is more like it. Portages are the worst, and this year I managed to find multiple carries that were all too happy to try and prove that point. I’ve narrowed it down to three finalists, all of which have a strong argument to be included in my top ten all time worst portages.

Bluebell to Small Lake

The second and third place finishers both came from the same trip. In fact, they’re only separated from each other by two small lakes and a million small scratches. I’m talking here about the P735 from Norman Lake to Bena Lake and the P1,425 from Mikado to Bluebell. Man, these portages sucked. Both follow the creek that links most of the larger bodies of water along this stretch. I’d say more, but honestly, September 2021 Drew summed it up perfectly:

“The portage out of Norman follows a creek for 735 soggy, scratchy meters. You’re never more than a few feet away from the water, and the ground wants you to know it. The only thing growing faster than the mud patches are the raspberry bushes. You know what’s not fun? Wading through 735 meters of raspberry bushes.”

And then:

“The P1425 between Mikado and Bluebell was by far the most aggravating portage along this stretch … Where the mud hasn’t completely taken over, the raspberry bushes have. By the time I got to the other end of the portage my shins looked like they’d been attacked by a horde of garden gnomes with razor blades.” 

Well said, four months ago me, well said.

In most years, either of these two carries would take the Worst Portage prize in a landslide. But this isn’t most years. This is the year I tried to carry a boat from Gordon Lake to Rock Creek.

The Gordon to Rock Creek portage is less than three kilometers from the Rock Lake access point. Usually, if you’ve got a portage within three kilometers of an access point, particularly an access point along highway 60, it’s going to be in pretty decent shape. At the very least, someone will have come through with a chainsaw some time in the last thirty years.

Not Gordon to Rock!

This is how the portage started:

It didn’t get any better from here.

Giving up on the boats

My guess is this thing gets used maybe a handful of times a summer.  There’s no portage sign on the Gordon end, which makes for a fun game of “should we try and bushwhack from here?” as you choose between two equally unappealing openings in the shoreline that might be the takeout. The path … wait, that’s not fair to paths. The faint trail of tears and despair was all but invisible. It wound its way north, meandering up and down through underbrush, rockfalls and cobwebbed thickets of very dead and very pokey tree branches. At about the halfway point we had to give up on carrying the canoes on our shoulders. We dropped our packs and, in pairs, suitcase carried the boats through the brush. It wasn’t ideal. The only saving grace for this carry is that it’s only 600 meters. It felt like 600 kilometers, but in reality it only took about half an hour to get through. (which, frankly, is more than long enough for a 600 meter portage).

So, there you go. Gordon Lake to Rock Creek, you’re this year’s Worst Portage. Congratulations! You can put that on your nonexistent portage sign as a badge of honour.

One of the few open spots along the way

Ok, now that we’ve got that unpleasantness out of the way, let’s get to the main event. We’ve got three awards left. Let’s start with:

Best Campsite

I stayed on some pretty great campsites this summer! I slept 12 nights in the Park and I’d say that 11 of those nights were on sites that were somewhere between above average and awesome (the less said about the 12th site, the tiny bug (and snake!) infested hump of a site that is Brule Lake – Site 1, the better). Of the other sites, there are two that really stick out in my memory.

Dinner and a view

The first site is one we’ve seen before. It was the winner of the Best Swimming category in Part One, Site 4 on Tom Thomson. I’ve already gone on at length about the jumping ledges, but there are other reasons to like this spot. It’s compact, but still nicely laid out with a good fire pit and great views across Tom Thomson. The only drawback, and it’s a big one, is that it’s basically right on top of Site 3. This means that if you’re staying here and someone you don’t know is on Site 3, you’re going to be best buds by the time you leave. If this site were on its own deeper in the Park, it would probably win this category. But it’s not. It’s a package deal on one of the busiest lakes in the Park and that means we’re looking elsewhere for this year’s winner.

That elsewhere is Fork Lake.

Man, this was a great spot.

This is an island site, smack in the middle of Fork’s lower half. It’s not a tremendously big island, it takes about a minute to get from one end to the other, but it checks all the boxes. It’s got lots of livable space, a good fire pit set up and (lots of) decent swimming. It’s flat and rocky in places, dotted with pine and a few cedar in others. It was a great spot to watch the sun go down and an even better spot to watch the stars come out. It was, in a word, perfect.

And it’s this year’s best campsite, hands down.

Best Lake

I’m going to be honest, as I’m writing this I don’t know who the winner is here. I visited a bunch of really nice lakes this year. I mean, that’s kind of Algonquin’s thing, right? It’s got lakes. A lot of them are nice. Some of them are not (Hi Little Norway Puddle Lake!). Some, however, are nicer than others. And while I may not know the winner yet, I’ve got a good handle on the finalists.

Up first is Tom Thomson Lake. Let’s get right to the knock against Tom Thomson: it’s one of the busiest lakes in the Park. On any given day between July 1 and August 30 there’s better than even odds that this lake will be completely booked out. That’s not ideal from a whole “getting away from it all” standpoint. However, there’s a good reason it’s so busy. It’s a beautiful lake. There are quite a few campsites that I’d say are above average, the scenery is gorgeous and you’re not all that far from home, or for the adventurous, multiple ways to get deeper into the Park. I would stay on Tom Thomson again and again. It works as a great destination for a quick overnight, a nice weekend spot with the family or the first night of a longer trip (particularly if you’re getting a later start from the access point. Beautiful, accessible and multi-functional? Whether or not it wins, Tom Thomson is definitely up there.

Our second finalist is Misty Lake.

Misty is a big lake. Like Tom Thomson, it’s also a busy lake. I saw more people on Misty during my four day Rain to Canoe Lake trip than I did for the rest of the trip combined. You can head in every direction from Misty, and people do. It’s smack dab in the middle of routes heading north/south and east/west. If you’re moving through this part of the Park, odds are you’re going to pass through Misty at some point.

Along with being something of a crossroads, it’s also popular destination. It makes sense. Also like Tom Thomson, Misty is fairly close to a couple of busier access points, albeit with quite a few more portages in between it and the parking lot. Even with those portages, it’s a good night one destination from both Rain Lake and Magnetawan Lake, and maybe even from Canoe Lake if you really want to push that first day (but why would you? McIntosh is a couple of lakes closer to Canoe than Misty and is really nice as well. It makes way more sense to me as a night one destination if you’re coming from Canoe and heading into this part of the Park).

I feel a bit like I’m cheating by putting Misty on this list. I was only there for one night, and I only saw half the lake. But that night was awesome and the half I saw was beautiful. The water was fresh and clear and the swimming was excellent. The scenery was interesting enough, with nice views from pretty much anywhere on the lake. From where I sat, I got to watch the setting sun paint the eastern shore in a soft, golden glow. So, despite only seeing half the lake and spending half a day there, unless Misty turns into some kind of zombie infested swamp as you head east, I’m pretty confident it belongs here.

Our last finalist is Pinetree Lake. Pinetree is towards the east end of the Highway 60 corridor. It’s actually an access point lake (access # 12), but it sure doesn’t feel like other access point lakes along the corridor. Thanks to a combination of only three sites on a relatively large lake, and the two kilometer portage it takes to get from the parking lot to the lake, Pinetree is a decent spot to find some peace and quiet without going too deep into the Park.

And what a beautiful spot to find that peace and quiet.

The Pinetree shoreline is fairly rocky, with hills rising and falling as you paddle along. The lake has a cool layout as well. There are multiple bays and wider areas connected to each other by various narrows, so it feels a bit like you’re paddling through a maze as you make your way west. The scenery as you paddle along is gorgeous, the rocks covered by stands of pine and the occasional maple.  Rounded rocks poke up through the surface as you paddle the narrows. The campsites, at least two of them, are better than average, meaning you’ve got a nice place to stay while you’re enjoying what Pinetree has to offer.

One of my favourite memories of Pinetree is a sunset paddle I took. At the foot of the bay where we were camping the terrain climbs steeply. It’s covered in trees all the way to the top of the ridge. The entire hillside was lit up by the setting sun, turning everything soft and gold. If not for the weird shaking tree about 3/4 of the way up (on a completely windless night) I might have stayed there all night just enjoying the view.

You know what, as I was writing that description of Pinetree I realized that I do know who the winner of this category is. While both Tom Thomson and Misty have strengths, they also have their drawbacks. The only drawback to Pinetree is that it takes some walking to get there. And, honestly, that’s not much of a drawback as far as I’m concerned. It just means you’re more likely to get the place to yourself.  So, congratulations Pinetree Lake, you’re this year’s Best Lake.

Best Trip

Ok, we’re down to the last category, and not a moment too soon. We’re at three thousand words and counting, so it’s probably time to wrap things up.

Flat water on Islet

While all my trips this year were good in their own way, there are two that stand out above the rest. The first is my solo trip from Rain Lake to Canoe Lake at the start of August. This was an awesome trip. The weather was outstanding, the route gave me a little bit of everything (big lakes, small lakes, history, wildlife, a possibly haunted cabin) and I managed to hit an almost perfect balance between portage and paddling distance. I stayed on two incredible sites (the third was incredible too, but not in a good way) and the trip ended leaving me wanting more. You can’t really ask for much better.

The second finalist is my four day loop out of Pinetree Lake with my buddies Gordon, Vince and Mark. This was another awesome trip. It was almost entirely new ground for me, with the exception of Galeairy and Rock Lakes. It was also challenging. There were long portages each day, and a good portion of them were low maintenance. I was definitely happy to be out there with friends to share the experience (and the load!).  And, as challenging as some parts were, it was also beautiful. I just went on at length about how pretty Pinetree was, and it wasn’t the only one. Fraser Lake shared Pinetree’s rocky vibe, David Thompson had a massive beaver dam at one end, Rock Creek was a beautiful paddle (until it became a less than beautiful drag) and our site on Fork Lake was my favourite of the summer.

So, both trips had a lot going for them. But, to quote the Citizen Kane of 80s movies about … sword fighting immortals or something? … There Can Be Only One. Which is why, this year, the winner of Best Trip goes to my Rain Lake to Canoe Trip solo route.

Coming into Weed Lake

I absolutely loved this route. The first day from the Rain access point to Islet Lake was the perfect appetizer. A couple of portages, a mix of big and small lakes and a great campsite waiting at the end. The next day, Islet to Misty, had more portaging (a lot more) but the upside to double carrying is that while the portages are long, they’re not hard. In fact, I actually enjoyed having the chance to see more of the portage than the ground directly in front of me. My site on Misty was great; watching the sun go down and the stars come out from my little ledge beside the water is one of my strongest trip memories of the year. Day three from Misty to Brule brought a couple more beautiful lakes in the form of Timberwolf and McIntosh, a thrilling race to the finish line with another trip who were also headed towards Brule (and didn’t realize they were in a race) and this almost definitely haunted cabin on Brule’s west side. Day four was probably the least interesting of the trip, the stretch along Potter’s Creek between Brule and Canoe Lake is fine but not outstanding, but it still brought the chance to have the crap scared out of me at 5 in the morning and one of the best sunrises I saw all summer.

So, congratulations Rain Lake to Canoe Lake, you’re this year’s big winner!

And that’s it for the 2021 Moosies and my Year in Review Posts (about time. It’s January 22nd. We’re almost 1/12th of the way through 2022 and I’m still wrapping up 2021). With any luck, ice out is only a few months away. I’ve got my May trip planned out and I’m hoping like heck that we don’t get a COVID delayed start to the season for a third year in a row.

One more thing before I go: thank you! Thank you very much to everyone following along with this site and everyone who has taken the time over the years to reach out. When I first started writing this thing I assumed that the only people who would ever read it would be my mom and my wife. Last year the site had 40,000 visitors and 120,000 views. That’s awesome! At least some of those have to be people who aren’t related to me. So thank you to anyone and everyone for your support and hopefully I’ll see you on the water in a few months.

Either this is a posed shot or a ghost got ahold of my camera.

3 thoughts on “Year in Review (2021) – The Golden Moose Awards (Part Two)

  1. That’s a wrap! Ice out is coming 🙂

  2. So interesting, we stayed on Misty on Labour Day weekend in 2021 – and we are pretty sure there was only one other group on the lake. Based on that experience, we figured Misty was never a very busy lake.

    1. That is interesting. Maybe I’m off base. I have noticed that most weekends in the summer there’s usually a good chunk of the permits booked out, but it’s such a big lake that maybe it can be full and still feel empty?

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