I’ve never had a trip out of Kiosk go according to plan.
In June 2018 I took my buddy Vince up to the Park’s northwest corner for what was supposed to be a three-day trip. Looking back, the loop I’d planned was too ambitious, but the thing that wrecked that trip wasn’t the distance. Nope, the problem was something I hadn’t planned for at all: the bugs. I had, for a trip in early June in northern Algonquin, packed no bug spray, no long pants and a mesh head covering that didn’t so much protect my face from the bugs as it challenged them to get inside it.
It was a disaster. We lasted one night, then turned and headed for the exit as fast we could.
In 2019 I took my buddy Rob up to Kiosk for what was supposed to be a four-day loop through Manitou, Biggar, Three Mile and Maple Lake. This trip was right after ice out and I thought I’d planned this one better. The days were reasonable, we had the proper equipment and, given the time of year, there wouldn’t be a bug in sight. What we didn’t have was the buy-in of the weather Gods. They started dropping ice water on us around the time that we arrived on Manitou for our first night, and by the next morning the rain had shifted 90 degrees and was coming at us sideways. Neither of us were confident we could push our way to North Tea under those conditions and rather than hunker down in the cold and wet, we admitted defeat and let the wind push us back to the access point.
For those keeping track at home, by this point I had turned two multi-day trip plans into two overnights. I was basically the world’s worst camping alchemist.
My third trip, in July 2020, broke that cycle. I was out with Rob again, and this time we actually finished off our route. Unfortunately, the route almost finished us off at the same time. Long story short (you can read the long story long here), I pushed it too hard in the beginning, which led to us cutting the trip a day short and trying to outrun a fast-approaching thunderstorm on Kioshkokwi, with terrifying results.
It wasn’t ideal.
But, as the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, maybe you’ll figure it out by the fourth try. Or something. I mean, are you sure you should even be out here?”
My first trip of this paddling season was that fourth try.
I’ve had my eye on a loop through the Park’s northwest corner for a few years now. There’s a string of smaller lakes that snake up from North Tea before coming back down to Manitou that has always looked interesting. I liked the idea that I’d be getting about as far north and west as you can get in the Park. I also hoped that since this trip was taking place over the May 24th long weekend, being this much further from Toronto and Ottawa might help thin out the crowds.
Joining me on this trip was my friend Mark. Mark has been a regular fixture on my September buddies’ trips over the past couple of years. He made a passing comment last fall about maybe, possibly being interested in a May trip at some point, without realizing that as far as I was concerned, he had just entered an unbreakable contract to get swarmed by bugs while pushing through Fassett Creek in the rain.
The plan was to take five days to do our loop. We would put in at Kiosk with stops on Manitou, Lorne, Fassett and Manitou (again). Taking five days meant we got to ease into the tripping season as it seems to me that you can do this loop in four days without pushing it too hard. As it was, our route gave us a couple of days of less than 10 KM of travel, which is a more than reasonable way to start the year.
As the trip approached, I started watching the long-range weather forecast (rain, so much rain) with the same mix of dread and fascination I felt while watching the 3rd period of the Leafs’ final game against Tampa this year. I could see where this was going, I knew there was time left for things to change, but I also knew it wouldn’t. We were going to have to deal with rain at some point. I just hoped we’d do better with the lightning than the Leafs did.
We arrived at Kiosk just after 1 pm. There were clouds in the sky. They hung over the water, grey and low, but still patchy. It was the kind of sky that promised it would probably rain on you at some point, but for now it was content to bide its time.
The paddle across Kioshkokwi went well. There was a small breeze; nothing challenging, but enough to put some ripples in the water. We cut across the lake to the south shore and followed it west towards Manitou. The water was thick and grey with a silvery shine to it. It looked like we were paddling through mercury, without the toxic fumes and temporary insanity. A short time later the clouds parted enough to let some sunshine through, and suddenly the water was sky blue with diamonds sparkling at the tips of each wave. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a better way to start a tripping season.
The first portage of the year was the P265 from Kioshkokwi over to a small segment of the Amable du Fond. This is a pretty spot. The takeout on Kioshkokwi is right next to a small waterfall. Nearby you can see the remains of an old … crib? … that has been there long enough to have been completely covered over by dirt, moss and a stand of small trees. From one direction it looks like a regular part of the riverbank and from the other you can see the framework of old log supports holding the little patch of forest up.
Random Kiosk Thoughts
I like the look of the campsites on Kioshkokwi’s south shore. There’s a string of point sites along the way that seem like they’d be great options for someone looking to get a small taste of a paddle in campsite without leaving the convenience of the nearby Kiosk campground too far behind. Kiosk has quite a few exits, meaning you could day trip to your heart’s content without having to lug any gear across a single portage. Of course, you’re not going to get the kind of privacy and seclusion you find after putting a couple of portages between yourself and the access point, but as an introduction point for backcountry tripping? Not bad at all.
That p265 was also my first opportunity to be reminded that I really need to figure out how to make my pack lighter. Ugh. I mean, the pack itself was fine (it weighed in at 55 lbs fully loaded the night before) but adding an extra 40 lbs of canoe to the mix was something else entirely. 265 meters doesn’t sound like much, but to legs and shoulders that haven’t carried anything heavier than a five-year old’s backpack for the past seven months, it was more than enough.
Amable du Fond
The portage ends at a very small stretch of the Amable du Fond. In low water, the portage doesn’t even end, it just continues along the shore until it meets up with a wider part of the river about a kilometer later. Fortunately for us, the water was not low. Also fortunately for us, this little segment of river ends at the bottom of a pretty spectacular set of falls. The water runs down, through and around little islands of rock and tree in a mass of whitewater and waves with the kind of satisfying background din you get when you combine a not insignificant amount of water with gravity. And I hope that description worked for you, because it turns out I forgot to take any pictures of it this time through.
(It’s still pretty cool).
The portage up to the main part of the river is a P310. The operative word here is up, which probably isn’t too surprising given that you’re going from the bottom of the falls to the top. The portage ends at a longer and wider stretch of the Amable du Fond. There’s one spot, right after you put in, where the river narrows just a bit. You can tell the water is coming at you faster because all of a sudden it feels like your paddle isn’t catching anything as you take your stroke. It’s basically a canoe treadmill. You paddle just to stay in the same spot. That said, it only took about of minute of harder paddling and then we were free of the current. The rest of the paddle upriver to the Manitou portage was uneventful.
The P1355 over to Manitou is relatively long, but also relatively nice. The path is clear, well used and easy to follow. There are boardwalks where there should be boardwalks, which is always a plus. Just after the halfway mark of this carry the terrain goes from flat to not so flat. The path follows a gradual slope up a hill that continues far longer than a person on their second fully loaded carry of the year would want it to. Again, the path itself is great: clear, easy to follow and solid. But it’s all those things on a thirty degree slope, which is less than ideal. By the time I got to the top of it, my legs were burning and my back and shoulders were reading Club Med brochures.
I love the beach at the Manitou end of that portage. It’s a wide open ribbon of sand separating the trail from the water and it’s got a commanding view down Manitou. Standing on this beach and looking down the lake can be both invigorating and daunting, depending on how excited the wind is to see you. This time around it was more on the invigorating side. The wind was present, but it wasn’t terrible, and we had a nice big patch of water just waiting for us to paddle it.
We set off across Manitou looking for a spot to spend the night. Our hope was to find a decent island site, preferably on the windward side of the island. The thought was that a windy island would help keep potential visits from Algonquin’s various B residents (bears, bugs, Battlestar Galactica) to a minimum. We found exactly what we were looking for about a third of the way down Manitou.
Random Manitou Thoughts
Manitou is gorgeous. And it’s huge. I’d guess it’s somewhere around 10 KM from one end of the lake to the other. It’s got quite a few campsites, but also quite a few nooks and crannies in the form of bays and offshoot creeks. It winds its way west, meandering towards North Tea around a couple of curves and islands. As a result, it doesn’t feel crowded in the way that other lakes with many campsites might, simply because you can’t see all, or even most, of the lake from any given spot. At least, it hasn’t felt crowded to me the times I’ve been through that way.
The island we ended up on is home to two sites. The first is nothing special. It’s serviceable, but doesn’t have any standout features. It was also extremely well protected from the wind, which usually wouldn’t be a bad thing, but meant that the bugs were already swarming when we stopped by to check it out. The second site, facing southwest and into the teeth of the wind, was awesome.
This site is built at the top of a pine studded hill. The rise from the water is steep enough that the Park has installed steps into the side of the hill to make ascending easier (there are stairs all over Manitou, making it the exact center of the Venn diagram for people who love camping and climbing slightly sketchy staircases). It’s got a great view southwest, a nice fire pit layout and plenty of room for tents, hammock tents and poorly constructed bug shelters. In short, it’s got everything.
We were worried that the oncoming wind might be blowing in some of that promised rain, so we got our tents set up as soon as we landed. Then we turned our attention to our bug shelter, the Eureka NoBugZone CT 11.
This was a new piece of gear for me, bought specifically for this trip. It’s a tarp and mesh shelter with a decent footprint, designed to provide protection against both the bugs and the rain. I went with the non pole version to save weight, meaning we had to set it up using guy lines.
We did not do a good job of this.
The instructions, which are very simple, apparently weren’t simple enough. I misunderstood the placement of a couple of the bottom pegs and as a result our final product looked less like an impregnable bug fortress and more like a half-finished implosion. There was room inside to escape the bugs, but Mark and I were going to get to know each other a whole lot better if we were in there at the same time. Fortunately, not only did that oncoming wind not blow in any rain, it also blew out all the bugs. We didn’t see a single mosquito or black fly all night.
What we did see were two downright delicious steaks cooking on the world’s shakiest grill. The Park is good enough to provide grills on pretty much every backcountry site. Sometimes, more than one. Many of those grills are decent. You might want to scrape off some of the years’ worth of charred gunk, but they do the job just fine. Some of them, like, for example, the grill on a certain island site on Manitou Lake, are missing half the crosspieces and offer many opportunities to play Drop The Steak In The Fire. Fortunately, we managed to get the steaks cooked without losing them into the ashes and, along with an assortment of tinfoil wrapped baked potatoes that Mark had brought along and stashed in the coals, we had an awesome dinner of steak and potatoes.
After dinner we sat by the fire and chatted while night crept in. Eventually it was time to turn in, and I got to say hello to an old friend, my Opeongo Aerial Tent. I double (and triple) checked that all my support straps were tight, crawled into the tent, made myself comfortable on my awesome yet extremely squeaky sleeping pad (Thermarest Neoair Xlite: light, packs up small, sounds like you’re sleeping on tinfoil) and settled in for my first night of the camping season.
It rained overnight. That’s fine. I like night rain. I love lying in my tent, listening to the drops hit the fly. But what I especially love is when I wake up the next morning and the rain has stopped. Which is exactly what I woke up to the next morning.
There were plenty of clouds in the sky as we pushed off, but they weren’t “hey, we’re going to drench you at some point” clouds. They were more along the lines of “hey, just wanted to remind you that clouds exist and guess what, you don’t need sunscreen right now!” clouds. In other words, they were perfect clouds.
While the clouds were perfect, the wind was not. It hadn’t subsided overnight and was still blowing in our faces. This made the (long) paddle along Manitou something of an adventure. We hopped from sheltered spot to sheltered spot, intermittently paddling hard into the wind before taking a break in the lee of an island or a point. I used these breaks to take a sip of water and start composing the scathing Google review I was going to leave about the Park’s non-management of headwinds.
About ¾ of the way through our paddle we stopped at the last island before the choice of portages over to Tea Lake. There’s a site where the island narrows that is accessible no matter which side of the island you decide to paddle, and it looks like it would be a great spot to come back to some day. Aside from a grassy lawn big enough to host a garden party for all the bugs in the Park, it checks all the boxes. It’s huge, has lots of space for tents, great views, nice swimming and a great fire pit area. We got out and stretched our legs for a couple of minutes before loading back up for the final push over to North Tea.
There are two portages from Manitou to North Tea that are very close together. One is a P455 and one is a P585. The P585 is longer, but it also has waterfalls, and waterfalls are always worth the walk. The sun poked out from behind the clouds as we arrived at the portage. It lit up the rapids cascading into Manitou, instantly confirming that we’d made the right decision in going with the longer portage.
My confidence in that decision started wavering the second I put the canoe on my shoulders for the carry up to North Tea. The carry is consistently uphill and I could feel every inch of elevation I was gaining. It felt like my canoe and pack were made of lead and I was carrying them up the side of a mountain. On Jupiter. I eventually stumbled onto the beach at the other end of the portage and happily dropped the boat before doubling back about 100 meters to check out the other set of falls nearby. (This is another super lovely set of falls. This route is awesome for waterfalls)
North Tea (East Arm)
Once we’d had our fill of falls we set off on North Tea. We started off hugging the shore. This is a great idea for spring paddling from a safety perspective, and a terrible idea from a not picking up bug hitchhikers perspective. Within about two minutes we’d each acquired our own little Pig Pen clouds of bugs that were both tremendously aggravating and very hard to shake. It wasn’t until we got another dose of strong wind, that the bugs disappeared.
Of course, the bugs disappearing meant that the wind and the waves were back, which … I dunno, bugs or headwind? Which is worse?
The paddle across North Tea was sketchy. We had originally decided to hug the north shore and cut across the eastmost bay to reduce the time we’d have to spend dealing with the wind head on. This was the smart plan. This was also the plan that lasted all of two minutes after we left the portage thanks to what seemed like a fortunate shift in the wind. See, instead of coming from the southwest, the way it had been all morning, it now seemed to be behind us, giving us an awesome little tailwind and pushing us directly to our next portage, the P2040 up to Lorne.
A free tailwind carrying us directly to our destination like a moving walkway at the airport? We’d be crazy not to take advantage of that, right?
The tailwind was a mirage. It wasn’t a tailwind at all, just the same old headwind being pushed a bit differently by the shape of the lake where the portage comes out. The “tailwind” lasted just long enough for us to commit to crossing North Tea before it morphed into the Manitou headwind’s older, angrier cousin.
That was the beginning of some of the tensest paddling I’ve done in a while.
On the plus side, we were paddling directly into the wind to start. I much prefer tackling a wind head on to coming at it from any kind of angle. I find it’s easier to keep the boat balanced and on course. Of course, that’s kind of like saying “on the plus side, the bites aren’t that deep” after falling into a train car full of cobras. It was still a strong wind and it was still doing everything it could to give us an express trip back to Manitou.
We targeted the big island in the middle of North Tea’s east arm as our first spot to stop and shelter from the wind. The waves were constant, but not consistent. Every time it felt like we were getting into a rhythm I’d see some bigger rollers about 20 feet in front of us or a dark patch of ripples at about the same distance and I’d know things were about to get more interesting. We’d adjust our heading as much as possible to match what was coming and cross our fingers. I haven’t watched the water in front of me that intently in a long time.
Eventually we made it to the island for a much-needed break. By this point we were directly across from the portage up to Lorne Lake. However, paddling straight at it would have put us broadside to the wind, which was up there with giving Joey his own show in the power ranking of bad ideas. We decided to paddle up the side of the island for as long as it provided us protection against the worst of the wind. Once we were back in the wind we’d turn the boat and try to ride the waves to the far shore, then work our way back up to the portage if we overshot the other way.
And hey, It actually worked!
I’m not going to lie, even though things went according to plan, this was by far the most stressful part of the paddle. With the wind coming from behind I couldn’t see any gusts before they hit, meaning my first indication that things were changing was the wind getting stronger and the boat getting harder to control. There were a couple of moments where it seemed like the canoe had become self-aware and was trying to chart its own course, but we made it to the other side in one piece (albeit wetter than when we had started out, thanks to a couple of waves with no respect for personal space).
The other side was also the start of the P2040 up to Lorne. We took a couple of minutes at the start of the portage to unclench (and check out a nearby campsite), before starting our second and last carry of the day.
This was the hardest carry of the trip for me. Bear in mind, this was just my fourth portage of the year, and it’s not exactly a short one. At approximately 2 KM, it was about as long as the other four portages I’d already done, combined. It also requires a decent bit of climbing and was the first portage where the bugs were feeling frisky. On top of that, the sun had come out, which is lovely, but also made for a much hotter march through the woods than any we’d had so far. Mark and I split this carry, and even so, I was beat by the time we reached the other end. (Mark, on the other hand, has this portage on his list of trip highlights thanks to the scenery and overall ambience. Fair enough. Looking at it objectively it’s a nice bit of forest to walk through. Lots of tall hardwoods, variable terrain and plenty of things to see along the way. That said, ugh).
Lorne Lake was worth the effort. It’s a beautiful spot. One of the first things I noticed was how clear the water seemed. The shoreline is dominated by evergreens that rise and fall along gentle slopes up behind the lake and while there are a decent number of sites given the size of the lake (five in total), it doesn’t feel at all crowded.
With the portage behind us we set about finding a site for the night. I had heard that the lone island site was quite nice, but we were beaten to it by about five minutes by a group coming up from Sisco. I watched from the portage put-in as three canoes appeared as if out of nowhere and beelined for the island. By the time we had our boat loaded, they were in the process of unloading and I knew that we’d have to look elsewhere.
The good news is that our fallback site ended up being pretty good as well. We headed for the point site on the east shore, about halfway down the lake and just across from the island. It was empty, and it was more than reasonable. It’s a huge site. There’s room in the back for four or five tents at least. It’s got great swimming thanks to the soft sand lake bottom and, importantly given the bug situation, it got a healthy dose of the oncoming wind (this was doubly important because the site also has a healthy dose of grass growing around it, which meant the bugs were no joke).
Once we had the tents and bug shelter set up (bug tent attempt #2 was more successful than attempt #1, but there was still room for improvement (and thus less room for us)), we passed a fairly quiet afternoon. I went for my first swim of the season, followed not long after by my second. The water was cold, but not paralyzing. The sun was out, the air was warm and the wind was like an industrial strength air dryer. Pretty much ideal conditions for a couple of quasi-polar bear dips.
Around 4 we paddled over to the Sisco Lake portage and hiked over to check out Sisco. It’s a pretty lake, from what we could see of it. The water is just as clear as what we found on Lorne and looks like it would be awesome for swimming. The only drawback I can see to Sisco is that two of the three campsites are on the portages in and out of the lake. The one we saw was pretty basic. If you’re a fan of having random folks potentially wandering through your site at all hours of the day, it’s a great spot. Otherwise, you might want to check ahead and see how many permits have been issued for Sisco before you book it to make sure you’re not going to be competing for the only non-portage site.
Once we were done with Sisco we wandered back to Lorne and checked out another of its campsites. This one was on Lorne’s west shore and has recently applied to be added to the dictionary under “Meh”. I don’t know, it’s not a terrible spot, but it’s at least third on the Lorne Lake depth chart, if not lower. It’s relatively compact and feels kind of tucked away (but not in a good way). The best thing I can say for it is that it’s got a good view of the much nicer site across the lake (where we were staying).
We finished the day with a nice fire and called it a night not long after the last of the light disappeared from the sky. The wind was still up, and in fact seemed to be getting stronger, which had me somewhat concerned that my aerial tent might turn into a parachute at some point in the middle of the night, but by then I was too tired to care. I crawled into my sleeping bag and was soon fast asleep.
It stormed overnight. I woke up quite a few times to the sound of thunder rumbling and the wind picking up. Each time I lay awake for a bit wondering if this was the moment I’d get become the Algonquin equivalent to Dorothy in that tornado, but the tent held up and by the time I woke up the next morning the storm had blown itself out.
Day three was going to be a short day. We were only going to Fassett Lake, which was less than 10 KM away. We still wanted to get moving in good time in case the storms from overnight decided to make a repeat appearance. We were packed up and on the water before 9 and at our first portage of the day, a P1535 up to Kakasamic Lake, not long after.
Despite it being the shortest travel day of the trip, it was the one I’d been most worried about. There are two 1.5 KM portages in between Lorne and Fassett (along with two much shorter ones) and given how much I’d felt the previous day’s portages I wasn’t looking forward to what was coming. It was like I’d stolen John Wick’s car and now all that was left to do was wait for the inevitable butt kicking.
Fortunately, this portage (and the ones that followed) were more John Denver than John Wick. Still annoying, but not murderous. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I enjoyed this carry. Part of that has to do with some adjustments I’d made to my pack that kept the weight better distributed and closer to my body. The pack didn’t weigh as heavily on my shoulders as it had the day before, and that made carrying the canoe much more comfortable when my turn came. The parts of the portage I saw were quite lovely. It couldn’t have been more than a week since the leaves in this part of the forest had popped, so everything was bright green and fresh. The bugs were fine and the air was neither too hot nor too cold. Soon enough we were on the Kakasamic side of the portage, where we were greeted by a lovely view and a bug situation that shifted remarkably quickly from fine to not fine.
That put in was the first time all trip that the bugs went past annoying to soul crushing. Within seconds of arriving at Kakasamic they were everywhere. I usually spend a couple of minutes at the end of a portage taking pictures and just enjoying the new lake; not this time. We had the boat packed and on the water in record time.
As we were paddling away I tried to spot the campsite that my Jeff’s Map says is either right on that portage or right beside it. For the life of me, I couldn’t see it. Either I was looking in the wrong spot or the mosquitoes put it on the map to lure in unsuspecting trippers.
Kakasamic seems like a nice enough lake. It’s about the same size as Lorne and Sisco, meaning getting across it doesn’t take too long. There are a few sites, the best looking of which from the water is the northern point site just across from the p455 up to O-Lake. We pulled up to check it out, but the bugs were atrocious there as well so the walkthrough was efficient.
The P455 up to O-Lake was fine. I honestly don’t have any memories of it. I did take one picture midway that looks kind of mucky, so maybe Past Me was trying to tell Now Me something. Whatever it was, it’s going to have to wait until I finish turning my toaster into a time machine to find out.
Best Lake Name Meaning Award
Kakasamic means Roast Beaver Lake. I get it. Fassett Creek is nearby and by the time I’m done paddling any creek I’m all for some kind of beaver flambe.
I liked O-Lake. It’s a small, circular lake (this is the Algonquin Park Lake Naming Committee’s entry for the Nobel Prize in Handing Out Literal Lake Names) surrounded by gently rising and falling terrain. Something about it felt very peaceful and remote. I don’t have much else I can say about it beyond that it’s got a good vibe. It takes about as long to get across O-Lake as it took you to read this paragraph.
The P200 over to Mattowacka was another non-event, until we got to the put-in on the Mattowacka side. Then it was an event. And that event was a mud bath. The portage ends with about twenty feet of mud, muck and gunk that would have to be slightly better organized to be called swampy. Someone has laid a couple of long logs through the mud, and they help a bit, but it’s still a less fun version of a Spartan Race getting across those last few meters.
If I hadn’t visited Shad Lake later that day, I would be saying that Mattowacka was the least appealing of the lakes we saw along this route. However, I did visit Shad, so Mattowacka gets away with one here (we’ll get to the Shad bug factory in a minute). I mean, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with Mattowacka, it just doesn’t stand out. Or, more accurately, it stands out for things you don’t want to stand out for. Like being home to one of the most ridiculous sites I’ve come across in the Park.
This particular site is the northernmost one on the lake. When Mark spotted it from the water he just started laughing. It sits on a hump of moss and scrub on a small point that separates the main part of Mattowacka from a smaller (and swampier) bit behind it. There’s nothing growing on this bump that’s taller than a Hobbit. The trees are all tiny evergreens. Walking through them you feel like you’ve arrived at a Christmas tree farm two years too early. I’d be terrified to be staying on this site in any kind of storm. If the lighting doesn’t get you, the wind is going to blow you out the back. On the plus side, you’ve got completely unobstructed views in every direction, so at least there’s that.
Once we were done marveling at the Mattowacka site we continued on to our last portage of the day, the P1575 over to Fassett Lake. As we approached the portage take out we saw a large bird circling on the wind currents overhead. As I generally lump birds into two categories (loons, not loons), my best guess was that we were looking at some kind of hawk, or maybe an eagle. Or a pterodactyl. Mark, who knows a whole lot about birds, assured me that it was a turkey vulture and then walked me through some of the identifying characteristics (spends most of its time gliding, has finger like separations at the tips of the wing). The net result is that I have now doubled the number of birds I can confidently identify when I’m out in the Park.
The portage over to Fassett was awesome. I think it must have been a road at some point. It’s straight, it’s flat and it’s easy to follow. It also helps that Mark channeled his inner hulk and carried the boat for about 95% of the trail. Nothing makes a portage more enjoyable than not actually portaging it.
Fassett Lake was our destination for the night. I had it in my head that we were going to end up on the easternmost site on the lake, so we hopped in the boat and started working our way east, checking out the other sites along the way.
The first thing we realized was that the map is off for Fassett. It shows three sites, which is the correct number of sites, but does not show them in the correct locations. The first site, which is along the southern shore and closest to the portage, is exactly where the map says it should be. It is also currently being guarded by a wall of insects who don’t want you anywhere near their territory. We pulled the canoe into the sheltered spot in front of the site, then immediately pulled out again as the swarm descended.
The second site is shown on the map as being just a bit further down the south shore from the first. There is indeed a spot there where a site may have once been, but that was probably before the fire or windstorm or chipmunk stampede or whatever it was that destroyed the area. All that’s there now is a glimpse into what Algonquin will look like after the meteorite from Deep Impact hits.
The actual second site is across the lake, on the north side just past the connection to Shad Lake. It’s not on any of the maps I’ve looked at, but it’s got a sign and a fire pit and a fantastic view across Fassett. As soon as we pulled up to it we knew were weren’t going to be going any further. It’s a nice little site, with space for a few tents (or bug tents), a good fire pit and a random, rock filled fishing chair propped up by the water. What more could you ask for? We unpacked and settled in for another relaxing afternoon.
This site is up a small rise, leaving you about 10-12 feet above the water in some places. There’s a great ledge to set up a camp chair and watch the water. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon reading and enjoying the view, pausing every once in a while to think about how lucky I was to be out there. (And how lucky I was to have my Thermacell with me. Despite a pretty consistent onshore wind, the bugs were noticeable throughout the afternoon. Not terrible, but more present than they’d been the past couple of days).
At one point I turned to Mark and said something along the lines of how nice it was to be in such a remote part of the Park, how secluded it felt and how cool it was to be somewhere not many other people go. That, of course, was about two minutes before three canoes carrying multiple generations of a family paddled past, headed towards a small island in the middle of Fassett on a family day trip.
It turns out that while it had taken us the better part of a couple of days to get up to Fassett, you can reach the same spot in about half an hour by driving down to the Park boundary at the north end of Shad. This particular family actually owned property just outside of the Park, and I got the impression that the Fassett day trip was a frequent occurrence. We chatted briefly as they paddled past and then they got back to their trip and I got back to smacking the flies that made it past the Thermacell.
Toward the end of the afternoon we paddled up to Shad Lake to check out the sites there and see what it felt like to be about as far north and west in the Park as you can get.
It felt itchy.
You get to Shad by following a short narrows heading north out of Fassett. Once you’re on Shad, you’ve got a choice of two sites. The northernmost site, the one that meets up with the road, is about as underwhelming as you can get. There is zero chance I would want this to be a destination if I was on a paddling trip. It’s basically just a strip of grass at the end of a road with a sad little fire pit and not much else. I could see using it as a launching point for a day of fishing or something, but as an actual campsite? There are better options.
Those better options, however, are not on Shad. Shad’s only other site is on the south end of the lake. While at first glance it looks like it’s not a bad spot, (decent footprint, level ground, nice views to the north), you’re going to want to take a second look. The problem is that that second look will be obscured by the mask of bugs that have now covered your face. If I was looking for a place to study the breeding habits of black flies, or maybe set up my own little insect farm, I would go to this site. Otherwise, keep away. Keep far, far way.
So, yeah, Shad Lake. Maybe don’t put that on the Algonquin Bucket List.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. While Ottawa and other parts of Ontario were being pummelled by a once in a decade storm, I was swimming under blue skies. We watched the afternoon fade away from inside the bug shelter (which actually looked like it was supposed to for the first time all trip), ate some concentrated sodium in the form of dehydrated dinner pouches and enjoyed the campfire once the bugs had died down a bit.
It was a good way to end another great day. I crawled into my tent satisfied with what we’d done so far and more than satisfied that we weren’t staying on Shad. I wondered a bit about how many bugs might be waiting for us the next day as we pushed down Fassett Creek and back out to Manitou, but decided to leave those worries for Tomorrow Drew.
Tomorrow Drew woke up to something new. Like the previous couple of nights, it rained overnight. Unlike the previous couple of nights, that rain hadn’t stopped by morning. It wasn’t pelting down, in fact under the trees it felt more like a thick mist than anything, but it made for a damp packing up and a decided lack of enthusiasm on my part for hitting the water.
However, hit the water we did. We were heading to Manitou through Fassett Creek today and while the weather wasn’t ideal, it could always get worse. This was proven almost instantly accurate, as the rain started coming harder about a minute after we started paddling.
Before we could get on to Fassett Creek, we had to pass through Shada Lake. Shada is separated from Fassett Lake by a P1080. I’m not going to lie, I have almost no memory of this portage. That probably means it’s not bad. Or, it was so bad I blocked it from my memory. Either way, let’s move on to Shada Lake.
The rain had not eased off as we reached Shada. It had condensed though. It felt like we were paddling through a cloud as we made our way east. This meant that neither of us had any inclination to take our time exploring, which is too bad because Shada is an interesting looking lake.
There are only two campsites on Shada. They’re set across from each other at about the midpoint of the lake. However, despite being relatively close, they’re somewhat hidden from the other side by a large, low island that sits between them. That island, like that site we stopped at the day before on Mattowacka, looks like it got a buzz cut at some point. It had quite a few evergreens on it, most of which look like they’re a few years old at best (here’s the part where I point out that I can barely judge the age of most humans I meet, so take my tree age declarations with a grain of salt). Behind the island, on the north shore, is a patch of wrecked forest. I’m not sure if it was a small fire or a blowdown, we didn’t get close enough to check it out, but something came through and tore things up. All in all, Shada looks like it had some stories to tell, but with the wind and the rain that day, we weren’t listening.
Random Shada Thoughts
The end of Shada took us past one of the largest beaver lodges I’ve seen. It also took us over an inconveniently placed dam to get to the first portage onto Fassett Creek. I’m not sure why the Park didn’t just start the portage 10 meters earlier. My guess is someone on the portage design subcommittee is getting kickbacks from the beaver lobby.
The P180 onto Fassett Creek was fine, as was the first section of the creek, a short hop downstream to the start of a much longer P1325. That portage had a couple of obstacles in the form of downed trees and wandering clouds of existential despair dressed up as bugs, but the real fun came at the end.
See, the P1325 ends and the creek begins again, but those things don’t happen adjacent to one another. In between the end of the portage and the start of the creek there’s a very thin strip of shallow, mucky water about the width of a couple of paddles. The strip is about 50 meters long and is bracketed on both sides by tall creek grass and surprise sinkholes.
It was clear as soon as we arrived at the put-in that we weren’t going to be paddling our way through that mess, nor could we continue to carry our gear. The weight of the packs/canoe would have us looking like the loser in a game of Quicksand before we made it five steps. We ended up loading the canoe and push/dragging it along the strip of water, hopping from solid looking grassy spot to solid looking grassy spot while discovering that “solid-looking” doesn’t always translate into “solid”. At one point Mark’s leg disappeared into what turned out to be a surprisingly deep hole in the grass. He got it out in one piece, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still trying to get some of that mud off his leg.
After that fun little quagmire, the rest of Fassett Creek was fine. Honestly, I had been expecting much worse. Water levels were decent for most of the creek, and I only remember having to drag over a couple of beaver dams. Probably the biggest challenge was the second last portage, an innocuous looking P230. It’s hard for 230 meters to be much of a challenge, but this portage sure gave it a shot. There were a couple of trees taking naps across the path in the most inconvenient possible places. In both cases the woods were too thick on either side to carry the boat around, but the mess across the path was too tangled to get over or through while under load. I ended up having to drop the boat, shimmy over the downed trunk while trying not to impale myself on a broken branch, drag the boat across after me, flip the thing up again then take a few steps before starting the process all over.
It was annoying.
The good news is that once that aggravation was behind us things went smoothly. It wasn’t long before we were finishing up the last portage of the day (an obstacle free P195) and coming out onto Manitou Lake.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Manitou. It was the Sunday of the May long weekend and Manitou is an easy-ish half day trip from the Kiosk access. I figured there was a good chance it would look a lot like some of the lakes near Highway 60 access points on long weekends: crowded and with very few open sites.
I figured wrong!
We didn’t see another soul as we paddled out of the bay leading to Fassett Creek. The first campsite we found once we were back on the lake proper had a spectacular beachfront that curved a crescent moon around its own bay. And it was empty. We didn’t bother going any further.
This site was awesome. There’s plenty of room for tents, including a great perch overlooking the beach that was perfect for the bug tent. The firepit has a nice view out to the water and the bugs … well, those weren’t great. The only downside to the site is that it’s got some swampy bits very close by. Once again, I was very happy to have my Thermacell, bug jacket and tent. Without those I think it might have been a miserable spot for the time of year. With them, the bugs were barely noticeable.
In the end, it only took us a few hours to navigate Fassett Creek. This meant that once we had the tents set up and were into dry clothes (we were both soaked through but, mercifully, the rain had given up at about the same time as we were putting in on Manitou) we had the entire afternoon in front of us. We spent some time gathering (soggy) firewood and taking it easy. I made the mistake of experimenting with a freeze dried creamy beef abomination for lunch, and felt slightly nauseous for the rest of the afternoon. This is why you never try anything new.
Later on, we took the canoe out for another paddle. We checked out a nearby site and paddled down a marshy, creek-y offshoot on Manitou’s north shore.
That creek seemed like it was tailor made for a big animal sighting. There was lots of soggy green stuff that I’m told is haute cuisine in the moose world, and judging by the number of tracks we’d found on our site’s beach (which was nearby), I figured the area must be some kind of wildlife superhighway. Sadly, that highway was closed. We didn’t see so much as a chipmunk before we decided to turn around.
Striking out on animal sightings was a theme for the entire trip. We saw plenty of birds, including gray jays, turkey vultures, a bald eagle and, of course, loons, but that was it. Nothing that walked on four legs. It was a bit disappointing; I’d had high hopes for Fassett Creek in particular, but I guess the moose had read the same trip reports I had and decided to stay away.
We spent our last night much the same way that we’d spent the previous three. We ate dinner, hung out in the bug tent for a bit (Mark taught me Cribbage. I won and am hereby announcing my retirement from Cribbage so I can go out undefeated) and then burned a small forest’s worth of dead wood as the night wound down.
When the last of the wood was gone and the embers were dying out, I went down to the beach to grab a couple of pots of water to douse the fire. As I was filling up I realized that, for the first time all trip, there were stars overhead. There were still clouds moving above, so the stars were coming and going, but they were there, and they were beautiful. I was glad I got to see them at least once; watching the stars come out is one of my favourite things on trip. A lot of the time when I’m by myself I don’t even bother with a fire, preferring to sit by the water with a book until it gets dark. Standing on the beach, with the stars overhead and the water lapping at my feet, it felt like the trip was going out on a high note. (It also felt like the trip was going out on a cold note. The temperature dropped overnight and even with my supposedly sub-zero bag I ended up wearing every piece of clothing I’d brought).
We took our time packing up the next morning. The day was gorgeous. Sun shining, calm water, no hint of rain or really any kind of weather at all. Basically, it was the opposite of the past four days. We set off just before 10 and took our time paddling along Manitou’s north shore. There were a couple of campsites along the way, and we stopped to check them out as we passed. One was fine and had its own mini beach. The other was fine in the sense that it wasn’t currently on fire or infested with murder hornets. In all other respects it was a pass.
Before long we were back across the P1355 that leads towards Kiosk and starting out on the return trip along the Amable du Fond. We made a quick stop at the campsite near the portage put in. This campsite sits at the edge of a small set of rapids that empty into the river and would be a great option if you’re a fan of white noise. The rapids out front are quite pretty, but also quite noisy. We agreed that it seemed like a nice place to visit but might get frustrating if you’re trying to spend the night.
The rest of the paddle along the river was uneventful, as were the final two portages back onto Kioshkokwi. It was at this point that I started to believe that I was actually going to end a trip out of Kiosk without any major disasters. This, of course, is when the wind picked up.
As we paddled out towards the main part of the lake the sense that I’d seen this thing play out before got stronger. Don’t get me wrong, there was no hint of a storm, but the wind wasn’t trivial, and it was coming at us sideways. I started having flashbacks to Rob and I clinging to the side of that seagull island back in 2020, and decided I was going to play it safer than a soccer team with a one goal lead and three minutes left on the clock. I took us down Wolfe Bay a good distance before attempting to cross the open water. It was a much longer paddle than going straight across, or even following the south shore, but it gave us the least amount of open water to cross, and I wasn’t in the mood to tempt fate.
The good news is that we were across the bay in about three minutes. From there it wasn’t long before we were pulling up to the parking lot and saying our goodbyes to the mosquitoes who’d followed along to see us off.
And that’s it. Five days, 11 lakes, 18 portages and 65 kilometers later. This was a great trip and a great way to start the season. I’ve wanted to do that loop up to Fassett for a few years now, and I’m glad I finally got a chance to cross it off. If we’re being honest, I probably wouldn’t make the trek as far as Fassett again, but I could be convinced to spend another night or two on Lorne. Manitou is fast cementing itself as one of my favourite lakes in the Park and I would happily go back to that beach site for a long weekend. The weather and bugs cooperated more than I thought they would, and the short distance days were a good way to slide back into tripping.
New Lakes Paddled: 8
Total Lakes Paddled: 11
Total Portages: 18
Total Portage Distance: 13.96 KM
Total Travel Distance: 63.3 KM