Low Water & High Alders: Falling short on the Nipissing River

I don’t love creeks. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, this will not be news. I feel the same way about creeks that I do about walnuts in a bag of nuts. Just one ruins an otherwise great mix, and there’s never just one.

I typically go out of my way to avoid building creeks into my trips. It’s not always possible; there are a distressing number of creeks sitting smack in the middle of some great trip routes in Algonquin. But, with a bit of creativity, I usually figure something out. Which is why I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how I thought that building a trip almost entirely around a river that desperately wants to be a creek in places was a good idea.

But I did. And here we are: grinding over rocks, grasping at alders and wondering which circle of hell the Nipissing River between Big Bob and Grass Lake represents.

Let’s start this again.

The Route

I started planning my August solo trip a long way back. It was going to be epic. I talked my (lovely and understanding) wife into letting me take off for a week and I decided to use that week to get about as deep into Algonquin as you can go. My plan was to start at the Tim Lake access point (#2), head up to the Nipissing River by way of Big Bob, paddle the Nipissing to Highview Cabin, then up through a chain of small lakes to Birchcliffe cabin. From Birchcliffe I’d head further north before turning down through Skuce, Nadine, Robinson, Burntroot and Longer before turning west through Shippagew and making my way back to the access point. Here’s what it would have looked like:

Table of Contents

Map Courtesy of Jeff's Maps

And here’s what I ended up doing:

Map Courtesy of Jeff's Maps

You might notice a difference.

See, my original route was pretty aggressive for me. And it relied on me making a decent amount of distance in the first two days. Looking at that distance on the map, it seemed like it would be a push, but it would be doable. It’s just over 38 KM from the access point to Highview Cabin. I’ve done that distance in two days quite a few times and I’ve done close to that distance in a day. But, and this is an important thing that Planning Drew either did not think about or chose to ignore, 38 KM over a mix of lakes and portages is a very different thing from 38 KM of winding, narrow, rocky, creek. What I needed was open water and maybe some decent weather. What I got was the Nipissing River.

The Nipissing River - In Between Big Bob and the P65s

Day One

I arrived at the Tim Lake access point just before noon. Tim Lake is one of the access points along Algonquin’s western border. You get to it (and two others) by driving through the town of Kearney off highway 11. The road in always takes longer than I think it will, but eventually it deposits you in a small parking lot beside the water. There’s a gravel put in beside a weathered dock and stretching in front of you is the Tim River, which isn’t so much a river as it is a preview of the world after the beavers take over.

Tim Lake Access Point

It’s also very pretty, a fact that wasn’t lost on me as I paddled away from the parking lot. It was a gorgeous day. The sun was out, but it wasn’t overwhelming. The sky was blue with the occasional puff of cloud drifting overhead. The water was cool but not cold and the river was placid. The Tim winds languorously eastward, passing in between mats of lily pads and the occasional skeletal tree jutting out of the water. It looks tailor made for some kind of large animal sighting, but unfortunately the only large animal in the area was me, who was happily paddling along and singing AJR to myself at moose repelling volumes.

Tim Lake

The river opens up into Tim Lake after a couple of kilometers. Tim is a mid-sized lake with six campsites on it. The ones I could see were occupied, and my guess is that the ones I couldn’t see were as well. It was the Sunday of the August long weekend, so campsites on an access point lake would be hard to come by. Fortunately, or unfortunately as it would turn out, my campsite was still about 12 kilometers away to the northeast. I turned my canoe north towards the first portage of the day and started paddling.

Access Point Camping

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t love the idea of camping on an access point lake because I think it would feel very crowded. Tim Lake might be an exception. I would imagine there’s still plenty of through traffic as people head east towards the Tim River and Rosebary, but maybe not as much as you’d get at places like Rain or Magnetawan? And with only six campsites, there’s a limit to how many neighbours you’re going to have to deal with. That said, five of those six campsites are definitely within shouting distance of each other, so it’s not going to feel like you’re in the middle of the backcountry. It just might feel a bit quieter than some of the other access point options out there.

Chibiabos Lake

The first lake north of Tim Lake is Chibiabos Lake. I have no idea how to say that properly, but I do know that it’s a short, and relatively benign, 345 meter portage away. That said, I was holding my breath, crossing my fingers and doing whatever else you need to do to channel good luck as I loaded up for the carry. After my solo trip last year, where I double carried every single portage thanks to some poor pack management, I was bound and determined to single carry for this trip. This made me a bit ruthless with my packing. I left behind my beloved aerial tent for my older ground tent because it packed smaller. I picked up a camping quilt to use instead of a sleeping bag in the hopes that the weight I’d drop wouldn’t come back to bite me if the temperature dropped as well. I only brought three pounds of jelly beans instead of the usual five. Sacrifices, you know?

Approaching the P345 to Chibiabos Lake

Despite this newfound appreciation for minimalism, I still couldn’t fit everything into my canoe pack. This meant I was carrying both my canoe pack and a regular backpack, along with my canoe, paddle and PFD.

That’s … that’s a bunch of stuff to carry.

Chibiabos Lake

But I made it work! While I needed two packs, neither were particularly heavy. I was able to put the canoe pack on my back and the backpack on my front without feeling like I was drowning in gear. After a bit of trial and error, I came up with a system where I put the canoe pack on first, flipped the boat up, balanced the boat on my shoulders and the bow on the ground while I shrugged into the front pack, then picked up the paddle and life jacket from where I’d left them leaning against a nearby tree (or rock, or sturdy looking chipmunk). I looked like a pack mule wearing a canoe, but I was able to single carry the entire trip (thank God. I don’t even want to think about what it would have been like if I’d had to triple the amount of portaging I was doing on top of everything else).

Chibiabos is a nice enough looking spot. It’s not particularly large. There are two campsites, one of which was occupied. I checked out the other one and it was decent. It’s fairly large, lots of living space. Enclosed, but doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Would definitely work for a night or two if I wanted a quiet but easily accessible lake to relax on without the hubbub of an access point lake.

Approaching Site 1 on Chibiabos
Inside Chibiabos Lake, Site 1

Indian Pipe Lake

The next lake on the route was another short portage away, just over 300 meters, and right now has the top position in my ranking of lakes that are probably going to see their names changed soon. Indian Pipe Lake is another small-ish lake, but without any campsites. What it does have are some pretty cool rock formations along the shoreline (sticking up out of the middle of the lake as well). There are a few large boulders here and there that look like they were probably dropped on Indian Pipe during the last ice age and have made themselves real comfortable ever since.

Indian Pipe Lake

The only other thing that was notable about Indian Pipe Lake was that I realized after about 10 paddle strokes that I had somehow gotten into my canoe facing the wrong way (in case this hasn’t been made abundantly clear by now, you really don’t want me to be your tripping role model). After some canoe acrobatics I got myself turned around and was soon staring down the start of the P820 up to West Koko Lake.

West Koko Lake

Oh look, there’s the next portage.

This carry was a bit tougher. The trail rises about 30 meters from Indian Pipe to the high point, and at 820 meters it’s not the shortest portage in the Park. Given that this was only my second trip of the season, my legs were definitely not operating at full capacity. I made it to the other end in one go, but I was huffing by the end of it. For my effort, I was greeted by West Koko Lake and, about 100 meters across the water from me, the start of the next portage.

West Koko Lake is small. I don’t know what else to tell you about it. It’s really small.

The paddle across West Koko went quickly, as did the portage over to Big Bob. That said, the portage between West Koko and Big Bob is a P790 and I was feeling every meter of that carry by the end of it. I was very grateful to be dumping my boat in between the boulders that guard the put-in. According to my very soon to be wildly revamped trip plan, I wouldn’t be carrying anything nearly as long as that portage for a couple of days, and I wasn’t unhappy about it.

Big Bob Lake
Happy to be on Big Bob

Big Bob Lake

I liked the look of Big Bob. A lot. It runs much longer east to west than it does north/south. It took me about five minutes to paddle from my portage on the south shore to my next portage on the north shore, but it would have taken significantly longer if I’d decided to paddle to the western end. The wind was coming from the west, meaning the waves had plenty of time to gather steam as they rolled towards me. They crashed up against the eastern shore in a constant stream and the sound of them breaking on the rocks combined with the rush of the wind seemed to fill everything.

The view from Big Bob, Site 1

That, right there, is why I love canoe tripping. You’ve got the sun overhead, the air filled with nature’s version of white noise and the forest around you rustling and swaying in the wind. It reminds you that the world is alive, and that you are too. It’s lovely.

Ugh. It’s getting too sentimental in here. Let’s talk about mud.

The Nipissing River

As I mentioned above, it did not take long to paddle across Big Bob. I stopped briefly at the easternmost campsite to check it out (quite nice) and filter some water on the assumption that this would probably be the last time for a couple of days I’d be able to find water that didn’t look like three day old Earl Grey. The portage across to the Nipissing was easy enough, although the portage sign was missing the part about abandoning hope all ye who enter. And then I was on the river.

Looking out at the Nipissing

Credit where credit’s due, the view from the portage out to the Nipissing is gorgeous. You arrive at a small put in surrounded by tall creek grass. That grass spreads out for about as far as the eye can see, ending eventually in a rolling forest of mostly evergreens on the far side of the wetlands, about a kilometre away. What you don’t see much of is water. Which is a big disconcerting when water is really all you’re hoping to see.

The first dam.

There was a small, shallow pool to drop the boat in, and a narrow path through the creek grass leading away. I followed this for about a minute before coming to a small beaver dam, the first of many obstructions I’d find along the way. It was easy enough to get over and after a couple more minutes the narrow path through the grass joined up with a much wider ribbon of water; I was on the Nipissing.

“Ok”, I told myself, “not bad. It winds a bit, sure, but it’s pretty wide and the water is more or less open. This might not be so –“

It was at this point that I ran into a barely submerged rock that was almost completely indistinguishable from the murky water surrounding it. This was not the last time this happened. See, while the river was certainly wide enough in this part, it was not deep. Between mud flats, rockbergs and the occasional log I constantly found myself running into and over things. Any momentum I’d built would evaporate into the ether with the sound of my canoe’s bottom squealing across something it wasn’t expecting to meet. It made for an increasingly frustrating paddle, which was a shame because this part of the river was beautiful.

Eventually I arrived at the first of two P65s which sit quite close together. These are followed by a P55 that also doubles as a campsite. As it turns out, this is the nicest campsite by far between Big Bob and Grass Lake. It sits at the top of the portage and has a decent fire pit, flat ground and a nice little water feature in the form of a rocky drop in the river that the portage takes you around. The views both up and down the are Nipissing are quite nice and there’s an awesome rock to just sit and catch your breath on, which is exactly what I did.

By this point I was feeling bushed. The river after the first P65 becomes narrower, but stays pretty shallow. I’d been pushing myself over various speed bumps for a while now and I was feeling it. I thought about setting up shop there for the night, but I figured I had one more push in me and decided to go a bit further, to the campsite on the P200 that was about a kilometre downriver. I could see on the map that that site was beside a set of rapids, and I thought that this might make for an even prettier spot to stop for the night.

I thought wrong.

P200 Site and Portage Sign

The site on the P200 is up the hill about 30 meters and well into the forest. It’s basically just a small clearing beside the portage. You can hear the rapids, sort of, but you can’t see them. You can’t see anything, really, except trees. I thought about moving on, but the next site looked to be over a kilometre downriver, with a portage in between, and no guarantee that it would be any better than what I was looking at. I also had no idea what the river might be like getting there, and I was tired, so I stayed.

I really wish I hadn’t stayed.

Don’t get me wrong, staying was the right decision based on my energy levels and what I found out about the river after the P200 the next day, but this ended up being one of the worst nights I’ve ever spent in the Park.

Not much of a site

Everything was fine, if underwhelming through most of the evening. I made dinner, read a bit, then retreated into my tent around 9:00. By 10:00 I was just about ready to put my book down for the night when I heard something breathing heavily in the woods.

I’m familiar with first night jitters. I haven’t really had them in the past few years, but when I first started solo tripping I’d convince myself that every chipmunk racing through the underbrush was some kind of superbear coming for me. This wasn’t that.

The breathing was a kind of huffing sound. Like something was blowing air out from the back of its throat, hard. It was consistent, and it was getting louder. The breathing was accompanied by the sound of something moving through the woods behind the site.

The view back along the Nip from the P200

I’d say I was frightened, but that doesn’t really cover it. I was frightened, and I felt trapped. I wasn’t on a lake where I could at least grab my canoe and get away from the site. I was in the middle of the woods, in the dark, on a narrow river, with absolutely nowhere to go.  

I got out of my tent on the assumption that I didn’t want to be the prize in a backcountry pinata if whatever was breathing back there came to investigate. I grabbed my paddle, life jacket and water bottle and stood beside the canoe in case I’d need to try my luck with the river anyway. I stood there with my headlamp on, head on a swivel, listening to the breathing and breaking in the trees and holding my own breath, wondering what was going to come next.

Not much, as it turns out.

Anyone out there?

After a while the noise from the woods subsided. The breathing disappeared and so did the sounds from the underbrush. I stood there a while longer, waiting for it to come back, but it never did. Eventually I talked myself into getting back in the tent to try and get some sleep.

I did not get much sleep.

I don’t know what was out there that night. It could have been a moose or a bear. Or it could have been something smaller that my mind blew up (for all I know it was an asthmatic porcupine). Whatever it was, it was enough to put me on edge in a way that I really haven’t felt while on trip in a long time (last year’s Boose encounter nothwithstanding). It wasn’t a fun way to start the trip.

Day Two

I was up for most of the night, getting a bit of sleep here and there but mostly just lying still, listening. Whatever it was that had been out there never came back, but I wasn’t in any mood to wait around in case it changed its mind. As soon as the first strands of tepid grey pre-dawn light filtered through my clearing I was out of the tent and packing up.  I was off the site by 6:30 and back on the river shortly thereafter.

This day was always going to be a tough day. I had the Highview ranger cabin booked for the night, which meant over 20 KM of river travel. I knew when I planned it that the day would leave me tired, but I hadn’t counted on also starting it exhausted.

I also hadn’t counted on just how bad the conditions would be on the Nipissing after the P200. It started with low water and a beaver dam. Next came a rock garden straddling the river like a nail belt. After that, the alders started. And they didn’t stop.

The first bump in the road
The 2nd through 70th bumps in the road

Alder Hell

The stretch between the P200 where I stayed and the P240 just before Grass Lake is the most demoralizing stretch of tripping I’ve ever done. The river is shallow here, and winds tightly through a sea of alder. The trees hang out over the waterway, their branches clawing at your canoe and rife with spider webs. Every corner I came around, and I came around a lot of corners, I was met with a new tunnel of alder, a new mud flat to drag over, a new patch of creek grass to push through, a new rock garden to navigate. At times I would hit a branch wrong and instead of pushing through it, it would push me backwards. It took me over three hours to paddle five kilometres, a distance I would usually cover in less than an hour.

By the time I was over the P240 that bookends this segment and onto the slightly better stretch of river leading towards Grass Lake, I was done, both physically and mentally. I still had more than 15 kilometers to travel to get to Highview and I wasn’t sure I’d make it another 15 meters.

Fun Fact!

What looks like the put-in on that P240 isn’t actually the put-in. If you put the boat in the water where it looks like you should you end up having to unpack it after about 10 meters of paddling and carry all your gear, plus your canoe, through the boulder garden that’s waiting for you there

Already, my trip plan had changed. I’d decided at the start of the trip to cut two days off the route so that I could get back and take my son out for an overnight. He’d been really keen on coming on this trip with me and while that would have been a terrible idea, one night with him on Joe Lake > than two nights by myself any time. This meant skipping the Birchcliffe part of the route, but I would still get to Highview and still get a chance to experience the cabin there.

A better stretch of the Nip

Now, I was realizing that I didn’t even have it in me to get to Highview. And if I wasn’t going to make it to Highview that day, I wasn’t going to have enough time to complete even my revised loop. I had no idea what the rest of the river was going to be like, and I needed to rest. I looked at the map, realized I was too tired to feel disappointed, and set my sights on Loontail Junction.

Loontail Junction is where Loontail Creek meets the Nipissing River. It’s also the only way to get off the Nip and back towards civilization between Big Bob Lake and Highview Cabin. There’s a campsite there, and I hoped it would be free so I could take a break and try to recharge.

Grass Lake

Grass Lake on the Nip

The paddle the rest of the way from the P240 to Loontail Creek was better than what had come before. Grass Lake was actually quite pretty, or maybe I just thought it was because I was so happy to see open water for the first time that day. The river widens here, and while it’s still filled with reed beds that act as a drag on your canoe, the going is faster. My understanding is that this is a bit more what you can expect once the Nip turns north.

Grass Lake Campsite

The site at Grass Lake looks like a pretty decent spot. I didn’t get out and walk around, but from the water it looks like a big enough site with a great view west towards Grass Lake. Certainly it looked better than any of the sites I’d seen so far along the river.

The junction of Loontail/Nipissing junction is clear enough. The Park has put a helpful sign highlighting that the two waterways are merging and even if that sign wasn’t there, Loontail is wide enough that you wouldn’t dismiss it as an offshoot creek.

Nipissing River, Loontail Junction

Loontail Junction

Loontail itself is actually a nice paddle. You’re going upstream, and the current is noticeable, but it’s not overly challenging. The creek is shallow, I kept hitting my blade against bottom, but again it’s not shallow enough that you have to get out and drag, which is what I really wanted to avoid at this point.

The site is about a third of the way up Loontail, at a bend in the creek. It’s not much to look at, basically just a rectangle of grass with a firepit at the back, but to my tired eyes it looked perfect. I grounded my canoe on the gravel beach that fronts the site, made myself some lunch and promptly fell asleep on the ground.

I was out for a couple of hours. By the time I woke up it was mid afternoon and I had a decision to make. I could try and push on to Rosebary Lake, some 8.5 KM of creek travel to my south, or I could set up on Loontail for the night and let my body rest. I used my InReach to contact my wife and asked her to check with the Park as to whether the Loontail site had been booked by anyone else for the night. Once she came back and told me it was free, the decision was made. I set up my tent, put up a tarp and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and coming to terms with the fact that my epic adventure had become an epic bust.

The site has a great view both north and south along Loontail. The creek is surrounded on both sides by large meadows, and I thought I might see some wildlife, particularly around dusk. There was a clear animal trail that ran in one side of the site and out the other, but I guess today whoever happened to live in the neighbourhood decided to take the detour, because I didn’t see a thing.

Rain rolled in in the later afternoon and spent the rest of the day stopping by from time to time to say hello. I was comfortable with my book under my tarp, and happy enough to look up every once in a while to watch the rain drift across the water. Eventually I made some dinner, cleaned up the site and made an early retreat to my tent just as the mosquitoes came out for a snack (they were bad here, one of the only spots all trip where they were even noticeable).

Day Three

My night on Loontail went better than the night before. Whatever unimaginable terrors lurked nearby thankfully kept their breathing at subaudible levels and I was able to get some much needed rest. That said, I was still up and off the site before 6:30. I was ready to be done with river/creek paddling. I wanted to see a lake. A real one, not just a spot where the river got a bit wider and the grass grew a bit thinner. Creeks were so day 2.  Now it was day 3, and I wanted open water.

I just needed to paddle a couple of creeks to get to it.

Loontail Creek

Loontail Creek

The bottom 2/3 of Loontail Creek was a lot like the top 1/3. It was shallow, and it wound a bit, but for the most part it was a pleasant paddle. I wondered if I might catch a moose enjoying its breakfast as I went along, but sadly they were dining elsewhere.

I almost missed the portage over to Latour Creek, which runs east west between Loontail Creek and Floating Heart Lake. Loontail continues past the portage, and I was on autopilot. Fortunately I caught sight of the sign as I slid past and managed to avoid tacking on some bonus creek paddling.

Looking back at Loontail Creek

The portage between Loontail and Latour is a P845. It’s marked as low maintenance on the map but was in pretty good shape as far as I could tell. By now I was focused entirely on getting back to the world of lakes. I crossed the portage quickly, covering the distance in the span of two songs (I was blaring music from my phone as a way to let anything in the vicinity know I was around).

For my effort, I got Latour Creek.

Latour Creek

Latour Creek is basically the Boss level of creeks. It takes the worst aspects of other creeks and doubles down (it doesn’t have the alder overhang, but it’s got everything else). You arrive at the put-in and are greeted with a wide, shallow looking waterway. Once you get in the boat you discover that the creek isn’t just shallow looking, it’s shallow. The thin layer of water covering the much thicker layer of muck is just enough to provide a home for the reed mats that live on the surface. Between the reeds and the fact that my paddle had about six inches of water to work with, progress along Latour was slow.

First glimpse of Latour

At one point, while I was trying to push myself off a mud flat that had disguised itself as a channel through the reeds, I shared my thoughts about Latour loudly and with no regard for the creek’s feelings. The creek didn’t seem to mind, but the moose who had been having her breakfast just around the bend took exception. Next thing I knew there was a splashing and crashing and a large cow darted across the creek bank and into the forest.

That was cool!

It’s been a while since I’ve had a moose sighting on trip and I’d been disappointed that one didn’t materialize while I was on the Nipissing. I guess the tripping Gods were saving it for when they knew I’d really need a pick me up.

I continued along Latour feeling somewhat better about life in general. The one thing I’ll say for Latour is that the middle section has decent stretches of straightaway paddling, which is infinitely preferable to the corkscrewing meandering I’d been dealing with the day before (and would be dealing with on the Tim River in just a bit). I managed to get up a decent head of stream coming into what I thought was the home stretch, paying little attention to the fact that the creek seemed to be narrowing as I got closer to the western end, or that it had started to throw a few more twists and turns at me.  I figured that was a sign that I was almost through and started looking for the portage marker as I came around each bend.

The portage marker didn’t materialize, but the turns kept coming and the creek kept narrowing. It went from being the width of a large city street to the width of a driveway to … well, this:

Feels a bit cramped

There’s a point on Latour where you reach what looks like a dead end. By now the creek had narrowed significantly and it seemed to end at this little pool of water. But there was no obvious portage take out. At first I wondered if maybe I’d taken a wrong turn, but then I saw a very narrow channel more or less hidden between two clumps of creek grass jutting off to my left.  The channel was maybe two canoe widths wide, if that.

I stared at it for a minute, shrugged, and kept paddling.

Sure, why not?

The creek kept narrowing as I worked my way along. It went from being two canoes wide, to one and a half, to one, to less. It got to the point where I put the paddle down and began grabbing fistfuls of creek grass on either side and heaving myself forward. The twists and turns got tighter, and even my relatively short Brookie canoe had trouble navigating the bends. Eventually I had to get out of the canoe and work my way along the creek bank, dragging the boat overland in places and trying to jam it through too narrow channels in others.

It was an experience.

Finally the portage sign came into view. It was tacked to a tree at the base of a large hill. In between me and that hill was a tall beaver dam, the reason for the low water levels I’d been dealing with the past hour or so. Thinking unkind thoughts about beavers and everything they do, I manhandled my canoe up and over the dam, paddled the small pond on the other side and soon found myself at the start of the P1300 down to Floating Heart Lake.

A fork in Latour Creek. (nope, not the portage)
The cause of it all

Floating Heart Lake

I said I was at the start of the portage down to Floatin heart because Floating Heart is south of Latour. In reality, this portage starts with some up. Some serious up. I’d say the first quarter of the carry is uphill. To add to the fun, this particular portage could do with a visit from a chainsaw. There are a few downed trees across the path that were just tall enough that I couldn’t climb over and just inconveniently placed enough that I couldn’t go around. I had to put the boat down a couple of times to push through or over these deadfalls, which was a frustration. It made the carry longer than I wanted it to be, but eventually I was standing on the shore of Floating Heart Lake, absurdly grateful to be looking at a body of water that was as wide as it was long.

Floating Heart Lake

Floating Heart is a small lake without any campsites. It’s pretty enough, although my bar for liking the look of a lake was low at that moment. Is the thing I’m looking at a creek? No? Then it’s beautiful.

The P400 from Floating Heart to Rosebary was a treat after the aggravations of the portage before. It’s not very long, doesn’t throw much elevation change at you and was blessedly clear of obstacles. Before long I was on the beach at the put-in on Rosebary Lake, looking out at a grey and misty morning and trying to decide what to do next.

Rosebary Lake

It’s a silver day on Rosebary

By now, my trip plan was well and truly out the window. I still had the better part of the week in front of me, and I could try and salvage some kind of route out of Rosebary, but if we’re being honest, none of the options were very appealing. Apart from going back the way I came, there are four routes out of Rosebary: south to David Lake by way of David Creek and a 3 KM low maintenance portage (NO), southeast along the Tim River (No No No) and east through Longbow and a string of low maintenance portages towards Shippagew Lake (maybe …?). I considered the Longbow route, but two things kept me from doing it. 1) I was completely off permit at this point so any campsite I took would not be one I had booked. There are a couple of campsites along the low maintenance string between Longbow and Shippagew, but they’re each the only campsite on their respective lakes and I didn’t want to be stealing someone’s site. 2) I was fed up. The past couple of days had taken a toll and the thought of heading out early and eating a burger for dinner was very appealing.

So I went with option 4, back towards the access point along the Tim River.

Before leaving Rosebary I took some time to explore the north shore. According to Jeff’s Map that shore is home to the oldest known indigenous campsite in the Park. The place he’s marked has a pretty beach and a large boulder presiding over shoreline. There was a ranger cabin here at one point, so the area immediately behind the beach is low lying brush, not forest. It’s a cool little spot.

Once I had filtered some water and wandered around a bit, I headed over to a nearby Park campsite to check it out. This looked like a great site. It’s big, with plenty of room for tents, tarps and whatever else you want to put up. There’s a massive beach curving around the eastern shore nearby. It would be a three minute paddle, if that, from the site and would make for a great spot to pass an afternoon.

After about an hour of dipsy doodling around Rosebary, I squared myself towards the mouth of the Tim River and started the last leg of my trip.

Tim River

I’ve paddled the Tim between Tim Lake and Rosebary before, albeit coming the other direction. It’s not a bad river to travel, especially in comparison to what I’d been dealing with on the Nip for the past couple of days. It twists and turns as you get towards Rosebary, and there are a few beaver dams to get over (six to be precise) but it’s a very pretty paddle.

I was joined by two herons for much of the river. They’d see me coming, take flight, head a bit of the way upriver then settle in on the river bank for a few minutes until I got close enough to spook them again. I love herons, and this was a very nice way to pass the time as I pushed my way towards Tim Lake.

Just before I reached the p120 off of the lower, skinnier Tim the sun started to poke through the clouds. It had been a grey day up to this point. While it wasn’t raining, the mist was doing its very best to convince me otherwise. The sun was a welcome change and by the time I was over the portage and paddling the last, wider stretch of river towards Tim Lake, the mist had stopped and the clouds were starting to break up.

Tim Lake (Again)

I stopped for lunch on a site on Tim Lake just north of the river entrance. This is a great site. It’s big, has a nice fire pit set up, feels private and has a neat little flat rock down by the water facing west where you can watch Tim Lake go by.

As I was getting lunch ready I heard a group of women kayaking by, looking for a campsite. I called out to them to let them know I was just having lunch and would be pushing off soon, and they decided to join me. This was the highlight of my trip. The group was in for a day trip and they’d brought along an impressive lunch spread and a solid looking collapsible table. We chatted a bit and I learned that they were up from Huntsville and they did trips like this once a week. It was great to see and speak to people for the first time in a few days, and it was a really nice way to cap an otherwise forgettable (well, actually, not forgettable at all) trip.

Once lunch was done I left them to their afternoon and continued back to the access point. I’d hoped to check out some of the other campsites on Tim Lake, but they were all taken. When I arrived back at the access point I ran into another trip who had tried to do the same route I’d done. They’d gotten fed up with the water conditions and turned back before that P200 site I’d stayed on, making me feel somewhat better about my own struggles.

Final Thoughts

And that’s it. The end of a very different trip report than the one I thought I’d be writing a week ago. I guess what I can say is that this was a good learning experience. I planned this trip wrong. I thought I’d done a decent amount of research on the stretches of the Nip I’d be paddling, but I didn’t account for how different river travel is from lake travel. It could be that the Tim access point to Highview in two days is doable for me, but it would have to be in the spring when water levels are higher and the alder aren’t in full bloom. That said, I shouldn’t have set myself such a push at the start. If I’d given myself three days to get to Highview, starting on Big Bob, staying on Grass Lake and then up to Highview, this would have been a very different trip, even with the lower water conditions.

My problem was that once I got behind schedule, I didn’t have any way to catch up. There aren’t a lot of outs or shortcuts from the Nipissing. Once you start, you’re committed. If I hadn’t gone out at Loontail Creek, my next option would have been heading out towards Remona, 40 KM and a couple of days paddle away. I tried to cram too much into this trip and ended up not getting to do much at all. On the plus side, I did get to surprise my wife and two youngest kids for some family time, and I got in that overnight with my son (more on that in another post). 

I don’t know if I’m going to get another shot at a solo trip this season. It turns out that Steve Miller knew what he was talking about, time does keep on slippin’ slippin’ slippin’ into the future. The end of the summer is a lot closer than it should be and it’ll be hard to cram another solo in. That doesn’t mean I’m done with canoe trips though! We’re heading to Opeongo for a family weekend, then to Booth with family friends later in the month. Labour Day will be my annual buddies trip and I’m hoping I might find time for at least one more weekend in September. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some alder spiders to shake out of my canoe. 


New Lakes Paddled: 6
Total Lakes Paddled: 9
$#%@$%! Creeks & Rivers: 4 
Total Portages: 14
Total Portage Distance: 5.8 KM
Total Travel Distance:  52.03 KM

Map Courtesy of Jeff's Maps

6 thoughts on “Low Water & High Alders: Falling short on the Nipissing River

  1. Thank you for the report – I love reading your stories. They are refreshing and written with humour.

  2. we did this trip in July, but set a much more relaxed pace (Big Bob, Grass, Rosebary, then a hop back over to Chibiabos for our last nite), but those acres of soul-sucking alders, and the thick, thick water of Loontail and Latour Creeks made it a true challenge, even if it LOOKED like a shorter trip on the map…. glad you made it through & out relatively unscathed!
    ps, you didn’t happen to see a pair of walking sticks at the portage when you started your 2nd day, did you….?

    1. That sounds like a much nicer version of the trip! (Unfortunately, no walking sticks)

  3. Another great read Drew. Summer is too busy (canoe tripping!) to keep up with your adventures, but winter hot-tent season is the perfect time to relax & enjoy your extraordinary stories. Thanks for sharing!

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