Welcome to The Thunderbox, my (hopefully) monthly roundup of everything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. This newsletter includes a spotlight lake, recent trip and campsite reports, reviews of any new gear I’ve been trying out (or maybe just old gear that I’m a huge fan of) and links to any relevant Algonquin related reading I’ve come across recently. Hope you enjoy!
Welcome to The Thunderbox, my (hopefully) monthly roundup of anything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. This newsletter includes a spotlight lake, recent trip and campsite reports, reviews of any new gear I’ve been trying out (or maybe just old gear that I’m a huge fan of) and links to any relevant Algonquin content I’ve come across recently. Hope you enjoy (and feel free to subscribe if you do! You’ll get this roundup plus each trip report as it’s published).
After a slow start to the paddling season I made up for lost time in August. I got out on four separate trips, and by the time anyone reads this I’ll be just about to start my fifth. Each of the trips was on the short side, most of which was by design. I got out with my family a couple of times, my son on his own once and I had a solo trip at the start of the month that did not go the way I had planned, but did provide some lessons on taking seasonality into account when route planning.
On the plus side, I did manage to paddle a few new lakes this month. This brings my overall number of new lakes visited to 300. Of the lakes I visited for the first time, I’d say Red Rock, just north of Opeongo, was my favourite. There’s a campsite there that’s big, has gorgeous views and a fire pit that was expressly designed for frying up a salami lunch. I was up there as part of a mid-August Opeongo base camping trip and I would happily go back for a night or two.
Up next is my annual buddies’ trip over Labour Day. This year we’re heading to Lake Lavielle by way of the Crow River, then down through Dickson and across the Bonfield-Dickson portage. I’m looking forward to the trip. Not so excited about tackling the longest portage in the Park. I’ll have that report ready some time in September. Until then, let’s talk about this month’s spotlight lake.
Brule Lake is a mid sized lake just north of Canoe Lake. Like Canoe, it’s a lake that’s steeped in the history of the area. There was a small village and train station located on the north shore in the early 20th century and for a time the lake was home to a number of year round residents. Once the Brule lumber mill closed down the village disappeared, leaving behind a few remnants and some interesting stories. These days, Brule is home to one or two cottage leases and a couple of campsites. It’s also a pretty lake to visit and our spotlight lake for the month.
Brule is a solid half to full day paddle from the nearest access point, Canoe Lake (#5). It’s 15 KM to the northwest of the permit office, and the most direct route will take you up Potter Creek and through Potter Lake. Getting there can be an exercise in frustration (and a frustrating exercise) if water levels are low on Potter Creek, but for the most part it’s an easy to moderate trip up.
There are two sites on Brule, both of which are on the southern side of the lake (I expect they’re both on the south side because Brule’s cottage lease is on the north shore). I’ve stayed on one of these sites (site 1 in the campsite archive), and I can safely say that if I ever stay on Brule again, I’ll be staying on Site 2. Site 1 is a small bump of rock just up from the Potter Lake portage. It’s located right where the lake starts to widen out on the west shore (essentially Brule Lake is just a very large waystation on Potter Creek) and as a result it feels like you’re camping on a creek as much as a lake. It’s not a terribly level site, there’s flat ground for two tents, at best, and otherwise you’re climbing up and down a small hill to get from the water to the fire pit and tent area. On the plus side, the view up Brule is awesome.
I’ve never actually visited Site 2. A couple of years ago I had a choice between both sites and my first impression of Site 2 as I was paddling past was that it would be a poor option. From the water, the campsite sign looks like it’s beside a little hole in the shoreline and not much else. It seemed like it would feel very enclosed. What I didn’t realize as I was going by, but figured out as soon as I saw where another group ended up setting up their tents, is that the site itself is not where the campsite sign is located; that’s just the canoe take out. The site is about thirty or forty feet above the lake, at the top of a cliff. And it looks awesome. It’s got great westward views across Brule and, at least from what I could see from my increasingly envious perch on site 1, gets fantastic evening sun.
Brule itself is something of a crossroads lake. You can leave it in all four directions. To the north you head up to Lily Pond and, after a 2 KM low maintenance portage, Cranebill Lake. To the east there are a couple of smaller lakes and mid-sized portages before you get to McIntosh Lake. To the South you’ve got Potter Lake, a 700 meter carry along the access road that runs along Brule and Potter’s western shore. Finally, to the west, Potter Creek continues for a kilometer or so before ending at Brown’s Falls and the portage over to Furrow Lake. Brown’s Falls is quite nice, and would be worth a day trip if you were staying on Brule for a couple of nights. According to Jeff’s Map, the falls were a popular destination for the people living on Brule back when the town was a going concern.
Brule is also interesting for the variety of terrains around it. As I mentioned a moment ago, the west side is bounded by an access road. To the north, where the portage up to Lily Pond joins up with that road, is a grassy cleared area that was once the site of the town. The eastern side is more typically Algonquin, with evergreen forest and some decent elevation. Finally, there’s a quiet bay just south of the portage over to Rosswood that looks tailor made for a moose sighting (or for a moose to sight you I guess). All in all, there’s a fair amount to see on Brule and if you’re heading up that way it’s well worth a visit (especially if you’re trying to decide between staying on it and Potter Lake).
I don’t love sleeping in tents. There, I said it. Actually, that’s not 100% accurate. I don’t mind sleeping in tents, but my back hates it. No matter how good my sleeping pad, by the end of a night of ground sleeping I’ve got aches in places I didn’t even know I could ache. Over the course of a summer this has a cumulative effect, so that by the time September rolls around my upper body feels like someone has been using it as a punching bag and I spend most of the fall trying to convince my back not to quit on me.
Last year, I decided to try something different. My theory was, and stick with me here because this is (ahem) groundbreaking, that the ground is hard. And it’s uneven. And that’s not comfortable. But what if I didn’t have to sleep on the ground? Wouldn’t that be more comfortable?
I looked around at various hammock tent options and found the Opeongo Aerial. Unlike other hammocks, this one is designed to let you lie flat. This is accomplished by taking what looks like a pretty standard solo tent and adding some thick metal bars across either end. These bars attach to some tree straps and once you put them all together you’ve got yourself an awesome little tent floating anywhere from two to four feet above the ground.
All you need are two relatively sturdy looking trees and you can give yourself a level sleeping surface with exactly zero pressure points below you. There are no words for what a difference this has made for me. Sleeping in the aerial feels like sleeping in a bed. I use a sleeping pad for warmth, but you could easily get away without one if you wanted to trim weight. The tent interior is big enough to fit me comfortably, and the gear hammock that hangs below it gives me more than enough room to store all my stuff (I’m realizing that this sounds like an ad, it isn’t. I just really like this tent :)).
The only downside to the tent are the things that make it so great: the spreader bars. These bars are, by design, extremely solid. They’re also a bit on the long side. As a result, the rolled up tent takes up more room lengthwise than any of my larger capacity ground tents. This can be tough to fit into a pack, and I’ve had to settle for strapping the tent to the outside of my bag for most trips, which I don’t love. Apart from that, it’s awesome.
I only added 3 new campsite reports this month (too busy visiting the actual campsites I guess!). All three are from my early August trip along the Nipissing River. Hopefully next month I’ll get the rest of the ones from that trip done, because the backlog is getting long!
In early August I started out on what was meant to be my longest trip of the summer (and longest trip in years, now that I think of it). It didn’t work out that way. While I had planned to follow the Nipissing River into the middle of Algonquin, it turned out that the Nipissing had other plans for me. If you’re a fan of low water, narrow creeks and possible, just maybe, still not quite sure bear encounters, then this is the report for you. Check it out here!
Right after my not so successful Nipissing River trip, my son and I did an overnight up to Tepee Lake. Low water was not a problem on this one. Neither were low supplies of marshmallows. We made s’mores, told stories and jumped cliffs. Can’t really ask for much more. Check it out here!