Welcome to the 7th (!) annual Golden Moose Awards. It’s kind of hard to believe I’ve been writing this thing for seven seasons, but the numbers don’t lie. I wrote my first Moosie Awards post in November 2016. Back then I was calling it The Moosie Awards for Excellence in the Fields of Excellence, Nature and Algonquin Park Related Stuff, which is a tremendous name. While the name has gotten shorter over the years, the posts have gotten longer. 2016’s version of these posts had seven total awards. Last year, there were seven awards in the first half alone. While we’re not quite challenging the Oscars for runtime, we’re getting close. I’ll try and trim some of the fat from this year’s posts, but I’m not making any promises.
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In keeping with the seven theme that I seem to have going right now, I made it out on seven trips from May to November this year. I started with a five day loop out of Kiosk and ended with a day trip to Sec Lake. In between, I paddled rivers, creeks and lakes both big and small, saw moose, beavers, herons and more, had the crap scared out of me on the Nipissing River and enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in the Park on Dickson Lake (uh, spoiler alert). Along the way I visited dozens of campsites, swam every chance I got and made it to my 300th Algonquin Lake (hi Baldwin Lake!).
Whew. Sounds like a busy summer.
And it was! It also gives us plenty to work with as we go through this year’s categories. As always, this will be split into two posts. Part One will cover the smaller awards like Best Sunset and Thuderiest Thunderbox, the technical awards if you will. Part Two will cover the heavy hitters like Best Campsite, Best Route and Best Lake (I hear that Manitou Lake has already cleared space on its mantle for this year’s award. I hope it’s not getting too far ahead of itself. Dickson Lake has been getting some serious late season buzz).
Let’s get started.
Moose are cool. When you run into one along a river bank or on a portage there’s no denying that you are by far the least impressive animal in the meeting. They’re also massive. They look indestructible while at the same time they look like their legs should be snapping in half beneath their weight. Speaking of weight, all they eat is slimy green stuff and they still manage to bulk up like Conan era Arnold. Put it all together and you’ve got an easy trip highlight if you happen to run across one while out in the backcountry.
This year, I only managed one of those run-ins. But don’t let the fact that this is a default win make you feel bad, Latour Creek Moose! It was still a pretty awesome sighting.
As you may have guessed from the subtle clues in the previous paragraph, I saw my one and only moose this year on Latour Creek. Latour is south of the Nipissing River, and connects back to Rosebary Lake by way of Loontail Creek. This was right after I’d admitted defeat on the Nipissing River and was heading back to the access point, tail between my legs. I was feeling pretty down, which wasn’t helped by the fact that Latour was doing its best impression of the aftermath of a mud slide that morning. Water levels were low enough that it mostly felt like I was pushing through the muck, rather than paddling over it. I ran into, or more accurately narrowly avoided running into, the moose coming around a bend in the creek. One minute I was muttering unkind words about creeks, water and the universe in general, the next there was a tremendous crashing and splashing, accompanied by about 800 lbs of forest tank running across my bow. The moose scrambled up the far bank and disappeared into the nearby forest in about the same amount of time it took my heart to go from lullaby mode to jackhammer.
It was awesome.
Now, to be honest, I generally prefer my moose sightings at a greater distance than that one. If that moose had decided to charge instead of run away, I would have been in trouble (which is why I can never understand when I see a line of cars parked on Highway 60 with people taking selfies 10 feet from a grazing moose). Fortunately, the moose had better things to do than trample me into the creek bed, and I’m left with an awesome memory in the middle of a decidedly unawesome trip. (I have exactly zero pictures of this moose as my GoPro was dead and it was gone before I could get my camera up. So here’s a picture of a moose on Mangotasi instead!)
Unlike the Best Moose category, I had lots of options for best swimming this year. That’s the nice thing about Algonquin, pretty much anywhere you’re swimming is going to be in the running for best swim of the year (except Ooze Lake. You don’t want to swim in Ooze Lake). I’ve got it narrowed down to three contenders, and while you can make an argument for each of them, I think there’s a clear winner here once all the votes are counted.
The first runner up was a swim on Lorne Lake. Lorne is in the northwest corner of the Park and has beautifully clear water. I was there in mid May on a gorgeous day. We’d come up from Manitou that morning, a route that included the P2040 between North Tea and Lorne. That was only my second portage of any length of the season, and by the end of it I was drenched with sweat and exhausted. Normally, mid May isn’t an ideal time for a dip as the water can be cold enough that even a penguin might look at it and go “nah, I’m good”, but on this day it was just right. After we set up camp on Site 2 I threw caution to the gentle breeze and took a swim. The water was cold, really cold, actually, but it felt great. The first swim of the year is always fantastic, and Lorne was a great spot for it.
The other runner up is Site 2 on Opeongo’s North Arm. I stayed there for a couple of nights with my family in August and it was an ideal spot for kids. The site is fronted by a wide, curving beach and is great for both splashing around and wading out into deeper waters. The only slight drawback was the strip of sharper rocks about five feet offshore that you have to walk across to get to the sand, but other than that it was an awesome spot for a dip.
As great as those two swims were, my favourite of the year was on Big Crow Lake over Labour Day. We were staying on a site on the east side of the lake, just north of where Big Crow exits into the Crow River and, eventually, Lake Lavielle. Like that Opeongo site, the Big Crow site is fronted by a wide, curving beach. Unlike the Opeongo site, the underwater terrain stays soft and sandy then entire way out. And oh boy does it go out. The drop off is so gradual there that I was at least 100 meters offshore before the water made it to my chest. It was a beautiful afternoon, with the sun beating down from the west and the water sparkling like diamonds all around. The water was just the right temperature to be refreshing, without being freezing. All in all, it was an awesome swim and the winner of this year’s Best Swimming category.
Hands down, this year’s winner of the Thunderiest Thunderbox award is the random homemade box I found in the middle of the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for making your own thunderbox (please, do not make your own thunderbox), but I was pretty impressed by the end result. Not impressed in the sense that you could convince me to take it out for a test spin, but more in the “that’s the work of someone who really doesn’t like digging holes” kind of way.
The box was an old toilet seat, detached from the toilet itself but still with its lid. That toilet seat was perched between two stacks of rocks. We’re not talking pyramid sized slabs here, but more the kinds of rocks you’d find tracing out a fire pit on any site in the Park. In other words, these are not massive rocks. Why is this important? Because stacking a bunch of slightly rounded, medium sized rocks on top of each other is not the most stable construction strategy I can think of. The toilet seat backed up against a larger rock, making it look like a throne in absolutely every sense of the word. It was majestic. And, apparently, I did not take a picture of it. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s two category winners out of the first three that I don’t have a picture to back up my claim. Maybe I’m just making everything up? Anyways, rather than leave this section picture-less, I asked Dall E 2, OpenAi’s artificial intelligence image generator, to paint me a picture. And it did not disappoint.
Calling something a best portage seems like an oxymoron. It’s like giving out an award for most cuddly snake. Portages were put on this planet to make your rethink and regret every life decision you’ve made that got you to the middle of this godforsaken forest with 80 lbs of canoe and pack on your back and 800 lbs of mosquitoes buzzing around your head.
Except, that’s not really true, is it? Portages can be hard, but they can also be awesome. Some of my favourite sights have come mid portage. Whether it’s the remains of an old ranger cabin in between High Falls and the Cascades, the natural spa in between Daisy Lake and the Petawawa or the countless waterfalls on portages all around the Park, there’s a lot to appreciate along the trail (which isn’t to say that the biggest bit of appreciation doesn’t come at the end of the damn thing).
My favourite portage of the year was also my longest portage of the year. The P5470 linking Bonfield Lake to Dickson Lake, just east of Opeongo. This is the longest official portage in the Park and it gives you a little bit of everything you might want to see along a carry. Between Dickson and Bonfield (which was the direction we were going) I saw waterfalls, relics from the Park’s earlier days, unexplained massive holes just beside the path and all the nature you could ask for. There was a bit of elevation change along the route, but it wasn’t too challenging, and the Park has laid down some very sturdy boardwalks in places where the ground might get mushy. We were carrying it on a beautiful September morning. The day was clear and warm without being too hot. My buddy Mark and I switched off every kilometer and a half or so and it seemed like the portage flew by. All in all, for a 5KM+ carry, it was a really good experience and the easy winner of this year’s Best Portage award.
Everything I wrote in that last section was crap. Want proof? Say hello to the P1100 up to Little Crooked Lake. Interestingly enough, this portage also started from Dickson Lake, making Dickson the equivalent of 2010 Sandra Bullock for playing a role in both the best and worst things of the year.
The best thing about the Dickson to Little Crooked portage is the beautiful, curving beach at the Dickson end of the carry. From that point on, everything goes to pieces. Dickson/Little Crooked is low maintenance, and wants you to know it. The path is littered with obstacles and things waiting to trip you. Spots that might have warranted some TLC in the form of a boardwalk or even just some strategic placing of downed logs on busier carries have been left to their own devices here, making for some particularly mushy spots to wade through. The portage is mostly uphill, and the trail isn’t always the most level. There’s a decent chunk where you’re walking along the side of a hill which would be an ideal spot to roll an ankle (and then roll down that hill). The best part of the carry, the part that really wins it this category, comes at the end. The portage ends about 50 meters before the lake begins. In between, is swamp. Here someone has made an effort to make the way more passable by laying down a series of cut logs. However, as I found out when I stepped on the first one, these logs aren’t actually resting on anything. They’re just free floating slightly above the muck. You sink in ankle deep with each step, the log dipping and rolling beneath you as you try to hop to the next one. This was tough enough to navigate without any weight. I wouldn’t want to think about what it would be like with a heavy pack or a canoe on my shoulders.
So, Little Crooked, congrats! You took home this year’s Worst Portage award and it wasn’t even close. I’d say see you next year, but there is a zero percent chance I will ever be doing that portage again.
It seems like each of the last few years I’ve have one moment of pure terror on trip. In 2020 it was getting caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of Kiosk. In 2021 it was my introduction to the Brule Boose. Not to be outdone, 2022 delivered what might be the most frightening experience I’ve had yet (although, it’s really hard to outdo the sheer terror of trying to navigate 3 foot waves in the middle of Kiosk with lighting crashing all around you).
This year’s Most Pantswetting Moment came on night one of my aborted Nipissing River trip. I was staying on the campsite just off to the side of the P200 along the Upper Nipissing between Big Bob and Grass Lake. The site was terrible. An easy contender for Worst Campsite if that category existed (which it might! Stay tuned for Part Two of this year’s Moosies, coming soon!). It was basically a small clearing cut out of the forest on the side of the trail. There was a minimal fire pit, enough flat ground for one tent and not much more. The site was up a hill from the water, and surrounded on all sides by dense forest. It felt extremely enclosed, even before night fell.
Despite the D grade site, I had a pretty good evening. I sat and read for a while, then retired to my tent. About an hour later, the breathing started.
Let’s quote August Drew for the next bit, because he did a better job of describing it than I’m going to:
“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.”
“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 don’t know what was out there that night. My imagination is convinced it was a bear. It could have been a chipmunk with a breathing problem. Either way, it left me feeling completely helpless in a way I’m not used to on trip. Even when I was caught in that storm on Kiosk I knew what I had to do (keep the boat upright, get to dry land). It wasn’t a guarantee that I’d be able to do it, but at least I could try. On that site on the Nipissing, there was very little I could do if the thing in the woods decided to pay a visit. The Nip isn’t a very wide, or deep, river. If something decided it wanted to say hi to me, I couldn’t just hop in the boat and paddle out of reach.
I don’t know exactly how long the noises from the woods lasted. It felt like hours but was probably only about fifteen minutes. Regardless, the fear stayed with me all night, making for a lousy night’s sleep and a terrible start to what I would soon find out was a terrible stretch of river.
And that was, easily, 2022’s most Pantswetting Moment.
Our final category of the first half of this year’s Moosies in an old favourite: Best Sunrise/Sunset. Let’s be honest though, over the years this one has morphed into being mostly a Best Sunset category as my days of feeling energetic enough to get up with the sun were left behind a couple of kids ago. The good news is that the lack of sunrises in my 2022 tripping season isn’t going to be a problem as the sunset side of the equation swept in to pick up the slack.
There are three main contenders for this year’s award. Our first finalist is a late August sunset on Booth Lake. This was a gorgeous sunset, with the sun setting behind Booth’s western hills and painting the underside of the nearby clouds with soft, beautiful colours that lingered well after the sun had disappeared behind the horizon. The only downside to this sunset is that the viewing area wasn’t that great. We were staying on Booth’s site 2, which is not a site I would recommend unless you are a fan of uneven sleeping ground and enclosed spaces. The shoreline was simultaneously rocky and mucky, and comfortable places to sit and watch the sunset were few and far between.
Our second finalist, a Labour Day weekend sunset on Big Crow, did not have the same problem. This was a slow, beautiful sunset perfectly set up to be watched from the beach on our western facing campsite. This was the type of sunset I think of as a silver sunset. The entire lake was bathed in a warm glow, and while there weren’t that many colours to be seen, the clouds drifting across the horizon were were edged in grays and silvers as the sun lit them from below.
Our third finalist, and the winner of this year’s Best Sunrise/Sunset category, is the sunset from a couple nights after the Big Crow sunset, this one on Dickson Lake. That Dickson sunset was by far the best sunset I saw all summer, probably the best I’ve seen in years. Our island site on Dickson had a small point at its western end that gave a great 270 degree view of the lake and sky. We watched the sun set for over an hour, first cycling through the grays and silvers of the Big Crow sunset before diving into deep and warm pastels like the Booth Lake sunset, only more vibrant. No question, it was the best sunset of the year.
And I think I’ll leave it there for now. That’s it for Part One of this year’s Moosies. We’ll be back in a few days with Part Two and categories like Best Campsite, Best Lake and Best Route. Until then, Happy New Year to everyone!