Birchcliffe, The Nip and Some Hills

Map Courtesy of Jeff’s Maps

There’s a string on lakes in north Algonquin that I’ve been looking at for a long time. On the map, they’re about a day’s travel south of Kiosk (access #29). This string includes Nadine Lake, Osler Lake and, because Nadine and Osler were the only names to come out of the Algonquin Park Lake Naming Hat of Mystery that day, Little Nadine and Little Osler (but also Skuce!). Just to the west of that string is a second series of small to mid-sized lakes that cuts away to the southwest. This is a low maintenance route that includes lakes like Birchcliffe, Lawren Harris and Barred Owl before meeting up with the Nipissing River. I’ve been looking at this section of the Park for just as long as I’ve been looking at the Nadine group and, in both cases, I’ve been wondering how on Earth I was going to get there.

Here’s the thing: While I can’t say these lakes are the center of Algonquin (I think technically that would be somewhere around Hogan?), they sure seem like they’re about as remote as you can get in the Park. They’re a spiritual center of Algonquin, if you will. Getting to the start of either string of lakes isn’t that difficult. You can get to Erables out of Kiosk in a day, and that puts you right where you need to be to start down either stretch. But getting the rest of the way, that takes a bit more time and effort. And while I’m always happy to put in the effort, time, like peanut butter, is something I don’t always have enough of.

Fortunately, for my spring trip this year, time and peanut butter were both in ample supply. So was snow, but we’ll get there.

The Nipissing River Below High Falls

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The Route

This year’s spring trip was, like last year’s spring trip, a loop out of the Kiosk access point (access point #29). Once again, my buddy Mark had agreed to spend the better part of a week paddling and portaging (soooo much portaging) around the northwest part of the Park with me. Our route was ambitious as far as first trips of the year go. We were starting on Kiosk and heading south to Erables by way of Maple Creek for the first night. From there we were cutting southwest to Birchcliffe Cabin for night two, before heading further in the same direction down to Highview Cabin on the Nipissing River for night three. Once we’d had our fill of cabin living, we were going to paddle east along the Nip, stopping for one night at a campsite along the way, before turning north and heading back to Kiosk by way of Nadine and Mouse Lake.

It was a big trip. And one that included a little bit of everything. Big lakes? Kiosk and Erables say hi. Smaller lakes? Looking at you Little Nadine. River travel? The Nipissing River is waiting. Low maintenance portages that disappear in front of you like Harry Potter throwing on his invisibility cloak? The Calm to J.E.H. MacDonald portage solemnly swears that it’s up to no good. And, finally, if you’re looking for just a touch of existential despair, Maple Creek below Erables is ready to serve that up with a side helping of aggravation.

In other words, it was a great route. And one I couldn’t wait to get started.

It was a big trip. And one that included a little bit of everything. Big lakes? Kiosk and Erables say hi. Smaller lakes? Looking at you Little Nadine. River travel? The Nipissing River is waiting. Low maintenance portages that disappear in front of you like Harry Potter throwing on his invisibility cloak? The Calm to J.E.H. MacDonald portage solemnly swears that it’s up to no good. And, finally, if you’re looking for just a touch of existential despair, Maple Creek below Erables is ready to serve that up with a side helping of aggravation.

In other words, it was a great route. And one I couldn’t wait to get started.

The Nipissing River Below High Falls

Day One

We arrived at the Kiosk access point around 11 in the morning. We’d gotten an early start from Ottawa, knowing that it was a 3.5 hour drive (at least) and that we had a decent sized first day in front of us if we wanted to keep to our plan. I had a good feeling about this trip. That morning, before leaving, I’d done the day’s Wordle, and the answer was “canoe”. If that’s not a sign from the tripping gods, I don’t know what is.

Actually, I do. Because I got another sign from the tripping gods as soon as we pulled into the parking lot.

Kioshkokwi Lake

I am so bad at posing for pictures

Arriving at Kiosk is usually a welcome sight. I love pulling up to the parking area there and seeing Kioshkokwi Lake spreading out in front of me. I was less wild, this time around, about the sea of white caps that were also spreading out in front of me, marching steadily from west to east thanks to a very strong wind that was blowing, coincidentally enough, west to east down the lake.

You know what’s fun? White caps on Kioshkokwi in early May.

Wait, no, that’s not right. Let me try again.

You know what’s scary? White caps on Kioshkokwi in early May.

The ice went out in Algonquin back in April this year. That’s earlier than some years, but not early enough that the water couldn’t land a starring role in Frozen 3. Dumping in that kind of water is a life-threatening problem. While the conditions weren’t quite bad enough that we felt we had to stay onshore, they definitely required some careful consideration as to how we were going to get to the start of the Maple Creek portages that were, unhappily, on the other side of the lake from where we were standing.

Eventually we settled on a plan to start off heading in the wrong direction along the shoreline, before turning and making for the far shore at an angle that minimized the time we’d be crossing open water and kept us head on to the wind.

If I’m being honest with myself, this was a case of do as I say, not as I do. If anyone laid out the scenario for me I’d probably tell them to just hug the shoreline all the way around the edge of the lake and not take the risk. It would add time, probably lots of time, but it would be the safest option. While we tried to minimize the risks of crossing open water, the lower risk option would be to have followed the shoreline all the way east before crossing to the south shore along the old rail bridge. However, the wind was just steady enough, the waves just low enough, that it seemed manageable. We ended up with a few inches of water in the bottom of the boat, but eventually we made it to the far shore and relative safety.

Kiosk Rail Bridge

You might be wondering about that rail bridge I just mentioned if you’ve never been to Kiosk before. About a third of the way up the lake from the eastern shore, there’s an old rail bridge that cuts off the eastern part of Kiosk from the rest of the lake.  You paddle under it if you’re going from the access point to Lauder or Little Mink and the lakes beyond.

The bridge is  from the days where there was a regular rail route across the top of the Park and was one of the main ways people used to access north Algonquin. Among other things, it serviced the Kish Kaduk Lodge on Cedar Lake. A few years back a reader sent me a part of her father’s memoir detailing his time at Kish Kaduk, and included his experience getting there by rail. It’s worth a read (if you’re still in a reading mood after this report).

Of course, being on that far shore, didn’t mean our work was done. The wind was still very strong, and seemed stronger every time we rounded a corner, as if it had watched us crossing the water and wanted to remind us who was in charge. At one point we ended up pulling up on shore and portaging across the front lawn of someone’s cottage as the waves seemed to pick up briefly (to the owner of that cottage, apologies for trespassing, but thank you for the very handy put-in area on the far side of the point). After that unplanned portage, things seemed to get a little better (emphasis on little). We paddled along the shore, making slow but steady progress. Finally, almost two hours after we’d left the access point, we arrived at the first portage onto Maple Creek (enjoying an honest to God tailwind as we made our way down that final bay).


Waves on Kioshkokwi
Taking a break on Kioshkokwi

You know what’s draining? Fighting the wind on Kioshkokwi for close to two hours and knowing that you’ve still got about 15 KM and 7 portages (uphill) in front of you before your day is over. But, that’s exactly what we had on tap and those portages weren’t going to walk themselves, so we shrugged into our (very heavy) packs and started the less windy, but more winding, part of our day: Maple Creek.

Maple Creek

Maple Creek (the good part)

Unlike its less hospitable cousin further to the south, Maple Creek between Kioshkokwi and Maple Lake is actually a pretty nice paddle. There are six portages along the way, and a couple of longer stretches of paddling mixed in with some shorter ones. While the creek twists and turns a little bit, it’s not egregious. The end result is a pretty paddle through creek grass and the occasional alder (the alder in this part of Maple Creek is respectful, keeping a reasonable distance as you paddle past. Nothing at all like its close talker cousins further south).  With the water levels high, we didn’t run into a single obstruction. The few beaver dams we saw we were able to skirt around, and for the most part the paddle was a pleasant relief from what we’d experienced on Kioshkokwi.

I split the portages along Maple Creek into two categories. There’s the P805 that goes straight up the side of a waterfall and was probably designed by a cardiologist looking to add to their patient load, and then there are all the portages that aren’t that P805 that goes straight up the side of a waterfall and was probably designed by a cardiologist looking to add to their patient load.

Starting Maple Creek from Kioshkokwi
P630 Falls on Maple Creek

Maybe I should explain.

The six portages between Maple Lake and Kiosk are for the most part pretty benign. Three are less than 200 meters and of the other three, there’s a P630 that’s forgettable in a good way (and has a very pretty set of rapids/falls at the downstream end) and a P915 that’s mostly fine, but gets mucky when it’s been raining. The sixth portage, the P805, is a staircase without stairs. Mark carried the boat for the uphill part of this one, and I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t 100% okay with that arrangement. Just getting up the hill with my day 1 pack (and bonus smaller pack because I couldn’t fit all my stuff into one bag) was an achievement as far as I was concerned.

The bottom of the p805 wannabe staircase
Halfway up the P805. Maybe far enough?

Maple Lake

Maple Lake

Once we were through Maple Creek it was time to tackle Maple Lake. If you squint really hard at the map you could maybe convince yourself that Maple Lake is shaped like a maple leaf. If that was the case, then the portage from Maple Creek comes out at the top of the leaf and the portage onto Erables (the next lake south) is out the stem. In between there’s a long bay, and then a larger basin to get across. While the wind was still up, the direction was working in our favor now. It wasn’t quite a tailwind, but it wasn’t a headwind either. While Maple is big, it’s nowhere near as big as Kiosk, which meant that even in the open basin part, the wind hadn’t had enough time to really whip things up. We were across Maple, and across the P170 down to Erables, in what felt like record time.

Erables Lake

As we paddled through Erables’ northern bay, we ran into some trippers coming the other way who looked like they could use a breather. We chatted with them briefly and they told us they’d been fighting a headwind all the way up Erables. While I felt for them, I was doing mental cartwheels (physical cartwheels are generally a bad idea in a canoe, FYI). I figured their headwind was our tailwind and, in what may be a first in All of Algonquin weather prediction history, I was right.

We flew down Erables.

Ending the day on Erables

Not literally. My winged canoe design still needs a few more glitter stars before I’m ready to try it out, but having that wind at our backs felt like the next best thing. Our goal had been to make it to the bottom of Erables and hopefully grab one of the island sites down there, and that’s exactly what we did. We ended up on the western tip of a small island in Erables’ south end, on a site that would normally be a five star spot for me but which got knocked down a half star on this particular night thanks to the jet stream blowing directly through it.

Home Sweet Home (Erables - Site 7)
Looking through the wind tunnel, er, campsite

Apart from the wind tunnel, this was an awesome spot. It’s got a great view west and would have had a nice sunset on a clear night. There’s a beautiful rock shelf sloping into the water that makes for a great spot to sit and watch the lake or, if it weren’t 5 degrees and mid May, be a great spot to slip in for a swim. There were a couple of decent tent sites, a nice fire pit and, maybe most importantly, a new thunderbox. You can’t really ask for more. (I will say, while I complained about the wind whipping through the site a minute ago, it did a heck of a job drying our gear out. Our packs had gotten soaked on the paddle across Kiosk and by the time we were ready to turn in for the night, everything was bone dry).

Erables Site 7 – Fire Pit

After we’d gotten settled we ate dinner, explored the island a bit (there’s a second site nearby that is nowhere near as good as the one we were one) and tried to convince ourselves that we wanted to stay outside and enjoy the feeling of being back on an Algonquin campsite for the first time in 2023. That got harder to do as the temperature dropped and the wind continued to blow, and soon enough we admitted defeat and crawled into Mark’s brand new MEC Spark 2.0 tent.

It was an early night, but I wasn’t upset about it. A) I was cold and my (supposedly) super warm sleeping bag was calling me and B) our route the next day was taking us down the southern part of Maple Creek, and I wanted to be well rested for it.¹ Why? Because it’s always better to have a good night’s sleep before throwing yourself headlong into mortal combat with a seemingly invincible opponent.

Maple Creek, folks. Here we go.

¹About that well rested part, this trip brought some of the worst sleeps I’ve had in the Park in a long time. It came down to two problems. First, my Thermarest Neoair Uberlite sleeping pad has been slowly failing on me over the past few trips. The sleeping pad is a collection of individual air cells separated by baffles. A few of those baffles have popped, resulting in a massive bulge in the middle of my pad, right where my lower back would really appreciate a flat surface. On top of the sleeping pad issues, my supposedly cold weather sleeping bag was not up to this trip’s challenges. I was cold pretty much every night of the trip, distractingly so. Combine the two, and my sleeps would have had to improve dramatically just to be considered subpar.

Sunset on Erables

Day Two

The forecast leading into our trip was mixed. While our first day was meant to be decent (I guess gale force winds now count as decent), days two and three were looking cold. Like, sub zero overnight temperatures cold. The temperatures on their own weren’t so much of a problem. By dumb luck, we happened to be booked into two of the Park’s ranger cabins for nights two and three, and a woodstove goes a long way on a cold night. What was a problem was the call for rain all day on Day Two. Rain and plunging temperatures aren’t the best combination when you’ve got a few hours of travel in front of you, and no real options to escape the elements until you’re done.  

Along with a fairly uninspiring weather forecast, day two also gave us our most uninspiring tripping forecast (does that work? Can tripping forecasts be a thing?). With around 15 KM to cover, this would actually be our shortest travelling day of the trip. However, a decent chunk of that 15 KM was going to take us up Maple Creek south of Erables.

If you didn’t just feel a shiver on impending doom when you read that last sentence, then I’m happy for you. You probably haven’t paddled Maple Creek south of Erables.

Ok, enough foreshadowing.

Leaving Erables. Next stop, aggravation.

Maple Effing Creek

We were off our site in good time. The promised rain hadn’t yet materialized, and we wanted to get as much water under our boat as we could before it hit. The paddle through the rest of Erables went quickly, as did the P660 that takes you from Erables onto Maple Creek. Despite everything I said in the previous paragraphs, I actually kind of liked this first part of the creek. It’s reasonably wide at this point, and the alders are still marshalling their strength for things to come.  Near the beginning, we passed a set of three triangular rocks jutting up from the shore and there was something about them that just looked very cool (I called them “The Three Sisters”. I have no idea why, but I like it). It wasn’t long before we were passing the portage that goes down to Skuce, and that’s when Maple Creek got Maple Creek-y.

Starting out on Maple (effing) Creek
The Three Sisters!
The creek started to narrow almost immediately. Soon we were passing between clumps of alder on both sides. Not long after that, we weren’t so much passing between the clumps of alder as we were passing through them. At the same time that the waterway was narrowing, it was also throwing in some more twists and turns just to keep us on our toes. Before long, our paddles became more decorative than functional and we were mostly moving forward by grabbing fistfuls of alder branch and heaving (there was one point where we got the canoe jammed into an L-Bend in the creek where we had to unload the boat, lift it over the L, load it back up again, then crouch drag it through a tangle of alder out to clearer waters. I don’t know if this was the high point or the low point of this stretch).
Oh, look, alder.
At the "L" bend.

This felt like it lasted forever. Maybe it did. Maybe I’m still dragging myself down Maple Creek and everything that came after is an alder induced fever dream. Or, maybe, it just felt like it lasted forever but in reality the really bad part was only about a kilometer long.

That’s probably it.

One of the peculiarities of Maple Creek is that it’s one of the few places in the Park where the last version of Jeff’s Map (the map that’s been my tripping bible) isn’t completely accurate. The map has a p245 in the wrong place, and doesn’t show a p10 liftover at all. The really bad stretch of Maple Creek lasts from about where the map shows the P245 to be to where it actually is. There isn’t much of a gap between the two as the crow flies, but it feels a whole lot further as the crow struggles through a sea of alder.

Four wheel drive might not cut it here,

But, enough of that. The good news is that after the P245, things get better. The creek gets a bit wider, the alder not as dense. Before too much longer you come to an old road that’s been washed out in the middle but still requires a liftover (that missing p10 I mentioned earlier). And once you’re across that? Well, it’s a different world.

After that p10 the alder disappears and you’re left to wind your way through a wider meadow. Instead of alder you’ve got creek grass on either side, and instead of my not so muffled swearing you’ve got birdsong. I called this stretch of the creek the bird sanctuary because it seemed like there were bids everywhere. The meadow is lined by dead trees at the edges, half of which have seemingly been colonized by birds of various species. As we paddled through we heard them calling out to each other, a beautiful cacophony that was much appreciated after the past couple of hours. Occasionally we’d startle something out of the meadow and it would take flight beside us, swooping away before disappearing back into the grass or into the branches of a nearby tree. It was wonderful. I was almost disappointed when we arrived at our offramp from the creek, the portage down to Tillie Lake. 


Maple Creek Bird Sanctuary

Tillie, North Raven & Coral-Root

Leaving Maple Creek Behind

The Tillie Lake portage is signed as a p685 but it’s longer than that. Jeff’s map has it at over 900 meters, and that seems more accurate. Tillie Lake itself was memorable only for the fact that it wasn’t Maple Creek. I stopped to check out Tillie’s lone campsite and I can confidently say that there probably won’t be a return visit. There’s nothing wrong with the site, it’s just not very exciting. This is a low maintenance site and it looks like one. There’s room for a tent, a small fire pit and that’s about it. If it were me, I’d probably rather stay on North Raven Lake, the next lake over. There are four sites there, all of which looked to be varying degrees of decent. North Raven is a nice enough lake as well.  All three of the lakes along this stretch, Tillie, North Raven and Coral Root, are small to mid-sized and seem fine. That’s about all I can say for them. Of the three, if I wanted to break up the trip from Erables to Birchcliffe, I’d probably stay on North Raven, but I’d rather just push on to Birchcliffe.

Which is exactly what we did.

Tillie Lake
North Raven Lake

Raven Creek

Coral Root Lake, just before the rain hit

Once we were through Coral Root the only thing between us and Birchcliffe Cabin was Raven Creek. Well, Raven Creek and what felt like fifty cm of downpour. The long promised rain had started as we reached the portage off of Coral Root, and it came in hard. What started as a few drops quickly grew into a steady downpour, dropping the temperature as it intensified. Despite my rain jacket, I was quickly soaked through and shivering. As a result, I was not in the best frame of mind to start down Raven Creek, which did its best Maple Creek impression and threw a heavy clump of alder at us almost immediately after we set off.

That was a low point. I was cold, wet and picturing another five kilometers of punching through alder. I was not a happy camper. Literally.

Raven Creek. An alder aftershock

Fortunately, that clump of alder proved to be more of a last gasp of crappiness as opposed to a second wind. Once we made our way through that patch, the creek improved and it wasn’t long before we were over our final portages of the day, through West Raven Lake, across the surprisingly numerous beaver dams along that stretch and passing the turnoff to Birchcliffe Creek (from what I understand, Birchcliffe Creek makes Maple Creek look like a the Nahanni). After that it was a relatively short paddle through an ever widening waterway and then we were looking across Birchcliffe Lake at Birchcliffe Cabin, which was perched at the top of a hill on the far shore like a mud coloured beacon of warmth and comfort.

Man, I love that cabin.

Birchcliffe Cabin!

Birchcliffe Cabin

Inside Birchcliffe Cabin

Built in 1962, the cabin was originally home to the ranger who manned the not-so-nearby Osler fire tower (the tower was a 3.2 KM uphill walk from the cabin). It’s a three room building, with two bedrooms and a main area that includes a wood stove, table and, crucially, a roof. Each bedroom has a set of bunkbeds, although you’d want to be very confident that you’re not a night roller if you took the top bunk in the room Mark ended up in. The bunk there is narrow and is a fan of free range sleeping as there is absolutely no guardrail or even slight bump on the edge to let you know you’re about to take an express trip to the floor. Regardless, it’s an awesome setup and was a welcome respite for two cold, wet and weary paddlers.

“Lee and, I had, a beautiful bunk bed” – If you can name that song, congratulations, you’re probably 40 and listened to 102.1 The Edge a lot.

We quickly made ourselves at home, getting the fire going and hanging our once again soaking gear up to dry. Before long, the inside of the cabin was toasty and I was well on my way to thawed. We spent the rest of the afternoon gathering wood for the stove, reading and generally enjoying not being cold. Towards the end of the day we followed the road that leads out the back of the cabin down to a nearby campsite. That one was pretty basic. I’d say it didn’t look like it got much use, but the piles of moose droppings everywhere might have disagreed. Not much human use, I guess. One thing this site had going for it, apart from being a moose fecesologist’s dream vacation spot, was an awesome shelf of Canadian shield sloping into the water out front. This would be a great spot to swim from and watch the water on a sunny day. If I were staying in the cabin and that site was empty, I would happily wander over there for the afternoon swim and change of scenery.

Birchcliffe Cabin View
Birchcliffe - Site 1

And that was about it for Day two. The air got colder as the day went on, dropping below zero overnight and even bringing a few late afternoon snow flurries across the water. None of that mattered. We were inside, we were warm and we were dry. Can’t really ask for much more.

Hmm ... Warm

Day Three

Actually, you know what you can ask for? You can ask to not start your day paddling in a minor snow squall. That seems like a reasonable request. Apparently the weather Gods disagreed, and we woke up to a thin layer of snow on the canoe (click the link for snow!) and flakes swirling around the boat as we pushed off.

Looking back on Birchcliffe through the flurries

Despite the snow, it was actually a beautiful morning. The flurries were intermittent and there were patches of blue poking through the gauzy clouds, promising that the weather would get better as the day progressed. It was cold. But not mind numbingly so (finger numbingly, yes). I wasn’t particularly concerned about the temperature, as I knew we were about to warm right up. This was what I’d consider a more normal day of tripping than the day before. Our destination was Highview Cabin on the Nipissing River. We were paddling a bunch of lakes, walking a bunch of portages and had absolutely no expectation of any creeks or beaver dams between us and the Cabin. Well, no expectation of any creeks or beaver dams once we got through the creek that leads out of Birchcliffe Lake and over the beaver dam smack in the middle of that creek.  

Halfway up the Birchcliffe to Calm ridge.

One thing this day had in common with the day before was that this was a low maintenance route. We were looking at some smaller lakes and longer portages, but nothing that seemed as daunting as yesterday’s trip up Maple Creek. The day started with a p1010 up to Calm Lake. And I do mean up. This portage climbs steadily along a ridge. It’s clear and easy to follow, but certainly gets the heart pumping to start the day. I will say, I really liked this portage. The view of the forest from the ridge was cool and I haven’t done a lot of ridge portaging in Algonquin. Not saying I need to do it again any time soon, but it was a good experience.

Calm Lake to Loughrin Lake

Calm Lake – No snow!

Calm Lake was exactly that. It’s a small lake, too small for the wind to get any kind of foothold. By now the snow was a distant memory and the skies were mostly blue. The water was still and I wouldn’t have minded if there’d been a longer paddle to get to the next portage, but honestly in the amount of time it’s taken you to read this paragraph you can probably paddle half of Calm.

I don’t like the Calm to J.E.H. MacDonald portage. There, I said it. For whatever reason I found it very hard to follow. I lost the trail twice, one time ending up a good 50 meters off the path with absolutely no idea where to find it. Fortunately I had my GPS Jeff’s Map on my phone, because otherwise getting back on the trail would have been a pain. On top of it doing its best to lose me in the woods, the portage ends with a very steep switchback that had me basically on all fours with a canoe on my back for the last few steps.

Looking good, Lawren Harris

J.E.H. MacDonald was a member of the Group of Seven and one of the painters who brought the beauty of Canada’s landscapes to the world’s attention. I don’t know if he ever painted his namesake lake, but it’s a pretty enough spot. There’s one campsite that looks reasonable in an “I need a spot to stay for the night and I don’t feel like paddling any more” kind of way, and the scenery around the shore is what I think of as Generic Algonquin. Nice, but not unique. I’d probably rather stay on neighboring Lawren Harris Lake (also named for a member of the Group of Seven). The site there straddles a narrow spit of land in the center of a large island, and it looks like it’s got great views and a better setup. It also looks like it would be very cold in a wind, which was confirmed to us a little while later by a fellow tripper who had passed the night shivering on that site while we were toasting ourselves in the Birchcliffe Cabin.    

The paddle through Lawren Harris and into neighbouring Loughrin Lake was quite nice. The map shows a p20 between the two, but whatever obstruction used to cross the narrows in between Lawren Harris and Loughrin is now gone. This was a pretty stretch. Both sides of the narrows start with low lying grasses and spindly, drowned trees, before rising into a wall of evergreen. The narrows empties into Loughrin Lake, which is home to one (uninspiring looking) campsite and a continuation of the Generic Algonquin theme of the past few lakes. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this stretch. It was a beautiful day, the water was calm and the lakes were pretty. There just didn’t seem to be anything distinctive about any of them.

J.E.H. MacDonald Lake
The narrows between Lawren Harris and Loughrin

The next lake on our route, Barred Owl, changed that theme.

Barred Owl Lake

Barred Owl is a small lake. Barely more than a puddle before you reach the larger puddle of Nod Lake next door. We decided to take a break on Barred Owl’s only campsite and have a snack. This campsite was spectacular, but in the sense that it was kind of a spectacle. To start with, this site is the definition of low maintenance. It’s basically a fire pit slapped onto a hill. Take away the fire pit and there’s very little to distinguish it from the rest of the shoreline around Barred Owl. The site’s only halfway plausible tent spot is at the bottom of an old pine that at this point is about 50/50 pancake makers and live branches. You’re going to want to be very confident in the structural integrity of your tent if you set up there. The thunderbox is at the top of a steep hill, and basically perches at the cusp of the very steep downslope on the other side. Your legs aren’t exactly hanging over open space, but it’s the next best thing. In other words, Barred Owl will let you be flattened by a falling branch or play Jack and Jill with a thunderbox. On the plus side, it’s a very pretty spot! The scenery around Barred Owl is quite nice and you could believe you might get an animal sighting or two at the right time of day. Regardless, there are better campsite options out there.

Barred Owl - pulling out all the stops for you.
A box with a view

Nod & Nid Lakes

Once we’d finished with our break, we moved on to Nod Lake, which is separated from barred Owl by a P10 liftover portage that doubles as one of those better campsites I just mentioned. This site has a nice view of both Barred Owl and Nod, and offers fewer chances to be crunched by a falling branch or dropped down the side of a hill.

The land of Nod

Nod Lake was our first decision point of the day. We could get to Highview by portaging south to the Nipissing, then paddling upstream to the cabin, or we could head north to Gibson Lake and come around at Highview from the other direction. While I wondered a bit what the wind on Gibson would be like given that it’s a bigger lake, it wasn’t really a question. We both wanted to see Gibson and neither of us particularly wanted to paddle upstream on the Nip. So we turned north.

In between Nod and Gibson there are a couple of nice portages and a small lake called Nid Lake that makes Barred Owl look like Opeongo. As a result, it wasn’t long before we were standing on Gibson’s eastern shore, looking out a blue skies, blue water and an absolutely gorgeous lake.

Gibson Lake

Looking at Gibson from the Nid portage.

I really liked Gibson. I’d probably put it in my top three highlights of the entire trip. Maybe it was just the fact that the sun was out and we had a chance to stretch our paddling muscles on a bigger lake, but being on Gibson felt great. We made our way west, keeping to the south shore. The wind was up, but it was a tailwind and nothing like what we’d experienced on the first day. We let it push us down Gibson, stopping to check out a couple of the campsites along the way. One site in particular was pretty nice. It had a decent amount of room, great shoreline rocks for swimming and sunning and a picnic table. How they got that table there is beyond me. Gibson is about as remote as you can get in the Park. If I had to guess I’d say that the table probably spontaneously coalesced out of driftwood, as picnic tables tend to do. That, or there’s a road nearby and the Park drove the materials in at some point.

We stopped for lunch on another of Gibson’s sites. This one looked like it’d be great from the water, but was actually a bit underwhelming once we were up there. The site is located on a hilly point, and there wasn’t a ton of flat ground for tents. On top of that, the wind whipping through the point made it pretty chilly. We ended up eating lunch huddled behind some bushes towards the back of the site. Fortunately, between the sun shining down and the soft bed of moss beneath us, this ended up being a pretty comfortable spot to eat some peanut butter.

On Peanut Butter

The Gibson lunch was, I think, the lunch where Mark realized just how big a jar of peanut butter I’d brought on this trip. And, more importantly, that he’d been carrying that jar of peanut butter every time he took the day bag on a portage. What can I say? Running out of peanut butter is the worst. (Of course, I ended the trip with half a jar left, despite having eaten two or three very thick peanut butter wraps for every lunch, and as I write this I’ve still got about 1/5th of the jar to go. Some would say this is a sign that I brought too much. I say it’s a sign that I didn’t eat enough).

Take a look at the map, then tell me how they got a picnic table on Gibson.
Lunch spot on Gibson.

Once lunch was finished, all that was left between us and the cabin was about 3 KM of low maintenance portage. That’s a lot of low maintenance portage.

Trail work

Fortunately, it didn’t feel like a low maintenance portage! This was a great carry. The path was clear and easy to follow, there was minimal elevation change and the scenery was quite nice along the way. There was only one significant obstacle I can remember, a downed tree across the path that had a bunch of sharp poky things on it when we arrived, and significantly fewer sharp poky things by the time Mark was through with it. It didn’t seem to be that long at all before we were joining up with the Highview portage and, shortly thereafter, at the cabin itself.

Highview Cabin

Highview Cabin

Highview Cabin was very different from Birchcliffe. Located on the banks of the Nipissing River, it’s got a nice but placid view upstream on the Nip. It was built in the 1920s, and there’s plenty of difference between it and the later built Birchcliffe Cabin. Unlike Birchcliffe, it’s a one room log building of dovetail notch timber frame construction. That was pretty cool! There are no nails holding the walls together, just the weight of the logs. The interior of the cabin is a bit darker, probably owing to the giant saw blades fastened across the windows in what I imagine is an attempt to keep bears from breaking in and maybe add a little touch of horror movie vibe to the place (that there are no locks on the inside of the door, but a very sturdy bolt lock on the outside, adds to that vibe). The cabin also smelled like it had just left a Phish concert. I don’t know who was in there before us, but I imagine they were feeling very mellow by the time they moved on. There are two sets of bunkbeds against the back wall, a large table and a wood stove. The cabin is located on the site of an old lumber camp, and you can see the foundations of the buildings that once stood there in a couple of nearby meadows. All in all, it may not have been the Birchcliffe Ritz, but it was still an awesome spot to spend the night.

Where all moose fear to tread
Inside Highview Cabin - There's no escape

Thanks to the colder temperatures, the bugs were nonexistent, so we passed a pleasant rest of the day gathering wood and reading by the river. As night fell, we got the woodstove going. While it didn’t do quite as good a job of heating the cabin as the one at Birchcliffe did, it kept us warm enough as the outside temperature once again dipped below zero overnight.

As I fell asleep to the sound of the fire cracking and popping, I remember feeling very grateful for the roof and the woodstove. Also, for the fact that the Nipissing seemed wider here than what I’d experienced further upstream the year before. Because our next day was going to be nothing but Nip, and after our adventures on Maple Creek the day before, I was in no mood for an encore engagement with the Nipissing Rock Garden and Alder Extravaganza from last year.

Sunset over the Nip

Day Four

I hated paddling the Nipissing River last year. In case you haven’t read that trip report (why haven’t you read that trip report?), I tried to do a southern version of this year’s trip by starting from the Tim River access point in early August. I made it a day and a half in before a combination of low water, alders, rocks and exhaustion sent me packing. By the end of that trip I was convinced that the Nipissing was little better than Maple Creek and I had no desire to paddle it again.

Which of course explains why less than nine months later I was standing at the end of the Highview portage, getting ready to paddle a part of the Nip again.

Redemption on the Nip

We were a bit later getting off that morning. We’d both made hot breakfasts (Mark went with oatmeal, I went with a combination of instant peaches and cream oatmeal, dried banana and chocolate protein powder all mixed in a bowl that is exactly as appetizing as you might thing something that looks like you’d find it in the toilet at Peel Pub after last call would be) and neither of us were feeling any particular sense of urgency to get moving. We had 25 KM in front of us to get to our destination, but only a few portages. Assuming the Nip was halfway decent, and that was a big assumption, I was confident we’d be at our next site by mid afternoon. By the time we hit the water it was after 9 and the sun was already beaming down on us.

Morning on the Nip

As we paddled the gentle twists and turns that marked the first part of the river, Mark commented that it was too bad we weren’t out earlier in the day, and he was right. This stretch of the Nip was really pretty. The river was wide, there was a slow current and the trees grew relatively tall along the high riverbanks. I imagine in the morning mist with the chance of a moose sighting around every corner, it would be even nicer.

While it wasn’t a perfectly straight paddle, this part of the Nip was much better than I’d feared. Sure, we navigated a few curves and a couple of times were actually paddling the wrong direction as the river snaked through the creek grass, but in general it felt like we were making forward progress. There was momentum, and that was all I needed to start settling in and really enjoying the day.

No (close) alders!
This way to Nod Lake

Given that we travelled 25 kilometers that day, there actually isn’t all that much that sticks out in my memory. Long stretches of the river were similar to each other. Sometimes we’d be paddling a relatively wide, straight shot downriver and sometimes it would feel like someone had handed a toddler a pen and told them to draw as many squiggles on the map as they could. Either way, the river scenery stayed pretty. We started with grass, dirt, trees and relatively straight banks on either side of us, and watched as the dirt gradually gave way to sand and the river started to curve as the current eroded the sides. On the entire 25 KM stretch, we only encountered one obstruction we had to work around. A log jam in between the Allen Rapids and Graham’s Dam portages that had us doing an unplanned portage across a bend in the river.

The campsites along this stretch of river were somewhere between “fine” and “let’s see what the next one looks like”. The site at the end of the P385 (Stewart’s Dam Portage) had a great view of the river, as did the site on the side of the P2140 around Allen’s Rapids. That site, while nice enough, was directly on the portage path and not very big, so if you’re staying there you’d want to be ready for some visitors. Other sites, like the one marked as the Kelly Creek Junction or just before the Graham’s Dam portage, seemed less exciting. The first site on the p1300 High Falls portage heading west to east was probably the least appealing of the lot. It was little more than a clearing at the top of a hill, with no visibility to the water at all and the most bugs we’d found anywhere on the trip so far. The second site, at the other end of the portage, was better in that it was beside the water and had a nice view of some rapids to go along with an otherwise very small footprint.

Stewart's Dam Campsite
Allen's Rapids Campsite

High Falls on the Nip

We ended the day with the p1300 around High Falls. This was another highlight of the trip. Not the portage itself, that was terrifying. But High Falls is spectacular. The river gets more canyon-like as you approach the start of the portage, with forested hills rising steeply from the water and the sound of rushing water audible a good distance away. I’m terrible at estimating heights, but I’d guess that the falls drop about 50-75 feet from top to bottom, and they do it in ever widening steps, so you end up with a curtain of roiling water cascading into a chute at the bottom before rushing onwards. It was very pretty.

Beautiful, right? One thing, though. Maybe don’t try and appreciate the falls while you’re walking the portage past them. This is one of the sketchiest paths I’ve found in the Park. The canyon walls around the falls are steep, and the portage is both narrow and goes right along the edge of the wall. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are a couple of stretches of about 50-100 meters where a single misstep would result in you tumbling 50 feet to the rocks below. Nothing focuses the attention quite like trying to navigate a narrow dirt track with a canoe on your shoulders and the promise of at best a moderate spinal injury if you screw up.

Look out below!

Fortunately, we made it across in one piece and settled into our campsite for the night, the small but picturesque spot along the river at the other end of the portage I mentioned earlier. This ended up being a long day. We did over 25 kilometers, and while most of that was paddling, the combination of the sun and the distance was tiring. Still, I felt pretty satisfied with what we’d accomplished as we got set up. My muscles were sore, but in a good way (well, apart from some soreness in my back that turned out to be not such a good thing, but we’ll get to that). After everything was in place, we decided to take a swim in the and wash off some of the day’s grime. Did I say swim? I don’t know that that’s the best word for it. The water was about as close to ice as it can get and still be in liquid form. There’s no way I was swimming in that. Dip is more like it. A very quick dip. A nippy dip in the Nip. Whatever you want to call it, it felt great (once we were out).

This was the first night we had to set up our bug tent. The bugs weren’t biting yet, but they were out and they wanted to say hi. We ate some dinner, walked back along the portage sans canoe to take another less fraught look at the Falls, and settled down to the sound of water rushing by our site and the promise of a different kind of long day tomorrow.

High Falls on the Nip

Day 5

The elevation at the bottom of the High Falls portage is somewhere between 340-350 meters above sea level. The elevation at the highest point of the Little Osler Lake to Little Nadine Lake portage, otherwise known as Heart Attack Hill, is 490 meters. Why do these things matter? Because day five was taking us through both of these points (and beyond!).

Steeper walls on the Nip. Wonder if there’s some elevation change ahead?

Our route this day was taking us a bit further along the Nip before cutting out and heading north through the Nadine and Osler lakes to Skuce Lake. This was the day I’d been looking forward to all trip. Nadine Lake in particular has been on my radar for a long time. I’d heard many times over the years that it’s a beautiful spot, and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. Although I’d studied Nadine’s spot on the map pretty closely many times over, I somehow never bothered to look at the portages in the area. So it was a bit of a surprise as I started planning this trip in earnest when I looked at the route from the Nipissing up to Erables through Nadine and realized that there was a bit of elevation gain to be made. But a little climbing never hurt anyone, right? How bad could it be?

Bad, Drew. It could be bad.

The Nip - Part Two

Starting Day 5

We got off the site in decent time that morning. While the weather was still quite pleasant, we knew there was rain coming in sometime in the afternoon, and when it arrived it wasn’t planning on going anywhere else. We figured it would be better to be set up on the site and under a tarp before that happened, rather than navigating the increasingly slippery slopes of Heart Attack Hill.

More of the Nip

The Nip between High Falls and the Nadine portage was a continuation of the “this is nice” theme from yesterday. We got off to a slightly rocky (literally) start when we got hung up on a rock in the middle of what can only be described as a Class 4 swift just after our initial put-in. Our bow grounded on a shallow rocky bit of riverbed while the current gently pivoted our stern 180 degrees. The good news is that we were able to get ourselves dislodged and the even better news is I can now add paddling out of a raging swift backwards to my list of life achievements.

Our final Nip to Nip portage, the P850 along Gauthier’s Dam, was notable only for the truly underwhelming campsite waiting for us at the other end. As far as I can tell, there’s no room on this site for a tent. But, fortunately, the thunderbox is close to and very visible from the end of the portage. I dunno. Probably not my first choice.

Duck Tales!

We chased a pair of ducks for about a kilometre downriver, playing leapfrog with them until they realized that they could just go backwards and lose us that way. We didn’t have too long to feel sad about that ghosting, as the scenery the last few kilometers was quite distracting in a good way. It felt more scenic than yesterday. Higher banks, bigger trees, more hills in the background. I probably should have realized that was a sign of things to come, but I remained blissfully unaware of just how much my legs were about to hate me right up until we grounded the boat at the start of a portage and found ourselves facing a p1410 where the height of land was at the other end of the carry and about 80 meters above where we were standing.

So began leg day.

Leg Day (Nadine & Osler)

At the Nadine portage, looking back at the Nip

In case I haven’t made this clear, the portage between the Nipissing River and Nadine Lake is uphill. Consistently, relentlessly uphill. It’s not a steep slope, but it’s a slope that doesn’t level out until you’re standing at the other end. Fortunately, what’s waiting at the other end is worth the effort.

Nadine Lake lived up to expectations.

Nadine is a medium sized lake that at first glance doesn’t seem all that different from the hundreds of other medium sized lakes in the Park. However, one thing that stood out to me was how clear the water looked. The bottom isn’t murky and that makes for a very inviting looking lake. 

Break time on Nadine!

We decided to take a snack break on the northernmost campsite. As we sat there eating our bars, I found myself wondering if we should just stop there for the night. That site was really nice. It’s got a great view of the water, plenty of room to spread out and nice spots for swimming and enjoying the sun. However, at this point it was all of 10:30 in the morning and neither of us wanted to cool our heels on the site for the next 12 hours, so we pushed on.

Looking out at Nadine from the Nip portage
Gorgeous water, gorgeous site.

The next portage, a P1830 over to Osler Lake took it easy on us and only gave us 60 meters of elevation to climb.


Osler Lake

The wind was up on Osler. Fortunately, it was going in our direction, and we were able to follow it along the shoreline to our next portage up to Little Osler (p700, 55 meters of elevation gain). While Osler was nice enough, I really liked the look of Little Osler. It’s a smaller lake, but the water was clear to the point of almost looking green (but in a good way, if that’s possible). But, to be honest, my focus at this point wasn’t so much on the lake we were paddling through, but on the portage that was waiting ahead.

Heart Attack Hill

Little Osler from the start of Heart Attack Hill

The P955 between Little Osler and Little Nadine is called Heart Attack Hill. Coming from Little Osler, it gains about 50 meters over a short distance to the height of land. Coming from Little Nadine it’s closer to 95 meters of gain with a longer runway. In either direction, it’s a steep climb in places. Based on everything I’d heard about the portage, we’d been planning on double carrying to the height of land. However, when we got to the start of the portage the hill didn’t look that bad, so I put the canoe on my back and told Mark we’d start the double carry once things got too steep. Guess what? It never got too steep. Heart Attack Hill coming from Little Osler is more like Mild Arrhythmia Hill. Sure, there were some steep bits, but there were also places where the trail levelled out. I was tired and ready for a break when I got to the top, but all in all it was no worse than the climb up to Nadine, or the up and over between Nadine and Osler. As a I sat on a rock at the top, catching my breath and feeling pretty good about myself, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Heart Attack Hill was fine.

Then I started down the other side.

Top of Heart Attack Hill – Heart Still Intact

Holy crap. Turns out that 95 meters of elevation change over about 500 meters of distance makes for a heck of a slope. I was going downhill, and it was hard on my legs. I can’t even imagine what it would be like climbing that thing. The hill was relentless, offering very little respite until close to the end. By the time I got to the bottom my legs were getting ready to retire and I was wondering how anyone gets to the top of that thing at all. I mean, you can always double carry like we’d been planning, but that would mean doing the hill twice, which sounds awful. Single carrying would be its own brand of awful, but I think it would be the way I’d go with very, very frequent rests. Regardless, I’ll never know because I have zero plans to do that portage in that direction anytime between now and the Big Crunch.

Oh, yeah, Little Nadine, which was waiting for us on the other end of the portage, is fine. It’s about as wide as a four-lane city street and only marginally more interesting to paddle (although the picture of Little Nadine below is very pretty, so maybe it’s a better lake than I’m remembering. I might have been too delirious after Heart Attack Hill to fully appreciate Little Nadine).

Little Nadine


Our last carry of the day was P465 that offered some unexpected ups and downs, but was worlds better than everything that had come before. And then we were on Skuce, our home for the night.

Arriving on Skuce

Skuce is the last lake before Erables on the way back up to Kiosk. It’s another medium sized lake, trending towards the smaller end of the medium spectrum. It’s … it’s fine. That’s about all I can say for it. There are three sites, one of which is average, one of which looks like it should be better than average from a distance but ends up being well below average up close and one of which I didn’t check out because it looked like it was basically just a hole in the trees. We ended up on the average site, which had a couple of things going for it and a couple of things against it. In the pro column, it had a nice view south and west across Skuce, a good fire pit setup and a couple of decent tent pads. On the con side, it looks like it’s been recently logged by some rogue lumberjacks, and it backs onto an aspiring swamp, which isn’t ideal during bug season. Oh, and the thunderbox is on the side of a hill and seems to really want to roll back down that hill with you on it.

Skuce Lake, Site 3 looks like it should be good. It isn't good.
Setting up the bug tent on Skuce

We set up our tent and bug tent, got in a quasi-swim, then settled in with our books as the long-promised rain arrived.

I enjoyed that evening, even with the rain. Hanging out in the bug tent was very relaxing, and I had a good book on the go. Mark and I chatted about future trips (did you know that in 2026 there’s a weekend in between Mother’s Day and Victoria Day, which puts a 9 day spring trip on the table?) and reminisced about the trip so far. Eventually, it was time to call it a night. This was the first true rainfall Mark’s new tent had been through, and I’m happy to say it was more than up to the challenge. It stayed dry inside the tent all night, which was good, because it turns out that was the last time I was going to be dry until I got back to my car at Kiosk.

Ready for the day on Skuce Lake

Day 6

We woke up to grey skies and what turned out to be a very temporary lull in the rain. I had had a terrible night. On the plus side, it was the first night all trip that my sleeping bag had kept me warm through the night. Unfortunately, it was also the first night all trip that I didn’t sleep.

After we went to the tent I read for a bit, then fell asleep at around 10. I woke up again after midnight and it was like I’d had a turbo power nap.  I was wide awake, and no amount of sheep counting was going to change that. I tossed and turned until about 4 am before finally drifting off for a couple of hours of fitful sleep. When I woke up the next morning, my back had knotted itself into a pretzel and every muscle on my left side from my neck to my obliques was screaming at me. I’m still not entirely sure what I did to myself, but whatever it was, my body wasn’t happy with me.

Skuce in the rain

We managed to get packed up during the lull, which was nice. Less nice was our discovery that we had hooked our filter up backwards the night before. Instead of filtering the lake water we’d been drinking, we were just backflushing all the crap we’d filtered out of the Nipissing into what we thought was our clean drinking water. At least we knew why we’d both woken up with very rocky stomachs.

Potential giardia and back problems aside, the day didn’t look all that promising. The rain was forecast to stick around until sometime the next morning, and we had a date with Mouse Lake, which was only about 10 KM away. That was going to put us on our campsite around noon, with a whole lot of rainy day in front of us. We decided we’d assess how things looked when we got to Erables. From there we had the option of continuing on to Mouse, or of heading out to Kiosk and finishing the trip a day early.

Guess where the tent was?
A wet pit stop. Literally, I guess.

The portage from Skuce up to Maple Creek was, like everything else, quite soggy. I’d been hoping that getting moving would help my back (and assorted other muscles) loosen up, but it seemed like the opposite was happening. I had muscles I didn’t even know existed screaming at me about the poor working conditions at this point. By the time we got to Erables, having retraced part of Maple Creek that we’d already seen on Day two (along with another visit with the three sisters), I was cold, wet and feeling pretty ambivalent towards camping as a thing that needed to happen ever again. Still, I wanted to finish the trip that we’d planned, and Mark was up for it, so we decided to push on to Mouse.

That was a mistake.

Maple Creek – Looks like rain

As we paddled the lower part of Erables towards our first portage of the day, a P1470 up to Big Thunder Lake, I began to have second thoughts. By the time we arrived at the portage over to Big Thunder those second thoughts had been joined by thoughts three through ninety, all of which were telling me that a couple of kilometer plus portages, followed by another night of sleeping on a lumpy sleeping pad, were a terrible idea. I looked at the start of the portage, looked at Mark, and crapped out. I told him I wanted to pull the chute, and asked if we could head back up Erables and out to Kiosk. Mark was very understanding (and I would imagine a little disappointed) and agreed with that plan.

The Long, Soggy Road Home

The paddle north was miserable. The rain stayed steady pretty much the entire way, and we were both soaked to the core by the time we were halfway up Erables. One mild positive was that there was absolutely no wind, so the paddling was easy. This was good, because every stroke I took was setting off little firecrackers in my back. Surprisingly, for the Saturday of a long weekend, Erables was basically empty. We saw one lone camper on the northernmost site, and no one else at all. I guess we weren’t the only ones who looked at the weather forecast and changed plans.

Maple Lake – Still looks like rain

The portage across to Maple was when the chill really set in. Erables is a big lake, so we’d been sitting in the same position for about half an hour by the time we got to the portage. In that position, I wasn’t really feeling the cold. But as soon as we started moving my sopping wet clothing started hitting new parts of my body, and all of a sudden I was chilled like someone had been keeping me on ice for a Leafs’ Cup celebration that will never come. I ended up digging through my pack for a pair of rain pants that I should have already been wearing, and wolfing down a Cliff bar to try and generate some heat. This worked, somewhat, and by the time we were halfway down (an also deserted) Maple Lake, I was feeling a bit better.

More rain!

Maple Creek between Maple Lake and Kiosk was interesting. That P805 from about 9,000 words ago was almost as difficult going down as it had been going up. By now, everything was slick. And it turns out that working your way down a steep, slippery hillside with a canoe on your shoulders is an adventure in itself. We started running into a few trips who were braving the rain as we made our way along the creek. One group included they guys from Knox On Woods, whose youtube videos of Maple Creek had been a big part of my research for the trip. They were heading the same direction we’d gone, down Maple Creek to Birchcliffe Cabin, before looping back up by way of Birchcliffe Creek and Biggar. That’s going to be a great video.

Strangely, there were parts of the creek that neither of us remembered at all from our paddle up five days earlier. One spot in particular, a semi-obstruction that we 100% would have had to drag ourselves over on the way upstream, seemed to have materialized out of thin air. I swear I have no memory of any obstructions, and certainly not one that would have likely required us to get out of the canoe to get through. I guess the beavers were busy while we were paddling the Nip?

The last slog

Our final portage of the trip, the P915 back to Kioshkokwi, was a muddy mess. I ended up dragging the canoe across the final 20 or so meters into Kioshkokwi as the ground at the end of the portage was too muddy to walk through with a canoe on my shoulders, but too shallow to paddle. And then we were back on Kioshkokwi, paddling a very different lake than the one we had left six days earlier. The water was dead calm, interrupted only by the constant spatter of raindrops dimpling the flat surface. It took us about half an hour to get back to the access point, a trip that had taken us close to two hours on the way in.

The last paddle (still raining)

The Tie Down

At the finish line

And that was it. Trip over. We loaded up the car, broke open the post trip chocolate chip cookies, and headed home. Despite the way it ended, this was an awesome trip. It’s the longest I’ve been out in a few years, and it was great to spend so much time moving through the Park. While there were certainly some challenging moments (or hours, in the case of that first Kiosk crossing), there were also plenty of awesome times. Both cabins were well worth the effort to get to, and Gibson Lake was a particularly nice surprise. High Falls is pretty high on the list of waterfalls I’ve seen in the Park, and Nadine Lake more than lived up to my admittedly high expectations. The Nipissing River was a great paddle, and even Maple Creek had its unique charms (ok, I’m reaching now). I don’t necessarily need to do this loop again immediately, but I wouldn’t write it off for a return visit at some point in the future.

I’m still coming to terms with the fact that two of the sections of the Park that have been on my “I’ll get there someday” list for as long as that list has existed, have now been moved over to the “been there, done that” board. In my head, Nadine and those Group of Seven lakes were the places I’d get to when there weren’t many other places left for me to get to. I don’t think I can say I’m quite at that point yet, this trip got me to 327 lakes visited with around 200 to go, but it does feel like a bit of a milestone. I was never sure how exactly I was going to find the time and energy to hit those lakes, but now I have and I can start focusing on other bucket list spots.

(Eustache, I’m coming for you).


New Lakes Paddled: 18
Total Lakes Paddled: 21
Total Portages: 45
Total Portage Distance:  29.85KM
Total Travel Distance: 124.7 KM

Bonus Stats

Portages Per Day: 7.66
Meters Per Portage: 633.33
Average KM Per Day: 20.783
Peanut Butter Per Day: All of It. All the Peanut Butter.


Map Courtesy of Jeff's Maps

2 thoughts on “Birchcliffe, The Nip and Some Hills

  1. SCOTT CAMPBELL June 11, 2023 — 7:46 pm

    Great trip! We were out the same week, but south of Hwy 60 and did not get the rain Tuesday. Did get the wind Monday and a bit of snow Wednesday however.

    Eustache is my cathedral — don’t tell anybody about it.

    1. Your secret’s safe with me for at least a couple of years!

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