Algonquin canoe trip


Day one

The new used car performed pretty well going up to Algonquin Park. Audio works perfectly fine and very adjustable. It also has cruise control. I can’t believe I own a car with cruise control now. The first one didn’t have it. My right leg would hurt so much after a long drive.

Got to the rental place at around noon. All staff were wearing their masks for the going defensive against the pandemic. I didn’t even think to plan ahead for remarks questioning my abilities. The man helping me asked if I was experienced at canoeing. At the time I just said ‘uh, yup’ ad got on the water and left.

It was super windy and near-raining for the first few hours of paddling. I didn’t keep track of time at all, except for how bright it was. A whole bunch of us left the docks at the same time. Some groups of dads and kids, couples, and then bunches of young guys. I think I saw most of them again throughout my trip.

first portage exit

The first portage was busy, and this was the first time trying to put on the removable yolk. The shaped one-size-fits-most shoulder rest for when you carry the canoe over land bridging bodies of water. I think I spent an accumulated hour over the whole trip fiddling with the rusty thing. It was pretty annoying to have that be the slowest part. This is while there are around 50 or more mosquitoes, dear flies, and black flies buzzing around. The top piece of gear was the ten dollar bug jacket. Made it back on the water, after spending a third of the time removing the yolk.

Still very windy, and it’s sprinkling on and off. I debated bringing a rain coat and decided not to. Worst case I could use my tarp as a coat. Looking back, that was a mistake because the tarp would have made me a giant sail and definitely a loser.

Joe Lake & Western Narrows

The first site was great for its shield of the wind, and sunset. There was also a really fancy bear hang! It was far too close to the site, but hey, it’s still there to use.

first site

I cooked some food and mostly cut a pile of wood and fed a fire for a few hours. The wind kept the bugs away and the fire oxygenated. I spent probably four hours just finding and chopping wood. It was therapeutic and exactly what I came to do. It was all dead of course. There was a downed tree that was incredibly dry so it was perfect. The previous site users had tried to burn a huge log. I spent probably thirty minutes going at it with the small hatchet and burned the two huge pieces only half way. The sun dipped behind the trees and it probably dipped about ten degrees.

Maybe you’ve wondered at this point how you go to the bathroom? There are the simplest form of outhouse on these sites, fifty or more metres away from the water. They’re called ‘thunder boxes’ officially, or ‘magic boxes’ from what I’ve heard first. They’re boxes over a composting pit with a large vertical latch door. There is a customary oval whole you’re used to seeing. There was an art to using the bug jacket to shield myself from being bitten so much more than I could have. Autumn is a much better time to go do this kind of trip.

The sunset was super nice.

sunset day one

I barely slept at night due to the wind, and being in an utterly different environment for sleeping than the previous night. I’m now in a slidey sleeping bag on a little thin mattress in a tent being buffeted by the light wind gusts. My own breathing suddenly makes a lot of noise when everything is made of nylon-y materials, and there aren’t many other sounds around you. No city cars, no people shouting outside. It took me a while to realize the steps and other things I thought I was hearing were just my own sounds amplified. I think I had a series of naps. I have no idea what time it was, but I woke up really cold. That night was supposed to be down to 4C so it made sense. I wasn’t really cold, more that I really felt it significantly when my skin was exposed. The sleeping bag kept the heat in so I basically slept in a cocoon. This was the coldest night, with the next being increasingly warmer.

Day two

Still very windy but less clouds. So I still look like a weirdo dressed completely and covering my face. If it means I have less sunscreen to put on, I’ll do it. It seemed like everyone else was in tshirts and shorts. How were they not eaten alive was beyond me. Most people had the same ten dollar bug jacket, but some were going for the repellents/light clothing approach. Passing families and children with their bug jackets totally open was funny. I asked one bunch of kids if they were having fun, and I got a solid “no!”.

One portage I was able to go through a slightly flooded stream. I thought I had gone through a second like that as well, but no. That lead to some confusion for the next few hours.

The set of lakes I went through were the ‘Joe’ lakes. Joe, Baby Joe, and Lost Joe. What the map didn’t show is the three-pronged portage. I also thought I had gone through another portage via stream instead of carrying, since the next portage had a clear prong in it. So guess who got a little lost in Lost Joe lake. There were two sites there so made it easier to find on the map what happened. The yellow portage signs also, upon closer inspection, said exactly what path lead where. So had I gone a bit further, turned around, and read a sharpied sign I could have avoided the 50m extra carry, removing the yolk again, and paddling in a tiny Lost Joe lake. Oh well. Extra exercise!

Just before the final portage of the day, a small 200m, I saw a moose! It was far away, so hard to tell how big it was. It was definitely a female, since after a few minutes a little tiny moose semi galloped out of the trees adorably. The pictures in the album are from a far safe distance away. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if mum suddenly started swimming toward me. Moose are so much more dangerous than black bears.

Burnt Island Lake

Didn’t quite stay where I intended to. Mostly because I couldn’t really be bothered to paddle into a headwind for another few hours, to get further away from where I needed to be the next day. It took around two hours just to find an empty spot. Burnt Island lake is a popular place. It made sense why, as when the sun set, the entire lake was lit up like fire. Some dudebros let a bunch of us know there were more sites around. I tried to keep my distance from everyone, but the dudebros on the water kept slowing down but not enough to pass.

burnt island lake site

The site itself was nothing special and there were of course others I went by the next day that were better. I landed at around 19:00 so only had a few hours of daylight to do all the things. There was so much dry wood here to keep a fire happy until the sun dipped behind the trees again and it became suddenly 10C instead of 20C.

There was also no bear hang here, and only one tree with a branch that may even work.. that was over the water. So I took the risk of tying all the food in their drybags under the canoe and having the canoe be precarious on the edge vs potentially throwing all my food in the water several times (it would be dry though) to get the hang right. Nothing happened. I barely saw any mammals at all on the trip. Only the odd red squirrel or chipmunk coming to investigate.

Day three

For some reason I planned a 1400m portage for myself. I think at the time of booking I was thinking “it’ll be a good challenge”. I did plan for it to be most of the day, so the paddle on the other side was very short. This is where I met a pile of people, either groups of young guys or dads and their sons. Two fallen trees were on the portage path, so it was a fun adventure to get the canoe over. One of the dads said I was “doing a great job”. Thanks bro, you too.

It was the warmest, and with least wind and clouds so far the whole trip this day. This made the land incredibly buggy but the water absolutely perfect. After the sweaty portage I ate lunch on the water and paddled around for a few hours before landing.

super clear weather now

Little Doe Lake

I missed out on a really good site by shopping around too long. There was a massive crow asserting its dominance on that spot anyways, so that was probably the cause of the racket the lasted the entire night.

This lake, unlike others, seemed to have a lot of fish that were releasing eggs? Getting a different primary way to make water was a bonus here. Usually I use the tablets that give me a litre of bacteria-killed water in thirty minutes. I also brought along a Sawyer filter. This enabled me to drink dead egg-free water. The filter did pretty well with the thousands of eggs and other near-shore particulate. Sorry potential baby fish. There was also a tadpole eating the eggs so I felt less bad.

It should also be mentioned by this point that every sunset, the loons and other birds go absolutely apeshit with their calls. If you weren’t familiar with loons you’d think there were evil wolves calling from very far away. It wasn’t the same gentle loon call either. A maniacal kind of screech.

safety in the tent

There was barely a breath of wind by this day and evening, the 20kn winds of Friday feeling like they were long ago. I continued to live in the bug jacket, and had to kill even more intruders when launching myself into the tent. The constant hoards of ladies doesn’t make it a good party. This was also one of the first times I actually just… did nothing. The entire few days at this point was either paddling in the headwind or doing all the camp things, or feeding a fire. Doing anything at all outside of the tent was just hoards of bugs and it was eerily silent when they all disappeared at sun dip time. My tinnitus replaced the buzz instead for the same comfort, I guess.

Day four

Filtered out more fish eggs and got on my way out. I had all day to get back to the rental place now, instead of the original time crunch when I was going to take the Parkbus to get there.

There was a really nice river to paddle downstream before opening up to the larger lakes, and back through the first portage. The forest looked really old down the river and it was incredibly peaceful with almost no wind. It was hard to leave.

down the nice river

Canoe lake was a lot bigger than I remember from Friday, since back then I was just powering through the wind for hours to get to that first portage. By Monday the lake was calm with barely a lick of wind. I did some exploring of the whole lake for a few hours before returning the canoe.

Being back where masks and hand sanitizer are used extensively was strange. Annoying was the group of guys pointing and clearly talking about me while I did all the canoe and pack things. They were posing and taking photos of themselves by the canoes. Ugh, back to where other people are. I was also immediately frustrated when my phone churned through all the notifications from the days of no signal. If you’re going to handle piles of events, please coalesce them :(

Overall a great first solo out, with great weather. Hopefully I’ll get to another area of lakes before heading west. Coming back for the fall would be great, too. That’s really the only time I’d only recommend this time to anyone who’s never tried, since the bugs are much less in quantity and vengeance. If you want to go sometime and never have, let’s chat.