Day 1: Cache- Canisbay- Polly- Linda- Iris- Alder- Birdie- Burnt Island- Little Otterslide: 20.4km
Camp Wendigo was bustling; preparing for yet another long canoe trip; dividing up food, finalizing the route, who’s going in what canoe, and please tell me we don’t have any Beef Stroganoff! By 9am we were pushing away from the camp; ready for a relatively easy 11 day trip that would loop through Cedar Lake all the way up to North River Lake before slowly descending back down to Cache.
We arrived at the first portage of the trip: a 735m from Cache to Canisbay. We made quick work of the rolling trail and paddled through Cranberry Marsh and out into a breezy Canisbay Lake. We quickly filled our water bottles before pushing on the the 2600m portage into Polly Lake. This portage is fairly long, but after the first 200m it is as wide as a road and very flat all the way until Polly.
Polly is a pretty lake, and perhaps one day I will take time to stay on one of the 2 sites on the lake. But not today, there was still much work to be done.
The 930m portage between Linda and Polly begins with a short climb before levelling off and climbing back down to Linda Lake. Overall, it is a very average portage. The 675 between Linda and Iris is also unmemorable, even though I have probably done it a half dozen times in my life.
The next portage, the Iris-Alder, is one I can never forget; rolling, mucky and rocky. Not a fun portage. Dexter, one of my camp mates, and I, own the Wendigo record for this portage- 18 minutes. However, today I would take a much more leisurely pace, I already had the record after all.
After the slog we made quick work of Iris Lake and the 160m into Birdie Lake. We stopped for a good long water break, floating in the beauty of Burnt Island lake. At perhaps 2:30 or so we started our final portage of the day; a easy 790m trail into Little Otterslide Lake. We chose the first portage on the left shore, the landing is not good, but a small walk back into the woods reveals 4 or 5 acceptable tent spots and plenty room for 9 guys.
After dinner, it was time to hang the food and head to the tents to rest up for the next day’s trip to Burntroot Lake.
The bright sun on Otterslide Lake had a strange effect on my camera.
Sunset on night one.
Day 2: Little Otterslide L- Otterslide L- Otterslide Cr.- Big Trout L- Longer L- Red Pine Bay: 26.2km
It was wake up call at 7am for a breakfast of bacon & eggs; perhaps more time consuming then oatmeal or granola, but definitely a crowd pleaser! We were off and paddling before 9am, as we ran into another Northway trip guided by one guide and one of my good friends Paul, who was the guide in training on the trip. We said hello and took off under dark clouds. As we paddled into Otterslide Lake, it began to rain. We donned our nylon protection and carried on.
A very grey morning, this photo almost looks as if it was taken in black and white!
The rain stopped as we reached the mouth of Otterslide Creek. Though Otterslide Creek is pretty, I have never liked it. The long hot 3 hour paddle and portage is not to my liking. The only portage with a challenge worth noting is the 730m 2/3rd’s of the way up the creek; this portage climbs up a large hill and back down. The large hill has a canoe rest atop it.
As we paddled out onto a gloomy Big Trout Lake, it began to rain once more. We pulled up on a camp site, taking cover from the rain and making peanut butter and jelly pita’s. The rain stopped but soon it began to drizzle again. We took off from our site perhaps 40 minutes after arriving and paddled towards the easy 300m carry to Longer Lake.
Longer Lake is another pretty lake, and the second campsite looks like a nice one. We carried on and rode the swifts that have 40 and 75m portages around them respectively. I think anyone not worried about maybe a bump or two on their boat can do the same and save time.
We paddled out into Red Pine Bay at perhaps 3:30pm or so. We grabbed the second island site. The island is very small, and completely stripped of firewood. However, it is one of the most beautiful sites I have stayed on in Algonquin Park, and definitely cracks into my top 10 sites of all time.
Looking down a funny tree route.
The sun still exists! The end of rain on day 2.
We paddled in a light drizzle to the mainland to collect firewood to cook dinner, and by 5:30 dinner was stewing. By now some sun was breaking through and a large ‘mist monster’ appeared in the distance, a collection of the days moisture. The evening was beautiful and great for photographs.
A “mist monster”.
Around 10pm we headed to bed, with an easy day ahead tomorrow.
Day 3: Burntroot L- Perley L- Petawawa R.- Catfish L: 18km
We awoke to more cloudy skies on our 3rd day of trip. No matter, cook the oatmeal, pack up the gear, lets roll! Catfish Lake is a lake I have never been to in the past. My parents had visited and told me the lake is quite pretty.
We had a calm paddle up Burntroot Lake and after a quick stop at the root cellar, we portaged the short 155m portage to Perley Lake. Perley Lake is another long one; and after another 45 minutes we were faced with a 390m portage with rapids around it. After scouting the rapids, we made the call they were too shallow to run and portaged the short route.
At the next portage, an 85 m, we decided to shoot the small rapid. We then also shot Snowshoe Rapids, before walking the final 365m portage. As we were paddling the final marshy section of the Petawawa, we were given a shot by a large female moose eating in the marsh, unfortunately my camera was out of reach. Live and learn!
We pulled up to the site on Catfish across from an already occupied Shangri La island. Personally, our site was really nice to, plenty of room for 5 or more tents with a large rock face landing. Beautiful!
After a macaroni and cheese lunch, the weather became very bi-polar, we had several spurts of rain and sun in a matter of an hour! Insanity, mother nature!
A panorama from our Catfish Lake camp site displaying the strange weather.
We all emerged from our tents in between rain showers and cooked a freeze dried pasta for dinner. After that it was a quick swim while the sun was out, some reading, journal writing and off to bed.
Day 4: Catfish L- Narrowbag L- Petawawa R- Cedar L: 13km
We awoke around 7:30 for an oatmeal breakfast and we were on the water under cloudy skies before 9. We paddled the stretch of Catfish to the 80m portage to Narrowbag Lake. This section of Catfish seemed very long for some reason, and I don’t know why.
A gloomy morning on Catfish Lake.
Its too bad there are log chute remains before the swift the 80m portage goes around because the swift itself looks very run-able. We jogged the portage and carried on paddling. Not long after, we hit another short portage, this one with a small steep hill, before cutting across a small pond to Unicorn Hill. Unicorn Hill is really not hard if you do it going downstream. However,while jogging down the long downhill after the summit, I imagined coming up the hill could be a pain.
The sign atop Unicorn Hill, the peak of the hill has a canoe rest and several benches.
We snapped a few pictures of the end of the rapids and took off onto a wide section of Petawawa River. The 300m at the end of this section portage has a beautiful waterfall in sight of the end of it, and we took a lot of pictures as we ate our lunch at the landing.
Looking at the falls from the portage landing.
We paddled another wide section of the Pet before portaging a very flat, easy 715 to a rocky beach on Cedar Lake. The first camp site on the right shore (its on a point) is nice, but with an awkward landing, we took our time unloading as not to slip on the wet rocks. Clouds were coming in from the east, but we decided to take a trip across the water to Brent any ways, donning our rain coats just in case. We walked up the grassy lawn of the Cedar Lake Outfitter and walked into the store.
The store really is a treasure of history, with many old Northway and Wendigo guides names signed onto the boards from each year. We each added our names to the 2011 board outside after buying enough cookies to feed a small army.
We paddled back to our site, and with no one hungry for dinner after all their junk, we lazed around camp.
That evening, due to all of the clouds, we saw possibly the most beautiful sunset I had ever witnessed in Algonquin Park. Not long after the sun had gone down, we hit the hay full of junk food and joy.
A sunset for the ages.
Day 5: Cedar L- Mishemokewa L- Kabibonoka L- Andrew’s L- Merganser L- North River L: 17.2km
We awoke at 7am to cook a massive pancake breakfast. Dexter, Rollie and I took to cooking up the massive batches (Jim has a knack for packing huge amounts of the best foods) We had so much pancake batter, we didn’t get off the site until 10am!!
We paddled along a calm Cedar Lake, under beautiful blue skies. We arrived at the take out for the 2675m portage and nervously began; not sure what to expect from this next section of black lines. The portage seems to go up and up and up, never down. We pressed on. When we (Dexter, Rollie and I) got to the “swamp” labelled on Jeff’s Map, we found two fellow campers knee deep in muck and had to help haul them out. No kidding about that swamp eh!
We had a false sense of joy when we carried the canoes towards Acanthus Lake. We thought this was the end of our portage, but unfortunately, it was not. At this point, one must traverse a beaver dam to get to the next section of portage so be careful crossing.
The portage continued to climb up and up and up until near the end we finally descended to Mishemokewa Lake. We stopped for a quick breather and then soldiered on, with much of the mileage still to be made. The 800m portage to Kabibonoka Lake also seems to shoot directly uphill, only descending at the very end. Luckily, this one was not a 2km portage and at the end of the portage we made our way to the only camp site on the lake to make macaroni and cheese.
We sunned ourselves as the water boiled and quickly gobbled down the pasta before continuing on. The 845m portage from Kabibonoka to Andrew’s Lake is a more level portage, and we covered it faster than the others.
We quickly paddled across Andrew’s Lake to the final serious portage of the day. This portage’s landing is supremely awkward, with only room for one canoe at a time and waist deep muck waiting to suck you up directly under the water’s surface. We took off onto the portage, although the trail is skinny and rough, it follows a road for a long section, making it easy for the most part.
We arrived at Merganser Lake at around 4pm and paddled its expanse. I thought of this lake as a very pretty one; another lake I will have to re-visit in the future. The final 90m portage has a large tree in the water before it, making it an awkward unloading area, but no matter, we saddled our packs one last time for the day and jogged over to our destination for the night.
We took the second campsite on the western shore, this site has an easy, sandy unloading are and a large, chest high “counter” on the site. The site also had 4 or 5 tent sites with many seating options, 2 benches and several tall stumps of wood.
We cooked dinner and enjoyed the beautiful weather; after a few days of rain in a row, the sun was great! Then it was time for bed, tomorrow was an easy day.
The sunset on North River Lake.
Day 6: North River L- North R- Allan L: 11km
We awoke later than usual, around 8am, and began packing and cooking to prepare for the day. After granola for breakfast, it was on the water for a drink before heading towards the mouth of the North River. The first 90m portage is simple, and the campsite that Jeff’s Map calls “extremely poor” is exactly that. I couldn’t even see the fire pit at first through the waist high grass covering the sites 10m surface area expanse!
The camp site marked as “extremely poor” on Jeff’s map. I see a sign..no camp site!
That bundle of rocks amongst the grasses is the fire pit!
No matter, its not our camp site! After the short carry, we were paddling on the North River, a winding, relatively wide river. We arrived at the 1305m portage about ninety minutes after leaving the first portage. The portage itself was fairly level, but the trail was not well tread, making it a slog to walk through grasses, etcetera. However it wasn’t long before we were back out on the river and paddling towards our final portage of the day.
The 665m portage is almost all downhill and fairly simple. We were on Allan Lake at around 11:30am, just before lunch time. Though the skies were cloudy, rain had held off. We took the camp site directly across from the portage landing, the second one along the east shore, on a point. It is an exceptionally nice camp site. We cooked lunch before looking for ways to spend our afternoon.
Due to the large area of land surrounding the site, we played manhunt and capture the flag for an hour or so before a short pine cone war (all in good fun). We then decided to head over to look at the back bay of Wendigo Lake, after looking at the bay and snapping some pictures, we proceeded to hold a camp wide gunwale bobbing contest, meaning we all took a swim in the lake. After the refreshing afternoon it was time for dinner.
Rollie, my camp mate, paddles Allan Lake solo.
A overcast day on Allan Lake.
That day was also the day my Tarptent Cloudburst 2 ripped in the strong afternoon wind, a extreme disappointment for me. I would have to return in to the manufacture upon my return to civilization.
After the inspection of the tent it was time to hit the hay, with lots more paddling and portaging to do the next day.
Day 7: Allan L- North Depot L- North R- Clamshell L- Shoal L- Radiant L- Petawawa R- Mudcat L- Petawawa R- Francis L: 19.4km
After a very leisurely day on day 6, it was time to get back to portaging and paddling, as today we were headed for Francis Lake.
After oatmeal breakfast, we took off at a easy pace down Allan Lake. It was a drizzling day, and with rain the day before all the portages along the North River were wet and treacherous. Twice, canoe carriers fell; luckily, other than momentarily being shaken and a little bit of bruising, everyone was okay.
A quick note about the fourth portage from Allan Lake, a 230m portage from the North River to a small pond. The portage looks like it ends at the camp site, and 6 of our guys that took the lead went in this direction, including myself. If you go the same way as we did, you will quickly realize you have done something wrong because you will hit a skinny, 1 foot wide gushing waterfall and have to turn back. Keep you eyes up for markers!
Experimenting with close-ups of a gushing stream.
The end of a portage on the North River.
On the final portage before lunch, Aaron, on of our guides (or councillors) found a baby snapping turtle in the muck. He almost stepped on it, so he picked it up and moved it to safer muck.
We pulled up on to the third camp site on the left shore for lunch. Though the site itself is up a hill and nothing special, it boasts a large beach just as the rest of the lake. During our peanut butter and jelly pita’s lunch, we were joined by a large poodle from the other camp site down the beach. A cute reminder of my own puppy back home, if only he could experience this adventure with me!
After lunch we got back in the boats to paddle the shallow, shallow Radiant Lake. On the first portage of the Petawawa River, we found a large pile of bear scat and became extra alert as well as noisy to try to detract any interest from bears.
We made quick work of the rest of the river, skipping the 70m portage by running a small swift and skipping the 180m into our destination for the night, Francis Lake. Francis Lake’s northern most camp site features a small beach and a nice campsite. Though swimming was not great, it seemed to be the nicest site on the lake and we began to set up the tents.
The beach that runs along part of the shore of Francis Lake.
A butterfly hanging out near the fire pit.
After camp was set up, we went over to the railway to see how many relics we could find. There were many interesting old pieces of rusted metal to see and admire, and after 90 minutes of explore and walking (you can walk the whole length of Francis Lake on the rail road), we headed back to camp.
Looking down on Francis Lake from atop the rail bed.
Walking the rail bed.
The day was spent photographing and sunning ourselves on the warm sands of the beach. At around 9:30 we turned in.
Day 8: Francis L- Petawawa R- Crow R- Lavaque L- Crow R- Mallic’s L- Crow R- L Lavieille: 21km
We started of the day with round after round of delicious pancakes, and at around 9:30, stuffed with food, we pushed off on Francis Lake. We skipped the first portage of the day by running a very easy rapid around a 200m portage, and trotted across an easy 155 before making our turn (this turn is unmarked so be aware!) on to the Crow River.
The sunrise shoots through the clouds on Francis Lake.
We were travelling upriver, and the first thing I noticed was that the current was fairly strong, but easily manageable. This would mean however, that every portage on the day was necessary, not optional. The first portage on the river has a large waterfall on it, and we worked up the small hill before finishing off the portage to a easy, flat landing.
After a relatively flat, unmemorable 510m portage, we quickly did the 20m portage before hitting a long stretch of river. I believe it was before the 2440m portage that we hit a small swift before the start of the actual portage, which we were forced to walk. I can not quite remember because I forgot to write this in my journal.
Looking down the Crow River.
A low-to-the-water shot of the Crow.
The 2440 is a nice walk, following the river. I remember as I looked at the river, thinking it was too rough for canoes but one could probably do the rapid in a white water kayak. We reached the forks, which is literally on as wide as a canoe, before continuing on a 1085m portage to Lavaque Lake.
Lavaque Lake is pretty, though clearly not heavily used. We stopped for lunch here and the camp sites fire pit had leaves in it! Very unused! Also, directly on the shore of the camp site is a beaver lodge, so we were quiet as we collected firewood to cook our mac and cheese, though the lodge looked old & abandoned, one can never know.
We made quick work of the final 4 portages of the day, all easy and short. We paddled out onto Lavieille around 3:30pm. We paddled down the lake, past Hayes Point before claiming the third site on the east shore, just past a trio of islands.
This site was only okay, but we decided we wanted to cook dinner soon and collect firewood, and it was another half hours paddle to the next sites down the lake. The site did have an easy landing and a small bushcraft table. There were also room for 4 tents on the site.
After a dinner of Beef Stroganoff, we paddled out past the 3 islands for a good view of the sunset, before heading back to camp for sleep.
Watching the sunset on Lake Lavieille.
Day 9: L Lavieille- Dickson L- Bonfield L- Wright L- Lake Opeongo: 28km
We began our day with a simple oatmeal breakfast to get on the water early; we had 3 big lakes and one massive portage to tackle! We paddled the expanse of the beautiful Lake Lavieille to the 90m portage to another large lake, Dickson. There is a large dock on the Lavieille side of the portage,making unloading and loading easy.
We paddled Dickson Lake under its towering pine trees, and after filling up our nalgenes, we headed to the started of the portage.We ate some dry fruit and GORP before saddling up and taking off onto the portage.
This portage isn’t hard, not in the slightest. Its almost completely flat! However (especially when you are carrying a canoe), it seems to go on forever! After perhaps 2 hours we emerged to the expanse of Bonfield Lake. This lake was very pretty, but it was hard to appreciate while you were in so much pain.
There was a campfire pit at the end of an easy 260m portage to Wright Lake. Although we knew this was not an actual campsite, we were all starved and in need of an energy fix, and we laid down our packs for a feast of Macaroni and Cheese.
After chomping down the meal and dousing the fire, we paddled Wright Lake to another easy portage to Opeongo Lake.
When we saw the lake, we popped out into a nice area, containing 2 camp sites right there and a memorial to James Dickson. However, we knew it would be smarter to paddle some of Opeongo while it was in favourable conditions. We set off onto the lake, planning to paddle most of the East Arm before stopping for the night.
We were passed by a few motorboats along the way, a sure sign of civilization. We paddled all the way to the East Narrows, and we stopped at the campsite on the East side, on a sand spit. Once you walk up the sand spit, you reach the main site, with room for two tents, but if you walk up a small hill you reach a small grassy meadow with room for 6 or 7 tents at least.
Opeongo Lake from the East Narrows.
The site was very nice, but was we were setting up, one of our guides noticed that there was a bear warning sign on the site. The sign was old, and by now, packing up and searching for a camp site could just leave us searching for a site at 7pm with the sun going down.
The bear advisory sign.
We decided we would have to play it very safe and always travel in pairs with whistles. After dinner, we all headed to the tents to read, look over the maps and sleep.
Day 10: Opeongo L- Sproule L- Sunday L- Little Rock L- Pond L- Kearney L- Pog L- Lake of Two Rivers- Madawaska R- Madawaska Portage:27km
Today, the plan was to head for a “secret” camp site on the Madawaska Portage, a day hiking trail that Camp Northway and Wendigo use instead of traveling the long section of Madawaska River leading into Cache Lake. It was a long day due to the amount of portaging involved, but easily done.
We awoke to a quick granola breakfast before we were back paddling on another calm version of Lake Opeongo. We paddled to the Opeongo Outfitters, and pigged out on modern foods; chocolate bars, chips, sodas! You name it, we ate it. After an hour of eating and resting we decided to take off.
We arrived at the take out to the 3415m portage to Sproule Lake around 10:00am. No one likes this portage, it is up and down, buggy, and rocky. Not a fun trail, and not a portage I enjoy. We slogged on, canoes overhead. After and hour and a half, our 3 man canoe rotation made it across in one piece, and high spirits. The longest portage of the day was over!
After a water break, we paddled Sproule Lake to the 480m portage to Sunday Lake, where we would stop for a quick lunch before carrying on. The portage trail is not bad, besides an awkward landing and take out. We were quickly back on the water.
The island camp site on Sunday Lake looks like a prime site, but we went to the mainland site adjacent to it for easy firewood collection and a quicker lunch. This camp site is average, with an awkward landing but room for 3 or 4 tents and a new thunderbox. We collected firewood quickly for cheese on tortilla with vegetables, cooked them up and took off as fast as possible.
The 645m portage from Sunday Lake to Rock Lake has an awkward landing with lots of muck, and the portage is very rocky and mucky as well. Not fun, but luckily for us, not long. Little Rock Lake is pretty, and the camp site looks nice to. Whoever camps here gets the lake all to themselves! Maybe one day I will return to camp here, but not today.
The 520m portage from Little Rock Lake to Pond Lake is simple and easy, and soon we were heading for the 810 meter portage to Kearney Lake. This portage is famous among Northway campers for bear activity due to its proximity to the camp ground on Kearney Lake. Everyone travelled in pairs, and Rollie and I took off last with the canoe.
After around 500 meters, the portage reaches an open board walk. Rollie wanted a quick rest, and asked for me to teepee the canoe for him. As I was doing so, I looked to my right. There, maybe 30 meters away in a marshy section away from the board walk, was a bear.
I informed Rollie of the animals presence, and we made lots of noise while remaining still and it quickly disappeared. We quickly carried on, hoping for no more disturbances.
No more bear, and we arrived at the portage take out behind the rest, telling our story of the bear in the marsh.We quickly took off onto Kearney Lake and paddled to the camp ground’s beach. Here’s a tip: Instead of portaging to Whitefish Lake along the official portage, one can follow Kearney Lake’s camp ground roads to the highway, then cut across into the Pog Lake camp ground and save a 30 minute paddle into Pog from Whitefish, and have a shorter portage!
When we strolled up into the Kearney camp ground, we were met by Rollie’s parents, who were camped there while he was at Wendigo (Rollie is from North Carolina, kind of a long drive to do more than twice). It was nice to meet his family, but was also a reminder that the adventure was almost over, and soon I too would be reunited with my family, and be back in the city. Sigh.
After talking to Rollie’s parents for 20 minutes, we were forced to take off, daylight was burning! Lake of Two Rivers was extremely windy that day, as it seems to always be. We headed for the camp ground beach first, as we were picking up peanut butter for tonights dinner (we were all out and Opeongo’s store did not have peanut butter)
After a long fight against large white caps, we finally hit the sandy beaches of the camp ground. While the two guides, Aaron and Andrew, went off to the Two Rivers Store to locate the goods, we waited by the canoes. They returned in a half hour, peanut butter in hand.
The day was getting late, and we started paddling the Madawaska. For those of you interested in skipping the long section of Madawaska between Two Rivers and Cache, the second portage on the river, a 195, crosses the railway\hiking trail. This year the trail was widened into a literal road, and it is a formal railway bed so it is easy to walk. Here, at this portage, instead of returning to the banks of the river, one can simply continue walking down the road, there is one right turn near the end of the trail that will take you straight to the back of Cache Lake.
We started along the portage, 3 of us splitting the canoe duty. It started to rain lightly, and on the open road we donned our rain coats to stay dry. After about 3 kilometres of the 4 km trail, the 5 of us taking up the rear walked into the other two campers, who waved for us to stay back. There were two more bears on the trail.
My god! In my whole life to this day, I had seen 3 bears, and now, today alone, I had seen 3 again! The bears momentarily disappeared and the 2 campers walked back to us. The bears returned to the trail.
We had the canoe on the trail, turned sideways and we were slapping it and yelling. The bear didn’t budge. Getting past the bear wasn’t the only problem, it was getting dark, fast and we were going to have to finish the trail in the dark.
Soon, the two guides called at us from around the bend on the trail, saying they could see the bear. After 20 minutes of shouting, banging and hollering, neither the guides or us could see the bear. At this point, it was nearly pitch black, and we decided to don our packs and headlamps. Dexter took the canoe, and we walked down the road, yelling and banging the canoes with our paddles.
After 150 meters or so, we came across the bear. It was in a tree perhaps a foot off the trail. Close enough that I could have reached out with a paddle and touched it! We walked passed slowly, yelling and banging, it didn’t budge! We were safe! One of our guides told us one of the bears was clearly a cub. The bear in the tree was the mother, trying to distract us from its young.
We carried our stuff to the clearing dubbed the “secret site”. And walked 500m back up the road to eat dinner, we weren’t taking any chances with bear this close. After a late dinner of peanut butter and jelly, we secured the barrel and went to bed.
A note about the secret campsite:
Many people may disagree with this “secret campsite” concept for it is not on our permit or any map. However, the only reason this site was used was because we were required to be back at camp at 9am the next morning and this is the only way coming from our direction to accomplish this. The site is a natural clearing with no campfire pit and does not disrupt any part of the trail. Camp is only made after dark so not to disturb day hikers. This camp site is only used 1-2 times per summer.
Day 11: Madawaska Portage- Cache: 5km
We awoke at 7am after a night of constant rain and no further bear disturbances. It was time to go home. We packed up our moist gear and walked to final 200m of the portage to Cache Lake. Ah, a friendly sight it was. We paddled up to Wendigo, greeted by Jim. The sun broke through and we hung up our smelly gear to dry.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying our final evening together, for tom0rrow we would disperse back to our normal city lives. Ah, cruel fate.
Well, that is all for this trip log, until next time, keep exploring & escaping to the wilderness!