In 2002, I went on my very first backcountry trip. Five days, four nights and for someone who’d barely canoed, a huge challenge. It was a loop full of portages and lots of tests and I had thought about doing it solo for quite some time now. After a great deal of thought, I came to the conclusion that doing that loop solo, just wasn’t realistic or feasible, and so I put it out of my mind and planned something else.
The week before labor day, I examined all different types of loops in Algonquin. Because it was labor day and so close to that weekend, only sites in the northern part of the park were open, which was perfectly fine with me. As I live in Muskoka now, it is only about a 2-3 hour drive for me to get to that part of the park, and I love that it is never really very busy there.
A few days before the weekend, I finally settled on a route. It would consist of travelling from Kiosk Lake and staying there on my first night, then heading to Maple Lake for my second night, Big Thunder for my third night and Club for my fourth and final night. It consisted of 14 portages and seeing as I’d just done a few of my first canoe carries myself, only recently on my trip to Killarney, it was quite a big challenge for me to meet, but I thought I could do it.
I was loaned an amazing canoe from Backcountry Custom Canoes for the season. It was only 27 lbs and something I could realistically carry long distances. The only problem was, it didn’t have a yoke in it and I had been portaging it through the summer using a pillow I’d made temporarily attached to the ribbing, literally carrying the canoe on my head. If I was going to do almost 10 km’s in portages, this might not be the best way to carry the canoe, so I headed outside to make some revisions.
On the property where I was living, we had an old canoe lying around with a hole in it. My boss suggested we remove the yoke from it and lash it into the 27 lb canoe I’d be using. After quite a few adjustments, tying and untying the ropes and lots of tests, it was perfectly set! I even tested carrying it with my backpack which was almost fully packed for the trip and it was great! Now, I was ready to meet this challenge and I could not wait! Good thing I was leaving the next day!
I packed as light as I possibly could eliminating items left and right. I had placed an order for some dehydrated specially packaged food. I have only sampled a few of them a few times before but I needed to keep the weight down and hoped it would taste good enough to eat. I was as ready as I could be. I jumped in my car and headed to the put in at Kiosk Lake, scared, nervous and excited all at the same time. What had I gotten myself into?
It was a gorgeous sunny day when I arrived at Kiosk Lake. I got my permit and then decided I would park in the parking lot and portage the canoe and my pack to the put in at the lake. It wasn’t very far, but I figured if this is how I would be getting around the next 5 days, I might as well start right here. It helped me quite a bit, as I felt how incredibly heavy my pack was and knew immediately I did not want any extra bags at all. Just my one pack and the canoe.
It caused me to eliminate a few more things, the tarp, the rope for it, my hammock and straps, my book and reading glasses, and a chunk of turkey kielbasa for my last days lunch. I gave it to one of the campers at the Kiosk Lake campground so it didn’t go to waste. I filled up a dry bag with water for the back of the canoe. With my pack in the front, the back was barely touching the water, and I needed to add some weight. It seemed to work just fine and after quite a few last minute preparations, I was finally off on my adventure!
As I paddled across Kiosk and towards the sites closer to the portage to Maple Creek, I noticed the canoe was filling up with water. I stopped a few times to check on it. I was really concerned as I had not noticed the canoe ever like this before. I didn’t know if it would be smart to start a big adventure like this. I started to panic and wasn’t sure what to do. I decided I would keep an eye on it the rest of the day and decide from there. I was glad I did. It ended up being the dry bag. It had a small hole in it and was leaking into the canoe. OMG! I was super happy and grateful that everything was still a go.
I landed an amazingly gorgeous site on Kiosk Lake, just one site before the portage I would take tomorrow, the first of fourteen, to start my big adventure. It even had a brand new privy, definitely a sign of good things to come right?
I set up my tent and gathered some deadfall for a fire and got it going fairly quickly, so I could accumulate some nice hot coals to cook on. I was making steak and snow peas for dinner on the grill and also had brought myself a bit of wine for night one. I enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and listened to the loons as I relaxed thinking about the days to come and what they would bring me.
Dinner was delicious and pretty much the only one I’d brought that wasn’t dehydrated and packaged. I happily ate as I watched the sun begin to disappear ending my easiest day of the trip. I honestly couldn’t wait to get started tomorrow and check off the portages on the list one by one.
I sat by the fire until around 10-1030 and then headed to my tent to get some rest. The moon was out and so bright and beautiful. I was happy it was along for the trip and hoped it would give me light throughout the nights during my journey.
I woke up around 6am and was excited to pack up and get on my way. It was very cold out this morning, only about 3 degrees, but it didn’t feel as cold as it was.I was, however, wearing gloves for a good part of the morning, so….
It was quit foggy and for a while, most of the lake wasn’t visible, but it cleared up enough for me to see by the time I was ready to go.
I packed as much as I could before eating and then enjoyed a surprisingly delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon from Mountain House, right in the bag. I was really impressed with how good it was and was now looking forward to some of the other packaged meals I’d brought. So simple and easy, boil water, pour it in the bag, wait a bit, mix and eat. No mess, no dishes, how incredibly amazing this was!!!
I looked over the map while I ate trying to memorize my route. I was done in no time and ready to head out.
Todays route was one of the most ambitious of the trip. I would have to do 6 portages to get to the lake I would be staying on, Maple. I left the site around 8am and headed towards the area I suspected the portage was in, paddling close to shore so I could ensure I didn’t miss the sign, due to the dense fog.
After a short paddle, I located what looked like the portage and was glad I’d put on my sandals this morning because I had to walk through some water and thick mud to get the canoe up on shore and ready to carry.
OMG my feet were freezing. I walked up and out of the mud and changed into my socks and hiking boots. I needed to warm my feet and with almost a 1km portage, I figured it would help. I attempted a single carry right from the start but after walking only about 100 metres I knew this wasn’t going to happen. My pack was too high and with the small space between my lashed in yoke and the seat, it didn’t fit in between and was stuck on the seat pushing down on my shoulders and back.
With great frustration and sadness, I put the canoe down on the side of the portage and continued the rest of the 915m with only my pack, then returned for the canoe and finished up in a decent amount of time. Not much I could do and I had allotted my time for the entire trip doing double carries so I would just do what I could. There was no point in overwhelming myself this early in the trip, so I settled on double carries for now and continued on my way.
Maple Creek was absolutely stunning and exactly the type of water I loved to paddle in. With my first 915m portage out of the way, I felt good and paddled along the creek happy and excited to continue my journey.
I reached the second portage which was 190m and double carried and then reached the 130m one next and single carried. I was still having issues though but so badly wanted to single carry, so I just kept trying.
I was starting to get a bit tired when I heard the moose on Maple Creek. I didn’t actually see it, but I definitely heard one and was pissed I didn’t get to see him. I was paddling up the creek and came up to a swift and had to paddle extra hard to get up it, making a lot of noise. That noise scared off my moose and by the time I got through the swift and up into the calm area around the corner, the moose was gone. I do have a video of it, well the sound of it, crashing through the forest, but it obviously isn’t nearly as good as actually seeing it.
After my near moose sighting I landed at my 4th portage of the day, 630m. I once again attempted a single carry. I wanted to do it so badly but after about 200 metres I placed the canoe on the ground half dead. I just couldn’t carry them both and it was killing me to do so. I decided right then and there I would double carry the whole trip and wouldn’t be upset about it. The extra effort it took me was just too much and I would be out of energy in no time. I would rather take the extra steps and time and enjoy the portages than try and kill myself on each one doing something I clearly wasn’t capable of doing. The pack was still not sitting right and the pressure was too great. There wasn’t any point of doing it if it would just exhaust me.
I continued on completing the 630m portaging and paddling only 15 minutes to the next one. This was portage number 5 and I was doing great! Only one left to do before I landed on Maple Lake. Portage number five was bit of a jerk. It was 805 meters and was mostly uphill. I did not like it very much but made my way slowly step by step, fist taking the canoe about halfway, then, the pack the whole way and going back to get the canoe.
It took me longer to do the 805 meter than it did to do the 915 meter this morning but I didn’t care. I knew sooner or later I’d get through it, and I did just that. Step by baby step up the steep hills and finally I made it to the end.
This was one of my favorite portage exit areas. It was a huge opening with flat rock that looked almost like a beach. I had been waiting to have lunch at my site on Maple, but at this point,I knew that would be closer to dinner time, so I forced myself to sit and eat a salami wrap and enjoy the scenery and have a short rest even though I wanted to keep going and get done. Sometimes being ambitious isn’t the best thing for you.
It was just past 1:30 and I had been at it for five and a half hours now. I was getting pretty tired but I was also elated. I had completed 5 out of 6 of my days portages and was almost on Maple Lake and so far I was still able to walk and talk and wasn’t too sore or stiff. I might just complete this loop afterall!
After about 15 minutes, I had finished eating and was anxious to continue on my way. I got in the canoe and paddled less than 10 minutes to my next portage. It was just a short 130 metres and I was ready to finish it and just paddle through Maple Lake to get to my site for the evening, but as I approached the portage, I came up to a bit of a roadblock.
The portage had huge rocks and wasn’t easy to approach for starters. As I got closer I saw 2 canoes blocking the way and so I stopped paddling to wait for the people who had left their canoes there. I first saw a teenage boy and asked if they were on their way out. He said yes and attempted to move one of the canoes so I could get up and in. I landed and pulled the canoe up and heard a voice asking if I was from St. Catharines. Oh ohhhh. LOL. I turned and saw my friend Derek whose dad used to coach me soccer when I was small. I also played on a few teams over the years with his sister, Debbie. What a strange coincidence and a small world. I was so surprised.
We hugged and chatted and told each other where we had been, where we were going and how our trips had been so far. Derek brought his son and brother-in-law and his son on a trip every year at this time in this area and they were just on their way back to Kiosk to head home from their adventure. We caught up as much as possible and after a while said our goodbyes, both still amazed at the random occurrence of seeing each other in the middle of nowhere. I double carried the canoe and my pack over the 6th and last 130m portage of day 2 and made it to the end fairly quickly and easily.
I was so happy I wanted to jump up and down. I wasn’t at my site yet, but I had completed all of my days portages and I was awfully proud of myself for accomplishing that feat! It was a bit tough getting the canoe loaded and into it at the Maple Lake end but I made it in without dumping and was happy to be paddling for a little while.
Paddling on Maple Lake was a bit rough. It was really windy and I had to paddle very hard the entire way or I’d get blown sideways and back to where I’d started in no time.
I have only a short video and one photo (above) during my paddle there as it was too difficult to stop paddling long enough to do much more. I paddled all the way through Maple and was headed for one of the two island sites right near the portage I’d have to take the next morning, when I heard loud voices and yelling coming from that direction. I was still a good distance away and that told me these people were WAY TOO LOUD for my liking. There was another two sites to the left of me so I began paddling in that direction, taking me another 30 minutes, but totally worth the effort.
I saw both sites open. The first was really cool looking, on an island with a huge staircase made out of railway ties leading up to it. I passed by heading towards the other site to take a look but then stopped myself knowing there was no way that site could possibly be better than this one. I landed the canoe so excited and happy to have such an amazing site for the night, just as a noticed 3 canoes heading towards me. I quickly unpacked the boat and brought my bag up the stairs. There was no way I was giving up this site, that I worked so hard for throughout this day.
I set up my tent to let it dry out a bit. When I’d packed it this morning, what seemed like a lifetime ago, it had been damp from the morning mist and fog. I went down and sat in the sunshine and had a snack and relaxed, figuring out my stats for the day. They were pretty crazy and I totally understood why I was so tired.
I had walked 7740 meters on portages on day 2. I paddled approximately 8 km’s and traveled seven and a half hours. In total I walked and paddled 15740 meters.
After my short rest, I went over to the canoe and re adjusted the yoke actually flipping it to face the other direction. That should keep the bag out of the way of the seat, but in turn, I had to move the strings from the front to the back to hold the paddles and rearrange a few other things. After I had it just right and was sure it would work better now, I went back up to the site and gathered wood for a fire, which was in abundance here.
My dinner tonight was supposed to be a rice meal that was part dehydrated food and part me preparing it, but I was way too tired to make it. Instead I opted to switch my meal for day 3 with todays, having Three Cheese Chicken Pasta.
I ate the entire bag with ease and watched as darkness took over and day became night. It was delicious! What an awesome day and what a great accomplishment. I felt amazing and was ready to take on whatever life threw at me the next few days.
I was lucky to have good weather today, but I knew that was about to change. Rain was in the forecast the next two days, starting at about 1am so I set up my tent footprint as a tarp as I’d planned to use it when I removed my actual tarp from my bag. This way I’d have a dry place to make my breakfast in the morning before taking off for the next days adventures.
I sat by the fire as long as I could and then headed to bed. I was so tired and was ready for a good sleep!
I woke up on Day 3 to the rain I had expected overnight. Just as it was forecast, it began at 1am and continued until the morning. I packed up everything inside my tent and got ready for my day and by the time I came out, the rain was just lightly falling. I was happy I’d set up my footprint tarp for the morning and went and sat under it to make my breakfast, oatmeal with apple slices.
It was pretty tasty and as I was eating the rain stopped completely. I went over to the tent and quickly packed it up and all my gear so that nothing got wet. As the fly was wet, I put it in a plastic bag and then packed it so it wouldn’t get anything else wet. The water was calm at the moment. The forecast told me the winds would be worse in the early morning than it would be later on but in my experience, the water is always the calmest first thing in the day. I went with my experience and packed up the canoe and paddled through Maple Lake over to the portage that wasn’t very far away. As I got on the water, the rain started to fall again and got harder as I paddled to the portage.
It took me about 15 minutes to get to the portage and in that time I was soaked. Rain pants and rain coat on, I was content though and felt ready for the journey ahead. I once again attempted a single carry. As I had flipped the yoke, I assumed there would be no more issue with the pack getting stuck on the seat. I was wrong. It turns out the issue wasn’t that at all, but just that the pack and canoe together, were too much for me to carry. And, now, with the yoke flipped, somehow the boat was totally unbalanced and I hated it. I would have to flip the yoke back at some point soon as it wouldn’t work this way the entire day. Oh well, I tried…. again. LOL
After the short 170 meter portage into Erables, I had some paddling to do. This was one of the lakes I was most worried about crossing when I’d planned my trip. It was big and long and I had about 6.5 km’s to paddle on it. I filled a dry bag with water and put it in the back of the canoe. This time I clipped it so it was upright and hopefully wouldn’t leak and scare me again.
It took me an hour and 15 minutes to paddle the 6.5 km’s. The wind wasn’t too strong and was blowing directly in my face. Funny that I was actually looking forward to the 1495 meter portage at this time and would prefer walking in the forest with a canoe on my head than paddling, but it was totally true. I was happy when I finally arrived at the start of my portage into Big Thunder Lake, the lake I would be staying on tonight.
I got the canoe set up to carry, putting the paddles in their spots with bungees to hold them and then put the neck pillow in place. It was a long portage and I wanted to have everything just right so I wouldn’t have any issues. I carried the canoe only halfway and then had to finally put it down. The yoke was still backwards and until I fixed this, things wouldn’t be quite right, but I wasn’t going to do it now.
I returned for my pack and carried it the whole way to the end. In the process I’d met up with a family that was on the same portage, a dad with 3 kids and they looked like they were having a great time. They had been doing a similar route but did a few lakes outside of the loop I was doing and were on their last day of a longer trip. We chatted a bit and I told them I was happy to be staying on Big Thunder as I was soaked and ready to get my clothes dry. After a bit we said our goodbyes and I went back to get the canoe. When I returned, they had gone and I was back to being alone again.
I got into the canoe and paddled around the corner. It was a short distance to the site and when I arrived I noticed 2 canoes there. There were 4 guys on the site and Derek advised me they were on their way out, but were told to keep the fire burning by some people who just passed them. That was so nice! I chatted for a bit with Derek, Derek and his two friends. They told me they fished the entire time they were there and didn’t get one bite so I shouldn’t even bother. Great advice for sure! I didn’t have much energy to waste.
They packed up and headed out and left me to my site with a fire already going which made me happy. The rain was light now but continued on and off and I was soaking wet. I was anxious to try and get my rain pants and rain jacket dried. I would most likely need them tomorrow according to the forecast.
I sat and had my lunch after setting up my footprint/tarp over the bench so I would be out of the rain. I had salami wraps which were good with laughing cow cheese, one of my lunch staples this summer. I was very happy I had a warm fire to sit beside, although I was a bit too far away from it at the moment, but I would resolve that shortly. (see the next post for my fire/clothes drying/wood drying/keep the fire from being doused… setup). It was just after 2pm now, but I had arrived at the site just after 1pm. Today, I had traveled just under 5 hours, paddling approximately 7-7.5 km’s and walking 4995 meters on the 2 portages I did. In total I walked and paddled 12495 meters.