Canoe Trip - Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada

This is my first time in The Boreal Forest of Canada. It's a big forest, making up almost one third of the worlds forests. In the weeks before my fast approaching adventure I consumed with excitement and busy preparing for my trip. When I found out my company was sending me on training in Toronto I decided to stay on for a week or so and started to look for guided trips into this beautiful forest. I discovered Algonquin Provincial Park and started to search for companies that would do three or five day camping and canoeing trips.  As luck would have it trips were running the week before my arrival and in the weeks after my departure. Very frustrating. However after discovering a very detailed map of Algonquin Provincial Park and Algonquin Outfitters than can supply anything from canoes to food I started to plan my adventure.


The plan was a 10 day solo canoe adventure into Algonquin Provincial Park.  A total distance of around 75km. Paddling 60km through 13 lakes and hiking 12 portages totalling 15.5km where I will have to carry all my camping equipment, food, and of course my canoe.  Well that was the plan anyway. 

The route would take me though the following lakes from Opeongo - North Arm
  1. Happy Isle Lake
  2. Merchant Lake
  3. Big Trout Lake
  4. White Trout Lake
  5. McIntosh Lake 
  6. Ink Lake
  7. Tom Thomsom Lake
  8. Littledoe Lake 
  9. Burnt Island Lake
  10. Little Otterslide Lake
  11. Otter Slide Lake
  12. Mike's Lake
  13. Shiner Lake
Day 1
It's almost 7pm on Thursday 19th June and I have only just got myself sorted and I'm relaxing in my hammock watching the cheeky little red squirrels run about. 


My camp site for the next two nights is absolutely beautiful! It's on a little peninsular so Merchant Lake can be seen on three sides. It's only about 10 meters at its widest which allows the breeze to blow away most of the mosquitos. 


Jetlag and excitement got me up and out of the hotel at 3am and I arrived at Opeongo Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park at 7am. Paid for my permit and sorted out my equipment and was on the water taxi to take me to the back country by 8am. 30 mins in the speed boat took me to Happy Island Lake Portage. 


The portage was 2235m but as I'm solo canoeing I can't carry my 30kg rucksack, 20kg bear barrel of food, and the 25kg canoe +paddles. So I did it, just, in two trips equalling 6705m of PAIN! 
When I eventually made it to Happy Island Lake I was so eager to get onto the water I almost capsized... 



My destination was Merchant Lake which to get to I paddled 4270m across Happy Island Lake, then another double portage totalling 1020m. When I got to Merchant Lake I was a little concerned as the wind had picked up causing white caps and small waves. But I powered through with out any problems. I headed East past the site I'm now on to check one a little further away. It had been used a little too much so I headed back to where I am now. 

So I set up camp which took some time. I found a dead standing tree and chopped it down with my fantastic Gransfors Small Forest axe and got a fire going and had a cup of tea and some oats, I know but although it was 1pm it was still my breakfast. I got the tent up, the hammock up, and the bear barrel up into a tree. I then washed in the lake, it's a good job I'm the only person around as the frigid water did nothing for my manhood! Now I'm clean, dry, and ready for bed. But I think I'm going to have a little snooze and then see if I can catch a trout for dinner. 


Day 2
The night was frigid and I woke up at 5am with the first signs of a cold. Need to eat and rest today. But first I need to proper food so I'm off fishing. I had no luck last night and lost one of my lures. I was starting to think there are no fish or just admitting that I'm crap at fishing. Anyway I made myself some coffee and went out in the canoe all tackled up and ready to catch some trout at sunrise. 



After an hour I realised that it's probably me as I could see fish jumping but nothing was biting my line. I decided to troll on the way back to my breakfast of oats when something pulled on my line. "Shit I've got snagged again" was my immediate thought so I started to reel the line in only to find I had at last caught a fish!



A beautiful lake trout. I decided to attempt to hot smoke it on the fire so built the fire up and filleted the fish. 


It was actually very tasty. The head and leftovers have going into a fish curry soup with Canadian wild rice. I've just finished eating a bannock cake with cranberries and now chilling in a hammock.  

Day 3+
Unfortunately I left my iPhone charger in the car so by day three I had no iPhone to take pictures or write my journal. Very frustrating when I bought a solar panel to charge it!
So I'm writing this from the airplane back to Sydney and will do my best to describe the pictures to you.
Actually something so very small like forgetting a charger really brought my mood down. I think it must have been something to do with the cold I just caught. So the plan was for me to get up at first light and head up to Big Trout Lake which to get to was a 2 1/2 km paddle across Merchant Lake and then a 1840m portage to the river leading into Big Trout Lake. Did I say how much I hate portages? Really not enjoyable. I'll first carry my rucksack with all my camping gear, axe, saw, etc... and the fishing rod and paddles. Then I'll walk all the way back to get the canoe and food. This is the leg that really takes it out of you. It doesn't make it any easier when there are swarms of mosquitos trying, and more often than not succeeding, in taking their fill of your blood. I found out that if you don't tuck your trousers into your socks they actually fly up your trouser legs and have a party! Anyway, after a few hours of pain I eventually get to the mouth of the river leading to Big Trout Lake. This seemed to be the local hangout for any restless mosquitoes. I packed up as quickly as possible to get onto the river before I get drained of my remaining blood. 
All rivers must have once looked like this before man dredged and fashioned them to meet our needs. The pine forrest was thick until it made way for a swamp with grasses that then receded to allow for vast Lilly beds, I was lucky to see so many flowering Lillie's in one place. The river was defined as the area with the lease amount of foliage that serpentined through the swamp. It was a strangely eery yet calm place to silently paddle through.  Canadian geese and their spring flock of goslings could be seen but mostly heard all around. The beautiful songs the birds sang along the way was blissful to gently paddle to. A beaver dam was my only obstacle along the way but it didn't cause any issues. After a kilometre or so the river started to widen into Big Trout Lake. I found an awesome camping site soon into the lake that was again on a peninsular with a low cliff on one side going into deep water, which was perfect to fish off, and a shallow side that I would offload the canoe. There were pines sparsely populated on the peninsular that was perfect for my hammock and further in there was a very cosy fire pit tucked away within the trees and rocks. I did some fishing that night and found it very easy to catch Lake Whitefish on the shallow side which I fried up with rice. Very tasty! That night I could hear wolves in the distance calling to each other. It's remarkable how quiet it can get on the lakes, for instance you can hear a breeze many kilometres away before it reaches you.



Unfortunately I was starting to get sick with a very chesty cough and the first signs of a fever. The last thing I wanted while alone in the middle of nowhere. I took out my map, Jeff's Map which is absolutely fantastic, and had a look at my planned route. 75km. I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. What was concerning me the most was the number or portages. I would have to tackle 9 portages to get back to Opeongo where my water taxi would be picking me up on Saturday. That would be a total of 11335m that I would need to walk three time remember, once with my pack, once back, and then once with the canoe and food. So this is where I probably made a mistake, rather than spending two nights at this wonderful campsite and recover a little I decided to press on...
The next morning was clear and cool with the lake so still it looked like a mirror even though the canoe sliced through without a sound. There were beautiful patterns in the lake made up of pine pollen, the formed ribbons which created beautiful and enchanting swirls throughout the lake that were emphasised in the still lake. The day warmed up very quickly, it actually got so hot I burnt my hands and face, it felt as if it was in the high 30's. It was a real strain on me and I struggled all day. It was a 9km paddle to my campsite on White Trout Lake that unfortunately didn't have much shade all I could manage to do was set up my hammock and have some oats before going to sleep at about 4pm. I didn't wake up until around midday feeling utterly spent. Knowing full well I wasn't going to be able to continue the planned route I started to look at the map for other options. After about an hour of pondering over the map and drinking some rather splendid tea I came to the conclusion that the only sensible option was to head back the way I had come and spend a few more days at the campsite on Big Trout Lake. As soon as the decision had been made my moral improved dramatically. I loaded up the canoe and headed back to Big Trout Lake. The weather had changed again and was getting quite windy with the threat of a storm in the air. It was a hard paddle into the head wind. I decided to stop at an island along the way that looked to be a nice spot to camp only to find it had been taken. I was taken aback to find out I wasn't the only other person on the lake. I headed on to the the previous site battling into the increasing ferocity of the wind. Every paddle forward the wind would send me back again so my strokes would have to be harder still. In the distance hugging the cliffs near my campsite was a couple looking for one. I tried to quicken my pace but it was no luck they were already there by the time I crossed the lake. But they weren't sure if this was the spot for them. The ground was not very even for a tent at first glance, actually on the cliff top was a beautiful spot for a tent over looking the lake below. My patience paid off and they decided to move on, I waisted no time to claim the site and set up camp. The wind was so strong I decided for the first time since arriving to put up a tarp over my hammock. It had been nice looking at the stars piercing the night sky and the morning sun burn the sky red. But it was a wise choice. Once camp was set I went fishing again and this time persisted in casting my lure out on the cliff side. I read somewhere that trout like the deep cool waters by rock ledges. After about an hour of casting a trout struck my line and the real screamed away. This was not like the timid lake trout I caught on Merchant Lake. I started to reel her in and she was determined not to be caught and was jumping out of the water and giving a really good fight. I kept the pressure on and brought in a beautiful Brook Trout with gorgeous pink spots on its belly. She was a tasty catch that's for sure! Filleted and pan fried with olive oil, garlic, and seasoning, served with rice. Finishing off with fish broth made from the leftover fish parts was perfect for my cold and made for a really good day. 
The next morning was cold a grey and started to rain with the first light. It started with a mist like drizzle and gradually got worse until it was like a tropical downpour. It rained for the next 24 hrs. I spend all day getting enough wood so the fire would be big enough to keep the rain from putting it out. In between I was trying to get dry and warm and keep the tarp covering as much of me, my cloths drying, and the fire that I could. Did a good job if you ask me. I braved the rain and caught 8 Lake Whitefish (4 of which were too small that I released) that I had for dinner with some left over for lunch the next day. 
I was going to head back to Merchant Lake the next morning to spend a night, then one in Happy Island, and the last on on Opeongo. But that morning as I was paddling back I had the overwhelming sense of urgency to get back to my wife. After the horrible portage into Merchant lake I decided then to paddle on through to Happy Island Lake. One lake closer to my wife. Once there I had lunch after some time trying to get a fire lit due to all the rain the day before. I then went to the camp site I wanted to stay at only to find it taken by the only other person on the lake. So went to the one closest to the portage to Opeongo but it was full of Mosquitos and all overgrown. I then wondered if it would be possible to do the last portage and get to Opeongo?  I was completely exhausted and it was getting late in the day but why not? I was driven to keep going to get home. The portage was hell. It was hard. But it was possible. I spent my last night on Opeongo lake and had lake trout for dinner which I caught along the way. The next morning I was up at dawn to get to the portage entrance on Opeongo to Happy Island in the hope that a boat would come past. 


As I'm in the backcountry it's not like there's a regular service. I got there at about 8am and saw my first moose grazing in the swamp next to the portage. After several hours I was starting to wonder if I would have to make the 15+km paddle to the access point when in the distance a speedboat with some sightseers came over, I frantically waved them down and in no time had loaded up all my stuff including canoe and was on my way back!  It was a beautiful day and a fantastic ride back to the access point past all of the enchanting islands on Opeongo Lake. 
Once arrived I showered and changed into clean clothes, what a nice feeling! I packed all my stuff and jumped into my hire car and headed straight to the airport. After a 4 hr drive I arrived at the ticked office to try and get an earlier flight. I was given threats of it going to cost me an extra $1500, then $850, then it ended up being a free transfer, result! An hour later I was on the a flight to Vancouver and then onto Sydney. The power of love!
I thoroughly enjoyed my 8 days in Algonquin Provincial Park. If I did it again I would however try and convince someone to come with me to share the pain on the portages!    








2 comments:

  1. Hey - amazing blog. I am looking to do the exact same with 3 other friends. Would you be able to help me with the equipment you needed for the trip?

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