A First Glimpse of Algonquin: The Way to Radiant Lake, July 30, 2014

Something Different

Algonquin is the third largest provincial park in Ontario and a mecca for paddlers from southern Ontario and many others. Our own journey was intended as a half-way meeting place for our my brother- and sister-in-law and their two teenage kids from Connecticut.

 

 

It was secretly my excuse to explore this beautiful park of forested lakes, pool-and-drop rivers and rugged portages. My wife Thea and I along with our two kids, Ethan and Leah aged 12 and 10 eagerly anticipated our rendezvous.

Day 1: On the Road – Monday July 28, 2014

The first day of any trip combines several months of planning and a few frantic days of packing back in Minneapolis before heading east. My son Ethan and daughter Leah were buried in the backseat of my wife’s Prius as we set out on a sunny day from our home. The Wenonah Champlain was precariously balanced on the roof rack and we had crammed the back compartments with portage packs and camping gear. A long hot drive ended for us in Sault-Sainte Marie on the US side to break the journey. The next morning we carried on with our final stopover in Mattawa. This is a lovely, historic little mountain town in mountainous northeastern Ontario. Situated at the confluence of the Ottawa and Mattawa rivers, town is part of the old voyageur history on the doorstep of the Algonquin Park. I doubt this area has changed much since Etienne Brulé and Samuel de Champlain visited as the first Europeans to pass through. We stayed at Le Voyageur Inn, a two-story structure with an interesting bit of character and great food. The town had just survived its annual Voyageur Days when we arrived. The dented-in plaster drywall in the breakfast nook area retained some hints of the level of revelry the night before.

Day 2 – Brent Campground – Tuesday July 29, 2014

All trips at this northern entrance to the park begin at Cedar Lake, access point 27. We stopped to pick up our backcountry camping permits and reservations for the Brent Campground—where we would stay tonight – from two very pleasant rangers at the ranger station. The drive down to the lake is on a well-graded scenic gravel road with evidence of ongoing logging operations on lands outside of Algonquin. In a hurry to find and set up our camp, we didn’t stop to view the meteor crater but it is well worth the visit if you have time. If you are not getting on the water the first day of your trip out onto Cedar Lake, then Brent Campground is a comfortable place to spend the night.

Upon arrival, we set up tents, exploded our gear onto our site and began organizing everything. My in-laws arrived a few hours after us to great cheers. Later we all strolled down the Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store in the hamlet of Brent to discuss our route, canoe and gear arrangements with the knowledgeable and friendly staff in the store.

Day 3 – Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – Wednesday July 30, 2014

We were in trouble and we knew it. Or at least I knew it. Overcast skies in the morning with predicted rain for later that day. With gear still spread over the grass in our group site, it took us most of the morning to get organized and head down to the outfitters to pick up our boats. Traveling with kids means buying souvenirs pre-trip and keeping lunches and snacks handy. Your motto should always be “you never know”. Finally trucking our gear down to the dock where we would stage our loading operations, the sky let loose and a steady downpour ensued. A true midsummer soaker was upon us. I staggered back into the outfitters to return one last bit of miscellaneous unneeded gear before departing. Water was dripping in rivulets off of my hat and down the back of my neck. My rain gear was soggy. One of the gentleman behind the counter glanced up, without missing a beat remarked “how was your trip?” We were off to memorable start.

The rain stopped but dark clouds were high overhead obscuring any chance of sun and an ominous squall of white was rolling in from the northeast end of the lake. We shoved off and began our paddle of a three-boat flotilla. Halfway across we were hit again — the skies opened and drenched us. Turning my boat around I yelled to the others “Welcome to Algonquin!”. Luckily spirits were high and the kids were having a lot of fun watching the parents struggle under the soaking. Constant reminders were given to ‘paddle!’

This was going to be an epic day.

Landing at the sandy portage to the Petawawa River, our party slowly organized itself as loads were carried across while bypassing the rapids that roared to our right. It’s not a bad carry though. At 985 meters (199 rods), the path begins in a wide open grove of towering pines and is flat for about the first third. Gradually ascending a ridge the trail crests and then gently descends to a rocky put-in on the Petawawa.

Almost 200 rod portage from Cedar to Petawawa ends at this rocky steep put-in

Almost 200 rod portage from Cedar to Petawawa ends at this rocky steep put-in

With the horror of the first portage written across everyone’s face, we took an impromptu lunch break before moving on. I noted the fatigue on everyone’s face noting their dawning recognition of what I had gotten all of them into.

Rain was now coming intermittently in sheets, drizzle or downpours as we moved out onto the river. Letting up a bit, we reached the second 685 meter-portage (147 rods). This mostly flat trail bypasses a set of rapids and winds through picturesque forest with stands of maples, beech and conifers before passing a campsite and dropping down to the water below a cascade. We were picking up speed now and launched towards our next and last portage, a 160-rod railroad bed that would take us onto the final stretch of the Petawawa and finally to Radiant Lake, our destination. You need to know one thing coming in this direction, the takeout on the final portage is a steep, nearly impossible goat-scramble up a craggy, crumbling chasm of rock about 15 meters or 45 to 50 feet up. Vertical might be a more apt description.

Once up on the railroad bed it’s a straight walk down the gravel railroad bed the stick-and-rock marker that signals that the trail turns off the left the gravel road. The path at this point dives back downhill into the forest before descending to the sandy put-in. You’re bypassing the Devil’s Chute Rapids, a long series of cascades formed as the river descends on its way to Radiant Lake. We were now on the final stretch of our exhausting day.

We completed the short easy paddle down the river in about a half hour turning south as we exited onto the lake. Turning right (south) we easily located a well-used but spacious campsite on a knobby outcropping with a good clearing, established fire ring and plenty of room for our 3 tents.

Our campsite on Radiant

Our campsite on Radiant

Day 4: Layover – July 31, 2014

Morning brought fog and mists over the lake. Breakfast was hardy eggs, bacon, oatmeal washed down with juice or strong coffee. Despite motor traffic on this lake, I like Radiant for its calm demeanor. Friendly lake-dwellers motored past us occasionally as they headed to one of the few permanent cabins on this lake.

Silhouette on Radiant

Silhouette on Radiant

This seemed to comfort everyone and ease that initial sense of wilderness that can be overwhelming to some, particularly those who are newer to this experience. This day was dedicated to sorting out and drying everything that had received a good soaking the day before.

Getting breakfast going

Getting breakfast going

At the end of the day, my wife Thea and I headed up the Petawawa to see if I could land fish for the evening meal. A bit of trolling with a rap husky jerk landed a couple smallmouth (several shook off my line as they rose to the surface) and one eater-sized walleye. The day was a success!

Father-daughter moment

Father-daughter moment

 Day 5: Shoal and Bass – August 1, 2014

It was time to venture further out of camp and explore. Shoal Lake was the destination. We were all feeling a bit more adventurous and decided to use our last day to get out and stretch those paddling muscles. I tied on a search lure and we set out from our site heading north/northwest up the inlet to Shoal. Rounding a point in overcast skies threatening rain my line gave a tug and the reel whined as the drag kicked in. Strike! Several minutes later the line slackened and the lure returned to the surface leaving no truce or clue what I had nearly set into. It was a portent of things to come.

Lilypads on inlet to Shoal

Lilypads on inlet to Shoal

Water lilies on a log, Shoal Lake

Water lilies on a log, Shoal Lake

The bay that leads to Shoal is a weedy shallow inlet covered in a carpet of reed grass and lily pads. The portage around a shallow, short stretch of rock strewn rapids is perhaps 15 meters (5 rods) and we simply lifted our canoes over it. The first half of Shoal is more of the same carpeted shallow waters however closer the cascades that tumble in from X lake on the northern side, the lake deepens to perhaps 10 to 20 feet home to a healthy, aggressive and wily bass. There is a fairly decent campsite near the cascades, a bit sloping for more than 2 tents to accommodate but nestled under tall pine and a perfect setting, with the tranquility of the rushing water to contemplate the world – or eat lunch! Which was what we did.

Picnic lunch on Shoal

Picnic lunch on Shoal

I tried my hand at fishing around the cascades as others took a hike over the short 25 or so rod portage to view bucolic Clamshell Lake. My own battles below with the bass resulted in an 0-6 record. Many were hooked, several were set, but shook my barbless hook each and ever time with a well-timed leap. Even one nice dark brownback brought to canoe-side managed to escampe. Oh well, next time.

You never forget your first privy.

You never forget your first privy.

Day 6: August 2, 2014

Paddling-out proved far less of an adventure given everyone’s motivation to go. Everyone awoke early around 7AM. Breakfast was everything still left over save few snacks: oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, cheese, crackers, Nutella and bread, yoghurts and coffee or juice. Packing was accomplished in record time for our little party and we were on the water by 9AM.

Going home! Up the Petawawa to the railroad portage

Going home! Up the Petawawa to the railroad portage

Well-organized and energetic, we attacked the 160 rod railroad portage, loaded again, pushed off and made for the 141 rod portage. Finding refuse at the put-in campsite we packed up fire proof gloves, paper plates, clothesline and miscellaneous bits of papers and wrappers as we trudged down the trail. Here I thought of brilliant idea to shorten everyone’s portage and perhaps regain some of my backwoodsman aura that had been tarnished on the trip in: the short-cut. About 20 rods or so before you reach the put-in on the river, their is a high water put-in next to a small feeder stream that rejoins the rapids further down river. Putting in here saves that last bit of carry and gets you on the river quicker but a large tree is downed a maneuvering around it can be tricky – as we learned!

Back on the last stretch of the Petawawa, we paddled to our last, long rocky portage and straggled over it. After a well-deserved break and last lunch at the pine grove next to the put-in, we were off and making the long paddle across Cedar back to the town of Brent. As a result of my own navigational blunder I had our canoes heading into the southwest bay off of the portage. The lead canoe realized my mistake and turned north just in time. Now we were spread across the lake separated by 10 to 20 minutes of paddling. I never realized how long this lake was coming in but going out it seemed to stretch on forever. At one point we picked up our daughter in mid-lake from my brother-in-law Mike’s canoe and she happily clambered onto a portage pack and promptly fell asleep for the rest of our long pull homewards. Dry land never felt so good after we arrived and we did our best to indulge in all the goodies that the Brent Store had to offer!

Next day was tearful goodbyes and rolling out on the road. Tim Horton’s was our treat to salve the pain of parting from good friends and family.

 

Hmmm….contemplating the next trip?

Hmm...more cheese?...nutella?..or just go fishing?

Hmm…more cheese?…nutella?..or just go fishing?

 

Quetico: Beaverhouse to Cirrus and Quetico – Family Basecamp & Fishing, July 27-31, 2013

Family Canoe Adventure
Entry Date:07/27/2013
Number of Days:4
Group Size:4

Trip Introduction:
This was an introduction for my family as a whole to Quetico. This trip would be a base-camping excursion with a chance to do some exploring, a bit of fishing, and a more laid-back family adventure.

Day 1 of 4: Ugh! July 27th

Rain. Wind. Cold. A trifecta of weather greeted us as we woke up in the Atikokan Hotel — this is a great place to stay by the way.

Atikokan Hotel. Photo by Nandagikendan, Sept. 2013

Atikokan Hotel. Photo by Nandagikendan, Sept. 2013

We packed up our gear and headed down en masse to the dining area as we watched the slanting rain and listened to it pelt the windows. Breakfast was enormous though. Word of advice: It’s worth not rushing over this as the food here is excellent. A local couple was in the dining area and proclaimed this little restaurant the “best in town”.

Atikokan Hotel located in Atikokan, Ontario, photo by Nandagikendan, Sept 2013

Atikokan Hotel located in Atikokan, Ontario, photo by Nandagikendan, Sept 2013

Finally around 11AM we pushed off from the QP ranger station in Atikokan after my son (10 yrs.) and my daughter (8 yrs.) passed their orientation quiz with the ranger. Driving in to Beaverhouse via the turnoff dirt road was fairly straightforward. Soon we found ourselves on the narrow one-way logging road to the parking area and with a bit of coaxing, had everyone packed into the canoe and shoved off around 2:30PM — when the rain came again this time with a bit of wind.

Portage from BH into Cirrus (160r): Finding that first portage into Unnamed Lake is relatively easy and quick. We were there in less than 10 minutes or so even with the wind from the put-in. We hung up though on a submerged rotted pylon from the old bridge which was bit of bummer. Unloading, we trudged the 115 rod portage but is really closer to 160 rods – oh well — the maps can’t always be dead on! Arrived at the Unnamed lake fairly wet now and needing to coax everyone back in the boat and shove off just to stay warm. After some wondering around the northern shore, we paddled south on this condensed oval lake. My son found the portage trail which is tucked back to the left (east shore) only about a 5-minute from the put-in. Unloading quickly, we trudged the short path to Cirrus and shoved off into the little inlet, paddling somewhat sheltered from the weather until we found a fantastic campsite at #32. Here’s the proof: Cirrus evening west again

Cirrus Camp 32Cirrus Camp 32

 

 

Day 2 of 4: Here is where things started to improve! July 28th

It stopped raining during the night and began clearing on Sunday morning. Winds were fresh but actually calmed a bit as the sun rose. Taking our time over breakfast, exploring and camp chores, our little intrepid group of my wife, myself and our two little ones headed out with fishing rod and picnic lunches for campsite #3J at the southern end of the channel out of the upper part of the lake. My plan was to troll a deep tail dancer and experiment with an inline 1 ½ oz sinker rig — which I had never done before. Everyone else’s plan was to let me fish a bit, not fall out of the boat, get some exercise and fight back the boredom (from our kids’ perspective).

We found the campsite in excellent condition after reading some reports of a toilet-paper strewn environment. This had thankfully been cleaned up by others before us and the site was impeccably tidy and clean. Camp 3J cleanedWe found a perfectly gentle sloping rock face to spread out on and lunched on cheese/crackers/salami, pb&js, trail mix, and lots of water. I had no luck fishing either the little bay in front of our lunch spot or from the point in front of the site, but mid-afternoon in bright sunlight is probably a fairly lousy time to fish. I made up for it after the paddle home as we crossed Cirrus heading to our site. I jigged just off of our the campsite and landed a healthy 18in-smallmouth bass. Is there anything like the taste of fresh fish?

Here are a few pics of the campsite 3J and the meal:

Fish fry second round first LTDay 3 of 4: Early Riser, July 29, 2013

Rain during the night pelted our tent as we slept. I awoke early this AM to find the rain stopped and pulled out a Lucky Heddon 13 to try my luck in the little cove to the west of our site. I hit pay dirt with a few casts and another 18-20 in smallmouth which we released. With optimism and moods greatly improving amongst our group of intrepid canoeists, camp breakfast was extensive. Fresh blueberries were gathered from the hillside, pots of coffee to go with the pancakes, eggs & bacon and oatmeal seemed to hold over our kids for the moment so we decided to head-out about mid-morning into the brilliant sunshine and windless day. Cirrus eveningOur destination were the pictographs on Quetico. The portage from Cirrus into Quetico that seemed easiest to reach was directly across the lake from campsite #3J that we had visited the day before.

This is a beautiful rock channel bounded by about 50 foot cliffs on the east side and steep sloping conifer forest on the west. The water was high which meant using the first of two paths to the east of the channel. The initial 20 or so rods pass under part of the rock cliffs and wind through the forest to end at a small cascade to the right and a small pond. The rest of the trail to the left was blocked by at least three, 12-inch blowdown trees and a lot of low-hanging branches. Scouting out the trail, we put in before these, ferried our canoe across the shallow pool below the cascades and lined our boat down the shallow rapids. Cirrus to Q Portage StreamAll of this to the delight of our kids who loved the fact that everyone could get their feet wet — and off we went into Quetico lake.

We didn’t photograph the three pictographs that we saw probably because we couldn’t get our phone/cameras out of their hiding places in our dry bags and because the Anishinaabeg ask you not to. No matter as they were impressive to find & see.

On the way home, I kept us to the southern shore of Cirrus and crossed in front of 2Z to our campsite, hooking a niceMen and LT#1cirrus713 LT of about 21 or so inches for our dinner that evening. My son greatly enjoyed the filleting part while my daughter stayed at our campsite, mourning the loss of this wonderful fish – the dichotomy of emotion was very much in the spirit of the place. Cirrus evening west againAfter dinner, chores were quickly executed to give us a bit of free time before bed. Evening blanketed us in a peaceful twilight and early bed.

 

Day 4 of 4: Rain and a bit of wind moving back in. Kids were very excited to pack up although they were sad to be leaving “their Ethan on Beach Cirrus 713campsite” and were practically begging my wife and I for reassurances that we would return next year here to “our spot”. We acquiesced. As we paddled away, I trolled another deep tail dancer, a neon-tiger striped deep diver rap as we pulled into the middle of the lake passing campsite 2Z on the southern shore. The rod tip dipped precipitously towards the water surface meant “LT” or another humongous snag on the bottom. I had a devil-of-a-time reeling in with my 6’6” rod (next time I’m bringing the Shakespeare Ugly Stick 7 footer). My wife paddled us to the southern shore as I clambered out, still thinking it was a snag — the fish had bottomed just a couple of yards offshore and I couldn’t bring it up — I opened the bail to release the snag and then starting to reel in again and the 26 in lake trout emerged on the surface.

We paddled out of Cirrus to the first portage where we found a rock ledge on a peninsula guarding the cove for the put-in. Eating ripening blueberries on the point, we got down to work filleting our catch.

The rest of the paddle home was uneventful although the last portage created a mini-mutiny amongst the 4.5 foot-and-smaller crowd. Reaching the take-out we found, unhappily, that we had left a light on inside my car and now had a dead battery! Fortunately for us, some wonderful folks from Sudbury who had driven 16 hours arrived. They managed to double-up jumper-cables and we were off to Dawson to camp, clean up and rub our aching muscles…..What a trip! I can’t wait to do it again!