October 5 - Day 1
Holy Cow! When is this staircase going to end?

This trip-log details a three night stay on Big Porcupine Lake, through access#6 Smoke Lake. I had never been through access#6 before and neither had Sean who I partnered up with for his "long weekend solo" trip. Oddly though, we would be tandem in Sean's canoe. Our friend the "Swedish Pimple" would also be there, “Swede” (As I like to call him) would be paddling in solo.

The drive up was interrupted by a traffic jam as highway#11 was closed to a fatal accident. All of us had to divert off the highway, drive through a town and drive several more kilometres to the next onramp. The experience was good in that we were able to see some autumn colours and the delay only cost us about fifteen minutes travel time.


Highway off-ramp
A surprisingly pleasant diversion off of highway#11


We arrived at the permit office on Canoe Lake (Access#5) around 11:00am and acquired our permit, then drove the short distance to the other side of highway#60 to the access point for Smoke Lake. We loaded up the canoe, snapped a few pictures and paddled onto the expanse of Smoke Lake. The weather for early October was fabulous; A sun drenched sky, no bugs, no people and warming temperatures. I have heard that Smoke Lake can get nasty and to be honest as we paddled onto the lake, I felt a little intimidated by her size.

With the weather being so fine, we took the most direct route paddling straight down the middle of the lake. As we neared the end of the lake, The Park plane flew overhead, a familiar and friendly sight paddlers will often see while on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. Around 12:30pm we landed at the portage into Ragged Lake. The journey had taken us about an hour. There was another group there, two guys with kayaks; they were coming out and we were going in. We waited as the guys finished their portage then took our turn at the trail.


Access#6 public launch
Access#6 Smoke Lake: A fine morning to launch

 

Sean at Smoke Lake access
Sean at access#6 with the glassy Smoke Lake behind him


Neither Sean nor I had read anything about this area of Algonquin Park. In a way it is kind of refreshing to learn and discover things on your own. In another way we were surprised. I had never heard anyone (That I could recall) mention any details about the portage up to Ragged Lake. The surprise was the climb up to Ragged Lake.

The trail rises 21m over 240 meters (That's roughly 65ft over 700ft for you imperial folk). The trail then descends a few meters as you arrive onto Ragged Lake. That might not sound like much but it is a steep climb and although it was no big deal, it was unexpected. The trail was so steep that at one point there is a switchback in the trail, one has to turn and climb some more. We were in Sean's heavy canoe and luckily for me, he believed in carrying his own canoe.

Ragged Lake Put-in
Sean readies his camera at the put-in to Ragged Lake

 

Portage trailhead at Raggd Lake
The trail-head for the short steep downhill jaunt to Smoke Lake

After the short but steep climb, we arrived to a beautiful Ragged Lake. There is a dam there, where Ragged Lake empties in to Smoke Lake. In the logging days of old, there used to be a logging chute here and today very little evidence remains of its prior existence. Both Sean and I walked the creek that cascaded down from Ragged Lake looking for photo opportunities as well as enjoying the fresh autumn air.

By 2:00pm we set off onto Ragged Lake under a blazing October sun. Ragged Lake did indeed have a bit of a ragged look to it. The dam having flooded the lake in the past, caused many trees to die, leaving the lake studded with tree stumps. Within 30 minutes we arrived at the black muck and stony landing for the 590m carry into Big Porcupine Lake.


Ragged Lake put-in

Standing on the dam, I took this photo of Ragged Lake at the put-in

We had planned to double carry the portages and although the first portage into Ragged Lake was somewhat steep, the distance was short, so the double carry aspect of the trail was no problem. The trail into Big Porcupine caught us completely off guard. This trail is the famous aptly named "Devil's Staircase". All I can say is that the trail is painful. It climbs and climbs and climbs. Short legged people will curse rangers who made the steps that have been placed in certain areas along the trail. Long legged folks will curse that they are not moose and the staircase is not fit for any person.

Creek to Smoke Lake
Along the creek that feeds into Smoke Lake from Ragged Lake


Along the way up the brutal climb (Which ascends 76m over half a kilometre's distance), we came upon "Swede" our third man in our party. Swede was sitting, resting on one of the timbers that made up the staircase. Swede's shirt was soaked through with sweat and he sat there with a grin on his face, "Good afternoon boys", Swede called out. Swede had had no idea either of what he had to face to get to Big Porcupine Lake.

By now the mosquitos came out. Mosquitos? In mid-October? In the afternoon? Yup that's right, in October, while the sun was still high in the sky. The temperature soared to over 25°C too. With the heat and the bugs and people we caught up to on the climb, it was beginning to feel like July!

By 4:40pm we were ready to launch onto to beautiful Big Porcupine Lake. That feeling of a 'sense of accomplishment' came to all of us, as we stared across a calm lake, laden with the brilliant colours of autumn. Just the view was worth all the pain of getting there.


Ragged Lake narrows
Looking through the narrows to Ragged Lake proper beyond


It was about two hours to go till dark set in, so we made for a campsite that we had in mind. We took the unoccupied campsite that was in the Southwest portion of the upper part of the lake. A fellow tripper by the of Tom Yates described it as one of his favourites. The campsite was huge and very high up off the water via a steep climb up smooth rock. However, there were many areas of the campsite where there were various secondary landings that weren't so steep. The campsite had a commanding view of that section of lake it overlooked.

Portage signage
The declaration that the trail is 590m is deceptive

 

Big Porcupine Lake
The view of Big Porcupine Lake from the put-in


By 7:00pm we were settled in around the fire-pit with the tarp strung up and a fire going, relaxing after a hearty meal. The temperature remained fairly warm that night and with that we all went to bed well before 10pm, the fresh air and the unexpected workout making us all tired.


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