A long day into Biggar Lake
This was a ten day canoe trip with my friend Mike B to the Birchcliffe Cabin, an Algonquin Backcountry cabin in Algonquin Park's north end.
The plan was to meet up with a third person as well, a friend of ours the "Swedish Pimple". We arrived at the permit office long before it opened, at around 6:20am. The weather was foul, cold and rainy and with the long drive and lousy weather we both snoozed for about 40 minutes in our vehicle, waiting for the permit office to open.
After the brief rest, we headed in and met Al and his wife, who at the time ran the permit office for a number of years. We had mentioned to Al about our friend, who told us he had indeed arrived the night before and had slept over at the nearby outfitter. Well, Swede was no where to be found, so we drove over to the outfitters and nearly reaching the establishment, we passed Swede by on the road. We pulled over and after a brief exchange decided to head back to the permit office.
When we arrived, Swede told us he had to back out of the trip for personal reasons. It was a disappointment for sure, especially for Swede. To be at The Park's doorstep and have to turn around and leave, it must’ve been a heartbreaker. We bid Swede 'farewell' and talked at great length with Al while securing our permits.
At the advice of Swede, we drove over to the outfitters office where we met a nice chap by the name of "Bob", who told us for the nominal fee of $20 we could park our vehicle on his property and launch our trip from his dock. By doing this we avoided paddling more than half of Kawawaymog Lake, which can be treacherous, especially in the spring when the water temps are still lethal.
Kawawaymog Lake is shallow at least where I have paddled it and can be very choppy and windy, frequently. We parked our vehicle and loaded up, posed for a few pictures and at 10:00am on the dot amid gray skies we departed. We paddled our way to the end of the lake eventually reaching the Amable du Fond River. It begins with lots of winding and twisting, as it is very narrow and shallow. After about 5 minutes of this though, the river slowly widens, although it still continued to snake it's way through the land.
After about 25 minutes or so of reaching the river, we came across the 'streetlamp', an oddity that many canoeists have seen but never figured out. Seemingly out of place is a street lamp post in the middle of the forest, along the edge of a connecting creek as it merges with the Amable du Fond River. We continued along, where after the streetlamp the river straightens out for the rest of the way to the first portage of the day, the easy 135m carry-over. Both ends of this portage have a rocky/mud combination, the downstream landing is more so with a gravel/mud landing amid the rocks.
As we launched onto the river again, several parties of students caught up with us and anxious to stay ahead of the coming traffic jam, we paddled hurriedly away and ended up stuck upon a submerged rock amidships. It was a tricky moment, the current was strong, threatening to tip us if we tried to turn too much to get off the rock. Not only was it tricky, it was kinda embarrassing as a young group of boys passed us by asking if we needed assistance.
No! We did not need help. We needed time to figure this out on our own, which we did and eventually after another minute or two, we worked ourselves free and continued on down the river. So be warned, there are some big rocks under that strong current (immediately after launching downstream from the 135m portage) that one can get hung up on.
At that point, the sun had started to come out and the green of the forest started to shine. We continued on, paddling the ever widening river. This stretch of river is a lovely section to paddle; lush forest and grasses, in an ever widening river with gentle bends, a good area to view wildlife. After a short while, we arrived at the 255m portage. The portage landing has a large dock a few meters upstream from rapids that descend into North Tea Lake. The beginnings of the portage has a short and somewhat steep ascent of perhaps 8 meters, then there is a slow climb for a minute before levelling off. After this, the trail begins a long slow descent towards North Tea Lake.
The trail itself is smooth and wide for the most part, an easy and comfortable portage. Just prior to arriving a North Tea Lake, one comes upon the moose-like staircase, as it descends to the landing. I say 'moose-like', as the steps are too far apart for a human to climb (step for step), with the height of each step again being too deep for a human..perfect for a moose though!
I've come upon many of these moose stairways in the park and can only assume it is more for erosion prevention than human comfort. Nevertheless as we arrived and loaded up at North Tea Lake, a multitude of students arrived, overtaking the landing; some preferring to traverse an eroded trail next to the stairway, instead of using the steps themselves. So much for erosion prevention!
After a brief rest and quick snack, we launched onto North Tea Lake at 11:45am, nearly two hours after our launch from the outfitter on Kawawaymog Lake, not bad. With the expanse of the lake before us, we headed out paralleling the South shoreline. The lake looked relatively calm under partially overcast sky beyond, as we paddled down the length of the lake, though the winds picked up as did the wave action.
North Tea is a big lake, so much so that it is divided into two arms for reservation purposes, there are many campsites in both arms of the lake. We continued on passing the halfway point, where the two arms of the lake meet. In the East arm the waves and wind became even more intense. At the same time we noticed as we continued to paddle through the wind and waves, that the waters were littered with rocks, some just below the surface. We increased our distance from shore, paddling at times an uncomfortable distance from shore with respect to the weather conditions.
After what seemed like forever we entered into Mangotaysee Lake, which is a long paddle in its own right and eventually reached the 240m portage into Hornbeam Lake. We had a brief snack and then completed the somewhat rough and muddy trail, which passes some nice rapids. At the end of Hornbeam Lake is a beautiful smooth rocks falls, with the nearby landing(90m carry-over) being a simple muddy affair.
We arrived at the falls at 2:45pm. Launching onto the next small lake (which I'm not sure if it is called twin falls lake or is just unnamed), is much more tricky, as there is a slope one must navigate into the water amid rocks, in order to load and launch a canoe. It is an awkward put-in.
The next paddle to the 140m trail is short and easy. The final carry-over into Biggar Lake crosses an old logging road, where the bridge crossing the watercourse has been removed. The launching into Biggar Lake is an easy sand/rock combination put-in, along an eroding bank. I have a nice memory of the put-in there, the warm May sun was shining very strongly there.
We planned to camp our first night on Biggar Lake, making our way to the cabin the next day. It was already a long day with the long drive and the subsequent paddle and portaging, we were starting to get very hungry and very tired. I'm not sure what time we arrived onto Biggar Lake, but by the time we arrived and set-up our camp and were relaxing and enjoying a warm fire and coffee, it was 6:15pm.
The paddle along Biggar Lake revealed to us that the West end of the lake had campsites that didn't look too appealing to us and so we paddled to the East end of the lake where several parties were already camped, having already scored some very beautiful campsites. We checked out some of the empty sites along the North shore, finally deciding to camp on the last campsite on the lake along the South shore, nearest to where Birchcliffe Creek empties into Biggar Lake.
The landing for our campsite was flooded, so we used a fallen tree to balance on to unload our canoe. It was a rugged root filled campsite with a great sunset view. Both of us were too tired to go out fishing in the canoe that evening (we had been up since 2:00am), so we settled down to have chicken and rice over the fire that night, eating Swede's portion that I had included in our trip plans. Poor Swede, he was missing the fun times.