Everything is so green & the bugs are so mean!
This was a ten day semi-solo trip through Algonquin Park's north end. I had an ambitious plan to paddle and portage my way to Carl Wilson Lake to spend a few days with some friends there, then make my way to Wendigoes Lake via Cedar Lake for two nights with another friend. Finally, portaging back to Cedar Lake to spend my last few nights there, meeting more friends all from the online Algonquin Park paddling community forum, "algonquinadventures.com". My plans were altered on many fronts, from bugs to toothaches.
I arrived around 6:30am after a long drive up from Toronto and fell asleep waiting for the permit office to open at 7:00am. I woke up at around 7:20am and stepped inside to acquire my permit. I was warned that the mosquitos were really 'bad' and thanked the fellow for his warning. I scooped up my permit & garbage bag, then drove to Cedar Lake. The drive to the lake is a long one, nearly forty minutes and the road seemed to me to be in better condition than usual at the time. Be warned though, most of the time it is 'washboard' like and it can be a rough drive in.
By 8:30am I was loaded up and ready to go as I looked upon Cedar Lake's vast expanse. The lake was very nearly glass like with a few ripples in the water and the sky filled with low hanging grey clouds. While I had been loading the canoe, I became covered with a larger than average 'horde' of mosquitos. The little bastards were all over me with the odd black fly thrown in for good measure. I didn't waste any time and shoved off, gleefully climbing into my canoe and paddling away. I was back in The Park! Wooohooo!
I began by paddling West then turned Northwest around the point heading up the lake. I had never been to this part of Cedar Lake before, having always visited the South end. There seemed to be a lot of rocks and a few islets along the East shore as I began to paddle up the lake. I passed a cottage or two and a beach then I passed two campsites almost one after another, then nothing. I was on my own and paused for a moment to let the surrounding scene soak through my being. There was green everywhere. Green, green, GREEN! The silence was deafening and I loved it!
By 10:45am I was under attack as I approached the lone island campsite that guarded the entrance to Little Cedar Lake. Not one but two seagulls took turns making bombing runs that made me duck in my canoe. More than once, one of them released a volley of it's deadly poop bombs onto me. Luckily, the seagull's aim was off and I emerged from the attack unscathed; Except for my pride, once again I was humbled by nature.
It was obvious to me that the seagulls had a nest nearby and were defending it fiercely. I have no knowledge of the breeding habits of seagulls, but have encountered this type of behaviour before during the months of May & June. It seems that in June I have more to avoid than just the bugs of the forest harassing me.
The island campsite I approached was quite interesting. It was covered with red pine and loaded with hard Canadian Shield rock. It was one of the rockiest campsites I had ever seen (From the canoe). To top it off, there was a fireplace and chimney on the campsite. I surmised that at one time there was a cottage on the island, although the foundation and any other indications of a cottage were long gone. There was an active cottage on nearby Gilmore's Island, having taken note of it, as I had passed it by on my way up the lake.
Paddling into Little Cedar Lake forced me twice to change my route, the mouth of the lake is filled with islets, rocks & timber. Despite having to adjust my course, it is a pretty area to paddle through. By 11:27am I passed by the portage to Bug Lake. This was one of three possible ways to get into Carl Wilson Lake, but not my way, I had another route in mind. The portage into Bug Lake looked bushy - very bug infested, I paddled on.
Ten minutes later I crossed underneath the old railway bed (Through a tunnel), that runs through this area of The Park. As I was about to enter the tunnel I had to get out of the canoe with one foot placing it on a half-submerged log, while getting around a few partially submerged logs that blocked passage into the tunnel. I lost my footing at one point and nearly tipped my canoe as I clung to it for support as my leg slipped on the wet log. Miraculously, my slipped foot caught on a knot on the log and the impending disaster was halted. I gingerly made my way along the log, pushed my canoe along and over another log and got back in the canoe and was on my way. Whew!
With the railway bed underpass completed I paddled onto Aura Lee Lake. The sky was dark looking and I suspected it was going to rain, but it held off as I paddled up the lake heading to the first portage of the day. I passed close to one of two campsites, it had a nice sandy landing but looked too buggy for a June stay-over. There was also a tiny island that sat in front of the campsite, completing the scene beautifully.
12:05pm and I arrived at the 275m portage into Laurel Lake. While crossing the portage I was eaten alive by mosquitos. They really were 'bad' as the fellow at the permit office had described. I also came in heavy, triple portaging. I've done triple portaging once before and said I'd never do it again, but I had some guests coming into camp the next day and I wanted to make them feel at home, so I had brought along many litres of beer in plastic bottles.
Yes, way too much weight I know, but hey I was only going in one direction with that weight so I figured it would be no problem. Neither did the mosquitos as they relentlessly ate me alive, they had no problem at all in making me feel right at home. By the third pass on the short trail I finally 'caved' and dug out my bottle of bug spray and spread it upon myself in generous doses. After this, I completed my third and final pass of what I found to be an annoying trail. Sure the bugs were bad, but it was one of those ankle busting trails, loaded with slippery moss covered rocks that were, if you were not careful, dangerous and capable of bringing a grown man to his knees.
I loaded up the canoe and paddled out onto beautiful Laurel Lake. There is a rather large hill along the Northeast shoreline, one that can be seen as you paddle up Aura Lee Lake. Here on Laurel Lake, it was much larger of course being a prominent feature on the lake. By 1:15pm, I passed by a lovely island campsite that sits almost in the geographical centre of the lake.
The island looked to be sandy and was heavily populated with red pine trees. The island looked to have suffered some wind damage as well. I surmised this was from the severe storms of 2006. There were several red pines near the landing that had been knocked down and some more up along the hill on the island. Nevertheless, it looked to be a perfect summer site and I made a mental note of it.
By 1:30pm I had arrived at the very rocky and foamy portage landing for the short carry-over (130m) into Little Cauchon Lake. I say 'Foamy', as there is a set of falls nearby where Little Cauchon empties in to Laurel Lake. Avoid getting close to the turbulent waters as they are less buoyant. I have heard that this can be a nice spot to fish for walleye. The landing was typical Canadian Shield rock and so was some of the climb as it ascended some 25m in only about 80m or so distance.
On the flip-side, Little Cauchon Lake had a marshy look to it, as a section of the lake had been closed off as the nearby railway bed made a causeway across a bay; Access past the rail bed was underneath a trestle.
On my second carry-over I met a couple coming the other way as I was chugging up the steep incline, I mumbled a 'hello' and kept going. The number of mosquitos there (at the put-in) were surprisingly few, so I decided to take a break replenishing myself with water and gorp. After a break of 15 minutes I loaded up and paddled out into the bay, past a turtle sunning itself (took many pictures) on a deadhead.
Continuing on through the railway trestle, I paddled a short distance and landed at my pick for the carryover into Carl Wilson Lake, the 1070m portage. It was 2:30pm. I ought to mention that I passed by a campsite quite near to the portage, it had some red pine upon it and was set upon some flat rock, all in all not a bad looking campsite from a distance. Looking up Little Cauchon I had the impression I was looking into infinity, the lake just kept going and going all the way to the horizon, very nice.
The landing at the portage was slightly muddy and easy to step out onto; a hop and a half and I was on dry land. I loaded up for the carry and the few first raindrops started to fall upon me. I hurried into the forest.
I remember the portage itself as being easy to traverse by foot, the trail was well trodden with no tripping hazards like roots or rock. However, it seemed to me that it was one of those long and never ending slow ascents. The bugs came out in droves to feed upon my blood and more than once I had to throw off my pack and spray on more bug juice to keep the little devils off my neck and shoulders.
As I was coming across for my third and final carry the skies opened up. It was just pouring cats and dogs, a torrential downpour. Finally, I reached the end and stood there under the protection of a nearby balsam fir, waiting for the downpour to end. The waiting continued - seeming like forever. The humidity rose and with it the mosquitos were having a frenzy, courtesy of me. It seemed like the world's water supply was being dumped on me, the rate at which the rain was coming down was fantastic and I wondered to myself if this is what it felt like to be in one of those tropical rainforest downpours.
Just after 5pm, it was as if someone or something had turned off a tap. The rain ceased, the sky partially cleared and I launched my canoe onto Carl Wilson Lake. Almost at once it began to rain again, I thought to myself, "Oh well, in for a penny…" The rain increased, beating down on my head. Soon it was a total downpour all over again and I was soaked through and through. "I can't get any wetter." I thought.
I paddled on and through the rising mist and raindrops I spied a campsite off to my left. Actually, it turned out to be a portage with a campsite next to it. This was the trail from Ironwood Lake via another portage from Bug Lake, then onto Cedar Lake - The route I had opted to ignore. I still thought my way was technically shorter, believing I would have suffered more by going the multiple-portage route through low maintenance trails. The month of June can be unforgiving.
In the pouring rain the campsite looked undesirable, so I paddled on. Eventually, I emerged onto the expanse of Carl Wilson Lake when suddenly the rain stopped again and it looked like it was for good this time. I headed for a campsite that to me looked good on the map. Sure enough, it was a good looking campsite (along the Northwest shore). A nice sandy landing with a path up an eroding bank to a large flat open area - where numerous people were milling about. One of the people there came down to several canoes parked onshore to grab something and head back up to the campsite. Sigh… I moved on. I did not like the next campsite. I found it stifling, the bugs were really bad in there so I headed over to the East shoreline.
The next one looked like it would do... Essentially a big hole in the forest. Still, I had time to look around and more choices ahead of me. I paddled on soon coming to a bend. I rounded the bend and a lovely cliff face came into view. Suddenly, I was jolted as the canoe scrapped a rocky shoal, forgetting in my awe of the cliffs ahead me to watch the waters below me. There was an extensive shallow area that was littered with rocks. I paddled around this and came upon two more campsites; One looked really terrible and the other one probably hadn't been occupied in ten years or more. Pity though, would've been a nice view to wake up in the morning and see those cliffs there in front of one's self.
I headed back to the 'hole in the forest', landed awkwardly and pulled the canoe up over rocks and aways from shore. I then unpacked and went through the process of setting up camp. By 8pm, I was cooking chicken and rice on the fire (In my fry pan - no grill on site), while I was covered with black flies and mosquitos. This was the worst.
I ate my dinner, cleaned my dishes and had a few stiff drinks and went to bed… It was nice to get away from the little devils.