Cedar L(IN) - Petawawa R - Catfish L - Perley L - Burntroot L - Lake La Muir - Hogan L - Philip L - Little Madawaska R - Radiant L - Petawawa R - Cedar L(OUT)
Day 1 - Cedar L to Catfish L
This was a twelve day loop from access#27 Cedar Lake, with Derek Specht aka"Dogbyte" from AA. Previous to this trip, Derek and I had never met, except online. I think we both thought it was a risk to take, tripping with someone whom you'd never met, but I think the idea of tripping in Algonquin transcended all concerns. A great plus to the trip, was the fact that we were both going into unknown territory as well. So, not only did we have a chance to get to know each other, we both had a chance to explore portions of The Park, that were previously unknown to both of us. I met up with Derek at his place the night before, and got little sleep, by 1:00am, I was woken up and we got ready to go. With all the correspondence done via email beforehand on the trip, we still had much to do. We spent the evening before removing excess meals, snacks, & fuel. We had just too much stuff, as we had some long portages to conquer as well. Also my canoe had to be transferred to Derek's car, as my car was leaking transmission fluid! Wouldn't do to have a car die on the way up. By 2am we were on the road. I don't remember when exactly we picked up our permit, but by 8:50am we were launching on Cedar Lake, under overcast conditions.
Derek getting ready to load his food (bear-proof) barrel
We're pack and Derek is raring to go!
I offered Derek the the stern, he in turn mentioned it was my canoe, and decided I should paddle stern first. Used to sharing, this show of courtesy from Derek was equally nice, though if we didn't stop exchanging pleasantries, we'd never get the trip started! I agreed to take the stern, and already I could sense we would get along. We launched and headed over to the mouth of the upper Petawawa river. I had been on Cedar several times before, but not over to the upper Petawawa. Soon, according to my direction, we were off course. Derek, with a keen sense of terrain reading, brought us back on course in a matter of minutes. For some reason I kept thinking the mouth of the Petawawa was actually the mouth of the Nipissing River, thus we traveled a little south of where we needed to. Very little time was lost(Thanks to Derek) and we landed at the first portage along the Petawawa river at 9:15am. Paddling tandem sure is alot faster than solo!
The first portage(715m), bypasses rapids and falls, the trail itself is very well worn and pretty much flat(Except bypassing the falls). During our second pass of the portage it started to rain a little and Derek went out for a walk, up the falls! After the first portage, we launched around 10:30am along the river, the rain had stopped, and it remained overcast, then the water became like glass. Paddling here was akin to being in a painting; serene & tranquil
Falls on the Petawawa river
By 11:00am we reached the 255m portage. A real shorty. It was at the beginning of this portage, that a disturbing discovery was made. Plastic locking ties, were found littering the ground from the beginning of the 255m portage all the way to Catfish Lake. Every beginning and end of each trail was littered with them. Derek surmised some fool was tying their paddles with the plastic ties, at the beginning of every portage, then cutting them off and discarding them on the ground. Furthermore, this person had done the same on the way out, thus ties were everywhere. Also there was a mess of rice and trail mix at the end of the 255m portage, dumped right on the ground. For this part of The Park, I was surprised(and disappointed) at the amount of garbage present. We finished the portage, and continued along the river, till we reached the 2345m portage. I've heard descriptions of this portage and they are true. This one is a real pain. However all is not lost, as I can make a little suggestion here; Be a good samaritan and offer to carry the canoe first, to the first halfway point, approximately 500m in. Once there your partner should be expected to take their turn carrying the canoe. Once this is done, you can then congratulate yourself for your crafty ways, and merrily continue up the long hill carrying only your pack.
Rain didn't phase Derek, from climbing up the falls
Derek had offered to carry the canoe first, and upon reaching the halfway point, put the canoe down and went back for the food barrel. It started to rain, and I slipped under the canoe grinning, thinking I had scored protection from the rain. Almost immediately my grin turned into a grimace, as the trail rapidly ascended. The trail is not that steep, and the grade is manageable, but the climb just keeps going and going and twisting and going some more, probably for well over 500m. After what seemed like 30 minutes of straight climbing I reached the next halfway point. It was a flat area, with a few cut log benches with a sign posted, denoting the spot as "Unicorn Hill". Some junior rangers had fixed the place up real nice, except I was now standing in pouring rain, panting to catch my breath. I still had to go back and grab my pack, and the skeeters were having lunch, on me!
There is a campsite at the end of the portage, and we took refuge from the rain for a few minutes while we rested up. Just after 1pm, we were back on the the river, having conquered the evil portage. The paddle was short, and within a few minutes we quickly landed and passed thru the 170m portage into Narrowbag Lake. Narrowbag Lake, was an un-eventful paddle, except for a colourful lily patch we came across within site of the 80m portage into Catfish Lake.
Somewhere along Narrowbag Lake
An overcast sky and raindrops made for a colourful show
By 1:40 pm, we had finished the short portage and scouted out the area and the remnants of an old dam there. By 2pm we entered Catfish Lake proper. It was still overcast, but the rain seemed to have stopped for the day. It had taken us 5 hrs to get from Cedar to Catfish, not sure if it is an average time or not, but it should give other trippers to the area an idea of time requirements to reach Catfish. Keep in mind, we were doubling all portages too. There was a cow moose browsing the north shore,as we turned southward. We stopped in on the first site on the east shore, more for a break than actually scouting for a campsite; we had a better site in mind.
It turned out that we found the person responsible for all the locking twist tie littering, had camped at the site we rested on. There were twist ties littering the site, as well as a few camp chairs. Since we were going to be on Catfish for two nights, I scooped up the camp chairs, intending to transfer them to our site. We continued on passing the small chain of islands, when we noticed something on the order of a dozen canoes camped on one of the islands! That's alot a folks on one site, we continued on, obviously not wanting to be around noise that would eventually erupt from such a large gathering of people.
Finding the narrows was a matter of luck and it is tricky, and we made it through without a hitch, but there were a few moments of un-certainty, as we approached the narrows. We passed thru and came upon the expanse of Catfish Lake. It is an interesting lake, with bays here and there, and a few small islands, with a big island in the middle of the lake. That island was our destination. As we approached the island we noticed a canoe paddling around the west side of the island, so we paddled over to the east side. We had heard that the island sat high up off the water, and the island had been given a name from a friend of mine, "Bo", who had christened it 'Shang-gri-la'. Passing by the east shore of the island we studied the island with awe, it had a high cliff, perhaps almost 20m high, and across from the island on the east shore of the lake was a site on a nice point, however it was occupied. We paddled around the island, looking for the sign-age denoting a campsite. It wasn't till we did almost a complete loop of the island that we found the sign-age and landing on the north west end of the island. Following a slope of considerable gradient, we hiked quite a distance to the fire-pit and tenting areas. The site was indeed 'Shang-gri-la'! It was empty. It was awesome..high up above the water, loaded with tall red pine in the immediate surroundings, a sheet of plywood, covering a modest supply of firewood. It was grand. we un-loaded, and began the process of setting up our tents. It was just after 3pm.
remnants of a dam at the 80m portage
Mere minutes from Catfish Lake, the still water reflection caught my eye
By 6pm we were ready to make dinner, but the weather changed our minds, as it started to rain again. I had brought marinated chicken for our first nights dinner and T-Bone steak for the second. As it was both meals were not eaten as it became impossible to have a fire to cook. I wasn't much hungry anyways, and stuck with some gorp and oatmeal bars for dinner. While walking around the island exploring the site, I nearly injured myself severely. I was on top of a rock ledge of perhaps 6 feet high, when the moss gave way beneath my foot, I slipped and plunged down the small rock face. I tore a nice gash in my shorts, and got a nasty bruise on my thigh, and a scrap on my elbow. The sound of my scraping fall alerted a passing canoe whose occupants looked up in surprise to see me, who had fallen. I was a mere meter from falling down the next rock face and into the water, needless to say I avoided that part of the island for the rest of my stay. We went to bed early that night, it didn't rain, yet we had the occasional sprinkle and everything was damp. Sleep, with the knowledge that I wasn't alone, was quite restful. The next Derek remarked about the same thing, citing his good sleep was due to the fact another person was nearby.
It was a gray cloudy day, the temperature was cool but comfortable. We ate breakfast, oatmeal & breakfast pitas, coffee for me and tea I think for Derek, he drank more tea than coffee. Just after 9:30am, we set off, Derek in the stern this time. We decided to paddle over and check out the 4 sites on the lower west side of the lake. We paddled down to a bay at the end of the lake, hoping to see some moose, but saw nothing. Paddling around towards where the lake begins to narrow, we passed the first site. It was occupied by perhaps 4 to 6 people. We continued past, and tried to get to the next site. Impossible. The site was perched on the edge of swampy water, and I guess in spring when the water is higher, the site would've been accessible, here however, we'd have to walk well over 10m in mucky sludge. Not knowing how deep it could be, we turned back and headed to the first site of the cluster of 3 on the map, and landed at a gravel beach. We had to walk a trail of perhaps 15m or more to get to the site. The site itself looks un-inviting in summer, but maybe in early spring or fall after the bugs are gone, the site would be live able. There's not much chance of a breeze there, and the outhouse was only about 15 meters from the firepit! So most likely you'd be chased out of the site by either smell or lots of biting insects. We bushed whacked our way to the 3rd site, that we couldn't access by canoe. All I can say is that it was even worse!
The canoe landing: long sloping rock
We hung around the gravel beach for awhile exploring, find a few things of interest, not worth mentioning and gathered some firewood, and climb into the canoe and headed up the shoreline to the site almost directly across from our site on the west shore of the lake. The last site was large, nestled in the forest. There was lots of open space and wood everywhere for firewood, many tents could be spread out over a large area. An excellent site for those mornings when ya want some sunshine filtering thru the trees into your tent. We gathered more wood from the surrounding forest and headed back to camp, we arrived just after noon. After a few hours of lounging, I got a cooking fire going and put the chicken on to cook. The steak needed to be cooked as well, so we had a late lunch/early dinner rolled into one big meal. After 4pm the clouds broke up and we saw the first sunshine since we had started our trip the day before. It was a welcome change, and it was if time had no meaning, that time of the day in mid-summer when the sun just seems to hang forever, in the late afternoon hours. Derek had a nap on his hammock while I explored the island some more, taking lots of photos.
No thanks! One of the swampy sites located in SW corner of Catfish Lake
The firepit at the second swampy campsite
Around 6:30pm a lone canoe drifted by coming up from the south, passing near our site, perhaps with envious eyes. Although the site itself was really nice, it did have one major downfall, gathering water was such a pain in the back, it was quite a long hike down to the water and back up. Near the water, the slope is kinda steep, so needing water for coffee and such was not so much a chore, but a hassle. Derek spied some bird of prey on our island, as they chased some of the smaller birds around our campsite. Derek managed to track the bird of prey to it's nesting tree, down on the south end of the island. As I joined Derek at the tree, something fell out of the tree and landed at his feet. It was a sparrow's head! It certainly was a bird of prey, and it was feeding it's young. I never did get a good picture of the bird, it was beyond my point & shoot camera's range, and being un-knowledgeable about birds, I still don't know what type of bird it was, nevertheless, it was cool to see nature in action.
Derek collecting firewood
Honeybee on Catfish Lake
That night nature put on a another show for us, one of the best yet, in my mind. It was getting late, past 10:30pm, when Derek and I decided to check out the stars. First we went down to the exposed rock on the west side of the site. Not a cloud, and the sky was bright with stars. After a while we walked over to the east end of the island, where we sat down on the edge of the high cliff that ran long the north east end of the island. We were high up and had a great vantage point. Here the magic of Algonquin began; The night was still and incredibly silent, there was a half-moon in the sky, that shone down upon the waters, shimmering, turning the water into molten silver. Looking northwest, we saw the faintest glimmerings of northern lights, though pale in colour, the intensity didn't last long, and the show itself last perhaps less than 20 min.
As the moon shone, the stars twinkled, and the aurora danced, the loons added their voice to the show. We heard one loon laughing and another respond, suddenly it sounded like a fight was going on. At this point, it was as if someone had dropped a stone into a pool of water, the ripples following the splash of the stone expanding forever outward, in a big circle. This is what happened with the two loons on Catfish Lake that night, as they continued to call a loud ruckus, it was as if every loon in The Park picked up on their call, we could here lake after surrounding lake, come alive with the call of more and more loons. It all started right in front of us, and it sent shivers up my spine, it was really one of the most amazing moments I've ever experienced in The Park.
This red pine had been fighting gravity for years
Just some of the scenery I gazed at all afternoon
This image gives you the idea of how high up we were,
and I had to come 'down' to this point to take the picture
Derek snoozing off the chicken AND steak!