Paddling up Cedar Lake and beyond
Unable to get away during the traditional spring opener (It was closed anyway due to ice still being on the lakes), My girlfriend Joan & I had to wait till the May long weekend to get to The Park. This excessive wait in the start of the paddling season for me was driving me nuts and I was really itching to get back to Algonquin Park.
I had decided to go in through access#27 - Cedar Lake, through the North end of The Park, while taking the opportunity to drop-off supplies to "Jake" at the Algonquin Outfitters store there, for a planned re-supply of a future July trip through The Park.
Driving through rains that were heavy at times, we arrived shortly after 9am at the permit office, located on Brent Road, just a short distance from the turnoff on highway#17. For those wondering, if you're coming from Ottawa, you can re-fuel your vehicle before heading into The Park at the Crevier gas station in Deux-Riviéres, just before you hit the Brent Road turnoff. If you're coming from Toronto/North Bay, re-fuel in Mattawa.
After acquiring our permit we drove the nearly 40 km dirt road to Cedar Lake, it is a long drive at slow speeds of about 40-50km/h. The road was in fairly good shape and despite the weather we enjoyed the drive. As we passed the Brent Crater trail, my insides 'switched-on' I got all excited, feeling like a kid again; I was in The Park! I felt all bubbly and happy inside and I resisted the urge to step on the accelerator.
Just before 10:00am we arrived at the Brent Store and found it closed with a sign marking that Jake would be back in an hour. I went around back searching for Jake and soon found him near the water's edge, preparing canoes for a client.
Talking to Jake we could see black flies all around us and swallows in the air scooping them up. It was that time again. Black fly season.
Joan & I unloaded three boxes of supplies (It would be for six hungry guys in July) and we spent another 10 or 15 minutes chatting with Jake, which I might add is always a pleasure but I find there is never enough time to get to know this man; a fellow who has been on Cedar Lake for many decades and who I'm sure could speak volumes worth of Algonquin Park stories. Perhaps another day, we were tired and had yet to start our journey. We bid Jake a big 'Thank You' and 'Farewell'.
We arrived at the landing and unloaded the vehicle and by 10:30am we were on the water paddling northwest, up a gloomy looking Cedar Lake. It had stopped raining for the moment, but we knew it wasn't going to last long.
The waters were near calm and we enjoyed our paddle up the lake, for it was quiet and peaceful, which was interrupted by the sound of a motorboat we heard, crossing the lake behind us. This reminded us of the fact that we were on a motorboat access lake. No matter, we would soon be leaving such noise behind us as we continued our push into the interior.
Just over an hour later at 11:45am we passed by the lone island campsite at the lake's north end, just before we entered into Little Cedar Lake. As we entered Little Cedar Lake it had begun to rain, yet the winds held off making our paddle an easy one.
At last we had peace and quiet. We hadn't seen another canoe or anyone else since we launched. That might be because the black-flies were out, although they weren't biting yet, they were close to doing so and hoped that the gloomy cool weather would continue, as it would keep their numbers down.
Little Cedar Lake is a mess to navigate initially, if you go left into a channel around an island, the waters there are studded with rocks and logjams. I had done this on as previous trip years earlier and learned my lesson. So if you are heading into Little Cedar, go through the right channel. Once clear of the channel the lake opens up with a decent sized island in the middle of the lake. We paddled past the left side of the island, keeping our distance from shore as the black flies were numerous there.
At the end of Little Cedar Lake, we passed by the 820m portage to Bug Lake. Looking at the hillside behind the portage, I had to wonder at the ascent one would have to endure to get to Bug Lake, it certainly looked unfriendly to me. A moment later we came to a narrows in which there was a current, the water was being forced through a narrow channel where it emptied into the lake.
Paddling extra hard we made it through the somewhat strong current and turned around a bend into a straight-line narrows, the view was charming with Joan exclaiming in perfect harmony with our surroundings, "Now this is Algonquin", indicating the rain, the narrows, the still waters, the pine, the scent of cedar. It was a moment that held us in thrall and we were helpless against the beauty of The Park that surrounded us, we simply drifted along, motionless, not able, not daring to paddle. After a few moments, we awoke from the spell-binding daze and continued to paddle onwards.
At the end of the narrows was the underpass. The old rail-bed from the long abandoned railway line that ran through the North end of The Park. The concrete bridge with twin tunnels underneath in which the water and hence canoeists could pass through was constructed in 1921, as denoted by the date engraved in the concrete structure. One of the tunnels was obstructed with a logjam, but the other tunnel was clear and we sailed through amid the constant drippings of hanging moulds….ewwww…hope your hat is on!
We emerged and paddled more narrows onto Aura Lee Lake, this part of the paddle enchanted Joan for she was reminded very strongly of another part of Algonquin Park. The tiny island in the narrows reminded her of High Falls Lake, another Algonquin Park charmer. By 12:15pm we arrived at a campsite on Aura Lee Lake and decided it was time to stop for lunch. It was a much needed rest, we were both tired; we had been up since 5:30am and desperately needed food and rest to prevent us from becoming exhausted. The coffees and fast-food sandwiches on the way weren't enough.
Joan prepared fresh turkey lunchmeat sandwiches with fresh lettuce and tomato. A light but necessary and tasty lunch, much better then the greasy fast-food we had eaten on the road. It continued to rain as we ate our lunch and then we departed 15 minutes later.
1:00pm and we arrived at our first portage of the day, the 275m trail to Laurel Lake. Joan asked what to expect on the trail; Bugs and rocks I mentioned, the trail a real ankle breaker from what I remembered. Indeed it was, for although the trail was flat, it was loaded with rocks (Slippery in the rain), that made the crossing real hard on the ankles. The bugs weren't too bad, there were no mosquitos and the black-flies didn't bother me up there under the canoe, as a matter of fact, they stayed away. I have found that black-flies do not like enclosed spaces. So not only was the canoe protecting me from the rain, it was keeping the flies off my back!
We double-carried the portage and by 1:30pm were done the trail, launching onto a calm and cloudy Laurel Lake. The rain had stopped miraculously and even the sun was trying hard to break through the clouds. We paddled up the quiet lake passing by the lone island campsite that was topped by a thunder-box at the island's height, in clear view of anyone passing by.
Joan let out a gasp of surprise, we would definitely have to string up some privacy screens made-up of tarps on that site. The island campsite though vacant was not our destination nor was Laurel Lake and so we paddled on and arrived at the churning waters of the 130m carry-over to Little Cauchon Lake. There is a nearby waterfall as the waters tumble down into Laurel Lake and we exited our canoe at the very rocky landing amid spring water levels. Although there was no one around, I rushed to clear the landing for it was a cramped one and another party showing up would really make a mess of things.
We hadn't seen anyone since we launched onto Cedar Lake and it being a Thursday, we didn't expect to see anyone else that day either. The solitude factor was very high. The 130m portage is short but steep, uphill almost the entire length of the trail, before levelling off and dropping down to the Little Cauchon Lake end at the last 30 meters or so.
The black flies were relentless on the trail as they followed us in huge clouds that surrounded us, flying into our eyes and ears and into our mouths, some protein was gained on the short carry-over as we both swallowed a few of the little devils.
I was given some relief on the second carry when I brought my canoe over, for the black flies refused to join me up there under my canoe. I had a bug jacket while Joan had a bug net for her head only. My jacket proved to be too hot to wear and so I didn't, well at least the most important part I didn't; I un-zipped the head mask so I could breathe and inhaled a few of the flies. Joan didn't like wearing her bug net either, it was like being imprisoned; Freedom lay beyond, but only hiding beneath the confines of the bug net made the flies bearable.
We knew it was bug season, but that wasn't going to keep us away, the long winter had already taken a toll on our sanity and we needed to regain it. To wait till June or July would be madness and so there we were enduring the madness of the black flies. I really think the waterfall and the nearby confines of the portage were key factors in the heightened local black-fly population of the portage.
We loaded up in record time and paddled out onto Little Cauchon Lake. The flies continued to follow us and once we passed under the railroad trestle that guards the bay on which the portage is located, we found ourselves on Little Cauchon Lake proper. A slight breeze greeted us and the flies diminished. Ahhh, relief!
Little Cauchon Lake is narrow, but was calm and wide enough to paddle in the middle without being molested by the flies, the slight breeze helped and the paddling became enjoyable again. The sun began to break through the clouds more and more and it looked as if the rain was finished for the day. The lake itself seemed unimpressive, an interesting shape for sure, but the shoreline, especially along the North shore where the rail bed was, had a scrubby appearance to it. The lone campsite along the North shore was on a small point that jutted out onto the lake and was fairly level and close to the water.
A neighbouring campsite across the lake on the South shore, looked closed-in and buggy, especially with the many cedar trees crowding the campsite. The next campsite along the South shore was a real treat though; chosen for its location it was an interesting one, the campsite rested on an outcropping of Canadian Shield rock that sloped down to the water's edge. There seemed to be little privacy on that campsite, exposed as it was and even less level ground, it would definitely make for a nice stop on a warm August evening I would think.
By 3:05pm, we came around a bend as the lake began to open up and as we did so a sound reached our ears; A hum of some machinery could be heard and as we paddled closer to a point, a cabin could be seen. To the left of the point was the friendly yellow sign denoting the portage to our final destination: Gouinlock Lake. We pronounced it "Gwenlock", as I'm not sure what else my tongue was capable of pronouncing in this instance!
3:10pm and we landed at the take-out amid the noise of what seemed to be a water pump from the nearby cottage(If that's what it was), Neither of us had no idea that there were cottages this far in the interior and guessed they utilized the rail-bed to access them.
We loaded up and started along the trail, noticing almost immediately a large dump of trash barely 10 meters from the trail. The trash looked old, containing old looking bottles and rusty tins. I left speculation behind as to the source and headed 'up' the trail which started to climb rapidly. Joan voiced her concern that we might be able to hear the noise on our lake. We had planned to stay there for four nights, relaxing and fishing, I hoped we wouldn't hear the noise either. We had come a long way to escape modern noise, a very long way indeed.
The trail though muddy and tricky to manoeuvre in a few spots was free from obstruction, though the trek wasn't too hard, the trail climbed and climbed some more then dropped down, then climbed another ridge again, before finally levelling off. The trail then twisted on its last section as it made its way to the lake. Just a few meters before reaching the lake, I came upon the remains of a bush cabin, its roof having collapsed long ago and a few trees having fallen onto it. I took a shaky picture or two and finished my portage, took a gulp of water and a handful of gorp then started back for the canoe.
The trek back down the trail revealed a secondary muddy trail heading towards what I thought might be the cottage or perhaps the neighbouring portage to Windermere Lake. Nevertheless there were two signs indicating that the right path was the correct one to follow and I turned my way down the right fork. Upon arrival back at Little Cauchon Lake, I spied another cabin across the lake. Then I spied another, the more I looked the more I noticed. I stopped looking and picked up my canoe and headed up the trail.
I had been working out for two months straight previous to this trip in preparation of a tough canoe trip I had been invited on in July. My canoe although still a heavy beast, was quite manageable on my shoulders. The weight-loss of just over 10 lb. coupled with some muscle gain did well to aid me in my carry up to Gouinlock Lake. I had much more energy and power too; my strength had increased somewhat. Finally… I was able to put my body to the test and see the end result of two months of hard work.
Despite my increased strength and energy I was exhausted, both of us were, I had worked 10 hrs the day before then drove to Ottawa from Toronto in the night, got a lousy sleep of about three hours, then got up early to drive to the access point, so it was by 4:20pm that we launched onto a peaceful Gouinlock Lake, we were both very grateful.
Just under 6 hrs from our launch on Cedar Lake to Gouinlock Lake. I would use our time as the absolute slowest one could do to reach this lake. It can probably be reached in as little as four and a half hours with single carry and a much more energized group.
Blue skies and glassy waters greeted us as we paddled towards the North shore site, I was hoping for an excuse to camp on the South shore site. It didn't take long as we approached the campsite we could see that it was somewhat sheltered along the North shore and with the bugs about we headed directly for the south shore site which was on a point.
4:30pm and we landed..surveyed the campsite and began to unload, we were home for four nights! The bugs were there but were kind to us as we set about the task of setting up camp. Of course they were kind to us, they were luring us in!
The campsite was quite nice with three tent pads, the highest one turned out to be the flattest one, yet was located right below the thunder-box, so we took the one closest to the water, furthest from the thunder-box. Upon inspecting the thunder-box though, it was discovered that an animal (Most likely a porcupine) had chewed a hole through the box and was extricating debris from the box itself. Inside the thunder-box I noticed a green propane cylinder inside. I surmised it was the last people to camp at the site who had left the cylinder, as the cylinder was free from debris and was on the top of the 'pile'.
I shook my head at the carelessness of my fellow campers. I've seen this kind of disregard before. What is odd though was that the rest of the campsite was well taken care of, including a small supply of firewood covered by a huge sheet of birch bark. The campsite looked immaculate.
Overall the campsite is very rocky and many tripping opportunities exist, especially around the fire-pit area, one must be careful there. The fire-pit itself was vast with large back rock and a few grills in great condition, the bench was also in good shape and our canoe chairs were all that was needed for comfy seating arrangements.
The landing(s) were both nice, one side was a mossy slope down to the water with shallow rocky waters. The other landing was all Canadian Shield rock with a deep drop-off to one side. The rocks had many different levels and were great to sit on. It was a great evening that night on Gouinlock Lake, the songs of spring peepers sang from the shorelines around us, where it was marshy. We were treated to a decent sunset as we enjoyed the fruits of our labour to get to Gouinlock Lake; Joan & I were enjoying cold beer (Courtesy of Miller Genuine Draft [yuck!] in plastic bottles) and burgers over the fire. It was a nice way to end a long and wet day.
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