Last month, I embarked on my most ambitious solo backcountry trip to date. This time around, I chose a nine day, 30+ portage canoe trip to Ranger Lake and the Algoma Headwaters region in northern Ontario.
Some of the main trip highlights included some beautiful native Brook Trout and Lake Trout, no bugs (still too early for them!), great weather aside from some below freezing overnight lows, a couple injuries, taking a swim in some muck and some seriously challenging (and confusing) portages.
You can read the full trip report on the page linked below:
With resident trout season now wrapped up, this will be the first of a series of posts I’ll be writing as I work through a backlog of content from 2022. This particular trip happened in May of this year.
It’s been several years since my last backcountry trips. Although I had full intentions on returning to spend more time exploring and fishing in recent years, my plans were ultimately derailed by a major knee injury, a canoe partner moving away, COVID and… several other poor exuses.
With my knee repaired, rehabbed and stronger than ever – I decided to scrap the excuses and head out on my own solo backcountry adventure for the first time this May. This wouldn’t be your Average Joe’s first solo backcountry adventure though – but a 6 day, ~70 km loop (closer to 100 km with double carries and detours) with 12 portages, one being the longest in the park (5.5 km). The goal, aside from enjoying the scenery and peace and quiet, would be getting into some brookies.
You could definitely argue that I overdid it for my first solo trip – my family certainly thought so. But, what I lacked in experience, I made up for in (a lot of) planning and preparation. I poured over maps, created detailed day by day trip, time and meal plans – and attempted to perfect my gear/load as much as possible. However, try as I did, I simply could not find a way to cut it down enough to allow for single carries on the portages.
My route would be : Opeongo ➔ Proulx ➔ Big Crow ➔ Lavieille ➔ Dickson ➔ Opeongo (with a bunch of smaller lakes and rivers in between). With double carries, I would be covering a total of 30 km on the portages alone. I’d start off on a couple lakes that I visited in the past, continuing on to some of the more picturesque areas of the park, with some opportunities for casting a fly rod. Given I was doing this solo in May, when the water was still cold, I again opted to use Algonquin Outfitters’ water taxi service to bypass Lake Opeongo.
What follows is a fairly detailed recollection of my trip. It’s going to be a long one, so grab a cup of coffee before diving in.
Day 1: Opeongo to Big Crow
I left home early AM and arrived at the Algonquin Outfitters Opeongo access point plenty early to set off for the north arm of Lake Opeongo by 12:00 noon. I picked up a couple last minute items in the store while they strapped the canoe I rented (a 15′ Swift Solo Keewaydin) to the water taxi. As I had come to expect from previous backcountry trips, the weather was predictably cold and rainy on my first day. I think it’s a way for mother nature to prepare you for what’s to come… if you can survive and enjoy the first day, the rest of the trip will probably be a breeze!
I was going to start this blog post out with “as expected”, but this trip started out with the unexpected. As planned, we did manage to get away to Algonquin Provincial Park last week for a few days of backcountry paddling, portaging, hiking and wildlife viewing. This is the second year in a row that we chose Big Crow as a destination, since bad weather prevented us from doing much exploring last year.
The idea was to set out Thursday bright and early, driving about 3.5 hours to the Opeongo Lake access point. As luck would have it, I came down with a cold Tuesday, which led to a severe lack of sleep and general feeling of being run down Thursday morning. With almost no sleep and the cold still lingering, we would have to postpone the trip by at least one day, or at worst cancel the trip altogether.
After getting a bit of sleep Thursday afternoon, I was feeling a bit better. However, come Thursday night, I began to feel hot. I took my temperature several times, expecting to have a fever, but everything looked normal. I was convinced we needed to turn the air conditioning on in the house, but everyone else was cold. Lying in bed at night was uncomfortably hot, so much that it affected my sleep for the second night in a row. My alarm was set for 5:15 am and when it went off, I awoke with a total of 2.5 hours of sleep. Aside from this, I was feeling surprisingly well: it seemed that the worst of my cold was behind me. Against my better judgement, I decided to stick to the plans and we set out at just after 5:30 am for Algonquin.
The drive up Friday was relatively uneventful. We grabbed a Timmies breakfast and slipped out of the GTA before rush hour traffic. We had booked a 10:00 am water taxi from Algonquin Outfitters to take us from the Opeongo Lake access point to the Proulx Lake portage. Last year, we decided to canoe across Opeongo Lake and while it was a great experience, it just doesn’t make much sense to spend half a day paddling this giant lake when you can zoom across it in 30 minutes with a water taxi.
We reached the access point at 9:30 and we rushed to get everything ready for the taxi at 10:00. The boat ride across Opeongo was chilly… a brisk cold wind blowing in my face for 30 minutes was just the ticket to wake me up and give me some energy for the portage and paddling that lie ahead.
At the Opeongo – Proulx Lake portage, 10:45 am Friday
Last fall, a friend and I took our first Algonquin Park interior trip, which took us from Opeongo Lake to Big Crow Lake and back over the course of 3 days. During that trip, we endured mostly days of heavy rain, cold weather and a long canoe trip across Opeongo Lake (rather than using a water taxi). The result was a great experience, but not a lot of time left for exploring and relaxing. This friend has since moved to San Francisco, but is headed back for a week in June and we decided to fit a 4 day Algonquin Trip in while he’s here.
Though we considered some new routes this time around, a few factors contributed to choosing the same route as last year, with some day trips thrown in. First, the canoe trip to Big Crow seems to be a good one for spotting wildlife (even though we were not so lucky last year). The Crow River in particular is a shallow marshy area that is popular among Moose that inhabit the area. In addition to this, we decided to rent the ranger cabin on Big Crow Lake, which is situated in an ideal spot for easy access to hiking trails and other rivers, lakes and portages for day trips. It may also come in handy as a refuge from the swarms of Black Flies and other biting insects that will likely be out in full force during our stay.
Regarding the insects, I’ve never been to Algonquin at this time of year and as mentioned, it generally an extremely buggy time with peak mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies and other nasty biters all trying to make a meal of you. For this reason, the park is usually much more empty than normal, with most visitors opting to wait for July or August when the bugs die down. A few (billion) bugs aren’t going to scare me off, though I will certainly be armed with this trusty bug shirt:
The Original Bug Shirt, my safety net against the hordes of biting insects
In addition to Algonquin being virtually empty, the biting insects also drive Moose out of the thick forests and into the open at this time of year, meaning wildlife viewing should be at its best. The brook trout fishing should also be fairly good, with fish still in shallower areas of the lakes and rivers. The fly rod will definitely be coming along and hopefully I’ll finally get acquainted with a few of the fabled Algonquin brookies.
Not a very original title, but this was the theme of our backcountry trip to Algonquin Provincial Park last weekend. As planned (almost), we headed out Thursday after work. The idea was to leave Mississauga before 4:00 pm to beat the worst of rush-hour traffic, but due to some last minute hang-ups at work, we didn’t end up leaving until after 6:00 pm. Off to a late start, but at least we still managed to avoid traffic.
I’ve been to Algonquin a couple times in the past and it really doesn’t get much easier as far as driving directions go. Highway 400 to Barrie, Highway 11 to Huntsville, Highway 60 into Algonquin. Seriously, it should be virtually impossible to screw this up. Well, thanks to modern technology (in the form of my buddy’s GPS), we actually managed to screw it up!
We took the scenic route thanks to an unreliable GPS
I don’t quite remember why we decided to keep following the GPS, or even turn it on in the first place. Perhaps it was the excitement or lack of concentration due to constant chattering during the car ride. Whatever the reason, this devilish device decided to take us more than an hour out of our way, directly south of Algonquin Park and eventually trying to turn us into a private driveway that it thought was a road. Since there are no entrances to Algonquin south of the park, we had no choice but to drive back the way we came. On the positive side, we had the opportunity to see at least a half dozen deer, which would turn out to be the most wildlife we observed the entire trip. However, it also meant that a would-be 3.5 hour trip turned into nearly 7 hours (if you count our stop for dinner)!
It’s been rainy and miserable the last few days, so I haven’t gotten out for any more fishing this week. Instead, I’ve been planning an extended weekend canoe/portage trip!
This is something I’ve always wanted to do: portage into the Algonquin Provincial Park back country. However, I haven’t really been able to find anyone adventurous enough to do it with; and I’m certainly not about to solo a trip like this, at least not for my first few attempts.
Well, I’ve finally found a victim (I mean companion) to endure this experiment with me and we’re planning to do a 3 day trip, leaving Thursday, September 13th. I’ve done some limited camping in Algonquin’s developed campsites in the past, but I’m completely unfamiliar with its interior. Along with Google, the following book has been my main planning reference so far: