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Canoe Routes
Algonquin Park: Western Front PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 August 2004 19:00
Friends tell me I have a competitive edge and I can't deny it. Take paddling for instance. How many other people do you know instinctively begin to paddle faster the moment they see another canoe ahead of them on the horizon? Start humming the Jaws theme song as they close in on hapless paddlers out for a leisurely dip? Or try to make their strokes seem effortless as they glide by their splashing prey?

Not too many I bet. But I do. I can't help myself.

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Moose!
Often that skill has come in handy in the past. Especially in Algonquin Park where overnight permits are issued up to the exact number of campsites on any given lake leaving latecomers paddling out to each and every marked site till they find one that's still available. It's nice knowing my paddling skills are good enough to often overtake a less-experienced canoeist in a race for a spot for the night if need be.

As a result, I wasn't too worried this past Canada Day when my girlfriend Aline and I reached Misty Lake after finishing the last portage of our day around 4PM. We were on the second-last day of a 60KM loop along the Petawawa River and back through Misty, White Trout and Timberwolf Lakes and we were looking forward to a little rest and relaxation. The sun was shining. It was early. And there were plenty of campsites on Misty Lake. So off we started for our preferred island spot about two kilometers off. That is, of course, until I spotted another canoe far off in the distance paddling across the lake from another direction heading toward the same campsite. The cheek! The nerve! And so my pace quickened. And my strokes cut deeper through the water as our two canoes both beelined for the island campsite we could see was still beckoning us. I urged Aline onward as I could see this was not going to be an easy contest as the other couple bore down on the site with the same determination as us intent on getting there first. It was with a sinking feeling I realized with 500 meters to go that this was a race we were going to lose. There was no way we were going to overtake the other canoe. In terms of a campsite, (insert groan here) we were up the creek without a paddle.

So we pulled out the map and examined our options. Of the four campsites in our near vicinity, three were already taken and a fourth was hidden around a bend in the lake. So off we started for it hoping it would still be available.

As we rounded the point our efforts were rewarded. The campsite, hidden in a grassy bay on the northwest side of the lake, was open. Better still, munching contentedly among the reeds further down the bay, was a beautiful bull moose. Its rack of antlers dipping down everytime the animal grazed below the waterline. The late afternoon sun dancing off its hide and shimmering across the water. And there were we, witnessing it only because we had lost in our race to get to a particular campsite.

But now a new urge swelled in my veins. How close could we get to this beast? One hundred meters? Fifty? Closer still? Unfortunately, the extent of my moose knowledge was about on par with my knowledge of piloting a spaceship. Nil.

How close was safe? Sure, I reasoned, we could always outpaddle it if it charged. Or could we?

Sitting comfortably in the stern, I could always make sure the charging beast got to Aline first but I was pretty sure that wouldn't go down too well with her parents or our friends if I escaped unscathed while she was devoured. No wait, moose were herbivores. So at least she wouldn't be eaten. Just trampled.

Decisions. Decisions. I finally proposed to Aline that we quietly paddle to within a safe 100 meters and reevaluate.

Ever so slowly we silently paddled closer to the still grazing moose. And then a little closer. And then a little closer still until ten minutes later we had finally inched our way to within about 70 meters and as close as either of us dared to go.

And it was there, on the glistening water while silently taking photo after photo of the magnificent moose, that it dawned on me. Canoeing doesn't have to be about paddling 40KM in a day or finishing a brutal bug-infested portage faster than the next guy or outpaddling another canoeist to a campsite first. Sometimes canoeing is about enjoying the majesty of your surroundings.

Sometimes losing a race is better than winning one.
 
Madawaska Highlands: Big Gull Lake PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 30 June 2003 19:00
For Canada Day 2003, Fiona and I stayed close to home and paddled the 90 km loop of the Mississippi River route known alternatively as the Big Gull, Kashwakamak or Crotch Lake Loop.

The sunset view westward toward the Narrows on Crotch Lake. Check out more photos here. Over four days and three nights, we looped around six lakes and eight portages through the Canadian Shield scenery - and weather - of Eastern Ontario.

I mention weather because for my first time, a thunder and lightning deluge forced us to take shelter in a cove just an hour into our trip. When it slowed to a drizzle a half hour later, we pushed on and made it halfway down Big Gull Lake before settling for the night just past Long Island and scant minutes before another rainstorm. Thankfully we experienced no more rain the rest of the trip.

Big Gull Lake is known for its gusty winds and we were glad to leave it for the takeout to Shoepack Joe Lake and our longest portage of the trip at 1250 meters. After pond-hopping through Shoepack Joe, we found the right cottage road to Kashwakamak Lake with a little help from some local cottagers. With the wind at our backs finally, we made good time heading eastward before settling on pretty little island near the Kashwakamak Lake Dam.

Canada Day Tuesday found us trekking through four shorter portages along Farm and Mud Lakes before we emerged again at the north end of Crotch Lake. Easily the most picturesque of the chain of lakes, we meandered about before settling on an island campsite east of Narrows Point.

It's a campsite worth recommending with gorgeous views of both the rising and setting sun, a spot for cliff diving, a privvy and decent campfire.
 
Madawaska Highlands: Crotch Lake PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 20 August 2002 19:00
A sticky hot humidity hung like a thick wool blanket over Ottawa the third week of August. Sweat dripped from every pore in my body and there wasn't even the hint of a cool breeze anywhere in sight.

Sigh. What better time for a canoe getaway?

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View from campsite 51 on Green Island
So my friend Aline and I headed out to Crotch Lake for an overnight getaway. Located about two hours west of Ottawa in the Madawaska highlands, the inelegantly-named Crotch Lake is a perfect place for a weekend stay. The lake has over 50 campsites, a rockdiving spot at Long Island and an aptly-named Blueberry Island all within a half-hour paddle of the launch located in the southern bay.

After finding a site we liked on Green Island, Aline and I set up camp and felt the heat of the city disappear. With our heads poking out the tent staring at the stars, we gradually fell asleep watching a firm wind blow clouds across the sky.

Heaven.
 
Beaver Valley: Beaver River PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 13 July 2002 19:00
Now that my sister and favorite paddling partner Judy has a seven-month baby boy, it's gonna be a couple of years before we're able to partake in an overnight canoe trip.

But that doesn't mean she can't get away for a half-day once in a while . . .

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Judy poses on the Beaver River.
So to help get her over the fact she hadn't gone paddling in over a year, I suggested we canoe the Beaver River, named by the Hurons after the numerous beaver they found along its banks and which are still abundant. Flowing all the way to Georgian Bay, the steep gradiant in some sections of the river provided a source of water power for the mills that located there when the Beaver Valley was settled in the 1840's and 1850's. Carved through a pre-glacial valley, this gently flowing river is perfect for novice paddlers and offers panoramic views of the Niagara Escarpment and the surrounding countryside.

The route we decided to paddle was the 20km section between the hamlets of Kimberley (conveniently located near our folks' family home) and Heathcote.

The route itself meandered as one would expect over numerous beaver dams during the first couple of hours before opening up to a few fields towards the end.

For us the trip ended up being a five-hour wildlife paddle as we saw:
  • one beaver,
  • three turtles,
  • three black cuckoos,
  • sandpipers,
  • ducks,
  • three tires,
  • one blue heron that we chased along the river,
  • two turkey buzzards,
  • hundreds of minnows and
  • one bull with a hefty package.
The wilderness it's not, but for a couple of hours anyway, it's pretty close.
 
Adirondack Park: St. Regis Wilderness PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 03 September 2001 19:00
Trekking abroad for the first time, my girlfriend Fiona and I decided on a canoe trip in the Adirondack mountains of New York State during the Labor Day weekend of 2001. Specifically, the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area, home to over 25 flatwater ponds and channels and several historic routes.

Morning mist on Little Green Pond. Check out more photos here. Our plan was to try a variation of the nine-carries route with a side trip hike up St. Regis mountain - until we realized the Adirondack Canoe Map we were basing our trip on was hopelessly out of scale.

Fortunately we ran into an American couple our first night on Little Green Pond who helped us plan a more realistic route for our three night stay.

Our modified route looped through Hoel, Long, Little Fish and St. Regis Ponds along with a hike up St. Regis mountain on our final day.

It's cold up in the Adironacks in early September I found out to my chagrin. I really envied Fiona's fuzzy hat after the first night and bought one for myself before we headed out to Hoel Pond.

Because this was my first trip with Fiona, I didn't want to subject her to the tortuous pace I'm accustomed to so we lesiurely paddled through Hoel, Turtle, Slang and Long Ponds our first day on the water. After setting up camp, we explored our two options for the route to Fish Pond the next day. Good thing too because we soon found out that the shorter route with the two long portages was far too wet to try. That meant we hopped through Nellie, Kit Fox and Little Long Ponds the following day before camping on a hidden plateau site along the creek that flows from Fish Pond. Day three found us heading back to St. Regis Pond and having our pick of sites as all Labor Day campers had left the area. Despite having the option of two lean-tos with roofs, toilets and a grill, we decided on a more traditional site with a nice rock slab for sunning. After signing out our last morning back at Little Clear Pond, we hiked two hours up St. Regis Mountain. Steep climb. But worth it.
 
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