Another early, beautiful Saturday morning! We were doing well with the routine, getting up, making tea, making the fresh lunch for later that day. We opted to have Tim Horton’s drive-through for our breakfast sandwiches – that maple biscuit sandwich sounded delicious! (Yeah, not so much so.) We headed out, hit the Tim Horton’s in Bells Corners then made our way to the 417.
But the noise! The horrible, awful noise that was coming from the canoe on top of the car! The straps were vibrating so loudly we had to yell at each other to be heard. It was truly unbearable. We struggled through this until we stopped in Cobden and LT decided to put a twist in each strap. Aha! We’d been given valuable information in disguise and did not recognize it until now. We got back in the car, headed out on the highway and the noise was gone! Phew!
The drive to Deux-Rivieres is much further than getting to the Sand Lake Gate. I had a 2006 version of a popular atlas to help give us an idea about how far we’d gone and how much further there was. It took several hours until we were off the highway and at the office getting our permit. I used the bathroom, last toilet I would get to use for a few days, I thought. Back on the gravel road, we went 18 km in to the left turn off to Wendigo Lake. Wendigo is not in Algonquin Park.
We met our first obstacle on that road. Water from the swamp on either side covered the low point of the road, not once, but three times. LT got out to test how deep the water was before driving the car through. We parked our car and realized that there were already a lot of people out on the water. The parking lot was more full than I expected. I pulled out my camera as LT did his preparation. I grabbed my backpack and carried it down to the lake. There was a cement ramp here for people to put motorboats in (I assume). Then I heard an “Oh no!”
|Concrete boat ramp
I get very excited about these trips and I was trying to contain that excitement as we loaded up the canoe. I was taking pictures of daisies and the lake, happy-happy! We finally got into the canoe and out on the lake. Despite the number of cars we’d seen in the parking lot, we didn’t see anyone on the lake. We made our way down the lake to the end, did the 180m portage into Allen Lake quite easily. Happy-happy!
We didn’t even have half the lake length to go before our first black portage ever! Yeah, this is not something to get excited about. They are tough and we were going to learn that. We thought we’d learn it today, but it was a lesson we’d learn even harder tomorrow. This one looked like it went straight up the side of a tough hill. We did all our carries as double carries today. This portage was 665m and we could hear the North River cascading to our left. It was a bumpy portage, going from 310m to 340m just before the end. We set in to the river.
This would be my first trip on this type of river, marshy, winding left and right and left and right again, where you wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn. As we approached the next portage LT suggested we go into the river just a bit, tie up and eat lunch there. At first I balked (I claim reflexes made me do it). Once I realized we were going upstream and wouldn’t be tossed down some impassible rocky rapid, I was okay with the idea and very glad we did it.
|North River - mucky put-in
The start of the portage was barely discernible from the shore. We could see the sign, but long weeds required some orientation to get onto land. This would be our longest portage we’d ever done (tomorrow would exceed this one). 1305m, it went from 338m to 352m in height. It was more overgrown than what we’d ever seen before. Baby trees growing up to waist high filled the trail and we struggled with the heat, the bugs and the slow progress. I had my homemade bug hat on. I was wearing a long sleeved white Columbia shirt, and I was getting warm.
|So close but yet so far
Out of the middle of nowhere, we crossed a dirt road, with a practically brand new bridge over the river, still at our left. We dropped our bags and had a bit of a rest. LT decided to go back for the canoe and I did some exploring. I walked over the bridge, took pictures of the river, up and down. I decided to follow the rest of the portage to see how far it was. It wasn’t! I went back and struggled to get my backpack on. I can carry it, but picking it up from the ground and putting it on by myself, is something I can’t do easily.
I had decided to bring my hiking poles along for this trip (thank GOD!). I found a small bump in the ground, lifted my bag onto it, sat on the lower ground with my back to the bag and slipped my arms into the shoulder straps. Then I used my hiking poles to stand up. Did it! I walked the rest of the distance to the portage end and tucked my bag out of the way under a tree, one of the few dry spots. Another feature of black portages is the put-ins. This one was a muddy one. I walked back to LT’s backpack. His is much heavier than mine. I needed a different strategy to get his on my back.
I sat flat on the ground and put my arms through his backpack straps. I couldn’t lift it up on the same mound I used for my own bag. Fortunately I was alone for the contortions I would go through to stand up with it. First I rolled over onto my hands and knees with my hands being on higher ground than my knees. I straightened my legs and slowly pushed away from the higher ground to stand up. Holy cow his bag was heavy! I carried it to the portage end and gladly dropped it next to mine.
More than anything I wanted to get some body parts into the rushing water to try to cool down. I went back to the bridge to see if I could crawl down one side to the water’s edge. No luck. I went back to the portage end thinking I could walk over the muck to some rocks, by then LT was coming back with the canoe. We had a bit of a snack then loaded the canoe and continued on.
The river was the same as we’d experienced before the portage, winding, the weeds and grass bending with the flow we were paddling against. It didn’t seem very strong, but it was pretty constant. We had some distance to paddle, impossible to tell how far on the map with the winding back and forth.
|Underwater grass indicating the river flow
Around one of the earlier corners we saw him – a great, big male moose! He was on the right bank of the river, eating his fill of plants. He immediately started to cross to the left side of the river. Just before the bank, he stopped and looked at us, almost to say “do I really need to move for these guys?” He did move, he climbed up on the bank and disappeared in the woods.
I had managed to get my camera out and got some good shots. I had my small camera, not my bigger DSLR. It’s pretty heavy and I didn’t want to take a chance on this long of a trip with it.
|My first moose-in-the-wild sighting - he's a beaut!
We continued on the river, pretty thrilled we’d seen that majestic, strong moose. He would be one of three we’d see on this trip. After what seemed like hours, I could hear rushing water around the corner. I got excited - the next portage was a short one and would lead us into North River Lake. Yahoo! Almost there!
Nope. It was a beaver dam that was across the full river. There was no way except to climb over it. We went from left to right back to left to decide where to get out of the canoe and lift it over. This is something we’d never had to do before. It was tough, but something we could tick off the backcountry canoe camping list!
Another corner, more rushing water, more false hope, another beaver dam. But by now we were pros. We saw a moose at this point in the river as well. By the time we got over the dam he was gone.
Finally we came upon the portage. 75m in length, it had a campsite on it which was as poor as the map advertised. We put into the lake and paddled looking at the beautiful landscape. We decided on a campsite close to the portage site into Merganser Lake, the first portage we would do tomorrow. The site had a lot of logs set up as benches, and several tables at various heights. It looked like there had been a blow down of a bunch of trees within the last few years and the park rangers had made the most of the downed trees by making them furniture. We went back out in the canoe to get water to filter.
We looked at the site, trying to decide where the tents would go. Because of all the downed logs, we decided to not put up the mosquito shelter. LT would make a campfire to keep the bugs away. They weren’t that bad so far. A bit of a breeze from the lake was keeping a lot of them away. But they were there. LT had brought his saw and a newly purchased hatchet. We figured that the campsites we’d be at wouldn’t have high traffic so there’d be more deadfall for us to use for campfires.
I started the water filtration system going, I was going to have to boil the water before putting it in the Nalgene bottles we carried. I was very lucky. When I first started putting boiling water in my bottle, I foolishly picked it up by the open lid and the bottle slipped out of the warmed noose of the lid and splashed the newly boiled (and not cooled) water onto my face as it hit the table. I was fortunate the water cooled slightly when it flew through the air and I was only very slightly burned. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
We had pizza for dinner. I had purchased an “oven” at MEC to use with my stove. It came with a metal diffuser that sits on top of the flame and a fabric tea cosy-like cover with a hole in the top. It is designed to go over a certain pot, which I didn’t have, that has a top on it where you place the loonie-sized button style thermometer. I couldn’t get it set up properly and we could smell the metallic fabric burning slightly. We played around with it and managed to cook the pizza without burning it too badly on the bottom. It was delicious anyways. Dessert was the favourite banana nut bread pudding. We lingered around the fire and went to bed around 10. It was going to be a really long day tomorrow.
|Pizza oven in action