Friday - Day 1
After registering at the office at Access Point 1, I set off at about 7:00 AM across Kawawaymog under partially-cloudy skies. A cold front and a rainstorm Thursday night had reduced the heat and humidity of the previous weeks to a very pleasant mid-twenties temperature. A pair of Merlins rose from a pine on the north side of the lake and circled briefly as if to welcome me. Everywhere the goldenrods were in full bloom, a bittersweet reminder that autumn is not far off.
Water levels in Kawawaymog and at the entrance to the Amable du Fond "River" (hard to think of it as more than a creek, especially in comparison to the torrent that goes by the same name outside the Park boundary to the north!) were unusually low, requiring some wading through the first hundred metres or so when you reach the creek mouth. On the other hand, the low water made it possible to walk the canoe back to the access point dock on the return trip, should the famous West Wind make paddling too difficult!
The paddle to the first portage was uneventful. Along the creek I met the first of about 15 canoes which I would encounter between Kawawaymog and North Tea. The first portage was jammed with several parties all on their way out of the Park, requiring me to wait and reflect a bit on "portage etiquette". I imagined I might see loud party-boy "Raid the North" types clashing with sour-faced Guardians of the Wilderness in Tilley hats, but they were really all just tired people eager to get home for a shower. Perhaps being away too long has made me judgemental. As it happened, the wait was worthwhile; because I discovered that the water level through the rocks there is sufficient to allow lining the canoe through without stopping and unloading. I took advantage of this discovery travelling both in and out, leaving the crowd to struggle with their loads and jockey for space on the portage trail.
At the second portage, into North Tea, again I met two or three parties on their way home. Based on experience here six or seven years ago, I was surprised to see so many people, and strictly speaking I wasn't even inside the Park boundary yet. Once through the portage, the monument to Tom Wattie and Francis-Xavier Robichaud reminds us of young lives claimed by harsher times so many years ago.
Heading out onto North Tea, it was easy paddling, especially with a light breeze at my back. I chose to follow the north shore and enjoy the presence of the trees. I stopped on the north arm of the lake at about 12:30 to refuel on Cup-of-Soups and Vegetable Thins crackers. I then continued on toward Manitou, taking the east portage (550 metres), in the belief that, despite the greater length, the footing would be less rocky, and most of it is downhill anyway! After doing a bit of sightseeing at the bottom end of the creek (which, despite the lack of a name on the map, has to be another part of the Amable du Fond in order to have continuity between Kawawaymog and Kioshkokwi, and beyond!), I continued on and made camp on a site on the east arm of Manitou, directly across from the 2800-metre portage to Three-Mile, by late afternoon.
On the hills above the lake, I noted that the hardwood foliage at the higher levels was starting to turn brown as a result of the extended dry weather this summer. Directly behind my site, I was surprised to find a couple of four-wheel-drive trucks parked, surrounded by fencing apparently intended to keep porcupines away from the tires! I assumed they belonged to unseen MNR (Ontario Parks? I'm nostalgic for the "Ministry" of the good old days...) employees working out of the small landing beside my site, but I was wrong - more about this later... After dark, a wandering moose crashing invisibly through the brush behind my site added a bit of excitement (terror?) to the evening, until I heard it splashing in the shallows near the landing. With a campfire ban in place, it was early to bed to listen to deermice exploring the walls of my tent.
Saturday - Day 2
My plan was to hike up the portage to Three-Mile and spend the day clutching my compass, doing some "exploring". About halfway up the portage, I encountered the roadway that branches off to the north, so I decided to follow this. Two hours later, I had just turned back after adding very little to my Algonquin knowledge base (except to learn that deerflies are only attracted by a moving target, and if you can tolerate them while standing still for a few seconds, the vicious devils lose interest and go away), when I heard a vehicle approaching from the north. This turned out to be two very courteous Ontario Parks people towing a trailer of four canoes to Manitou. From them I learned that a westward branch off the road which I had passed earlier actually lead right around to the landing beside my campsite, and that if I had continued to walk the road I was on without giving up, I would eventually reach Kiosk, many days later, no doubt!
I decided to take the road back to my campsite and walk around the end of the bay later to recover my canoe, which was still beached near the Three-Mile Lake portage. On the hike back, two more trucks passed me, both driven by "ordinary folks" - who WERE these people? On arriving back at the landing beside my campsite, my questions were answered - the two parked 4X4's and the two new arrivals belonged to that rare and fortunate breed, the "Algonquin leasehold cottager"; soon a motorboat arrived, places were exchanged, and two vehicles departed back up the long, long road to Kiosk. While I'd been aware of these leaseholders for many years, especially seeing how numerous these properties are on Highway 60 lakes like Rock and Canoe, I realized how little I know about the restrictions, extent, and history of this programme, which apparently ended in the early 1950's - perhaps there's material there for someone to write a book, if it hasn't already been done!
Sunday - Day 3
The day dawned with more perfect weather. Today's agenda was to paddle back to the west end of North Tea, to allow a quick exit on Monday morning to try to beat the wind and avoid wading back across Kawawaymog. This time I took the shorter portage between Manitou and North Tea, restoring old memories of this rock garden; just before I reached the landing, I saw a moose feeding in the shallows on the west side of this end of the lake.
For lunch (more Cup-of-Soups!) I stopped on one of the islands midway in the west arm of North Tea. More accurately, this island is actually a peninsula, joined to the mainland by what was, in wetter years, a bit of marshland. This site was quite large and attractive, shaded by hemlocks, my favourite of Algonquin's trees, despite their tiny needles which seem to stick to everything on damp days. I was greeted by a gang of plundering chipmunks who immediately set to work trying to find any available entry into my backpack - these little devils were unusually aggressive, I suppose because of somewhat lean conditions in their little kingdom. I soon learned that the only way to distract them was either to give them their bribes, or to toss twigs or hemlock cones somewhere just beyond the backpack where they could chase and fight over them. Or, I could just hang the backpack up, but that would be boring...
After debating whether to spend the night with Alvin, Theodore, Simon, and their thieving buddies, I decided rather to keep going in order to be as close as possible to the portage out of North Tea the following morning. Setting out against a rising breeze, I was soon facing a heavy chop on the lake. Barring the possibility of real danger and the need to go ashore, the best method in the absence of any wind-shadow is simply to keep grinding ahead, and try not to notice how slowly your destination is approaching.
Finally I reached the site I wanted, at the point where the large bay on the north edge of this part of the lake meets the western bay. This site is not the closest to the portage, but it was the most attractive of the ones available at this end of the lake. I had camped here years ago, and again I noticed that the mast from the old ground telephone system is still intact at the top of the tall pine beside the steps up from the beach. Close inspection of the rocks at the base of this tree shows that they are mortared together, the remains of an old building or retaining wall that was once located here. So much vanishing history, now overgrowing like the ancient logging roads still faintly visible in so many places .. so many changes. What would Wattie or Robichaud have thought of a big red Dodge four-wheel-drive pickup truck in the very heart of their Park, and with air conditioning, too?
It was a quiet night, the stillness broken only by the sound of acorns falling from an oak tree behind my tent, and perhaps the whispers of a few ghosts...
Monday - Day 4
I was out of the sleeping bag at 6:00 AM, skipped breakfast and was onto the water by 7:00 AM. A brief rainshower came through as I completed the portage out of North Tea, but by then getting wet was not bothersome, given how dry the land has become. The second portage was completed in a couple of minutes by lining the canoe back up the rocky channel, and I was well on my way out the creek. Birdlife along the creek seemed more apparent today. I noted Gray Jays, Black Ducks, a Blackbacked Woodpecker, and a Great Blue Heron to remind me that pterydactyls once were real. Along the shore, I found some freshly-cleaned mussel shells, perhaps the remnants of the nighttime snack of an otter or mink, and I gathered them up to take home to my little girl. At last I reached the creek mouth, caught in the usual parting dilemma between hurrying back to loved ones and dawdling for just a few more hours. My consolation was still waters on Kawawaymog, and I crossed over unopposed as the West Wind held his breath. By 10:00 AM, I was at the dock.
Text by: John Thompson
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