East to West, South of 60
It was during our annual family Algonquin Canoe trip in 2014 that my nephew and I started talking about doing an across-the-park type trip. We laid the map on the ground and started to brainstorm ideas. My nephew, Evan, came up with the idea of starting in Whitney and going west. I thought it would be a good idea since the route would take us to some lakes we hadn't been to in a long time and into a few lakes where we had never been.
By the time our canoe trip was over, we had agreed that we were going to do this trip. The question was what time of the year should we do it? I suggested we should go around my birthday since we would have the longest daylight hours. "Aren't the bugs bad that time of year?" I remembered he asked. "Not really." I replied "I've been up here the last few years and I didn't think that they were that bad. However, we might want to get bug suits."
Day 1: Galeairy Lake
We were up before 5:30 a.m. and on the road shortly after 6:00 a.m. After a few stops along the way, we were at the East Gate around noon. As we registered I remarked to the staff that the park seemed eerily quiet. She laughed as she asked if we'd brought a lot of bug spray. I assured her we were well covered, as we had bug suits and lots of bug spray. We got our permit and headed to Whitney.
We had a quick lunch by the dock, as we unloaded the truck and canoe. The canoe was packed and ready to go by 12:45 p.m. We said "See you at Tea Lake" to my wife, who then left us so she could spend 3 nights on Cannisbay Lake in her kayak. We were off.
It was a sunny day, with a slight wind from the west, which made the first leg of our trip a bit of a challenge. But nothing was too drastic that we couldn't overcome.
Our first night would be spent on Galeairy Lake. We were hoping to get campsite 9 on Galeairy Lake (according to the Algonquin Adventures PCI maps), since that was where we had spent our first-ever backcountry nights in Algonquin.
Unfortunately it didn't happen, since it was being used by some fisherman at the time. We tried waiting them out. But after 15 minutes, we decided a new campsite would have to do. In the end we decided that campsite 3 would work for us. We chilled for a little bit and enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze before we decided to set up camp. When that was done I suggested that it was time for an afternoon siesta since we were going on only 4 hours sleep. Evan eagerly agreed.
We woke up after an hour and decided to make dinner. Evan cooked the Mr. Noodles with the Kelly Kettle, and I cooked the steak on the Primus stove. After we cleaned everything up we decided to head out in the canoe for a couple of hours to get away from the bugs. Unfortunately, when we returned to the campsite the mosquitoes were still there. We put on our bug suits and decided to have a little campfire and talked as the mosquitoes buzzed away.
Day 2: Lake Galeairy - Whitefish Lake
We got up early in the morning and had a nice big feed of eggs, back bacon and a bunch of coffee. We broke camp before 9 and headed towards Whitefish Lake. We were at the 100m portage into Rock Lake in less then 20 minutes and did it all in one carry. We were proud of that fact, although it took us about ten minutes to get organised to do that.
Rock Lake was a pleasure to travel. The sun was shining and there was no wind and we made great time. We entered Whitefish Lake and as we were travelling up the west side I noticed two pointy things on the weedy shore. I asked Evan what he thought they were. Evan was about to reply when a cow moose suddenly stood up and a calf ran to it and started nursing. We glided by from a safe distance and I tried to snag a picture of it. Regrettably, the four pictures that I got were of no great value. We watched for a little bit until they decided they had enough of us and sauntered into the forest. Evan turned to me and said "We could hear them breathing!"
We got to the island campsite on Whitefish Lake before noon. It was perfect timing as there was a group vacating it. So we waited till they left before we claimed it. We set up camp and had lunch. We spent a couple hours relaxing before we went out in the canoe for a couple of hours to explore a bit and fish.
When we returned we had a nice meal of dehydrated pulled pork wraps, with another camp fire. We enjoyed the sunset and went to bed early, knowing that the first two easy days were out of our way.
Day 3: Whitefish Lake - Tanamakoon Lake
I woke up at 5:45 a.m. another year older. I woke Evan up at 6:00 a.m. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, we broke camp by 7. It was another great morning of paddling.
We made great time and Lake of Two Rivers was the smoothest I've ever seen it.
Everything was going great until we got on the Madawaska River. When we did the first portage I was very close to setting my Duluth Pack on human feces, which caused me to be slightly peeved. When we hit the second portage we noticed that the mosquitoes were very bad. We carried on up the Madawaska River, to where we thought we found the split on the river that would take us to Cache Lake. We manoeuvred over our first beaver dam thinking our way was the correct route, until it got really narrow.
We both got out our maps and thought that we needed to retreat and start again. After 5 more beaver dams we found the portage to Head Creek. Unfortunately, this was not the route that we wanted. I took out my compass, that I have had for 20 years, to find out that it was broken. After I got done swearing, Evan told me that he had 3 compasses on him which made me laugh. So with his guidance, we retreated again and returned to the area where we previously were and figured out where we had made our wrong turn. After numerous more beaver dams, we finally found our way towards Cache Lake.
We crossed Cache Lake with ease and were at the island campsite on Tanamakoon Lake by 3:00p.m. Finally, it was time to relax. We sat out on our beach front bar for a couple of hours enjoying the sun and the water and watched all the action of the boats that were travelling around the lake.
Regrettably, it was at this time that I decided to tell my nephew about my birthday tradition of going for a swim. He understood that it was time for him to sneak away as I went for a quick skinny dip. Sadly, I also talked him into snagging a picture of me in a birthday pose that I had thought of. We laughed about that picture all night.
We had a small campfire after dinner and went to the tent at 9:00 p.m. The timing was perfect because 10 minutes later it started to rain.
Day 4 Tanamakoon Lake - Tea Lake Campground
We had a lazy morning and after a big breakfast of back bacon and eggs we were on the water by 9 a.m. It was another great day to be on the water. The portaging on the other hand was not that great at all. Our tolerance of the mosquitoes had run its course and our bug spray was running low. But like Evan said : 'They really motivate us on the portages'. We decided that regardless of the bug situation, it was better for us to double the remaining portages since we were not on a tight schedule.
When we finally got all our gear to the end of the 895 m. portage into Smoke Lake, we sat and had a big drink. The wind was blowing so hard at us that it actually blew my Tilley off. The whitecaps were big and rolling hard. We debated what we were going to do, since we have never had a wind bound day. We decided we would go for it, but that if things got a little out of hand we would quickly retreat. It took a lot of muscle and some strategic canoeing but once we got to the west side of Smoke Lake we were very grateful.
It was a nice relaxing paddle up Smoke Creek and we finally beached the canoe at Tea Lake Campground at noon. We waited for my wife to arrive so we could spend two nights relaxing at Tea Lake Campground. We relaxed on the beach and I do believe I mentioned something to Evan about this thing they call 'The Brent Run'. He said he's game.