Cedar-Little Cedar-Aura Lee-Laurel-Little Cauchon-Carl Wilson In-and-Out
June 19 to 21, 2015 - by Cathy Quigg
This long weekend trip was to celebrate my paddling partner's birthday. With Friday off, we would depart from the Brent access point. LT made the reservations online and was surprised at how little company we would have. No one else would be on Carl Wilson Lake the first night and only one other campsite was booked for the night we were going to be staying on Cedar Lake.
The plan was to leave by 6 a.m., in order to get a quicker start on the day. But the birthday boy had trouble getting his butt out of bed. I showed up promptly at 5:30 and he pretended he hadn't just rolled out of bed. Ha!
My breakfast strategy this trip was to make egg salad the night before, put it into flour tortillas that morning, and just make tea to drink in the car. I had also filled the car with gas the night before in a torrential downpour to avoid having to stop for gas.
We missed the plan by half an hour, which wasn't too bad. We left at 6:30 a.m. and were at the permit office around 10 a.m. There were only 3 other cars in the parking lot, the quietest I've ever seen that access point. We were on the lake by 11.
The thermometer display in my car had climbed to 14 from 12 degrees Celsius. The sun was out, there were puffy clouds in the sky and the wind had subsided from 5:30 this morning when the trees were waving around quite noticeably.
More important than anything else, Cedar Lake was playing nice this morning. We would not be impeded by any wind or waves while we headed to the top of the lake. I have a lot of respect for the bigger lakes. You can't count that the going will be easy or even reasonable.
We made good progress, starting on the north shore and crossing the lake after about 15 minutes of paddling. We passed close to a small island that was obviously claimed by seagulls. They decided we were a risk to their kingdom and decided to fly around us, squawking loudly, trying to deter us away from their nesting grounds. It was pretty funny, mostly because none of them pooped on us. They got braver as we moved further away. Very much the bravado of the posturing bully when he realizes you're not going to fight him.
We made it to the island at the top of the lake with a campsite and a chimney on it. There obviously had been some sort of structure here at some point. We stopped for lunch. The paddle to get this far had taken a couple of hours. We had a really good lunch of cold meats, salami, cheese and fruit. The site is really nice. You have a view as far as you can see down Cedar Lake.
LT turned to me and said "Guess what I forgot? I forgot dinner." He had made chili earlier in the week, carefully selecting ingredients like hot Italian sausage and freezing it. But it got forgotten in the freezer. We try to pack light, but always seem to bring some food back. This trip we probably wouldn't have much coming back.
Continuing on, we set off through a small channel into Little Cedar Lake. At the top of that lake you're into a small river flowing out of Aura Lee. It has a bit of a curve and you have to paddle under a concrete train bridge that is a bit dark. It has two openings but only one is passable.
There are a couple of campsites on Aura Lee. At the top of the lake there is a creek dropping in. The portage we were taking was to the left of that. 345m. There isn't much of an incline on this portage. It has round rocks as the base in a lot of spots. You need to step carefully. We did this as a double carry, as it wasn't very far.
The next lake is Laurel Lake and it has 5 campsites. The first one we encountered was a nice looking island site. The other 4 are along the top border of the lake which we didn't see. As we were going around the corner to left of the lake we could hear water falling, but we couldn't see the source. I'm always wary around rushing water I would never want to propel myself over any waterfall! Fortunately it was falling into the lake from a source with jammed logs. It is very pretty, surrounded by forest, you just get a peek at it.
The 130m portage was just to the right of the waterfall. This portage was very uphill. Even though it wasn't far it was still challenging. On our way in we did this as a double carry. I was breathing very heavily after carrying my bag up the portage. We put in at the bottom of Little Cauchon Lake. Shortly after that, we paddled under the second train bridge. It is made of wood with only one of the four spots under the bridge passable. It looks like this was opened specifically for canoe travel. Also, motorboats are allowed on this lake.
We didn't have to go far before reaching our last portage of the day, 1070m. I bet in the fall this is a really lovely portage. As you follow a slight climb with plenty of well-maintained boardwalks, a burbling creek tumbles down the terrain by the trail. However in June there are hoards of blood-sucking insects just waiting for you to come by. We were doing a single carry on this one. There is a canoe rest about halfway through this portage. The map says there's a spring there as well.
The launch site at the end of the portage is decent. We were in a narrow section of the lake before it twists to the right and opens up. It's a pretty lake made prettier by the lovely sunny day we were having. It's obvious where the hardwood trees are on the West side of the lake. The campsite we chose is on the East side. The put-in wasn't too bad, the site faced west. We were going to have a great sunset.
Priorities: the mosquito shelter went up first. I started putting the tent up right against the shore. I had an unobstructed view of the lake.
The mosquito shelter was just behind me. And LT was setting up his hammock between two trees a bit further back on the site in amongst the bugs.
Dinner was late. We ate at 8 p.m. We repurposed the next day's lunch to be that night's dinner. We had Kraft Dinner with chopped chicken pepperettes mixed in. Dessert was pineapple pudding cake, with chocolate for an evening snack. The sunset was awesome and the moon even more gorgeous.
It was the quietest night I've ever spent camping. There were no leaves rustling, no waves lapping, no animals making any noise. However it was chilly. I hadn't packed any extra warm clothing. It probably went down to 9 degrees overnight.
I had left the tent fly open in the front facing the lake. That was probably one of the reasons why I had been cold overnight. I looked out onto the lake and directly across from me there was a moose feeding in a marshy area. I took a picture, but he's pretty teeny.
Breakfast was fresh eggs with reheated bacon. We lingered - no rush. The previous day's travel took us 5 hours to get into Carl Wilson, plus the time we paddled around Carl Wilson Lake before deciding on our final campsite. We would be retracing our steps today going back into Cedar Lake. The route, now familiar, would be easier going back and we would be going downhill.
We were on the water by 11:15 a.m. I prepared for the buggy portage. We even noticed the canoe rest at the halfway point. I crossed paths with a small garter snake and shrieked. More in surprise than fear. Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
LT talked me into carrying the canoe for a bit .. just the canoe. I'm no hero. I'm telling myself I did about half of the 345m portage.
We were looking forward to coming out of Aura Lee, under the concrete train bridge and catching the current in that little river flowing into Little Cedar. The sides of the river are high there, and it is in shadow, a cool respite. One more twist and we were into Little Cedar Lake. We decided to take the left channel to move into Cedar Lake and come around the island campsite that we had stopped at the previous day for lunch and to camp there.
The bugs were not bad. It's mostly pine trees on the island, along with a generous sprinkling of blueberry plants .. bear bait in later summer for sure. We debated erecting the bug shelter and we decided to put it up.
The mosquitoes got much worse as the evening progressed. Dinner was oft flour taco shells with salsa, seasoned chicken, veggies. Everything except the shells was dehydrated. Dessert was banana nut bread pudding.
Our snacks on this trip were mixed nuts with dehydrated bananas and pineapples. I made some fruit leather with bananas, strawberries and applesauce.
This would be an easy day. No portaging. Just paddling. Hopefully Cedar Lake wouldn't be rough.
Breakfast was blueberry pancakes with reheated bacon, butter and maple syrup. I mix the water into the Ziploc bag the pancake mix is in, stir it up, cut a tiny hole in one corner and squeeze the mixture onto the hot fry pan with butter melted in it.
We relaxed after breakfast and ended up leaving the site around 11. We skirted the shore along our right to check out the campsites between the top of the lake and the access point. This brought us into the bay where the Nipissing River empties into the lake. Then we crossed the bay over to the other side.
As we were rounding the point, we guessed on how many cars would be in the parking lot. I said 5, LT said 7. Turns out there were four, the same number that had been there when we left 2 days earlier.
If you want solitude in the park - go during heavy bug season! It was nice to pretty much have the park to ourselves. Each time we access the park at Cedar Lake it seems to be a better experience.
Carl Wilson is a nice lake, very quiet. There are a couple of significant hardwood areas on the lake, it would be nice to come back in the fall to see if the leaf colours are bright. The portaging isn't too strenuous and could be downright pleasant without bugs. I'd definitely do this route again. In the meantime there are so many other beautiful areas in the park to discover!
The crown jewel was seeing the moose on the Saturday morning for sure. Other than the bazillion mosquitoes, we saw loons, territorial seagulls, a pair of Merganser ducks taking off, a snake, and a tiny frog that was the welcoming committee at one campsite.