5 Day Loop through Proulx and Lavielle to Opeongo - July 2010

By Rob Howes

Sunday, July 25

Following an evening of final packing and such, and with the coffee pot set for morning, everyone finally made it bed much later than planned. After some sleepy good byes and an uneventful drive, we arrived at Algonquin Outfitters. As always, we were quickly looked after by the staff and our reservations were soon confirmed. With security deposits looked after, we soon had a lightweight Kevlar Swift Kipawa lashed to the water taxi with three other canoes and were off for the North arm of Opeongo. We arrived at the Proulx Lake portage around 10:35.

Knowing we had an easy first day, we took our time sorting out the gear and enjoying the fresh clean air. We started a relaxed double carry around 11:15. The discussed plan had been to take the cart path to the pond, paddle over and carry on from the other side. But what can I say? With the food barrel on, I somehow got under the canoe and started putting one foot in front of the other. I must have got a pretty good rhythm going between breaks because the next thing I knew the trail was getting rockier and steadily climbing uphill. Seems I had missed the sign and turnoff for the pond.

At one point, I recall asking Jenn when would we get to the Pond. All she said, as she was stepping around another rock, was “You Missed It”. Then the trail made much more sense to me. Coming around the other side of the pond we picked up the cart trail again and enjoyed the rest of the walk, arriving at Proulx and then loading the canoe.

Proulx Lake from the portage to Lake Opeongo.

With gear stowed and trimmed, we finally pushed away from shore and dipped our paddles into the water for the first time. We tried to settle into some sort of pattern, learning where each other were comfortable. We stopped at the large point site for a quick lunch of fresh sandwiches and apples.

Beach Landing at the first point site on Proulx Lake.

A quiet moment and a bite to eat on Proulx Lake.

With lunch on the beach out of the way, we had the canoe loaded and ready to go on the other end by 12:30. We cruised Proulx and headed into the small section of the Crow River.

Approaching Little Crow Lake on the Crow River.

We arrived on Little Crow by 3:30 and made it through to the first site on the right as you enter Big Crow by 4. We set-up and were enjoying a coffee by 5. We let the fire burn down for cooking our dinner of steak and baked potatoes.

First site on right on Big Crow.

More than enough room for two tents.

Raised tent pads.

Traditional first evening meal steak and baked potatoes.

With dishes done and the food barrel looked after, we settled in by the fire to enjoy our first evening. We let our city thoughts drift away as the sun set and got our minds prepared for the next few days. We finally put the fire out and called it a night around 10.

We spent the day heading into a slight headwind. It was enough to keep the bugs down along the river. Water levels were low, but nothing to really worry about. We saw 1 bull moose crossing the highway on the way in but nothing on the river. While collecting firewood, we came across two piles of bear scat about a day or two old, within 150 yards of camp.

Monday, July 26

We had wonderful plans of being up and on the water by 7:30. We probably should have set an alarm. But what can I say? All that fresh air and quiet must have gotten to us. I'm not really sure what time I made it up, but did note that breakfast of eggbeaters and precooked bacon with coffee by was done by 9:00. Picking up the pace, we finally got the canoe loaded and were off to see what the Crow River had to offer.

Entering the Crow River from Big Crow.

The last update we had, on water levels before we left, still had the Crow River listed as “low but passable”, and although we were a little concerned, we were not all that worried.

Had we known that they would change that warning to “low, not passable” by the end of the week, we may have been a little more worried than concerned. But hey, sometimes not knowing what you are truly heading into is the best way to go. Without doing any real damage to the canoe, we made our way down the river “glancing” off the odd slightly submerged rock or tree, proudly adding our contribution to the multi coloured striping of the river rocks.

Setting the tone early, just past the entrance to the river, we came across our first of five beaver dams that were not much more than a 'get out, pull the canoe over and carry on'.

We reached the 1.2km portage around noon. Lunch was looked after on the trail. We were ready to go on the other end by 1:30. About a third of the way into the portage, we came across a fallen tree about 10” off the ground, but the rest of the trail was pretty good, except for dropping my gloves somewhere along the way.

Take out at the beginning of the 1220M portage.

Looking back towards Big Crow.

“You are here”.

“Our direction of travel”.

The put in at the end of the 1220M.

Heading out, we spent another six hours working through the river .. watching for rocks under the water .. watching for submerged trees .. and cringing when one was not seen until the last minute and there was nowhere to go. There was a lot of 'take stuff out of the canoe, portage, but stuff back in the canoe, paddle, pull over beaver dam and repeat'.

Somewhere along the Crow River approaching the 170M portage.

The approach of the 170M portage.

Looking back from the landing.

The short portages all seemed to blend into one. One more downed tree across one of them made walking the rocks even more interesting. My hiking boots somehow never got attached to the food barrel on the last portage but were graciously picked up by a young couple following us in a cedar strip. They were kind enough to drop them off at our site on the way by. They politely turned down our offer of shelter from the wind or at the least, a hot coffee.

The couple that were kind enough to drop off my boots as they paddled away.

I am sure that when the water is closer to normal levels, the put in and take-outs are a little friendlier and are less likely to grab your ankle as you 'play mountain-goat' loading and unloading. I can say is that in very low water levels, the Crow River is and adventure that you will look back on and smile about.

We arrived at the second site on Crow Bay at 8pm. Dinner was what we fondly refer to as “dinner in a bag”, or more commonly known as dehydrated pre-prepared meals. We were in bed by 10.

We'd seen a couple of nesting falcons and had an otter leading our way swimming in front of us for about 5 minutes on the river.

Tuesday July 27

We were up and out of the tent by 7. After a breakfast of oatmeal, I was doing something in camp. Jenn quietly called to me and pointed to a cow moose and her two young playing in the marsh across the small inlet beside our site.

It was quite a sight to watch the young playing in the water while Mom stood by keeping an eye on them. We sat there watching them for quite a few minutes before Mom got a scent of us (and me standing up to take a video didn’t help LOL) and decided it was time to go and headed off into the bush.

Getting ourselves back in gear, were off heading for Hardy Bay with a light wind at our back. Two hours and 12km later were on site, setting up a lunch of bacon and tomato on pita. Lunch was done by 2:30.

Late Tuesday lunch.

As the afternoon progressed the winds picked up enough to need to pull out the jackets and fleece pullovers setting the tone for the next two days.

Youth group setting up to sail Lake Lavielle.

With camp set up, the rest of the day was spent reading and napping in the hammock. We enjoyed looking out over the bay to the south and the channel to the north, listening to weather forecasts of thundershowers, and a swim to rinse off the last two days travel.

There is something special about swimming in a crystal clear, clean, fresh lake with nothing around but lots of trees. A dip in Lake Simcoe just can't compare. Dinner was Beef Stroganoff with dehydrated beef and instant mashed potatoes. The dishes were done and the food hung by 8:30.

Sitting by the last of the fire about 10:15, enjoying the last of the evening, I heard one faint, lone wolf call come over the water from the southwest. Quote from trip log “Laying here on a tarp beside a small fire with the sound of the lake lapping the shore. Life Is Good.” What a great way for the day to come to a close.

Wednesday July 28 - Rest Day

Taking advantage of not moving on this day, I crawled out of the tent around 10. I was treated to a breakfast of pancakes and bacon with fresh hot coffee. It was at this time that we discovered the container of refreshment had started leaking. So to avoid a mess in the food barrel, it was decided that since it was after all a rest day, we would just have to tough it out and finish it off. It was a good thing it was a rest day, as it set the mood for the remainder of the day .. relaxing and going for a quick swim between the showers than came on and off all day.

Lake Lavielle 3Pm Wednesday.

This guy came wandering over as I was pumping water for morning and developed a rather strong physical attraction to the foam float on the pump hose.

Thursday July 29

We were up early. We quickly got coffee and oatmeal out of the way, using the last of our fuel in the process.

Lake Lavielle 9:20am Thursday morning.

We made good time down Lake Lavielle and didn't really notice the 90m portage as we launched into Dixon Lake at approx 9:30, heading for the 5.3km portage to Bonfield Lake.

I've read how much of a killer this portage can be and have seen the T Shirts for sale at the Outfitters. But it really wasn't that bad. I don’t recall too much except for a small boulder garden that I almost took a nasty spill in. My foot slipped down between two rocks while I was carrying the much lighter food barrel and the canoe with all the usual things that you never seem to be able to strap to a pack but can’t seem to live without. I also recall how happy I was to see the first of the five boardwalks as you approach Bonfield.

This was the last picture taken, only 2 km to go.

Arriving on the shore of Opeongo, we took our time setting up camp for the night, relaxing, and laying back on the benches around the fire pit .. getting up every once in a while to collect firewood. We'd just got the tent set up and the food bag rope hung when the Water Taxi pulled up to pick up another couple and a really well behaved dog around 6 o'clock.

With the winds picking up again. a storm front moving in and a short chat with the taxi driver .. we were told that if we wanted to leave today, this was the last boat and we would have to hustle as he had an appointment to pick up a Scout Troup at the North Arm in 45 minutes.

Considering spending the night on the beach, we discussed spending the night hiding in the tent escaping an oncoming thunderstorm while relying on a fire for morning coffee versus pulling out a night early.

Well, it didn't take us long to make our decision. The tent was down and packed, assorted stuff was stuffed back into the packs and the food barrel, as the driver was kind enough to grab our canoe while we picked up the last couple of things. The only thing we were not able to grab was the food bag rope complete with pulley, left hanging for ready for the next group.

With time being short, we were treated to what I understatedly describe as a rather spirited ride back down Lake Opeongo, wondering if the couple enjoying each others company in the Biblical way were aware just how close the taxi’s path was as it passed by their site. The things you see in Algonquin.After arriving back at the dock, the gear was loaded onto the car and fresh coffees were very much enjoyed at the picnic table as we started our adjustment back into the real world.

Sitting here two years later, looking back at the pictures and reading the words while planning future trips, I am once again reminded of just how special a place Algonquin is and how fortunate we are.

And, I'm reminded that we are still able to strap whatever we need to live on our backs and head out like many have done before us. But I'm also grateful, with every step of the portage, of the developments in lightweight gear which allow our ageing bodies to go on.

You know, looking at these pictures makes me want to go back to this area. Only this time maybe solo and hopefully I will able to skip a couple of the portages and play in some of the rapids, maybe starting from Cedar Lake this time.

It's time to pull out Jeffery’s Map, but I think I may have already figured out next year’s holidays.