September 2007 - Canoe Lake to Big Trout Lake and Back

Portage distances taken from the Chrismar maps, not the Friends of Algonquin Canoe Routes Map.

BIL = Burnt Island Lake, BT = Big Trout, hopefully any other abbreviations are self-evident. Baron = Dick Erickson, Approximately = Gerry Kramer, Czar = Nick Nagy and Jester = Dave Pile. Any superlatives bandied about obviously must refer to the Jester.

Day 1 / Sunday

Travel distance approx: 8.9 Km
Portage: 290 meters
Camp on Joe Lake East Arm

Met at the Czar's home at 6:15 AM and loaded gear as soon as everyone had arrived. Departed Cleveland about 6:40 AM and headed out to the freeway leading east along the well used path paralleling Lake Erie toward Buffalo.

This year there was little road construction and after one pit stop at the New York Thruway's service area, we crossed into Canada at the Buffalo - Fort Erie Peace Bridge perhaps by 9 AM. Traffic was generally light all the way and this pattern held up for most of the QEW. We decided to take the ETR 407 at Burlington and soon we were headed north on 400 towards Barrie.

I forget what time we made Barrie but we stopped for lunch at the Montana's on the hill just south of town, which in our lifetime at one time was pasture. It is a bit strange to head up north in search of the traditional canoe trip and drive by so many areas marked by such big development.

We arrived at Algonquin Outfitters in time to renew friendships and complete our arrangements. Of course, when you want to get back on the road and get to the access point, the group has dispersed throughout the building's several areas. Last minute purchases for items left at home (NO, no, say it ain't so!!), someone else spending too much time looking for the right paddle or vest and other delays finally were behind us and we were off in the Czar's chariot with 2 canoes on the roof.

The permits were purchased at Canoe Lake and we were soon on the water and enjoying the paddle north to the Joe Lakes. The two heart patients, Czar and Jester, paddled together and began a weeklong pattern of always lagging behind. The Baron and Approximately left us in a watery turbulence equivalent to "dust".

Our goal for the short first day was Joe Lake East Arm or the waters of Little Joe Lake. As we approached the east end of the East Arm we began checking the campsites and settled on one just prior to the last small bay on the north shore near the narrows.

Due to our menu arrangement, we planned for an extra lunch meal for the first night's supper. We ate a decent lunch and then have a no cook, little prep supper since we might have been delayed on our 8 plus hour drive north. This meal was one of the "blue" meals, wrap bread and tuna salad. We color code our menu so we don't have tuna salad for lunch and then a tuna meal for supper.

Late in the day, Joe Lake East Arm looking west back to main body of Joe Lake.

Soon after arrival we had the 2 tents pitched and the Dry Fly was strung up off to the edge of our site. Usually the Buckley is our nighttime gear spot and the layover day reading room.

2 hours later, Joe Lake East Arm looking west.

Prior to heading off to sleep we watched the stars slowly appear and commented that if we got through the first night without rain we quite possibly had a good week ahead of us weather-wise.

Day 2 / Monday

Paddle Joe Lake, Burnt Island Lake, Little Otterslide Lake, Otterslide Lake
Travel distance approx: 21.2 Km
Portages 20, 430, 190, 780 Daily total: 1420 meters
Lunch at BIL - Little Otterslide portage landing
Camp on Otterslide

We were off approximately 8 or 8:30 AM most days but it was going on 9 our first morning. We had the typical instant oatmeal meal so there was no excuse for our less than stellar performance this day. Possibly, the cold weather put us in a slow mode but we soon were moving towards the portages leading to Burnt Island Lake. We also passed two couples who were on their first canoe trip and who had gotten some tips from Baron at the Canoe - Joe Lake portage landing. We were glad to see they decided to not go to Burnt Island, which was their intended first night's destination. They had trouble paddling in a straight line and when we saw them we thought the daylight would disappear prior to their reaching BIL.

The portages and the route to BIL were as we remembered but the older we get, the slower we seem to be exiting and unloading our canoes. In my college days I smiled at the retirees trying to walk in the sandy waters of Bahia Honda State Park in Florida as there was loads of coral to make it difficult. Now I've reached that plateau of life where I walk equally unsteady around portage landings and I have no excuse other than creaking knees.

Baby Joe Lake, looking south from the BIL portage landing. Canoe is a Bell ultralight Chestnut Prospector.

We stopped for a break upon reaching the lower end of BIL on the island that fills the neck and has two campsites, one of which is quite flat and makes a nice stop over. The north facing side of the island has some rocks that invited us to stay a little longer and relax but soon we were taking advantage of the tail wind and on our way up Burnt Island Lake trying to spot the bay that is home to our campsite of choice when we return from trips and stay over on this pretty lake. BIL has enough angles and islands that the paddle is interesting and quite unlike lakes that remind us of reservoirs.

The decision was made to have lunch at the portage landing on the northeast end of the lake prior to heading off towards Little Otterslide Lake. The wind that helped us zip down the lake prompted us to begin discussions on possibly adjusting our route to enable us to paddle BIL earlier in the day than our original itinerary would allow. If we had been paddling in the summer, when we normally would be visiting Algonquin, we would not change our route but with the park so deserted, we mulled over stopping at Big Trout rather than going through to Red Pine Bay on day 3.

After lunch, which this meal was wrap bread and chicken salad, we carried the gear to Little Otterslide and continued our rethinking of the return trip. The island on Little Otterslide has a large flat campsite that has served us well and is not too far from the portage back to BIL. We enjoyed the paddle through Little Otterslide, the channel over to Otterslide and then we began our hunt for a campsite.

We headed to the north shore of Otterslide but after our grounds crew checked out the first site they gave it a thumbs down. Not only was it a somewhat high bank making easy access to the site and therefore easy access to water a bit difficult so we moved off to the south and the island in the center of Otterslide.

Two of us went to the island's nearest site while Baron and Approximately went further south along the west side of the island and after Czar and Jester found landing less than ideal, our group claimed the second site which technically is on the south facing end of the dumbbell or dog bone shaped island.

"Somewhat level" site on Otterslide Lake's island.

This site was not level but we found a couple spots for our tents but we did spend more time thinking than normal. After our Knorr Rice and Sauce Teriyaki, freeze dried beef, corn, tomato soup mix and Butter Buds (or the as the Jester says, Meals by Monsanto) we settled down to a little warmer evening than was our first night.

Post meal, we began to hear what sounded like a bear south or southeast of our spot somewhere on the mainland. At first I thought "bear" though it was the first time I had heard the sound. I wondered if it possibly was a moose, then went back to the bear explanation. I imagined a fight going on but did not hear any crashing through the woods, just the throaty growl. Eventually others began to comment on the noise and we wondered out loud if it was a bear fighting a moose or perhaps a bear fighting another bear over territory. Another thought was bears having mad sex in an Algonquin mating session.

Not to worry, we would scare any intruders away with our burps, farts and smelly clothing. The grumpy old men were up to defending their turf.

Day 3 / Tuesday

Paddle Otterslide, Otterslide Creek, Big Trout
Travel distance approx: 10.5 Km
Portages 240, 390, 270, 730, 105 Daily total: 1735 meters
Camp on Big Trout Lake

Tuesday dawned with bright hopes since we had survived the nighttime noises and we anticipated the Czar's pancakes! Yippee!! No instant oatmeal today!! In previous years we have used folding handle square griddles but if we bring two griddles we forget to bring two spatulas so we end up making one pancake at a time. This year, following the group's discovery that a small frying pan made a great 8 inch pancake so we brought along 2 small fry pans and spatulas but still managed to go through our pancake breakfasts one pancake at a time. Note to self: no matter what the group says, don't waste space by carrying double gear.

We pushed off in a northwest direction and entered Otterslide Creek, paddling past the campsite on the northern point we encountered some guys who heard the noise as did we the previous night. They thought it was a moose so we made a note to check in with the outfitter.

We quickly were at the landing for the first of several portages we would encounter this day and began carrying canoes and gear down the trail. Early morning in mid September is generally pretty nice so we were anticipating a fun day of paddling the creek after two days of lake travel. Soon we were back on the water and heading towards the second portage which was river right.

The second trail was a little longer but the carries through this popular area are not strenuous and we all were doing well, having a great time. Unfortunately, we were about to make one of the key paddlers' errors. We were familiar with this route yet all previous trips were undertaken north to south and, although at least two of us had map cases with both the park's canoe routes map and the pertinent Chrismar map, we had not checked the maps since leaving the campsite back on Otterslide Lake.

We slid through a partially broken beaver dam and then studied the next beaver dam that was downstream several hundred feet. After Czar and Jester bullied their way over the dam Jester called out, "Hey could we have missed a portage?" We were starring at some interesting rocks which were close enough together and large enough that we would have to get out and track the canoes.

The decision was reached to push on and not turn around so for perhaps 30 minutes we tracked our canoes in knee-deep water. Czar and Jester led the way and actually had an uneventful slog through the cold water with only one real slip, which provided the best swimmer in our crew with the opportunity to dip his hip just a bit.

At the bottom pool where we pulled over Jester got the sponge out and cleaned up the water that drained from our boots even though we did the spread the legs routine and allowed the water to drip back into the creek. We were fairly dry and began a quick snack while we waited for the others to appear. We waited and waited, all the while hearing the voices of our intrepid partners mucking about out of site.

From the bottom of the boulder garden we could see a significant descent, which was less apparent to us while we were actually tracking the canoe downstream and downhill. Czar and Jester celebrated their successful portage bypath and passed the time by speculating on whether we covered the distance faster by staying on the water than had we taken the trail. No one really took notice of the time so this actually became a topic for some debate over the next few hours.

Eventually we saw Approximately and Baron but then they disappeared again and we were more than a little exasperated. Finally the canoe was at the bottom of the rock hill and Czar and Jester began unleashing taunting arrows at the aquatic slackers. "We stopped to take pictures" was the weakly delivered reply. Of course, the Czar and Jester replied with the observation that we were totally dried off and had enjoyed a long nap while floating just off the portage landing.

As we shoved off north through the next stretch of Otterslide Creek towards the longest portage we continued a theme we had started while tracking the canoes. "Wait until I get home and get a chance to complain to the park about the missing portage sign." "The sign must have been lost in a storm"….. typical grousing.

After meandering for some time we arrived at the portage landing for the 730 meter trail and encountered a group of students on an organized guided tour heading south. The group was one of about 6 out with Paddlefoot and the members were from Spain and Germany. Very pleasant exchanges during the unloading, carrying and loading of our gear. One guide, Nicola, from Owen Sound, actually carried a pack for the Czar, which prompted lots of humor for the duration of the trip.

We asked whether Nick and Nicola, the two leaders, had a recommendation for a lunch spot, either at the northern landing where we were standing or at the next portage. The immediate response of eat at the next trail turned out to be good advice as we were soon at the last portage of the day, which is the short trail leading from a good beach landing around the bend and downhill to a rocky spot at the edge of Big Trout Lake. You can't see Big Trout's main water but the quiet bay off of Big Trout is a welcome sight as there are no more trails if the goal is a campsite on BT. However, we were curious as to the wind on the lake but lunch was the focus for the next 15 minutes or so. Another lunch of wrap bread with tuna salad. Over the years we have changed from local brands of pita bread to wraps as the breakage has been less. We bring along a small plastic Rubbermaid type container and each day we pack the tuna (or chicken) pouches needed for that day along with enough mayo packs and relish to mix up our meal. Years ago as a joke, Jester bought some plastic spatulas at home Depot's paint department to use as spreaders. Over the years we keep using them as they are lightweight, we don't get in trouble for stealing from the kitchen drawers and we have even rounded the corners on some blades to match the bowls we've used. Red Green meets wilderness canoe trekking!!

The upstream landing where we had lunch, looking south back over the way we had paddled.

After a nice but relatively short break, we collected our equipment packs and completed the descent down to Big Trout and pushed off for the last segment of the day.

Our plan was to find a campsite in the northeast portion of BT and reach the cluster of campsites by paddling an arc along the eastern end of the lake. What looks fairly straightforward on the map when viewed from an "overhead" position does not quite translate when all the bays and inlets begin to appear in reality. For a good presentation of this see the paperback by Rugge and Davidson, The Complete Wilderness Paddler. Highly recommended.

We scanned the lake for others but saw very few canoes and as the wind picked up we were glad to have arrived when we did since the tail wind turned to a cross wind as we got closer to the island campsite location. Several minutes of hard paddling got us to the windward side of the island campsite and we were blown in to the gravelly beach. We had the ultra light Bell tandems so we tied down the canoes after observing the wind increase during the afternoon. Nothing like sitting on the most beautiful spot in the neighborhood when your canoe is in someone else's neighborhood!

Looking west south west back over Big Trout from our campsite on the bluff.

We settled on this site, which is marked by the great hill of eroded dirt. The campsite is high up on a hill and the park has built a stairway up to the large flat grassy clearing. It was a great spot to spend our planned layover day with several good tent spots, a good fire ring and even a couple of hammock trees. The view of the lake, spread out below and in front of the clearing was great and later that evening we got a nice sunset.

Once the tents were erected we began that ritual of all canoe trips, settling in to do nothing in particular. Our groups have honed "fiddling" with gear to a specially refined level. Several of us eventually began reading, exploring or napping.

With the bear bag rope in the background, the Czar (L) and Approximately (R) hunt up their pre-breakfast cup of tea or coffee..

Supper was a chicken based meal, using another Knorr Rice and Sauce item as the core. The pattern for our group of 4 paddlers was 2 pouches Knorr Lipton Rice & Sauce Spanish, Pouch Chicken, FD Peas & Carrots, Onion Soup Mix and Butter Buds. Brain dead simple and filling with the added benefit of one pot clean up. Living in Cleveland, we are lucky to have several large grocery chains and some good independent stores as well so we often encounter new products to try. In our younger days we would zip north for US Memorial Day weekend and often one of the meals would be a test of a grocery store aisle discovery.

Day 4 / Wednesday

Layover day

We enjoyed the great weather although one of our evenings on BT we had a very short shower, which drove us into the tents but as quickly as we all got settled the rain stopped. We had surprisingly good star weather most nights and enjoyed the chance to spot the lights as they began to appear, slowly at first and then at an increasing rate.

Lunch was another wrap with chicken salad made with Grandma's recipe of scavenged mayo and relish packets and Tyson foil pouch chicken while supper was Knorr Lipton Rice & Sauce Cheddar Broccoli, pouch Tuna, FD Peas, Onion Soup Mix and Butter Buds.

Day 5 / Thursday

Paddle Big Trout Lake, Otterslide Creek, Otterslide Lake, Little Otterslide Lake
Travel distance approx: 11.58 Km
Portage 105, 730, 270, 390, 240 Daily total: 1735 meters
Camp on Little Otterslide Lake

This day marked the return south along Otterslide Creek and a chance to prove to ourselves that we could not have missed the portage sign earlier in the week. We got going early and crossed Big Trout and entered the bay leading to the first portage before any wind developed. Fresh in our minds, although the reverse direction, we made good progress through the creek and portages and laughed at ourselves when we arrived at the upstream end of the third portage as we headed south. The "missing" portage sign was starring at us, plain as day so we humbly admitted a navigation failure on our outbound leg.

Otterslide Creek southbound.

The four of us spent the rest of the Otterslides seeking out someone to blame and by process of elimination the trailing canoe on that day (Approximately and Baron) foisted off responsibility to the lead canoe (Czar and Jester). In return the brilliant and erudite team just mentioned pointed out that the stern canoe was off to the side taking pictures, letting the Czar and Jester paddle on ahead, and probably were blocking the portage landing and signage from view while they fiddled with their cameras. …and so it went for some time.

Baron and Approximately lead the way over one of the beaver dams along Otterslide Creek while Czar hoots dis…er, encouragement..

The downstream end of the boulder garden where we missed the portage on the northbound paddle.
Judging from the paint marks we were not the only ones to zip on by the portage sign!

Otterslide Creek with the colors of mid-September showing in the background.

Upon reaching Little Otterslide Lake we slowly paddled counterclockwise around the island until we reached the second site, one that we have used on at least one previous trip. This site is pretty much in line with the portage from Little Otterslide to Burnt Island Lake and makes a nice "last full day" of paddling. We chose this location as it afforded us the opportunity to paddle Burnt Island Lake early in the AM. We had another great afternoon of reading, napping and hammock time. I honestly don't remember a lunch stop on the creek so we must have paddled all the way from Big Trout through to the campsite and had lunch on Little Otterslide.

A view of the Little Otterslide island site showing the flatness, the Buckley fly and Baron's tent. Jester's tent is off to the right.

Lunch was wraps with tuna and supper was Mrs. Grass Soup Starter Beef Stew, FD Beef, FD Corn, McCormick Beef Stew Seasoning, and Butter Buds over instant mashed potatoes. This was our Pseudo Shepherds' Pie and though the menu shows this scheduled for supper on day 5, I seem to remember we swapped this item so that we had it on day 4 while on Big Trout.

Looking left or east at the campsite landing on Little Otterslide.

Day 6 / Friday

Paddle Little Otterslide, Burnt Island Lake, Littledoe Lake
Travel distance approx: 12.9 Km
Portages 780, 190, 1140 Daily total: 2110 meters
Camp on Littledoe Lake

Morning was another great weather day and we eagerly began the day with a short paddle south to the portage back to Burnt Island Lake. The trail is a bit rocky in places but generally is a good trail and we were soon dropping canoes and packs on the small beach landing. Some of us pick up a load and go all the way while others walk 5 minutes or until a canoe rest is found and then return for the second trip. The scene at BIL was quite stunning as the water was smooth and the wind was still non-existent. We were about two-thirds of the way down the lake before any breeze appeared so we were back at the island campsite where we ate lunch within sight of the portage out of BIL to Littledoe and Baby Joe Lakes.

Looking down the portage trail between BIL and Little Otterslide.

Baron surveys the waters of BIL in advance of our paddle towards the southwestern end and the trail to Littledoe.

The Czar surveys our lunch spot which in high season would be quite busy with traffic paddling nearby but this island near
the BIL to Baby Joe/Littledoe portage is a nice large, flat spot suitable for a break, lunch stop or even an off-season overnight.

We packed up and began the portage to Littledoe, which was a bit more undulating than I remembered but my only other time of walking the portage between Littledoe and BIL was back in 1983 on my first trip to the park. We struggled down the trail and then enjoyed the sight of Littledoe as it was new for just about all of us. We paddled about two thirds of the way down the lake and chose the last campsite on the northern shore, situated on a point. I honestly forget what we thought of the spot but I remember rigging a clothesline and my hammock in the woods just beyond the actual clearing. There were some small trees, widely spaced so unlike the site on Big Trout and Little Otterslide where the woods were fairly dense, this site afforded good views for quite a distance.

We spent the late afternoon listening to the waters of Littledoe lap against a large tree that was half stuck and half floating about 40 feet offshore. A small group of paddlers stopped to ask directions to Caroline Lake but none of us knew where that was and we mentioned that Caroline Island was on Burnt Island Lake which was at the end of the portage at the east end of Littledoe.

Day 7 / Saturday

Paddle Littledoe, Fawn, Teepee, Oxtongue River, Joe Lake, Canoe Lake
Travel distance approx: 13 Km
Grand total distance approx: 78.08 Km
Portages 290 Daily total: 290 meters
Grand total portage distance: 7580 Km

On our last morning we had the only rain of significance for the whole week when we were about to prepare breakfast. While packing up our gear the rain prompted us to cancel breakfast and hit the canoes and head off back towards Canoe Lake. We enjoyed the paddle back south until we reached Tepee Lake where the winds picked up and Czar and Jester fell behind once again.

Slowly we worked through the wind and then upon reaching Joe Lake the winds diminished and we were all reunited at the portage trail over to Canoe Lake. We soon were rounding the corner and entering the north end of our last lake and paddled up the west side of the lake in an attempt to avoid the strong wind that had once again appeared.

About half way to Wapomeo Island, near the small island on the west side of the lake we really were buffeted by high winds and our canoe once again fell behind Approximately and Baron. As we slowly approached Wapomeo hoping for some relief in the lee of the island we fought against the wind almost until we slipped past the eastern end of the island.

In the southern half of Canoe Lake progress was easier but by the time we were able to see the Portage Store we were ready to put two feet on solid ground. Of course, we were hoping to eat the breakfast that had been skipped. Just our luck, after a week of great weather, the winds had delayed us sufficiently so that we walked in to the restaurant at 11:05 AM and ended up having lunch.

After our meal, we cleaned up at the shower house behind The Portage Store then drove back to return canoes at Algonquin Outfitters. After smiling at Elwood Epps Sporting Goods we slowed down and stopped at Weber's for an ice cream cone. Well, 3 of us ate ice cream but Approximately borrowed money and bought a hamburger, then used his remaining funds to buy an ice cream cone. I think I heard him mutter something about a scientific study of Canadian food.

Other than the above-mentioned strange behavior at Weber's, we had an uneventful trip home and enjoyed another stop at the St. Catherines Montana's Restaurant.

- Jester