Algonquin Hang Trip Report

A brief trip report of a very pleasant weekend "Canoe Hang" on Lake Louisa in Algonquin Park, Ontario on September 24-26, 2010.

For a few days before the trip the weather forecast seemed to get progrssively worse, calling for overcast skys with a good chance of light rain for the entire weekend. There were also threats of high winds gusting to 70km, not much of a deal for hikers, but a real issue for paddles on the water.

The basic plan for the weekend was for two teams, Shawnh and Michael coming in from Ottawa, Vgnbkr and myself coming in from Toronto, to meet up at the Canoe Lake Park office somewhere around 3:30 to 4 pm on Friday the 24th. From there we'd make the short drive to our put-in, and leave all of our gear plus two guys there while the other two drove off to park one of the cars at the take-out point, some 25 km distant at Rock Lake. That would leave us with a 3-day weekend to do 40 km of which 7km would be overland portages between the lakes. A pretty normal weekend trip by all accounts. I had been interested in paddling to Louisa for quite a while and was eager to get on the water. Another Hammock Forums member had mentioned that he was planning to be up in the Park a day early with his son to do some fishing and might meet up with us either on Head Lake or on Louisa. That was the plan...

Funny how things turn out. As luck would have it, most of the challenges on the trip involved simply getting out of Toronto. Renowned for it's traffic at the best of times, the highways that Friday were unusually bad. Suffice to say, between two different incidents, we were set back two and a half hours due to traffic. In the second case, the highway ground to a halt, and it was only by listening to the local traffic reports, that Vgnbkr and I learned that just ahead, a dumptruck had apparently blown a tire, causing it to careen off the road, and roll down a steep embankment where it came to rest hanging precariously at the top of large culvert through which ran a small river. Behind us, traffic was being diverted onto alternate routes, but for a hour and a half we were stuck on that little stretch of highway, not more than a couple of hundred yards from the accident. People getting out of their cars to walk around and watch the helicopters circling the scene. An the air ambulance out of Toronto General Hospital arrived at the scene, and after a little while departed, and that's usually a bad sign. I only learned at home when I got back that the driver miraculously walked away without injury. All things considered, a minor delay of 90 minutes is a small price to pay when compared to safety of the driver. After calling Shawnh and giving him situation report, the police eventually opened a single lane and we were able to resume our race north to the Park. Now we were a full two and a half hours late and instead of arriving at 3:30 as originally planned, it was looking like we'd be rolling in around 5 - 5:30 pm. Along the way we encountered some high winds and dark clouds out of the west, and things were not looking good, but as we got further north, the sky cleared up a bit and the wind died down. Maybe that traffic gave us a little good karma we could cash in for nice weather.

This time of year, the early fall in southern Ontario, it starts getting dark around 7:30pm. Working this through, we'd have a hour and a half of tripping, another hour to drop the second car at the take-out and get back, and finally another half hour to register. That's a good three hours and that meant that we were looking at getting to our campsite an hour after dark, at best! Don't get me wrong, a relaxing paddle on a calm night under a full moon is a pleasure, but portaging a heavy pack and a canoe along a slippery trail in the dark; well that's downright nasty. With the sun hovering above the trees, plan "A" was officially throw out the window.

We had already talked about various routes we could have taken that weekend, so, during another quick call, it was agreed that there was no point in Shawnh and Michael waiting around anymore for us, They could simply register with the Park office, leave a message telling us we would find them and then head off across Cache Lake on their own. Vgnbkr and I would catch up with them when we could.

After a short stop in Huntsville, Vgnbkr and I pulled up to the Park office and quickly registered. Inquiring about our friends, the friendly Park officer pointed to where Shawnh and Michael were planning to camp. After saying thanks, we jumped back in the car and sped down the road to Cache Lake. With the sun no more than a handspan above the horizon, or a little over an hour, we quickly got the canoe in the water and loaded the gear. Vgnbkr settled into the bow seat, and with a push against the edge of the wooden dock we were off.

Now my canoe, a 16' kevlar Prospector, is a temperamental little craft. Quite different from the sleek, stable and fast modern lake tripping canoes, the more traditional design of the Prospectors is equally at home on lake, river or winding stream. But the price of being fast turning and responsive is that it feels, at least at first, to be "tippy". Primary vs. secondary stability and all that. Being an experienced paddler, it didn't take Vgnbkr long before he got used to the canoe and was paddling along like a seasoned vet. One more thing; my canoe has a nice shiny red gelcoat finish. Years ago, when I asked my 5-year old daughter what she wanted to call my then new canoe, she immediately shouted out "Lipstick". The name stuck. Several years and many scratches later, she's still my Lipstick.

Cache Lake is a moderately large lake, as far as Algonquin goes. It boasts a large number of large forested islands separated by a network of narrow channels. On the main Lake, a light breeze was stirring up some small waves. Having been on the lake before, it wasn't until I saw the long narrow passage between Cache Lake and neighbouring Tanamakoon, did I realize we were a little off course. We didn't have time to waste searching for the portage. Turning to head southeast, we confirmed our route with some directions from a passing motorboat and got back underway.

"A little late to be doing that portage" said the elderly skipper with a grin. Yep, he was probably right.

The sun was just starting to set below the pine covered hills around us, and we had about 1.6 km (1 mile) portage to do. We still had about half an hour of light; we figured we'd be fine. I shouldered my pack (a gram-weenie's nightmare), flipped up the canoe. Vgnbkr's pack was annoyingly light, sensible fellow that he is. The carry wasn't too bad, but first portages are always a little chaotic. We finally emerged from the forest to the shore of Head Lake, and almost immediately I heard "Richard?" coming from the campsite across a little bay where some headlamps were flickering. "Yup" I shouted back, at about the same time that Vgnbkr noticed that my spare group tarp that he had wedged under the flap of his pack was missing. With the light fading, we turned back to retrace our steps and, after a long walk, eventually found it. By that time, it was getting pretty dark under the forest canopy and when we arrived back at the canoe, reloaded and pushed off, it was dark. A blinking light and a pair of headlamps moving on the far shore made it easy to set a course, and pulling up to the rocky shore, Shawnh and Michael came down to greet us. It was one of those classic "Dr. Livingstone I presume" moments.

After greeting Shawnh and being introduced to his paddling partner Michael, from Ottawa. Vgnbkr and I set about getting our hammocks rigged. Picking out those "perfect" trees can be tough at the best of times, but this was the first time I have had to set up my hammock after dark, and finding the right trees took a while. After wandering around with a headlamp and checking for widowmakers, we settled on a spot, set up our Hennessies and started seriously thinking about dinner.

From the Top: Vgnbkr, Michael, Shawnh

As Vgnbkr fired up his Trangia to boil up some water for some delicious smelling vegetarian Katmandou stew, I got out my DIY BushBuddy clone and started boiling up water for the lemon-herb couscous I would be having with a small steak. It was my stove's first "in-camp" test, and it worked like a charm. Not bad for some recycled cans, a dremel tool and a few hours of work. I have to say, Shawnh's original Bushbuddy sure did look good. Having gone through the pains of building one myself, I admired the workmanship that went into that Bushbuddy. I'm sure the stainless steel body will be going strong long after mine has rusted out.

The four of us stayed up a while longer chatting and I enjoyed a sip or two of the Laphroig single-malt I had brought in. We'd planned to have a leisurely start on our 3 - 4 hour paddle to Louisa, and although there was no rush getting to bed, we didn’t stay up too late.

Overnight and into first light I could hear a light rain pattering on my DIY Sil-BlackCat, but surrounded by a thick layer of down, I was warm, dry and not inclined to get up. A few yards away, Vgnbkr spent the first night trying out his new Insultech underquilt under his Hennessy and a convertible poncho for a fly. Shawnh’s rig was the same Hennessy/down underquilt/MacCat tarp he used a month earlier in Bon Echo and Michael was set up in his stock Hennessy and underpads. Needless to say, all of us seemed to come through the night high and dry.

Vgnbkr's Rig

Shawnh's Rig

Michael's Rig

My (Chard's) Rig

After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, I was ready for day two. We'd have a short paddle through Head, Harness, Pardee, Lawrence and Rod & Gun lakes on our way to Louisa. Between the lakes we'd have to face five portages, (1065m, 150m, 10m, 410m and a 500m respectively). The forecast called for a 60% chance of rain, but it only drizzled occasionally. More often we'd just get a light mist. On the way out of our campsite, Vgnbkr and I had the fortune to see a lovely waterfall tumbling into Head lake.

The paddling was nice. Little wind, cool overcast weather and the fall colours that were at their best. Lawrence was a very nice little lake, with it's east end surrounded by tall hills. The portages weren't too bad either, except for the 410 from Lawrence to Rod & Gun lake, the one known as the "Devil's Staircase". There was a 30 metre difference in the elevation of the lakes, but I'd swear that we climbed over 100. The first slope just didn't seem to end, so I just shifted to low gear and slowly trudged up the trail. Along the way I made the mistake of raising the Lipstick's bow in an attempt to see where I was going, but I only saw the trail rise up along a switchback and then disappear around the bend. On redeeming virtue of all of the portages was that their trails were all covered in the reds and yellows of fallen leaves. It was beautiful, or at least I thought it was, in between wiping sweat out of my eyes..

By the time we got to Louisa, we were thinking again about meeting up with a father and son team of Hammockers from Windsor. In the forums, we had talked about camping Saturday on the islands at the western end of Louisa. Since Shawnh and Michael were out on the water first and I was planning on slowing down to do some fishing, they agreed to go on ahead and check out the island campsites looking for the third canoe and then settle on one for the night. Off they went. Meanwhile I rigged up a spinning rod and started to slow troll a 4" black/gold floating Rapala far behind the canoe. Louisa is reputed to have a fairly healthy lake trout population, and it would've been nice to add a little grilled Salvelinus namaycush to the evening's menu.

Vgnbkr and I slowly paddled out of the narrow northwestern bay of Louisa into the main lake. Ahead were what looked like three other canoes, moving slowly and obviously fishing. With no bites and now a little deeper water, I switched to a gold/orange Cleo, cast it behind, and began paddling over to the other canoes. Along the way Shawnh came down to the shore of the Northwestern most island and got our attention. Obviously they had found a site for the night.

As we approached the first of the three canoes, a lone, solo paddler. I asked if he was from Windsor. "Nope, Buffalo, New York" he said. As we passed by we talked briefly. Apparently he came up to the park each year in the spring and the fall to try hi s luck with the trout.

We passed by two other canoes and unfortunately neither held our missing hammockers. Paddling a little further, I got a nice strike, but couldn't set the hook in time. We circled back and slowly made our way back to camp.

We pulled up on a narrow strip of sand and unloaded Lipstick, and hauled our gear up into the main clearing of the island. Behind the firepit and log benches lay a large fallen tree, it barkless and branchless wood worn smooth over the years. It sported a plywood table, and it wasn't long before it was full of our kitchen gear. Back behind the clearing was a small grove of young pines, amongst which many a hammocking spot could be found.

Once again, it wasn't too long before we each had our rigs set up. We'd been getting intermittent mist and drizzle all day so we rigged the spare tarp (3m x 4m or 9' x 12') over the log and table. We moved the log benches under the tarp and relaxed. After a little milling about, some hot drinks and such, the other guys started talking about dinner, but with the rain and wind gone for a moment, I thought it would be a good chance to talk Lipstick out for a solo paddle and try one last time to rustle up some trout for dinner.

I had packed in a Humminbird Pirannah fish finder, and although it is a bit heavy, I really do like knowing what depth I'm trolling through. The number of times I've paddle across a bay convinced that I must be in 100 feet of water, only to find out that it's less than 10 is amazing. A the opposite is also true. There are some sites in the Park where the water drops off to over 60' of water within yards of the shore.

Anyway, while I was out, I got a chance to talk a little more with "Buffalo" and although I marked a large number of fish right on the bottom in over 70' of water, nothing was biting my lure. With a sigh, I paddled slowly back to camp.

This evening's dinner was homemade and dehydrated spaghetti and meat sauce on a bed of egg noodles, all cooked up on my woodstove and then smothered in parmesan cheese. My older daughter had made an awesome sauce a few days earlier for dinner, and it tasted twice as good now as did then. Something about the great outdoors that makes flavour so much more important. As I washed down dinner with some instant hot mulled apple cider and a little more Laphroig, Vgnbkr and Michael set about to getting a nice fire going. The temperature had begun to fall, but before long we had a cozy little fire keeping us warm. Between staring at the fire and taking short breaks to stroll out to the shore to look at the scenery, it was a good night. I even ventured to take a short moonlight swim. Very refreshing! I'd swear that once I got out, dried off and put back on my clothes and a sweater, I was toasty warm. And after a long day of paddling and portaging, it was nice to get in the water and clean off before bed.

All day long we had toyed with the idea of paddling over to Rock lake the next morning and somehow hitching a ride over to Cache Lake to get our cars, but in the end common sense won out. We'd get an early start and retrace our route back to the cars at Cache lake. We knew what was ahead of us and it wouldn't be too bad. After a couple of hours and the last of the wood had been used up, we doused the fire and went to bed.

We woke the next morning and the weather was overcast with intermittent drizzle. We quickly broke camp and had breakfast and managed to get on the water a little before ten. Fortune was with us because it wasn't long before the sky began to clear a bit and the rain stopped. With no wind and only the occasional patch of drizzle, the paddle back to the cars went remarkably well. We stopped for lunch by a lovely little creek at the end of the second to last portage on the lake we had camped on the two nights before, Head. We hadn't seen a soul since leaving Louisa, but as we approached our last portage, some campers who had been staying at the campsite by the waterfall were also on the water on their way out. If this end of the portage was crowded with four canoes, that was nothing with the dozen or so canoes that were tied to the landing at the other end of the trail. Shawnh and Michael were obliged to immediately load and get out on the water to make way for Vgnbkr and myself to put in Lipstick. Only when we were drifting offshore did we get chance to catch our breath.

After consulting the map, we turned and started our paddle for home. Passing through the channels of Cache Lake we finally glided past the last point and saw ahead of us the familiar shapes of cars and the docks. We had made it!