In 2007 my loving partner offered to look after our toddler while I got back in the canoe for a few days. This is the story of me doing the same trip I did all those years ago. Only this time with kiddo in the boat.
An early departure from Ottawa, an uneventful drive to Kiosk, a brutish paddle to Mouse Lake wherein we are greeted with much rain.
A mild and overcast day for some hilly portages and cross-wind paddling through Érables and up to Maple Lake.
A glorious sunrise to mark the meander down Maple Creek over beaver dams, through mud and across Kioshkokwi to home.
Day 1 - Mouse Lake, Northeast Shore
Friday, September 13, 8pm
I have an ambiguous relationship with the unknowns of canoe tripping. I stare at the forecast religiously for a week in advance of paddle hitting water. Adding and removing things from my gear pile as the high goes lower and the cloud and sun icons switch places. I scan the web for intel on the route. Basic geography doesn't change over time, but water levels, beaver activity, campsite reinstatement — these things happen. I want to know about them before I hit them.
I've learned to deal with this. But a new paddling partner? I think it's fair to say I have a good relationship with my daughter. And she's been going to an awesome summer camp in Algonquin Park for the last few years, where she's been learning to trip and to paddle.
But what if our tripping styles collide? What if our ideas about 'challenging' are poles apart? What if she rolls her eyes at decrepit old dad after he collapses at the end of portage 1? Or for that matter, what if she puts down her paddle half way across Kioshkokwi and says 'I'm done with this'?
Turns out I needn't have worried. Mallory is an awesome canoe partner. I have the most amazing daughter.
Get up at 5? No problem. Four hour drive to Kiosk? No problem. Wet feet? Comes with the territory.
Today was a legit hard day and she just rolled with it. Didn't flinch. Didn't whine. Always had something positive to say — especially when I didn't. Amazing.
We were rolling just before 6am. We made it to Kiosk around 10am or so. We unloaded the car, got the permit, and made ready to go.
I'm always tense and in an artificial hurry in these pre-launch moments. I have no idea why. It's unfortunate because that's when I forget things and make mistakes. Sometimes they're significant. This time though, it was simply forgetting to zero out the GPS's trip computer before starting out. The Montana, not helpfully, included the car journey in our average speed and distance. Can't wait to see what kind of KOMs that gets me on Strava.
From broken clouds and orange skies heading out of Ottawa, we'd watched the weather close in as we made our way north and west on the 17. By the time we got to the put-in, the clouds had established themselves firmly in the sky and the wind was very much in evidence.
Carmen Cross — who's been running the Kiosk park office for at least as long as I can remember — gently warned me that it was going to be rough for a bit. "Oh, well, she said, at least you're going in the best possible direction." Meaning straight into it. Awesome.
She also mentioned that another party had gone out the same direction a half hour or so earlier. This is a bit unusual. So many put-ins, so many routes and we were going to have company. It's a big park, and there are lots of places to camp, but maybe we both have our hearts set on the same site?
But Mallory's used to tripping in the summer when there are serious wind sprints to get to the good sites, so again she was totally sanguine about it and set my brain back on course to 'be reasonable'.
Another thing that didn't bother Mallory? 30km/h wind driving 45cm waves right in our face all along Kioshkokwi from the bay to the railway bridge. Under the bridge, the north 'pond' offered no respite, despite a shorter fetch. She never stopped paddling.
There were gusts that felt to me like they picked the canoe up and shoved it sideways. Several times I had to ask Mallory to draw to bring the bow back on the right side of the wind. But here's the cool thing. She could do it. And well.
So we scraped our way across Kioshkokwi — figuratively — managing about 3km/hr — and literally — where the last 20 or 30m had too little water to get enough blade in to beat the wind so we got out and walked to the portage to Little Mink.
On Little Mink we had some respite from the waves at least — it's well-named. The portage is around 600m and unremarkable. We encountered our co-tourists. Two men — one from Hamilton, the other from Whitby — who seemed well-rehearsed at the portage thing. They were friendly enough but didn't introduce themselves. One referred to the other as Steve so they became Steve and Not-Steve in our minds.
Mink Lake, on the other end of the 600m was — remarkably — worse. Perfectly shaped and aligned exactly with the path of the wind, it was a vortex. It took us an hour and 40 minutes to travel its 6km to the portage into Club Lake.
We stopped for lunch at the take-out. Steve and Not-Steve carried on.
The 1165m into Club Lake is mostly flat and uncomplicated. The last time through this route, I got to club via Waterclear and another tiny lake whose name I can't remember now. But it involves more portages and I was unsure about how Mallory would deal with the portages.
Again. No problem. I'd proposed my habitual approach to portages — single pass only. "There is no other way," she tells me. We decide to do the usual light-pack-plus-canoe, heavy-pack-plus-paddles combination. She's not keen on carrying the canoe so we'd decided she'd do the heavy pack. She tried it on in Ottawa and we found a weight she felt was okay. Though I couldn't find my scale, so I don't know how much it actually weighed.
There had been brief showers and mist all morning but rain hit in earnest at around 2pm on Club Lake and didn't really let up until around 5 or 6pm.
We got onto Mouse Lake — our destination — just before 3pm. Steve and Not-Steve were headed to Big Thunder so we had Mouse to ourselves. The Club-Mouse portage is unremarkable.
We picked the same site I stayed at back in 2007. It has a cute little beach but we were in no mood to swim. And beaches make fetching water a recipe for wet feet.
Mallory and I set the tent up in rain mode (fly over the spider, tuck the footprint underneath then slip the tent in and set it up under the fly). We were making jokes about the old lady who swallowed the fly and the spider but were were cold and tired. After we got the tent put up, we dove in and cuddled for a while, trying to build up the energy and will to make dinner.
I really could have just gone to sleep.
But I'm the parent so I felt compelled to carry on. Mallory offered encouragement and helped get camp set up. I got the feeling she'd had worse and this was no big deal. Her enthusiasm really helped my morale.
Dinner was a pack and a half of dried tortellini with pesto and dehydrated vegetables. We could have gotten away with one pack of the tortellini. The vegetables were disappointing. The carrots worked, the zucchini were edible but barely noticeable. Red peppers were okay and tasted much like peppers. The green beans (dehydrated whole) were more like leather shoelaces. I resolved to give them more time to rehydrate and to do it using hot water at least.
The rain let up around dinner time. But the site and the forest was so wet we couldn't even beg pine needles to burn, so no fire.
I'm starting to think the old MEC Wanderer 2 has seen its day. The seam tape on the fly is detaching. The elastic in the spider has almost no stretch and it's got a pong that just can't be defeated. It's 19 years old, I reckon, so it doesn't owe me anything, but I just wonder if they still make 'em like they used to.
We dove for that venerable tent around 8pm, stayed up to write notes for a bit but grew tired quickly. I fell asleep — as I always do — in total awe of my daughter, though from a fresh perspective. And hoping for better weather.
Day 2: Maple Lake, North-end Island
Saturday, Sept. 14, 8pm
It rained pretty much all night, I reckon. But despite some early ill-tidings (wierd big drips through the fly, wet from the floor) we stayed dry. This was good because we're both using down sleeping bags and we had another night to go.
We woke at 6:15am propelled out of bag by the call of nature. Which sounded a lot like farting. And it was still dark. But nature doesn't care about that.
We saw some orange as the sun came up through the thinner clouds along the horizon. It was pretty mild but I still was in three layers underneath my PFD for paddling.
Everything was a bit of a mess, but I'd brought these two light-weight psuedo drybags that MEC sold a few years ago. The enclosure is not serious enough to make me think it would survive immersion, but they're perfect for quarantining a wet tent footprint or wet clothes. Beats a garbage bag.
We were packed and paddling by about 8:40 despite all the extra faffing about required by all the wet stuff. The temperature was long sleeves and multiple layers but far from see-your-breath. The weather was closing in again though, even if the wind had shifted a few points around the compass.
Our first portage — from Mouse to Mink Creek — at 1745m was the trip's longest. It crosses from the Minks to the Maples and so is quite hilly. Not technical — you don't need to use your hands or scramble — but it'll get your heart rate up.
Mink Creek took us to a short portage into the diminutive Big Thunder Lake. Not-Steve told us this was his favourite lake to camp on in this stretch. He said he liked the view. There's only one site in Big Thunder, on a small peninsula which does give you a panoramic view of the lake.
We however needed to move along, so off we went to the 1430m into Érables Lake. The wind came at us from the side on Érables, though without the strength of yesterday's. It kicked up waves that hit us abeam, behind the midthwart. It was a bit bouncey castle but for me the real shock was how fast we moved, compared to yesterday as it was the perfect angle for wind-ferrying.
So we were across Érables Lake and through the part of Maple Creek that joins it to Maple Lake by 11am or so. The portage into Maple itself is quite short. The tricky bit is watching for rocks, especially in fall when water levels are low. There are a lot of canoe-eating rocks through here.
And now that there are far fewer aluminum canoes to light up them with their scrapings, the dangerous rocks are harder to spot.
The wind was somewhere between 'dull roar' and 'tie yourself to a tree' so we had lunch at the Maple end of Érables - Maple, anticipating another miserable slog. But it was not to be.
The wind was still coming from the west-northwest and we were cutting across it. And Maple is more or less a round lake, so the wind didn't get the awesome run-up like it had on Mink.
So by 12:30pm we had paddled its length and were setting up camp at the island near the lake's north end, close to where it flows into Maple Creek.
We briefly contemplated pushing on toward Kioshkokwi, but decided against it. As the crow flies it's not so far, but on the water it's much further and unpredictably so because of the industrious beavers. There are sites on Maple Creek, but they're on portages and rate somewhere between 'desperation pad' and 'actually I'd prefer hypothermia'.
To get to a decent campsite would have meant about three more hours travel. And so I heeded the classic advice to quit while you're still having fun.
Which gave us time to collect firewood, set up clothes and shoes to dry and rehydrate vegetables properly. Or at least take a shot at it.
Dinner was a Camp Northway-inspired dish -- felafel scramble and couscous. Apparently dehydrated felafel mix is a canoe trip staple at Mallory's summer camp. I got some at my local lebanese grocer. But the instructions say you're supposed to mix the powder with water, mold it into balls and deep fry it.
So that's not going to happen on a canoe trip. But at Northway they just scramble it like eggs and mix it with couscous. I added another batch of dehydrated vegetables. As per normal we had too much. A half cup of couscous would have sufficed. And a third of a package of felafel.
But we both liked it. Although the beans were only barely edible. Next time they must be julienned or omitted.
We got a fire going and made smores, which I don't think I've done since I was a camper myself. It was fun to let the inner child out for a bit.
We were sitting digesting our (gourmandish) dinner at around 7pm when we saw a party of five (two tandem and one solo) canoeists arriving on Maple. They grabbed the site a little south of our island on the west shore. We didn't envy them their task of having to set up and eat in the rapidly fading light.
We were in the tent for 8:15pm after dilligently and seriously dousing the fire.
Day 3: Ottawa
Sunday, 8pm Sept. 15, 2019
We were up by 6:15am this morning to see a gorgeous sunrise. Maple Lake seemed pretty calm but the sky was red in the morning. So as sort of sailors we sort of took warning. However we had only a half day's travel to get back to the car so we weren't worried. We got on the water quickly, opting — despite the last day paddle — for wet shoes and socks, to make the cleanup a little easier.
It's so much easier when things are dry. It felt warm. Probably low teens, even early in the morning.
This morning took us from Maple Lake into Maple Creek, down stream to Kioshkokwi, then across the lake to the Kiosk campground and the car.
Maple Creek meanders along, turning and twisting its way north. The creek drops rapidly in six spots (the portages range from 130 to 900m) and the water seems to be kept in the creek by a series of beaver dams, some of which are prodigiously tall.
Over the course of the morning we must have done a half dozen beaver dam portages.
And my freestyle route — drawn in Garmin BaseCamp over top of Jeff's Western Algonquin Map — predicted 6.1km down Maple Creek, but the GPS track suggests we travelled 6.9km with all the turns and twists.
There was no sign of Steve and Not-Steve. I think we were on the water before them and made good progress down the creek, despite its obstacles. I should say that we encountered Steve and Not-Steve again yesterday and exchanged introductions, back-stories and tripping tips. Not-Steve is actually named Nicholas and paddles up around Kiosk frequently.
It helped hugely today that Mallory knows how to steer from the front and has an effective draw and cross-bow draw, to say nothing of good reaction time. I could ask her to pull right or left and we could turn with the creek without losing speed. Such a treat.
We had a sprinkling of rain and cloud all morning, but the temperature stayed steady and indeed rose the closer we got to the end of the trip.
We got to the end of the last portage around 11:15. Maybe it's just late summer low water but the rangers may want to consider cutting a trail a little further down the mouth of the creek. We ended up dragging the canoe through a sort of mud flat for about 20 or 30 metres until we found enough water to float.
The sun came out for us as we got underway toward the put-in. The wind never rose above a moderate breeze, barely enough to trouble the water.
We got to the put-in around 12:15pm. We got the canoe on the car roof and were underway before 1pm. We stopped at Mert's Family Restaurant in Mattawa for a late lunch. Mert's is the real deal — friendly, unpretentious and long-serving. The place was hopping. Our food was freshly prepared but took a long time to arrive. It was good, but not exceptional. If you're in a hurry, stop at the Subway after the roundabout instead. But it will taste like every other Subway you'll ever encounter, worldwide. Which seemed boring to us.
Between Mattawa's unintentional entry into the slow food movement and construction, it took us until 5:30 to get to Ottawa, just in time to clean up and stow gear before dinner.
A combination of the GPS camera and Mallory's Nikon Coolpix W100. The good ones are Mallory's.
- 44km Total distance
- 14 Portages
- 9180m Portage distance
- 4.4km/h Average speed
- 10:05:15 Moving time
I confess, I calculated the total portage distance by summing the numbers I found on Jeff's Map. I could pore over the track file and extract the data from Garmin BaseCamp but that particular bit of software is so slow and so buggy on my computer it makes me want to cry. What do you use for planning canoe trips? I use RidewithGPS for biking but there's got to be something equivalent for wilderness tripping. Something like GaiaGPS but with Jeff's Map data. If you want to figure out the actual portage distances or have any curiosity about our trip, download the TCX file. Or check it out on Strava.