Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Solo Canoe Trip Report

Well, my planned 10 day solo trip to Lake Louisa in Algonquin Park never materialized. I had to frustratingly watch as forces outside of my control limited my holiday time from a planned 10 days to maybe 7, then only 4. I figured this trip was shot so instead, I headed over to some Crown Land to do a slow loop around a well documented canoe route in the Severn River Conservation Reserve.

Crown land camping means no fees (for Canadian Citizens) but it also means unmaintained portage trails, generally overused or non-maintained campsites and no other "amenities" that canoeists in an established park can expect. I'm not into the whole ultralight craze, especially on routes with relative short portages (under 1km) so ended up packing lots of food in a 30L barrel pack and the other "luxury" gear in the recently refurbished canvas pack.

After securing my vehicle at a public boat launch, I headed south down a lake filled with cottages. This lake serves as the headwaters for the Gibson river which begins a meandering flow through wetland marshes. At this point one loses sight of any other folks and I would spend the next 4 days with only an occasional bushplane flying to the nearby fly-in fish camp on the adjacent lake system to disrupt the serenity.

Start of the Gibson

Marshy banks

In some places the river narrows to just a width of canoe only to open up again. Water levels were typically low this late in the season, but thanks to the efforts of many beavers, the majority is the river is certainly accessible by canoe with some minor lift-overs and 3 short portages of 75 meters or less. It was over this marshy territory that I spotted a pair of provincially significant Red Shouldered Hawks with their nervous "Kee-Ahh" shrieks. Very cool.

Narrow Section

Beaver dam holding back a pond

Start of mini portage

Somewhere in there is a trail

After making it though some of the portage sections with plenty of blown down trees and unsure rocky footing, the river empties into a series of long, narrow lakes that loop back in a generally northwest direction. The lakes tend to have sloping granite shores making landing a tricky affair. Managed to find a very clean site on a peninsula that gave a fantastic 3-sided view of the lake. Set up my Hennessy Hammock shelter in a protected area away from the kitchen. Nice night sleeping to the sounds of a nesting Whip-poor-will and the haunting "Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all" hooting of a Barred Owl

End of River Section

Lake Paddling

Camp Kitchen; The Sleeping Quarters

View from the hammock


The site had an abandoned buck saw with a horribly rusted blade so I'm glad I brought my own homemade version whipped up with scraps of cherry and some leftover bolts. Worked like a charm to cut up some deadfall for the fire to dry out soaked feet.

Left over saw vs. my own; Nice fire that night

Spent the next day huddled in camp as rain moved in. Stayed totally dry in the hammock with its strange asymmetrical rainfly design. Once the steady rainfall relented in the late afternoon, the winds changed and started blowing icy cold from the north. To get any cooking done, I set up a tarp windblock behind the firepit so rigged up a modified Diamond fly with a high peak but low profile. This worked to use the cooking stove that evening. Got down to 7 degrees Celsius that night but seemed chillier with the relentless wind.

Rigged Tarp against wind

Thankfully the sun came out the next day, but the winds still blew from the north (my direction of travel). It only got up to 16 C that day so I was paddling with warm merino wool baselayer and thin sweater to stay comfortable. To get to the next series of lakes in the loop involved wading the canoe through a boulder infested channel and another more significant uphill portage that follows a pathetically flowing waterfall.

Rocky wading channel; Start of uphill portage

Packed up for the climb

Reaching the top of the climb, I realized why the waterfall flow was so minimal. The largest beaver dam I've ever come across had flooded the forest floor and created a mini lake. It was eerie paddling through the stand of flooded birch that followed...

Huge dam - curves to right of photo

Shot of the dam closeup

Birch tree stand

Sure enough I spotted 2 beavers busy at work although they slapped their tails and fled underwater to safety before I could turn the camera one. Oh well. The next lake had some wonderful rock formations and much evidence of more wildlife. Fierce headwinds certainly made getting to shore for camp a pleasure. Managed to find a small sheltered site. Of course, sheltered also means the bugs come out ferociously so dinner had to be eaten on the windy point with a cap and wool sweater to beat the flies and the chilly north breeze.

"Stone beach" shoreline

More granite cliffs

New Muskrat lodge

Older lodge in another marshy area

Muskrat hiding out (left side of pic)

Consistent prevailing winds shaped this pine

Dinner on the point

The next day involved the longest portage of the trip - a mild 650 meters or so through some uneven terrain that also serves as a snowmobile trail in the winter. While lugging the gear for the first carry, I came across a pair of boots, then a single sock, then another, and then a pair of pants! This weird bush strip-tease had me convinced that the only human I'd encounter on my trip was some sort of frolicking nudist perv catching unwary canoeists at the end of the portage. Suddenly the banjo music from Deliverance started playing in my head. Coming across a bear in the woods...I'd know what to do. A naked man in the forest? Now that's just plain awkward and so I was grateful that my solo trip remained a solo trip when no one came out of the bushes to reclaim their clothing.

Boots, 1st Sock, 2nd Sock spotted and then this...

Who loses their pants in the bush?

By this time in the trip, I needed a break in carrying the canoe across the portage. Thankfully came across a perfect portage with a sturdy branch allowing you to place the bow on it to get a bit of relief.

Portage Break

The sun came out and warmed the day nicely. Here's the gear and canoe at the end of the final portage before the uneventful paddle back to the marina.


All in all a decent little getaway. Sure there are a few more scratches on the hull of the canoe after this trip, but that gives the excuse of working on the boat in the off-season.


Scott Schuldt said...

Nice trip report. thanks.

Lee said...

great report! glad to see you out using that art you make! pants...clothes on the trail...just weird!

Fiona (Badger Paddles) said...

Fantastic photos, Murat! And your trip report was great... kept me interested the whole way. And, I'm glad you didn't come across any naked guy to make for an awkward meeting (or pictures), either, especially since it may have forced eBlogger to put a disclaimer about your blog content not being for those under 18 years of age! *wink*
Thank you!

Mike said...

Murat great report with fantastic photos....but I think I solved the clothes on the was a naked in Get some colour in those cheeks! Paddle Naked! – Signature from online canoeing forum. LOL LOL

Martijn Top said...

Looks like you have a great time. Thanks for the writeup.


Keith said...

Great pics, lovely looking area. May have to get myself another canoe.

kirk said...

wow man, i love your blog. i have unintentionally been seen bits of it for years doing my "weird" google image searches. eg. making your own ojibwa paddle etc.. i like your style. i have been making a wood/canvas packboard and am currently building a canvas wedge tent (i wanted a tipi but poles and canoes dont mix) i have an evironmental page at if you wanted to check it out. keep up the great work here!!

Murat said...

Thanks Kirk. Looking forward to seeing your packboard and wedge tent!

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