Updated: Sep 9, 2021
The Citiots Take Algonquin, Part 2
Like most of our adventures this one took some planning to nail down. After returning from our trip to Root Bay in August 2020 we connected and started to discuss 2021 ideas. We circled around a few key themes – trip needed to be less than a week, cheaper than our normal “big trip” and closer to home. At some point the idea of a return to Algonquin Park came up – a repeat of a trip we took in 2013 but this time we would plan and outfit ourselves, no guides Citiots Part 1
Yours truly started researching potential routes – degree of paddling and portaging needed to be beginner to intermediate, ideally, we would camp for 2 or 3 nights and if possible, we would be on remote lakes. Tough task. Another pressure was that due to Covid 19 camping spots were selling like hotcakes! After some solid internet research, we landed on a route – put in at Rock Lake, camp 1 night on Pen Lake, 1 night on Clydegale Lake, loop back to Pen and either stay one more night or head back out. Searching through the Parks reservation system we could make it work if we did a Sunday to Tuesday/Wednesday. Spots got booked and now it was time to fill out the groups and talk equipment
Our group of fearless paddlers (not true, I had enough fear for 6 guys) was set – Greg, Mark, Chad, Dave, Scott, and Andrew. We jumped on a zoom call and talked gear – we could outfit almost everything except we would need to rent 1 canoe. A call to Algonquin Outfitters, Lake Opeongo and that was taken care of. They would transport the boat to Rock Lake, two of us would just need to stop in at the store to sign a waiver and pick up a safety kit. I will say I was very impressed with Algonquin Outfitters, they were easy to communicate with, prompt and always helpful. I would totally recommend them to anyone looking to outfit a trip in Algonquin.
Day 1 – Rock to Pen Lake
We decided to meet up at Rock Lake at 10:30 AM – for me this meant getting up 5:00 AM to pick up Scott, head to Algonquin Outfitters and then hit the access point. It all went off without a hitch and by 11:00 AM out chariots were loaded, and we made our way into Rock Lake via the Madawaska River. Rock Lake has a large campsite and a fair number of cottages dotting its shoreline. The lake wasn’t busy by any means bit it also wasn’t quiet. We passed boats, other paddlers and saw cottagers enjoying the sunshine on their dock. As I paddled along, I was somewhat envious of the people in boats – at the age of 47 paddling was tough! After about an hour of paddling we approached our first portage. A 375-metre jaunt into Pen Lake. In my mind 375 metres would be a breeze – I walk 5 KMs almost every night. I was sorely mistaken, or at least I misjudged the difficulty of walking 375 metres with a heavy canoe pack, two fishing rods, two small dry bags and my lifejacket. By the time I reached the other end I was spent. On the plus side with all our gear I had to go back once more to grab another pack! Lesson learned – really, really understand needs vs wants.
Eventually we launched our canoes and made our way into Pen Lake. At this point Mark and I decided it was time to try to fish. I say try because Pen and Clydegale lake are trout fisheries – Brook and Lake trout to be exact. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t holding my breath or planning on eating trout this trip. 1) It was end of July, typically both species are quite deep 2) Being in a canoe we did not have any electronics to even know how deep we were 3) To try to manage gear we had brought s small selection of lures and weights – not the kitchen sink and 4) I suck at fishing trout – in my entire life I can count on 1 hand the number of wild trout I have caught – and none of those would have been lakers or brookies. We tied up (spoons), weighted down and trolled as we meandered up the lake. Pen is gorgeous – high cliff faces, towering conifers, rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, and we had a friendly loon who seemed to want to follow us. Eventually we started passing campsites, but most were full. One of the interesting/annoying things about backcountry camping is that you don’t reserve a campsite – you reserve a spot on the lake. Individual campsites are first come first serve.
As my shoulders and lower back throbbed I was really hoping that we rolled up on a campsite soon. Luckily for us about 3 quarters of the way down the lake (and on the way to tomorrow’s portage) we lucked out and secured campsite 12. It was now 2:30 so we had been enroute for about 3 and a half hours. Campsite 12 was a beauty – lots of flat area for our tents, good fire pit, brand new Thunder Box, and plenty of firewood in the vicinity. We quickly got to work pitching tents, hanging a clothesline, filtering water, and setting up our cooking area. Once set up it was time for a swim and then we would start dinner.
Our menu was managed by Mark, Dave and Greg and they did a fantastic job. Tonight, was chicken and veggie fajitas complete with onions, peppers, and grilled sweet potatoes – it was awesome and filling. As we got the campfire going it was time to sit back, enjoy an adult beverage or two. For me there was a real feeling of satisfaction as I leaned back into my new camping chair (Helinox One – review to come). We had survived the paddle, set up a great campsite and were sitting, relaxing in our own slice of heaven. As the sun set it was magical until around 9 PM when the wind died down and the mosquitos arrived in full force! Around 10 PM everyone made their way to their tents for the night.
Day 2 - Pen to Clydegale Lake
I awoke early – maybe 5 AM, I had a restless night, I am a side sleeper and found that every hour I would wake up with aching shoulders and hips, fuss, roll over and try again, my Thermarest sleeping pad was great when I was younger but now it seemed inadequate for comfort. I quietly (some may beg to differ) made my way to the rocky shoreline and tried my hand at casting. The only thing biting were 4 – 6-inch perch who chased my Mepps back with abandon. Eventually I started to boil some water for coffee and other members of the group began to stir.
Mark got busy on the camp stove preparing breakfast – Eggs, Bacon, and cheese breakfast sandwiches on English muffins (English muffins PBJ for the vegan) – delicious and filling. We lounged around the firepit sipping coffee, breaking down gear and then eventually started to pack up in earnest. It was going to be a beautiful, albeit hot day and we wanted to get moving.
As we loaded our canoes, we determined our direction to the portage and talked a little about campsites on Clydgegale. Clydegale is a smaller lake with only 6 or 7 campsites spread around the lake, from my research I knew that the Island Site (Campsite 6) was considered the primo site. It also happened to be the furthest paddle from the Pen to Clydegale portage – oh well.
It didn’t take long to get to the portage. At 275 metres it was shorter than our first portage, but I had read that most considered it tougher than the Rock to Pen portage as it was mainly uphill. I was hoping this was bad information but alas I would concur. The first part of the trail one needed to be part Billy goat – especially the guys carrying the canoes. It was a scenic slog though, the trail follows a series of rapids and falls between the two lakes, but we didn’t spend a ton of time enjoying the view. At one point we were going to take group shot near the rocks but then disaster struck, and our photographer slipped on a rock and his camera took a swim (luckily the camera was fine after a post trip rice bath) We finally re packed the canoes and headed out into Clydgegale.
The lake was just a scenic as Pen but different. More marsh areas, bays white with blooming water lilies and lots of nooks and crannies to explore (or get lost in). Mark and I tried our hand at trolling again but with the same success – none. As we turned into the main lake the wind picked up and we had to paddle through stiff headwind. As we made our way down the lake, we were happy to see an empty campsite. The other two canoes made a beeline to that site, but Mark and I kept paddling, interested in seeing the Island camp. Just as we turned the point to where site 6 was another couple in a canoe approached and said – You guys are in luck – the Island is open” Mark and I paddled in to check it out. While there wasn’t a lot of great tents areas for the group (there were spots, just not a large area) the awesome fire pit, size of the island and remoteness made up for it. We looked in vain for our radios to let the guys know that we could camp here. Damn – bad plan. We paddled back to the other guys, made our pitch for the island and it was agreed. Let’s pack up and head there. By this time, we had been travelling for over 4 hours and I was beat.
We had a quick lunch of ham and Swiss cheese on buns (PBJ for the vegan) and started to set up camp. One of the great things about the site was its size. We scoured for firewood, looked for the best swimming spots and eyeballed some shore fishing spots. Everyone spread out and did their thing. At one point Mark and I decided to make the walk through a small weedy bay to get to the large rock island adjacent to the main island. Once again, we had limited action except for small perch. Mark pointed out another good area to fish back on the main island. As I walked back through the little weedy bay, I was sucked into quicksand – fearing for my life Mark quickly through me a rope and… just kidding. I did however lose a flip flop in the muck – my leg must have sunk to my knee, flop popped off and was gone and my camp shorts were soaked. Oh well, I have another pair of shorts and I can wear my boots. Mark did however catch more perch on the new rock and some bigger ones. I eventually made my way and had the same lake – little kamikaze perch charging my spinner like it was the first meal they had seen in years but alas no trout.
Everyone did their own thing until dinner time. At this stage Mark jumped back on the stove and Greg went about getting some good coals on the fire grill steak. Tonight’s meal was a stir fry with Udon noodles, Steak, sauteed vegetables with tofu soaked in a peanut sauce – oh so good. After dinner it was campfire time for most of us. Mark and Greg headed out for a troll – no luck once again. Sitting around the fire Scott, Dave and I heard a very loud approaching plane, flying very low – Scott sprinted out of the canopy of trees to get a look and it was not one but 2 Hercules transport planes – most likely military flying some form of exercise – very cool. By 10 we were in our tents for the night, beat but happy and ready for another day in paradise.
Day 3 – Clydegale to Pen (and eventually Rock Lake)
Chad was first up today – when I rolled out of my tent, he already had the perc going for coffee. It was overcast, but I could make out the sun rising over the lake, so I went to take a few photos. As I pulled out my iPhone it started to drizzle, by the time I got back to the camp it was raining and within 15 minutes of that it was pouring. Everyone else climbed out of their tents and we quickly put up a tarp and settled in to make coffee and game plan. The rain never let up, so we decided to strategically pack up camp – pulling one tent at a time under the tarp to pack up and keep everything as dry as possible. It kind of worked lol. By 10:30 we were fully packed and had a tentative game plan – we would paddle through the rain and push to Pen Lake. From there we would make our way to campsite 3 which was right by the portage to Rock Lake. At camp we could make some lunch and reassess – try to dry out and stay another night or keep going and call it a trip. We paddled through heavy rain all the way to the Pen Lake portage – it was a rough slog but not without its benefits. As the rain started to ease there was mist forming amongst the top of the trees, hanging between the two main rises, it was beautiful, and I still regret not digging out my camera for a snap – I should have but I was also trying to be careful – dummy! We slogged our way across the portage – easier as it was more downhill than our previous run, but we also had to be careful as everything was wet and muddy.
As we reloaded at Pen the rain stopped and not long after the sun reappeared. We paddled the length to eventually meet a campsite 3. Soaked to the bone and tired we made an audible and cooked sausage, pasta, and sauce for lunch to get a warm meal into us – good call. As we talked about our options it became clear that most of the group wanted to keep going and end the trip that day. I know I was in that camp – down to wet boots, soaking shorts and a tent that was a little wet I was okay with heading out. I had really enjoyed the 3 days, 2 nights and would leave satisfied. We pushed on and eventually got to the landing in Rock Lake and packed up our gear. It was almost 6 PM – we had been on the go since 10:30 and I was done. Paddling is a full body workout (especially when you haven’t done it in 8 years) – my arms and shoulders were tired, my back sore and my hands were blistered but again I felt that sense of accomplishment.
1) The group is everything - I always feel very lucky after these trips and a lot of that is the group. We have known each other for over 30 years and we manage to have fun, find our roles and get it done without any fuss (while putting up with me). An amazing bunch of guys and I can't wait for the next one!
2) A good canoe makes all the difference. Pre trip I had paddled a little bit in canoes at the cottage – cheaper, heavier plastic canoes. Tippy and slow it had me sweating the trip. I happened to ride in Mark’s Langford cedar strip, a beautiful canoe for sure (we had lots of people comment as we paddled by) but more importantly it was very stable and just seemed to glide w every stroke. By the end of our first day I was confident and actually enjoying the paddling part – until about 2 hours into the day – then I was just plain tired!
3) I really liked the loop – both lakes were beautiful, remote, the paddling and portaging was within our capabilities
4) Our meal plan was excellent – the guys did an awesome job doing a lot of prep work up front which helped with the time and effort to cook but not so much that the meals weren’t delicious and plentiful
5) Everyone should spend more time in the backcountry – the combination of unplugging, scenery and silence was a great way to unwind – therapeutic in my opinion
6) Push yourself – I was nervous heading into the trip – would I be able to handle the paddling, I am a bad sleeper outside of my own home, let alone in a small tent on the ground, would we have enough food, would we get lost and so on, In the end we managed fine, and the satisfaction of a “homemade” trip was huge. Sure, I didn’t sleep great, but I can handle it for two or maybe 3 nights and the trade off (going vs not going) is totally worth it
7) I suck at trout fishing – or at least I suck at fishing trout in July. No bother, fishing was secondary for this trip but when we do this again, if we are stuck to mid-summer, I would like to spend at least 1 day/night on a lake with smallmouth
8) I bought some new gear ahead of the trip as did some others (Mora Knife, Helinox Chair, Agawa Canyon Saw, MSR Tent) = full reviews to come but having good gear was worth it. The Helinox for example was awesome after the day of paddling – much better for my back than sitting on the ground or a bench or a log
Thanks as always for reading and I hope everyone is also having a great summer and for those heading into their fishing trips now that the border is open – tight lines and best of luck