To reach the Nippissing River, and the point of our trip around Algonquin where we head east and go downriver, we paddled and portaged through a lesser maintained area of Algonquin, camping on a weedy pond titled Lagoo Lake.
The seven kilometers of uphill, mud-filled portages were worth the solitude we got from this obscure area of the park. Four moose were sighted by the time we reached the upper reaches of the Nippissing River, and after snaking our way through a labyrinth of alders growing in from the narrow river bank, we spotted four more. Andy and I even had to chase a noble bull off a campsite we desperately needed. It was late and this was the only prime place to stay for the night. The moose left, but not before urinating on the tent pad.
I was ecstatic to be back on the Nippissing. I’ve paddled this river several times and have fond memories of fishing its trophy brook trout and paddling under majestic pine. Problem was, the mosquito population seemed to have tripled by the time we reached the river. Andy and I would soon discover that June of 2013 was a record for bug populations in the park due to the wet spring. We’ve paddled many places, including the James Bay lowlands, and never seen so many bloodthirsty mosquitos. It made for a huge downer for the trip. Our days were spent paddling out on the river, hoping for some type of breeze, or lathering bug juice all over ourselves and running across the portages. The campsites were the worst. Thankfully I had brought my Eureka bug shelter with us and after a frenzy few minutes of putting the camp together, Andy and I would spend the rest of the evening inside the protective mesh enclosure, cooking up dinner and sipping on single malt — and praying we didn’t have to use the outhouse before bed. Andy even resorted to using a water jug we found on a portage for a pee bottle. Crawling out of the tent at night to relieve himself allowed far too many mosquitos to sneak inside the tent. I found my own water jug as well (the one good point about gear being left behind on portages) and had a good laugh one night when Andy woke me to ask if he could borrow it. It seems he’s already filled his. I handed it over and promised him never to blog about the incident. Sorry Andy, I couldn’t resist.
It took us only two-and-a-half days to paddle the Nippssing, a free-flowing and continuously twisting waterway that makes its way straight across Algonquin. With the mosquitoes the way they were there was no interest in fishing or exploring all the historic artifacts found along the way. We just wanted to be done with the river and paddle out into the expanse of Cedar Lake where the wind might knock the numbers of bugs down a bit.
Our second food drop was picked up at the Algonquin Outfitters store in Brent, run by Jake Pigeon who’s an Algonquin legend and recently received the 2013 Director’s Award from the park. He hadn’t changed much since last time I paddled through and stopped for a visit. Jake is all about promoting the more secluded northern parts of Algonquin but is also hesitant to let any inexperienced trippers venture here. He’s right though; this area is not for the timid. Cedar Lake itself can create dangerous wind and waves in minutes, something it managed to do on our crossing. Andy and I were glad to make it to the Brent docks without capsizing.
We picked up our food package Algonquin Outfitters had delivered for us and made some minor repairs to our canoe. The gunwales had come free in some places where the screws hadn’t held. It was more of a cosmetic defect but eventually it would cause problems, especially if we had to wade up another river. We later found out the manufacturer had experimented on screwing the gunwales on from the inside rather then from the outside. It didn’t work obviously, and we were thankful Jake gave us the use of a drill and a few longer screws to fix things. He also gave us some whisky. It seemed that a one-litre Platypus bag of Black Grouse blended malt was taken from our food drop. It was all the talk in town and everyone seemed to come to our rescue. Larry, a park staff employee, showed up with a replacement and so did some members from a road construction crew. Even some random boater offered us a bottle. Unknown to Andy and I, we had gained some celebrity status by being interviewed on CBC radio a few times by way of satellite phone. I had also posted Facebook updates by way of a wireless router that attached to my iPod and GlobalStar satellite phone. Sending photos and updates each night didn’t seem much of a big deal to us. We could send but couldn’t receive and had no idea the Facebook page was getting 11,000 visits every few days. By the time we finished the trip Andy and I were minor rock-stars on social media. Cool.