James Bonney's Petawawa Ė Nipissing Loop (July 23-26, 2004)
My wife Melissa (Missy) and I spent the previous night at a bed and breakfast in Huntsville so we could have a more reasonable drive to Brent and get in a decent day's paddle on our first day. We stopped at the small town of Mattawa on Highway 17 to pick up some 'Subway'. We arrived in Brent at about 1 p.m. after having our bones shaken almost out of our bodies on the gravel access ďroadĒ. We also stopped to hike the Brent Crater trail and stretch our legs. The hike itself is nothing special .. a walk in the woods. But, the view from the observation platform is worth a stop.
We arrived at the Algonquin Outfitters store and proceeded to have a quick look around, before gathering our gear at the dock. Itís a neat store with plenty of old pictures and some cool artifacts. After a quick check of our gear, we were off towards the Petawawa River and our first destination of Catfish Lake . I was warned prior to arrival that it is easy to get confused on the map between the outlets of the Nipissing and Petawawa rivers, which are very near each other, so we just headed south across Cedar and then west (once we reached the shore) to ensure we didnít miss our first portage. We got to the portage around 2 p.m. and geared up. There is a very pretty waterfall about half-way along where there is a forkÖwaterfall to the right, portage to the left. It was a pretty easy portage to get the trip started.
The next portage was reached at about 2:40 p.m. It also has a very nice waterfall, with the best view being had at the far end of this portage. By 4:00 p.m., we'd just finished the longest portage of the day bypassing a large rapid-strewn section of the Petawawa River. At 2,345 meters, itís a real brute. The first half is uphill and fairly steep. When you see the river appear to your right you are about 250 meters from the end. Itís a short puddle-hop (maybe a 200 meter paddle from the end of this portage to the beginning of the next one. At 5:50 p.m. we rolled into our campsite on Catfish Lake after the last two very easy portages. We found an island site about halfway down the lake with a southern exposure on a high/flat point. I took a nice refreshing swim. However, Missy is a bit chicken of anything cold and she opted out. We gathered some wood for a small campfire, that we enjoyed thoroughly.
We hit the water at about 8:00 a.m. to what looked like would be a beautiful day. Last-night's site was really nice. After our fire we'd enjoyed some loons calling which had put us to sleep. Missy was so in love with the site she wanted to forego the rest of our trip and just camp there for a few nights. It took some convincing for her to give up the site. We headed south through a marsh to Catfish Rapids. It look and feels wrong as you go through the narrows, as the campsites appear to be in the wrong spots on the Chrismar map. But we found it.
The portages around Catfish and Snowshoe rapids were both easy carries although my shoulders were starting to ache. I guess I should explain that our portage method is for me to carry a small barrel pack and the canoe while Missy carries an Algonquin Outfitter canoe-pack. This method is very successful for us as we have yet to encounter a portage we couldnít single carry. The 90-meter portage is only around a small swift that we were able to easily run. The portage around Cedar Rapids is pretty tough. It's uphill for the first half and then a boulder garden for the last half. We encountered a very large bull moose just before the portage, he had one of the largest racks I have ever seen. A few pictures and we left him to his lunch.
After the portage we stopped for a snack at the put it, with a younger bull feeding a few hundred meters down the shoreline. We didnít stay long though, as the mosquitoes were pretty fierce. We arrived at Perley Lake where we encountered another big bull moose. This lake seemed to take a ridiculously long time to paddle, an ominous sign of things to come. The portage around Portal Rapids was pretty easy.
We stopped for lunch at the campsite on the left, at the northeast corner of Burntroot. It has a great sand beach and a fantastic sunset (western) view where we had a swim. Missy too Ė no chickening out this time. This was followed by a quick paddle to the portage into Robinson Lake . This portage was mucky and strewn with boulders making it pretty tough. It also seemed longer than 1300 meters but we managed it in good time. Robinson Lake was a nice easy paddle into a light headwind.
The portage into Whiskeyjack was difficult to find. It's tucked right back into the western corner of the lake and you have to paddle through a small marsh to get to it. It also didnít help that a tree had fallen in front of the portage sign making it very hard to see. The portage is simply up and over a small hill. We stayed on the campsite on the north shore of Whiskeyjack . It was a decent site but a big let down from our spectacular site on Catfish Lake . We also had neighbours across the lake. But they were the best kind of neighbours .. quiet and in bed before us. We both had another dip to clean off the afternoon work and relax the muscles. Missy found the bugs really bad, I canít say I disagree either. We had a nice dinner of fresh pasta, and some apples and chocolate mix. Chocolate mix is a bulk barn find (termed Choco-Mix in the bins) and a shoo-in for future trips.
Missy voiced her dissatisfaction with her performance on this trip so far. She used to be a personal trainer, but has gone back to school to get her teaching certificate so she feels like she is badly out of shape. She is definitely pulling her own weight but I guess she feels like she isnít. She says she feels more tired than usual after one of our trips but Iím sure she is imagining it. No campfire tonight, thatís usual for us. It's not that we donít enjoy them. I used to camp solo before I met my wife and I preferred to not send up a dinner bell for animals alerting them that I was nearby and hanging my food for them to try to come and steal. My thinking is that animals become accustomed to the camping arrangements of our provincial parks and they learn that a campfire means people, and people mean food. So I generally forego the fire to avoid alerting the bears and racoons. We've also noticed a dramatic decline in the availability of firewood in most provincial parks. So we usually limit ourselves to one fire per trip. That keeps a nice balance between our primal urges for fire and the economy of our natural resources.
It was a pretty easy morning along the Nipissing River today. It started with the 480-meter portage between Whiskeyjack and Remona Lakes . It starts with a nice uphill climb, then down into a ravine, then back up and then down down down to Remona. Remona looks really nice, but we noticed a bunch of leeches so itís a no-go for us as far as camping there. The 1950-meter portage was pretty good. It only took 25 minutes, as it is fairly flat with excellent footing.
At the put in to the Nipissing we had a tough decision .. either paddle west to High Falls and take in the view along with 2 Ė 3 hours of unnecessary paddling .. or just head east and on towards our campsite but miss out on High Falls. We decided that High Falls could wait for another trip .. that not visiting it would motivate our return. We made a pact to return on a full run of the Nipissing that would take in High Falls and the High View Cabin. The 860 M portage was pretty tough. Some downed trees and very poor footing made it slow going. The Nipissing between here and Nadine Lake portage is easy going. However, it twists and turns the rest of the way, making it very slow to paddle, not to mention frustrating. Two more bull moose were spotted and one large snapping turtle. Next time maybe Iíll bring a fishing rod. Betcha there are plenty of speckled trout in there.
The going from the Nadine Lake portage to the 380 Meter portage is VERY slow .. just winding its way east. However, after the portage itís a nice paddle to Cedar Lake. Easy portages and a few runnable swifts. You can expect some scratches if you run, but probably nothing beyond that. All of the campsites on this section (after Nadine which is ok) are pretty poor. Just before the 380 Meter portage is the best of the bunch .. up high on the shore of the tea coloured Nipissing. After Plumb Creek the choices are weak. We went all the way to Cedar Lake and stayed on a site opposite from the parking lot with a very beautiful eastern view. Some great swimming was had after a ten-hour travel day. And, we were in bed early for a well-deserved sleep.
We were up and on the water by 8:30 a.m. and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise on Cedar Lake. A quick paddle across to the car and we had finished another beautiful trip.
James Bonney .. email@example.com