May 19-22 - Big Trout, Lake la Muir, Big Crow

by Basil L.

Date: Friday, May 19th - Monday, May 22nd
Access Point: #11 - Lake Opeongo
Route: Happy Isle, Merchant, Big Trout, Longer Lake, Red Pine Bay, Lake la Muir, Hogan, Big Crow, Little Crow, Proulx

Day #1 - Friday, May 19th

I'd long been waiting for this trip. More so than in previous years, the start of the season had felt like it had taken an eternity to finally arrive. I, as well as my buddy Chris, had booked the Friday off to make a 4 day trip of it. The plan was to hit the road from Toronto at 6am and get to the access point for 9:30am with a 10:00am water taxi taking us upto the Happy Isle portage.

Everything had been going according to plan as we had done all of our meal prep and gear round up in the days leading up to the trip. What I didn't expect was to be tied up on Thursday evening until well past my bedtime going through paperwork and signing off on an offer for our first home. Alas, it'd be a last minute stuff of gear and a night of very little sleep.

We hit the road at 6:00am sharp, made a quick drive through stop at Tim Horton's at the King City on route and were well on our way. Where I hadn't been able to take my mind off of this trip for so many weeks, I was having a difficult time focusing on it now, when it was actually starting. To top it off, I would be off the grid as of 10:00am and in the dark about whether or not our offer would be accepted until Monday.

Just as planned, we were pulling into Opeongo Outfitters at 9:30am, grabbed our permits and loaded into the water taxi. I was not expecting such a cold morning. A rip up Opeongo in 4 degree weather woke me right up, and made me regret not wearing that extra sweater.

Loading up the taxi at Opeongo Access Point. My girl is on the end.

Setting off onto Happy Isle to start the trip.

Apart from the cool morning, Friday turned into a nice day. Not very much cloud cover at all with the wind occasionally kicking up. We started our trip with a 2235m portage at 11:15am. We were going to single carry all weekend and I had volunteered to take the first canoe load. About 200m in I started to question my existence, life choices and why we choose to do this. That passed pretty quickly as we got into the groove after a long winter. One quick break at the half way point and at 11:50am we were finally hitting the water. This was also the maiden voyage of my new to me Kevlar Fusion Swift Prospector 16'. I was very eager to get it on the water and it did not disappoint. The paddle through Happy Isle was enjoyable and quiet. When we finished the 340m portage into Merchant we were met with 2' rolling waves crashing into the put in. Snack time it is I guess. We chilled out for 15 minutes or so and the wind died down enough for us to hit the water again. We cast out our first lines in Merchant as well while paddling the West shore upto the portage. Unfortunately for us, I decided to get a little bit too close to shore and we got hung up some rocks and lost a couple of lures.

The portage to Big Trout was Chris' turn on canoe duty. Pack + Barrel for me meant I had a little bit of a hop in my step. The shoulders were getting a bit sore already. At the recommendation of some AAers, we decided to incorporate a night on Big Trout and we weren't disappointed. The wind was at our backs all evening and the paddle was beautiful. As many have mentioned we saw a ton of nice sites, but wanted to get across the lake to make our Saturday morning paddle a little bit shorter, so we took the peninsula site on the north end of the lake. Huge site with ample tent pads. You could easily get the full 9 person capacity here with comfort. The only downside of the site is that we didn't get much sun in the evening nor the benefit of warmth it would have brought in the morning.

We arrived at our site at 6:00pm, made quick work of setting up camp, gathering wood, and pouring an excessive amount of scotch. Steak, fresh corn on the cobb and baked potatoes in our bellies, and we were in our bags by 11:00pm. "I wonder if I'm a home owner?" I quipped as we dozed off.

Our site at Big Trout

View From Big Trout Site.

Day #2 - Saturday, May 20th

Alarm was set for 7:00am and up we were ready to get a move on. I had been looking forward to today as I knew the weather was going to take a turn on Sunday and we figured to make the most of the paddle to la Muir and soak up the sun while we could.

We took our time making a full breakfast of bacon, eggs and hash, and this also provided my first opportunity to use the new solo stove. It took a little bit to figure out what size twigs would give the best burn but we were frying up a storm in no time. Breakfast did take a little bit longer than anticipated though. Our hope was to get on the water by 9:00am but ended up pushing to 9:45am.

Making Breakfast


First mistake of the trip for me came this morning. Loading up the canoe at the end of the huge piece of shield rock that this site is situated on, I lost my footing while taking my pack off and ended up just barely saving myself from a full dunk. It was a steep angled rock that went straight in, but I was able to get both hands down behind me while taking a good soak from the crotch down. Luckily Chris was able to give me a quick hand to recover and no harm was done. Wool layer kept me warm and we continued the day as planned.

Takeout at Big Trout, where I would fall the next day.

We agreed to break up the portages that day with Chris taking the canoe for the 735m at the end of the day, while I would handle the rest of the smaller ones. Our goal was to keep the distances even over the duration of the trip and I had logged more of a distance up until that point. I'd be a light day for me to say the least.

Big Trout was still fairly calm that morning, and we took a good look at the site on the more northern peninsula while making our way to the portage and it looked absolutely gorgeous, albeit a little bit steep down to the landing. I couldn't speak to suitable tent pads but the sun exposure and elevated views would absolutely make it worth checking out.

While we were getting ready to leave that morning a group of 6 canoes passed our site and we had a feeling we'd be bumping into them on portages most of the day. We weren't wrong as we had to give them a few minutes to clear their gear and get a bit of a head start into Longer. Had a good chat with them and they were on their way while we munched on some trail mix.

Longer Lake was certainly worth the extension of our original route and I can say it makes it onto the list of lakes that I would make a second trip to. Very enjoyable paddle with some sites that I would love to come back to and camp on. We were also able to snag our first Brook Trout of the trip, which would be a perfect addition to our spaghetti dinner that night.

We spent some time trolling here as well and Chris has some luck with the Laker bite on his brand spanking new black fury spinner. He was able to get a good sized chunker to the boat before it shook free. I proceed to to question his hook setting capabilities in some not so nice words.

Given we took our time on Longer we expected the group ahead to be well on their way but we were mistaken as we got to the 40m takeout and they were spread out taking a break, which meant it was out opportunity to get ahead of them. Quick carry over, and back into the water. the 75 meter portage ended up being unnecessary as we watched a few boats run the rapid while we were carrying, but it did provide an excellent photo opportunity with the sun shining through.

Portage to Red Pine Bay.

Chris' turn for a blunder now. As we were setting down our canoe and gear, he set our bailer bucket down on the the slope. I lost sight of it for a minute and before I could process it is was in the water and crawling towards the current. I hollered at Chris to grab it and he made a quick couple of hops down the bank to reach for it, which he did, and proceeded to take a waste deep dunk himself with his pack on. Whoops. Hindsight tells us it floats and we could have just grabbed it further down. We had a good chuckle, tossed everything back in the boat and made our way into Red Pine Bay. I couldn't help but look to the north and wonder why we didn't incorporate Burntroot into our trip. Anchor Island is on my list, and we were so close. Alas, we has more ground to cover and more sights to see on this trip.

Red Pine Bay.

I was very excited to get onto la Muir as this was another lake that had long been on my Algonquin bucket list. It looked and felt a whole lot bigger that I was anticipating. It was nearing 4:00pm at this point and we were pretty excited to see the site that we had been targeting, the tip of the peninsula on the north shore. It looked like it was all ours, until we were about 15 meters away and I caught a glimpse of someone. Dammit! A quick chat with the lucky ocupants and we settled for the one just to the east, which was also a nice enough site, just without a sunset. It was at this point I realized I wouldn't get to see an Algonquin sunset this trip and we were sure to have cloud on Sunday.

While we were unloading all of our gear I took a look around and noticed something was missing. I looked at Chris. "Dude, where's the bailer bucket?". God damnit. The guy took a dip on the lake to grab it and then forgot to load it in the canoe before we left.

The bugs weren't bad at all this trip but we blessed with self destructive flies at this site that had no mission apart from repeatedly flying into our face. They wouldn't bite, just harass. Smoke for you!

I had been feeling fine up until this point but once our bodies had some time to relax I began to have some pretty bad muscle pain in my back. I knew we would be dusting off some muscles that hadn't be pushed in months, but this was worse than I was hoping for. I popped a couple of advil and gave myself a bear style massage on an unwilling tree. Didn't do much unfortunately. Fire, spaghetti, fresh trout and scotch this evening. Another calm night and off to bed. "I wonder if I'm a home owner?" I quipped as we dozed off.

Trout for Dinner.

Day #3 - Sunday, May 21st

Today was the day that had been causing me some anxiety for a couple of reasons. For one, it was going to be a long day day distance wise, with some big stretches of water to paddle, and our longest portage of the trip at 3.7km. On top of that, the weather was going to be miserable with an expected 15-20mm of rain falling and a high of 13 degrees. We went to bed hoping to wake up to the exact opposite. Stirring myself awake at 7:00am it took me a minute to realize what I was listening to. Wind. Howling from the east. ****. Here we go.

On the bright side, today was Chris' 28th birthday. I promised I'd wake him up with a swig of Don Julio tequila to get the day rolling. He vehemently resisted so I left him off the hook for now. We did have a long day after all.

We quickly broke camp as the rain hadn't started yet, boiled some water for coffee and oatmeal, and generally hustled to get get a quick start to the day. We were on the water by 8:15am, and as luck would have it the wind sounded like it had a bigger bark than bite.

We hugged the north shore of la Muir during the paddle east and took a peek into Presqu'ile Bay, which looked massive. I wonder if it would be worth a paddle in to explore one day. We were looking at about a 5.8km paddle to the Hogan portage, and it ended up being the most enjoyable part of the day at the rain and wind held off. We finished the first stretch in about an hour and a half.

The landing for the portage into Hogan was very cool, looking like a bit of a floating dock of sorts extending into the marshy areas. I left it upto Chris to decide how he wanted to break up canoe duties today, I could tackle this one while he would start us off on our long one of the day, or vis versa. He decided to let me take this one and he would start our adventure into Big Crow, which we would find out later worked out heavily in my favour.

Portage to Hogan.

The 685m flew by with no trouble outside of some serious mud holes and we were putting into the start of Hogan in no time. The put in came immediately after some waterfalls and was gorgeous, with wetlands surrounding the area and a little creek essentially to put into. We took a quick minute to take some photos and eat some trail mix before continuing on our way.

Put in to Hogan.

As we made it out of the creek into Hogan proper we heard a whole lot of hooting and hollering up ahead and as we came around the corner we spotted a couple of fishing boats which we assumed were celebrating something or other. Perhaps a great cast or something. Either way we figure it might be a good idea to get some lines in the water.

The rain had started up and with it came the wind. The day was starting down the inevitable direction we had anticipated all weekend, but by god we were going to do our damnedest to keep the mood light and continue shooting the shit. Seeing Chris' rod keel over helped that immensely and after a bit of a fight he had what looked to be a 22-24'' laker beside the boat. The one thing we didnt bring on this trip that will absolutely be coming with us next time we make our way into the park in the spring was a net. At the time we couldn't justify the weight and bulk. That was a rookie mistake. As soon as I went down to help it out of the water it shook the hook loose and darted back into the depths. I blamed it on those hook setting abilites again. We had a good chuckle and kept on our way.

Thus far on this trip it was easy enough to spot portages, even if the signs weren't well placed because we could just look for the low ground, and it would correlate with the portages. As we were paddling towards where I thought the portage to Big Crow would be, it just didn't look like it made sense. I mean, I couldn't see a sign, but where it should have been it just looked like a bit of a suicide mission. Before I expressed this thought to Chris in the bow, I took another look at the map and realized that there would be a 76m gain in elevation in the first couple of hundred meters. I quietly chuckled to myself and when we got about 15 meters away from the landing, the yellow sign showed itself and he had a moment or realization. Hilarious.

We took a 25 minute break to recharge on peanut butter and pita before loading up and starting this monster. The plan was to break it up into four sections, with one break at each quarter, and a swap of gear at the half way point. As The Baddest Man on the Planet, Iron Mike Tyson once quipped, everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth. We joked that one of us would find the main man Jesus on this portage, and at the top of that first climb we came close, sucking in air while we kept reminding ourselves that we chose to do this. I broke out into a heart warming rendition of Happy Birthday once we gathered ourselves and we kept pushing through. Chris was determined to make it to the second cart trail crossing and almost did, but just after we crossed the logging road he slipped on some rocks and we decided it'd be better for me to take the canoe for the remainder of the trail. Lucky for me, the last third of the trail was cart trail rated and as a result super straight forward. We had a laugh during that last stretch that Chris chose his own ending with the day's carries.

The running theme of the day had been that the things we expected to be the most challenging ended up being the easiest (see paddle across La Muir) and what we didn't expect to be difficult ended up being the most challenging. The cherry on top here ended up being the final paddle across the top end of Big Crow Lake. We were targeting the North East site on the lake on the little marsh bound island, and when we were loading up, the weather looked dicey but not dangerous. Within 5 minutes though we found ourselves in a downpour with howling winds and foot and a half rolling whitecaps. Whatever light heartedness existed during the day was sucked out from within a split second and we got tunnel vision while trying to keep the nose of the canoe directly into the oncoming waves and staying calm. It remained unsaid, but a dump here would be very very bad, so I hollered to power through and try to get to the site as fast as possible. We lucked out a bit in the way that the waves were coming at us from the south-east. It meant that we could keep straight into the waves while still paddling towards the site, with a quick turn back left when we were beside it. The front of our canoe was easily dropping two feet and smashing the water after a handful of waves. It was the hairiest situation I've found myself in, but luckily we were able to keep chatting, stayed on the same page, and made it to the site with no harm done. We hadn't even thought of the possibility of it being taken already, and even if it was we would have needed to wait the weather out. Lucky for us though it was all ours, and what an absolutely gorgeous site it was. Unfortunately the weather that evening meant we wouldn't truly get to enjoy it.

I hadn't taken the time to look around me up until this point either, but looking back down at Big Crow, my god the topography was stunning. This was by far my favourite spot of the trip thus far.

The rain persisted though and the temperature continued to drop. We threw up the tarp and put whatever dry clothes we had on, but we still had trouble getting comfortable. One learning lesson here for next time will be to bring another jacket. I had relied on my one "waterproof" jacket to stay dry and when it didn't I was left with just one sweater, which wasn't enough. We debated throwing up the tent and getting into our sleeping bags but it was still very early and we didn't want to be calling it a day so early. I also debated wrapping my bag around me in my chair, but being a down bag, I didn't want to risk getting it wet and having a cold night.

We ended up boiling some water for our dehydrated meals and coffee, and then just kept feeding the solo stove for warmth which worked out quite well and we were even able to dry some of our gear out. We ate, finished every last drop of alcohol we had brought in, and called it a night around 10:00pm with the rain still coming down. "I wonder if I'm a home owner?" I quipped as we dozed off.

Our hobo site.

View from site @ Big Crow.

Day #4 - Monday, May 22nd

Home time. We slept in a little bit this morning as our water taxi wasn't scheduled to pick us up until 2:30pm from the Proulx portage. Luckily the weather had subsided a bit over night and we woke up to dryish gear and some sunshine breaking through the clouds.

We had a fairly straightforward morning breaking camp, making coffee and oatmeal, and getting everything in order for our paddle back. I figured we would have no problems getting to our destination if we left by 11:00am but given the previous day thought it'd be safe to leave no later than 10:00am. We paddled Big Crow and Little Crow through a stiff wind which died down once we got into the Crow River. I love river paddling and being out of the big water and this trip made me realize I'd like to plan a river focused trip.

Again paddling though Proulx, we had a steady wind in our face and laughed about how the final stretch would be like this. Turned the corner and made our way to the last portage. As we landed another canoe did do as well and we chatted with them for a while. They had just finished 3 days in the Crow River and Crow Bay and it turned out they were also on the 2:30pm taxi. We loaded our gear, and left before them and skipped the last little pond on the way back.

When we got to the Proulx portage there was 2 other groups with 2 canoes who were scheduled for the 1:30pm taxi (we made it a bit early). Man would I ever love to get out of here an hour ahead of schedule. Our 2:30pm buddies came up just after us and when the water taxi showed up she said she could only take one more canoe. What transpired was a the most emotionally invested game of rock paper scissors I have ever been a part of. Rock/Rock, Scissors/Scissors, Paper/Paper, Scissors/Paper. YES! I won. We were going home early. We got to loading the canoes onto the taxi and realized someone had miscounted and everyone could jump on the same taxi, which was great because I'd have hated for someone to have to wait that last hour for another taxi.

30 minutes later we were back at Opeongo access point. Dropped off our fish survey, bought a new bailer/throw line (cheaper than MEC!) and a big camp sign for what I was hoping to be my new permanent base camp.Got on the road out, had my phone explode when we got within signal range and made a quick call to the Mrs. before looking at anything. Turns out, we are now home owners!

A few takeaways and learning points for me after this trip:
1. Overall I enjoyed the trip immensely. However for spring trips moving forward I think I may try to focus on some smaller water bodies.
2. We covered a lot of ground. 66km's in total over 4 days. I would have liked to spend more time in each place to fish and explore. It felt like we were in go-go-go mode a little bit too much.
3. Bring a full set of dry clothes, jacket and all. I found myself in a pinch when my jacket was soaked through and temperatures were dropping.
4. We are capable of handling shitty situations. The feeling of completing a trip is great, but knowing that we overcame some obstacles brings the confidence levels up for future trips.
5. Bring a fishing net for trout trips.
6. The new Swift Prospector 16 was worth every penny.
7. Don't put an offer on a home when you'll be offline for the next 4 days.