T62: Little Cauchon Ė Erables Ė Nadine Ė Nipissing River

July 31 to August 4, 2015     -     by Brandon Peek

Days 1 & 2    Days 3, 4 & 5    All-in-one

Access No. 27 Ė Cedar Lake / Brent

Specs: 5 Days | 88.3 km | 18 Lakes | 21 Portages | 14,600m

Summary: A 5-day loop with a high focus on historic sites and ruins, along with two very interesting encounters with Algonquinís amazing wildlife.

Day 1 Ė Friday July 31st, 2015

In the middle of a deep sleep, my eyes suddenly snapped wide open as my mobile phone alarm went off wildly across the room. For a brief second, I had the "Where the heck am I?" feeling, as I was spending the night at a nice little motel in Mattawa. This happens to me every time I spend the night somewhere other than my own bed. I clambered out of bed and slowly began to realize that I was awake this early for a very good reason. I would be beginning a short, but sweet, five-day adventure through the north end of Algonquin Park.

My canoe mate for this trip was my fiancťe Angela, who has joined me on several canoe trips in the past. This trip, however, would be a little bit different for Angela. This would be her first five-day canoe trip in which we are moving campsites each day Ė no layover days Ė no rest days Ė just a big loop with plenty to see and some very specific ruins/historic locations to visit. Angela also had a little extra planned for this trip Ė youíll hear more about that on day four.

By 6:30am we had showered and were leaving the motel. I took a quick look out at Earlís Lake and the sight of water had me excited. Soon Iíd leave behind the pavement, cell phones and ceilings in exchange for forest trails, tarps and the lack of connectivity Ė basically, perfection! After a quick stop at Tim Hortons in Mattawa, we were on our way to the permit office. About 20 minutes later, we arrived at the permit office and it wasnít even 7:10am. This wass perfect because the office only opens at 7am. As far as Iím concerned we got there as early as possible.

A quick and friendly exchange with the permit office staff and we were back in the car. The drive to Brent can feel like a long one Ė especially when you are so chock-full of excitement because youíre going to Algonquin Park. Eventually, we caught up to a pickup truck also headed down to Brent. While rounding a corner, I noticed the pickup truck suddenly break hard and swerve a little to the left. I noticed something run off into the bush. It looked small, like a dog or something. I figured it was possible a wolf, but I didnít get a very good look at it. We continued down the road and arrived at Cedar Lake by 8am.

I pulled right up to the dock at the beach and began the process of unloading the car. Angela and I have it down to a science now. While I unload the canoe, she unloads the packs and other equipment. I did a quick once-over in the car, to make sure we didnít forget anything. I then parked the car, where it would spend the next 5 days. While heading back to the canoe, I passed the guys in the pickup truck and asked them what ran across the road in front of them. "A bear!" one guy replied. Wow, didnít see that coming. I wouldíve guessed a wolf, but I didnít hadn't got a good look at it.

Back at the canoe, we geared up and put on our PFDís! It was a good day to be paddling Cedar Lake, as there was absolutely no wind. It was dead calm .. perfect paddling conditions. We didnít have a very long day ahead of us. Our destination lake was Little Cauchon and I was aiming for a beautiful rocky campsite that I remembered seeing while passing through the area back in 2012. I remembered it being the best campsite on the lake, so I was really hoping it was vacant. As we paddled up Cedar Lake, Angela was taken back by the view .. giant rolling hills surrounding the lake.

Looking across Cedar Lake towards the Nipissing Delta.

Relatively calm waters on a usually rough and windy Cedar Lake.

AS we passed by Gilmour Island, I pointed out a little rock that a friend and I had stopped at last year for lunch, while waiting out some foul weather. In a little over an hour after leaving the beach on Cedar Lake, we arrived at our first historic destination of the trip .. the Kish Kaduk Lodge. I had tried to visit this location twice in the past, both times failing to do so as the campsite was occupied and I didnít want to intrude. As we rounded the rocky outcrop, I was thrilled to see that the campsite was vacant and I would finally get to see the ruins!

Old rail wheels and rail remains leading into Cedar Lake.

Cooking stove from on of the Kish-Kaduk buildings.

We landed at the campsite and immediately saw interesting artifacts. There's an old rail system that leads into the lake as well as an old stove and other scattered metal. While impressive, I knew the really good stuff was behind the campsite, up the hill. Angela and I both photographed the ruins and artifacts in the immediate area. We then continued up a narrow trail to see the rest. What remains at the top of the hill is truly breathtaking! Just standing there makes one's mind race back to a time when this place was thriving and flourishing. Now however, only collapsed walls and stone chimney stacks remain.

We spent our time carefully photographing the area. The sun was out and it was still a little cool on account of it being morning, so the bugs didnít seem to bother us here either. As you explore closer and closer, you begin to notice things you may not have seen the first time around .. little stone pathways, stone edging, possibly boarders for a garden. And there are the negative things .. discarded batteries and other items that are harmful to the environment. Different times, I guess.

Stone chimney stack surrounded by collapsed walls.

Storage building at the rear of the Kish-Kaduk property.

After 45 minutes at the ruins, we figured we photographed as much as we could and decided it was time to move on. Our day was mostly paddling with only two very short portages. Knowing this, we decided to bring in a little extra wine and food for the first night. Continuing up Cedar Lake and eventually through Little Cedar Lake, I mentioned to Angela how happy I was that the wind was cooperating. It was still a very calm day. As we arrived at the narrow channel leading to Aura Lee Lake, Angela became very nervous. She has difficulty seeing under water (I need to get her some polarized glasses) and she was worried we may hit a rock. Now if youíve been through this area, you know hitting a rock here isnít as simple as hitting a rock somewhere else Ė these are some extremely jagged and sharp rocks, hitting one would surely damage the canoe's gel coat. I told her not to worry and just keep a close eye Ė but before I could finish saying that I hear Ďcruuuuunchí and we were stuck. Oh well, itís happened, lets deal with it a move on. I stepped outside the boat to ease the weight off the rock and moved it into the deeper part of the channel, then climbed back in. No worries, it happens!

We made our way down the narrow channel and arrived at the railway underpass. Being terrified of spiders and other creepy-crawlies, Angela threw on her bug jacket and ducked down while I paddled through the dark and narrow tunnel. A huge sigh of relief was heard from the front of the canoe once we were on the other side. And rightfully so, as there were some pretty big spiders on the wall in that tunnel!

Paddling the narrows between Little Cedar Lake and Aura Lee Lake.

Approaching the now-named Spiderís Underpass railway bridge.

We arrived at Aura Lee Lake proper at 10:50am and we didnít have much further to go. Once again, I pointed out a campsite that I had made previous use of, and after only a few minutes of paddling we arrived at our first portage of the day .. a 345m portage which would take us to Laurel Lake. With the extra comfort items we'd brought for day one, we'd anticipated having to double-carry the two portages. But after loading up, we realized that with just a little suffering, we could do it in a single carry! So on we went, loaded to the max, but single carrying. We crossed the portage in about five minutes and were both really happy that we didnít have to go back and do it again. Honestly, I love single carrying and loathe double carrying Ė but sometimes its necessary.

We launched onto Laurel Lake and noticed the wind had picked up a little. It wasnít intense or annoying, but it was definitely coming. Laurel Lake is a small, roundish lake surrounded by big hills Ė one of which in particular is tall and round. I remembered seeing this hill from the other side while paddling down Hurdman Creek last year. Iíd like to stay on this lake some day, but the island campsite looks a little over used. Not long after launching onto the lake, we arrive at the take out of P135 leading to Little Cauchon Lake. This short portage has a nasty bite to it Ė the first 30 meters or so is very uphill and very rocky. Itís probably one of the more challenging short portages out there. Using the same system as last time, but taking a very quick break at the top of the hill, we managed to make the crossing and arrive at Little Cauchon Lake by 11:55am.

About to launch on Little Cauchon Lake from the portage to Laurel Lake..

The Little Cauchon end of this portage is very picturesque. It looks like a little pond with the railway trestles in the background. We stopped for a quick water and rest break before continuing on the final leg of the day. After all, it wasnít even noon yet and we were on our destination lake. About ten minutes or so went by and Angela suggested we make a move so we could get the desired campsite and have lunch. I agreed as the wind was picking up a little.

We took our time paddling. Once under the railway trestle, we emerged onto Little Cauchon Lake proper. This is a long narrow lake and due to its orientation can become very windy. The wind had picked up since Laurel Lake, but it still wasnít a problem. We paddled to the west shore and began to follow it. While passing the first two campsites I took note that the second one looked pretty decent, so if our targeted site was occupied we could backtrack a few hundred meters and claim the second campsite. At around 12:40 we were approaching the final outcropping that was blocking our view of the campsite. I was sincerely hoping it was vacant as I was hungry and hot Ė I wanted to take a swim off those rocks!

The tent pitched high up off the water on Little Cauchon Lake.

Looking down towards the water from the tent pad.

Around the corner, we came and YES! The campsite was available. I was so very happy, as it just looked so inviting. Itís a massive sloping rock. At the back, itís probably fifty or sixty feet above the lake and continues on a gradual but consistent slope right into the water. It was a great campsite indeed! We arrived just in time too. The wind was really kicking up and it was bringing some dark clouds along with it. We gave the campsite a once over and decided to place the tent up high above the fire pit and seating area. While I setup the tent, Angela covered the seating area in a little old tarp we use for above the fire.

Good thing we hadn't messed around, because not 10 minutes after getting the rain fly on the tent a HUGE rainstorm arrived. We didnít have time to put up the big tarp. So here we were, huddled down under this tiny tarp, with huge gusts of wind and rain coming at us sideways. Luckily, the way the rocks and seating area were situated, we were mostly protected from the side-winds and rain. But man-oh-man, it was raining so hard at one point that we both just looked at each other and laughed. What else can you do? The tent was up and our gear was protected, so might as well just sit back and enjoy the show. But I really canít stress how intense the rain was. A LOT of water was falling from the sky.

The rain was approaching from the north-west.

It became very dark once this cloud made its way across the entire sky.

The rain lasted about a half hour. It tapered off and eventually blue sky returned. We had a quick lunch of salami sandwiches with mustard on bagels, after which I decided to go and forage for wood. Angela setup the interior of the tent and we pretty much spent the rest of the day lounging on the rocks. By 4pm or so we were really glad we had the advantage of an early start because the wind had strengthened. The few groups that passed us all had the same disappointed "darn Ė its occupied" look on their faces, as they struggled to push on.

Steak along with roasted potatoes, corn on the cob and jerk broccoli & onion.

As dinner time rolled around, the dark clouds did too. It looked like it would be opening up again, so we decided to get cooking. The menu was steak with roasted potatoes, sour cream & chives along with jerk broccoli & onion and corn on the cob. Paired with some red wine, it was thoroughly enjoyed. I love a fire-cooked steak. I love eating dinner in Algonquin under a tarp. Great food and great company on our first day. I couldnít be happier.

With dinner finished, Angela cleaned up the dishes while I searched for a spot to hang the bear-rope. I spent quite a bit of time trying to find a decent location as the choices were very limited. It was becoming increasingly dark due to the clouds and by 9pm we both decided to head to bed. A good call too, because as we approached the tent it began to rain lightly Ė a perfect sound to fall asleep to.

Day 2 Ė Saturday August 1st, 2015

Morning mist, looking up Little Cauchon Lake.

Trees through the mist on the opposite shore.

6:05am and I was out of the tent. I try not sleep in while out in Algonquin. The early hours of the morning are my favorite. Everything is still so quite and the forest is just beginning to come alive with the song-birds. This morning was a little more special than others, it was very foggy out and it must have rained hard throughout the night. I grabbed my camera and began to take photos up and down the lake. It was such a beautiful morning.

I untied the food from the tree and set up my stove away from the tent, so as to not wake Angela. With water in the pot and the pot on the stove, I was eagerly awaiting my first cup of coffee. I may have had a little more wine than I should have the night before Ė but I had too Ė I didnít want to carry it across 6 portages today. With the water boiled I made a coffee, grabbed my chair and sat down next to the shore. Just looking around and across the lake, enjoying the view and the silence.

It had that August feel to it, cool dewy mornings and it felt like it could be a hot day. I relaxed by the lake for about an hour, enjoying the coffee. About an hour and a half after I woke up, Angela emerged from the tent. She was trying out a new sleeping pad and slept very well. Good thing too, because we would be travelling nearly 27 km with 6 portages totalling over 5600m. A tough day indeed!

A quick look at the campsite before packing up.

Bacon, eggs & hash browns for breakfast!

With a cup of coffee on the go, Angela made breakfast while I took down the tent. We had a semi-luxurious camping breakfast. Real eggs, bacon and hash browns. It was amazing and filling. I didn't know that I would eat that much. I almost didnít feel like going anywhere after that. With everything packed up, we hit the water at 9:45am. There are two planned stops along the way today, both of which are on Little Cauchon Lake. We had hoped to visit a third ruin location on the other side of the lake too, but yesterdays wind and rain prevented that from happening, so we would save it for another time.

The first ruin I wanted to check out was an old cabin along the portage to Gouinlock Lake. I had seen it in a trip report and wanted to add it to my ruins collection. We paddled over and in only a few minutes arrived at the trail to Gouinlock Lake. Within seconds, I looked to my right and saw the collapsed cabin. "That was easy," I thought to myself. However, while photographing it I wasnít so sure this was the same cabin I saw in the trip report. The logs looked different from what I remembered. I doubted there were two cabins on the portage, so I must have been thinking of something else. Little did I know, there actually are two cabins on that trail and this wasnít the one I was targeting.

The exterior front of the little cabin along the portage to Gouinlock Lake.

The interior of the same little cabin.

It was a cool little cabin. Some think it may have been an ice house, as itís pretty small. But who knows really. Satisfied with finding our second ruin location of the trip, we continued up Little Cauchon Lake to our next target. This next spot was recently disclosed to me by a fellow tripper, who had visited the site some 20 years earlier. I was told I would find it along Windermere Creek. I figured the best starting point was the portage to Windermere Lake so we headed over there.

While paddling around the point of land that divides the two portages, I noticed a foundation and some ruins there. We pulled over and found a massive foundation, along with a few areas that had log walls. This was an impressive place, but a little less so because by the look of the materials, this probably wasnít very old Ė maybe 50 or 60 years Ė or less. It was still very cool and we spent about 20 minutes photographing the area.

The unexpected foundation on the point of land between the two portages.

Part of this building had cabin-style log walls, perhaps additions to the original structure.

The wind was picking up and I wanted to get going, as we would be facing the wind for about 10km while paddling to the upper end of Cauchon Lake. We paddled over to the start of the portage to Windermere Creek and started to explore. While Angela followed the portage trail proper, I followed the creek. I could hear the sound of water falling and this fit the bill for what I was looking for. Apparently there used to be some type of power generating facility here that used the water falling over the rocks to turn a waterwheel connected to a turbine. How cool would that be to find out here?

I followed the sound of the water and a very faint trail to one of the most scenic water falls in Algonquin Park. Itís not huge. Nor does it have massive volumes of water flowing over it. But it was tucked away in a little hollow of land, which creates a bit of an echo. Arriving at the ruin site, I immediately knew I was looking at the right place, even though the entire structure had collapsed. There was evidence of power generating equipment here, along with tools, structures and even an intact glass window in one of the collapsed walls. I called out to Angela to see it. She came over and was equally impressed. We both photographed the area and the waterfalls then just sat back for a while and took it all in.

The bigger of the two waterfalls, this is the main power house structure.

A closer look at the ruins of the collapsed structure.

A tranquil little waterfall sits just next to the ruins.

While walking back to the canoe, we talked about how weíve barely been there for 24 hours and had already found 4 of the many ruins sites we came to see. And there were still plenty more! Back in the canoe, we began the long paddle up Little Cauchon Lake. Unfortunately, the wind was not as kind as it was yesterday and the paddle was a bit of a struggle. It took us a long time to reach the bridges that divide Little Cauchon Lake from Cauchon Lake.

By the time we arrived at Cauchon Lake, I was pretty tired and not looking forward to the rest of the day. After a quick snack, some water and a few minutesí rest we continued into the wind and up the lake. I had wanted to show Angela the damage to the forest behind the first campsite from a tornado a few years back. But with the wind blowing as hard as it was, I just wanted to get to the end of the lake, since by then our route direction would take us out of the prevailing winds.

Approaching the bridge that divides the two Cauchon Lakes.

Around 12:30pm, we arrived at a little island close to the end of Cauchon Lake and decided to take a break behind it, out of the wind. Our arms were tired and I was a little hungry. We relaxed and had another snack and water. I had a dťjŗ-vu moment as I suddenly remembered breaking at this very same spot back in 2012 for the same reason. With a little more energy we made the push to the end of the lake . We first tried to pass the island on the west side. But this was a fail, as itís not really an island as much as it is a jetty of land. We backtracked and went around the other way, eventually making our way to the landing of the portage to Mink Lake.

I made sure to pay attention to the last campsite on the Cauchon Lake, as I remembered making a mental note about it back in 2012 while on a previous trip. I couldnít remember what made me think it would be an awesome site (it does have an interesting view), but I was glad I would get to see it again. Well, I have no idea what I was thinking in the past, because as we approached the campsite I immediately knew I would never stay there unless I had to. Itís not that it was horrible. It was just a small patch of land at the bottom of a steep hillside. It didnít stand out in any way, shape or form. There are much better campsites on Cauchon Lake. Strange, perhaps I was thinking of somewhere else.

We arrived at the landing for the portage to Mink Lake and I told Angela that this one wasn't too bad, nor was it very long. We managed to cross it in about ten minutes. We stopped there for lunch .. once again Salami sandwiches with mustard on a bagel. This is my favorite lunch in Algonquin because it takes mere minutes to assemble. It's simple/clean to eat and provides a lot of energy. After eating, we made a quick launch onto Mink Lake. Angelaís heart sank. She looked up the lake towards Kiosk, with the wind blowing hard in our face. She then said, "Oh no, please no." I assured her we weren't headed that way, and would only be on this lake for a few minutes. We crossed the lower end of the lake and entered Mink Creek. It was a beautiful little creek; but too short, as the portage appeared within a minute.

This was a slightly longer trail at 1165m. But as I remembered, it was fairly flat and followed an old railway spur for most of its length. It also has the added bonus of a really cool ruin structure at the other end. There was a canoe and some other gear at the landing, so I figured someone was double carrying. Once again we loaded up and began down the trail. We walked for about ten minutes then stopped for a break. I figured we were about half way down this trail. It was getting a little hot out and I was beginning to miss the coolness provided by the wind Ė but my arms werenít.

After a five minute break, we loaded back up and continued down the trail, passing two gentlemen on the way who were headed back for their second load of gear. Another ten minutes of walking and we reached the marshy end of Club Lake. I took the canoe right down to the landing and then came back up to check out the old lumber building with Angela. I had been here twice before, so I wasnít as interested in it as she was. But still, this is a very cool structure. We took several photographs and decided to continue on. It was now 2:10pm and we still had 13km and 4 portages to go.

Looking out onto a beautiful and marshy Club Lake.

Ruins at the Club Lake end of the portage from Mink Lake.

While paddling the marshy area known as Club Lake, Angela mentioned that this was her favorite spot in Algonquin to date. She loves marshes and wetlands. For most of the journey across the lake, Angela took pictures while I slowly paddled. As we approached the lower end of the lake, a few dark clouds rolled in and I thought it would rain at any moment. Luckily, it didnít! We crossed Club Lake and arrived at the marshy entrance to Mink Creek.

At the mouth of the creek we saw two couples looking all around, as if they had lost something. I paddled to the entrance of the creek and one of the guys was out on the muskeg, looking west. I asked "Whatíre you looking for?" and he replied, "The portage to Mouse Lake." Man, he was way off! Looking back at it, if I hadn't come through, who knows how long he wouldíve been looking there. He was nowhere near it. "Itís way down there at the end of this creek," I shouted while pointing southeast. "Trust me, Iíve been through here before." That line must have convinced him because he hadnít seemed too interested in my first response.

Meanwhile, the other couple was trying to find their way through the tall grasses and into the creek proper. The entrance to Mink Creek from Club Lake can be hidden and if you take the wrong channel, chances are you'd have to get your feet wet, or have to turn around and try again. When Angela and I first arrived at the tall grasses, we went down the wrong channel and saw this couple. There was a tiny channel in front of them leading to the main creek, but youíd have to get out to make it through. And thatís what this couple planned to do. Well, perhaps the guy planned to and the girl had no choice. But she did not look impressed at the idea of stepping out into this creek. I looked at the creek, looked at Angela and said "Letís paddle around." We went the long way around and it only took a couple of minutes. Just as they were stumbling through the mud up to their waist and finally reaching the creek, we paddled by dry as a bone. The girl looked especially irate and we got a little evil eye. It's likely there were leaches in there!

Paddling the marshy narrows between the upper and lower sections of Club Lake.

We paddled down the creek, with the other two couples behind us, and eventually arrived at the portage to Mouse Lake. Once again it was a short portage at 610m, so we geared up and made the move. I was starting to feel like we were loosing too much time and it was causing me a little stress. We still had 3 portages after this one, two of which were around 1500m. Once again we made a quick crossing of the trail and wasted no time paddling across a very round Mouse Lake. The wind kicked up again but it didnít really affect us, as we were sort of headed in the same direction. While crossing the lake, I pointed out a beautiful beach campsite I had stayed at previously. Before we knew it we were on the other side of the Lake. This portage was a decent one at 1705m. We knew this one would take some time. The plan was to tackle it in chunks, the first part being the smallest as there was quite a bit of uphill until you hit the logging road.

We loaded up and began the carry. Both of us were getting tired and the weight of our packs plus the uphill grade was beginning to take its toll. After only 7 or 8 minutes we stopped for a rest and some water. A few minutes later, we continued on and were able to go for a bit longer as the trail had finally levelled out. About 2/3 of the way through the trail we stopped for another break and more water, this time hanging out for five minutes or so to regain some energy. I looked at the GPS and we had about 500m to go, so I told Angela if we just walk for about 8 solid minutes we would be at the other end. Eventually, we made it to the creek and we were both happy that portage was over.

Angela was tired. But I wanted to get moving, so I told her she could chill out in the front of the canoe with a snack, while I paddled us down Mink Creek. This gave her a short 20-minute break. This part of Mink Creek is really beautiful, surrounded by young pine growth. It almost feels a little boreal. A little under 20 minutes later and we arrived at the take out for the P190 portage leading into Big Thunder Lake. Originally I'd wanted to stay the night there but unfortunately it was booked, so we'd decided to push on to Erables. We crossed the short trail in less than five minutes. Iíve always wanted to paddle Mink Creek right to the lake and see the waterfalls along the way. But today wasnít the day to do it. While on the portage, some really dark clouds rolled in and it felt like 8pm! I had a feeling we are in for a drenching.

We took a chance and decided to paddle across Big Thunder Lake but remained very close to shore, in case lightning appeared. Well, let me tell you, Big Thunder Lake surely lived up to its name. About half way across the lake, some of the loudest crackling and thunder Iíve every heard began. You could actually feel the Ďboomsí. We couldnít see any lightning and it wasnít raining yet. We decided to make a super fast push to our final portage. A few minutes of nerve-trembling paddling and we arrived at the landing to P1495 to Erables Lake.

Angela put her rain jacket on for this trail, I left mine off as I would be under the canoe anyway. We loaded up and within seconds of taking our first steps, the clouds opened up and it just poured on us. It was very thick, very hard rain. We continued down the trail and the forest cover helped a little, But there were a few points at which so much water was dripping off the boat I began to laugh to myself. I thought "How ironic. The bottom of the boat is wet either way today." Just one of many silly thoughts one has while crossing a long portage. We walked for a solid ten minutes through the rain and I shouted out to Angela, asking if she wanted to take a break. She was doing well and I was too, so we decided to keep walking. The trail was relatively flat and easy to work with. However, one section was a bit of a boulder garden and required extra time when its slippery due to the rain. Surprisingly, after another fifteen minutes we arrived at the other end of the portage. I couldnít believe we'd walked the entire distance without taking a break. It took about a half hour to walk the trail, and the rain had lasted for the first 20 minutes or so.

Finally, the last portage of the day was complete. The rain had stopped and there were patches of a soon-setting-sun here and there. We were both very tired. It was a long day with a lot of portaging and we still werenít at our campsite. But we were on the destination lake. It was 6pm but we only had a little over a kilometer or so of paddling to go, as I was targeting the western campsite on the southern most island of the lake.

Happy to see the rain gone, we took our time paddling across the lower end of Erables Lake. About half way across, I saw something moving in the water. It kind of looked like a moose, but it was moving pretty fast. "Get you zoom lens out. I think thatís a moose up there." I said softly while continuing to paddle. With her zoom lens setup, Angela held up the camera and took a few shots. "Itís a bear!" she exclaimed. "What?! Are you sure?" I asked. "Itís definitely a bear!" she replied. I was so happy Ė finally, ithad happened. Iíve been tripping in Algonquin for years and I have never seen a bear while out on a canoe trip. In fact, the first bear Iíve seen within the boarder of Algonquin Park was just the day before, the one that ran across the road in front of the pickup truck. So here at the end of our super-long and exhausting day, we had a bear swimming across the lake. Boy can they swim fast! We watched quietly as he made it to the south shore of the lake and clambered out onto a rock then disappeared into the forest. Both Angela and I were in awe at this sighting, and I loved every second of it.

Our first bear sighting while on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park .. an everlasting memory.

With the bear off into the woods, we continued paddling and approached the first campsite on the right. It looked like it would be a haven for mosquitoes and other biting insects. We continued through the narrows and entered Erables Lake proper. Looking at the southern most mainland campsite and not being impressed, we continued to the original target on the island. Once around the corner and with the island in view, I immediately knew I wanted to stay there. It just looked so beautiful with the sun and clouds off in the distance. Passing the first campsite, we opted for the western most site.

We finally made our landing at 6:30pm and though exhausted we were both really happy with our new home for the evening. This campsite is on a southern point so you get both sunrise and sunset from anywhere on the site. It had solid benches and great tent pads. Itís a little too close to the neighbouring campsite, so if it was occupied I would be less inclined to stay here Ė but it wasnít, so we did!

Beautiful shadows on the lower end of Erables Lake.

Approaching our home for the evening .. a sweet little island on Erables Lake.

Then something strange happened. Within about two minutes of landing on the campsite, a couple of loons who were swimming just off shore began to freak out. And when I say freak out, I seriously mean freak out. Iíve never seen or heard any loon do what these two were doing. And they wouldnít stop or go away. It was very, very odd. I started pondering why they would act in this way, then thought there may be a nest nearby. I looked all around the shoreline and campsite for a loonís nest, but there was none. The whole time I was searching the loons were still making their insane calls while flapping and dancing on the water. I was truly puzzled, so was Angela. We could hear the stress in the voice of those birds, but I couldnít understand why. Then suddenly I heard something. I told Angela to listen and she heard it too. ĎPeep peep peep peep!í I could hear the tiny calls of a baby bird, but I didnít know where it was coming from. Angela could hear it too but was also unable to find the location. We looked around and suddenly spotted a baby loon, floating in the water among the reeds. He was peeping a lot and when he saw us, he swam directly towards us and up to the rocky shoreline where he sat, peeping away. Meanwhile the parents were still losing their minds trying to call the baby bird back. He just wouldnít listen. He stayed next to the rock for a while and then at one point he began to swim out to the lake towards his parents. Angela and I were so happy; he was finally figuring it out! Then for whatever reason, he turned around and headed back to the safety of the rock where he stayed and continued peeping away. I told Angela we need to disappear for a while and maybe the parents will come retrieve him. We walked through the forest to the other campsite and remained there for about 20 minutes.

This loon was calling out and sounding very stressed.

She began to dance and splash water in an effort to distract us from her young.

After allowing some time to pass, we returned to the campsite. To our dismay, the parents seemed to have given up and had swum out to the middle of the bay, while the youngster was still hanging out at the rock. "Raccoon food." I thought to myself, "I guess this is the way it goes sometimes." Well, Angela was not having any of that. She asked if we should deliver the youngster to his parents out in the bay. I declined the request, citing the fact that we should not be interfering with the natural order of things. I said, "what if this is the way its supposed to happen, and a raccoon is now fed tonight instead of starving?" But she rebutted. "What if we are the reason they became separated in the first place?" She had a point there. As we had approached the island, we had seen the two loons Ė but absolutely no sign of a chick. Maybe it was close to shore and we came between them? I canít say for sure one way or another, so she had me thinking.

The cutest little baby loon youíve ever seen. I'm so happy we managed to save this little guy!

"If they smell us on their baby, theyíll likely abandon it anyway." I claimed. "Iíll wear the rubber fish gloves Ė they probably like the smell of fish!" she replied. How can you argue with that? Reluctantly I put the canoe in the water, while Angela secured the baby loon. She got in the canoe and I headed out to the middle of the south-west bay. I looked around and couldnít see the parents anymore. Neither could Angela. I paddled some more, as I figured they were fishing under water. A moment later I saw them appear just to our right. This actually worked out perfectly for two reasons. Firstly, the wind would carry the scent of the youngster to them. And secondly, if they disappeared underwater, the wind would blow the chick in their general direction while we make our getaway.

I paddled quickly but quietly and we were within about 30 feet of the parents. My goal was to paddle by quickly, releasing the bird as soon as we were parallel to the parents, then continuing on and out of there quickly. The plan was in motion. I was moving at a good pace when suddenly one of the parents went under. "Get ready." I whispered to Angela. "Now!" I said a few seconds later. With that, Angela gently released the chick over the edge of the canoe and into the water. And then the other parent went under. "Shoot!"í I said, but continued to paddle quickly as to vacate the area. "Where are they? Where are they?" Angela asked. Then, just at that moment the parents popped up.

The chick was still peeping away and the plan worked. He was blown closer to them. Within seconds they were reunited. It was the most beautiful thing Iíve ever seen in Algonquin. Minutes before Iím sure these birds had assumed their young was dead and gone. Heck even I was convinced of the same. But there it was, alive and well. For about 5 minutes I didnít paddle or speak. Nor did Angela. We just watched. It almost sounds made up but the loon family literally swam off down the bay into the sunset-lit water. Like I said, it was the most beautiful experience Iíve had in Algonquin.

While paddling back to the campsite, we didnít say anything to each other. We just made our way back to the island in silence. I couldnít believe what we just did. Nor could I believe it actually worked. I told Angela Iím glad we went with her gut instinct instead of mine. I know you shouldnít mess with nature, but seeing those birds reunited removed any doubt I had about helping. I was really happy. What a way to end an already super long day. By this point Angela and I were both mentally and physically exhausted.

It was almost 9pm and we hadnít started dinner, collected wood or even set up the tent! Luckily the dinner was relatively easy to make Ė Butter Chicken on a bed of Indian-style rice. I set up the stove and began to boil some water. In the mean time, I set up the tent so Angela could fix up the interior. Nighttime had arrived, so I grabbed my headlamp and quickly scoured the island for some firewood. There wasnít much around, but enough to have a quick fire while eating dinner. With the rice and chicken ready to go, I grabbed some dry pine needles and got the fire going. We ate as fast as humanly possible as we talked about the long and tough day. It had certainly been a long one, with several ruin locations in the morning and two very memorable wildlife encounters in the evening.

The moon rising above the trees on Erables Lake.

With dinner done and the dishes washed up, it wasnít long before I hung the food and we both hit the sack. I just knew Id sleep well. We were in bed by 11:00pm and asleep by 11:01!

- End of Day 2 -

Days 1 & 2    Days 3, 4 & 5    All-in-one