Coach-K's Opeongo to McManus Trip

In 25 years of Algonquin travel this is my first trip log - something I often thought about and would have done sooner had I known there were sites such as this. And I only discovered this site when I met Bo coming off a hot and nasty portage one Sunday afternoon and he had some cold ones.

This log describes a fall trip from Opeongo to McManus Lake, covering two partial rivers systems - the Crow and the Petawawa. When I broke my ankle at the end of July I had to cancel a trip to Wabakimi with George (aka the Speck8r, an AA lurker) and a trip up to the Sec Lake area with my boys. We decided to do this trip primarily as a recon of the lower Crow and the Petawawa Rivers. And to get me an Algonquin fix before school gets into the full swing of things.

We arrived an hour late at the portage store in Whitney (Opeongo Outfitters) and Jimmy was already at the lake waiting with the 17’ Souris River (Epoxy Kevlar) canoe - a beautiful boat, great for lake/river travel, not too bad in high water, white water conditions and checking in at a slim and trim 42lbs.. Although it can take a bit of thumping and banging we like to be careful with Jimmy’s boats. We zipped across Opeongo and arrived at the north arm at approximately 5:15 PM. We chatted it up for a bit and before heading down the trail, Jimmy gave us a bag of ice with a couple beverages - mix, he said, for the evening drink after the long portage.

We left at about 5:30 PM, arrived at Dickson just past 7:30 PM. My cart has 24 inch heavy duty BMX wheels - it can take a good load and rolls well on most of the Dickson Cart trail. But, unless they invent a hovercraft canoe cart, nothing rolls well for the last 1200 metres or so. It was just getting dark and we thought better of heading out onto the water so we made camp at the portage - not a soul in sight. The next morning (Saturday) we headed up Dickson in a pretty heavy west wind - no problems, just a few waves slapping over the gunwales on the last little run up Dickson to the portage into Lavieille.

There was hardly any water coming through the portage into Lavieille and the bay was calm. But the west wind was howling across Hardy Bay (hence the name) which made for an interesting little trip up to the narrows. We trolled as we could and picked up a nice lake trout - it is good to eat fish on the first night of our first full day in the park. When we came out of the lower east bay of Lavieille there was no way we would be fishing - big waves, big bursts - a paddle we would never consider in the spring. We headed towards the Crow River with a stiff cross wind as we headed up the east side of Lavieille and then we got a good push down into the mouth of the Crow River. It was nice to get off the big water with that kind of wind and waves higher than the canoe.

Heading down into the Crow we were accompanied by a couple of otters. They actually followed us for a bit. My guess is they were eyeing the lake trout we had on the stringer. They disappeared when I reached for my camera. We camped that night on the first portage heading down the lower Crow. We were able to walk right out onto the surprising solid structure that I am guessing was used to help direct logs down the north side of the river. A couple of small speckies that we picked up on the trip into the first portage went into the frying pan and the laker was used to complement a stew that George brewed that night using dehydrated taters, carrots, peppers, tomatoes and other carbs.

Dam at the top of the Lower Crow

Small Laker on Lavieille

Small spec - a couple were kept for dinner

The next morning (Sunday) we headed down river. The purpose of the trip was to do a nice relaxing trip/recon down the lower Crow. Two things prevented the "relaxing" travel part. First, I knew the water would be low but I mistakenly thought we would still be able to run some of the portages on the Crow. No way .. not without doing some serious banging and bumping with Jimmy’s nice boat. Secondly, we knew we would be able to use the wheels on certain parts of the Pet so we brought them along. This was my second mistake. With the wheels in tow it was impossible to one-time the portages! As we headed down the Crow, we had to two-time the portages, which did not seem like too big a deal at the time. Most of them were less than 400 metres.

The Crow is a sweet little river and I have come to prefer the smaller river systems to larger river system. It is more intimate and if feels more remote. I was a little disappointed in Mallic and Lavaque. Although I had been through those lakes previously in spring conditions, I remembered these being deeper lakes with a bit of structure. Instead they were more like ponds .. lots of shallow water and lots of weeds. Again, a few small specs were taken, barely enough for dinner. We made it down to Lavaque that day and dipped into the plastic jugs and powdered Gatorade on our night on Lavaque .. something we probably should not have done, given what we would face the next day!

Pretty Little River

A little "messy" in spots ... but still pretty.

A little fishing along the way ...

The first portage (P1280) we faced on Monday morning came out at the bottom of Lavaque. It starts with a pretty good climb followed by a nice long descent. It was, for the most part, a decent trail. It was nice the first time, and even nicer the second time walking back empty handed and enjoying a smoke. The third time was annoying .. a sentiment that was to be echoed throughout the trip.

The crossing at White Partridge Creek was a joke, with hardly any water coming into the Crow. It was a nuisance. I have been up and down White Partridge in the spring a couple of times and I remember a tricky crossing where it empties into the Crow. It was worse with no water. And the muck went up past my boot for the first, but not the last, time. We made our first trip down the P2280, a really nice walk through the bush with some great spots to sit and look at some pretty good water, even in the fall. I particularly liked the spot about ¾ of the way down the portage where the river narrows and the water snarls through a nice little chasm. I remember coming up that part of the Crow in spring of ’86 and seeing three dead canoes just below the gorge about 600 metres before the end of the portage. Obviously someone did not do all of their homework when checking out that particular run.

We left the canoe paddles, wheels and a light pack for the return trip. On our last leg, George decided to put the canoe in about 300 metres down to see if he could float down. I walked, expecting George to get to the little gorge before I did. Not a chance. I walked to the end, dumped my gear, and walked back to just above the gorge and found a nice spot to sit and rest my joints. As I was sitting quietly, I was amazed at the amount of wild life that was thumping about in the woods, along the river, on almost every side of me. The solitude was remarkable and I thought if you sit here long enough you could see just about anything. It was about that time when I was startled out of my reverie by a black Fisher Marten. As I turned to look at what was obviously a bigger animal foraging along the banks of the Crow I made some noise and he (or she) very quickly turned and was gone in a flash. From behind, it looked like a large black cat, with a thick black tail. Although I might be a little confused about the name, it was a marten, and if I am not mistaken, there is a species of marten called the fisher marten, and it was black. This was definitely a mini-highlight of the trip. The next time I was interrupted it was by George, as he bumped down into my view. "More walking than actually paddling", was his comment. But he did get a good look at the river and said it would be a nice run in the spring.

We finished the portage and had a nice snack at the camp site at the end - a great site just up from the river. Our late lunch was cheese, homemade beef jerky and a chocolate bar.

End of P1220 Crow - White Partridge Creek - Start of P2280 Crow

This portage was a beautiful walk right along the river's edge, maybe not so
enjoyable the third time!

George tries the low water in an empty canoe...

It took awhile and he had to take out above this little gorge.

It was 5:00 PM when we hit the river again. We had hoped to be heading down the Petawawa by this time and make camp at the first portage (P390) we hit on the Petawawa. What a different river the Crow became once we passed the P2280. The vegetation changed and the landscape changed. Everything opened up as we continued towards the Petawawa, about 4 hours behind schedule.

We paddled over the P20 and we portaged the P450 - not once, not twice, but three times. We lost a life jacket and I went back to retrieve it, I walked that portage five times in total and my "dogs were barking". And I don’t recall ever seeing more bear scat on a single portage. This was a major route for ursus americanus!

We arrived at the last portage on the Crow in time to set up camp (crappy campsite, but the falls were beautiful), gather some wood and have a nice, albeit cool, bath above the falls. It was very nice and soothing. We carbed up, had some jerky and walked down to look at the falls in the moonlight. We were three days from a full moon. This was one of the more grueling days I have recently spent in the park and I was pretty pooched at the end of the day.

The next morning (Tuesday) we headed down towards the Petawawa - the last little leg of the Crow. As I made a cast below the rapids, I had a fish on immediately and it felt pretty large. I was thinking a 2 lb spec would be a nice treat after our tough day. It was a smallie, and all that I could think of was, "You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy". This was the end of the Crow, the end of the trout, the end of one set of water and the beginning of another. We paddled down a short distance and emptied into the Petawawa - much bigger and much different water.

Goodbye to the Crow - last portage.

Petawawa - dead ahead!

There were a lot of weeds and quite a few smallies, although nothing in the two plus pound range. It felt different being on the Petawawa. If Algonquin Park was the world, then we were in a different continent. From where the Crow empties to the first set portage (P395) the river is wide and strait, lots of vegetation and lots of deadhead logs. And as we paddled down to the first portage, the landscape seemed to change yet again as we headed into what George called "canyon country".

We slipped through the top of the first portage. We could see a few hundred yards down the river and we were intending to head for the rail trail on the left side (the actual portage is right), if things got hairy. As we came around the corner the water got loud. We scooted over to the rail trail on the left, scrambled up the bank and actually used the canoe cart for the first time since the Dickson portage. At the bottom of the P395 there was a couple of inches of water flowing over ledges ranging from about a one foot drop to what looked like about 2 ½ foot drop in some places - definitely not run-able at that time of year.

First Portage on the Petawawa - probably a good idea not to run the bottom!

Now here is where the fun begins! After packing up and loading the cart, we headed down the trail. We looked at our maps and saw about a 1.6 km stretch of river, then the P1400 portage, followed by a short paddle, then P200, short paddle, a P275, a short paddle and a P550 that also follows the rail trail. We discussed the merits of using the cart versus paddling the river where we could. As we were both still smarting from two-timing the portages the day before, and since we knew the rail trail would be flat, we decided to go for the stroll. Have wheels, will travel and we headed for the P550, which hooked up with the rail trail again and was at least 5 km away.

The fishing rods were not in the canoe. As soon as I looked at the boat, I realized they were left back at the P395 where we bailed on the first portage. Needless to say I was a little bit upset as I took off back down the trail. George said he would carry on with the cart and meet me at the bottom of the P550.

As much as I tried to enjoy my walk back to get the rods, I was too pissed at the beginning. But after seeing the canyon again, crossing the bridge and having a different look at the whitewater through the changing trees my sourness dissipated and I did enjoy yet another stroll through Algonquin.

Small section of the P1400 - there were three sets of good drops like the ones seen here.

Canyon Country ...

Although there appeared to be a lot of flat water on the P1400, it would have been an impossible run with a few inches of water cascading over ledges that were higher than the ones on the P395. And again, I thought about spring and how run-able these waters may have been. But mostly I thought about how the river changes so much over such a short period of time. I grew up in Petawawa. I know the bottom section of that river intimately having body-surfed through most of the rapids between the train trestle just north of old 17 and the mouth of the Petawawa by the time I was 14. That includes Big Lovers, Little Lovers, MacKay and the Golf Course rapids. If anyone reading this spent any time in Pet they would know these rapids by these names and they would also know you walked around Suicide and jumped in again at the Sucker Hole. At night you can always hear the river in Petawawa - a quiet, soothing rumble off in the distance. In the spring, the river roars! I could just imagine how this part of the river must have sounded in the spring.

When I was growing up, I read that Petawawa was Algonquin for "where the rivers meet" - the Petawawa flows into the Ottawa. Yet a couple of years ago, I read where Petawawa is actually pronounced "Petwewe" by the Algonquina and its translation means, "Where one hears noise like this" - meaning the fast water pounding the rocks. Both make sense if you have ever been there.

I met up with George at the bottom of the P550. He was very, very relaxed. By this time, I figured I had walked at lease 15km and had just passed the portage into Eustache, one of those lakes I had often thought fondly about visiting someday. As I walked by the little trail snaking up into the bush, I was only thinking at this time how happy I was that I was NOT starting up that trail. My feet were sore, the ankle I'd broke about seven weeks ago was screaming and we had another P1050 and P660 to go - times three!

And both of those portages were "bad" jokes. The terrain was a complicated concoction of rocks, roots, ups and downs. I pretty much tippy-toed the whole thing and did so three times. The P660 was not much better. In both cases the low river conditions and the shelf-like characteristics of the river made running them impossible. We finally arrived at the bottom of Travers (Access Pt. 23). Our intention was to cross Travers and keep heading down the Pet to the first rapids and a camp for the night.

That was not to be. For the first time in a long time I had hit the wall. I do not mean to whine and sound like that guy on Survivoman, but I was tired, sore and hungry. We usually eat fish everyday but the fishing on the lower Crow and that section of the Petawawa was not what we had hoped. There was a stinking camp site at the bottom of the P660, beside the main road into Travers and beside it a little swamp river run-off from the beaver dam on top of the hill and up the road. That is where we would spend the night and come up with a strategy to finish the trip and meet our pick-up person, a friend who still lives in Petawawa and was going to meet us at McManus (Access Pt 21) on Thursday.

After two very difficult days on the river, we briefly discussed trying to find a phone and asking my friend to pick us up in Travers instead of McManus and one day earlier. When we realized that would not happen unless we did a B&E, we came up with an alternate plan. Knowing there was no way we could two-time the portages and still make it to McManus on time we decided to stash the canoe cart and all non-essential gear, lighten up and one-time the portages. That night we fueled up on carbs, went to bed early. All through the night I was brutally awakened by logging trucks thundering by out campsite. The road was less than 100 yards away and the first one to go by scared the crap out of me. Until we arrived at Travers we saw only one group of canoes at the top of Lavieille, and that was it for the entire trip.

After a fitful night, our first order of business the next morning (Wednesday) was the stash. We easily got down to two light packs, rods, paddles and canoes. We then headed out onto Lake Travers with intentions of making it to Schooner Rapids on the Petawawa by the end of the day.

We arrived at Big Tompson and Little Thompson rapids after a pleasant (read tailwind) and uneventful (read no fish) troll across Travers. We one-timed both portages in no time and headed down to the P130, which we ran. We portaged the Grillade Rapids and ran the top portion of Crooked Chute. There are a signs at both of the take-outs before the bottom of Crooked Chute. A few tricky spots, but for the most part we were dodging the lurking boulders. We ran the P120 and portaged the top half of Rollway Rapids and canoed the bottom portion.

Then we came into the Natch - gorgeous canyon country. The cliffs were stunning and I know why Tom Thompson would have been moved to paint. Having read an earlier trip report, I was a little concerned about this particular portage. I had it in my mind that we would have to go up and over those 100 m cliffs. Fortunately, it was not to be. On the P275, there is a good little climb, nothing too serious. We put in for the last piece of the P275 and then paddled through the next Natch portage, the P250. A tricky turn at the end almost got us sideways. But when I pushed hard, the canoe responded well.

Can't remember, but I think this is Rollway Rapids.

Blair Witch (Cabin above Crooked Chute)- god I hated that movie!

Bottom of first Natch portage.

Cliff Country - must see.

We had a nice paddle after the Natch, through both the P135 and the P160. This brought us to the top of Schooner rapids, well before I thought we would be there. And as we approached the rapids they looked very run-able. We did not see the big drops that we'd been seeing earlier on the Petawawa. Instead we saw portages that looked more like they were for those traveling upstream. Down we went - no issues, very few little bumps and again, watchful of the boulders just under the water. George is a good guy to have in the front of the boat. He sees the water well. He sees the rocks well and his instructions are loud and clear.

We were almost giddy when we arrived at our destination for the night. We were early, we had some daylight and we had some time. We discussed moving further down but both said the hell with it! We deserved a little R&R. We set up camp about 1/3 of the way down Schooner rapids, gathered wood, had a good meal (no fish again) and had a few cocktails (rye and powdered Gatorade). Just as it was getting dark, we decided to go and fish the pools below the first run we were camped beside. What an adventure that turned out to be. We caught some smallmouth bass, some small pickerels and a couple large catfish. Fishing in the dark is fun; you never really know what is on the other end of your line! Had this been earlier, we would have had a nice fish feast, but I am thinking the pickerel and catfish may not have been there if it had been earlier.

Nice evening about 1/3 of the way down Schooner Rapids.


We returned to our campsite and were having a couple of cocktails, when a rather large creature (definitely a bear) decided to come in for a closer look. Although we did not see the bear I know the sounds of the woods pretty well, and both George and I agreed this was a bear. When we talked it stopped moving. When we stopped talking it started moving. This went on for about 5 minutes until it finally moved on. We went to bed shortly thereafter and I was out cold about three minutes after my head hit the pillow - still a little weary. We both wanted an early start (relative) to make sure we made it to McManus for our 4:00 PM pickup.

The next day (Thursday) was a breeze, literally. Although the water was low, we ran the rest of Schooner, plus the P1400 past the hydro lines/bridge. We picked a couple more bass on the way through Coveo Lake, plus another larger catfish, this one caught on a Big "O". The FiveMile rapids were just like Schooner, low but passable water that did not require much more than extra vigilance. We did not really test our whitewater capabilities. But, it was a treat not have to walk the P3400. We took our time, fished, caught lots of little smallies and carried on down to Whitson Lake. We stopped in at the camp site at the end of the P3400 for a quick snack. It was not a nice site. We pulled in and wished we hadn’t. But once we were there, we checked out the trail a bit, had some J&J (jerky and Jack cheese) and left. Yikes, what passes for a camp site these days!

Whitson Lake was not that appealing. I have a friend who goes there bass fishing. I am not sure why. There are tons of prettier lakes that are easier to get to and have more fish. We caught a few small smallies and that was it. Although there are a couple of nice looking back bays, the lake is too "pond-like", shallow, weedy and full of those Jerry Garcia fans. We floated through the P550 at the bottom of Whitson and entered Smith Lake. We leisurely trolled down Smith Lake and caught a fair number of bass. There was nothing real big, until George hooked into about a six pound Muskie.

It was very cool. It even did one of those patented Muskie leaps - a foot and a half out of the water, back arching, head shaking and tail whipping about. As George got him to the boat I readied my camera. However, George was more interested in retrieving his favourite lure than he was in getting a picture of the Muskie. He had 10lb test line and no leader. He quickly reached down with his pliers and flipped his rapala out. The Muskie was gone without a second look.

After the Muskie, three more otters showed up briefly as we headed out of Smith Lake. We rolled through the P90 and into McManus. We more drifted than paddled to the end of McManus. We arrived on the beach at 3:00 PM, my friend showed up at 4:00 PM. He wasn’t too happy about taking us the 50 or so km up to Travers, but he got over that quickly! And fortunately, our gear was right where we left it.

The End of the Road - McManus Access Point!

It was a good trip, any time you can spend a week in Algonquin is a good time. Although I whined about the portages, I actually enjoy doing them most of the time. I just do not enjoy two-timing them and this was the first time in a long while that we had to two-time portages.

With respect to wildlife, the trip was uneventful when compared with spring tripping. Last May, we had seen moose, deer and my first Elk on Crow Bay. A few otters, the marten and the large visitor Wednesday night were about it, other than the typical sightings of waterfowl, birds of prey and the smaller rodents. And we were not in moose country. I think we only saw a few piles of the mo-mo balls. With respect to fishing, we have done better. I would definitely stick with more proven routes if my objective was fishing.

On the other hand, if you are into river traveling and traveling light, it is very scenic and quiet. And if you are into whitewater, the Petawawa is a must see/do, early in the year. In fact, the only other time I would do the Petawawa would be in late spring/early summer and I would take my Blue Hole white water canoe - the indestructible "Big Red".

I know this was a long trip log, but it was my first. If I continue to do trip logs, I'll probably put together a template to shorten it up a bit - Coles notes kind of thing. If you got through, thank you, and I hope you get something out of it.

. . . Coach-K