Opeongo-Big Crow-Hogan-Red Pine-Big Trout-Happy Isle Loop

June 27 to July 4, 2015     -     By Cobi Sharpe

Introduction: My first backcountry trip in Algonquin for years and add to that a 3750m portage and you have one heck of a story!

Members of the Algonquin Thunderbox Tour Crew

Day 1:

It was rise and shine at 5:30AM, to the sound of a screaming baby in the next campsite at Pog Lake. I wasn't sure if I'd slept at all that night, due to excitement and the sound of the crying baby.

My mom always taught me to arrive early. So the crew of five and I, plus a do, had our permits 15 minutes early. We waited by the dock for our water taxi.

The taxi dropped us off at the 1395m portage into Proulx Lake. It was a good start to the trip. The combination of gazillions of mosquitoes, late season black flies, horse and deer flies was enough to make us honest about the 8 days to come.

Proulx Lake

Having my paddle cut the water in Proulx Lake was what I had been waiting for since I'd booked the trip. Winding down the Crow River was lazy at best. We might have been going too slow, because we startled a loon on her nest. We paddled away as fast as we could, so as to not disturb her anymore.

Keeping our distance on the Crow River

The wind picked up on Big Crow Lake and made for a tense crossing. We quartered into the waves and eventually paddled far enough across that we could start paddling up the lake with a tailwind.

Day 2:

My husband had proposed to me under an old growth white pine on the Tall Pines Trail. I remember looking at a map of Algonquin during my first backcountry trip six years ago, with my eyes fixed on the indication of an old growth white pine forest. The adventure to get there seemed impossible. Taking the loop we planned, meant that I was ready to attempt this route and finally hike to a place that has been in the back of my mind ever since.

We woke up to rain falling on our tents. It was a great day to hike the Giant Pines Trail. We packed our day-bags and paddled to the mouth of the Crow River. Mist was rising from the highlands and rain pitter-pattered on the ground. The rich earth tones of nature were saturated and it was hard to see the bull moose munching on aquatic plants right in front of us.

A wonderful encounter

When we couldn't paddle any further because of a log dam, there was a sign and flagging tape on the south side of the river. The hike to the old growth stand was enjoyable. Standing amongst the oldest trees in the forest is a feeling I'll never forget. I often like to think of the happenings those trees have witnessed. Mind blowing!

An old growth white pine

Day 3:

You prepare and prepare and prepare some more. But you can never be prepared enough. I learned this lesson while portaging the 3750m's between Big Crow and Hogan. We all agreed to take the cart trail. Advice from other trip reports said this was the easier route, though longer but with more moderate terrain. When you're carrying over 50lbs of gear, it doesn't really matter what the terrain is like, for the distance between those two lakes.

The start to a long day

The writing on the wall

We were in high spirits and excited to end the day. We tried the carry-and-a-half method. But more planning could have gone into which roles each of us played. The plan we agreed to never happened. One couple went straight to the end of the portage, while the rest of us went back to grab more gear. We had tried to pack light. But only a couple of days into the trip, the food barrels were still heavy.

I was one who returned to the beginning to get the last bag. When I passed the point where I had made my first drop, and the point that was supposed to be the halfway mark, I was pumped. This portage was a walk in the woods. Only 5 minutes later when I came to a logging road, I thought it was the last junction of the route that met the final part of the portage. That was until I saw flagging tape to the left of me and a cart trail sign pointing right. I was confused. So was everyone else. With map in hand, I looked closely enough to see a logging road, two in fact. We weren't half way at all, maybe a quarter.

All we could do was follow the cart trail signs. I walked down the logging road until another cart trail sign pointed left to continue down a portage trail.

After the hike along the portage trail, I came to the second logging road. Getting myself this far was difficult. I had the food barrel and kitchen bag to carry and I had to zigzag the whole way. They were too heavy. After my drop at the final junction of the logging road and the last part of the trail that would eventually take me to Hogan, I had to return all the way back to where I'd left the food barrel. I passed my canoe where my husband had dropped it. After passing it, I realized I was the last one on the logging road.

The road was lined with raspberry bushes. I was in bear country! I started talking out-loud, telling myself a story about the life of an oak tree, starting as an acorn. I reached the food barrel and could hardly pick it up. I concentrated on taking one step at a time. Time passed and all of a sudden I could see my husband walking toward me. He asked if I was okay and I told him about the acorn. He thought I was delirious. Maybe I was. He ordered me to drop the food barrel and hike to the end of the portage and start filtering water to send back for others.

By the time we all reached the end it had taken 5.5 hours. It was more than 4000+ meters doing the cart trail. And by the time you factor in all of the back-and-forths. I probably did 8-10 kilometers of portaging that day. But the feeling of seeing blue water through the trees gives you the extra burst of energy that you'd tried to find while putting yourself through the ringer.

Day 4:

Hogan Lake was very beautiful and we stayed on one of the best campsites of the entire trip. We should have stayed there longer.

Hogan Island campsite

A hearty breakfast of sticky buns

We broke camp early and paddled across the lake to the opening of a creek, which led us to our first portage of the day.

Winding river

It was an easy 685m into Lake La Muir, compared to the previous day. However, stepping out to the canoe in leech-infested water was an experience to say the least. The last few meters of trying not to sink into the mud was tricky. But it made for some good laughs when our friends, who were tandem-carrying their canoe, sank knee-deep into the mud.

With it being such a long day, I can't remember our last portage of 735m into Red Pine. I can only assume it was probably comparable to any other portage of the same length.

Paddling Red Pine Bay

Day 5:

Red Pine was a beauty. We stayed on the only island that had an aggressive amount of red pines. This site had an incredible cooking area. The fire pit was nestled in a huge boulder that was covered with thick creosote from fires burned over many years. Unfortunately, there were bits of garbage left here. I was unable to comprehend how someone who made it this far into the backcountry would leave a site in such a mess.

Creosote fire pit

As always, we packed the garbage that we'd found out with us. We always make sure to leave some wood and kindling for the next person needing the quick warmth of a fire. It's a tremendous gesture in the backcountry, and one that I am always happy to provide.

Day 6:

Canada Day. What a way to celebrate this holiday .. in the backcountry of Algonquin Park!

We had more rivers to travel this day. We paddled upstream to a short 75m around rapids and then another 45m around more. There was a lot of poison ivy there. But thankfully none of us were affected.

Opening to Longer Lake

Jeff's Map is correct about a lot of things. I wish there was more detail around the mishap on the portage between Big Crow and Hogan. I was anticipating the sight of a moose nearing the end of the river.

The map was right. We spotted a cow moose munching on lily pads. Another happening that made this the best Canada Day ever.

Cow moose

The winds kicked up and dark clouds loomed behind us. Thankfully, the wind was at our backs and we paddled down Longer Lake to our last portage of the day.

300m and we were into Big Trout Lake. We were lucky to have a tailwind again, because we sailed down the lake in record time and were all looking forward to our second, last, and much needed rest-day of the trip.

On this lake, we started to see other paddlers. It was an indication that we were getting closer and closer to civilization.

Day 7:

It was a rest-day. We dried out our gear, slept in, played in the water, watched the sun fall into the earth and saw Mars and Jupiter's reflection on the water.

Bannock and coffee

Watching the sun set

Jupiter's and Mars' reflections

Campfire stories

Day 8:

I wasn't confident about finding the portage from Big Crow to Merchant. You paddle into a wetland and if you veer left you'll be taken to Tamarack, if you veer right, you will find the portage into Merchant. It seemed like a longer paddle than indicated on the map. But we just kept going and eventually found the portage.

We nailed the carry and a half method. The portage was 1840m. And, we finally passed other human life on trail. A group of young girls and a camp leader huffed and puffed by, and at the put-in to Merchant we were stormed by a group of young boys in canoes with their camp leaders. They were too young to know the etiquette for approaching a portage. But they were all excited and I didn't want to say anything because I was just happy to see youth in the wilderness.

A quick paddle across Merchant Lake brought us to our last portage of the day .. 340m into Happy Isle.

We aimed for the island with three sites. But they were all taken. It was getting late in the day and we needed to find a site and to get something to eat and to rehydrate.

We paddled to the south shore campsite adjacent to the big island. We were really disappointed to find garbage, corn and other food waste in the fire pit. There had been no consideration for the next people to occupy the site. Unfortunately for us, this meant a longer paddle down to the southernmost site on the lake.

It ended up being worth it, because we had a bay all to ourselves. I caught a couple of smallmouth's to accompany dinner and we all enjoyed our last night of the trip. With a group of six people, it is often hard to listen to the sounds of nature. But we made sure to have a few moments of silence to listen to the warblers, waves wash up on shore and other sounds of the forest.

Day 9:

It was our final day and a 2235m portage was between us and our water taxi. With our endurance built, it was a pleasant portage. It was long, but seeing the blue water through the trees meant that we had all made it.

The end


We were bruised, blistered, bitten, and soggy. But not one of us complained about the bugs, weather or discomforts. It was a trip to remember, with a great group of like-minded friends.


Editor's Comments: Backcountry tripping with one's canine friend can be a very positive and rewarding experience. For some precautionary information about caring for one's dog in the backcountry, please refer to the park's own Pets In Algonquin Park.