www.AlgonquinAdventures.com Cedar - Petawawa - Burntroot - Wiskeyjack - Nipissing www.AlgonquinAdventures.com

by - Julian Andean (aka Karior)

This was a 4 day trip that I took with a photographer friend, Kevin, in mid July, 2008.

July 17: In order to give ourselves plenty of time to reach Catfish lake, we'd driven up to Brent after work the day before and made camp at one of the drive in sites at the Cedar Lake campground. Bugs aside, it was a nice evening with a good view of the moon.

Moon rise over Cedar Lake

After pestering Kevin into wakefulness, we packed up and headed down to the launch with our gear. The entrance to the Petawawa River was not visible from the launch site, so we delayed starting for 10 minutes in order to get out the map and compass and figure out roughly where the river empties into Cedar Lake. With a fairly good idea where it should be, we headed out.

We found the mouth of the river no problem, and saddled up for the portage. Kevin carrying the canoe pack and day pack, me carrying the canoe and food barrel. Kevin found the load a tad shocking, but after some strap adjustments seemed to be good with it. I pressed on ahead to the end of the portage only to set my load down, turn around, and find that I'd lost Kevin. I'm starting to make a bad habit out of this. Walking back along the portage I found Kevin tangled in the bushes where the portage splits off, with one trail being the portage, and the other trail heading over to the falls. Since we planned to take pics anyways, Kevin set down the canoe pack and we headed off for a look-see. The falls were nice, not spectacular, but made for good pics.

Surveying the falls

Another view of the falls near the 750m portage

We paddled further up the Petawawa, came around the bend where the next portage was, and saw the falls that necessitated it. Now THESE were spectacular. High, lots of water coming down sharply in a torrent, those were impressive waterfalls. We paddled upstream to get some shots, then crossed the portage in fairly short order.

Falls at the 350m portage

We paddled down through the next stretch of the Petawawa, and came to the dreaded 2340m portage. Having read trip reports from others, I knew this one wasn't going to be pleasant. This trail is fairly narrow with lots of large rocks and tree roots on it. It also goes over a hill called Unicorn Hill. But hey, once it's done the worst of this trip's portages is over with. The hike up to the top of Unicorn Hill was very tiring, especially single passing as we were. We took a short break on the benches set up by the park staff at the top of Unicorn Hill, and then decided to double carry the rest of the portage.

We quickly paddled through the last stretch of river, and entered Narrowbag Lake. The sun came out and some of the local residents came out to enjoy the sunshine.

Turtles jockeying for sunning space

Another of the locals

We crossed the portage into Catfish Lake. It was about 2 pm by now, and lunch was definitely in order. We pulled up on the island with the remains of the alligator on it, and wolfed down some food while examining the wreckage.

What's left of the alligator

More of the remains of the alligator

I have to confess to being slightly disappointed with what I saw, if someone hadn't already told me that this was the remains of an alligator, I'd have figured it for the left overs of a mini steam train. All that was left was the boiler, a couple of gears, and the smoke stack. Oh well, the alligator on Burntroot Lake is said to be in better condition. I'll go see that someday.

We proceeded down Catfish Lake. Navigating this lake can be a tad tricky due to the odd shape of the lake, and all the islands that are about. We found the narrows that led into the southern portion of the lake and headed for the island just south of Turtle Rock. This Island had received rave reviews from other AA folks, and had been dubbed "Shangrila" by Bo Knows. Just as we were passing turtle rock some teenagers hailed us from the shore where they were chopping wood. They told us they were camped with a group of kids from Camp Pathfinder on the Island (drat), but the site on the ledge over them was free. We hopped out and took a look. This was a terrific site, on a point high above the water with a nice view of the lake in all directions. There's really only one tent pad, but then we only brought one tent, so that was all good with us. We thanked the boys for their help (they even left us some firewood to boot!), and setup camp.

Dinner was pancakes, yes pancakes, then Kevin got out his camera gear to take some pictures of the surroundings while I went down to shore to try my luck fishing.

It's not Shangrila, but if you only need one tent pad, this site was great!

The view of our site from the water

Caught a few cisco, but nothing worth keeping. Anticipating bad weather, and a rough trail into Whiskeyjack the following day, we hit the tent early. At about 2 am, some thunderstorms passed through. The lightning was impressive, and the rain was nothing to worry about. The new tent I had bought to replace my ultra-high-end $30 Canadian Tire tent held up without leaking a drop.

July 18: We managed to get up and moving somewhat earlier. As I was stuffing stuff into the canoe pack Kevin called up "There's a family of 3 beavers heading this way!" and ran off for his camera gear. For some reason this struck me as odd. I'd never seen two beavers out swimming together, much less three. I put down the pack and headed over to the ledge for a look, and saw 3 otters swimming down the lake together. Once they saw us, their games stopped and they put on a show of hissing and snorting…Otters are such entertaining creatures. Kevin got the right lenses snapped into place on his camera and came dashing back, but it was too late. The otters had moved too far down the lake for good pictures. We had problems with that several times. Sometimes, nature just won't sit still long enough to get that perfect shot.

Heading south past Shangrila, we saw that the kids from Camp Pathfinder were still sleeping. We saw that same group later that day on Burntroot…. How the heck they move so fast, and how they got past us without us seeing them, I'll never know.

It was one of those overcast days where you're never quite sure if it's actually going to rain or just be cloudy the whole day. We were heading into the marsh at the bottom of the lake, having just accidentally scared off a young cow moose when Kevin looked up at the sky and said "I don't like the look of this"…not 2 seconds later it started pouring. It was like someone had turned on a tap in the shower. I whipped my rain jacket out of its pouch, and Kevin undid a zipper at the bottom of his camera bag and pulled a fly that was attached to a roller out, and over the camera bag. Struck me as being quite nifty. The fact that Kevin had decided to leave his rain jacket in the car struck me as being somewhat less nifty. Oh well, the weather was fairly warm, so hypothermia wasn't going to be an issue. It sure didn't look like a comfy way to travel, and we had a long way to go.

The stretch of the Petawawa River and Perley Lake that joined Catfish to Burntroot Lake was an entertaining paddle. Portages were short, and there was lots of wildlife to be seen. We came across a large bull moose, several blue herons, and even a few cormorants on the way. With the rain still coming down in sheets, Kevin decided to forgo the pictures. His camera gear is expensive.

The rain died off by the time we launched onto Burntroot, but the bugs were still quite bad, so we ate lunch well out onto the lake where the mosquitoes were not to be found. We considered paddling down the lake to see the alligator at the old farm site. This machine is supposed to be in much better shape, but it was already 2:30 pm, and we still had a long portage into Robinson Lake to do. Not only that, but the canoe pack was wet, and so was the camera bag. We had liners in both so our gear was dry, but the bags themselves had soaked up enough water to make single passing portages impossible.

We paddled over to the portage and saddled up .. me carrying the canoe and Kevin carrying the canoe pack. I still could have singled, but I would have been sitting at the other end twiddling my thumbs while Kevin went back for his second load. I decided to take things easy and do this portage in two trips as well. While this portage was shorter than the 2340, it was significantly more difficult due to its odd terrain. After picking our way around rocks and tree roots for about 500 meters, the trail vanished. I put the canoe down and stared…I couldn't believe it. A large pond to our right, and dense brush to our left and ahead of us. No way through. I was quite surprised, I couldn't believe I'd taken a wrong turn. The trail behind us looked wide, and relatively free of deadfall, so I was sure we were on the right path. Then I looked across the pond and saw a clear trail leading up from the pond. Then it hit me. There was a 50m beaver dam that ran across the pond…right up to the start of the trail. I figured 'Oh well…now I know how the folks who pass through Sundassa feel!'. I picked up the canoe and headed across. We continued on up the trail, dropped our stuff off and went back for our other load.

We headed out onto Robinson, passing by the site recommended by Jim Cavers. It IS quite nice, on a rise over the water, with rock terraces that would make good make shift tables. We were tempted to stop there, but rules are rules, and we'd signed down for Whiskeyjack. On we went.

We arrived at the portage, shouldered one pack each, left the small stuff like the paddles in the canoe (the camera bag we'd come back for) and started on the 30 m lift over when Kevin disappeared. One moment he was there holding the front end of the canoe, the next we was gone and the front end of the canoe landed in the mud with a thump. "Kevin??? KEVIN?!?!?!" I dashed around to the front of the canoe and there was Kevin, buried up to his hips in mud. It was actually quite funny once we got him extricated. Man that stuff smelled AWFUL.

We put in at Whiskeyjack, Kevin washed off as best he could, and we paddled down the lake. The first couple of sites were passed over due to their potential for bugs, but then we found one on a point (I seem to have a preference for those), tent pads on a rise over the water too. The fire pit was down around lake level, but with all the rain we'd had, we were in no danger of being able to get a fire going that night. But this site was fairly free of bugs, so we grabbed it.

The view from our campsite on Whiskeyjack

Looking west across the lake. It's small, but there are definitely fish out there.

After dinner, I was fishing from shore, and Kevin was taking some photos, and said he wanted to snap a shot of me casting. So I open the bailer and let one fly and *SNAP* the line snags on part of the bailer's mechanism (I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS!!!) and my frog lure snapped off and went flying out into the lake. Boy was I grumpy…it didn't help that people could probably hear Kevin's howls of laughter all the way back at Brent. So I decided to go get the frog, it floats after all. So I tied a new swivel on my line, grabbed my little tackle box, jumped into the canoe and soloed over to get it. Kevin called out; now he wanted some shots of me trolling. I figured why not? I could try some of the tips I'd been given by the more experienced AA anglers over the past few months.

Getting the fishing gear out.

*SNAP* there goes my frog lure...

I snapped on a Williams Wobbler and opened the bailer, letting the lure sink as I paddled. I've always enjoyed solo paddling with the canoe keeled over to one side, but on that lake at dusk, it was magic. Any and all stress and worries just vanished. *WHAM* I can't have been out more than 15 minutes…I grabbed frantically for my pole as it was nearly yanked from the boat. It's all very well to head out trolling as an excuse for the enjoyment of a solo paddle in the evening, but I never dreamed I'd actually catch something. I NEVER catch trout. WOOHOO! I started reeling in, and this fish suddenly seemed to wake up to the fact that the pain in his jaw wasn't just due to a bony dinner, and then he decided he REALLY didn't want to go where his supposed dinner was dragging him. My rod was bent over in a U shape, and I was being pulled all over the lake, it was quite a lot of fun. That's when I started wondering how the heck I was going to get this thing into the boat without a net. Oh well, I decided to worry about that once I got him to the surface.

10 minutes later, I finally dragged him up and he leapt high out of the water: a speckled trout, about 20 inches inches in length. The biggest fish I'd ever hooked. (I can almost hear Bo Knows chuckling) Anyhow, I thought I had him tired out, reeled him over to the side of the boat, and tried to slip my fingers under his gills to lift him out when he started fighting again. Two more jumps, this guy was getting clear of the water by at least 2 feet, and he'd unhooked himself. I'd already eaten dinner so that was ok with me…though I was hoping for a picture before I released him. Oh well. I continued trolling for another hour, and managed to hook another fish who bent my rod into a pretzel, he got off the hook fairly quickly. I decided to head back. It was getting dark, and I could hear the whine of the mosquitoes on land as they started coming out for their nightly feeding frenzy. In anticipation of the long day coming ahead, I hit the sack at about 9:30.

July 19: This was to be the longest day of the trip by far, distance-wise. We had hung our packs and wet clothes on the line we used for our tarp, and they were dry by morning, so single passing was now an option again…good thing too. By now, Kevin was used to the paddling and portaging and getting up early in the morning. So, we single passed the three portages (500m, 2000m, 800m) and were on the Nipissing River by 10 am. I thought that was pretty darned impressive.

Sedge meadows along the Nipissing

The Nipissing wound, and wound, and wound, and wound some more. I didn't mind much, paddling's more fun than portaging, and the scenery was very nice. Trolled with a spoon until I lost it in a snag on the bottom, then trolled with my frog…the fish weren't interested in either. Even though this was the longest day of travel, there's not much to describe. The Nipissing has raised banks, with meadows of long grass, alder bushes, and groves of white and red pine lining those banks. Lots of colorful dragonflies, but that was about it for wildlife.

More of the Nipissing

As I said, the scenery was nice, it just didn't change for the 4-5 hours it took us to reach the Perley dam. We portaged around Perly and Rolling damns, and setup camp over near the put in at the rolling dam. We thought about heading further downstream, having read about the nice campsites there, but my back made it clear in no uncertain terms that enough was enough for one day. Did a bit of fishing at the base of the rapids, having read that trout like to gather in the eddies there. Well I don't know about trout, but the Cisco's certainly did. Caught and released several before turning in.

July 20: Again we were up early and quickly got organized and hit the water in short order. Both of us were eager to see the world outside our bug jackets again. We headed down the Nipissing to the last of our trip's portages.

Trees on both sides were so tall and leaned so far out over the water they formed a canopy

My back cooperated for the 230m and the 915m, and we started making our way through the marsh that is found where the Nipissing flows into Cedar.

It was a tad windy, but the waves, while entertaining, were not unmanageable to paddle through. As a last attempt to catch my first trout, I trolled a line as we paddled towards Brent. Several times I saw the tip quivering to the point where I thought I might have a fish, but each time it would stop quickly, so I'd leave it. When we arrived at the access point, I reeled in my line to find I had a small small mouth bass on the line. He just wasn't big enough to put up enough of a fight for me to realize that I had him. Back he went. That little dude didn't have enough meat to be worth the trouble.

We packed things into the car, and headed over to the Brent store. I always pick up some souvenirs whenever I go on a trip, and the outfitters make some great shirts. I spent some time chatting with Jake, the gentleman who runs the Brent store. Jake Pigeon is one of the great characters of Algonquin Park. A school teacher, and a former guide in the park, the man is a bottomless well of information about the park, and is always happy to pass that knowledge on to greenhorns like us. It seems there's a bunkhouse behind the store where trippers can stay. This way you can drive up the night before you plan to start, leave your stuff packed up in the car, sleep in the bunkhouse, and start early the next morning without having to set up camp. I think I will try this the next time I'm in the area. Not too sure how to reserve though since there's apparently no phone lines in the area.

Sadly though, all such trips must come to an end, so we shook hands with Jake, and headed off home.