Trip Report: Magnetawan - McManus on the Pet and Little Mad

9 Days - Summer 2013         by - MartinG

This was a mid-summer canoe trip starting at the western edge of Algonquin Park, navigating through the heart of the Park and finishing at the eastern border. It took 9 days to travel the 166km route. One of the hardest parts of this type of one way trip is arranging transportation or shuttles on either end of the route. I had one canoeing friend very generously offer to help me with the shuttle. We are talking about a 650km round trip. Probably 11 hours of driving! I feel this is far too much to ask of a friend regardless of their best intentions. A big thank you to PineMartyn for the offer! In the end, I kept it in the family and I am very grateful to my more than accommodating wife for making this possible. We drove up the night before the trip and had dinner beside the water before I set off in the morning.

One last pint before 9 days in the woods.

Departing from the dock at Access Point 3, Magnetawan Lake.

The first day I paddled from Mag to Misty passing through Hambone, Daisy, Little Misty and the Petawawa River. Before setting out we had a very nice chat with the helpful lady at the Kearney Access Office. She told us about bear problems on Hambone and Daisy caused by careless campers who had attracted bears with easy access to food. Both bears were destroyed. Apparently they do not relocate bears in the interior. The MNR just doesnít have the resources to do that anymore. So, the next time a bear takes your steak dinner out of your Styrofoam cooler, live with the fact that youíre an idiot who more than likely just killed a bear.

Headwaters of the Petawawa River.

On the way in I passed 3 groups of campers coming out including this group from the US. After a quick chat I realized I knew the guy in the middle from the Algonquin Adventures website. It was a real pleasure to meet you AndyW!

Cow moose at the western bay of Misty Lake.

First nights camp was on Misty at a site recommended to me by Andy earlier in the day. A great, big, clean site nestled in red pines just before the entrance to Timberwolf Creek. For this trip I substituted a 10í x 12í rectangular tarp for my usual hammock fly. This would give me more versatility when setting up in bad weather. I could sleep or lounge in the hammock and have an additional awning area for gear or camp goings-on.

The next day I was on the water by 8:00am for the trip down the Petawawa through White Trout and Big Trout Lakes to Longer Lake. It was a fairly windy day but the wind was at my back for most of the way. I waded the second and third portages along the river. Skipping the third was a mistake. It turned into a boulder garden that could not be waded and involved a lot of carrying and dragging my stuff through big and awkward boulders.

Misty Forks.

Taylor Chute on the Petawawa.

Coming into Grassy Bay I had a vicious side wind. It was really challenging to get far enough into the bay to make the turn down wind towards White Trout Lake. After making the turn I just sailed North East through White Trout Lake and into Big Trout Lake. I pulled out my GPS for the one and only time on this trip just to see how fast I was going. 8 Ĺ Kilometres per hour without paddling! Note to self, GPS unit and spare batteries are completely unnecessary in Algonquin Park.

Flying along on White Trout.

Self-portrait looking back from the Narrows after an intense trip through White Trout Lake.

The wind kept pushing me the right way as I passed through Big Trout Lake. Big Trout is a stunning lake. Immense and beautiful. I ran into the first people I had seen all day. Two park rangers in a Lund cleaning camp sites. My hat goes off to all the people doing work in APP. Many of the sites and portages I came across had undergone noticeable maintenance. Clean fire pits, new privies, well brushed trails.

Big Trout Lake.

Portage into Longer Lake.

I was supposed to stay on Longer Lake for the night but the camp site I aimed for at the top of the lake was a very poor site with no suitable area to hang a hammock. Seeing as I had not passed any campers today and I was getting deeper into the park I decide to press on to Red Pine Bay in Burntroot Lake. There are 6 sites in the bay. One was sure to be available. I waded and lifted along the 40m portage and ran the 75m swift on the way into Burntroot. As it turned out there was only one other group on the lake. I set up camp at a fantastic site on an island in Red Pine Bay. One of the best camp sites I have been on. The view from the island was a picture postcard scene from Algonquin Park.

Entering Red Pine Bay from Longer Lake.

Campsite in Red Pine Bay.

Hammock tarp battened down tight for a pending storm (which never came).


Looking east towards Lake la Muir.

The following day I travelled away from the Petawawa River towards the Little Madawaska River which would take me towards the very heart of the park through Lake la Muir and Hogan Lake. I saw one canoe on la Muir and passed 2 groups along the portage between la Muir and Hogan. It was a Monday. These were the last people I would see until Friday at the Access Point on Travers. The portage to Hogan was very buggy! In fact the Mosquitos and Deer flies were much worse than I had expected on this trip. At some points while on the trail or while paddling along a river I thought I knew how maddened the bug crazed moose must feel as dozens and dozens of deer flies constantly circled around my head. It drove me crazy!

Paddling up la Muir.

Looking south west on la Muir.

View from my lunch spot on a campsite on Hogan.

I almost stayed here as it was highly recommended by a couple of AA regulars (Dooer and Mikbur). I sat out one rain storm on the island then pressed on to a campsite on the sickle shaped spit of land in Parks Bay at the North East end of Hogan Lake.

From here, perched on a rock with a huge vista in front of me I watched as three thunderheads rolled over. You could see them approaching from miles away. I watched one cell hammer down on Big Crow to my left. Another passed over Catfish Lake complete with bolts of lightning flashing inside. Then one approached me. It was like nothing I have ever seen. You could hear it, like a freight train, coming from miles away. Next you could feel the winds ahead of the storm. Finally, I watched as sheets of rain marched over the hills and across the lake before hitting my site. It was wild with wind and rain for 15 minutes before passing on towards Philip and beyond. It was truly an amazing experience!

Calm after the storm.

The next day was another huge day of travelling. 27 km from Hogan to Radiant Lake with 6 Ĺ km of portages. I should mention that I trolled all through Redpine Bay, la Muir, and Hogan without so much as a bite. Well except for the clam I caught on la Muir. I finally hooked into my first fish in Parks Bay on the way to the Little Madawaska River. A decent Brook Trout that was kind enough to shake itself off my hook boat side.

Entering the Little Mad was like entering another world. I left the billowing clouds, sun and big lakes behind and paddled into a narrow, twisting overcast moss covered stream. The Little Madawaska between Hogan and Radiant Lake is just beautiful. Philip Lake in the middle is often cited as one of the premier destination for the Algonquin die hard, hard to get to and rumoured to be full of fish. It didnít really do much for me. But it was overcast and drizzling and Iím not much of a Trout fisherman. The trip in and the trip out, on the other hand, will never be forgotten.

Little Madawaska River.

Entering Philip Lake.

I spooked a Bull Moose at the junction between the Madawaska and Old Camp Creek. We scared each other as I rounded a bend in the river and nearly bumped into him. I almost fell out of the canoe and he jumped up and galloped away in that awkward knobby knees sort of way.

Cliffs on the Little Mad.

This night I had planned to camp at the Madawaska River Dam. The campsite is a lone site located at the start of a historic portage along the river which joins up to a new logging road. My plan was to set up camp, then portage my canoe 3 1/2km along this road. I would follow the next morning with my gear. It didnít turn out as planned. The campsite was hard to get to because the bay it was in was choked with aquatic vegetation. You couldnít actually get to the campsite landing. I landed my canoe 50 yards away and bushwhacked up a steep slope to the site. The site itself is very small and looks like it hasnít been used in years. Furthermore, the old road I planned to travel along was blocked by downed trees as far as I could see.

Madawaska River Dam site.

This fire pit doesnít get much use.

I decided to carry on, following the newer 3 1/2km portage along the east side of the river and getting to my destination, Radiant Lake, a day early. The portage was very buggy I must have killed a hundred mosquitos while taking rest breaks on the trail. I single carried the portage, took 5 breaks and finished it in 1 hour and 25 minutes. No record but pretty good for my longest carry.

Along the trail.

Entering a brilliant Radiant Lake.

I spent two nights on Radiant Lake. Again I saw no one. But I did hear a fishing boat buzzing around the lake from time to time and I heard a group come into the lake well after dark one night. Amazing how far sound can travel across water. Radiant is a spectacular lake surrounded by Red Pine and sandy shores that sparkle with Fools Gold. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there taking it easy, swimming, exploring, doing laundry and fishing.

Beach campsite.

Laundry in the pines.

Looking up.

The Bass fishing on Radiant does not disappoint.

Memorial to more than 20 Rivermen, drowned along the Petawawa prior to the railroad.

The day I left Radiant Lake it rained from 3:00am until about noon. Not a heavy rain just a constant drizzle. The skies were heavy and grey. I couldn't see any details across the lake. Packing up in the rain is always depressing. I was feeling pretty anxious. This was the first part of the trip on a true white water river. While I planned to carry around most rapids I was hoping to run the Class 1's and maybe Class 2's. I didn't really know what to expect. Rounding the first corner into Squirrel Rapids my heart was pounding. Then I saw it, more of a swift really. Enough water that I could avoid the rocks but not so much that I would take on water. After running through the rapid I pulled into an eddy just to see how my loaded solo lake tripping canoe would respond. It was great, no problems. I felt as though a huge weight was lifted. My spirits rose and the skies cleared as I carried on down the river running all the swifts, C1's and C2's.

I took a side trip up the Crow River to Blueberry falls for a mid-morning break and some fishing. Iím very sorry to say that I only caught Bass at this spot. Letís hope they don't manage to get any higher up into the Trout waters of the Crow.

Blueberry Falls on the Crow River.

Heading further down the Pet is Macdonald Rapids. This is a long and difficult rapid with multiple falls and ledges. The 1 1/2km portage is on river left following the crushed rock trail of the old railway bed. Although it is flat and straight, I dislike this portage. I must have been running low on energy as I doubled carried it and ended up with a bruised heel by the end of the portage.

Beautiful cliffs above Bypass Falls.

Bypass Falls.

Picture doesnít do it justice here is a video

I camped for the night at Bypass Falls. It's a so-so campsite right on the portage but the view is spectacular. I spent the remainder of the day swimming and fishing below the falls, catching lots of small Bass, Fallfish and even some Pickerel.

My solo kitchen: Trangia stove, Trangia Triangle pot stand, 1 litre DuoSSAL pot, 7 1/4" DuoSSAL fry pan, .7 litre Primus kettle, I litre Nalgene squeeze bottle, 1 litre collapsible Platypus, coffee mug, whisky flask, and DIY pot cozies.

For breakfast I alternated between oatmeal and scrambled eggs with bacon, onion, peppers and hot sauce. Man I hate oatmeal! Blue berries that I was able to pick on every day of the trip made the Oatmeal bearable.

Notice anything different?

Friday morning I awoke to a nice day and put 2 1/2km of portaging behind me before noon. I waded the last portion of Poplar Rapids as it approaches the Travers Lake access point. This was on a Friday before the August long weekend.

What a gong show I walked into. 2 motor boats piled high, 1 canoe with an outboard motor, 3 fully outfitted white water canoes with people who didn't know how to hold their paddles, 2 canoes that at first glance looked like they held 3 people until you realized the third person was just a pile of coolers and bags, kayaks with coolers and BBQ's strapped to their decks. There was even a Swift Dumoine set up at the put-in beside a camp lounge chair with a box of pizza and cooler of cold drinks... Oh, wait a minute, that's my boat!

My good friend and paddling partner Carolyn showed up at the Access Point with a tandem white water canoe, pizza and cold drinks for a guy who just spent 7 days alone in the bush. What an awesome way to start the final leg of the trip! I strapped my solo canoe to the roof of her car for Algonquin Bound Outfitters to shuttle to McManus and we set off down Travers. Carolyn is an accomplished flat water and white water tripper and we would tackle the rapids and portages together for the next 3 days.

The bottom end of Travers Lake as it enters the lower Petawawa river valley.

Shortly after this point we tackled the first two rapids of the trip. Big Thompson and Little Thompson rapids. We scouted them from shore and decided to run them both. We were not on top of our game! We ended up going through the lower part of Big Thompson backwards due to some communication problems. In Little Thompson we were trimmed a bit bow heavy. Clipped a rock on the Starboard side and took on so much water it was all we could do to keep the boat upright as we paddled to shore. Not a promising start. First two rapids on the Pet and I got my ass handed to me!

Despite being a little gun shy, moving forward we ran pretty much everything except Crooked Chute, Rollaway, and the first drop of the Natch. Here Carolyn is running the Grade 2 above Crooked Chute before the final take out. Carolyn also ran the Natch solo while I watched.

This day on the Petawawa was by far the longest of the trip. The portages really are goat tracks. They are steep, rugged and rocky. Carrying gear over the portages, walking back through the river to scout, picking lines, watching others go through... It takes forever. It took more than 2 hours to get from Grillade Rapids to the lake below Crooked Chute. I have to admit the pace drove me a little crazy.

Below Crooked Chute.

The long day didn't prevent us from enjoying the spectacular scenery around the Natch. We hiked to the top of cliffs to take in the view and we filled our Nalgenes with water at the spring beside the trail.

My favorite rapids were Upper and Lower Schooner, lots of waves and a long run that goes on and on. Water was a little low in 5 mile rapids and we found ourselves bottoming out in a few places. Shortly before 5 Mile Rapids we came across recent destruction from a Micro Burst. A football field sized swath of land on each side of the river was completely flattened. The tree trunks that remained standing were sheared off about 20 feet above ground level. Otherwise hundreds of trees were lying stacked on top of each other along the ground.

South side of the river.

North side of the river.

We spent our last night in the Park part way down 5 Mile Rapids where we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The last day was spent knocking off the end of 5 Mile Rapids and sailing through Whitson, Smith and McManus Lakes with the wind at our backs. Sort of a trend for the trip. It took us 3 short hours to get to the take out at McManus where our car was waiting.

This is a fantastic trip! The awkwardness of the shuttle and the need for two different canoes makes it a once in a life time sort of thing for me. Otherwise, it is a great route that shows off the beauty and diversity that makes Algonquin Park such a world class place to paddle

- MartinG