Algonquin Park Canoe Camping Trip
September 12-18, 1999

by Norm Hooper

Part 2
On to North Tea Lake and a day trip to Bigger Lake

Sept 14th - The loons were very vocal during the night; however, getting up to a loud "yell" out over the lake from Norm H. was a usual morning event to get everyone activated. The lake was very calm with a cool wind, a sun rising on the east hillside and mist settling on the lake in the cove around the point.

At 10:15 am, we started off across Manitou Lake with Wayne in the stern this time. It was still sunny; however, the wind picked up and clouds were approaching which caused the waves to increase in size. Passed Pine Island with three canoes along the rocky shore and several teenagers could be seen jumping from a rock ledge into the lake. The wind increased and we had to stay close to shore before crossing out into the middle of the lake and around a large island. We stopped to check our map and to discuss our strategy in passing between a peninsula and an island further down the lake. At the peninsula, the three canoes and nine youths passed us chanting camp songs, they were certainly in the "wilderness spirit". We appreciated their opportunity and only wished that such a school program existed during our youth. We crossed the lake paddling against strong winds and into waves with white caps and entered an inlet which would bring us to the portage (the one on the right - better beaches) to North Tea Lake. Clouds indicated that a storm was approaching.

Start of a portage, algonquin provincial parkThe initial entry into the portage (550 yds) was without question another challenge - extremely steep with rocks and slippery mud on the winding trail. Up and over the escarpment during a light rain, brought us to North Tea Lake. We had carried our backpacks while carrying the canoes; thereby only having to return once for the remaining equipment. Even though it was enduring and challenging, I (Norm H.) did not find the portaging too difficult, and now appreciated the training undertaken during the summer in preparation for this trip. We decided to paddle a short distance to a campsite where we would have our lunch; however, upon our arrival, there were already campers on site. After crossing the inlet during a light rain and rounding a point next to an island, we discovered a protected sandy beach in a small cove with steps leading to an excellent campsite on a peninsula. Following a hardy lunch, the weather made the decision for us (the strong wind velocity made crossing the lake too dangerous) to make camp at this site. At 4 pm, just as we were pitching our tents, it started to HAIL for about 30 seconds. We could not believe it!

hanging the food bag, algonquin provincial parkIf the weather was to continue to be miserable the next day, our decision was to return to Manitou Lake and paddle some other areas of the Park rather than challenge the lake and put ourselves at risk, as we didn’t have to prove anything to anyone and our main goal was to have fun on this trip. We did notice and mention that the four of us worked well as a team (excellent communication with laughter thrown in as well as looking out for and complementing one another). So far, we have enjoyed the trip and put aside all obstacles.

The sun appeared later that afternoon and we went for a swim in the shallow waters which were quite warm. Norm H. walked along the shoreline to the next campsite and talked to three campers who were in the process of building a sweat lodge on their beach. At 8 pm, supper consisted of spaghetti with pepperoni and soup and just as we finished, the wind picked up and we could tell that it was going to rain. Dishes were immediately cleaned and the food bag hung among the trees just as it started to rain quite hard. We went to our respective tents, but nobody seemed to mind going to bed early, even though Norm R. and John wouldn’t stop talking and laughing.

Double rainbow on North Tea Lake, algonquin parkSept 15th - Wayne and Norm H. were up at 3 am and noticed that the sky was clear and the stars numerous, but the wind was cool. Norm H. and John heard a wolf howling across the lake during the night.

We were up and getting the fire going at 6:50 am and had apple pancakes and coffee for breakfast. There was a mixture of cloud and a few rays of sun and by 8 am, a beautiful rainbow could be seen across the lake with a smaller one next to it.

We have decided to use this site as a base camp and canoe to Biggar Lake for the day. We felt that with the present weather conditions, it would be too risky and labourious to go through the three portages from Biggar Lake to Three Mile Lake, and then the "humongous" portage (2800 m) thereafter to Manitou Lake. We came to the Park to enjoy ourselves and not to endure an ERT exercise. We plan on returning to Manitou Lake tomorrow and hopefully stay at the same site among the pine trees on the plateau.

We have been having some trouble with the Coleman stove and thought that it might be caused by dirty fuel or it required a good cleaning. We have Wayne’s single burner stove as a backup. The latrine is something else to experience - single holer with a lid covering it, right out in the open among the pines, but it works wonders if you have a dire need for it.

At 9:30 am, we set off down North Tea Lake, using the rock on the point as a return reference. The sky was fairly cloudy with some wind while the waves were moderately challenging. We followed the shoreline for about a mile and then crossed a large cove and around a peninsula into a narrow channel where John and Norm R. momentarily grounded onto a sand bar. Before entering Mangotasi Lake, we passed two loons about 20 feet from us - they didn’t even fly away. Just before entering a small pond at the first portage, Norm R. bellowed his "moose call" and seconds later, we could heard a loud banging and crashing sound. Immediately we thought that it was a moose running in the woods from the marsh. We heard the sound a second time and this time we were sure it had to be a moose. As we rounded the bend, there were four female canoeists from the Toronto area at the portage who had just placed their canoes down onto the rocky shoreline. This was the noise we had heard and not that of a "lovesick moose".

A small waterfall, algonquin parkThe portage was only 240 yds and consisted of only two trips. We were protected among the trees in the woods during our portaging as it started to rain. After crossing a small pond, we entered a second portage next to a small waterfall. The waterway was very narrow and shallow with rocks protruding everywhere. John and Norm R. went through; however, Wayne traversed this stretch alone while Norm H. walked a path along the stream until he was able to get back into the canoe. A few minutes later, we were at the third portage (140 yds) and the trail was much easier to walk without any steep grades. During this period, the sun appeared and then disappeared behind clouds that brought cold winds and rain. When the sun did appear again during out lunch break, it was quite pleasant.

Entering Biggar Lake, we found a campsite and put our canoes right onto the site to offer a form of wind protection while preparing our lunch. At this time, we decided not to continue onto Biggar Lake due to the climatic conditions. A better plan was to return to our base camp and enjoy the rest of the day.

At 2:30 pm on our return to the first portage, we met some teenagers who were waiting for the rest of their group - sixteen in all with eight canoes. We would be meeting the rest of the group at various stages during the next two portages. They were a school group from Brantford and they were planning to camp on Biggar Lake for the night.

End of day swim, algonquin parkUpon entering North Tea Lake, the clouds were becoming whiter, the sky bluer and the sun, a sure welcome. At first the waves were moderate, but increased in size with some white caps, especially when we rounded the point with the big rock. We had to keep our canoes into the wind or at a slight angle in order to avoid capsizing or getting wet.

At camp, we immediately went for a refreshing swim in the shallow waters of the sandy beach. We sat on the warm rocks in the sun and constructively talked about our trip and how we could make a future trip more efficient for next year, ie. more backpacks rather than bags, two single burner stoves, etc.

We had an excellent pasta supper and our usual communication always resulted in laughter. Just as it got dark at approximately 8 pm, wolves across the lake howled at the half moon for the next three hours. The wind died down and there was silence throughout the park, except for the wolves, the loons and our campfire. At the beach, the sky was so full of stars with the Big Dipper appearing big and close - we could almost reach out and grab it. "A shooting star" was seen crossing the sky for a split second - the whole scene was simply "majestic". There was an "object" in the distant western horizon sky with red and green lights, which didn’t appear to be moving for a long period of time; however, it did cast a reflection onto the lake so it wasn’t a star nor a satellite. Back at the campfire, with everyone listening attentively, Wayne talked about his experiences while on northern detachment duties.

canoeing in morning mist, algonquin park, ontarioSept 16th - Up at 6:50 am with a damp, cold fog covering the lake - Wayne took some photos of the island and shoreline with Norm H. in his canoe, then photos were taken of Wayne in the canoe. Hopefully some great photos for the album. By 8:30 am, the fog lifted and the lake was like a mirror with island and shoreline reflections.

After breakfast, we kept the fire going to keep out the chill. When we left camp at 10:15 am, the sun failed to appear and rolling clouds were approaching from the northwest, together with a wind. This meant that we would be paddling into the wind while crossing Manitou Lake, and not at our back as initially expected. The portage from North Tea Lake to Manitou Lake appeared to be much easier to complete, mainly because the food bag was much lighter and we knew what to expect going up and over the escarpment. Wayne found a pair of Polaroid sunglasses and placed them on the portage sign for the person who lost them on his return. At the end of the portage, John found his rope which he had left behind two days previously. Says a lot about the canoeists in Algonquin Park, everyone looking out for one another and not placing anyone in any form of hardship.

We left the portage under heavy cloud and a wind from the northwest. We had expected to cross Manitou Lake with the wind at our back, but to the contrary. Leaving the channel and entering the lake, we encountered some heavy waves, some with white caps - had to take them on directly or at an angle, which made paddling much more difficult. However, the Langford canoes took on the challenge with ease. Between the peninsula and the island, the winds came at us from various directions and at the center point, they created a circular area which was calm with very small waves. Quite eery! Then we found ourselves back into the heavy waves. At the next island, we decided to take a route on the right and seek protection from the hillside. We stopped at a beautiful campsite located on a point among some pine trees with an ideal fireplace as well as a sandy beach - an ideal choice for a future trip. We dug in our paddles and finally reached our campsite where we had stayed the past Monday night.

campsite, algonquin parkAfter setting up camp, we all went for a refreshing swim and Norm H. had a chance to wash some dirty laundry - all-purpose bio soap was very efficient. By 5 pm, the sun had finally broken through the clouds and at sunset, the light was cast as a variety of blues, pinks and maroons in various layers among the clouds. Supper consisted of "chicken blowups", hash browns and gravy with granola bars and fruits strips as dessert. A fantastic feast next to none and a job well done by John and Wayne who did most of the preparation and cooking for this meal. After supper, we talked about doing another trip next year, preferably the last week in August down the Mink, Couchon, Little Couchon, and Cedar Lakes and return. John has already completed this trip and recommended it. Looking out over the lake and its hillside, only a few stars could be seen in the sky and with a half moon reflecting onto the lake..... it looked like a calendar picture. The loons were doing their usual calling in the nearby cove and on the lake. Just a magnificent scene to absorb. At 11:30 pm, we turned in for the night.

Copyright 2001 by Norm Hooper