First of all, in case you’re wondering about the title, it’s in reference to my solo trip to Clydegale last summer, where I saw 3 moose in two days.
Initially this trip was going to be Friday to Sunday, but the forecast called for some bad thunderstorms with brutal winds on the Friday. So on Thursday afternoon, we pushed back the trip and made it Saturday to Monday instead. It wasn’t the rain or thunderstorms I was worried about… it was the wind. Even if we made it to camp on Clydegale through the 50km/hr winds, I didn’t want to pitch a tent and tarp in those conditions and risk damaging my gear, or even worse, us.
As I sat at my office desk that Friday afternoon, watching the winds terrorize the city, I was glad that I wasn’t out in the open water.
Day 1 – Paddling to Clydegale Lake
We got on the road bright and early and made it to Algonquin Bound at 7am, well before they opened. They had already delivered our canoe to Rock Lake, and they left everything else outside their store for me to pick up / sign. They’re the only outfitter that was willing to do this for me, and it was a major convenience for us… a huge thanks to them for having such great service.
While unloading the car, we noticed a canoe leaning against a few vehicles in the parking lot. The wind from the previous day likely flung the canoe against those cars.
The clouds blocked the sky while paddling down Rock and it was very cold paddling on the open water. But by the time we made it to Pen the sun was shining, and we were feeling good. She wanted to take the canoe for the short portage so I let her take it into Pen… once we got there I realized I had the portages backwards and she took it for the longer one! Oh well, good practice 🙂
We stopped to check out the falls for a few minutes, but planned on spending more time there on our last day, so didn’t stay too long. The winds were quite strong while paddling Pen, but luckily they were at our back and made the paddle a breeze (cheesy pun intended).
One thing I continuously talked about prior to the trip was the chance of seeing moose. When I did this route last year, I saw two moose across from my campsite on Clydegale during my first night, and then one more moose the next morning just behind (and then beside) my campsite. I had also read a handful of trip reports where people have seen moose on Pen.
Basically, I told her this whole area is full of good moose-sighting opportunities, and our plan was to stay quiet, paddle quietly, and keep our eyes open watching the shorelines. But despite our best moose-sighting intentions, we had no luck on Pen.
I’ve seen all the sites on Clydegale, and while the island campsite is very nice (and trust me, I really like camping on islands), I just couldn’t justify the paddle time if one of the northern sites was open. It’s an extra 45min to the island, and if it’s taken, 45min back to the north. I’m not crazy about the sites in the middle of the lake, so our plan was to take one of the northern sites, if available, and if not, then take the chance and paddle towards the island.
We ended up getting the northernmost site, which is the same one I stayed on last year, and my favorite on the lake. But there was one major difference this year… the water levels. They were much lower this year, which meant the large rock in front of the site was much higher and had a more commanding view. But not only that, you could now actually follow the rocky pathway and walk there straight from the site, without needing to get in the canoe, and that alone made the site substantially better.
After dropping off our gear, we went back to the portage to collect firewood. And holy cow, I’ve never seen so much quality wood be so accessible… there was an endless supply of downed trees, ranging all sizes, every single piece completely bare and bone dry. We spent more time breaking it down to fit into the canoe than we did actually collecting.
It was still mid-afternoon when we got back to the site, but I was feeling pretty drained, and I was absolutely ready for a nap. I stripped down to my boxers and lay flat on that rock with the slight wind brushing against my body and the warm sun putting me to sleep. It’s not often you can take a nap outside, in your boxers, in Algonquin, during late September, and not freeze your butt off.
The quiet, the peacefulness, the warmth of the sun on my back, the satisfaction of getting the site I wanted… The only words that came out of my mouth were “this moment is the definition of perfect, and there is literally no place in the world that I would rather be right now”.
After my nap of awesomeness, we finally set up camp, and spent the rest of the day just relaxing around the site. We made an early dinner and watched the sunset from the big rock. Right as the sun dipped beyond the shoreline it got very cold, so we got a fire going. We enjoyed the fire for an hour or two while making s’mores and sipping on some whisky, before heading to the tent and calling it a night.
Day 2 – Exploring the South End of Clydegale
Day one was a spectacular day and everything went well… except we didn’t see any moose! Our plan for Day 2 was to relax around camp, enjoy the sun if it decided to poke out from the clouds, and maybe paddle down Clydegale and explore the rest of the lake. When I was here last year, I went on land for every site except one, so that one remaining site was motivation enough to make the trip.
But first, I started with my morning ritual of waking up to watch the sunrise. It looked like it was going to be a pretty one, so I forced my girlfriend out of her cozy sleeping bag to come freeze while watching the sunrise with me. We took the canoe out, paddling around the marshy areas surrounding the campsite in hopes of seeing moose, but still had no luck.
The sunrise was very pretty though, and we gladly welcomed the small amount of heat it gave off. Afterwards, we had a hot breakfast and a morning fire to warm us up.
After lazily lounging around camp for a few hours, we decided to take the day trip and paddle down Clydegale. The dark threatening skies gave way to sun and the early afternoon actually ended up being quite beautiful. I was able to check out the one site I hadn’t seen previously, and then we continued on to the vacant island site.
We had a snack and hung around the island for a good 30min or so. I was able to get one bar of cell service, so I got the weather forecast for that night and the next day. It looked like we were in for an evening of overcast and a night with a “feels like” of 0 degrees, but a beautiful next day of 16 degree sunshine. We were planning on doing some hikes, so seeing that forecast was really good news.
Before getting back to our site we went to the same portage to collect more firewood. We knew we were in for a cold night, so we collected the most firewood that I’ve personally ever collected at one time. And it still took barely any effort… man, did I love this portage.
By the time we got back to our site, the sun had hidden behind the clouds, and it was getting cold… like really cold. The wind had picked up and still being too cheap to invest in proper clothing, I threw on almost all of my (cotton) layers. I was wearing long underwear with two pairs of sweatpants, a t-shirt, long sleeve, two sweatshirts, a toque, and gloves. But at least I was finally warm.
We started a fire while preparing dinner, and kept the fire going throughout the non-existent, overcast-blocked sunset, all the way until we went to bed. We had maybe three hours worth of fire, and still had leftover wood.
We got into the tent knowing that the coldest part of our trip was yet to come, and bundled up in our sleeping bags praying we wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night needing to go pee.
Day 3 – Finally, Moose!
Once again I woke up for the sunrise, but this time it was blocked completely by overcast skies. Although to our surprise, the morning really wasn’t as cold as we were expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty damn cold, but we anticipated worse.
We wanted to get on the water early so we would have time to hike Booth’s Rock Trail, as well as the Lookout Trail, and still make it home at a decent hour. The first two days had been pretty perfect, with decent weather (given the time of year), the winds constantly at our back, getting the site we wanted, and a beautiful forecast for our hiking day. We were so happy that we made the last minute decision to push back the trip since it made everything align perfectly. The only thing we didn’t get… moose! I talked so much about seeing moose, and we tried our best, but we just didn’t have any luck.
Right as we were finishing breakfast and ready to hit the waters, I heard some faint sounds in the distance. I ran to the big rock in front of the campsite and scouted the shoreline. A moose! Finally! It was on the eastern shoreline, opposite of our campsite, right at the narrows just a tiny bit north of our site.
We dropped everything and quickly got in our canoe to get a closer look before he went inland. Right as we rounded the corner and got into the narrows, I realized the moose had no intention of going inland… he was actually doing the opposite. We turned the corner to see the moose 30ft in front of us, in the middle of the water, swimming directly towards our site.
Not only was I happy that we FINALLY saw a moose, but I had never actually seen one swim before. And this was her first time seeing a moose in general, so it was a first for both of us.
We watched as it crossed the narrows and went ashore, pretty much directly behind our campsite. We stayed on the water for a few minutes, scanning the shoreline and trying to listen to where it was walking. We ended up going back to the site a few minutes later, being very careful to make sure we didn’t bump in to our new friend. Luckily (or unluckily if you ask my camera), he had wondered off and was no longer at our site.
Well, that was extremely satisfying.
We got back on the water and made our way into Pen. At the end of the portage we ran into another group that had camped on Clydegale, and told them about our recent moose experience. One of the guys had his heart set on seeing a moose so he was pretty bummed when we told him what just happened and how they must have missed it by just a few minutes.
We continued on Pen, stopping at a few of the vacant sites so I could go ashore and take a look around. I’ve seen most of the sites from the water before, but I hadn’t taken the time to get out of the boat and go on land, so I decided to scratch my campsite investigating itch and check out a few.
We stopped at the beach peninsula site midway through the lake, only to notice it was actually occupied. While starting to paddle again, I noticed two tiny black dots on the opposite shoreline. I joked “what if it’s more moose”. But I couldn’t make that joke and not paddle closer… so that’s what we did.
As we got a little bit closer, I could have sworn those black dots were moving. A little bit closer… I’m pretty sure those black dots have heads. A little bit closer… is that a mother bear with her cub walking in the water?!? A little bit closer… nope, but it’s definitely more moose! Two of them this time! A little bit closer… holy crap there’s a third one watching them from the shore. There was a cow and a calf feeding in the water, with a bull watching from the shore.
The wind was blowing us directly to the shore, so we made sure to keep a little bit of distance so we didn’t literally hit the moose with our canoe. At our closest, we were maybe 15ft away, which I know is much closer than we should have been with a tailwind pushing us towards a family of moose.
Just when things couldn’t get any better, a fourth moose popped out of the forest. It was another calf, and she came to feed in the water alongside the rest of the family. The bull was still watching over them from the shore.
My god, what an experience this was. I thought I was spoiled watching the moose swim to our campsite just a few hours earlier, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To see a family of four moose, and for them to let us get this close without scaring off… I’ve seen plenty of moose, I even almost bumped into one during a portage last year, but I knew what I was witnessing now will probably never happen to me again.
And to think, this was my girlfriend’s first time seeing moose, and she got a 10/10 experience. Man did I feel bad for that guy at the Pen portage that was jealous of our earlier moose sighting.
We spent just over 20min watching the moose while taking lots of pictures and videos, before they literally ran off into the forest. I have to admit, I didn’t realize how fast they were, especially while running through the water.
I couldn’t get over how amazing that was, but it was time to keep moving. Right as we started paddling again, we saw a single canoe a couple hundred meters in front of us. A friend of mine was leaving Pen that morning, and he wasn’t on any of the occupied sites that we passed, so I thought maybe this would be him.
We caught up to them right as we were approaching the portage, and turns out it was him… what lucky timing. We told them about what we just witnessed, and he burst out laughing because supposedly he saw us near the shore, and he had said to his girlfriend “I bet you that’s Cody in that canoe, and I bet you he found his moose!” Now that’s funny.
We both stopped for a break at the falls for a little while before heading out onto Rock. They were heading back to the access while we were cutting across the lake to the beach landing that intersects the hike, so we ended up parting ways.
The wind was really strong as we crossed Rock Lake, and it was a direct headwind. As long as the wind didn’t change directions, at least it would be a tailwind for us during our final paddle after the hike.
We did the hike, which was surprisingly busier than I expected, and spent a while relaxing at the top. The fall colours didn’t have any significant change yet, but the view was very pretty nonetheless. We wandered around the somewhat unexciting J.R. Booth estate before heading back to our canoe for the final paddle.
The wind had picked up even more now, to the point of forming white caps. There was maybe 200m we needed to paddle from the beach landing before rounding the corner, while the winds were hitting us from the side. The waves were strong enough that it didn’t feel safe facing them sideways, so I paddled south for a bit, away from shore, and then spun around completely to face northwest, so we never had to paddle with the winds at our side.
Even with a direct tailwind, I didn’t feel safe being in the middle of the lake so we stayed close to shore and let the winds ease our paddle back to the access point.
We ran into a group at the access point, and I warned them about the headwinds they were about to face. I told them about the four moose that we saw as well. They asked if there were any cow, which my unaware girlfriend cutely answered, “no, it was four moose”.
We loaded the car and drove to the Lookout Trail, which was jam packed with both local Ontarians as well as tourists hoping to see fall colours. The colours hadn’t really started yet, but most of these tourists must have made their plans well in advance… I would say they unknowingly drew the short straw while planning dates, but really there is no short straw when you’re in Algonquin.
It’s definitely a nice view from the Lookout Trail, and being directly beside the highway and only a short 30-45min loop, I can see why it gets super busy.
By the time we finished it was around 5pm, and after a quick 10min car nap, I was ready for the drive home. My lack of sleep and all the energy I exerted was starting to catch up to me, and I started to feel worse with every passing minute. By the time I got home, I had zero mental capacity and went straight to bed.
All in all, the trip was exactly what I hoped it would be. The Pen Falls were flowing strong, we didn’t get a drop of rain, the sun was out for a good portion of the trip, I got the site I wanted, we did some beautiful hikes, and we had a once-in-a-lifetime moose watching experience. I still can’t believe we saw 5 moose within two hours! Yes, the evenings and nights were freezing cold, but the whole thing was very much worth it.