Camping Solo on Clydegale Lake
Date: July 21st – 23rd, 2017
Route: Rock Lake → Clydegale Lake x2 → Rock Lake
Day 1 – Arriving on Clydegale Lake
I got onto the road at 5:15am and after stopping at AO, I ended up launching from Rock at about 9:45am. The paddle through Rock was easy and I didn’t see anyone else on the water until the portage landing into Pen. The person I saw was paddle hunting for the ‘paddle in the park’ contest, and said he won a new canoe from last years contest. I attempted to do a single carry but after 100m I just said screw it, the portages are short and I don’t need to kill myself, I’d rather spend the extra 10min to double back (it also gave me an excuse to do a bit of paddle hunting during the walk back).
As I finished the second carry into Pen, I saw a group of 3 people finishing the portage just behind me. They said they’re also camping on Clydegale, and knowing that 3 people in one boat will have more manpower than myself solo, they’d probably beat me to the lake and get first choice of site. I decided I’d paddle hard through Pen and see if I was able to get to Clydegale first – I had my heart set on getting that island. After completely exhausting myself crossing the lake, just before I hit the portage I ran into a group coming out of Clydegale. They told me that the first western site is nice, and also there’s a solo kayaker about 15min ahead of me and he’s heading for the island. Great. At least I made it there before the group behind me.
Finishing my first carry I see the kayaker about to take off, and he does tell me that he’ll be going for the island, although he’s planning on switching sites the next night, so I’m free to come check out the island after I set up camp.
I arrived on the lake and headed towards the first western site, and find that it’s actually a really nice site. Lots of open area at the actual campsite as well as behind the site (the trees aren’t that dense); really nicely built firepit with good seating in front, overlooking the lake; multiple tent spots to choose from; and a large rock jutting out into the water to enjoy views of the sunrise, sunset, and stargazing. I had to decide whether I should stay here, or go check out the other sites. Knowing that there was a group just a few minutes behind me, if I left this site, I risked them taking it, so I decided to stay.
*For anyone considering this site, there are two downsides: there’s only 1 bench facing the fire (seats 2-3 people), and most of the tent spots are at the bottom of the hill, so water runoff could be an issue in heavy downpour (the only tent spot at the top of the hill is right beside the thunder box).
I dropped off my stuff but didn’t fully set up camp before heading over to check out the island site. I filled up water along the way and noticed that it had an off-putting yellow colour that made me somewhat uncomfortable. I assumed that if it were unsafe to drink there would be advisories, so I tried not to overthink it. I got to the island and spoke with the kayaker for 30min or so, toured the site, and I decided that I actually liked my north site better – it was also closer to the portage to head out on my last day. After paddling back and setting up camp I made an early dinner and got everything cleaned/hung by 7pm. Now it was time to relax.
I paddled out to the large rock in front of the campsite and spent a few hours there watching the sunset. The sunset was gorgeous, going through phases of different colours projecting brightly onto the sky’s constantly changing cloud formations. Sitting on that rock with a gentle breeze blowing and an unobstructed panoramic view of Clydegale with no one else nearby, watching this beautiful sunset, was one of those moments that make you realize “this is why I do it”.
And then I turned my head and saw two moose nibbling on the grass at the shoreline opposite to my campsite – maybe 100ft away. Which way do I look, towards the sunset, or towards the moose!? After a few minutes I decided to very carefully and very quietly get in my boat and paddle over to the moose. My paddle swept through the water silently as I approached and got closer than I probably should have. One of the moose stared me down for a few minutes before telepathically telling me “yeah, you’re cool, you can stay” and then went back to nibbling on the grass.
As the sun was on its final minutes, so was my sight of the moose who were a mere 15-20ft in front of me. As I decided to head back towards the campsite, the moose went inland and we parted ways.
Back at camp I got a fire going and pondered nothingness while watching the fire roar for an hour or so, and then went to watch the stars. I saw the biggest shooting star I’ve ever seen, and a few minutes later I decided to go back to my tent and retire for the night. Day 1 was exhausting – I was under the sun for many hours and paddled way harder than I needed to (including the unnecessary 2hrs to get to/from the island)
Day 2 – More Moose and a Day Trip Through Clydegale
I woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise, as per usual, and paddled out to that favourite rock of mine to try and enjoy the view. I wasn’t sure how the views would be from the rock since it pointed south and there’s shoreline close by both east and west, but the views did not disappoint. The sunrise was very pretty just like the last night’s sunset, and after watching for a while I decided to test my luck and see if there were any moose nearby. I paddled to the wetland just around the bend north of the campsite, and what do you know… another moose! Early morning on day 2 and I’ve already seen 3 moose. After just a few minutes he went inland towards my site, so I paddled clockwise all the way around, past my site, to the bay just west of the peninsula, and there he was again! I decided to keep my distance this time and put my new $25 binoculars to good use. Eventually he went back inland, and so did I. It was time to eat.
After making breakfast and cleaning up around the campsite, I got ready for a day trip. The plan was to paddle the Madawaska River all the way down to the first portage and then turn around. I also wanted to check out the ruins shown on Jeffs Maps in the bottom southwest corner of the lake. I started with the river; well, actually I started with about 20min of circling through lily pads before I found the entrance to the river. Once I finally found it, I made it about 50m before seeing a beaver dam that looked difficult to carry over, especially considering the downed trees in front of the dam with large branches sticking out of the water. I couldn’t tell what would be more annoying, getting to the beaver dam, or getting over it. Knowing how infrequently this river is travelled I assumed it would only get worse as I continued on, so I said screw it, I wanted a leisurely day and this wasn’t going to be leisurely. Off to the ruins.
I was warned that you can’t access that little peninsula from the portage landing since there’s a marsh in between, and there’s nowhere to land on the peninsula that isn’t just bush. I managed to find a tiny patch of sand to land the canoe, and after ducking and pushing my way through some branches, I made it onto the land. I spent a while searching for the ruins but couldn’t find anything. I did realize two things though: Mistake #1, I shouldn’t have worn shorts, sandals, and a tank top. Mistake #2, I should have put on bug spray. As I continued searching, I saw a solo kayaker paddling right by the water. I yelled out to him that I was searching for ruins and he was welcome to join me if he’d like. So he came on shore and joined. The first thing I told him though, was how incredibly rare it is to find 2 solo kayakers in Algonquin’s backcountry camping on the same lake on the same night. In my 2 nights on Clydegale there were only 3 other groups on the lake – and 2 of them were solo kayakers.
Anyways back to ruin searching. After losing about a pint of blood to the mosquitos, we finally found the ruins – at least what we thought were the ruins. It was a long piece of steel hidden on the ground amongst some pieces of wood. It was nothing special, definitely not worth the hassle, but we agreed it was worth it to tell people “we found the ruins!” There’s actually a large circular piece of steel on the rock at the front of my campsite that was more interesting than these ruins. It was about 4ft in diameter and looked like an oversized steel hoola hoop. I’m not sure what it is, or what it was used for, but it was cool to look at.
We paddled back slowly side-by-side making conversation as we headed towards his campsite, before parting ways. I went to check out the other unoccupied sites and took some pictures of them. I visited the one just north of the island, the east of the two in the middle of the lake, and the one just east of my site.
During my paddle back I was really focused on Mistake #1 – shouldn’t have worn a tank top. I put on sunscreen before leaving camp, but my shoulders were already burnt from Day 1 where I forgot to put on sunscreen until I got to the site. The sun beating down on me during this paddle was uncomfortable to say the least. My left shoulder had it worse than my right, so I actually took off my tank top and wrapped it around the shoulder for some sun protection. I made it back to my site and immediately went for a swim – not only was it extremely refreshing, but it felt amazing against the burn. I decided to stay in the campsite and avoid that exposed rock for the next few hours. I took a quick nap in the tent, made an early dinner, and just hung around camp for a bit. I tried my moose-sighting luck once again in the evening, but to no avail. I finished watching the sunset and had another episode of pondering nothingness into the fire before heading to bed for the night.
Day 3 – Hiking Booth’s Rock Trail
Once again I woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise, but this time it wasn’t as eventful. The overcast from the night before held up throughout the morning and aside from a brief period of red colours lighting up the morning sky, the sunrise was hidden behind the clouds. I packed up camp and was ready to leave at 7am, just as it started raining. I decided to make a hot breakfast and see if the rain would pass. I didn’t want to wait around forever, especially if the rain held up throughout the day, so I eventually headed out around 8am.
I made sure everything was waterproofed, and started my day. And this is where the worst part of the trip happened. That portage into Pen! No, the portage isn’t hard at all, but putting a canoe on top of those sunburnt shoulders was nice and painful. And then sliding my pack on and off those shoulders wasn’t any better. On the walk back I stopped to check out the waterfalls, which thanks to all of the rainfall this year, were in full force. You can get a view of the falls from a few different points throughout the portage, so I stopped at each one and spent a few minutes appreciating the beauty of it.
Heading onto Pen, the rain was still coming down on me, but I decided to paddle at a very slow and leisurely pace across the lake. Something about paddling in the rain was very soothing and relaxing. It had a very natural feeling to it. Of course this was a light rain with no wind; if conditions were worse I probably wouldn’t be saying the same thing. I stayed close to shore and checked out the campsites as I passed by. Most were occupied and few already had people awake making breakfast by the fire. Some of the sites looked really nice from the partial view I had, while certain ones, particularly on the west shore, looked very uninviting.
About halfway through Pen lake I realized just how slow I was actually going, so I decided to pick up the pace a bit. I got to the portage leading into Rock, and I landed the canoe at the top of the waterfalls and got out onto the rocks. I’ve been to these falls before, but never from the top, which offers a different, but equally spectacular view. After spending a few minutes watching the waters thrash against itself, I did my last sunburnt portage of the day. I stopped to visit the falls from the midway access, and spent a few more minutes in admiration of how much more powerful they were than when I visited 2 years ago at the exact same time of the year.
I kept paddling, and the rain kept pouring. As I made my way through Rock, the winds started to pick up a bit. I wanted to do the Booth’s Rock Trail but I wasn’t sure the best place to access it – at the start of the 1540m portage? The campsite just below the trail? Should I get back to my car first and then start? I ended up seeing if there was a landing just east of the campsite, where it looks like the road intersects the water. And there was. A small beach perfect for landing the boat and leaving it hidden while doing the trail. Imprinted in the sand I saw clear wolf tracks, and what looked like faint bear tracks and deer tracks. I thought it would be extremely odd to see all 3 within a few feet from one another (pun intended), so I snapped some pictures and figured I’d do some investigating later.
I started the trail and went straight for the lookout. A couple hundred metres and a couple hundred stairs later and I got to the top. It’s one heck of a view from up there. I spent about 45min enjoying the scenery, watching other hikers pass by, and listening to some music, before eventually deciding to head back. This was the final stretch of my trip and I wanted to enjoy every minute of it. On the way back to the canoe I did the small loop to check out the Barclay estate, which seemed very unimpressive to me. Maybe I didn’t get to the right spot, but I didn’t see anything noteworthy that I would recommend others to go check out.
I finally got back on the waters by about 2pm and the wind was getting a bit stronger. Luckily it was a tailwind, which prior to this I thought were only myths and didn’t really exist. I got back to my car and spent about 10min lying down before starting the drive. I was absolutely exhausted; waking up earlier than 5am for 3 days in a row, spending hours each day paddling and portaging under the heat of the sun, and not eating nearly as many calories as I should have. I hit traffic midway through the drive and it ended up taking an extra 1.5hrs to get home – making me even more tired than I already was. Eventually, I did make it home, and that was officially the end of my 4th solo trip in Algonquin.
It’s hard to compare all of the trips I’ve done and choose a favourite, since they’ve all been so different from one another. I will say that my favourite part of this trip was that hour during Day 1, in the evening, when I was watching that spectacular sunset on that rock with the breeze gently blowing, and I turned around to see the two moose at the shoreline. It was a pretty perfect evening. And the worst part about the trip was definitely the portaging with the sunburnt shoulders.